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Thread: The Atheist Preacher

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    The Atheist Preacher

    I know that many of my atheist peers as well as probably most Christians do not think it's possible to be an atheist and a Christian. I have no problem with the concept and I have met two people who consider themselves Atheist Christians. I have no doubt there are many more of them in the pews of churches on Sundays, and I suspect there are probably more than a few Atheist Preachers. But, I found a piece about a real life atheist preacher and I thought I'd share her experiences here.

    https://www.nytimes.com/2019/02/01/w...d-atheism.html


    The Rev. Gretta Vosper hadn’t noticed the giant industrial metal cross rising in front of her church for years, hidden as it was by a bushy tree. But then someone complained about it.

    Since Ms. Vosper does not believe Jesus was the son of God, the complainer wrote in an email, she should take the cross down.

    “The next day, a storm took the tree out,” she said, peering up at the cross with a benign smile.

    Some Christians might call that an act of God. But Ms. Vosper does not believe in God either. Instead, the parable says more about her determination. Despite being an outspoken atheist, Ms. Vosper has steadfastly maintained her place in the United Church of Canada, which with two million followers across the country is Canada’s pre-eminent Protestant church.
    Since I am the type of atheist who doesn't hate religion or blame it on all of the world's problems, this story delighted me. Consider the positives of religion, such as community, charity and in some cases, activism for social justice causes. Why couldn't religion be secular while using the mythology and morality tales of religion as guides for a secular life? I'm not saying that we must have these things to live a moral life. No, not at all. I'm saying that secular religion could be a way to bring people the community and purpose that many desire, without all of the nonsensical claims that religion makes.

    The thrice-married reverend has also driven a deep rift into a progressive church considered as Canadian as maple syrup. In 2015, a public letter she wrote sparked so much ire, the local jurisdiction of the church launched a review committee to examine her beliefs.

    After a much-publicized hearing, which she called a “heresy trial,” the local panel ruled her “unsuitable” for ministry since she “does not believe in God, Jesus Christ or the Holy Spirit.” She was on the verge of being defrocked. But, just as the national church’s final review of her case began last November, the local jurisdiction settled with Ms. Vosper and agreed she could continue to minister her congregation in Toronto’s gritty east end.

    “This doesn’t alter in any way the belief of The United Church of Canada in God,” the church announced, to the confusion of many. Since the terms of the settlement are confidential, congregants were left to divine for themselves what these two seemingly contradictory positions meant.
    She was confronted with death threats and criticism when she first announced that she was an atheist. ( nice people those "true" Christians are ) But, she was able to maintain her status as a preacher in spite of her lack of belief in god.

    After graduating from college with an arts degree and in search of adventure, Ms. Vosper moved to the far north of Canada, where she was married and had a daughter. After her marriage broke down, she returned to Kingston as a single mother and enrolled in divinity school.

    “I wanted to learn how to make the world a better place through it,” said Ms. Vosper, who is sprightly, with short salt-and-pepper hair, chunky glasses and a penchant for bubbling over with language.

    Divinity school cemented her metaphorical views of God. But once she began preaching, she realized many congregants thought she was talking about an all-knowing, all-seeing spirit who answered prayers and called some to heaven and others to hell.

    “I realized how little of what I said got through to anyone,” said Ms. Vosper, 61.

    So four years after she was hired at West Hill United Church in Toronto, she delivered a sermon called “Deconstructing God,” laying bare her disbelief in a theistic God.

    She recalls congregation members hugging her afterward.

    “Most of the congregation was in a similar place theologically,” said Debbie Ellis, a member at West Hill, where Ms. Vosper was first hired in 1997.
    I get the impression that there are probably a lot of atheist or agnostic Christians in Canada, and while it's not as acceptable in the US, I have no doubt that atheists Christians are more common here then we know or are willing to admit.

    To me, this could be a wonderful way of maintaining the better parts of the Christianity, or any mainstream religion, without destroying the cultural implications and positive works that many churches do so effectively.

    For example, in my small city, many churches provide food banks, free or low cost medical clinics, and other types of help to people in need. They sometimes have counselors to help people going through difficult times and of course, they provide community, which most people need in order to live happier more satisfying lives. This is especially true of single and older adults.

