The January-February issue of Psychology Today has a very provocative cover. But that's not what attracted me to it, and why I finally bought a copy, as we were headed home from vacation. No, it was the feature article titled above, "An Atheist in the Pulpit", which begins with a pseudonymous Lutheran minister struggling to write a sermon and realizing that he did not believe in God any more.
The Lutheran minister goes to his bishop (a woman, by the way), who does not take him seriously. Either she does not believe that he really lost his faith, or she doesn't care (as long as he puts asses in the pews, as he puts it). The article doesn't specify exactly what happens to this particular pastor, but goes on to tell the stories of other pastors and religious people who finally decide to quit the fiction and call themselves atheists. By the way, in case anyone is worried, most of them are not pastors any longer. There are a couple who are Unitarians, and continue to find some place for religious practice in their life, if not what they call "faith." Most (including one former Pentecostal minister) are now as zealous in their atheism as they once were in their faith.
The article references the current spate of books by zealous atheists. An interesting subconversation is the idea that the belief in God is replaced by a kind of a "belief" in science and an awe of the natural world. Another subconversation is about the "two leaps": one from literalism and fundamentalism to a more expansive faith, and the second to outright atheism.
The article makes it clear that this is not simply about losing faith in the church, or the church's policies. This isn't just about the problem of "organized religion." And one of the illustrations is about Mother Teresa's serious doubts: she is either, the article says, "a phony" or "her trials actually make her religious life more meaningful." Obviously, I would be on the side of the second interpretation. But it does make you think, doesn't it? About two things (at least.) First, what is faith? In my interpretation, Mother Teresa has faith because, despite her deep doubts, she keeps going, she keeps working, she keeps doing what she believes God has called her to. That's at least part of my definition of faith.
And the second: What is your definition of God? What kind of a God do you believe in (or not believe in)? I'm thinking of the story NT Wright tells, about when he counsels students who tell him they don't believe in God. He asks: "Well, what kind of God do you believe in?" If they say, "a being who lives up in the sky, looking down disapprovingly at the world, occasionally intervening to do miracles, sending bad people to hell while allowing good peole to share...heaven", he would answer, "I don't believe in that god either."
What do you think? What are your doubts? Your faith? What God do you believe in?
And if you want to join in on a fascinating discussion of the Meaning of Jesus, go see Barb
image from here