Shocking case of unbelief

Channel 4 offers a reflection today from a clergyman of the Anglican Church who quite openly states a complete and sincere disbelief in God. He is an atheist who considers the scriptures nothing more than human literature. What are we to make of him?

Personally I find this sort of liberal wooliness in a clergyman not only absurd but frankly dishonest. What an affront to those who do believe, to the faithful in the pews whose giving pays his stipend! How does he stand at the altar with a straight face I wonder? Little surprise he opts to be filmed wearing secular clothing. Perhaps the clothing of the wolf would be more appropriate though given his place sowing seeds of doubt amongst the Christian fold!

Of course there is nothing new in this sort of bunkum which became popular with the infamous Sea of Faith movement sparked by Don Cupitt who came to believe that there was no God when serving as Anglican chaplain of Emmanuel College Cambridge in the 1960′s. One might actually argue that this sort of wooly theological position has become normative in the modern Church of England and that it is now much easier to progress through its ranks  holding these views as opposed to proclaiming the Creed in full.

One might want to ask why any church would allow for this sort of nonsense to be possible though? I mean the vegetarian society would hardly elect the leader of the hunt as its local representative! But more important than questioning why is the need for us to see in this man further evidence of what I posted earlier. Namely that we have become luke warm in the West and have lost the zeal and passion and belief that made Pope Saint Clement an outstanding Christian witness. Pray today for those whose faith has grown cold or else who have no real knowledge of the living Lord Jesus.

I feel very, very sorry for non realists like David Patterson. They eek out a pathetic existence within a church they do not believe in and founded on the faith of a people they do not even begin to understand. Why on earth would anyone want to do that? Why didn’t he become a social worker instead. The pay would be much better.

The good news is that he could never have become a Catholic priest. Because whilst he is completely honest in stating that the Anglican church does not require a firm statement of belief before ordaining its members the Catholic church does. It demands that we hand write the Creed and solemnly promise that we not only believe it to be truth but to preach it. Amen to that!

47 thoughts on “Shocking case of unbelief”

  1. You state “the Anglican church does not require a firm statement of belief before ordaining its members”
    That is incorrect. The ordination service includes the following:
    “Bishop: ‘ I invite the archdeacon/registrar to confirm that the ordinands have taken the necessary oaths and made the Declaration of Assent.’
    ‘They have duly taken the oath of allegiance to the Sovereign and the oath of canonical obedience to the Bishop. They have affirmed and declared their belief in ‘the faith which is revealed in the Holy Scriptures and set forth in the catholic creeds and to which the historic formularies of the Church of England bear witness’.
    These declarations are made before the service, but they are made. You made them in 2002, and that is still the case.

  2. I don’t understand why he still continues as a cleric. I mean, it is one thing to be an atheist or agnostic, but if you truly believe that, then I would think one would be ethically bound to repudiate one’s membership in a church. Otherwise, you have no academic or philosophical integrity.

  3. even the most cursory of google searches brings up dozens of recent examples of Roman Catholic priests who deny the existence of God or dismiss key doctrines of the faith.

  4. It is perfectly honourable for people to lose their faith. Priests who do so should either shut up about it and continue to fulfil their duties (as did, in the secular sphere, let us not forget, Mother Theresa), or resign their priesthoods. Quite another thing is the following: ‘One might actually argue that this sort of wooly (characateristically misspelled) theological position has become normative in the modern Church of England and that it is now much easier to progress through its ranks holding these views as opposed to proclaiming the Creed in full.’ That is exaggeration and distortion amounting to … lying.

    1. Hardly there are no evangelical bishops and almost no Anglo Catholic diocesans. Whereas liberal bishops abound. Fact is there in front of your eyes.

      1. Ha! Almost all the diocesan bishops are evangelicals! The next archbishop is an evangelical. Whilst I would not at all condone the priest in the clip your post is, as John says, hardly very accurate. And there are plenty of wayward Roman priests …..

        1. It depends on what you call “evangelical”. Those who are really Bible-based (ie do not condone women priests) are very very few. What you are talking about is “liberals of an evangelical hue”.

          + PAX et BONUM

          1. While broadly agreeing, Henri, I wonder why you regard the women priests issue as *the* litmus test of Biblicity? Aren’t there other issues that could serve at least as well?

          2. @Dan: because women’s ministry is the hot topic in today’s Church, but indeed I agree with you that many many other issues could be taken into consideration, such as serial monogamy…

            + PAX et BONUM

    2. Mother Teresa never stopped believing!! She just ceased to feel the proximity of God. But never her faith disappeared! Bad journalists inferred that because they don’t know what it is to feel separated from God when one is actually closer than anyone. St Teresa of Avila had also such a feeling, and so did St Bernadette. It is common for great Saints to be sent great hardships and Mother Teresa is no exception.

      + PAX et BONUM

      1. Please don’t bother to reply to John. He puts Mother Teresa in the secular sphere, not religious, so he obviously knows nothing about her at all!

        And good old Canon G. Wanting us to be more like his church, and this is what they have? No, thanks.

