UC Observer logo
UCObserver on SoundCloud UCObserver on YouTube UCObserver on Facebook UCObserver on Twitter UCObserver's RSS Feeds
A scene from ‘Losing Our Religion.” Courtesy of Zoot Pictures

Observer film review: ’Losing Our Religion’

By Pieta Woolley


So, you're a faith leader who still believes in God?

S/He is probably holding you back. After all, the future is atheist. You’ll need to get with the program and use your pastoral skills to manifest new caring, secular communities.

That's the overall message of Losing Our Religion, a feature-length documentary from Winnipeg-based filmmakers Leif Kaldor and Leslea Mair that premiers on the Documentary Channel on Sunday, Oct. 15, at 9 p.m. It consists of interviews with several U.S., U.K. and Canadian Christian faith leaders who no longer believe in God, including United Church minister Rev. Gretta Vosper. (If nothing else, this film gives viewers a better understanding of Vosper’s avowed atheism while helping to contextualize the United Church's reaction to her. Or, if you're among the one in five United Church ministers who no longer believe in a supernatural, theistic God, it’ll help you to consider your own prospects.)

Many of those interviewed are part of the Richard Dawkins Foundation's Clergy Project, a confessional and community for Christian leaders who no longer believe, and a Taft University study about pastors who lose their religion. Also appearing in the film are the atheist provocateur Richard Dawkins, himself, and the Freedom From Religion Foundation's founder Dan Barker, as well as leaders from Oasis and Sunday Assembly, which are church-like communities for non-believers.

The film's foundation rests on the statistical reality that congregations across the Christian spectrum are swiftly closing and that humans still crave church-like communities after a belief in God has gone. The clergy tell their own stories; the most compelling is that of Brendan Murphy. Appealingly open and frank, Murphy's crisis comes when one parishioner asks him to pray for his safety during his car trip to Las Vegas. Then, the pastor sees Syrian children dying from Sarin gas attacks on TV. Why would God listen to prayers for a car trip to "Sin City," when He won't listen to parents' prayers for their own children?

As Murphy describes his loss of faith, the camera lingers on his wife Jenn's face, revealing her grief and disbelief — the film's most nuanced moment. His complete journey as an evangelical pastor who faces rejection and unemployment before finding new hope forms the backbone of the film. Certainly, such stories exist. But Losing Our Religion suffers from stark one-sidedness. Too many people appear, making the same points (and frankly, there are so many people featured in this film, it's hard to remember who is who). Where’s the counterbalance — a voice that says that they still believe in God in the midst of a secular culture — or someone who lost faith before finding it all over again?

For most of us, both faith and disbelief are far more complex than what's offered here. In fact, I wondered if the filmmakers set out with a sophisticated enough understanding of religion and spirituality to be able to draw out deeper stories, or if much of the richer conversations were cut out for time.

Because the film sweeps across the breadth of Christian denominations, from Catholics to Evangelicals to Lutherans, it's unclear whether there’s a story beyond a few, newly disbelieving clergy. Is this 'trend' really something new? Or have small numbers of clergy always lost faith? And what’s really driving parishioners out of churches? Statistically, two-thirds of Canadians say they believe in God. They're just not showing up for church.

Granted, the film does a fine job of outlining the surface story: yes, Christendom is crashing, and atheist faith leaders need new jobs. But there's so much more for future filmmakers to wrestle with here. Here's hoping this is the first of many films documenting Western Christianity's momentous shift.



Author's photo
Pieta Woolley is a writer in Powell River, B.C.
Readers’ advisory: The discussion below is moderated by The UC Observer and facilitated by Intense Debate (ID), an online commentary system. The Observer reserves the right to edit or reject any comment it deems to be inappropriate. Approved comments may be further edited for length, clarity and accuracy, and published in the print edition of the magazine. Please note: readers do not need to sign up with ID to post their comments on ucobserver.org. We require only your user name and e-mail address. Your comments will be posted from Monday to Friday between 9:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. Join the discussion today!

Columns

(Photo: cuatrok77/Flickr via Creative Commons)

Cormorants aren't the devil

by Douglas Hunter

Ontario's proposed new measures amount to a slaughter of an entire native bird species for no scientifically compelling reason, says this writer

Promotional Image

Editorials

The United Church Observer's editor and publisher, Jocelyn Bell. (Photo: Lindsay Palmer)

The new name of 'The Observer' revealed!

by Jocelyn Bell

"United Church" will no longer be on the cover, but our commitment to sharing denominational news and perspectives remains the same

Promotional Image

Video

Meet beloved church cats Mable and Mouse

by Observer Staff

They're a fixture of Kirk United Church Centre in Edmonton.

Promotional Image

Society

February 2019

Marriage problems: Is the ancient tradition worth saving?

by Pieta Woolley

Bitterness and boredom seem to define many mid-life marriages, but we might not have to settle for apathy ever after

Ethics

February 2019

A Yukon artist and a Tlingit trapper create this stunning jewelry

by Amy van den Berg

The fur jewelry in Whitehorse boutique store V. Ægirsdóttir is creating a new possibility for future partnerships with the region's trappers

Columns

February 2019

Why white people need to stop asking, 'where are you from?'

by Mike Sholars

"...For all intents and purposes, Canada is the only home I really recognize or remember. But none of that matters if I look like I don’t belong, and that single question makes that abundantly clear every single time."

Promotional Image