Caught in the Pulpit, pg 70

Jul 18, 2016

“There is a systemic problem that all religions face, no matter which policy they adopt: Somebody has to monitor the external world to decide what to let in and what to censor (if possible). Moreover, some of what gets in needs to be detoxified somehow, and doing this means that somebody has to attend carefully to the dangerous material. How do these monitors protect themselves from the dire effects of the poisons? Not very well, and the task is getting harder every day. Does it ever happen, for instance, that a church leader gets to know the enemy in order better to combat it, only to be persuaded by the encounter that the enemy is right? Yes, indeed. Several of our clergy – Glen, the Catholic priest; Adam, a Church of Christ minister from our pilot study; and Harry, a former Lutheran and nondenominational pastor interviewed for the present study, for instance – sought out books by the New Atheists (Richard Dawkins, the late Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, and myself, among many others) only to find themselves persuaded by them.”

-Linda LaScola & Daniel Dennett, Caught in the Pulpit, pg 70


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9 comments on “Caught in the Pulpit, pg 70

  • sought out books by the New Atheists (Richard Dawkins, the late Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, and myself, among many others) only to find themselves persuaded by them.”

    When these clergy members sought out the books by authors named above, I wonder, did they go into the reading with one hundred percent confidence that they would not be influenced by them? Maybe they were convinced that the devil was behind the whole “new” atheist movement and that as warriors for Jesus they would read these bad books and come out of it with their faith stronger than ever. And maybe this does happen often enough. But I also wonder if there aren’t clergy members who, after going through seminary school and reading their holy texts and dissecting the ideas in them, aren’t just a little disappointed by the time they graduate and go on to lead their own congregations. For these types, the books by the authors above would have served as startling confrontations of ideas that had already begun to form but may still have existed in a nebulous uncomfortable fleeting wisps floating through their brains.

    All of those books had that effect on me too. Although I had already checked out of organized religion, and had an antagonistic attitude to the whole thing, I certainly never did the precision thinking about all of the ideas in the Bible and all of the various schemes and methods that are employed by religionists to support and spread their meme complex. Some questions I had no choice but to ask myself were – If I disagree with so many of the big ideas I learned in my church then am I still a Christian?

    Since I don’t believe in the virgin birth and I don’t believe that Jesus or anyone else died and came back to life, and I don’t believe that Jesus was the son of God but only a street preacher who couldn’t keep himself out of trouble with the authorities, then it looks like I just exited from the club known as Christians.

    Another question brought up by those books is The Bible and Koran mention on every page that God is great and merciful. On the rest of the pages it goes on to describe acts of God that are heinous and monstrous. They can’t both be true. What is the truth? At some point this can’t be reconciled in the mind. These books all point this fact out in blunt statements so if someone hadn’t noticed the discrepancy before, then reading these books makes it impossible to ignore any longer.

    I guess the Catholic church knew about the risks of letting reasonably intelligent people read books with ideas in them that are dangerous to their theological status quo. That’s why they had a banned book list for centuries, right? It was just way too risky to leave these ideas out there in the public realm. Let pandora’s box stay sealed shut for ever. That’s the safest strategy.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Index_Librorum_Prohibitorum



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  • It is not only a problem of how to detoxify the external inputs, but more importantly, it is a problem of how to communicate the interpretations (detoxifications) as something sacred and not just convenient spin doctoring on hallowed texts. At some point even the most dedicated of believers will eventually see through the dogma and realize that they have been had. There will come a time after so many “detoxifications” that the dogma has no meaning or inspiration. It will come to represent a false iconography that no longer is identifiable by the educated believers.
    But then again there seems to be no limit on incredulity when one is actively defending a meme that is considered to be life and death in nature and sacrosanct by design. If Jesus were to exist and suddenly appear announcing that the bible is heresy and not his word, I am sure someone would proclaim this Jesus to be fake, created by the devil to mislead the flock. The most formidable barrier to accepting the truth about religion is ego. Once someone self-identifies with any certain dogma, any attack on that dogma becomes personal. It is hard to admit that you have been dedicating your life to snake oil and fairytales. Rather than accept the overwhelming, crushing blow of reality, it is easier and more rewarding to add martyr to your dossier and muddle on. Often the doctoring is preemptive in nature as when the last Pope declared officially, that the existence of an extraterrestrial species would not contradict the bible. Talk about hedging your bets. Shame on Catholics for not seeing this declaration for what it was; a cowardly attempt to maintain legitimacy in the face of irrefutable challenges. Genesis is vacuous on this point, and alien lifeforms would most certainly be another major nail in the coffin of Christianity. Or are those aliens just DEMONS!



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  • This illustrates well how being constantly immersed in a lie can make it seem true. The moment you are taken out of the pool of believers, and given a chance to breathe non-polluted air, reality will find its way to a reasonable brain.



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  • “There is a systemic problem that all religions face, no matter which policy they adopt: Somebody has to monitor the external world to decide what to let in and what to censor (if possible). Moreover, some of what gets in needs to be detoxified somehow, and doing this means that somebody has to attend carefully to the dangerous material.”

    Many years back I was attending a church and the discussion of homosexuality came up in Sunday School class. The church position maintains that homosexuality is a choice and that scientific studies that disagree with this are biased. In other words: “the rest of the world is wrong and we are right.”

