Teresa MacBain is another one of those ministers – the ones who lose their grip on god and then wonder how on earth they can deal with the situation.
“I’m currently an active pastor and I’m also an atheist,” she says. “I live a double life. I feel pretty good on Monday, but by Thursday — when Sunday’s right around the corner — I start having stomachaches, headaches, just knowing that I got to stand up and say things that I no longer believe in and portray myself in a way that’s totally false.”
MacBain glances nervously around the room. It’s a Sunday, and normally she would be preaching at her church in Tallahassee, Fla. But here she is, sneaking away to the American Atheists’ convention in Bethesda, Md.
Her secret is taking a toll, eating at her conscience as she goes about her pastoral duties week after week — two sermons every Sunday, singing hymns, praying for the sick when she doesn’t believe in the God she’s praying to. She has had no one to talk to, at least not in her Christian community, so her iPhone has become her confessor, where she records her private fears and frustrations.
I can’t think of any other job that has exactly that problem. Even various woo-based jobs like homeopath aren’t exactly the same, because homeopathy isn’t a person, or a Person. It’s that that makes it a matter of conscience, I think.
She was raised a conservative Southern Baptist. She had questions about conflicts in the Bible and the role of women.
She says she sometimes felt she was serving a taskmaster of a God, whose standards she never quite met.
For years, MacBain set her concerns aside. But when she became a United Methodist pastor nine years ago, she started asking sharper questions. She thought they’d make her faith stronger.
In reality,” she says, “as I worked through them, I found that religion had so many holes in it, that I just progressed through stages where I couldn’t believe it.”
The questions haunted her: Is Jesus the only way to God? Would a loving God torment people for eternity? Is there any evidence of God at all?
And another, key question: would a loving God make the evidence so hard (we, being atheists, would say impossible) to find and then punish us for not believing without evidence? Would a loving God give us useful capacities to seek out the truth and test for falsehood yet demand that we ignore all that and have faith that there is a loving God?
I say no. That’s not a loving god. I am completely unable to believe in god, and I’m unable to countermand the aspects of my mind that make me unable to believe. That’s not something a loving god could or should or would punish me (or anyone) for.
MacBain misses the relationships, and she misses the music. But she doesn’t miss God.