Caught in the Pulpit by Daniel Dennett & Linda LaScola (Congruity, £8.56)
Do all priests believe in God? The answer, it turns out, is no; some lose their faith over time. This presents a dilemma: to stay in the Church, believing that what you preach everyday is a lie, or to leave, losing your livelihood, home and community?
The philosopher Daniel Dennett and sociologist Linda LaScola tapped into this issue back in 2010 with their paper “Preachers Who Are Not Believers.” As a result of their work, an online support group for atheist clergy was founded, which has around 550 members, and counting. Now they are back with their new book, Caught in the Pulpit, in which they explore the dilemma facing nonbelieving clergy through (anonymous) interviews with those experiencing it.
The book provides insight into the process of losing faith and dealing with the consequences. One interesting point that emerges, for example, is how many lost their faith during seminary training, when confronted with the contradictions of the Bible or doctrine. Winnie, a Presbyterian minister, describes how Old Testament lectures “would throw students into [this] emotional, spiritual trauma” as they realised that “it’s not all from God.” Carl, a Lutheran pastor, is troubled by priesthood itself: it seems “a bit overwhelming, if a bit absurd, that a human being can claim to speak for God,” he says.
The big question, of course, is: how widespread is this? How many non-believers are out there, “caught in the pulpit”? Dennett and LaScola don’t have the answer. But, as a psychological and social exploration of the phenomenon, the book is fascinating.