A reader adds to the conversation:
There’s a book about The Clergy Project called Caught in the Pulpit: Leaving Belief Behind. One of the interesting bits about it was that the more the people in The Clergy Project studied their religion the more their doubt increased to the point of them becoming agnostic or atheist. It turns out that seminary not only produces preachers but atheists as well. Ironic.
At any rate, I have a problem with David Watkins’ characterization of clergy who stay in their positions despite their loss of faith. He leaves out an important group who stay in out of fears both financial and social. There’s the stress from living a lie, lying to your congregation, lying about what you believe and who you are. Then there’s the fact that if outed your career is ended and you may not have any recourse to alternate employment. Being outed can also end your socializing with people you have associated with for years. David Watkins seems to play down the suffering of those forced to live a lie in order keep their livelihood, family, and friends.
Another zooms out:
I’m not at all surprised that clergy have become atheists. I wonder how many unbelievers are in the pews. Because I am one of them. I’m a regular churchgoer and give substantial time and treasure to the church. Yet if someone pressed me on my beliefs, I would have to say I’m an unbeliever.
So why do I still go? Several reasons: My wife and kids are active in church groups. I enjoy attending church. I like what Christ has to say. Further, liturgy is very comforting to me and I value the weekly space that going to church provides me. It is more than belief, it is my cultural touchstone. All in all, I would miss the time I spend with my Christian community.