What the *&%^!@ is a Christian Atheist

The label ‘Christian Atheist’ is not popular among either of the parties the term forces together. Many people reject the very existence of Christian atheism due to an (understandable) inability to look past the stand-alone definitions of both of these words and find cogency in using them together. But there is logic and also usefulness to be found.

The first and most simple definition for the term sees it used simply as an identifier of someone’s religious background. It’s a convenient label to counter an argument theists use against atheists often: “You’re always taking down Christianity, but I never see you talking about Islam or Judaism or blah blah blah…” The typical atheistic response to this accusation is to remind the believer that their background in is Christianity and (like everyone else on planet earth) their opinions and arguments are shaped by personal experiences. Identifying oneself as a Christian atheist simply makes this reply shorter…

….Buuut, that’s not the definition that sets both sides of the fence on fire. The heat enters the picture only when the second definition is claimed. This definition sees a person identify themselves not only as an atheist with a Christian history, but also as a non-believer who still positively values and identifies with this history.

christianity_not_jesus_fault

This deeper identification can manifest in numerous ways. A Christian atheist might still read the bible and gain positivity from the book, they may still enjoy Christian music and the general Christian aesthetic. But ‘worst’ of all are the ones like myself, atheists who still find merit in following Jesus. In spite of leaving the religion that bears his name, and denying its god, we refuse to leave Jesus behind. This enrages theists and atheists alike. “Oh the hypocrisy!” they all cry, and rightly so.

But there is method behind the madness. Christian atheists are still atheists after all, and reason should be expected. This is how I justify my own atheistic Christianity:

One thing many atheists will have heard from their Christian friends / family / whoevers during their deconversion from theism to atheism is the phrase, “Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.” For the person saying this, they usually mean something like, “Yes there may be issues with this religion/church, but that’s no reason to stop believing in god!” – and for those whose deconversion is primarily motivated by the negative and/or hypocritical actions of those who share their belief system, it is certainly something to consider. Of all the reasons one might choose to stop believing in a god, the actions of other people is almost always a catalyst, but is not substantial. The actions of believers, no matter how in or out of line they may be with their belief system, do not serve as evidence for or against god. The decision to not believe in gods solely because of other people is emotional, not logical. Because of this, there is some merit in the sentiment of not throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Essentially, it asks a person to look past their emotions and deeper into the rationale of faith-based belief – and then decide what they want to believe.

But for those of us whose deconversion was initially motivated by things like an inability to reconcile scientific fact with biblical claims, or no longer finding belief in gods to be reasonable to due a complete absence of evidence, is there any sort of proverbial baby to be saved?

The short answer is, it depends.

It depends on whether or not you see merit in any elements of your religion that are external to a belief in its attached deity.

If you do, save the baby. For me, that baby was Jesus (the topic of exactly why the saving of Jesus was important for me is a story for another time).

A large determining factor of whether or not a person will find merit in their old faith-based beliefs is how involved they were in the religion. How much of their character, their identity, is a product of their beliefs?

I lived and breathed for our god; my entire identity was centred on my involvement with my church. To throw it all away would be to throw myself away- not just the bad bits, but the good bits as well. So for me, to not throw the baby away with the bathwater meant to keep all the good bits and pieces Christianity gave to me, like a sense of service to my community or an affection for those who society typically rejects. I find value in these things, they are elements of my character I like.

Usually, this is the point in the conversation at which a person will call me out and say something along the lines of, “Yes, but you don’t need Christianity to still do those things and be that person,” and I agree, you absolutely do not! I know many atheists who were raised in non-religious homes and they are loving, generous, caring people. They were given these lessons from other people, and they learned them well. The fact is though, I learned these things in the church. I learned to value those things through the example of Jesus. I can’t change that, and I choose not to deny it. Identifying myself as a Christian atheist is partly an homage to my history.

Yes, I left the church and I no longer believe in god, or that Jesus was his son, but is that reason enough to dismiss lessons I learned there?

Is not believing in gods a reason to no longer see merit in ‘Do unto others…’ (Matthew 7:12) or ‘Do good things, share what you have with others…’ (Hebrews 13:16)? I don’t think so. I still see value in these lessons. In fact, it was a bible verse that first motivated me to look deeper into my faith-based beliefs and explore their history. Proverbs 18:15: “The heart of the discerning acquires knowledge, for the ears of the wise seek it out.” These words began my journey into atheism and hold as much importance to me now as they did then. There is truth to be found in these words, and belief or non-belief in a deity is irrelevant.

