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The Clergy Project

Forum: Atheist and Agnostic Parenting


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May 30th, 2018, 05:45 AM
Aletheia's Avatar Newbie
Join Date: May 2018
Posts: 81

25 percent of clergy don't believe in things like heaven, the resurrection or the virgin birth.

15 percent of clergy don't believe in any organised religion and are unclear on the nature of god.

5 percent of clergy no longer hold any belief in the existence of supernatural deities - they are atheists!

Here are some of their stories:

Gretta Vosper

I am one of the lucky ones and am able to be honest about my beliefs in the congregation I serve, a congregation of The United Church of Canada. I have served West Hill, West Hill United Church - Home, for fifteen years. About three years into my ministry there, I was awakened to the reality that many of my congregants had not assimilated the progressive “metaphorical” understandings of Christianity that I had been exposed to throughout my life, had reinforced and strengthened in my theological training, and shared with them through my sermons. The reason was the archaic symbols and language integral to everything else that wrapped the sermon in the rest of the service. Recognizing the duplicity at the core of my leadership should I continue to allow Christian language and terminology to be understood one way by me and another by the people in the pews, I realized I could no longer lead the congregation. So I shared my struggle with by Board who, to my surprise, became excited about the prospect of journeying in a new direction. And we headed out into uncharted territory.
Over a decade later, we are one of the few, if not the only, congregation in the United Church and perhaps in the world that functions with a clear commitment to creating a community in which individuals can embrace the task of creating and celebrating meaning in their lives without any attribution of authority to anything other than the values by which they claim they wish to live. We do not privilege the Bible, the life and/or stories of Jesus, or use the word “god” recognizing that to do so would undermine the rest of the magnificence of the human story.
The congregation is now made up predominantly of atheists and refugees from other denominations. We’re responsible for creating a few refugees ourselves, of course, losing a significant number of our members over various changes in the Sunday service experience, the loss of language and familiar scripture passages, etc. They have found spiritual nurture elsewhere which is framed in the extrinsic elements of Christianity which they need. But the rewards for us have been great and those who have found their way to our community are passionate about the journey we are on, a journey that, I hope, will make yours a little easier.
Twice I have been threatened with heresy charges. One attempt failed on the floor of presbytery by 3 votes with a majority of the presbytery abstaining. The second attempt was stymied when the person wanting to bring charges against me found out that the congregation actually supported the work I am doing. I do experience hostility from some of my colleagues and fellow presbyters, some of whom refuse to greet me or shake by extended hand. But my travails are few compared to what many have and do experience.
HarperCollins published my book in Canada in 2008. With or Without God: Why the Way We Live Is More Important than What We Believe became a bestseller fairly quickly, an indication that the topic is one many are interested in.

Lorrie Soini

I was born to a couple who hated each other’s religious beliefs. My father was obsessed with abuse, alcohol, and weird religions. He used to be obsessed with the devil and told me, as a little girl, that the devil comes into your bedroom at night. I still have a sleep phobia and cannot sleep with the lights off. I envy people who can curl up in bed and sleep. I am still looking around and trying to feel safe.

All my life I tried everything to get God to like me. Everyone else seemed to have no trouble hearing him and having supernatural experiences. I wanted them and begged for them all the time. I asked to see just one angel, or hear one word that would show God is real and loves me. I prayed, fasted, attended church, and continued to try to convince God I was worth loving.
I became severely depressed as a teenager. I was obsessed with studying about cults and couldn’t figure out why God wouldn’t talk to me or come to me so I could know that he/she/they were real.

I have been in quite a few religions “seeking truth”; Catholicism, Judaism, Buddhism, Baptist, Pentecostal, and became a Methodist clergy because I was very good at public speaking and wanted to help the poor. I still miss that. I went to seminary while my three sons were teenagers and figured that the best way to force God’s hand and make him tell me he liked me or at least noticed me was to become a clergy. I always felt God ignored me and it tore me to shreds mentally. I was told that all I ever would be was a worthless, evil, depraved sinner who deserved nothing but hell. I hated myself more and more and became very abusive to myself engaging in high risk behaviors.

