Showing posts with label spiritual struggles. Show all posts
Showing posts with label spiritual struggles. Show all posts

Sunday, August 8, 2021

Pray Away [Conversion Therapy] A Review

  Pray Away


  Kristine Stolakis

  Jessica Devaney  

  Anya Rous

  Carla Gutierrez

Reviewed by

Geoffrey W. Sutton

Pray Away is a documentary film about the experience of American Evangelicals who identify as LGBTQ and conversion therapy. I watched the show last week on Netflix and I recommend the film to those interested in the topic.

One of the leads is a man named Jeffrey who identifies as ex-trans. He no longer identifies as trans as he says, “I lived transgender but I left it all to follow Jesus.”

The film tells part of the Exodus story. Exodus was a large Christian organization based in Orlando Florida. It began in 1976 and quickly expanded to help people who identified as gay or lesbian change their same-sex attraction. The process was called conversion therapy or reparative therapy. Exodus closed in 2013.

The film, Pray Away, tells the story of people who continued to struggle with same-sex attraction, which never went away. Despite the closing of Exodus, Christian groups continue to encourage LGBTQ people to change rather than accept or affirm an LGBTQ identity. The film focuses attention on the harm suffered by those who participated in these conversion efforts.

On their website, Kristine Stolakis expresses her goal:

“My ultimate goal is to tell the truth of the "pray the gay away" movement's enduring harm. I hope that  in a few years following the film’s release, a family member or struggling LGBTQ Christian searching for information on conversion therapy finds PRAY AWAY, learns about our subjects’ compelling stories, and finds their way to affirmation and self-acceptance.”

Randy Thomas was one of the Exodus leaders. A friend’s suicide caused him to evaluate what was going on with the movement. Here’s what he told npr last week:

"It crushed me to know that the ideology that we had both ascribed to, that we had both lived by, that I had been promoting, had killed my friend," Thomas told NPR. "This ideology was something that I promoted and was spreading around the world was actually destructive and deadly. It's a regret that I will carry with me for the rest of my life."

Some Thoughts

The filmmakers are open about their goals as noted above.  I appreciate the fact that there is no hidden agenda. They know about the pain so many experience. This harm continues to impact so many who experienced conversion therapy. Mental health organizations like the APA do not view same sex orientation as a mental disorder and recognize the distress experienced by people who are upset with their own sexual orientation or those of others. The APA also reminds clinicians that the research has not documented the use of psychological interventions to change sexual orientation.

The film mentions bisexuality but bisexuality does not get a lot of attention. We do not know how many people who report successful change are actually bisexual who learn to focus on and enjoy heterosexual relationships while inhibiting same-sex desire. Hypothetically, one may wonder to what extent it is easier to claim a successful change when sexual desire is bisexual rather than strongly homosexual.

The film does not address the longitudinal issues so important to wellbeing. That is, gender identity and sexual orientation change overtime. Same-sex marriage is still a recent phenomena as is increasing acceptance and affirmation of people identifying as other than a straight man or woman. Ongoing research should help us learn more.

What the film does do is remind viewers of the deep pain associated with changing gender identity and sexual orientation for large numbers of people who have sincerely tried to change. For every person involved in the change process, many others are negatively affected such as parents, partners, children, and friends.

The negative impact should not be minimized. Depression, anxiety, and suicide are serious concerns.

Finally, the filmmakers offer resources on their website. These include faith-based organizations:

Link to US National Suicide Hotline [1-800-273-8255]


Some Related Posts

Gay and Christian: Matthew Turner

Conversion Therapist Comes Out and Apologizes

Christian Apologizes to LGBTQ community

Sexual Orientation, Identity, & Attraction

Shocking Conversion Therapy LGBTQ+

Identities in Conflict: Sexual and Spiritual

How do Youth View Sexual Identity, Attraction, and Behavior?


A Christian Resource

A House Divided: Sex, Morality, and Christian Culture




Please check out my website

   and see my books on   AMAZON       or  GOOGLE STORE

Also, consider connecting with me on    FACEBOOK   Geoff W. Sutton    

   TWITTER  @Geoff.W.Sutton    

You can read many published articles at no charge:

  Academia   Geoff W Sutton     ResearchGate   Geoffrey W Sutton 




Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Handbook Psychology of Religion 2nd Ed - Book Review

 Handbook of the Psychology     

 of Religion and Spirituality

     2nd Ed.


