We've already told you about The Clergy Project, a joint effort of the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Science and Reason and the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) that seeks to help religious clergy who have lost their faith. Now, in addition to launching a support network, the FFRF has announced the creation of a special fund that will better help atheist preachers escape the pulpit.
Earlier this week, the secular group announced that it would be pushing even harder to help "ministers, priests, rabbis and other clergy who no longer believe in the supernatural." Their stated goal through the creation of the new scholarship fund is to help those who are "looking for an exit strategy to a secular life."
"It is hard to think of any other profession which it is so near to impossible to leave," famed atheistic scientist Richard Dawkins has stated in explaining the reasoning behind the project. "Clergy who lose their faith suffer double jeopardy. It's as though they lose their job and their marriage and their children on the same day. It is an aspect of the vicious intolerance of religion that a mere change of mind can redound so cruelly on those honest enough to acknowledge it."
Only in its second year, The Clergy Project already has 223 members (56 of them are still active in ministry). The FFRF claims that an additional 60 applications may corroborate the notion that there could be "a huge number of secret unbelievers in the pulpits of the world."
Below, see a list of methods (as presented on the FFRF web site) through which the project will assist those former religious leaders who are looking to transition out of ministry and into the realm of non-belief:
- Scholarships for educational retraining. It is hard for someone with a divinity degree and a history of preaching to find new employment, especially in today's economy. Without an exit strategy that allows a minister to continue to provide for their family, it is nearly impossible to consider leaving the pulpit.
- Temporary hardship grants. Some of the clergy in the project tell heartbreaking stories of being unceremoniously thrown out into the street (literally, in one case!) and locked out when their nonbelief became known. Others who have voluntarily "graduated" to civilian life are finding it immensely difficult to land on their feet.
- Maintenance of the forum. The Clergy Project forum is a secret, invitation-only online sanctuary where former and active nonbelieving clergy can talk freely, comparing stories, suggesting resources, sharing concerns, asking for help, and finding a sympathetic nonjudgmental community of others who have wrestled with this unique situation.
It's interesting to note the secretive nature of the project. Considering that some of the members are still pretending to be ardent faith leaders in their churches, it seems the FFRF is attempting to shield them from potential fallout. The monies, as noted, that are given to the group will be turned around for transitional purposes.
“We know there must be thousands of clergy out there who have secretly abandoned their faith but have nowhere to turn,” says FFRF co-president Barker. “Now they do have a place to meet, a true sanctuary, a congregation of those of us who have replaced faith and dogma with reason and human well-being.”
Here are some ex-faith leaders describing their experiences:
The project's reach goes far beyond the U.S., with the organization reporting membership in Australia, South Africa, Canada and England, among other countries.