This is the second blog post in the series about Christian Atheism. Links to the previous and following posts are below:
- Why is an atheist getting confirmed?
- Our obsession with belief
- Why would atheists want to be part of the church?
- (Planned) What does religious language mean to Christian Atheists?
In my last post, I wrote about there being a credible and meaningful, non-fairytale and non-supernatural way to be Christian, without believing impossible or unlikely things. That leaves people wondering (1) Why would someone who doesn’t believe in the supernatural god want to be part of the Church? And (2) How can an atheist find religious language meaningful? Sadly – and despite my best attempts – a blog post on religious language is either too brief to do the philosophy justice, or too long and dense to be readable. Instead, I’ll use my next two blogs to:
- Offer some personal thoughts on the first question (why be part of the church)
- Offer some pointers to reading on the second question (the meaning of religious language)
Before I talk about the ‘non-belief’ aspects of religion, I want to put it in perspective. Christianity is not all about metaphysical beliefs and it is a mistake to turn being Christian into ticking off a list of specific beliefs.
When I was secretary of the Oxford Atheists Secularists and Humanists at university, by chance I often had breakfast with the then President of the Christian Union. One morning, he told me that the secret to maintaining the unity of the Christian Union was that it required all members to hold a set of core beliefs. This set of ‘core beliefs’ includes the statement, ‘The Bible, as originally given, is the inspired and infallible Word of God. It is the supreme authority in all matters of belief and behaviour.’
The graph below speaks for itself, and it isn’t surprising that a report by Christian Think Tank, Ekklesia, cites the conservative evangelical stance of the CU as causing tensions with other Christian and student bodies.
It is easy to forget the huge diversity of Christian beliefs that have existed over the last 2,000 years, which dwarfs the diversity of Christian beliefs in the present-day. Many Christians in the past did not enjoy the access to philosophy and science that we enjoy today. Many won’t even have had a bible in their own language and may have had only minimal oral teaching. They might only have believed in the supernatural god because they were told to, or couldn’t have conceived otherwise. If they had, they would likely have suffered for it, either through persecution or exclusion.
It was belief perhaps, but at worst coerced and at best uninformed. Before declaring that the ‘Christian Atheist’ belief is insufficient to being a member of the Church, it’s worth considering what your point of comparison is!
From speaking to some Christians, you would think that so long as you hold a literal belief in God and Christ and have been ‘saved’, then nothing else matters. This outlook says that there is one – and only one – belief essential to being a Christian: a single foundation stone. It suggests that everything else is, by comparison, trivial frippery.
I disagree, there is nothing extraneous or unimportant about being part of a community, trying to live ethically, finding a time and place to reflect and enjoy centuries of cultural heritage.