   Raymond F. Paloutzian

    & Crystal L. Parks, Eds.

Reviewed by

  Geoffrey W. Sutton

As I write this review, world leaders, both secular and religious, have attempted to separate the heinous actions of murderous groups identifying with religion from the majority of people who practice their religion in peaceful ways. As the editors observe, the importance of religion and spirituality hardly needs justification. The editors and authors of the thirty-three chapters clearly focus their attention on a psychological perspective without ignoring the contribution of sociologists and anthropologists. They accomplish this by focusing on two meta-themes, which the editors propose will take scholars beyond the endless attempts at formulating definitions of the terms religion and spirituality. 

The first meta-theme views the study of religion in the context of meaning systems, which enable people to integrate their beliefs, feelings, and behavior with the ongoing stream of information one encounters in life. 

The second meta-theme is an affirmation of a “multilevel interdisciplinary paradigm,” which encourages researchers to examine any topic at any level of analysis in an effort to build a richer understanding. In this view, there is a place for the neuroscientist to examine the role of neurochemistry and neuroanatomy in religious experience as well as for the scientist collecting thematic material by interviewing practitioners about their experiences wherever they worship or practice their faith.

This handbook is divided into six parts that focus on progress since the first handbook was published in 2005. In reading the chapters and checking the dates on the references, I found that, for the most part, the authors provided sufficient context to track the historical trajectory of a particular subfield even though the focus is on the proliferation of research in the past eight years. Both the subject and author indexes are extensive and will serve readers well in tracking a particular topic. For example, entries for the following topics include multiple subtopics taking up more than half of a column: Developmental Psychology, Forgiveness, Meaning systems, Mental health, Moral concern, and Religious coping. In contrast, several high-profile media topics garnered a few pages of references (number in parentheses): abortion (1), homosexuality (4), LBGT or LGBTQ (0).


Part I consists of seven foundational chapters. I consider the first two chapters as two parts of a State of the Field report. The editors provide an overview of progress in chapter one, and chapter two reviews progress on defining the elusive concepts of religion and spirituality. The other basic chapters cover measurement, research methods, psychodynamic and evolutionary approaches, and cross-cultural comparisons. Part II consists of three chapters covering research on religion and spirituality through the lifespan.

 In Part III readers will find contributions to the study of religion from various disciplines within general psychology. These include neuropsychology, cognitive psychology, social psychology, cross-cultural psychology, and focal chapters on purpose, affect, and personality.

 Part IV consists of several classical issues. The lead chapter, by Crystal Park, re-iterates one of the key themes—Religion and Meaning. Other classic topics include spiritual struggles, spiritual transformation (conversion, deconversion), mystical and related experiences, ritual and prayer, fundamentalism, and two more recent areas of research—forgiveness and the role of religion in self-control.

 Part V has a pragmatic focus. Chapters focus on the interaction of religion and spirituality with health, mental health, coping, mindfulness, and psychotherapy. Two other chapters consider spirituality in the workplace and the link to terrorism.

 Part VI includes one chapter. The editors offer thoughts on directions for the future of the field. The lengthy chapter title refers to the future of the Psychology of Religion and Spirituality. The inclusion of spirituality is in itself evidence of change, as the field has been known for decades as simply the Psychology of Religion.

 This second edition of the Psychology of Religion and Spirituality is a valuable tool for anyone interested in research and a richer understanding of how individuals and groups understand and practice their faith. In some ways, the discipline could be called the Psychology of Christianity. Thus, the book is of high interest to readers living in Christian cultures or wanting to understand the nuances of Christianity played out in the lives of its adherents, regardless of official church doctrines. This limitation to research on Christians is no fault of the handbook, but it does serve as a reminder that more research is needed to better understand that near universal aspect of human nature deemed religious or spiritual. 