    When I hear Christians speaking in general, I frequently get the impression that their church communities and charity work is what they value most about their religion. Of course, this doesn't apply to the most extremist versions, the ones who condemn and judge the non believers, but it is common in the more liberal and moderate Christian organizations. Why can't one find purpose and enjoyment in some of the religious mythology without taking it literally?

    If religion was simply to vanish, without anything to replace it, that would be a great loss to many communities. While I've often thought I might make a good UU, there are no UU fellowships within 50 miles of me. I've known plenty of atheist Unitarians and sometimes I've envied the community they've found in the UU religion, despite the fact that now and then they've complained to me about their fellowships putting too much emphasis on Christianity. For those who aren't familiar with Unitarians, anyone with a liberal version of religion, including atheists who identify as humanists or some other moral organization are welcome to become Unitarians. Still, UU Fellowships are fairly rare these days in many parts of the US.

    Why not put more emphasis on the better parts of religious mythology and take the teachings as metaphors, parables, and morality tales, without taking any of the supernatural parts as literal?

    A few months ago, I received a letter from a local church inviting us to join. The odd part was that the invitation said it welcomed both believers and non believers. Now, it's possible that this church is just desperate for money and new members, and it's possible that this church simply wants the opportunity to try and "save" us heathens. That's certainly naive of them. Still, I wondered if it might be possible that some of the local churches were beginning to realize that religion doesn't have to be all about specific beliefs in the supernatural, but more about community, and metaphorical views of the Christian ideology rather than taking the Bible stories as truthful and literal.
    I don't expect many of you to agree with me, but I think having some openly atheist preachers in the world, is a step in the right direction. Praise Jesus!

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    Quote Originally Posted by southernhybrid View Post
    I don't expect many of you to agree with me, but I think having some openly atheist preachers in the world, is a step in the right direction. Praise Jesus!
    I like your use of the word "openly." I think it is appropriate because there have got to be tons of clerics who got into their careers and have since changed their religious ideas. But a job is a job, money is money. Plus if you just observe people, including preachers, generally you find they pretty much all behave identically regardless of religion. The vast vast majority live like atheists.

    Do you really think the loss of religion would be bad for communities? I just don't see it making a difference. Most of the money that churches collect stays with the business. I don't have numbers but a lot of secular institutions give a lot of money to charitable causes and devote a lot of time via their employees and it has nothing to do with religious affiliation.

    The reason religion isn't taxed is because it was presumed that they spent their money performing social services, and not buying gold plated dog dishes. If that changed we would find out how much people really value their religion.

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    I think a "Christian atheist" is stretching the definition of Christian beyond the breaking point, sorta like someone calling themselves a "vegetarian that eats lots of meat".

    OTOH I can certainly see atheist preachers. Someone can like the religious ritual and community and still not believe in a god. I did know a monk in a Catholic monastery that was an atheist. I met him through a bonsai club I once belonged to. He was a monk because he liked the structure, regimen, and security it offered.

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    Veteran Member Lion IRC's Avatar
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    Christian trapped in an atheist body?
    Married bachelor?
    A bat that's really a bird?
    A child with two fathers?
    The changeable status of Pluto as a planet.

    We seem to be drifting further and further away from empirical definitions.
    #PostModernism

    But we have known for quite some time that there are a lot of atheists masquerading as clergy.
    ...I never believed those artificially low atheists-in-prison demographics either.

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    As has been said on the forum, the basic themes of the gospel Jesus is common to most traditions. Universal love at least as an ideal.

    One can be Christian as a morality based on things attributed to Jesus but reject the supernatural.

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    Quote Originally Posted by southernhybrid View Post


    Why not put more emphasis on the better parts of religious mythology and take the teachings as metaphors, parables, and morality tales, without taking any of the supernatural parts as literal?
    In my experience, and the supporting evidence of history seems to suggest, that for as long as you leave the nasty parts of the holy book in the holy book, you are condoning and inviting the evil that it spawns.

    If the "nice parts" of Christianity are really needed by communities, I believe they would do better if ONLY the "nice parts" were in their books. But as long as they choose to hold the nasty evil parts in their hands while they pray, then the nasty evil people will consider themselves validated and be emboldened.

    And then, the "nice parts" of Christianity have just emboldened the evil parts,

    And that is not a net win.


