What Can A Flock Do When The Shepherd Has Lost His Way?

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(Lawrence Whittemore/Flickr)
(Lawrence Whittemore/Flickr)

A recent article by Daniel Dennett, a Tufts University professor of philosophy, shares the stories of non-believers. They're not seminarians, not congregants, not people in crisis; these people who have lost faith are religious leaders themselves.

Dennett first came across closeted non-believers when doing research for his book Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon. In an article for Tufts Magazine, Dennett remembers that, "in off-the-record conversations, outwardly religious people — lay church leaders or regular church-goers — routinely confided that they didn't believe the creed of their own church."

Learning of Dennett's findings, Linda LaScola, a Washington D.C. qualitative researcher, proposed a more systematic exploration of this issue. She and Dennett started with a small sample: five clergy within the Protestant Christian tradition.

The article, published in the Journal of Evolutionary Psychology (PDF), shares the stories of these pastors. Some of the clergy have doubted the existence of God since the very beginning of their training, others feel trapped, and some feel that doubt is an integral part of their faith life. In spite of their complex journey, the five respondents have one thing in common: they remain active as religious leaders.

Is this news to you? After Mother Teresa's death, the world learned of her doubts and struggles. How would you feel if you found out that your pastor/rabbi/imam/priest is a closeted non-believer? We'll take your calls and comments, and we'll speak with an ordained minister and professor of ministry studies about this phenomenon, and about what it means to have "seasons of faith."


  • Daniel Dennett, co-director, Center for Cognitive Studies, professor of philosophy, Tufts University
  • Matthew Myer Boulton, associate professor of ministry studies, Harvard Divinity School; ordained minister; director of the early choir, Old South Church


This segment aired on December 7, 2010.


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