Another issue a novice reader might conclude is that researchers understand this core aspect of human behavior by relying on surveys. There are some experiments, interviews, and comparative group studies, but surveys have, in fact, dominated the field. Given the increasing interest in religion and spirituality, this, too, should change in the years ahead as scientists build models and conduct studies likely to expand understanding in laboratory and field experiments as well as quality longitudinal studies.

 Clergy and other religious leaders are well aware that what is taught in places of worship or written in the Bible and other sacred texts is often at variance with the way people live out their faith. This handbook addresses the understanding of human nature and its relationship to religion and spirituality. This understanding is necessarily incomplete without considering the theological context in which people practice their faith, but in these thirty-three chapters, readers will find intriguing insights into how people pray, rely on the Bible and other texts for guidance, convert and deconvert from one belief system to another, and struggle with doubt. Of practical relevance to ministry are summaries of findings linking religious faith to a variety of health and mental health conditions. The growing body of research on the role of religion in terrorist activities might be of interest to some readers. I expect this book to be a tremendous resource for professors and students of religion and religiously linked interdisciplinary studies in seminaries and universities around the world.



Paloutzian, R. F. & Park, C.L. (Eds.). (2013). Handbook of the psychology of religion and spirituality, 2nd. Edition. New York: Guildford.

Download a pdf copy Click Here

Buy the Handbook on AMAZON

Find on Google

Links to Connections

Checkout My Page


My Books  AMAZON          and             GOOGLE STORE


FOLLOW me on   FACEBOOK   Geoff W. Sutton   TWITTER  @Geoff.W.Sutton




Articles: Academia   Geoff W Sutton   ResearchGate   Geoffrey W Sutton 


Friday, November 13, 2020

Why I Became an Atheist-John W Loftus- A Book Review


Why I became an Atheist:      

A Former Preacher Rejects Christianity 


  John W. Loftus

 Reviewed by

 Geoffrey W. Sutton

John Loftus explains his reasons for becoming an atheist in a way that’s quite different from the likes of Dawkins (2006) and Harris (2004). Loftus knows Christianity from the inside and the outside. He graduated from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and served as a pastor. The text reveals his familiarity with Christian theologies and apologetics.

The author covers some familiar territory by reviewing the problems with the classic arguments for the existence of God. These arguments are commonly presented in philosophy of religion courses. As is commonly known, the arguments do not offer a pathway to belief in the God of the Bible or another god. Loftus presentation is even-handed and not belligerent.

He also challenges Christian views of the Bible. As might be expected, he points out problems with the texts and the associated difficulty of accepting the Bible as infallible or authoritative.

Loftus presents his views in terms of three categories. One category is the outsider test for faith. That is, how would various biblical stories sound to someone who is not a Christian. He presents readers with stories that would sound strange to an outsider like the story of Jonah and the fish.

A second category or theme is the problem of discovering biblical truth in ancient stories reflecting superstitious beliefs about the causes of events. The Bible contains stories about God's life-destroying earthquakes and a world-wide flood. These events are interpreted by biblical writers as God's punishment for sin. Although Loftus is an atheist, Christians also question the attribution of natural disasters to God who is presented by Jesus as a loving father.

The third category deserves more attention by thoughtful readers as he tackles the problem of evil. He presents the arguments well. Thoughtful readers will recognize that there are no easy answers to the presence of evil.


There are several Christian beliefs that Loftus challenges as unreasonable or improbable. These include Jesus' virgin birth, Jesus as God incarnate, and the physical resurrection of Jesus. He quotes evangelical and atheistic sources as he strives to engage readers in reconsidering these Christian traditions.


Loftus sums up his project: “I have done what they asked me to do. I’ve examined and evaluated Christianity with the standards of reason and modern science and concluded the Christian faith is not a reasonable faith” (p. 402).



John Loftus provides some insights into his spiritual journey at the beginning of the book. I include them here because they represent my interest in the psychology of religion. In this case, Loftus offers us insights into conversion and deconversion of a person who is clearly a highly intelligent thinker.

He converted to Christianity at age 18 after a decidedly “un-Christian” lifestyle, which he succinctly describes as featuring alcohol, drugs, and sex. By all appearances, he became a committed Christian with a passion to serve Christ. He attended seminary and served as a pastor. Three events appear critical in his deconversion.