    That, to me, is why I disagree with the oft-made claim that the nice parts have value. Because those people never think they are responsible for the toll on what the "nice parts" have enabled. As long as they carry the book with the evil parts, I reject their claim that they are not responsible for them.

    Quote Originally Posted by T.G.G. Moogly View Post



    Do you really think the loss of religion would be bad for communities? I just don't see it making a difference. Most of the money that churches collect stays with the business. I don't have numbers but a lot of secular institutions give a lot of money to charitable causes and devote a lot of time via their employees and it has nothing to do with religious affiliation.
    I strongly believe it would not harm those communities. The good people will stay good. The bad people, though, would lose their validation and that would be beneficial.

    The good people will sign up for a charity as soon as they can. Because that's who they are - the religion did not make them that way, IMHO. I can't think of a single one of my religious "nice parts" friends who would turn bad without their church.

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    I grew up in an environment where "Christian" was both a noun and an adjective. Christian (noun) is a religion, or the people who call themselves Christians. Christian (adjective) is also a word for a generous, compassionate or empathic person or act. The notion of a christian atheist was perfectly plausible, but an atheist christian was never considered a thing. It's kinda like that carnivorous vegan Skepticalbp referred to above.

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    I have long called myself a "spiritual atheist," and by that I mean to say that all cults--just like everything else we do--is simply a reflection of what we intuitively understand (over time) of ourselves and our surroundings.

    Iow, it's all ass backwards. The conscious "self" (a construction of the brain) is ignorant of its construction and so whatever it infers is always about itself and its "nature," but it is imbued with a sense of arrogance/narcissism and so thinks that it's the center of all being (and understandably so).

    So, for example, what it calls "God" is actually a reference to the brain. The brain is unknowable (literally); it is all powerful (from the perspective of the constructed self that gets placed into dreamscapes and exists entirely within various virtual realities); it created "us," (ex nihilo, no less), because our selves are actually emergent constructs (animations) due entirely to process, etc..

    All of that is objectively true in regard to the true nature of the "self," which would be analogous to the "soul" or "spirit" or, in Christianity's case, "Jesus" (as in the trinity); not fully god, but fully god as in not fully brain, but at the same time, fully brain.

    Once you understand all of that, it's even easier to see how things like "prayer" is really the constructed self (which is a feedback algorithm originally created by the brain as an analogue for the body to use for strategic, survival-based problem solving virtual "war games"-if you will), "speaking" to the brain and that "answering" a prayer is when the brain happens to react to the feedback in a manner that seems to the self to be an "answer."

    Iow, the self is really dumb. It has imbued autonomy, but compared to the brain, it's like a village idiot, generally speaking. It's always easy to fool, because, of course the brain is what imbues it with any "knowledge" (or, technically, the illusion of knowledge). It can rummage around inside the brain and "find" some bits and pieces here and there on its own--again, it's imbued with a sense of autonomy--but it never actually pieces things together, the brain does and then just imbues that experience to the self as an automatic function (or "expression) of the symbiotic relationship.

    This all SEEMS to the self like it's happening out in the world and therefore god in the sky and all that rot, but it's all just happening in our skulls.

    The brain also seeks a lower energy state (like all of the matterenergy in the universe) and when things are discordant, it's problematic and when things are in rhythm, it's harmonious.

    So when the self and the brain are in sync, it's "positive" and when not, it's problematic and negative and the goal of "life" is always to find harmony (i.e., agreement between brain and self, but on a fundamental, vibrating string kind of level, not on an "intellectual/academic" level).

    As to the larger universe, the self is in fact separate from it in a very particular way (but of course can't be completely separate from it) and would seem to be discarnate, because it's ultimately an animation; an illusion; an algorithm that only "experiences" when the brain is in process. So it SEEMS to the constructed self like there can be non-material existence, but it's a misnomer.

    Brain dies, the self dies, but the way the self thinks it can be immortal/live after death is precisely because a sense of chronological time is likewise imbued, but not actual. The brain does this all the time in dreams and in the DMZ for that matter. In a car crash? Number one experiential anecdote? "Time just slowed, man!"

    And since the larger universe is all energymatter and the body is made of energymatter (but the self is not, at least not in the same sense), the self can nevertheless be discordant not just to the brain but to the universe as well via the brain (like tossing a thought pebble in an actual pond that results in an actual ripple).

