I was watching a video this morning from a former preacher called Dan Barker, who is vice president of the Freedom from religion foundation. He was talking about the plight of the many clergy that have lost faith, yet remain in their position and continue to preach. You might consider that these men and women are being grossly dishonest, and that it would be better for all concerned for them simply to walk quietly into the night and find a new career. To say this is to misunderstand the power of religion, and the way that it infiltrates every aspect of a persons life. For many of these closet atheists they were born and raised as believers, probably training at devotional college and forsaking other career choices. What to do then, when the penny drops? When the veil is drawn back to find that their lives have been built on mistruth?
An important caveat; that alone is a painful experience; leaving religion left me physically and emotionally damaged for some time, and I wasn't involved in the Ministry. Imagine you are pastor to hundreds, perhaps thousands of believers; added to which you have a believing wife and children born and raised to learn the "truth" of their faith on Mothers knee. Take one thing from this blog people; those around you who shared your error can offer no support in the extrication process. The road is often walked alone, under incredible psychological pressure, with everybody around you imploring you not to do the one thing you know deep inside that you have to do. Nobody wants to discover they have been deceived, and I see people fight tooth and nail to cling on to faith, deploying all kinds of wild rationales to avoid the monumental changes that leaving religion requires. It's roots go deep, like the growth of ivy around a derelict building, choking and denying them a view of the real world. Religion is like a lens, distorting reality, making the unreal seem real, disabling peoples moral compass in ways that sometimes beggar belief. This is not to say that the devout aren't by any standards magnificent people; they are sincere and generous and almost always lovely. Which brings me to my own personal struggle; how do I live consistently as a non believer when in the company of the devout? The truth is, I haven't got a strategy, and have resolved myself to letting it unfold on a person by person basis. My blog allows me to share my views, whilst my published articles get my voice a little bit further afield. Yet on a personal level I tend to let my relationships develop or fade naturally. I have one or two Christian friends with whom I have an even closer relationship now, and whilst we disagree we do so with enjoyment and mutual respect. There are others that I expect remain a bit wary, and in these cases I only express myself If they ask me direct questions or say something I just cannot palate.
Going back to my original point, I don't feel we should be too hasty to condemn those who are trapped in the religious life. To leave is to pull the whole tree out of the ground root and branch, and it destroys many friendships and alliances on the way. And what does an ex-preacher do in this economy? How hard must it be to set the counter to zero and face the prospect of beginning again, often with nothing but a sincere heart and a good working ethic? No, I cannot condemn these souls; I understand something of their journey and the painful road underfoot.