First, Loftus had an affair, which of course garners much unwanted attention for any ardent Christian—especially clergy. Second, he, like many others, struggled with the Genesis story of creation, which appeared to contradict scientific evidence. And third, after resigning from the ministry due to the affair, he continued to experience spiritual struggles. Concerning these experiences, he wrote: “This was the last blow to my faith and one of the reasons why I am an atheist today” (italics in the original, p. 31).

The deconversion experience leading from Christianity to atheism is of course based on Loftus’ recollection of events. However, it is noteworthy to consider the role of emotions in these experiences. Although Loftus’ work relies heavily on reason to show why select Christian beliefs or biblical events are unreasonable, it is hard to avoid wondering about the intensity of feelings that might accompany his spiritual struggles. Rather than attribute emotions to an author I do not know, I offer this reflection to suggest looking deeply at the emotional component that gives energy to religious and spiritual conversions and deconversions.

Loftus also offers insights into consideration of another principle of psychology called sunk costs. People have a tendency to invest heavily into a career. On the one hand, Loftus invested personal resources in obtaining a seminary degree and working as a pastor. When investments go bad, many people cling to them or even invest more time and resources rather than admit to a loss. Walking away from faith and investing in a new identity as an atheist is a “cut your losses” type of move. Now he has invested in this new “career.” People are different in how they manage this investment of resources in faith. Many find it hard to move to a different church even when their current understanding of faith doesn’t fit well with their existing congregation.

As a psychologist, I also consider the role of human memory in dealing with ancient texts. Such considerations can accommodate differences in recall by eye witnesses. This will not help Christians who require a perfectly accurate text but an acceptance of the human factor in the works of biblical authors may allow some Christians to focus on the meaning of a give text or perhaps an acceptance of a literary presentation of a conversation reported perhaps 30-40 years before it was written in a gospel. One evangelical scholar, Craig Keener,  recently acknowledged the contribution of memory research.

Finally, I wonder if his spiritual career might have been different if compassionate Christians had offered him restorative support following his affair or if he had found a home in one of the progressive Christian congregations with support from progressive writers who offer a Christianity based on following Jesus' Way rather than affirming a set of belief statements.

Read More About Atheists and Religion CLICK HERE

Read About Progressive Christianity CLICK HERE

Loftus' Book, Why I Became an Atheist is available on Amazon and Google Books 




 About the Author

John W. Loftus is a former Christian minister and apologist who is now an atheist. Following graduation from Great Lakes Christian College, he earned M.A. and M. Div. degrees from Lincoln Christian Seminary and a Th.M. from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. In addition to taking courses toward a Ph.D., he taught classes on apologetics and philosophy at Christian and secular colleges.


Dawkins, R. (2006). The god delusion. New York: Houghton Mifflin.

Harris, S. (2004). The end of faith: Religion, terror; and the future of reason. New York: WW. Norton.

Loftus, J.W. (2008). Why I became an atheist: A former preacher rejects Christianity. Amherst, NY: Prometheus.

Sutton, G. W. (2010). Boundaries of faith and reason: Loftus’s path to Christianity and atheism.  Journal of Psychology and Theology, 38, 65-68. Research Gate Link   Academia Link

Sutton, G. W. (2009). [Review of the book The End of faith: Religion, terror, and the future of reason by S. Harris]. Journal of Psychology and Christianity, 28, 280-281.  Academia Link    Research Gate Link 

 Sutton, G. W. (2009). [Review of the book The god delusion by R. Dawkins]. Journal of Spirituality in Mental Health, 11, 235-239.   Academia Link    Research Gate Link  


Links to Connections

Checkout My Page


My Books  AMAZON          and             GOOGLE STORE


FOLLOW me on   FACEBOOK   Geoff W. Sutton   TWITTER  @Geoff.W.Sutton




Articles: Academia   Geoff W Sutton   ResearchGate   Geoffrey W Sutton 

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Love Wins-- A Book Review by Sutton


 HELL, and the FUTURE of



     Rob Bell

  Reviewed by 

     Geoffrey W. Sutton

I have observed that a lot of the adult children of parents in my age group have left conservative churches or left the Christian faith altogether. Some tell me their children identify as spiritual. I get that. My wife and I left conservative churches years ago. Rob Bell is in touch with the bright young people of the 21st century. I understand that conservatives will not agree with his message. And scholars will find his writings too simplistic. Nevertheless, I think Bell is meeting a spiritual need. Following is my summary of his book, Love Wins (Bell, 2011).     

