Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Christian Atheists

I accept the concept of the Jewish atheist, in that centuries of persecution, ranging from the annoying to the Holocaust, have caused a religion to become a culture to become a people. What doesn't kill us does tend to define us. Therefore, one can be both Jewish and an atheist.

I do not accept the concept of a Christian atheist. Christians are not a people. Christianity is a culture, but it's not anyone's primary culture. (See also: why American Christians consider socialism evil, although Jesus clearly preached socialism.) If you are pretending to be a Christian, or are passing for Christian (which most atheists in this country do to some degree), you're an atheist pretending to be a Christian, not a Christian atheist.

Pastor Craig Groeschel is a recovering Christian Atheist.

He may have called himself a Christian all his life, but he didn't always live as if God existed.

Not atheism. Yes, atheists live as if God does not exist, because to us, god indeed does not exist. If you believe that god exists, you are not an atheist, no matter how you act.

It's a struggle he's had both as a layman and as a pastor (of one of the fastest growing and largest churches in the country). And it's a struggle he wants to help millions of so-called Christians to overcome.

Christian Atheists are everywhere, Groeschel, who leads LifeChurch.tv, writes in his newly released book, The Christian Atheist.

They attend church and seminaries and some even read their Bibles everyday. "Many of us look the part," the Edmond, Okla., pastor says. "Or we think we're Christian because, you know, it's not like we're Buddhists. We believe in God, but our lives don't reflect who he really is."

I suspect this is merely Christian guilting. Sure, you attend church, study at a seminary and read your bible every day (I do that at least 3 times a week), but are you really Christian? Really? Isn't there something more you could be doing for me Jesus? Are you sure you don't have some more spare time for me the Church? Just a few more dollars for me the collection box?


The way Christian Atheism plays out, he preached at that time, is: "I believe in God but I want to do whatever the heck I want to do. I want enough of God to keep me out of hell and enough of God to get me into heaven but I don't want so much of God that it makes me change my lifestyle because at its root I believe in God but I do not fear Him."


Again, not atheism. I don't believe in god. At all. I'm not viewing god as an insurance policy any more than I view unicorns as insurance policies.

There are two pages of this drivel about people who may not be Christians, but sure aren't atheists. Look, I get it, some people just aren't doing enough for you Jesus, but don't drag us into it. You weren't an atheist, none of the people you go to such great lengths to describe are atheists, so let it go. Please.

17 comments:

  1. I have ever so many problems with this. For one thing, this line: "We believe in God, but our lives don't reflect who he really is." That's not atheism. But the second half most definitely is standard Christian guilting.

    So it's basically boring, regular Christianity dressed up with incorrectly used buzzwords. What else is new?

    Oddly enough, though, I did begin to delve in to Christian nihilism in a post last night. I think that exists. And I think there are Christian atheists in that there are people who call themselves Christian and genuinely believe they believe in god, but who actually believe in something completely different, generally the Bible or the church or the pastor or similar.

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  2. Of course he is from Oklahoma. Edmond is a rich suburb of Oklahoma City.

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  3. Um, yeah. Dictionaries are your friends. Words actually have specific meanings. Use them.

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  4. You can't be a Jewish atheist. That whole concept is nothing but Jews trying to inflate their numbers and encourage the children of people who do not practice religion to one day convert. One might be racially "Jewish," but this idea is itself meaningless unless you're a racist. Even then, is the individual an Ashkenazi or Sephardic? Both of these populations interbred with Turks and Spaniards (respectively) to the point of being genetically distinct. Each also has different cultural practices.

    There's no reason anyone should identify as anything but their own name. Race is pointless... we're all African.

    And you're right about there not being Christian-atheists. This concept is also a contradiction in terms meant solely to encourage a later return to the faith.

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  5. Ginx, I disagree that you have to be racist to recognize the idea of a Jewish atheist. My husband and some of his family members describe themselves as Jewish atheists. I agree it's a nebulous term, and not the most precise one, but there are people who don't believe in a deity, who self-identify as Jewish on a cultural level.

