As the book Caught in the Pulpit continues through the emerging themes that developed through this study it switches from the plight of the liberal clergy to the conservative clergy. The conservative clergy lose faith as well but the reasons are totally different. The authors do not so much describe these clergy people as conservatives but as people who start out taking the Bible literally.
The first thing that is interesting is that the authors note that the New Atheists and the Fundamentalist Christian agree on a couple of things 1) Truth claims need to be taken seriously and 2) That means that liberal Christianity I nothing more than a smoke screen covering a retreat from the debate floor of the truth of the Bible. The both agree that you can’t just make the Bible say what you want it to say to preserve your faith at the cost of its integrity and truth claims. Those conservative Christians who lose their faith would cross over to liberalism is they didn’t feel that liberalism was being intellectually dishonest. In short, to a conservative Christian who gives up their faith liberal Christianity is a cop-out. Really the Bible is either historically true or it is a false book full of false stories so it can’t be trusted in its truth claims.
The one thing that all the testimonies of conservative pastors who left their faith do tell me as I read them is that they made a choice along the way to believe other arguments rather than the Bible. They also had trouble maintaining traditional doctrines and theology in the face of mounting evidence against them. I know this is true because I was there myself. My real sadness in dealing this part of this chapter was that none of them seem to be able to ask the question: “I wonder if it not the Bible that is the problem but how we are looking at it?” I made that question the part of my life that allowed me to keep my faith because I was willing to rethink what a truly literal Bible would mean to my theology and I became convinced it was not the Bible that was so much the problem but bad theology that had been upheld due to religious tradition. None of the people the authors survived seemed to ever really ask this question or a critical as they were of their faith didn’t seem to be able to muster the same level of critical thinking about what the New Atheists were saying. I have to say it is almost like someone simply changing faiths because the grass is greener not because it passed the same critical level of thinking they used to discard their faith in the first place.
I have reached a different conclusion than the authors which is not surprising at this point. It is not the new transparency that makes leaving faith possible it is the fundamental problem of thinking we only have one choice when it comes to reconciling God and history and the nature of the Bible. The ones that leave their faith never seem to ask the question: is there a different way this could be looked at? or Is God different in the pages of the bible than what I have come to understand through my theology? If I see and real problem is it is making our belief system so rigid it is fragile. This is the unfortunate side effect of religion who needs to maintain certain doctrines in the face of evidence (even Biblical evidence) in order to keep that denomination or sect going. It is my personal belief that Christianity will survive in the new transparency because there are some truth claims that cannot be easily overcome nor can they be easily sidestepped, the question is can a believer be flexible enough to change his view on God to match more directly what the Bible says instead of blindly holding on to what was taught to him by religious leaders.
The next section of the book deals with the emerging theme of what these pastors who left their faith gained and lost.