Doubt in the Pulpit

Daniel Dennett, one of the feared New Atheists (or, with Christopher Hitchens, the “Four Horsemen”), has just released a powerful report about interviews with five Protestant pastors who remain in the pulpit but no longer believe in God. The report is the subject of a discussion over at On Faith, and in it Dennett explains, with a link to the report itself,

Our report tells the different—and moving—stories of five good people who find themselves caught in a trap that only someone intent on doing good could fall into, a trap that nobody invented but that subtly and ingeniously blocks the exits. Of course we don’t know how many variations on these stories are yet untold. We hope our presentation of these pioneers will encourage others to tell us their stories, so that the world can know something more about this phenomenon, which can only grow in importance as more and more religious leaders confront the flood of ideas and information that we in the developed world are swimming in today.

Of the stories, this is one I found very compelling. The words are of a 42 year old Methodist pastor:

The difference between me and an atheist is basically this:  It’s not about the existence of God.  It’s: do we believe that there is room for the use of the word ‘God’ in some context?  And a thoroughly consistent atheist would say, ‘No.  We just need to get over that word just like we need to get over concepts of race.  We quit using that word, we’d be better off.’  Whereas I would say I agree with that in a great many cases, but I still think the word has some value in some contexts.  So I think the word God can be used very expressively in some of my more meditative modes. I’ve thought of God as a kind of poetry that’s written by human beings.  As a way of dealing with the fact that we’re finite; we’re vulnerable.

It’s a moving report—less a diatribe than a series of portraits that call out, in the words of Konstantin in Chekhov’s The Seagull: “We need new forms!”

Nathan Schneider is an editor of Killing the Buddha and writes about religion, reason, and violence for a variety of publications. He is also a founding editor of Waging Nonviolence. His first two books, published by University of California Press in 2013, are God in Proof: The Story of a Search from the Ancients to the Internet and Thank You, Anarchy: Notes from the Occupy Apocalypse. Visit his website at The Row Boat.