    I wrote an essay in response to this outlining the science that I could find as I understood it and commenting on the church’s tendency to cherry-pick through Scripture. This essay was not allowed to be distributed. Mind you, this was in an adult class, everybody older than 25 years.

    Now I don’t have a problem with people disagreeing with me on issues. I will present my evidence and let them think about it. They can then ignore it if they wish. What I do have a problem with is being censored in the first place. To not let a group of adults see that there is a different point of view is unconscionable. I have never returned to church. I did receive a half-assed invitation to come back, saying that they would allow written essays to be distributed, but that “they must be vetted first.” Apparently, they don’t understand that this is still censorship.



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  • Hello from “Adam” – one of the closeted atheist clergy mentioned in the “Caught in the Pulpit” quote above.
    My spiritual demise intellectually began in July of 2008, after nearly 20 years in full-time ministry. I read a Christian book entitled “Unchristian” by a branch of Barna Research looking at the way the world views Christianity, focused specifically on “Mosaics” and “Busters” (19 to 29) year olds. The research presented the top six criticisms or perceptions that non-Christians have about believers, i.e., Christians are: 1.Hypocritical 2.Anti-homosexual 3.Sheltered 4.Conversion motivated 5.Too political, and 6.Judgmental. I began to look at the big picture and I tried to step back to see what we (Christians) look like from a non-believers perspective.

    As I thought about it, I realized that if I had been approached by a non-believer on the subject of evolution, for example, I could not even carry on an intelligent conversation. This is because most of us fundamentalist evangelical believers have shunned all secular teaching about evolution, because it is taught by the church to be “evil.” So I realized the indictment of non-Christians was correct: I was sheltered and ignorant in many matters. So this Christian book challenged me to do research to know my secular audience, so that I could reach them right where they were. I secretly began reading anything and everything regarding evolution, biology, cosmology, cognitive science, philosophy and world religions. Eventually I was reading books and watching debates by each of the four horsemen of the new atheism. My mind was opened, my faith crumbled and reason prevailed.

    I agree with Dennett that the church has its hands full if it seeks to protect its laypeople and even religious leaders from influences of the real world. The church faces the same dilemma that God himself fictitiously faced, rather unsuccessfully, in the garden when he tried to keep mankind from the tree of knowledge. Faith and knowledge have never mixed well.



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  • Adam #5
    Jul 21, 2016 at 12:13 pm

    As I thought about it, I realized that if I had been approached by a non-believer on the subject of evolution, for example, I could not even carry on an intelligent conversation.

    Hi “Adam”,

    It also seems to me that atheists / unbelievers, also have a very different take and viewpoint on the world’s religions other than the fundamentalist’s own.



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  • Perhaps I am wrong, but it seems that most people including those on this web do not clearly realize (at least they don’t express it) that religious leaders do not really want to help people get to that delusionary “heaven.” Their true desire is to control people, make people around them do what they say. “Sin” is what the religious leaders say is “bad” and if some “sin” they threaten “sinners” that they will go to this delusionary “hell” and to obey them will get them to a delusionary “heaven.” It is all about control….control…control. It seems so obvious to me. Anyone else agree??



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  • cbrown

    This is exactly why it would be very difficult to get to the truth of the matter on this one. If we interviewed one hundred nonclergy members with the best controls that we could possibly build into the questionnaire for honesty then I would hope to at least come close to a true picture of what religious people believe and what they don’t believe. But with clergy members we would have a whole other level of dishonesty to contend with. I think this is because when the average American expresses non-belief there is definitely a price to be paid for that. But someone who has built a career and family around life in the church and has taken a public presence as an example of how to live a good Christian life, then they really have a lot more to lose than say you or I when we might express our skeptical views on all things religious.

    So I’m just saying that I really wouldn’t be willing to speculate on what percentage of the clergy really believe the claptrap mumbo jumbo that they preach to the congregation and what percentage are just going through the motions even though they realized at some point in the past that they have devoted their adult lives to something that is just the most long lived world wide useful con game going.

    I love experimental design but this one would be very tough. One topic that is more challenging in terms of getting subjects to tell the truth would be on reporting their own sexual behavior. That’s where humans are highly motivated to lie (Even to themselves. Self-deception a la R. Trivers!) I would expect that in a survey of one hundred random clergy re: their true beliefs and/or lack of them, we’d see a high degree of lying as well. Not sure if we’ll ever get to the truth of this question!



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  • “There is a systemic problem that all religions face, no matter which policy they adopt: Somebody has to monitor the external world to decide what to let in and what to censor (if possible). Moreover, some of what gets in needs to be detoxified somehow, and doing this means that somebody has to attend carefully to the dangerous material. How do these monitors protect themselves from the dire effects of the poisons? Not very well, and the task is getting harder every day”
    Thankfully there is more and more material today that must be screened and detoxified. On one hundred fronts religion is daily losing the battle, largely I hope to clergy being confronted with truth that they can no longer deny. I wonder just how many ministers there are out there who are afraid to leave the pulpit because of the loss of a job, loss of friends and loss of family. Hopefully our community will continue to grow and provide them a safe landing place when they decide to let go of the safety bar of the pulpit. Those who walk away need and deserve our help.
    Ro 🙂



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