Pastors turning to atheism find sanctuary in online community

Sep 11, 2014

By Clint Davis

The Internet has long been a safe place for religious devotees to discuss the doubts that sometimes accompany their faith. Now, hundreds of pastors, ministers and church leaders have found one website to be a sanctuary when doubt turns into disbelief.

Since 2011, ClergyProject.org has offered a “safe haven” for active and former religious leaders “who do not hold supernatural beliefs,” according to the website. Its directors claim all users are screened to verify they fit the bill — and are then granted access to the site’s anonymous forums.

“Losing one’s religion can often mean losing one’s family, friends community and social network,” wrote user Seraphim, allegedly a former monk. “One often can’t open up to those closest to them for fear of misunderstanding, overreaction and outright rejection … I have found understanding, practical help, encouragement and moral support in this virtual community.”

The Clergy Project is endorsed by several organizations including American Atheists, Center for Inquiry and Recovering From Religion. The website’s operation is funded by The Richard Dawkins Foundation and the Freedom From Religion Foundation, along with online donations.

16 comments on “Pastors turning to atheism find sanctuary in online community

  • A3Kr0n :

    What does “turning to atheism” mean? What are they turning to? That makes no sense to me

    To me it means the magic man in the sky is losing His appeal among certain members of humanity who are supposed to be talking Him up ! Indeed those whose livings depend on doing exactly that.



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  • Old modes of speech, thought and imagery seem to be retained for a long time in the US including amongst the newly irreligious. “Turning to someone or something”, usually God, for (it is implied) succour of some sort… The dead have always “passed” never actually died. Tidying up the language you use can help tidy up hopeless thoughts.



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  • These phrases also seem to seep out of the US into other English speaking countries. “Passed” seems to have become really common in Australia these days. Ugh. I blame Hollywood !



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  • I think these individuals are simply waking up to reality; which is probably very difficult, if since childhood you’ve always had a fantasy world into which you can retreat.

    And of course it’s not their fault that they had the weird stuff inflicted on them as nippers; “Give us your child by seven….”.

    Boy oh boy, am I grateful that it never happened to me.



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  • Why is this support group just for clergy? Lay people suffer the same loss of community, social network, family, and friends when they leave the church and reject the supernatural beliefs they once held. They often spend years grieving the loss of many of the above, finding new relationships, and trying to find ways of living peacefully with religious family.



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  • 7
    pablobirdie says:

    They are turning to reason. If you turn to reason with respect to claims of God’s existence, you are also turning to atheism.

    Corrects me if I’m wrong, but I think you might be confusing atheism with nothing, but does anyone say that people are turning to nothing when they reject astrology?



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  • Deb Sep 12, 2014 at 2:56 pm

    Why is this support group just for clergy?

    The difference for clergy, is that the church is their career, not just their social community, and they may well be poorly prepared for alternative employment.



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  • I think it’s great they have somewhere safe from judgement that offers practical and emotional support. It’s a huge upheaval for them I’m sure.



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  • The prospect of having to live a lie day in and day out, must be shocking. It would be analogous to being in the closet or living in a sham marriage and going through the motions. I can imagine nothing worse.
    I feel terrible every time I’m compelled to hold my tongue at an occasion involving the mouthing of a prayer or invocation of some deity. I can imagine how they must feel and yet their livelihood depends on it.
    It’s of little surprise that many members of the clergy eventually lose faith. They’re at the coal face, watching the futility of prayer and reminded of the absurdity of their notions on a daily basis.



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  • 12
    Light Wave says:

    While I’m in favour of anyone seeing the hypocrisy of religion and its corrupt control…….The mere mortals who are not clergy have to find atheism mostly by themselves with all they associated risks of loosing friends or jobs and they don’t have a safety closet to hide in like the clergy unless anonymity online is one ?…..Why don’t the clergy who used to lecture everyone else about virtues and the like…..Have the balls to make a decision and leave religion why bother trying to live a secret hidden double life….that’s just as bad as not having found any atheism…..clergy are not any more ‘special’ than any other person changing their perspective and traditional way of life….they don’t have anymore to loose than anyone else….Perhaps they have a slight superiority complex that just wont go away…..



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  • I agree with you Nitya; to try to deal with with the human condition by adopting dogmas, doctrines and fantasies only adds another layer of difficulties of life, especially if you don’t believe them anyway.

    But of course this tripe is laid on children at a very young age and is therefore terribly difficult to shake off.

    Echoing Christ’s reputed commandment to “pick up Thy bed and walk”, I say, lay down your comfort blanket and live.



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  • Perhaps there’s another candidate here?

    http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2014/sep/18/archbishop-canterbury-doubt-god-existence-welby

    The archbishop of Canterbury has admitted to having doubts about the existence of God and disclosed that on a recent morning jog with his dog he questioned why the Almighty had failed to intervene to prevent an injustice.

    In a light-hearted but personal interview in front of hundreds of people in Bristol cathedral last weekend, Justin Welby said: “There are moments, sure, where you think ‘Is there a God? Where is God?'”

    Welby suggested that his doubts were a regular occurrence, by recounting a recent morning run with dog.

    “The other day I was praying over something as I was running and I ended up saying to God: ‘Look, this is all very well but isn’t it about time you did something – if you’re there’ – which is probably not what the archbishop of Canterbury should say.”

    Or maybe not!

    He added: “It is not about feelings, it is about the fact that God is faithful and the extraordinary thing about being a Christian is that God is faithful when we are not.”

    Later in the interview, Welby said he was certain about the existence of Jesus, even talking about his presence beside him. “We know about Jesus, we can’t explain all the questions in the world, we can’t explain about suffering, we can’t explain loads of things but we know about Jesus,” Welby said.



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  • pablobirdie Sep 12, 2014 at 3:15 pm

    Corrects me if I’m wrong, but I think you might be confusing atheism with nothing.

    While it is not a 100% match, it is a common misconception that dumping woo leaves a void.
    People have usually intellectually or culturally, replaced the woo before they dump it!

    but does anyone say that people are turning to nothing when they reject astrology?

    I reject astrology because I understand astronomy, and I reject “magic-god-did-it”, because I understand that scientific explanations are more honest.



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