New movie about atheist pastors: “Losing Our Religion”

Reader Keith called my attention to a new movie coming out in September, “Losing Our Religion”, a documentary about the Clergy Project started by Linda LaScola and Dan Dennett to provide a haven and discussion group for preachers who had lost their faith. The movie’s website is here, and here’s a summary:

Losing Our Religion is a feature length documentary about preachers who are not believers, and what atheists do when they miss church. Allowed access to the 600 members of The Clergy Project – a safe haven for preachers from all faiths who no longer believe – the documentary follows ex-members and clergy who are still undercover.

They are not just losing their religion, for many they are losing their friends, community and even family. As well as their job.

As events unfold that change lives forever, their stories also connect with secular communities that are growing in surprising places. New groups are experimenting in ways to have church without god, and asking the same question as unbelieving clergy – “what’s next?”

Losing Our Religion is a documentary about community, acceptance, and a view inside the complicated lives of clergy who are stranded in the rising tide of non-believers.

Here’s the trailer; see how many people you recognize (and not just Dawkins and Dennett). I’ve met two of these brave pastors.

Pastor No Faith‘s site adds this:

Check out the Facebook page:

If you’re in Canada you can watch the movie on the Documentary Channel Oct. 15 at 9pm ET/10 PT, Oct. 18 at 7pm ET, Dec. 10 9pm ET/10 PT on documentary Channel

(The Documentary Channel’s version I believe is shorter than the theatrical version)

If you or someone you know would like to host a screening then go here:


  1. Craw
    Posted August 18, 2017 at 2:17 pm | Permalink

    I am afraid I think they *should* lose their job. They can only continue by practicing a knowing a fraud upon their customers and betraying their trust.
    I know perfectly well that sincere pastors are passing off nonsense as it it were valuable, and that once can plausibly describe their goods as “fraudulent” but that is the result of error and delusion not knowing fraud.

    • Paul S
      Posted August 18, 2017 at 3:06 pm | Permalink

      Disagree. They’re supplying a product that their customers want. It shouldn’t matter if the pastors believe or not.
      You don’t have to believe in homeopathy to work at whole foods or CVS.

      • Craw
        Posted August 18, 2017 at 4:26 pm | Permalink

        If I asked the pharmacist if the homeopathic product worked and he said yes knowing it doesn’t, that’s the analogy. That still okay with you?

    • Posted August 18, 2017 at 3:49 pm | Permalink

      I agree. If they’ve figured out that what they’re preaching is a lie yet they keep on preaching it, they’re scammers. For them to keep on preaching what they no longer believe only reinforces the religious claim that atheists lack moral standards.

      • Craw
        Posted August 18, 2017 at 4:29 pm | Permalink

        Good point. “I used to tell people the truth about my beliefs and sincerely try to help them, but once I became an atheist I figured I could scam them and exploit their ignorance.” Ugh.

    • rickflick
      Posted August 18, 2017 at 4:55 pm | Permalink

      I have trouble seeing how they can’t find work outside being a church man. The excellent speaking skills alone should make them prime candidates for many sales and promotion jobs. And, if they lack scruples, they could sell products that don’t even work! Although, if they lacked scruples they probably wouldn’t mind staying in the church.

      • Michael Fisher
        Posted August 18, 2017 at 5:48 pm | Permalink

        @Rickflick You are absolutely right in urban communities above a certain population number – let’s say pop. 30,000 [thumb in the air figure]. But below this magic figure the pastor & family have to ‘up sticks’ & relocate. Ideally you need a years salary saved to transition. You need to move because…

        Both adults need a job, but you’re not welcome or customer friendly any more

        Your congregation feels betrayed: “my Momma’s funeral last year, was a charade by a stinkin’ atheist!”

        Small community welfare programs go through the churches – how do you ask for clothes & food parcels after the debacle of ‘coming out’

        Bullying of kids at school

        Finger pointing at Walmart during the monthly shop

        • infiniteimprobabilit
          Posted August 18, 2017 at 7:41 pm | Permalink

          I agree with that.