I had served as a Deacon at 2 churches for 2 years and had worked hard to go through all the paper-writing and interviews for Elder’s ordination. The day I was told I was accepted and would be ordained I thought I had achieved the pinnacle of all that I had wanted and spent 10 years working on. NOW, at last, I would experience God in a way that would prove it was all real.

What happened blew my world apart. You see, I was ordained two weeks after my oldest son was killed in a car accident. I had asked to hold off and wait a year to be ordained but was told I’d have to rewrite all my papers if I waited. There was no allowance or “grace” made for me in my horrible situation. My spiritual beliefs and searching for proof of God exploded and I was left with empty darkness. I was sitting on a pile of rubble that was my life. I did all that work and gave my life to a God I only wanted to love me and this was how I was repaid? People said that God must have loved my son to take him that way. They said it was God’s will and he needed another angel. I kept wishing God didn’t love him at all and I’d still see his smile and feel his loving arms around me telling me how much he loved me.

I left ministry for good after having served for 5 years. I knew I didn’t believe in God and never really did. I had spent years in frustration as I forced myself to keep inventing newer and more creative ways to “prove” God existed and they all showed me only one truth. There is no God. I knew this was where I was and it was no longer fair to the churches I served or to me. I loved my parishioners and in my last act of service, I stepped down and never returned to ministry. On top of that, my 15 year marriage ended, I filed bankruptcy, and lost everything I owned. The one good thing? After having lost my son, losing everything else didn’t matter.

I used to stay tied to religion with the blackmail of hell. I was so terrified I’d go there. After the death of my son the fear of hell didn’t matter. You couldn’t invent a hell that was worse than losing my sweet boy. You couldn’t concoct anything that could ever hurt that much or be that evil or horrible and so the fear of eternal ****ation didn’t exist as I felt I was in hell having to live without my son for the rest of my life.

I had a total mental breakdown two years after my son died and was hospitalized. To my horror I ended up on a psych floor, being on suicide watch every 10 minutes, and sobbing alone in the bathroom. I could hear my cries echoing off the brick walls and I never felt so empty and alone. I had no idea how much the religious abuse had taken its toll on me. I totally hated myself and believed I was worthless. I was the worst loser of all because God ignored me. I can’t love myself if God hates me, right? During that time I got the help I needed and I began to journal, a lifesaving practice I still love.

As I healed, I realized that there is no God. All my life I thought there was and I was just “so bad” that he ignored me. Once I realized that there wasn’t a god/deity I began to feel better about myself. My self-hatred started to go away and I used my social work degree to work with the mentally ill for the county. I have worked there now for 11 years.
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May 30th, 2018, 05:51 AM
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Join Date: May 2018
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Carolyn Shadle