Bell is the founding pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids Michigan and a graduate of the conservative evangelical Wheaton College and Fuller Theological Seminary. Love Wins is an easy read. Bell is a gifted communicator.

Following is a quote from Bell's promotion:

A staggering number of people have been taught that a select few Christians will spend forever in a peaceful, joyous place called heaven, while the rest of humanity spend forever in torment and punishment in hell with no chance for anything better. It’s been clearly communicated to many that this belief is a central truth of the Christian faith and to reject it is, in essence, to reject Jesus. This is misguided and toxic and ultimately subverts the contagious spread of Jesus’s message of love, peace, forgiveness, and joy that our world desperately needs to hear.

Bell’s message of love and hope challenges fundamentalist perspectives on heaven, hell, and related matters. He does not offer a theological treatise nor does he consider the basis for the traditional doctrines common in Western Christian traditions. He presents his points in eloquent prose with potent metaphors, which would surely resonate with many who have found the eternal flames of hell and threats of punishment and wrath difficult to reconcile with the gospel messages of God’s love and offers of forgiveness and reconciliation.

Love Wins became an instant bestseller. Not surprisingly, a casual web-search turns up much opposition often aimed at correcting Bell’s reduction of brimstone and hellfire. Evangelicals challenge his universalist-sounding theology yet Bell denies being a universalist. Since publication, he has provided study materials and more information, which can be viewed on his website,

In the preface, Bell expresses an interest in recapturing the Jesus story as being about love instead of the threat of so many spend an eternity in torment. He also wishes to free people to discuss their questions about God, Jesus, salvation, heaven, hell, and other concerns or doubts they may have. Given the bestseller status, the public outcry of some, and books reaffirming traditional teachings, Bell touched a North American nerve.

I write about the Psychology of Religion. I think Love Wins is the sort of book teachers and Bible Study groups ought to read and discuss--especially with groups that include young adults. As a psychologist, I think it might be helpful for clients who fear God and worry about their spiritual wellbeing.

 Bell's writings have already had an impact. He has been recognized as a Christian leader in America. Many have purchased the book. Hundreds of consumers have offered their views on book seller’s web pages. The content is not worthy of a careful analysis normally accorded a theological work or a scholarly article about the integration of Christianity and psychology. 

Bell, R. (2011). Love wins: A book about heaven, hell, and the fate of every person who ever lived. New York: HarperCollins.

Love Wins is available on AMAZON  and GOOGLE


   My Page
   FACEBOOK   Geoff W. Sutton
   TWITTER  @Geoff.W.Sutton

Publications (many free downloads)
  Academia   Geoff W Sutton   (PhD)     
  ResearchGate   Geoffrey W Sutton   (PhD)

Love Wins - Short Clip on YouTube

Love Wins - A Longer Discussion on YouTube

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Spiritually Oriented Psychotherapy for Trauma- A Book Review



Edited by

Donald F. Walker, 
Christine A. Courtois, 
Jamie D. Aten

Reviewed by

   Geoffrey W. Sutton

Publisher: American Psychological Association

This book is an excellent resource for clinicians considering the spiritual concerns of people who have experienced trauma. The treatment of trauma has a long history. As clinicians who have treated people with trauma, we have learned many techniques and become acquainted with other options such as medication and therapeutic animals. However, the spiritual dimension has been somewhat neglected until recently. This book helps fill in the gap.

The twelve chapters cover multiple topics beginning with an overview of spirituality and ethical considerations in psychotherapy for trauma. Other chapters offer insights into aspects of trauma where religion or spirituality may be a major concern such as spiritual struggles, the problem of evil, and changes in God-image linked to sexual abuse.