          And usually (I’m guessing here but I think I’m probably right) loss of faith doesn’t happen all at once, like Paul on the road to Damascus in reverse.

          Suppose ‘you’ (the Reverend) realise that you don’t believe in Adam and Eve, or the more revolting parts of the OT. Are you going to turn round and tell Mrs Smith that it’s all bunk and her little Johnny ISN’T with Jesus any more? No. You do your day job, which is bringing comfort to the faithful. As part of the social institution which is your church. It’s not just all about your beliefs.

          Eventually your disbelief may become comprehensive enough that you feel the need to change jobs – which may not be as easy as it sounds. But I (as a 100% atheist) wouldn’t condemn any preacher who was just ‘going through the motions’. (I would condemn them if they were ‘crusading’, though).

          As an analogy – decades ago I was sent on a week-long ‘management’ course, which included a lot of role-playing exercises which I thought ridiculous. About the second day the tutor quietly pointed out to me that some of the participants had paid good money to take part. So for the rest of the week, for their sake and whatever benefit they might derive, I hid my scepticism as best I could. In other words, I lied. Should I have done?


          • Michael Fisher
            Posted August 18, 2017 at 8:08 pm | Permalink

            @infiniteimprobabilit Yes they [you in your example] should lie, but these people don’t think of it as lying so much as as a weakening in faith. Asking questions is equated to such weakening after all.

            I took my neighbour to church the last year of her life & listened to the sermons & lectern Bible readings by the laypeople – I tabulated the Bible quotes to keep me sane. Over the 46 church visits, the Rev + lay people used a total 3% of the NT & hardly any OT.

            That’s lying.

            • rickflick
              Posted August 18, 2017 at 8:43 pm | Permalink

              “I took my neighbour to church the last year of her life…”
              That was a very noble deed. Congratulations for making such an effort. And you were able to do a little research on the side. Good for you.

      • Michael Fisher
        Posted August 18, 2017 at 6:03 pm | Permalink

        Catholic priests who are ‘laicized’

        Note that below
        “…if there should be any wonderment on the part of the faithful, let a prudent explanation be provided.” means “lie to the congregation as much as necessary about why he isn’t at church any more”

        Canon Law Digest, vol. 9, pp. 99-101:

        5. As a rule, the priest who has been dispensed from priestly celibacy, and, all the more so, a priest who has married, ought to stay away from places where his previous status is known. Nevertheless, the Ordinary of the place where the petitioner is staying, after he has listened, insofar as it may be necessary, to the Ordinary of incardination or the major religious superior, will be able to dispense from that clause attached to the rescript, if it is foreseen that the presence of the petitioner will not beget scandal.

        6. Lastly, some work of piety or charity should be imposed on him. At an opportune time, however, a brief report should be made to the sacred Congregation on his performance, and, finally, if there should be any wonderment on the part of the faithful, let a prudent explanation be provided.

        All things to the contrary notwithstanding.

        • rickflick
          Posted August 18, 2017 at 7:20 pm | Permalink

          You’re right, of course, there are going to be serious difficulties for many x-preachers. I don’t really mean to minimize the difficulty some will face. I simply wanted to point out that the talents of religious leaders should, by rights, be transferable to other occupations requiring speaking and interpersonal skills. You’ve pointed out that in the small religious community where the problem manifests, the opportunities would likely be reduced. I’d have to say though, that if these people are willing to relocate…

          • Michael Fisher
            Posted August 18, 2017 at 7:52 pm | Permalink

            Of course you are correct. The clergy project provides grants to the poverty trap which is what being part of the church is.

            Many pastors & families live in tax-exempt church-owned housing gratis & their cars are through the church too. Wives are appointed as some functionary of the church that gives tax advantages [churches are free of income tax!]. They will certainly have church-funded medical cover. The tax exemptions given to churches & church employees amounted to $50,000,000,000 last time I looked five years ago.

