Secular Christians

Friends of Jake blog discusses the ideas in a new book called “Faitheist” that argues for non-believers and people of faith to work together. Quoting from Patheos, FOJ writes:

Here’s a new entry to the discussion, from an atheist’s blog on Patheos, that actively advocates for a secular Christian identity that would mirror that of the secular Jewish community (Judaism is particularly welcoming of its nonbelievers).

Consider what this might be like. A secular Christian—I could be a candidate, for example—might go to church for the beautiful or traditional or inspiring music. The church building might be a draw, whether it were awe-inspiring or quaint. Sermons about finding the right path or avoiding the shallow temptations in life or even Bible stories might be edifying. Services could mark the important events in life such as births, marriages, and deaths. Whether the secular Christian went weekly or only a few times a year, the community of good people, eager to help others, would be welcoming. It might give focus to good works, providing opportunities for volunteering and direction for charitable giving.

But—and here’s the interesting bit—secular Christians would reject the supernatural origin of Christianity, would be open about their atheism, and would be accepted within the church community. The Christian church has millions of members who are secular Christians except for the last bit. They’ve lost their faith in the supernatural claims, they’ve admitted this to themselves, but they can’t come out to their church community. The concept of a secular Christian would allow these people to keep their community, charitable, and even family connections.

The Christian church isn’t pleased with these ex-Christians simply leaving the church, and this broadening of the church community, as is done in many Jewish communities, could provide a soft landing for many mainstream churches hurting for members. Conservatives will insist that a no-compromise position be taken, but the church is determined to evolve, and this direction seems to be a win-win.

Speaking of her own experience as a non-believer who attends church:

I’m a non-believing member of an Episcopal Parish. Indeed, I’m technically “legal” as a member: As a child, I was baptised and confirmed Roman Catholic. I had a good religious education (Catholic school through 8th grade). Now, as an adult, I not only attend services but donate time and treasure to the Episcopal Church.

Probably the main difference between me and other people who might fit this description is that I’m not in the closet about my lack of belief (although I admit I’m hesitant about telling people I don’t know well, in case they take it the wrong way or think I’m being disrespectful, which I am at pains to avoid). I don’t take Communion, and while I enjoy the service, generally I don’t say the words or sing the hymns.

Is there a place for people who are “culturally Christian” in church?

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Category : The Lead

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  1. It’s already like this. And “cultural Christians”–heck, Bishop Spong publicly repudiated theism. And lay cultural Christians are hardly closeted: no one asks you about your religious convictions in the Episcopal Church. No one announces that they don’t believe in God because no one would announce that they do.

    The important thing is to get it out to the outside world that no one cares what they believe or don’t believe–that they can in honesty enjoy the ceremonies and use the facilities.

  2. Nikolaus Bergen

    I hope you are being facetious, Ms. Baber!

    The problem with this is that Jews are a race, an ethnicity. One is a Jew by birth. Thus one can be a “secular” Jew. What is presented here with regard to “secular” Christians is simply nonsense.

    Sometimes “open-mindedness” just means that the only thing going on upstairs is a draft!

  3. Lewisrobertedward

    I have found that certain approaches make it easier for me as a non-theist to take part fully in the Eucharist. I have no problems if the Creed is sung, nor if it is introduced with words similar to these: “Let us affirm our faith using the historic words of the Nicene Creed.” Similarly, I find sermons are much easier to take when the preacher begins “In today’s gospel, the writer we know as Mark presents Jesus as saying…” instead of starting out with the intellectually indefinsible assertion of “Jesus said…”

    Robert Edward Lewis

  4. @Nicolaous Bergen: not “Ms.” if you please–detestable made-up title conservatives like you use to ridicule those of use with whom you don’t agree–and I’m not being facetious. Try “Dr.” or “Professor” and @#$%^&* you.

    I’d just like to see as many warm bodies in church as possible. As far as what they believe, metaphysics isn’t everybody’s cup of tea. And many, perhaps most, people think that theism commits them to implausible, crude, anti-scientific claims about how the physical world works. I don’t think we should exclude them. And, even beyond that, I don’t see why atheists should be excluded from enjoying the goodies of religiosity.

    On the other hand I don’t think that clergy should be atheists. We live in a world where religious belief is trashed, déclassé, not acceptable in polite company. And it seems to me that one of the essential jobs of clergy is to support us who are religious believers, to get it across that religious isn’t just stupid, isn’t just for the uneducated lower classes, i.e. for Evangelicals.

  5. Dennis

    If I felt welcome like this I think I would come back to the brick and mortar church. I’ve been an online-only Episcopalian for 7 or 8 years because this was the only way to keep up the identity and find some sustenance while at the same time processing my own disbelief. But I do miss church and would love to feel welcome to come back like this. I doubt that it could happen, though. Perhaps I have one of those drafts upstairs that Mr. Bergen discusses, above. In that case it is my draft and not something that most believers would be comfortable with.

    And Dr Baber, you might be surprised how many clergy I personally know who would fit in the category of non-believers. I wonder if you would pack them up and send them out? Behavior I expect from Rome, not from Episcopalians.

    (Dr., since we are insisting on titles now, it seems) Dennis Roberts


  6. Lucia Lloyd

    I think Unitarian Universalist congregations are already providing exactly what this blogger is looking for. Many Quaker meetings do too.

  7. Dave Paisley

    Pretty much describes the Church of England for the last fifty years or so.

    Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

  8. Dr. Roberts, I’d estimate that about 40% of Episcopal clergy are atheists. I’m not surprised. And I’m not recommending firing them. It’s just, IMHO unfortunate.

    Theism isn’t just stupid. It’s an intellectual possibility though, as I said, highly speculative. And currently it isn’t respectable in polite society. So I’d hope that the church could maintain clergy as believers, to reassure those of us who are theists that it isn’t just stupid.

    Don’t you get it? That religious belief is not respectable? That among educated, upper middle class people it’s regarded with contempt? We need someone, somewhere to say it’s ok.

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