Clinicians will also find helpful forms and checklists.

See more information in my published review, which can be downloaded.


 Related Post

Christian Counseling and Psychotherapy Books


Sutton, G. W. (2017). [Review of the book Spiritually oriented psychotherapy for trauma by D.F. Walker, C.A. Courtois, & J.D. Aten (Eds.)]. Journal of Psychology and Christianity, 36, 90-91.  Academia Link    ResearchGate Link  

Related articles

Sutton, G. W. (2008). Christianity, Psychotherapy, and Psychology: An analysis of an Integrative Psychotherapy Model. Journal of Psychology and Theology, 36, 139-141.  Academia Link    Research Gate Link

Sutton, G. W. (2011). [Review of the book Counseling and psychotherapy: A Christian perspective by Siang-Yang Tan]. Journal of Psychology and Christianity, 30, 87-88.  Academia Link    Research Gate Link  

Sutton, G. W. (2014). [Review of the book Evidence-based practices for Christian counseling and psychotherapy by E.L. Worthington Jr., E.L. Johnson, J.N. Hook, and J.D. Aten]. Encounter. Accepted for publication May 2014.  Academia Link    Research Gate Link

Sutton, G. W. (2019). [Review of the book Lay Counseling: Equipping Christians for a helping ministry: Revised & Updated by S. Tan & E. Scalise]. Journal of Psychology and Christianity, 38, 57-59.  Academia Link    Research Gate Link  

Sutton, G. W., Arnzen, C., & Kelly, H. (2016). Christian counseling and psychotherapy: Components of clinician spirituality that predict type of Christian intervention. Journal of Psychology and Christianity, 35, 204-214. Academia Link    ResearchGate Link


   My Page
   FACEBOOK   Geoff W. Sutton
   TWITTER  @Geoff.W.Sutton

Publications (many free downloads)
  Academia   Geoff W Sutton   (PhD)     
  ResearchGate   Geoffrey W Sutton   (PhD)

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

CAUGHT IN THE PULPIT: Leaving Belief Behind-a Review by Sutton

Caught in the Pulpit:
Leaving Belief Behind
 Daniel C. Dennett &
   Linda LaScola

Reviewed by
     Geoffrey W. Sutton
I recently spoke with a seminary student who mentioned his interest in deconversion. Having studied Psychology of Religion for decades, I'm familiar with the topic both as a clinician and scientist. The conversation reminded me of a book I reviewed a few years ago. It turns out the review was accepted for publication but I cannot find evidence that it appeared in print so here's the review with the removal of some text that would have been for the academic publication.


Have you ever listened to someone disclose their deep spiritual doubts? In Caught in the Pulpit: Leaving Faith Behind, Daniel Dennett and Linda LaScola systematically disclose and analyze the deconversion experiences of 35 clergy and seminary interviewees who participated in their qualitative study. Encouraged by a pilot study in 2010, the authors pursued a broader sample. This book summarizes the results from 90 interviews between November 2008 and June 2012. Daniel Dennett is a professor of philosophy at Tufts University and Linda LaScola is a clinical social worker.

The authors organized the book into seven sections. In the four introductory chapters we learn that the 35 persons are all "Caucasian" clergy. There are Jewish Rabbis but most are either Catholic or Christian clergy from literal or liberal denominations. From the authors’ perspectives, literal groups view Scripture as inerrant whereas liberal groups are inclined to consider Scripture through the lens of metaphor, symbolism, and poetry. Prototypical literals are Pentecostals, Mormons, and Seventh Day Adventists and prototypical liberals are Unitarians and Episcopalians. The authors acknowledge that there is a range of literal to liberal views held by different people within any faith tradition. The 90 interviews resulted in 120 hours of recordings. Their study is not based on a representative random sample because they were dependent on volunteers who were willing to risk disclosure. Nearly half of the participants still ministered to congregants. The authors make a point of keeping strict confidentiality.

