In my copious free time, I was able to read a fascinating paper by Daniel Dennett and Linda La Scola called Preachers Who are not Believers. In it, several Christian ministers from different denominations confess to not believing in God or at least not the version of God they encourage their congregations to believe in. To those of you with clergy training or experience, my shock at this may seem incredibly naive; like those people who send back food at restaurants and genuinely expect their new dishes not to be tampered with by the waiter. But I must say I was floored.
Not by the atheism — I haven’t really believed in God since I stopped watching Reading Rainbow (okay, aged out of Reading Rainbow’s target demographic) — but by the fact that these ministers still preach before congregations that would have them tarred and feathered if they knew they were unbelievers. Why don’t they just switch denominations or churches or something?
I’m still new to UUism, but as far as I can tell, a UU minister could be an atheist and still be useful to his/her church. Why? I ask this question seriously because even though I don’t believe in a God, I’m still pretty spiritual. I believe that there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in my philosophy (feel free to quote that and attribute it to me) and that there should be people with the courage and patience and temperament to help guide others to finding out what those things are for themselves. Should those people be called ministers if they work outside a particular belief system? Is it bad faith for unbelievers who do that good work to do so within the context of spiritual traditions in which they don’t believe? I would really like to hear your thoughts.