            To live in similar style outside the church takes a lot more salary, which is why I think a small family needs a years church salary saved to relocate considering they don’t own their homes often.

            I’ve come across a similar situation with the Salvation Army in the UK – the officers [the ones with uniforms for formal occasions] are looked after until the grave & need for nothing, but it’s all strings attached. The officers I know are an unholy lot who think about pensions & security – not good deeds. The real work is done by the civilian employees & volunteers.

            My new local unmarried Methodist priest has just been ordained & his salary is 1/3 national average – poorer than the fabled church mouse. Keeps ’em in their place & striving. 🙂

            • rickflick
              Posted August 18, 2017 at 8:40 pm | Permalink

              Sounds like some will be exiting a dismal existence and perhaps taking a step up.
              Hmmm…I’m starting to think about all we could do with the $50B!

  2. Heather Hastie
    Posted August 18, 2017 at 2:21 pm | Permalink

    I’d love to see this. I hope it screens on a channel available in NZ.

    • Hempenstein
      Posted August 19, 2017 at 7:42 am | Permalink

      How religious is NZ? Guessing it’s closer to Sweden than England.

      • Heather Hastie
        Posted August 19, 2017 at 10:17 am | Permalink

        Last census (2013) 41.9% ticked the “No religion” box. If you counted it as a religion, it would be the largest.

  3. Craw
    Posted August 18, 2017 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

    A few years ago a female Anglican priest converted to Islam. She did not tell her flock, eh continued to preach. And draw her salary of course. Eventually she was outed to her bishop. He decided she could stay.

    Le plus ca change le plus que c’est le meme chose … 500 years ago Luther said the least people could expect from the their church is that it not lie to them.

  4. ploubere
    Posted August 18, 2017 at 2:54 pm | Permalink

    This is another project in production. I gave them a little contribution last year:

  5. Posted August 18, 2017 at 3:14 pm | Permalink


  6. Randall Schenck
    Posted August 18, 2017 at 3:31 pm | Permalink

    These people need retraining and new careers just like the millions before them. The textile workers, the iron workers dozens of other factories that shut down, moved to other countries. At least the pastors kind of made the choice whereas most others had no choice at all. More power to them. Like all other people I was born an atheist but unlike most others I never changed.

  7. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted August 18, 2017 at 4:39 pm | Permalink

    A second but related problem is clergy who aren’t strictly atheists, but have religious views that are wayyy out in left field and even then cannot tell their congregation. A few of these become Unitarian ministers. Ironically, this can be more of a problem in the churches run on congregationalist form of government, even though these are less creedal/dogmatic in nature.

    My understanding is that to join the Clergy Project requires you to be strictly atheist, not semi-deist or whatever.

    Unlike Dan Barker, Jerry DeWitt experimented with various forms of progressive religion extensively before throwing in the towel. (See his article in Huffington Post But if I understand the CP correctly, he could not have joined when he was in his Joseph Campbell stage.

  8. Jan looman
    Posted August 18, 2017 at 8:31 pm | Permalink

    There has been an on-going kerfuffle in the Toronto area over the past few years about an atheist United Church minister.

    She has been up front about her change in belief and has managed to keep a very loyal congregation. But then the church bureaucracy found out….

    • Michael Fisher
      Posted August 18, 2017 at 8:56 pm | Permalink

      @Jan looman

      Very interesting. Does she & her hubby live off the collection plate, donations from elsewhere & her book sales?

  9. Mike
    Posted August 19, 2017 at 8:32 am | Permalink

    It’s completely aalien to me ,that you have to have safe places for non-believing Pastors. Change the Religion to Muslim and the Country to Saudi Arabia, no surprise at all, but 2st Century America.? Unbelievable. “no pun intended”

  10. Ullrich Fischer
    Posted August 20, 2017 at 9:28 pm | Permalink

    Religions are just stories around which communities of humans are built. It is just as possible (and a way better community results) to build a community around stories that are actually true as it is to build them around life-destroying lies alleged to be the commands of an Imaginary Sky Monster.

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