Thursday, July 2, 2009

"Just a job."

I wonder what it would be like to be some kind of religious leader, like a clergyman or priestess, and "lose one's faith." I mean, it's one thing for me to say, "I'm part of this religion even if I don't believe in its deities any more than a Jewish person needs to be a Young Earth Creationist."

It's quite another for a religious leader who has staked their career on a spiritual calling, their lifestyle and their very livelihood, on a strong commitment to nurturing and furthering the religious group of their choice. I imagine there are priests who stop believing in the literal truth of God who stick around for the community-building and counseling aspects of the job, but how many more stay because they have no choice?

At that rate, I'm surprised that any clergy are willing to entertain even for a moment the possibility that they might be serving something/someOne that isn't there. The consequences for them of changing their mind are much heavier for the rest of us who may make some lifestyle changes but don't really lose anything.

Then there's the question of people who enter into a position of religious leadership without a belief in the literal truth of their religion's narratives. I mean, if people can make it through seminary school without a belief in six-day creationism, can they make it through without a belief in the God that did it? Provided they could, is there a reason to?

Questions I'm mulling over as I consider the implications of whatever degree of religious leadership comes my way now and again. I can do what priests do, but I wouldn't be what they are. This isn't a problem for me, but would my presence be a problem for them?

I don't think that my mere presence would cause anybody I "served" with to automatically and magically become non-theist practitioners of the same religion. But if it did, I worry that they would be unable to strike the same balance that I do between continued practice and discontinued faith. At that rate... I would hardly have done them a favor.

Perhaps it's better, then, that religious leaders try their damndest not to listen to me. It's all well and good for me to think about these things in the way that I have and come to the conclusion that I did. But my path would wreck what they've built. Even if I think that what I believe is better grounded in practical reality... I feel a need to acknowledge that sometimes people have built so much on something that even accidentally knocking them away from it would do them more harm than good.

I don't know. I'm just thinking about it. I know clergy who are comfortable talking to me or atheists of various stripes, and they're "secure in their faith," which may imply they're not really giving a fair hearing to the atheist or it may imply that they've already explored that path and decided it's not what their life needs.

It's just hard for me to escape the idea that clergy of any tradition have made a commitment that gives them a serious disincentive to changing their minds. I don't exactly run around trying to change their minds, but I wonder if this means I ought to be more careful not to cause such a change, lest I cause far more damage to them than the paradigm shift caused me.

I don't know how I feel about this yet. It's just something that was on my mind today.

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