Having been an Evangelical pastor for twenty-five years and now a card-carrying member of Satan’s atheistic horde, I have gained a bit of notoriety that attracts people doing studies about clergymen who have left the ministry and lost their faith. I am a rare duck in one respect: most men and women who leave the ministry do so when they are younger. In my case, I was fifty years old before I turned in my ministerial union card. My counselor told me that it is rare for pastors my age to walk away from a lifetime of ministry, even if they no longer believe. (Please read Leaving Christianity: Why I Was an Old Man Before I Deconverted.)
When asked to give interviews or participate in studies, I always say yes. Ever the preacher, I want to tell the good news of atheism far and wide. I want doubting and unbelieving Evangelicals to know that there can be life — good life — after breaking up with Jesus. Last year, Dan Delaney — who was working on his Master of Arts in Sociology thesis at the University of Louisville — contacted me and asked if he could interview me for a study he was conducting. I gladly said yes, and now Dan’s completed study has been published.
Dan recently emailed me to let me know that his study had been published. Here is some of what he had to say:
A lot of very interesting concepts came out of it that I never anticipated. I also had the good fortune of being able to present portions of it at the Association for the Sociology of Religion conference last August, and at the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion conference last November, and it was very well received. Everyone at both conferences was extremely interested in the results. I’m now going to start the arduous process of trying to break this thing down into small chunks to get published as journal articles.
Dan’s thesis is available on the internet. You can read it here. Dan used pseudonyms in his study, so my name is Stephen.
Secular but not Superficial: An Overlooked Nonreligious/Nonspiritual Identity Abstract:
Since Durkheim’s characterization of the sacred and profane as “antagonistic rivals,” the strict dichotomy has been framed in such a way that “being religious” evokes images of a life filled with profound meaning and value, while “being secular” evokes images of a meaningless, self-centered, superficial life, often characterized by materialistic consumerism and the cold, heartless environment of corporate greed. Consequently, to identify as “neither religious nor spiritual” runs the risk of being stigmatized as superficial, untrustworthy, and immoral. Conﬂicts and confusions encountered in the process of negotiating a nonreligious/nonspiritual identity, caused by the ambiguous nature of religious language, were explored through qualitative interviews with 14 ex-ministers and 1 atheist minister—individuals for whom supernaturalist religion had formed the central core of identity, but who have deconverted and no longer hold supernatural beliefs. Te cognitive linguistics approach of Frame Semantics was applied to the process of “oppositional identity work” to examine why certain identity labels are avoided or embraced due to considerations of the cognitive frames evoked by those labels.
Through the constant comparative method of grounded theory, a host of useful theoretical concepts emerged from the data. Several impediments to the construction of a “secular but not superficial” identity were identified, and a framework of new theoretical concepts developed to make sense of them: sense disparity, frame disparity, identity misfire, foiled identity, sense conﬂation, and conﬂated frames. Several consequences arising from these impediments were explored: (1) consequences of sense conﬂation and conﬂated frames for the study of religion; (2) consequences of conﬂated frames for religious terminology; and (3) consequences of the negation of conﬂated frames for those who identify as not religious, not spiritual, or not Christian. Additionally, four types of oppositional identity work were identified and analyzed: (1) avoidance identity work, (2) dissonant identity work, (3) adaptive identity work, and (4) alternative identity work. Finally, the concept of conﬂated frames was applied to suggest a new interpretation of the classic Weberian disenchantment narrative.