Monday, April 12, 2010

The complexity of belief

Daniel Dennett and Linda LaScola’s recently released a study called, “Preachers Who Are Not Believers.” LaScola is a social worker and Dennett, a philosopher, is one of the original New Atheists (and the “Four Horsemen”), well-known for his vitriol against religion.

In an article relating to the study, Daniel Silliman writes that Dennett and LaScola have mostly missed the point in relation to the five Protestant ministers who took part in the study. The authors want to see preachers who are secretly atheists; the ministers themselves see their situation are vastly more subtle and complex. These are people who have struggled long and hard with belief and doubt, and who continue the struggle. As one of the men says, “We are not ‘un-believers’ in our own minds.”

Silliman goes on to say:

All of the preachers in the study have struggled, primarily, with denominational dogma that tries to strip down belief much as Dennett does. They have wrestled not with God so much as with particular doctrines, particular understandings of God, and, especially, with the conventions about what can and can’t be discussed openly in church. Three of them insist that, though they have rejected their denominations’ dogma, they still believe in God; they just say it’s complicated. The other two seem to accept that they, in fact, are unbelievers, that the line drawn by fundamentalists and the New Atheists is right, and they fall on the side of not believing.

Wherever they end up in their answers to the question of belief, all five of these men have taken belief seriously. They have not simply accepted or rejected imposed definitions of what faith means. They have struggled and tried to be honest about it.

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