Priests who don’t believe in God

Imagine what it must be like to live a huge lie, to live a life which is based upon deception, and has deception at it’s core. Now imagine if in that life you were mainly dealing with notions of truth, and moral correctness. Yes, imagine that you were a priest who did not believe in God..,  Daniel Dennet and Linda La Scola have given us a fascinating study of 5 priests who don’t believe in God.

This is social science at it’s absolute best; peering into a secret, hidden, and important corner of human thought and behaviour. This research brings together so many of the key areas of psychological and sociological inquiry: role and situation, social expectation, cognitive dissonance, the presented self, the impression management, self schema etc etc.

Cognitive Dissonance.

I wonder what the long term effects of the dissonance caused by their situation are, I can only think that it must be immensely damaging to lead a life which is entirely formulated on a lie. Indeed we see all of the priests featured assuming coping strategies (e.g. “I see Christianity as a means to an end”)


I find it interesting how each of our Priests seem to have found themselves in Ministry by means of opportunity (e.g. as a mean to avoid the draft, or as a means to gain credit towards a PhD etc.). How many of our life decisions are actually the product of readily offered opportunity rather than value based beliefs ? As such I start to posit that maybe much of the artifice that we find underlying maladaptive thought and behaviour is because of a forced sense of self built through apparent social and individual constraint. I think Carl Rogers had a lot to say about this !


All of our priests are spiritual in the sense that they seek a better understanding of existence than that offered by positivist materialism. On the whole, they each express a belief in systems beyond that which can be experienced by the human senses. They seek a more purposeful, and philanthropic, nature for their lives. In short they want to do good in their lives. In many ways, I thought that they are better “Christians” than many who go by this label.

Bravery and Mental Health.

Ultimately, reading the interviews with these men I started to realise what courageous and honest men they were. To start to deal with a core contradiction in their lives and mental framework must take great bravery. However, to start to bring it out into then open, to examine the contradiction is a cleansing process. It helps them to avoid mental distress, displacement, repression and all consequent maladaptive behaviours. The obvious links to Ethics as an AoK could also be widely explored with this real life situation.

If only we could all find such courage to deal with the many inner contradictions that we all carry around and repress in our everyday lives.  In showing us an example of how to lead a more honest and healthy life these priests may, paradoxically, be fulfilling their missions.


5 thoughts on “Priests who don’t believe in God

  1. That was a very interesting read and how these members of clergy deal with their own cognitive dissonance. I found this section about mutual knowledge really interesting as no discussion can even be had around it (below). Very pertinent to why TOK is so important.

    One can be initiated into a conspiracy without a single word exchanged or secret
    handshake; all it takes is the dawning realization, beginning in seminary, that you and the
    others are privy to a secret, and that they know that you know, and you know that they
    know that you know. This is what is known to philosophers and linguists as mutual
    knowledge, and it plays a potent role in many social circumstances. Without any explicit
    agreement, mutual knowledge seals the deal: you then have no right to betray this bond by
    unilaterally divulging it, or even discussing it.

    1. Great points, though “conspire” literally means “to breathe together,” my friend.

      Check out this short, fascinating video, in which Jane Goodall posits that her chimpanzees might be exhibiting a primitive form of “religious / spiritual awe” in the presence of a waterfall. It goes a LONG way towards explaining our human propensity for religion. I am an Atheist / Humanist, but if “God” is Nature and we are Nature, the we are gods, suppose… if deeply flawed ones, of course!

  2. An interesting read, indeed! I posit that most priests who study history realize that humans create gods, not the other way around. Here is the “A List” from Richard Carlyon’s book, A Guide to the Gods, that lists and describes over 1200 gods and goddesses:

    Aah, Abathur, Abere, Abyss, Acat, Achamoth, Addad, Addu, Aditi, Adon, Adonai, Adonis, Adrasteia, Aegir, Aeolus, Aesir, Agassou, Agastya, Agloolik, Agni, Agunua, Agwe, Ahriman, Ahti, Ahto, Ahura Mazda, Aidoneus, Aipaloovik, Aji-Suki-Taka-Hi-Kone, Akka, Akna, Akongo, Akovoduon, Akuj, Alaisiagae, Alcis, Aleyin, Alfheim, Allah, Alphito, Aluluei, Amahraspanda, Ama-No- Kagaseo, Ama-No-Minakanushi-No-Kami, Ama-No-Uzume, Amaterasu, Ama-Tsu-Kami, Amatsu Mikaboshi, Ambat, Amen, Amenhotep, Ame-No-Hohi, Ame-No-Oshido-Mimi, Ame-No-Wakahiko, Ament, Amenti, Amma, Ammon, Ammut, Amon, Amun, Amurru, Anaitas, Anahita, Anansi, Ananta, Anat, Andvari, Angerona, Angiris, Angrboda, Angus of the Brugh, Anhert, Anhur, Annunaki, Anpu, Anqet, Anshar, Anta, Antero Vipunen, Anu, Anubis, Anuket, Anukis, Anulap, Ao, Apep, Aphrodite, Apis, Apollo, Apophis, Apsu, Apu Punchao, Arawn, Archons, Ardhanarisvara, Ares, Arethusa, Argetlam, Argos, Arianthod, Ariconte, Artemis, Artemis of Ephesus, Arthur, Artio, Aruru, Asclepius, Aset, Asherat of the Sea, Ashtaroth, Ashtart, Ashtoreth, Ashur, Asparas, Astarte, Asuras, Asvins, Ataentsic, Ataokoloinona, Atar, Atea, Atea Rangi, Aten, Athene, Atlas, Atri, Atropos, Attis, Atum, Auchimalgen, Auf, Aulanerk, Aumanil, Aurora, Ayida, Awonawilona, Azacca.

    …However, I was flat-out astonished and depressed when Carlyon stated that the Judea-Christian faith was the “one true faith!” How dare he make such an assumption, knowing that both Yahweh (the Greek Adonai, above) and Jesus are merely more recent manifestations of much older gods and thus indistinguishable from them? Since gods clearly spring from our brains, it is very interesting that the earliest deities – goddesses – sprang from our holistic, concrete, synthesizing RIGHT brains and later gods came from our linear, abstract, sequential (male-dominant) LEFT brains:

    “Why is it continually inferred that the age of the “pagan” religions, the time of the worship of the female deities (if mentioned at all) was dark and chaotic, mysterious and evil, without the light of order and reason that supposedly accompanied later male religions, when it has been archeologically confirmed that the earliest law, government, medicine, agriculture, metallurgy, wheeled vehicles, ceramics, textiles and written languages were initially developed in societies that worshipped the Goddess?”
    – (late) Art and History Professor Merlin Stone

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