ABC World News with Diane Sawyer – Atheist Ministers Struggle With Leading the Faithful
November 09, 2010
By DAN HARRIS and WONBO WOO
“I am an atheist,” says “Jack,” a Southern Baptist with more than 20 years in ministry.
“I live out my life as if there is no God,” says “Adam,” who is part of the pastoral staff of a small evangelical church in the Bible Belt.
The two, who asked that their real identities be protected, are pastors who have lost their faith. And these two men, who have built their careers and lives around faith, say they now feel trapped, living a lie.
“I spent the majority of my life believing and pursuing this religious faith, Christianity,” Jack said. “And to get to this point in my life, I just don’t feel like I believe anymore.”
“The more I read the Bible, the more questions I had,” Jack said. “The more things didn’t make sense to me — what it said — and the more things didn’t add up.”
Jack said that 10 years ago, he started to feel his faith slipping away. He grew bothered by inconsistencies regarding the last days of Jesus’ life, what he described as the improbability of stories like “Noah’s Ark” and by attitudes expressed in the Bible regarding women and their place in the world.
“Reading the Bible is what led me not to believe in God,” he said.
He said it was difficult to continue to work in ministry. “I just look at it as a job and do what I’m supposed to do,” he said. “I’ve done it for years.”
Adam said his initial doubts about God came as he read the work of the so-called New Atheists — popular authors like the prominent scientist Richard Dawkins. He said the research was intended to help him defend his faith.
“My thinking was that God is big enough to handle any questions that I can come up with,” he said but that did not happen.
“I realized that everything I’d been taught to believe was sort of sheltered,” Adam said, “and never really looked at secular teaching or other philosophies. … I thought, ‘Oh my gosh. Am I believing the wrong things? Have I spent my entire life and my career promoting something that is not true?’”
He said he feared for his salvation and soul. “In that point where I realized I was losing my faith yet I still feared for my own salvation, I asked God to take my life before I lost my faith,” Adam said.
Adam said he now considers himself an “atheistic agnostic.” “I don’t think we can prove that there is not a God or that there is a God,” he said. “I live out my life as if there is no God.”
He and Jack said that when speaking to parishioners, they tried to stick to the sections of the Bible that they still believed in — the parts about being a good person. Both said that they would like to leave their jobs though they can’t afford to.
“I want to get out of the position that I’m in as quickly as I can because I try to be a person of integrity and character,” Adam said. “With the economy the way it is, with my lack of marketable skills other than a seminary education, it has me in a tough spot.”
Atheism Secret ‘Going to Be Devastating’
Jack said that his secret left him feeling isolated but that he would certainly lose a lot of friends when he professed to no longer being a Christian. His wife doesn’t know and he said it was possible he could lose her as well.
“It’s going to be very confusing for her,” Jack said. “It’s going to be very devastating and it’s going to take us a while to work through it.”
Adam said his wife knew that he was struggling with his faith but not that he had lost it completely.
“It’s a very tough situation to be in,” he said. “I can’t think of another career that is so dramatically affected by a change in one’s opinions or thoughts.”
“At first I feared if I lose my faith, I’m gonna become some terrible person,” Adam said. “As I lost my faith … I realized that really had no bearing on who I am and my character and my actions. I live no differently than I did when I was a fervent believer.”
Adam and Jack were included in a report by philosopher Daniel Dennett, a professor at Tufts University and well-known atheist, and his co-researcher, Linda LaScola. They are continuing their research into non-believing clergy. ABC News contacted the two pastors through Dennett and LaScola, verified their identities and positions, and interviewed them separately.