So many atheists seem to have distaste for religion that irrationally hinders them from being able to appreciate any of the positive elements that may be discovered within. In fact, it almost seems like some atheists think they are obligated to reject anything remotely connected to religion (good or bad) just because they don’t believe in its gods. It can be a very “you’re either with us or against us” arena at times, especially for those of us who don’t conform to this black and white thinking and reside happily within the grey area.

Christian_Atheism_Guy

The other primary criticism I receive comes from fellow atheists and regards the blatant and undeniable hypocrisy in meshing the words ‘Christian’ and ‘atheist’ into a single term. I have been ridiculed and scoffed at by more non-believers than I can remember just for using the label. I have a couple of responses to this, neither of which attempt to deny the conflict. My first and favourite response is to remind my friends that every single one of the 42,000+ theistic brands of Christianity is hypocritical in nature, so why should my own be any different? One could even argue that hypocrisy is one of the only things these tens of thousands of Christianities have in common, so Christian atheism fits snugly within the fold. In fact, isn’t it better that my Christian hypocrisy is limited to my word choice rather than being evident in my actions towards other people,like most of the others? At least I’m not claiming to love while simultaneously rejecting and condemning others to a fiery eternity.

Of course, for a lot of people this jovial answer isn’t enough, as they see a deeper element to the hypocrisy. Yes, all versions of Christianity are hypocritical in nature, and yes, there is no ‘true Christian’ – but, there is one thing that ALL these tens of thousands of Christian denominations have in common: they believe in god. How can I claim the label of ‘Christian’ in any way, shape, or form if I lack the one and only thing that every other type of Christianity is unified in? Simply: because I can. In fact, this particular element of hypocrisy is one reason I use the label. I find the hypocrisy somewhat reasonable. I feel as though I tick enough boxes to warrant using the ‘Christian’ label:

  • I try and follow the example of Jesus and consider him a fantastic role model and example of a person who truly valued the people around him.
  • I study the bible and find value and beauty in many of its teachings.
  • The church formed much of my identity and my character is a product of being part of the church.
  • Christianity is an important aspect of my existence and a major focus for me.

If someone were to describe themselves this way, I have no doubt that they would be labelled a Christian. But what if this someone, this Christian, doesn’t believe in a god? They MUST then, by default, also be labelled an atheist. Hence: a Christian atheist. Yes it is a paradoxical term, but the hypocrisy has reason behind it.

I am fully aware that for Christians and atheists alike, my reasons for identifying with the Christian atheist label aren’t good enough, and again I feel like this stems from the ‘all or nothing’ mindset of both parties. In fact, my label creates some of the only common ground Christians and atheists tread. Both parties will tell me: “You can’t just read and follow the bits of the bible you like and ignore the rest and call yourself a Christian…” Oh, the irony. Not only does cherry picking the bible align me even more with the Christian majority but also, because of my atheism, my cherry picking is justified. Only theistic Christians carry the OBLIGATION to consider the bible as truth and heed the text in full. As an atheistic Christian I am free to pick and choose the bits I like (the baby), and dismiss the bits I don’t like (the bathwater). Compromisation of my faith does not enter the picture in my use of the bible, because I have none. It’s great!

Love another? (John 13:34) Hell yes! Gay people will be punished? (Romans 1:27) Fuck no!

A common misconception that comes from both the believer and non-believer camps is that Christian atheists must have something nice to say about Christianity, the religion. While I can’t speak for all who identify with the label, for me, this could not be further from the truth. I abhor theistic Christianity. My thoughts on the religion would most likely be perfectly in line with most atheists. I consider them a money driven cult, selling delusion to the masses and calling it truth. I believe it (along with all religions) has caused harm to the world and has inhibited progress of attaining peace within humanity. Like most people, I do consider the good deeds of some of those who follow the religion to be of benefit, but their delusion-based motivations make their efforts somewhat disingenuous and we’re always left thinking, “If that guy wasn’t afraid of going to hell, would he still help the needy?”

Which leads me to finish up by explaining my original intention when I decided to adopt the Christian atheist label, before any of the criticisms I have addressed above were of concern to me. I want to take these human morals and ideals that Christianity claims as theirs and attributes to their god, and keep them as my own. I want to take the example of Jesus and release him from the son-of-god prison Christianity has kept him locked up in so they could spread their bullshit more efficiently. I think it’s important that everything Christianity claims it is (good, moral, just, etc) because of its god, is shown to be accessible to those who don’t believe in him. In a world where the word ‘Christian’ has become almost synonymous with the word ‘good’ (eg. “It’s the Christian thing to do…”) I think it’s vital show that atheists can be ‘Christian’ too, no god required.

