August 12, 2018

Why They Rarely Question Clergy

priest

I haven't been feeling inspired to do much writing lately, but I'd like to use this post to respond to a comment left by crittervalley on a recent post. I think that most atheists have been frustrated by Christians who do not question their priests or pastors and appear to accept whatever they say uncritically. It seems so obvious to most of us that the evangelical pastor or Catholic priest does not know any more about the world than anybody else. And yet, plenty of people seem to elevate them to an undeserved status anyway.

Thinking back over my experiences with people who uncritically accepted whatever their pastor or priest said, I think the primary reason people do this is clear. They are taught to do so, and this teaching typically begins at an early age. It is a key part of religious indoctrination. Even though my parents encouraged me to ask questions in general, there was an exception when it came to the clergy. Questioning religious teaching was discouraged.

My childhood friends who were Catholic had it far worse than I did. In addition to being taught not to question priests, they were taught that priests were the representatives of some sort of divine being. Questioning them was not just a no-no; it could place their souls in jeopardy. For me, it was clear from an early age that the primary reason I wasn't supposed to question clergy was that it would embarrass my parents. My Catholic friends had far more to worry about. And while I did not know any fundamentalist Christians at the time, I expect their children would have had similar concerns.

The elevation of clergy into something far greater than they are should concern us. It is not just that they might be viewed as being more knowledgeable or more deserving of respect than they really are. That would be an issue but probably not a major one. The more important problem is that they are put on pedestals where their faults are ignored, benevolent intent is assumed, and they are often seen as conduits for the divine. Is it any wonder that clergy abuse is such a problem?

Some members of the clergy are highly skilled bullshit artists. I suppose one could step back and admire such a skill; however, being really good at bullshit can't be allowed to mask the reality that it is still bullshit. Some astrologers are probably more persuasive than others, but that doesn't mean that what they are doing is any more valid.

It does bug me that people tend to believe clergy and are reluctant to question their claims. I do remember being taught to accept what they said uncritically. I also remember how difficult it was initially to break away from this and allow myself to ask questions. I am glad I did, though. When the answers were either absent or unsatisfactory, thinking critically about religion became far easier.