Other ex-Christians, however, find themselves in tougher circumstances. Daniel C. Dennett and Linda LaScola, from Tufts University, recently published a paper on practicing preachers who are also atheists (see here). Five members of the clergy, from various denominations, were confidentially interviewed to explore their reasons for walking away from faith and why they still remain in the ministry.
Although the authors rightly stress that the sample is too small to make reliable generalisations, there were some common issues raised by all (if not most) of the five subjects.
- As believers, the primary reason why the subjects joined the ministry was to help others.
- The road to doubt began during their years of study in seminary, when the 'truths' they were taught in Sunday School were suddenly challenged for the first time.
- All five have kept their unbelief secret from their congregation, friends and even their families, and have struggled with feelings of loneliness and isolation.
- One or two justify remaining in the ministry to encourage their congregation to think about ideals such as democracy and tolerance.
- The main reason cited for not leaving the ministry, despite their unbelief, is that they feel that they won't be able to start another career to financially support their families.
- There is a huge gulf between what is taught from the pulpit compared to what the clergy learn in seminary. The authors suggest that the clergy generally don't preach what they have learnt because they fear damaging their parishioners' beliefs.