Why would a preacher become an atheist?

The usual scenario is that a Biblically naive young person goes away to seminary with an interest in religion and a devotion to God. For the first time, he (usually) studies the Bible from a critical perspective. Doubts are born, but he prays for faith and does his best to push them away. Two decades later, he has been a minister for 18 years, and his doubts have multiplied. At long last he is forced to admit, at least to himself, that he has become that vilest of filth, that most loathsome of vermin, that veritable dung of Satan: an atheist.

Unfortunately, his job requires him to worship a specific triune deity, and the same church that endorses his paycheck owns his house. His parents, his wife, and his children, are probably religious. He has no training in anything but religion, and his every friend is committed to religion. If you were that person, what would you do? I think I would leave, and/or shoot myself, and/or go crazy. I might even build a new and deeply rewarding life based on rationality. Some do.

The men in the 1967 photo are Church of Christ preachers who had come together for a county-wide revival in Brookhaven, Mississippi. Three of the six were from the area, and I knew them well. I was 18 at the time, and had been struggling to keep my faith since I was eleven, yet I still envisioned preachers as residing in that rarefied realm referred to as "Men of God." I was so enamored by the group shown that if someone at the revival had dropped dead, I was certain that the combined prayers of these six men could bring him back.

Buford Stewart is second from right. When his little country church offered him a raise, he turned it down because he wanted to embrace God's ideal of voluntary poverty. I slept with him--platonically--when he took me along on a revival to Kentucky. The man on the far right is Norman Miller who took me to Indiana on another revival. They loved me, but if they were still alive and ran into me today, their version of the "God of love" would command that they turn me over to him for the everlasting agony that, in their view, I would so richly deserve.*

*"And whoever shall not...hear your words, when you depart out of that house...shake off the dust of your feet. Verily I say unto you, it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment..." Matthew 10:14-15. 


The Bipolar Diva said...

They wouldn't hand you over. They'd still love you.

rhymeswithplague said...

A preacher would become an atheist because Satan knows Matthew 26:31. I'm just saying.

lotta joy said...

You know me well enough to realize I have too much to say to use your comment section to say them.

(1) I've gone to church occasionally for my husband. I cannot force my opinion on him nor he me, but he wants me by his side. (I think he hangs onto the hope that I'll eventually see the light)

(2) I stare at the sunrise coming through the stained glass showing Jesus in nearly naked agony due to political differences of the time. I cringe as I watch the cannabalistic communion ritual, and feel like Dracula at daybreak.

(4) I wish I was naive. Even believing in the easter bunny and tooth fairy emits a feeling of hope, expectation and joy.

And I'm always damn glad to see them in my rear view mirror.

Marion said...

I believe that God is Love and Light...literally. A true Christian would love you, not judge you. That's my opinion.

Some of the churches I've attended would make Jesus question his faith.

I love you and am glad to call you my friend. xo

Deb said...

I guess it's difficult when religion is embedded into you since at an early age. There's so much pressure, especially if your family and friends are very religious. As to having a job that requires you to have "faith", when in fact there are many doubts, if at all any belief, then yes, the right thing to do was to leave. Hard call when reality of bills, family, life get in the way.

Re: BipolarDiva's comment, sometimes it doesn't work like that once someone leaves the faith that's practice. It becomes a tricky situation. (I can only imagine.)

Interesting post!

Charles Gramlich said...

they say that love should not have conditions on it but it always does

Myrna R. said...

It must be extremely difficult for people to leave the ministry or priesthood. Yet, like you say, some do. They are courageous.

PhilipH said...

I don't worry about faith, belief, religion one iota.

Just isn't worth the effort. All such balderdash to keep the peasants in order. Promises of milk and honey in the next world if you stay obedient and faithful to the 'laws' of some invisible deity.

If it comforts anybody to follow such religions and beliefs so be it, but me? It's poppycock.

Snowbrush said...

"If it comforts anybody to follow such religions and beliefs so be it, but me? It's poppycock."

You live in a place in which at least giving lip service to religion isn't the norm, and I envy you that. I especially fear the growing dominance of Christianity in American politics. Here, anyone who runs for state or national office does well to emphasize his Christian piety at every opportunity.

Snowbrush said...

"Satan knows Matthew 26:31."

I'm assuming that you believe in a literal Satan, so I would ask if you think that Satan reads all of the world's Scriptures to good effect, or does he just care about the Bible because that's the only one "whereby man might be saved"?

Snowbrush said...

"Re: BipolarDiva's comment, sometimes it doesn't work like that once someone leaves the faith that's practice. It becomes a tricky situation."

Indeed, but some churches demand that their members sever ties even with their own children if those children leave the church. The Church of Christ (which is entirely congregationally ruled) didn't go that far, at least in my area, but a lot of people in the Church of Christ did. I lost good friends when I left the church. They cut me off like cutting celery with a knife.

Snowbrush said...

"A true Christian would love you, not judge you. That's my opinion."

I wish this sentiment had wider acceptance. As for your last sentence, thank you, dear.