  5. Just done a cursory google of RC priests who deny the existence of God, and I can’t find any who remained as a priest, which is rather the point.And yes, Canon Godshall, there are many wayward roman priests . A question, Is Fr Ed an itch you just can’t stop scratching?

      1. I’m surprised he hasn’t used his favourite trope yet: I know many Catholics, and my wife is a Catholic, and they all think etc etc so it must be true.

        He really should get a new line, or sack his scriptwriter!

  6. what is faith? what is believing? and is there a different.
    i wonder fr ed, have you ever read any don cupitt? i have and although i generally disagree with his conclusions, it seems to that his questions are worth addressing.

  7. Marcus, all questions are worth addressing. The question you need to address is this.
    Would any reasonable person think it appropriate for a someone who is an atheist, to receive for 40 years or so all the rights and privileges, not to mention stipend, appertaining to the position of priest in the Church of England?

      1. “It is not for me to judge”


        “And why even of yourselves, do you not judge that which is just? ” Luke 12:57

        “And we charge you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you withdraw yourselves from every brother walking disorderly, and not according to the tradition which they have received of us. ” 2 Thessalonians 3:6

        1. Matthew 7
          2 For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.

          3 And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?

          4 Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye?

          5 Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.

          We can all trade verses.

  8. Many of the comments puzzle over why someone without faith would become a priest. I suspect most skeptics in the pulpit lose their faith after they already are there.

  9. I suppose that there would be little hesitation in someone taking an oath at ordination to a God one doesn’t believe in. The power of an oath is that there is a penalty for failing to fulfill the things promised. No penalty – no problem, I suppose.
    (Pre-Vat II, Catholics being ordained had to sign a statement that they did not hold modernist beliefs, at least one priest has admitted that he and some of his friends ‘lied’ – his choice of word – when he signed. I don’t know whether they expect to pay no penalty for their dishonesty).

  10. Not sure about what you say SteveD. Taking an oath is not merely, ‘no penalty, no problem.’ Doesn’t personal integrity enter in somewhere?

  11. A search through the current Crockfords reveals the only David Patterson to have trained at Oak Hill, the über evangelical seminary, and to have served his title at Holy Trinity Brompton. What a fall from grace if it is he! Or perhaps this old fool has already been booted out and is lying when he claims to still be a Church of England vicar.

        1. Yes that is the man. Paterson with one T. He was Vicar of Loughborough for 40 years during which time, among other attention seeking and self serving antics, he used to hold ‘Interfaith Communion services’ with the local Wiccans. Of course he had parson’s freehold and had been inducted before 1970, so there was nothing the Diocese of Leicester could do to get him out.

  12. Just another ‘honest minister’ of a Protestant State Church trying to ‘meet people where they are’, including – ALWAYS ‘including’ – those who deny, ignore or are bored by the Received Christian Deposit of Faith.

    Ho hum. The Dutch have even created an ‘integrity’ within their Protestant National Church (PKN) for such ‘post(-modern)-Christians’:

    But the most notorious are the ‘Scandinavian Nonbelievers, Which Is Not to Say Atheists’:

    We priests in the Church of England, including Fr Ed, have in fact taken at least three creedal oaths: on the occasions of our ‘deaconing’, Title Post Licensing, and ‘priesting’. Those oaths commit us to orthodox, catholic Christian belief as defined by the ‘Catholic Creeds’. Those creeds necessarily include, in addition to the Apostles’ and Nicene-Constantinopolitan, the post-Ephesian/Chalcedonian, Christologically-complete Quicumque Vult, since it’s prescribed on certain occasions in the Book of Common Prayer, the gold-medal standard of English Anglican belief and practise.

    The difference is that taking the ordination and licensing oaths can bear a very striking family resemblance to people attending their local parish church to get their kids in the school: a sort of passing piety with no means of enforcement.

    You need a Magisterium for that.

    1. Intriguing couple of links, Fr. I have suspected for a while that religious decline is most marked in those countries where standards of living are high, wealth is reasonably spread about and the cares of life from which religion offered solace are for the most part a thing of the past. Scandanavia and the Netherlands are precisely where you’d expect this kind of stuff to thrive.
      A second thought is that people are not really against religion, just not particularly bothered by it. The new places of Sunday worship are temples of capitalism – John Lewis, Tesco, IKEA, DIY stores: the main objects of devotion are more likely to feature on Sky’s Sunday afternoon live football. The challenge for the church is not necessarily secularism, less still Professor Dawkins. Its apathy. I mean, if you can do what you want and do so without any consequences, why bother worrying about what the church has to say?

      1. I agree, IanG. People in prosperous countries seem to th ink that now they’re successful, they’ve earned the right to enjoy themselves in any way they see fit. If they ignore the church, then they won’t have to bother about being nice, being responsible. They can do whatever they want and conscience doesn’t have to come into it.

  13. I heard a story like this from a very holy Catholic monk one time a few years ago. He used to attend mass every day in his parish in Belfast. One day the parish priest asked him ,after mass if he would like to come back to the Parish House for a cup of tea as there was a question he wanted to ask.

