More atheist clergy…

…but not in U.S. Unitarian Universalist congregations. It turns out there are a fair number of atheist clergy in the Netherlands — like Rev. Klaas Hendrikse:

Mr Hendrikse describes the Bible’s account of Jesus’s life as a mythological story about a man who may never have existed, even if it is a valuable source of wisdom about how to lead a good life.

His book Believing in a Non-Existent God led to calls from more traditionalist Christians for him to be removed. However, a special church meeting decided his views were too widely shared among church thinkers for him to be singled out.

A study by the Free University of Amsterdam found that one-in-six clergy in the PKN [Protestant Church in the Netherlands] and six other smaller denominations was either agnostic or atheist.

Full story on the BBC Web site: “Dutch rethink Christianity for a doubtful world.”


2 thoughts on “More atheist clergy…”

  1. Dan,

    I don’t know if you’ve seen this collection of articles on the topic non-believing and atheist clergy in North America:

    “Disbelief in the pulpit”

    The Washington Post provided a link to Daniel Dennett’s research on the topic of atheist clergy and how they ended up as ministers who stopped believing after becoming ministers:

    “Preachers who are not Believers”

    Dennett sees this a serious problem for clergy who have come to the realization that they no longer believe. They have spent years training for the ministry and others might feel hurt if they were to be truthful about their doubts (e.g. spouses, family, congregants). Not to mention the practical aspects of the atheist clergy dilemma — leaving one’s job and one’s pension behind (this depends on denominational pension policies) and how that would affect one’s spouse and family.

    The interesting thing with this research is that the seeds of non-belief are sown in seminary. Here’s a quote from Dennett’s paper about this:

    What gives them this impression that they are far from alone, and how did this strange and sorrowful state of affairs arise? The answer seems to lie in the seminary experience shared by all
    our pastors, liberals and literals alike. Even some conservative seminaries staff their courses on the Bible with professors who are trained in textual criticism, the historical methods of biblical
    scholarship, and what is taught in those courses is not what the young seminarians learned in Sunday school, even in the more liberal churches. In seminary they were introduced to many of
    the details that have been gleaned by centuries of painstaking research about how various ancient texts came to be written, copied, translated, and, after considerable jockeying and logrolling, eventually assembled into the Bible we read today. It is hard if not impossible to square these new facts with the idea that the Bible is in all its particulars a true account of actual events, let alone the inerrant word of God. It is interesting that all our pastors report the same pattern of response among their fellow students: some were fascinated, but others angrily rejected what their professors tried to teach them. Whatever their initial response to these unsettling revelations, the cat was out of the bag and both liberals and literals discerned the need to conceal
    their knowledge about the history of Christianity from their congregations.

    One of the ministers interviewed stated “Oh, you can’t go through seminary and come out believing in God!”

    I’ve talked with UU seminary student friends who have seen the discomfort and anger in their non-UU classmates when they stuff about the Bible that was never taught in Methodist, Presbyterian, Disciples of Christ, etc Sunday School when they were growing up.

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