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8 Replies to “What the *&%^!@ is a Christian Atheist”

    1. While your argument is versatile and elaborate, I implore you to please embellish us with your surely better reasoning than this posts sincere and honest “load of crap” conveyed. I surmise however, that your intentions are mindlessly vitriolic, and blindly ideological to the point that you would be indistinguishable from a fundamentalist. Care to prove me wrong Oh Ye Deliverer of Judgement and of Crap.

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  1. I identify with the term Spiritual Atheist and I like what I have heard that Jesus said—sometimes I find it hard to believe what he said—but no one even knows if he existed and so no one probably does know what he said. If there was a Jesus I think he was just a man–not the son of God–I once read that he did not profess to be the son of God. I have read a few interpretations of the Tao te Ching and I LOVE that. Basically I believe we are all pretty much related and probably in more ways then we know—so I hope for peace, love, compassion, and empathy for and towards all beings and non-beings on the planet.

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  2. SIXO KYU
    Thank you for your essay. While I choose to follow a different path, I understand your vision.
    I too grew up idolizing Jesus and enjoy reading parts of the bible, as well as enjoy certain Christian songs. But I also enjoy reading other holy texts and listening to their music as well. I am fascinated by the variety of stories that our ancestors created to explain the world around us. Many of these stories hold much poetry and beauty. However far too many are filled with hate and destruction.
    I look forward to reading more of your posts.
    Peace,
    Fernando

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  3. To the author…look, I’m sorry, but this stems from a fundamental misunderstanding of what Jesus actually said and did. All the things you profess to like, such as “do unto others as ye would be done by” are OLDER than Jesus…in particular, the positive form of this, as opposed to “do NOT do etc etc” is some half a millennium older and is attributed to Confucius…

    You mean well, no doubt about it, but this is a false representation of Jesus. The man was a frothing, half-insane prophet of the apocalypse, and most of his moral advice was purely apocalyptic, given in the sure and certain belief that the End of the World was coming Any Day Now (TM).

    Do you REALLY want to hitch your wagon to the star of a man who said to hate your family, to be utterly improvident, not to marry, to leave everything behind and follow him, that he came to bring a sword and not peace, that men should cut their balls off if they can stand it, etc etc?

    You need to see this. Please, read it, even though the title is inflammatory. http://double-woe-seven.blogspot.com/2013/11/how-to-tell-your-friends-jesus-was-dick.html

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  4. I’m afraid I agree with ther person calling this “crap”. Although I might call it convoluted and self-deceived sophistry instead, lol.

    There’s far more wrong with Christianity than belief in the supernatural, and the same rationality that led us to reject supernatural explanations ought lead us no less to the rejection of specifically Christian “morals” and philosophy.

    Jesus was a second rate philosopher, and many Christians even admit as much, insisting that his supposed sacrifice on a cross is the key part of the gospel and not his philosophy of how to live in the world. Jesus and his followers were focused on the *next* world, not this one, and what wisdom can be gleaned from his teachings usually has precedent in other cultures, often having been taught centuries before Jesus was born.

    Let a Christian atheist offer us a list of what they like about the supposed teachings of Jesus, and you’ll find that not only do all major religions teach most of the same things, but that they coincide with many secular humanist values as well. So then the choice of “Christian” Atheism is a clear case of cherry picking from the New Testament while carefully ignoring the rest of human religious history at the same time.

    The word Christian is not based upon the name Jesus, but upon the religious title of Christ, a Greek translation of a Hebrew term for the Messiah of prophecy, a man to be sent by God to save the Jews. So to call Jesus the Christ is to affirm ones belief that Jesus is that messiah, and for two thousand years all of those on record calling themselves Christians have believed that Jesus had at least some special connection to the god of the Old Testament. There are few, if any, cases of ‘Christian’ meaning merely “admirer of Jesus”. A Christian has always been a *believer* in the special supernatural status of Jesus ben Joseph.

    If you’re an admirer of whatever you suppose Jesus taught, then just call yourself an “admirer of Jesus”, there being no need to systematically include that fact alongside your each and every profession of atheism. That way room will be left to admire as many wise men, philsophers, and saints of old, as well as new, that you come across in your future studies without your belief designation becoming unmanageably long, lol.

