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?