SATAN LOVES THE CLERGY PROJECT, ATHEIST RABBIS, AND DOUBT
The Clergy Project is an online support group for priests and such who became atheists. It happens sometimes, and it’s a tricky spot for them. “Prayed and handed out wine for 20 years” looks flimsy on a resume.
Clergy have to think about god a whole lot, and most people reading this know that thinking a lot about god is the best way to start noticing holes in the story.
Even that priest in the Exorcist wasn’t buying it anymore. In the end, the miracle of Linda Blair’s rotating head solved his problem. But not everyone lucks into that kind of thing.
A couple weeks ago, Vice compiled confessionals (pardon the term) from Clergy Project members about how they lost their faith. One ex-rabbi’s testimony struck me:
“I began to feel much less confident in my ability to know the answers to all of these questions. I found it very burdensome to have to have all the answers. […It’s] very liberating to not have belief. It’s a lot easier this way.”
Sounds like this guy is enjoying the liberating power of doubt. Doubt, at least when it comes to the Big Questions, is one of life’s best assets. You could call it Satan’s gift to the world.
Mainstream religions are not always big on the D-word. James 1 says “The one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the lord.”
My favorite is late conspiracy nut cartoonist Jack Chick, who declared doubt “Satan’s sharpest arrow!” Ah, Jack. You always knew just what to say to cheer me up. Candle in the wind.
Opposite that, the Satanic Bible assures readers, “Without doubt, the doorway through which truth passes would be […] impervious to the poundings of a thousand Lucifers.”
As usual I’ll point out that I’m not the biggest fan of the Satanic Bible or of Anton LaVey. And yet, when he’s right, he’s right.
Consequently, it’s no wonder that poor Clergy Project rabbi felt stressed out. Pretending to have an impossible degree of certainty sounds like anxious work. I’m exhausted just writing a sentence about it.
The freedom to just admit the plain truth that nobody has all the answers seems a comfort. I like to think of doubt (at least about metaphysical things—self-doubt is another matter entirely) as a distinctly Satanic virtue.
After all, one of the very first things Satan does in Job is express skepticism: “Then Satan said, Does Job fear God for nothing?”
Just like the first words out of the serpent in Genesis 3 (which is not really supposed to be the devil, but the other team traded him to us way back when): “Did god really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”
I think that to be a Satanist is to be skeptical, to ask questions, and to push back when other people claim to be certain. The more steadfast a belief is, the more we should press it. (Almost all Satanists are atheists, after all.)
And what a comfort it is to believe no ultra-human power holds us to an impossible, inhuman standard of divine certainty.
Never having had faith, I don’t understand why it’s such a fragile thing. Even people who stake the world on faith lose it without knowing how. Like it’s a set of car keys or something.
But I can’t imagine ever losing my sense of doubt. It’s too fundamental to being human. The first question most kids learn to ask is “Why?” Maybe they know it’s a smart instinct.