Prospect: Can you be an atheist priest?

Ollie Killingback spent most of his career as a clergyman for the Church of England—and for much of that time he was an atheist. “I had doubts before I entered the Church,” he says. “The study of theology [during ordination training] was supposed to relieve those.” It didn’t and he entered the ministry anyway. “I’d been on that track for so long… [but] I found myself with more and more unsatisfying situations where I couldn’t, with what I had been taught, find an adequate answer.”

Other priests go further. “Iain” still works as a Protestant minister in Ireland. In an interview with the Irish edition of the Sunday Times, he referred to God as “total and absolute nonsense” adding that trying to instil religious faith in children amounts to abuse. His congregation doesn’t know this, only his wife; he can’t look at her while he’s preaching. Ollie and Iain are members of the Clergy Project, an international online group of more than 530 clergymen and women who do not believe in God. Many have left the ministry, but about a quarter have not and use pseudonyms online. The project, founded in 2011, receives about 50 applications a month (although not all join—the group has a stringent screening process to protect the anonymity of its members). Some of the newest members are imams in Islamic countries…

… To continue reading click here to visit the Prospect website. Originally published 12 December 2013.

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