In section two, Linda LaScola presents a selection of five biographical sketches—a Presbyterian, two Lutherans, a Catholic Priest, and a Mormon Bishop. Of particular relevance to current social trends and psychological exams is the comment by the priest: “During my psychological evaluations, I was asked by the examining psychologist if I was gay or straight, and I said, “Straight.” I lied (p. 48).” The priest estimated that about 50 to 75 percent of other students in the seminary were also gay. 

In section three, Daniel Dennett offers his perspective on the evolution of religion and the challenges faced by seminary professors and religious leaders in a world with increasing knowledge about science and an increased sensitivity to ancient tales of genocide (e.g., Noah; See a Related post: Why did God order the killing of so many people?), which obviously pose challenges for those tasked with teaching or leading members of literal faith traditions.

Both authors present findings that track the path from seminary to pulpit ministry in section four. Seminary professors express their difficulties in teaching students from literal faith traditions. Student' comments reflected four themes: 

   (1) fascination and enthusiasm linked to new views of biblical knowledge; 
   (2) deeply troubled—a response to the complexities of faith traditions; 
   (3) seeds of doubt; 
   (4) a focus on coursework without much evaluation. 

After entering the pulpit many found their congregants were more interested in simple and pleasant stories of faith rather than more scholarly analyses. And others reported a disturbing awareness of dishonesty and corruption among church leaders. A chapter that might be of special interest to clinicians is the review of burnout and depression. There are several references to mental distress that I wished the authors had examined in more detail. Some appeared distressed by their experiences in ministry while others were struggling with spiritual matters and a loss of meaning. A former Greek Orthodox monk described a long history of depression. He described the experience as an existential crisis and reported that his therapist diagnosed his condition as post-traumatic stress disorder.

Linda LaScola discusses emerging themes in section five. She focuses on the problems faced by liberal clergy in dealing with matters of metaphor, myth, and truth. Several comments point to the broad acceptance of science and an appreciation of the language of Scripture regardless of perceived differences with scientific findings. Linda’s comments on the liberal’s dilemma seems apt: “Now they’re feeling boxed in: bounded on one side by fundamentalists and on the other by the New Atheists (p. 153)”

Part six contains an update on those who participated in the 2010 pilot study. All five were still active clergy. Two fundamentalists want to leave the ministry. A Presbyterian pastor was unable to find other employment. A Methodist declined a follow-up. A United Church of Christ chaplain revealed his views publicly but suffered no negative consequences. In the final section, Dennett discusses an inner shell, which isolates clergy from their congregants and even themselves. The oft quoted Clinton phrase, “Don’t ask, Don’t tell” describes the unwritten rule of not probing too deeply on matters of personal faith. Another maxim is a variation on the physician’s “do no harm” restyled as “do not undermine anybody’s faith.”

The book contains some interesting end material. There is a brief bio for each research participant, an overview of qualitative research methods, and personal stories of the authors. 

Overall, I think the book will be of interest to many readers because of the focus on the spiritual journeys of those deep in various faith traditions. If the authors are right about the small number of participants being the tip of the iceberg then there are likely many who would benefit from confidential consultations—especially those struggling with burnout and depression.

The challenge of getting a sizable representative sample of clergy and conducting quantitative research appear substantial when the risk of unemployment rests on maintaining strict confidentiality. Nevertheless, the basis exists to explore the links between spirituality and mental health as well as the traditional psychology of religion topics such as meaning, conversion, and deconversion. 

This qualitative study provides some insights worthy of further research. One can easily see that the difficulties faced by clergy might extend to leaders and high-level employees within religious organizations.

Cite this review

Sutton, G.W. (2016, October 18). Caught in the pulpit: Leaving belief behind. Retrieved from  

Book Reference

Dennett, D. C. & LaScola, L. (2013). Caught in the pulpit: Leaving belief behind. Amazon Kindle (First Edition).

Psychology of Religion Concepts
Conversion and Deconversion, Atheism, Fundamentalism, Spiritual Struggles

You may also like to read--


My Page
My Books  AMAZON                       GOOGLE STORE

FACEBOOK   Geoff W. Sutton

TWITTER  @Geoff.W.Sutton

Publications (many free downloads)
  Academia   Geoff W Sutton   (PhD)     
  ResearchGate   Geoffrey W Sutton   (PhD)