Trapped in the Confessional
Dan Dennett and Linda LaScola release their study on “skeptical” clergy. Here’s Dennett in the Washington Post.
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.
One study participant was persuaded by Sam Harris (another by Hitchens):
He expressed more about his views on God after the interviews, commenting on an article he emailed that was written by atheist author Sam Harris. (“10 Myths—and 10 Truths—About Atheism” December 24, 2006. The Los Angeles Times.) He felt that he’d been “educated and sensitized” by the article, saying, “If not believing in a supernatural, theistic god is what distinguishes an atheist, then I am one too.” But he also said, “I don’t consider myself an atheist” and, “I am not willing to abandon the symbol ‘God’ in my understanding of the human and the universe.”
All of the ministers interviewed here sincerely believe–I trust their sincerity–that speaking the truth as they have come to know it would cause distress, not only for their families but their parishioners. I do think they may be exaggerating the distress of their congregants (their family is another matter). Those whose faith will be tried by the spectacle of a man of faith renouncing his faith will be, even on these pastors’ accounting, taking a step toward the truth, surely a good thing. And those parishioners–the great majority, I should think–whose faith will be left untouched will write off the wayward former clergyman as a kook, congratulating themselves on having ferreted him out as they listen to his replacement sincerely sermonizing. We all tend to think we are more irreplaceable than we really are.