    Iow, yes, the universe/brain/god is objective and reacts objectively to the self, which is, much like merging energymatter, objectivesubjective. It's objective in that it's a defined construct, but it's subjective in that its utility only emerges from the illusory quality, like a thaumatrope.

    The bird is never objectively in the cage, but the subjective experience of the illusion of the bird in the cage is still useful to the brain, which, again, originally constructed "us" (in an evolutionary sense) in order to war game potential scenarios for survival purposes before acting in the "real" world.

    So the brain uses the self as a sort of highly complicated analagous thaumatrope in order to see what it would look like if the bird were in the cage before it instructs the body to actually put a bird in a cage. Capisca? But from the self's perspective, it thinks--it experiences--being a bird inside a cage, but of course never actually was either.

    Believe it or not, all of this tracks 100%, even if I have not exhaustively laid it all out. But it is FROM this fundamental nature that literally everything humans have ever written about is in reference to, because our writings/art/expressions are all at the dumbest end of that existential funnel. We--the constructed selves--are always looking outward for answers that are all inward.

    But, again, the idiot self thinks (is "imbued with") the notion that IT is the end-all-be all and therefore the mouth of the funnel, but precisely the opposite is the objective truth.

    And to bring it all the way around, being "spiritual" in this actual, fundamental context of our natures makes perfect sense. We--the constructed selves--are all brain worshipers, while the brain is almost entirely indifferent to the constructed selves. They're just constructs to assist in strategic planning for the purposes of continuing survival.

    And that, meinen freunden, is ALL religion in a nut. We seek understanding of our true selves; gods don't give a shit (aka, their ways are "mysterious" and they are "ineffable" and all that shit).
    Last edited by Koyaanisqatsi; 01-03-2020 at 04:23 AM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by T.G.G. Moogly View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by southernhybrid View Post
    I don't expect many of you to agree with me, but I think having some openly atheist preachers in the world, is a step in the right direction. Praise Jesus!
    I like your use of the word "openly." I think it is appropriate because there have got to be tons of clerics who got into their careers and have since changed their religious ideas. But a job is a job, money is money. Plus if you just observe people, including preachers, generally you find they pretty much all behave identically regardless of religion. The vast vast majority live like atheists.

    Do you really think the loss of religion would be bad for communities? I just don't see it making a difference. Most of the money that churches collect stays with the business. I don't have numbers but a lot of secular institutions give a lot of money to charitable causes and devote a lot of time via their employees and it has nothing to do with religious affiliation.

    The reason religion isn't taxed is because it was presumed that they spent their money performing social services, and not buying gold plated dog dishes. If that changed we would find out how much people really value their religion.
    I do tend to think that if all religion were to vanish it would hurt communities unless something else were to replace it. Of course, you must understand that I live in the heart of the Bible Belt, a place where Christianity has deeply influenced the culture. But, aside from the really kooky Bible thumbers, most of the Christians I know are good people who seem to enjoy their church communities above all else.

    Atheists have tried but haven't done a great job or creating communities and giving to charity. I have often joked that we need more UU fellowships because the Christians are so good are herding the cats and doing good works.

    Where I live, the greatest among of charity work. is performed by the churches, especially the more moderate and liberal churches. There is one small church that has a lot of wealth members. Among other things, the built a low income senior housing apartment building, and the best assisted living facility in the area. One doesn't need to be a Christian to qualify for either of these places. Perhaps if the US had a much better safety net, we wouldn't need this type of charity.

    Atheists do have several church like organizations in the Atlanta area, like the Atlanta Freethought Society, but we've had a very hard time keeping members in our very small group that was started about 8 years ago. The atheists in my town are often very involved with other things.

    I see no reason why secular religion couldn't be successful in the future as more people give up the most literal versions of their religions and still find the need for a group where they can find community and purpose. So, when I read about the openly atheist preacher who had been permitted to remain a part of her Christian organization, I thought it was quite progressive and interesting.

    All non profit organizations are tax exempt, including The Atlanta Freethought Society. It would be good if churches did have to do tax returns and justify what they use their money for, like the AFS does. The IRS considers Secular Humanism to be a religion, so when I was treasurer of a Humanist organization, I never had to do a tax return. Not that my Humanist friends were very generous.

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    If churches are going to be tax exempt they should be required to spend 80% of their income on charitable work such as mentioned. If such a law existed I don't see a conflict.

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