Saturday, November 19, 2011

Atheism: What I lost

A while back, on Facebook, or some blog, or something, there was a discussion thread, for those of us who weren't "born atheist," about what we lost.

Well, news from my sister underscored that today. My brother-in-law is going to a new congregation, as interim pastor with likely move to permanent. She said his total compensation package will be around $100K. I assume that includes salary, denominational pension, health care, parsonage or housing allowance, car allowance and probably a few other things. With allowances for all of that, it's still got to be a base salary of more than $50K in a "flyover" part of Texas, a large town/small city place. (And, this is a mainline Protestant denomination, not a stand-alone church.)

As a divinity school grad myself who just couldn't do it, that's what I lost, compared to my lower-paying, lower-perking by far newspaper reporter/editor's salary.

Envious? Yes, a bit. But more angry at other things.

I'm angry at the dad who pushed all of his kids to some degree toward church-work careers. I'm angry at the mom who said that's why she was divorcing him, but didn't fight for primary physical custody of me. I'm angry at the career interest neglect by both parents, Ward/June Cleaver stereotypes aside. I'm angry at parts ignorant of, or ignoring of, sexual abuse under their roof. I'm angry at the emotional and physical abuse of a dad and the emotional neglect and sexual manipulation of a mom. I'm angry at how "passive" this all left me as an adolescent and young adult.

That's why, as I've blogged before, I reject "no regrets about life" claims as bordering on pop psychology.  But, I made my decision, as I blogged about in a series of posts, starting here. (To me, regrets are like old scars. I try not to pick at them, but I know that if they're deep enough, while they fade, they will never disappear. And, they have value for reminding me of the physical wounds that caused them, perhaps, just as it is with regrets.)

That said, there are many hypocrites in pulpits, whether atheist or otherwise. Even if they're not making $100K a year as a total package, they're still making decent money. Even if they're from a Baptist sort of hire-and-hire denomination or tradition, they still have pretty good job security. If, for whatever reasons, whether philosophical/metaphysical, more narrowly doctrinal or other reasons, if they're clinging to a job for job's sake when it's supposed to be more than a job, they're hypocrites.

They not only lose some self-respect, as they hang on to their jobs for money, they lose some of their self-image. If you're a hypocritical minister in a more conservative denomination, how do you counsel someone coming out of the closet? What do you say when someone asks you about gay issues? It was that, not just my changing belief/philosophy system, that led me to reject a guaranteed job (the Lutheran structure is similar to Catholics, not Baptists, in terms of job security) and more.

That said, philosophical/metaphysical issues can be hypocrisy producers. What do you say to the would-be mother who miscarried a three-month-old fetus if you don't believe in traditional ideas of "souls"? Ditto, as to what do you say to the son or daughter of a late-stage Alzheimer's parent? How do you tackle assisted suicide in general?

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