Atheists in the pulpit

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This is a pretty uncommon subject in the various mass media – I’m referring to stories of clergy and church elders who, for one reason or another, become disillusioned and chuck the whole thing.

This fascinating subject has been highlighted in two recent episodes of the excellent Reasonable Doubts podcast.

The first (epidsode 91) features a member of Jehovah’s Witnesses, known only as Robert, who still is an elder in the church, but is living a double life. In a long and fascinating interview, Robert tells us the ins an outs of being a JW, and it is truly frightening to hear about the detailed operation of what can only be described as a cult. The operation of the organisation is reminiscent of McCarthyism, with punishments being handed out for a long list of transgressions (such as smoking or drinking), and great pressure applied in order to give up others who you know are also transgressing. In fact, one is deemed guilty of the sin if they know about it but don’t spill the beans. It is quite clear that the whole show runs on the basis of fear and mistrust. Very christian, don’t you think?

Robert’s journey into ‘reality’ began when he started to question some of the beliefs and teachings of JW. He gives the example of the calculation of the year 1914. This date is crucial to the whole premise of their beliefs, since it is the date when:

“the time of the Gentiles ended, and Jesus – the heavenly warrior Michael – became King of God’s heavenly Kingdom”.

This date is calculated using the usual arbitrary double-the-first-number-you-thought-of gymnastics, but is derived from 607 BC, which is the year Jerusalem apparently fell. The only trouble is, this date is wrong – it’s actually 20 years earlier according to all other historical texts. You can read a more detailed account here. Doh. Hence, the whole edifice of JW teachings is on shaky ground.

Robert went on to investigate other teachings, and found many examples of what he describes as ‘dishonest’ material, mainly formed by quote-mining other literature and historical texts.

Although forbidden to read any anti-JW literature, the final straw was exposure to a book about the operation of various cults, such as the Moonies. Robert finally realised the parallels between all the of the organisations described and JW, and the process was complete – his decision to quietly withdraw was made. Note however that he hasn’t actually left the church – since the biggest sin for a JW of apostasy, and would result in total isolation for him and his family. Instead, he works from the inside, networking with other similar-minded JW, and also having involvement in various support groups and websites. Listen to Ep. 91 here:

Reasonable Doubts Ep. 91 – View from the Watchtower

The second episode (92), features Dan Barker, an ex-minister, who speaks more globally on the issues faced by practicing clergy who have become disillusioned with the teachings of their faith. In fact, he is an author and the subject, and an active participant in  The Clergy Project, whose mission is to “provide a safe haven for active and former clergy who do not hold the supernatural beliefs of their religious traditions“.  You can listen to Ep. 92 here:

Reasonable Doubts Ep. 92 – Atheists in the Pulpit

I would love to think that these testimonies are but the tip of an iceberg. With a bit of luck, global warming will bring them all to the surface.

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4 thoughts on “Atheists in the pulpit

    Martin Cleaver said:
    November 7, 2011 at 10:45 pm

    Hi there
    There’s also an atheist pastor in the Dutch protestant church. Klaas Hendricks has written books called “Believing in a God that doesn’t exist” and “God doesn’t exist and Jesus is his son”. http://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Klaas_Hendrikse (google translate may help?)

      rationalbrain said:
      November 8, 2011 at 7:37 am

      Hi Martin,
      And he still has a job???? Surely one couldn’t have those views, and still be a pastor with the church. Or is there such a thing as an atheist pastor – simply a counsellor perhaps?
      Or maybe the Dutch protestant church is very broad-minded.
      C.

        Martin Cleaver said:
        November 9, 2011 at 12:30 am

        The church is none to happy about him. He might lose his job… 😉

    ɹǝɯɐןq (@blamer) said:
    November 8, 2011 at 8:52 pm

    Goddamn it Martin that second book title made me lol.

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