I am a senior (age 74 at this writing) and only recently admitted to myself that I am an atheist. I was brought up in a conservative (aka fundamentalist) Presbyterian church but went to a “liberal” Presbyterian college (The College of Wooster) where I was introduced to a more scholarly approach to scriptures. From there I earned a Masters in Religious Education at Union Theological Seminary. While I understood that the stories in the Bible (particularly the “Old Testament”) were just that – stories, it never occurred to me to actually reject the entire thesis of the Christian faith.
I worked as a Director of Religious Education in a large Presbyterian Church. When my children were born, I worked as an education consultant (doing curriculum workshops and teacher training). I gradually moved into Parenting Communication Training, went back to school for a PhD in Communication and formed an educational non-profit corporation (Interpersonal Communication Services, Inc. – ICS, Inc.). I worked free-lance for many years – more in some years and less in others as I reenetered the 9-5 work force in university continuing education. Now that I am retired, I have reactivated my corporation and am doing a fair amount of writing and training.
Over the years I moved into the United Church of Christ, then the Unitarian Church (which felt like a breath of fresh air), and now none at all. I “demythologized” and satisfied myself that it was the Christian values that interested me.
Since I am no longer dependent upon the church for my employment and my children are raised, and I’ve remarried to a “skeptical” Roman Catholic (who is really an atheist, too), I am now free to admit that “demythologizing” really meant that I did not believe the essence of the Christian story. Voila, I’m an atheist.
Reason and science suggest to me that the notion of “God” is only a notion – not an entity to be seen or touched or heard. God is no more real than Santa Claus – a mythical character that embodies meaning. “God” (and Jesus) embody love and creativity, just as “Santa Claus” embodies love, joy, and giving.
Having been influenced over my lifetime by the biblical writings, I came to wonder what role those writings had in my beliefs. I remembered that even my earliest critical Bible study (i.e. OT and NT when attending The College of Wooster and later during my studies at Union Theological Seminary in NYC) had taught me to understand these writings in their historical context. I came to understand most of these writings as stories, myths, or parables, that held a sort of “cosmic truth” but were not true, as in historical or scientific fact. Probably beginning with my OT studies at Wooster I’d come to understand the creation story as a story that provided an explanation that put God in charge. Other stories, like Jonah and the Great Fish, Sodom and Gomorrah, and many others were stories told to make a point. I even saw some of the Jesus stories in this same vein. For example, I did not think that Jesus really walked on water or turned water into wine or fed 5000 with two loaves and fish, or healed blind man or the lepers. I saw them as stories to demonstrate the reverence the writers had for Jesus and the power that he commanded. Why would I not see the stories of Jesus’ birth and death also as simply stories or myths?
I’m sure the answer to that question had to do with an unconscious fear of what it would mean to say “I don’t believe” or “I’m not a Christian.”
It was probably when I read Who Cooked the Last Supper, by Rosalind Miles sometime around 2006 that I began to think critically of the Jesus stories. I became acquainted with the literature that describes the ancient religious myths and saw parallels with the Jesus stories. I read of the many cultures that believed in deities born of a virgin and stories that circulated that were similar death and resurrection stories.
This freed my mind to see the Jesus stories in a historical, literary context, just as I had seen so many of the other OT and NT stories.
I began to realize that life without God is not an empty, purposeless existence, as many would think. It is an emancipation of sorts – freedom to decide for myself my life’s direction. I no longer had to ask “What is God’s will for my life? or What would God want me to do?” Sometimes, I’d hear the “tapes” from my parents in my head and ask “What would my mother think of that?” but I know that I’m now an adult and am able to ask myself “What do I think is the best path for me at this time?” It’s so freeing and empowering!Free of the dictates of scripture or the Church, reason is able to take over.
When I became acquainted with the Freedom From Religion Foundation and Dan Barker’s thinking, what he said made sense. Speaking of God or the Supernatural, he says:
  • It’s does not make sense.
  • I don’t need it. I can be good without believing in the supernatural.
  • Religious beliefs can be dangerous. (Consider the wars and strife that have resulted from conflict over religious beliefs.).
How do I feel about the years that I devoted to the Church? I have no regrets. I followed what I believed to be true and important at the time. And, clearly, religion/faith/belief/Christianity has made positive contributions – for me, for many people, and for society. Although I now realize that I don’t have to believe in God or be a Christian to be good, I will admit that the positive virtues I adopted as I matured came to me through the Christian Church.A friend of mine who also questions the historical basis of Christianity calls himself a Christian. When I asked him why, he said, “Christianity is the best metaphor for love that I’ve ever found.” I think that works for a lot of people.
For me, however, it seems to ignore the lesson of love available from other sources. One of the most refreshing aspects of my years with the Unitarian Universalist Church was the introduction to wisdom and trust from so many sources.
One of those sources was the Code of Hammurabi, the King of Babylonia in the 18th century before the Jesus. Learning about this as a freshmen at the College of Wooster first opened my eyes. I’ve been on a journey ever since.
I now live in a retirement community and have become politically engaged, so I am surrounded by community and a fair number of “soul mates.” I realize that it was community that held me in the church, but no longer need that, and I no longer want to support what I now see is fiction.
I’m in the process of writing “My Religious Journey” to try to sort out for myself (and for my children) how my beliefs evolved.
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