It is not a subject I bring up very often—and frankly I wonder aloud why I am bringing it up now. My son humorously observed that the upfront confession may be necessary for future damage control.  Perhaps. OK, here goes. Hello, my name is Jimmy (hello Jimmy!) and for 13 years I was an evangelical pastor.

Smelling salts are available upon request.

My contemporary students and colleagues, some of whom I have known for many years, have no idea of my “former life” –with rare exception; even many of my current crew of personal friends have no idea. I generally do not divulge this personal history (for many reasons that serve no purpose to get into detail here), though, to be sure, having to live with the stereotype of a “former evangelical pastor” is near the top of the list. I never believed a person of faith was one who had to check their intellect at the church door, and, as a result, ended up writing my own “manifesto” of my then belief system –which is available upon request for anyone who really cares. I doubt it.

As a self-professed TERRIBLE former pastor, for years I would “warn” anyone who would listen that I am “this close” to walking out the doors of the church and never coming back… even as I lead my own congregation. The reality is that many were hoping I would take myself up on my own offer.  I would imagine some Sundays they wondered if I was even going to show; then, one Sunday, I did not. The rest is history. I believed that I could be an agent of change and change I did –as most left the services with far less faith than when they had arrived.

I concluded that my critical thinking mind had no place in the land of inflexible dogma, at least not as the one who was supposed to be there to provide the pat answers.  My “sermons” were more like college lectures and encouraged audience participation and disagreement. The new-age person could speak out freely while the visiting atheist was free to raise objections. I rarely made dogmatic statements (skillfully never using the dreaded definitive words every, always, never), rather provided probing spiritual questions coupled with a litany of possible responses. I desired to get people to think about many issues, including media, while some of my thoughts were even published. I desired for people to learn and live in tension. Long story short:  A pastor who encouraged people to critically think coupled with a congregation who wanted simple answers handed to them on a silver platter was a match made in hell.

Upon reflection, I probably would have made a far better rabbi.

I was labeled a heretic on more than one occasion (prompting me at one point to write an article on the great need for heresy). My proud heretical status was ironically derived much more so from what I did not say (or better, refused to say) than from what I did say. I was frequently encouraged to give THE answer, while I preferred providing all possible answers and allowing individual congregants to be informed, then decide for themselves while “owning” their response. Yeah, right. And the pope tweets….wait.

What do I believe now? What do you think? Does it matter? Why or why not? Why do you think I will no longer engage in such dialogue? Discuss.






  1. During the first lecture for COMMST-100, I was hit with the realization that you used to be a pastor. Being already acquainted with the way you think, I was not too surprised that you were once a pastor, and I was far less surprised with your story of how and why you left the church. But maybe I am in the minority who are not surprised or unnerved with your story. Maybe it is good that you keep it to yourself, I don’t know. To answer your question, I think it usually matters greatly what someone believes about religion, because religion often provides the bedrock or foundation for what someone believes or rejects (i.e. religion provides the underlying premise for interpreting reality). By knowing what someone believes about the spiritual things, I can learn how the person will interpret the ever day events in his or her life. Correct me if I am wrong but my guess is that since you are more of a “free thinker,” this idea of religion influencing how people experience reality bothers you. And thus, you actually decide what you will believe about religion based upon what you already believe about reality. So in a sense, (I am still assuming here) you work backwards from most people. Most go religion –> reality (they accept, with little objection, what religion teaches and work from there). You go reality —> religion (you accept what life teaches you and work from there instead). So since I am already familiar with what you believe about reality, what you believe on religion would probably provide me with little new insight into your mind. Although, this does not completely take away my curiosity; I would still be interested in what you believe in about “the heavens,” even if it is just the obvious progression of what already believe in about life, reality, and the mind.

  2. Thanks for commenting Jordon with an O. Of course most people adopt the faith/religion/philosophy they were born into. The pattern typically is that we are forced to a particular brand of faith as a child, grow up, rebel against that faith, settle down, have kids, and then go back to the faith we are most familiar with. However, when we go back, we do not arrive as genuine and sincere partakers of said faith, rather we arrive because it’s all we know. I would like to think that all people would look at reality before adopting (or not adopting) a religious worldview – yet I know this will never happen. If you were raised in India you will probably be a Hindu. Saudi Arabia? A Muslim. United States? A Christian. When people say, “well that is how I was raised,” I simply suggest that perhaps they may have been raised wrong. I certainly know I was in many ways. I would like to think people have the intellectual honesty to be critical of the systems they know best…but I know human beings too well and this will never happen on any large scale.

    Reality must drive religion and not the other way around. We are in a world of hurt if otherwise. My problem with pastoring was this said reality. I did not allow what I believed to be logical and reasonable notions of the world temper and shade my faith. I am very good at handling large amounts of cognitive dissonance…most people are not. So when I would not simply give curt and pat answers to difficult questions and toe the evangelical line, I was suspect and not to be trusted. And, yes, if something walks like a duck, talks like a duck and looks like a duck, I am going to call that damn thing a duck…even if my faith would not look kindly upon it –if that is not to be trusted then I am guilty as charged.

    Frankly, I was a pastor then for the same reason I am a professor now – I wanted to contribute to humanity and offer something positive to the world in my area of skill and ability. What took me over a decade to realize was that the brand of faith I was peddling was not about necessarily being good, rather it was about thinking good. As long as one believed something intellectually it was all good -and I believe that to be complete horseshit (which differs greatly from bullshit, btw, but that is another blog ☺). Jesus was a wonderful example of how to live your life, ultimately laying down your life for a friend…just beautiful. Again, the brand I was peddling was far more interested in having the dogma in order, the right verses memorized, the correct pat answers, the easy directions to salvation and being comforted with “certainties” over the simple and profound idea of simply laying down your life for a friend. When they wanted the easy answers and correct doctrine I simply would not provide it because they were the missing the entire point of faith.

