Welcome from Richard Dawkins
Welcome to the Clergy Project. It is hard to think of any other profession which it is so near to impossible to leave. If a farmer tires of the outdoor life and wants to become an accountant or a teacher or a shopkeeper, he faces difficulties, to be sure. He must learn new skills, raise money, move to another area perhaps. But he doesn’t risk losing all his friends, being cast out by his family, being ostracized by his whole community. Clergy who lose their faith suffer double jeopardy. It’s as though they lose their job and their marriage and their children on the same day. It is an aspect of the vicious intolerance of religion that a mere change of mind can redound so cruelly on those honest enough to acknowledge it.
The Clergy Project exists to provide a safe haven, a forum where clergy who have lost their faith can meet each other, exchange views, swap problems, counsel each other – for, whatever they may have lost, clergy know how to counsel and comfort. Here you will find confidentiality, sympathy, and a friendly place where you can take your time before deciding how to extricate yourself and when you will feel yourself ready to stand up and face the cool, refreshing wind of truth.
– Richard Dawkins
Welcome from Dan Dennett
I want to congratulate all those who worked so hard to make The Clergy Project a reality, and to let you all know how proud I am to have played a role in its inception. I can’t call this a Welcome message since I am neither host nor guest. But I am very happy to witness the launching of this vessel, and to offer my wishes to all who are getting on board for a safe journey to better places.
– Dan Dennett
Welcome from Dan Barker
I wish there had been a place like this back in the summer of 1983, when after 19 years of evangelical preaching, I realized I had gradually grown into an atheist. I still preached for 4 or 5 months after that until I decided “enough is enough.” I have told my story in the book, Godless: How An Evangelical Preacher Became One of America’s Leading Atheists (Foreword by Richard Dawkins), and since that time I have heard from many others in a similar predicament, as well as many who have successfully made the happy transition to “civilian life.”
As far as I know, the origin of The Clergy Project has three sources. First, I have been collecting stories of former clergy for more than two decades, but have not yet done anything with them. (Perhaps they will end up in a book — or at least on this site. Many of those people are joining us here, which is very exciting!) At least fifteen years ago Levi Fragell, a former fundamentalist pastor who has since been involved with the Norwegian Humanists, suggested to me that we should form a society of “fallen preachers” (ha), but nothing ever came of that suggestion. (He has been bugging me about it for years.) The February 2008 issue of Psychology Today included the story “When Faith Fails: An Atheist in the Pulpit,” by Bruce Grierson, which included me and a number of other former and current ministers who have “seen the light,” and I am still hearing from preachers as a result of that article.
Second, philosopher Daniel Dennett and researcher Linda LaScola did a preliminary study of “Preachers Who Are Not Believers,” which was published in March, 2010. A couple of the clergy in that study were ministers in the pulpit who had contacted me after learning of my story, and I was able to suggest them to Dan and Linda. One or two of them (as far as I know) are currently here on this site, still preaching, wanting to get out. This project would not have come together without the input and hard work of Dan and Linda, as well as the active clergy with whom they have built relationships. Since neither Dan nor Linda is a current or former clergy, they will not be participating directly in this site, but we can’t ignore their work.
The third origin, the main impetus for the existence of the site itself, is the most important in practical terms. In 2006, just before The God Delusion came out, I met Richard Dawkins at the Humanist conference in Reykjavik, Iceland, where he heard me tell my preacher-to-atheist story. He expressed an interest in helping clergy. About three years ago, when Richard wrote the Foreword to my book Godless, he again mentioned casually to me that we might want to do something to help clergy get out of the ministry. (I’m sure he has been saying this to others as well.) Last summer (June, 2010), when we met for the “Gods and Politics” Atheism Conference in Copenhagen, Richard brought it up again. But how to find those clergy?
The answer is this preliminary attempt to form a free, friendly gathering place for those of us who have changed our beliefs. Eventually, we hope the word will get out and other de-converting clergy will be attracted to join in. Robin Cornwell of the RDFRS, a tireless and creative organizer, has been primarily responsible for the nuts-and-bolts of getting the project off the ground. Without her hard work (and investment by RDFRS), none of this would have happened.
So welcome to something truly historical: the first association of active and former clergy who are now nonbelievers. “Adam” and “Chris,” currently still in the ministry, will be our moderators, and I (call me “Deacon Dan”) will serve as a facilitator, but not as a leader. Freethought is a movement with no followers: we are all leaders, and what happens from here is up to you. If you are currently an “active” minister or priest, then you might benefit from meeting people in similar situations and knowing how others of us have successfully made it out. If you are an “alumnus” or “veteran” clergy, then you certainly have a lot to offer!
– Dan Barker
Welcome from Linda LaScola
Hello, I’m so happy you’re here. Having spoken to many of you, I’m eager for you to have the chance to get to know each other. I’ll be here for a few days while you’re settling in, and then I’ll sign off so you can talk among yourselves. I’ll be in touch with some of you to participate in the on-going Dennett-LaScola study. Meanwhile, best wishes to all of you and to this unique new community.
– Linda LaScola
Welcome from Adam Mann
Wow! We finally have a place for free-thought clergy to find refuge, reason, encouragement and community. I’m really looking forward to meeting everyone, or at least getting to know you by your anonymous names. First let me say that safety is the top priority on this site. Believe me, I know how important it is that your identity be kept confidential. I don’t want to know your real name and I am not going to tell you mine. At least not until we get out of ministry and are ready to do so. So until then, let’s get to know one another, share our journeys, bounce ideas off each other and learn from those who have gone before us, the “alumni”. So explore the site, make new friends and contribute. This is your site!
– Adam Mann