    I mean, who calls themselves “Confucian Atheists”, “Augustine Atheists”, or a “Salingerian Atheists” (for those who admire and have modelled their lives on ‘Catcher in the Rye’)? What’s next, “Olympian Atheists” who don’t believe in the literal existence of Zeus, Hera, and Apollo, but nevertheless admire the values the mythological characters represent??? It all seems a bit silly to me, even if I don’t go so far as calling it crap, lol.

    I think the *real* reason some call themselves Christian Atheists is a romantic one, a sentimental one, and a longing after symbol over substance. Individuals raised up from childhood to regard the word Christian as positive, and/or those grown up with strong, almost familial, bonds with a Christian community, have a difficult time psychologically giving up their former sense of identity all at once. It reminds me of those homosexual men who come out of the closet first as bisexuals, when they aren’t actually bisexual, and only gradually become comfortable over time with being regarded as purely homosexual.

    Finally, Christianity is a religion while atheism is not, as most atheists are careful to note even while some religious people try to insist otherwise. Therefore the words Christian and atheist are incongruous. and their union unacceptable if only because it implies that atheism is a religion.

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    1. Hey Davey…

      Did you actually read the article mate? I actually covered most of your criticisms in there, sooooo yeah your comment moot. The supposed *real* reason you offered may have some merit for some people, for me, it does not. There are plenty of exampled of people who use the label christian atheist for themselves for a variety of reasons. There are also people of faith who also identify with dual labels, eg: Christian Buddhism or Chistian Ba’Hai.

      Christianity can be whatever you want it to be, christians themsevles have made that evident by dividing their faith into more than 40,000 different factions. If I want to be a christian atheist, I can be, that’s how malleable it is. Like I said in the article, cherry picking the bible only more closely aligns me with theistic christians, they cherry pick more than anyone.

      But yeah, it doesn’t seem like you read any further than the title of the article and a comment that confirmed your knee jerk reaction to the title because your comments are all covered in the article, and the criticisms you’ve brought up is actually what the article is responding too. It’s like someone writing an article explaining why ice cream is cold and then someone in the comments saying “this is dumb, why is ice cream cold?” – well, mate, if you read the fucking article, you might find out.

      And if you did read the article, you must be a pretty forgetful person, because everything you asked, was already answered. Derrrrrrrrr.

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      1. “Did you actually read the article mate?”

        Yes, I did.

        “I actually covered most of your criticisms in there”

        No, you didn’t. You attempted to forestall criticism by mentioning items, but your rationalizations were anything but convincing.

        “There are plenty of exampled of people who use the label christian atheist for themselves for a variety of reasons.”

        There are plenty of idiots in the world; so what?

        Why be so eager to join them? lol

        “There are also people of faith who also identify with dual labels, eg: Christian Buddhism or Chistian Ba’Hai.”

        Yes. More idiots, and patently so, as they’re not even *trying* to deny their religiosity.

        “Christianity can be whatever you want it to be”

        If that’s so, then the term doesn’t mean much, does it?

        What is equally true of everything is distinctive of nothing.

        By your “logic” anything and everything could harmlessly be prefixed with “Christian”, which would be read and heard by a lot of people, yet few of those people would ever receive along with it an explanation as long and detailed as yours above that the bearer was actually an atheist.

        That would certainly lead to a lot of smug and happy Christians thinking the world was going their way. lol

        As an atheist and an activist for atheism, that is FAR from being anything I’d consider a positive or useful practice.

        “If I want to be a christian atheist, I can be, that’s how malleable it is.”

        And, by the same token, how useless it is.

        Although, my point isn’t so much that you *can’t* be a “Christian Atheist” as it is that it’s almost as stupid as being a garden-variety Christian. lol

        “cherry picking the bible only more closely aligns me with theistic christians”

        Which, in case you hadn’t noticed, is a *bad* thing. lol

        “But yeah, it doesn’t seem like you read any further than the title of the article”

        No, I read it, but it seems that *you* didn’t read *my* response, because you’ve not addressed at all my questioning of the valdity or originality of Christian philosophy and morality, which you seem to imagine are admirable and stand on their own without god-belief, nor how illogical it is to co-opt a word like “Christ” which is in origin and all normal usage based on the assumption of the supernatural and that the old testament was genuinely prophetic.

        “And if you did read the article, you must be a pretty forgetful person, because everything you asked, was already answered. Derrrrrrrrr.”

        No. Not answered, but merely mentioned and followed with rather pathetic rationalizations.

        Sorry, but you’ve just simply failed to make a good case, all your curse words and patronizing use of “Davey” and “mate” not withstanding. lol

        David

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