The unbelievers – What happens when a minister decides there’s no God?

The unbelievers – What happens when a minister decides there’s no God?

Walk into a church on a Sunday and you might find that a few of the people in the pews are atheists — there because they like the old hymns or the comforting murmur of the liturgy or because their spouses insist. Or because, at some level, they’re still pretending they believe. They are spectators, in other words, not participants.

But what about the person leading the service? How likely is it that a member of the clergy might be an atheist as well — delivering the sermon and choosing the Bible passages, and afterward paying house calls to offer spiritual counsel to those in trouble and doubt, all without believing in God?

Daniel Dennett decided to find out. A leading philosopher of consciousness, a Tufts University professor, and a famously outspoken atheist, Dennett has for years been curious about the phenomenon of nonbelieving clergy. And now, working with a researcher and clinical social worker named Linda LaScola, he has embarked on a project to find and publicize their stories.

He doesn’t yet have data on how common the phenomenon is, but last month Dennett and LaScola published their first anecdotal results, a paper that appeared both in a scholarly journal, Evolutionary Psychology, and on The Washington Post’s website. The paper is an annotated set of excerpts from interviews with five ministers whom Dennett and LaScola found through personal contacts in the clergy, seminaries, and progressive Christian and atheist organizations. Unlike most of the clergy members the researchers contacted, these five agreed to tell their stories publicly, albeit under pseudonyms and with personal details changed.

What emerges is a portrait of men (the one woman interviewed backed out at the last minute) grappling earnestly and incisively with the sort of theological quandaries familiar to anyone who has studied and doubted Christian doctrine. Just as strong, though, is the sense of secrecy and evasion that pervades their lives: having to hide their lack of belief from parishioners, friends, even family members. Some spoke of feeling trapped: questioning their fitness for the pulpit but unable to leave because of a mix of personal, cultural, and even financial reasons.

“She doesn’t need to hear this right now,” one says of his wife. “It’s not going to serve any of us. I feel like when the time’s right, I can talk to her about it. She won’t like it, but I will share it with her. And after I share it with her, I will start sharing it with other people.”

Dennett says his ultimate goal is a far larger study to give a true sense of how prevalent nonbelief is among the clergy. In the meanwhile, Dennett and LaScola are collecting stories one by one.Continued…

Militant atheist Harry Taylor hit with ASBO for offensive images in John Lennon airport

Militant atheist Harry Taylor hit with ASBO for offensive images in John Lennon airport

A MILITANT atheist who put grossly offensive religious images in a prayer room at Liverpool’s John Lennon airport was hit with a five-year ASBO.

But Harry Taylor, 59, claimed he felt faint and had to be given first aid after he was told by Judge Charles James his crimes deserved imprisonment and ruled he should pay £250 costs.

The hearing at Liverpool Crown Court had to be temporarily adjourned while a wheezing Taylor, who clasped his chest, received treatment.

Judge James suspended a six-month sentence for two years, but he warned Taylor: “I don’t give people a second chance.”

He imposed the Asbo, which bans Taylor from carrying religiously offensive material in a public place.

Taylor, of Salford, Greater Manchester, admitted leaving the pictures, which depicted figures from Christianity and Islam, often in sexual poses, in the airport’s multi-faith room on three separate occasions. But the jobless 59-year-old, who labelled himself a militant atheist, said he was simply practising his own religion of “reason and rationality” and was hoping to convert people.

He told jurors he left the items in the room in memory of “his hero” John Lennon. But a jury of 10 women and two men, who all swore their oath on the Bible, rejected his defence. They took just 15 minutes to rule he had left the religious offence material with the intention of causing alarm or distress.

Judge James said: “Not only have you shown no remorse for what you did, but even now you continue to maintain you have done nothing wrong and say that whenever you feel like it you intend to do the same thing again in the future.”

Taylor was ordered to carry out 100 hours’ unpaid work and pay £250 in costs. Brigid Baillie, defending, told the court Taylor, who has a similar previous conviction, said he had learned his lesson.

She said: “Perhaps the message did not hit home before. It has now.”

Iranian cleric blames quakes on promiscuous women

Iranian cleric blames quakes on promiscuous women

Women who wear revealing clothing and behave promiscuously are to blame for earthquakes, an Iranian cleric says.

Hojjat ol-eslam Kazem Sediqi, the acting Friday prayer leader in Tehran, said women should stick to strict codes of modesty to protect themselves.

“Many women who do not dress modestly lead young men astray and spread adultery in society which increases earthquakes,” he explained.

Tens of thousands of people have died in Iran earthquakes in the last decade.

Mr Sediqi was delivering a televised sermon at the Tehran University campus mosque last Friday on the need for a “general repentance” by Iranians when he warned of a “prevalence of degeneracy”.

“What can we do to avoid being buried under the rubble? There is no other solution but to take refuge in religion and to adapt our lives to Islam’s moral codes,” he said.

‘Disappoint God’

Correspondents say many young Iranians sometimes push the boundaries of how they can dress, showing hair under their headscarves or wearing tight-fitting clothes.

Mr Sediqi also described the violence following last year’s disputed presidential election – the result of which prompted thousands of people to hold mass protests – as a “political earthquake”.

“Now if a natural earthquake hits Tehran, no one will be able to confront such a calamity but God’s power, only God’s power. So lets not disappoint God.”

More than 25,000 people died when a powerful earthquake hit the ancient city of Bam in 2003.

Seismologists have warned that the capital, Tehran, is situated on a large number of tectonic fault lines and could be hit by a devastating earthquake soon.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has said many of Tehran’s 12 million inhabitants should relocate.

There are plans to build a purpose built new capital near Qom.

Thanks to Ben A. for this one.