Irenic Thoughts

Irenic. The word means peaceful. This web log (or blog) exists to create an ongoing, and hopefully peaceful, series of comments on the life of King of Peace Episcopal Church. This is not a closed community. You are highly encouraged to comment on any post or to send your own posts.


"Functional Atheism"

This term, functional atheism, is one the Roger Ferlo used in his presentation on leadership for the clergy of the Diocese of Georgia. It comes from Parker Palmer's work (see post below for link) and the idea is that you live your life as if you have the ultimate responsibility for everything, then whether you believe in God or not, you are functionally an atheist. Palmer puts it this way,
Functional atheism is the unexamined conviction within us that if anything decent is going to happen here, I am the one who needs to make it happen. Functional atheism is the reason why the average group (according to studies) can tolerate only 15 seconds of silence; people believe that if they are not making noise, nothing is happening. Functional atheism is an inner shadow of leaders that leads to dysfunctional behavior on every level of our lives.

The great gift we receive on the inner journey is the certain knowledge that ours is not the only act in town. Not only are there other acts in town, but some of them, from time to time, are even better than ours! On this inner journey we learn that we do not have to carry the whole load, that we can be empowered by sharing the load with others, and that sometimes we are even free to lay our part of the load down. On the inner journey we learn that co-creation leaves us free to do only what we are called and able to do, and to trust the rest to others’ hands. With that learning, we become leaders who cast less shadow and more light.
I find the term to be challenging in a very helpful way as I consider to what degree I live into the faith that is in me. I do earnestly believe that the Gospel involves risk. I know we should do things that are so big, if God is not in the endeavor it will fail. I also know that God does not give the whole solution into the hands of one person, but to the Body of Christ.

Those risky things that involve doing something big for God are never the work for one person alone. Palmer shows that to cast more light than shadow, we have to realize that it is not our work, but God's work and our part is just that to which we are called to do and are able to do. To do our part knowing that the whole project is God's is to function as a Christian.

I also think we can push this image beyond Palmer's use of it and say this can work itself in the life of a church that professes faith in Jesus Christ, while (for example) putting its real trust in the biggest donors to the church.

What do you think?

The Rev. Frank Logue, Pastor



  • At 5/08/2008 7:04 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    What do you mean by the "biggest donors of the church?"

  • At 5/08/2008 7:20 AM, Blogger King of Peace said…

    I mean that a church can defer to the people who give the most money to that church in offerings. This can't happen at King of Peace as we do not take pledges from people and so there is no power in someone withholding his or her pledged giving to the church. But it does happen that some churches look to the few people who give the most money as the idea is that without them the church may fold. I was stating above that as this view of church finances depends ultimately on those givers and not God's Providence, then this too is functioning atheistically rather than from a place of faith, hope and love.


  • At 5/08/2008 8:28 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    That's what I thought you meant the first time I read the last paragraph. But after reading it again, I interpretted something else that didn't quite make sense.

    In defense of my confused state, I did read this BC (before coffee!)

    Thanks for clarifying!


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