    When they were settled the Parish Priest said,

    ‘Frank you look like an intelligent man, I wanted to ask you if you believed in God?’

    Frank was, naturally shocked and asked the priest if he did not believe.

    The Parish Priest shook his head.

    ‘No I haven’t believed in many years , I can’t imagine how anyone with any sense could believe in it, it is complete nonsense , like bleiving in fairies. So when I see you at mass every day I was curious about it’.

    Frank even more shocked asked his priest how he could continue in his vocation.

    The priest replied that he considered himself a kind of social worker doing what good he could. In either case he went on to point out he got a good living out of it and what would he do if he left the priesthood at his age?

    I think we might be surprised how many clergy men and share this view point either explicitly or implicity. Anglican ,Catholic, Jewish ,Muslim ,whatever.

    In another case I heard from a young man who was thinking about becomming a preist. The Vocations Director told him,

    ‘When you become a priest you will need two books, the bible and your bank book’, (meaning there can be a lot of money .in being a priest). This the priest in question would have known since he had inherited three farms from different parishioners who died.

    It seems to me as Catholics we should be slow to point out the splinters in Anglican eyes when there are logs enough in our own.

    I thought the child abuse thing might have taught us all a little humilty.

    Apparently not.

    1. A lot of money to be made?! I cannot help but think my degree would have earned plenty more in almost any other profession I had chosen!

  14. The following exchange between Bishop and Archdeacon is taken from the Order for the Ordination of C of E priests. I’ve also set out The Preface and Declaration of Assent, made by each ordinand.
    All best
    Bishop I invite the archdeacon/registrar to confirm that the ordinands have taken the necessary oaths and made the Declaration of Assent.
    Archdeacon They have duly taken the oath of allegiance to the Sovereign and the oath of canonical obedience to the Bishop. They have affirmed and declared their belief in ‘the faith which is revealed in the Holy Scriptures and set forth in the catholic creeds and to which the historic formularies of the Church of England bear witness’.
        The Church of England is part of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, worshipping the one true God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It professes the faith uniquely revealed in the Holy Scriptures and set forth in the catholic creeds, which faith the Church is called upon to proclaim afresh in each generation. Led by the Holy Spirit, it has borne witness to Christian truth in its historic formularies, the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion, The Book of Common Prayer and the Ordering of Bishops, Priests and Deacons. In the declaration you are about to make, will you affirm your loyalty to this inheritance of faith as your inspiration and guidance under God in bringing the grace and truth of Christ to this generation and making Him known to those in your care?
         Declaration of Assent  
    I, A B, do so affirm, and accordingly declare my belief in the faith which is revealed in the Holy Scriptures and set forth in the catholic creeds and to which the historic formularies of the Church of England bear witness; and in public prayer and administration of the sacraments, I will use only the forms of service which are authorized or allowed by Canon.

    1. Also Patrick- I do understand why Douglas being the local Anglican vicar might not want to post in person- but do let him know he can do that rather than through you as your post shows!!!

  15. Quite a few years ago, when I was a Rural Dean , my Chapter Clerk suggested a speaker for Deanery Chapter. The speaker was a priest who had been deprived of his license by his Bishop. The reason? He had written a book, in which he ‘came out’ as an atheist. The thrust of his talk was that he had been badly treated by the Bishop. What was interesting ( disturbing ) was that by far the great majority of the chapter members (local clergy) were firmly behind him, complaining at the unfairness of the Bishop. Now, make of that what you will.

  16. I actually think that the church has a duty of care to clergy who lose there faith completely.I suspect that sometimes that loss of faith may result from situations only clergy have to deal with, whilst at the same time keeping faith.

    A genuine loss of faith is not something to mocked or derided, it something to be held in sympathy. I can quite see why, in the absence of proper pastoral care for clergy who lose faith, that soldiering on may seem the least worst option, especially if one has a sense of duty to parishioners, who need one.

    I note with interest that it Richard Dawkins charity that provides support for those clergy who have lost faith, to help them find a role in secular world.

  17. Comments above included the question “would the Hunt appoint an “anti-hunt” as its chairperson?” The answer, in general, is Yes! The RSPCA has consistently refused to condemn the hunting of foxes or its undoubtedly barbaric cruelty. Sadly, we live in a truly barbaric, corrupt and predatory world, from the Politicians, the Bankers, the Media persona, the Police downwards. Why not theChurch? In fact the two millenia of Christianity has seen far more institutionalised criminal violence and corruption than the “liberalisation” seen as so dangerous. Credulity and psychological frailty have always been exploited for purely power-game goals, in and out of the Church. My own view is that all overt Evangelism is a downright social evil, which ought to be outlawed. The Salvation Army, for all its drum-banging music and uniform needs no pressure-selling of its simple Christian message, ie “Demonstrate just by good works that you follow the “love thy neighbour” command communicated to us by Jesus.
    Finally, there is the little matter of loyalty to an employer. I can’t see this as being satisfied by a paid cleric who publicly states that he doesn’t believe in God. Cheers! Geoff

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