I have followed a handful of stories concerning pastors who have lost faith. I read their blogs, listen to their podcast interviews, and I follow them on social media. I like their stories because they understand two polar opposite sides equally. They have a story I can relate to. And they are usually pretty good at putting their thoughts into words. You can find several links through The Clergy Project website if you are interested.
Two opposing sides seldom want to understand each other. I doubt I know many Christians who would bother to listen to these stories before forming a concrete opinion on the matter. To them, these are the worst of the worst. Liars who deceive their congregations and open the door to Satan. And you know what? They know people think that about them. And yet their lack of faith remains. What would you do in their situation?
I appreciate and respect fellow atheists who never knew god. We share the same ideas and see the world in similar ways. I connect with many of them easily. But they don’t make good arguments to Christians because they don’t know what it means to believe in god. They are always missing the mark a bit. It isn’t their fault, but as we attempt to co-exist with loved ones who absolutely believe we are going to burn for all eternity, those nonbelievers also offer no practical advice. I am grateful that I used to be a Christian if only for the ability to grasp it. The hardest part is that Christians cannot have the same understanding of me.
When I spent time as a missionary I thought that was what I wanted to do with my life. I was young and passionate about changing the world for god. It was real. My faith unraveled against my will, and not for any of the reasons I had protected myself against. Doubt and complete certainty came from the same well. I hadn’t expected that. You cannot offer an intelligent defense of Christianity without knowing the alternative. When you know you are right, you are not afraid of the truth. You know it’s on your side and you are inspired to prove it. But faith is indifferent to truth.
I see it all the time now; people of great faith trying to prove their truth. They seem the most devout. They sometimes have the loudest voices in their Christian communities. Maybe they’ve written a book. They may be talented debaters who know they have answers that erase doubt. Great answers. Because they required those great answers for themselves. These are the ones who live on the edge of doubt and no one would ever guess. Least of all them. I would hate them if I didn’t empathize with them so much.
It isn’t surprising that religious leaders lose faith. It happens all the time. It doesn’t change how strong their faith once was; they chose to sincerely give their lives to god. I imagine there is doubt that comes with simply realizing that the people running the show aren’t wise men who understand the ways of god better than everyone else. It’s just you and people like you, with no better understanding of the world. And isn’t that how it has always been? Religious leaders see the room for human error in religion better than anyone.
They aren’t liars. They are trying to find their way just like the rest of us. They understand the real existence of god, the false existence of god, and the internal battle that happens in between. And they know how to tell a story. So to all of you religious professionals who have lost your way, please keep telling your stories. There will never be a shortage of those who understand.