In musing about what might become of a vicar if he or she found faith and belief dwindling.. It suddenly struck me that a paradox may have been played out somewhere, at some time. and it may well have happened without the knowledge of the congregation..
I guess a young man (I did have fleeting thoughts about seminaries as a boy), brought up in belief and with the necessary means, might embark upon a journey that he hoped would end well. He would be expecting to complete his journey to paradise having done the best he could along the way; for others (as well as for himself, if he is honest). In the name of God.
The detours and blind alleys he would encounter during this journey would sometimes challenge his faith but, being well trained in scriptural argument, he would rely on the words of the testaments of other men to help him through these times. Each stumble would be an opportunity to refresh his relationship with his creator. As it is written. By other men. In the name of God.
In time, his bishop and his stipend would allow for longer tenure in a chosen parish. Relationships with his congregation would develop and become rich in their variety. The opportunities for being a good man more frequent, more recognised by him and others as a part of what he is. A good man, in the name of God. A good man who reflects what others are. Sometimes weak but with resources. Sometimes selfish but with humility. Sometimes careless but with compassion.
His congregation join with him in recognising an example in their midst. A benchmark that has the corrections and re draughts of a lifetime's use. A benchmark by which they might all enjoy the comfort of human social companionship, rubbing along together. Reminding themselves of the important measures along the mark. Making the necessary adjustments as they go.
All is well. In the name of God.
Over a period of time, and in response to the creative, imaginative enquiry that brought our vicar to the philosophy of the supernatural in the first place, he begins to prefer a more pragmatic view. As parts of what he had considered unassailable begin to crumble and resolve themselves into more mysterious and wonderful ways of seeing, his steps become more sure. Over this time, he absorbs and embraces the gradual capacity for understanding that the modern world is now enjoying. Over time, he feels the dogma of a brief historical document slipping from under his feet. Fundamental literalist explanations for the existence of our world are replaced by rational understandings of the universe. The confluence of science and art becomes a torrent and he no longer needs to conclude his thoughts in the name of a god. The process of contemplation brings him to a larger congregation, of thinkers and dreamers. He finally sees that whichever way it comes or goes, creation belongs in the hands and minds of man as well as any of the incalculable numbers of other forms of sentience out there in our universes.
Then comes a very difficult Sunday morning. This good man must, in all honesty take the last steps up to the pulpit on his journey to being a good man. Whether he chooses to join his congregation and discuss his altered view or alternatively, write a brief and humble letter to his bishop matters little. He still has a responsibility to those he cares about and, if honest, loves. He remains their vicar and remains a good man.
The choice in paradox is this. To say nothing. To remain a good man in the name of a god and to harbour his new conviction for his own continued journey, embarking when he wishes to, alone. Or, conversely to openly discuss his philosophy and accept the dissolution of the congregation as it is.
Here is where my musings have led to. I suspect that a number of very good men and women have abandoned the necessity for a supernatural force either by action or default. They continue to perform the often irksome job that they are paid little to perform because they are at heart Good People. Because the alternative is considered socially abhorrent. The alternative would be to be completely open and declare an interest in remaining as a benchmark for the rest without the sanction of medieval text. To become what may be termed a community leader, whose only qualification for the job is a proven capacity for Good. And without that text, his capacity for good would be gradually replaced by acknowledgement of human frailty, then suspicion of motive and finally rejection as just an ordinary man.
I have known a number of vicars and priests. Some wonderful people. Some though whose moral standing would embarrass us all if demonstrated outside the tenets of the cloth. I have great admiration for those who think seriously about their position and offer a balance between the recorded stories of a frightened power base in the ancient middle east and modern rationalism. I can feel it all becoming very hot again though. I worry for the truly good as arguments bounce back and forth without much good resulting. The position of good clergy seems in danger once more as the far right and aggressive atheists go to war.
How sad it is that all the reinterpretaion of an ancient tract remains as powerful as ever now. It's capacity for harm is undiminished.
'Good people do good things and bad people do bad things but for good people to do bad things, it takes religion'.