    As they wanted to climb and ascend the intellectual mountain, I was simultaneously descending from it while ascending the behavioral mountain of love and kindness. What do I believe now? Well, I do blog about it and you can read it…though, frankly, who really cares? I can say what I believe though I could be bullshitting, not really know, or, even if I did know, it could change tomorrow as more information and enlightenment comes my way. So what is the point in communicating this information? The only person I am out to convert is myself. To convert daily to being a better person, a more loving person, a more enlightened person, a wiser person, and a saner person.

    Hey, I might just submit this as a blog…over 650 words. Thank for getting my wheels churning Jordon….great insights!

  3. You asked me to respond to your ideas of reality interpreting religion, I am usually rather non-confrontational, but I figured we could have some fun with this, so here goes:
    My main point of interest for what you believe about religion does not actually stem from what you shared in your post or your response to my post, but something you have shared in class on more than one occasion. That is that we should approach religion like a buffet or salad bar. In other words, this proposal states that we should believe in what we want to and not believe in want we do not want to. My other concern is that your underlying basis or premise for accepting or rejecting something in religion seems to me to be “whether or not it is helpful” instead of “whether or not it is true.” I will hopefully address these both. The potential danger of the “salad bar” approach is that you and those who would agree with you can fall victim to a subtle yet deadly form of closed-mindedness. That the “salad-barer” will begin to only accept beliefs that she is comfortable with and reject beliefs she is uncomfortable with. This to me does not seem like an open-minded nor cognitively honest way to approach religion or any other part of life. Imagine if someone believed the gay community didn’t exist because he felt uncomfortable with the idea. Such a person would not be a stable or rational person fit for social discourse. Those who do the same to religion are open to the same judgement. If someone is attracted to Christianity but finds some of the miraculous accounts hard to accept so she decides that she will believe in Jesus, but not His miracles; that person is guilty of the same error as the man who denies the existence of the gay community; the error of letting taste dictate truth.

    And now I come to my other point (inspired by C. S. Lewis’ article, “the Man and the Rabbit”): the danger of believing in religious ideas because they are “helpful.” I first make a proposal or definition: A good man or woman is someone who hunts for truth, for truth’s sake, and his/her primary concern is not how this truth is helpful but how it is true. One could call this “pure” science, like finding the density of Pluto’s moon for no other reason then to do it. I think we should approach religion in the same fashion. If Buddhism (or any other religion) is the truth, then a good man will believe in it primarily because it is true, not because he finds it helpful. If Buddhism is not the truth, then a good man will not accept it, even if it were of some use to him. Now a good man could still see some value in Buddhist practices such as the psychological and physiological benefits of relaxing the mind and focusing on breathing. Or he could find Buddhist teachings on fully living in the present moment helpful, but the good man will only interpret this in the larger view of the ultimate truth. It is the same when we acknowledge that Aristotle was on to something with his theory of why objects fall, but at the same time we note that he was completely wrong. In the same vein of thought, the good man could see that Buddhism or Scientology or Mormonism or any religious belief was on to something while still holding to the belief that these are totally wrong. So if Buddhism were wrong and if he were to learn anything from Buddhism, it would only be because Buddhism has elements of the ultimate truth in it, (just as Aristotle had pieces of the truth of gravity). But the good man will not rest until he finds the truth. Although there are a few similarities, I think the “good man” and the “salad bar” man are very different people. The salad bar man believes in things he likes or finds helpful to his daily life but is not ultimately concerned with what the actual truth is. He thinks: After all, who is to say what the truth is? How does anyone know, and it is very closed minded of someone to believe THEY have the ultimate truth? The “good man” (as defined earlier) will only accept what he finds to be congruent with Truth. I believe in a genuine obsession for the Truth is the furthest thing from closed-mindedness (just as rejecting Aristotle’s model of gravity is not considered “closed-minded”) and if the good man believes he has settled on the Truth, then he should not be considered closed-minded for rejecting all else that he finds falling short of the Truth (just as scientist are not considered closed-minded when we settle on a working theory of gravity). The question now becomes, can the truth really be know in religion as it can in science? But that is a different discussion entirely. I hope that made a little sense, as I side note “the good man” is used solely as a distinction between the two types of people. I do not intend to say anything about either sides’ moral character or their love towards their fellow man. I hope you didn’t find any of this personally offensive; I don’t mean to step on toes, just to get people thinking and conscious of what and how they believe on religion. And I am open to the idea that my argument is wrong

    • Rabbi’s are known for asking more questions than serving up pat answers. Judaism is ok with mystery….which I love. We now have Netflix…we go it about 3 years ago after the kids were grown and out. We only binge watch now…we will watch a series and then may not watch again for months.

  4. Interesting perspective, I sometimes wonder , why do I attend church on a robotic chronological basis every Saturday morning? Sometimes I wonder, why is this routine is so embedded in me to the point that if I am without it or do not engage in church going that I would displease my creator? These questions are asked by may church goers, from pastors to members, the infamous “why?”
    It has gotten to the point in my belief that I will ask more “Why” than be constantly spoon feed someone else ideas. With exploring various religions and understanding of super natural being, I have come to a greater understanding that the CHOICE is left up the the individual to discover who they are and what is their underlining motivation in getting off ones back in the morning. We have the greatest tool in ,choice, and many believe that sermons should tell us what we should and should not do instead of letting experiences teach us the path of life.

    So, to this day I will continue to question what I believe in; which will help to educate me and also learn more about the environment I am blessed with. Thanks for your transparency!

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