"Some might be surprised to see an avowed atheist take the pulpit in a Christian church,” I said as I began my sermon at the University Church of St Mary The Virgin back in February. “Others will know that this is far from unprecedented, although admittedly the atheist before you would usually be an ordained one."
I was fairly confident this joke wouldn’t offend the congregation of Oxford University’s liberal Anglican church. There are and have been many atheist clerics in churches like this, sometimes avowedly but usually in all but name. Most don’t like the A-word because of its anti-religious connotations, but if being an atheist means fully accepting a naturalist worldview and rejecting the existence of a literal, personal God, then many churches are full of them.
So I wasn’t too worried that my hosts would think their vicar had invited them to dance with the devil. If anything, I expected more criticism from my secular comrades. Sam Harris famously made the case that these apparently harmless liberal theists are are at least as dangerous as their hellfire-proclaiming brethren. The moderates make religion more acceptable, shielding it from criticism and delaying the day it finally dies... (continues)