Thursday, April 22, 2010

When the preacher loses faith

An inevitability when dealing with forces that are invisible, intangible and have no measurable influence on the world is that belief will frequently wane.  Examining why something breaks down is often a good way to find out how it worked in the first place.  Philosophy professor and atheist writer Daniel Dennett has used this motivation to examine disbelief in people that had such strong faith they decided to devote their entire lives to it.  What bit of evidence, or lack of evidence, finally got through?  The data set is small, only five subjects so far, but still yields some interesting information about their lives, what caused them to lose faith, and what the results are to them.  Most carry on as before, but hide their true feelings:

IDEAS: In the conclusion to the study, you compare the dilemma of the nonbelieving clergy member to that of a closeted gay person.
DENNETT: It’s striking, though they don’t have any “gaydar.” They suspect that lots of their friends and fellow clergy have exactly the same beliefs they have, but they don’t know how to test that. It’s dangerous, and the ploys that they fall back on are just exactly the same stuff: “I have an uncle who...,” “One of my parishioners says....” They need to maintain credible deniability and so they’re very careful about that.
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1 comment:

  1. I like what he said about the unitarian hymns. I didn't like the way they changed the words, either. The old hymns are just so beautiful the way they are, in spite of what the words say. When I took my mother to church for the last couple years of her life, I loved singing they hymns just the way they were. I have made up an altered set of lyrics to 'How Great Thou Art', but it can't hold a candle to the original. I used to sit and nap during the sermon, but I was right there participating in the hymns! I'll sing about washing myself in lamb's blood to turn me white as snow, and I secretly giggle a bit, because any child knows that would turn you RED not white. But it's beautiful music, just the same. Changing the words would be like altering the great oil paintings of the renaissance!