Solitary confinement

I’ve at last got around to reading the interesting study of non-believing pastors by Daniel Dennett and Linda LaScola.

The study is somewhat anecdotal because of the small number of subjects, but it is thoroughly interesting nonetheless. The most eye-opening insight for me is that clergymen’s religious beliefs must stay within certain limits if their careers are to remain stable. Once trained and ordained as, say, a Presbyterian minister, a person must continue to profess Presbyterian beliefs as long as she wishes to maintain her job.

As the study shows, this requirement can be a recipe for unhappiness. Most people’s beliefs undergo some degree of transformation over the years but, ironically, future clergy’s exposure to different religious ideas during seminary may actually produce greater changes in their thinking than in the layman. As one participant in the study puts it “Oh, you can’t go through seminary and come out believing in God!”

Committing oneself to the ministry, then, puts one at considerable risk of being trapped into teaching and promoting ideas and beliefs that one no longer holds. As the study shows, escaping this situation can be difficult: non-believing clergy may feel forced to stay in their jobs for financial reasons, or for fear of upsetting loved ones.

Are there other careers that place similarly strong ideological confinement on their practitioners?


5 Responses to Solitary confinement

    • kpharri says:

      Interestingly, though, pressure in politics is often inverted: politicians are pressurized to change their beliefs in response to shifting popular opinion, whereas clergy are pressurized to maintain their beliefs despite shifting personal opinion.

  1. Heidi says:

    More evidence for my hypothesis that preachers are nothing more than snake oil salesmen.

  2. sTiv says:

    “I have a friend” (which, for once is true!) who is a somewhat rebellious Catholic Priest, very seldom displaying the piousness that I as a lay-person might associate with such clergy.
    Whilst this may not speak to the range in careers requiring “strong ideological confinent” as you put it, I am often intruigued by the juxtaposition between the ‘ministerial role’ that I sometimes see displayed for parishoners, and the ‘human role’ presented to friends – albeit an honest, truth-seeking, enlightened one.
    Would this be a way in which people in such careers / ideological strongholds… keep themselves sane?
    Does that make it right?

    • kpharri says:

      sTiv – I think you’re right: I’ve seen that in my own family, as I’m sure you know! I would even argue that a certain degree of frankness and levity performs an important role in making pastors more human and approachable: a cold voice behind the confession screen is no match for a smile and a friendly conversation.

      The hardest situation is probably with pastors who have deeply religious family, and therefore have no outlet for expressing their true beliefs. I personally feel quite lucky in being able to “out” my beliefs without serious repercussions, although it wasn’t an entirely smooth process.

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