    Interestingly, when talking about "our religions" (for whatever reason), hubs usually says, "I'm Jewish, my wife's Catholic..." although he knows very well that I don't believe in a deity. But to him, my family is Catholic and I went to Catholic school, so in casual conversation I can be Catholic. I disagree - I'm never Catholic - but if you consider the fact that I was raised in Catholic culture and know all about the Catholic church and its rituals... you could try to argue (at least) that I'm culturally Catholic. (Though you wouldn't win the argument.) Anyway, that's sort of how I reconcile "Jewish atheist." I'm not explaining it very well, though.

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  6. I saw that article too and was thinking of posting on it, but you beat me to it. What he calls Christian atheists I'd call nominal Christians. But being a nominal Christian doesn't make you an atheist.

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  7. I thought there was already a term for this type of Christian - hypocrite.

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  8. I certainly did not intend to be racist in asserting that one could be a Jewish atheist. I never realized Meanboss was Jewish until I was helping his youngest clear out the file room. He mentioned going to his nephew's bris and I said, "Oh, your sister-in-law is Jewish?" and he said, "No, we're Jewish".

    *awkward silence as I realized I may have implied something awful like "you don't look like a Jew!"- to the boss' son.*

    Then he said, "You know, my dad and I don't believe in any of that stuff, but all those Jews died in the Holocaust for being Jewish, so you can't just give it up. You gotta be Jewish no matter what you believe."

    Hence, Jewish atheists.

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  9. Having recently left the particular subset of evangelicalism of which Craig Groeschel is a part (my old pastor is actually a huge Groeschel fan) I have to say it's probably less that Groeschel is actually talking about atheists or atheism (he isn't) but just continuing in the grand evangelical tradition of playing with words badly (i.e. the 3 point sermon in which all three points either rhyme or share alliteration.) I guarantee most of his Christian audience will find his title either amusing or convicting (or both) but will recognize it for being a Christianeze usage of "atheist". It's meant to sound catchy or edgy, but not literal.

    I'm perfectly willing to concede that Groeschel himself probably has some very unfortunate and misinformed opinions about atheism, and that some of them may have influenced his book or the title, but mostly I think you just missed the cultural context of his book and its title. Easy to do if you haven't actually had a lot of direct experience with Evangelical culture.

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  10. @ Ginx - I'm not sure you can be "racially" Jewish, either; I think "culturally Jewish" is actually a better term.

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  11. mostly I think you just missed the cultural context of his book and its title. Easy to do if you haven't actually had a lot of direct experience with Evangelical culture.

    I grew up in the Evangelical culture (blah blah, 25 years, accepted at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, decided I'd rather never darken the door of another church instead, blah). I understand the cultural context quite well. I still think it's idiotically dishonest to say that there are "Christian atheists" who "believe in God but I want to do whatever the heck I want to do. I want enough of God to keep me out of hell and enough of God to get me into heaven."

    It's wrong. And the fact that it happens all the time in Evangelical Christianhood doesn't make that right. That's actually the most idiotic possible modification of the tu quoque fallacy: It's okay if they do it because they also do it.

    Not so much.

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  12. BeamStalk, I think, got it right. I've always called these people functional atheists. They're the ones that tick off "Christian" as they enter jail. They're why the divorce rate of "Christians" is as high or higer than secular society. They're the reason teen pregnancy is as high or higher for "Christians" than non etc. etc. etc.

    Of course PF is right in that they aren't literally atheist but they may as well be for all their "faith" matters to them. (No I'm not saying that atheists are leading the pack in immorality - I've never said that) It's just that Jesus and what He wants for us is not important to these people, just like it isn't important for atheists.

    That's what the author is saying - nothing more - nothing less.

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  13. I've always called these people functional atheists. They're the ones that tick off "Christian" as they enter jail. They're why the divorce rate of "Christians" is as high or higer than secular society. They're the reason teen pregnancy is as high or higher for "Christians" than non etc. etc. etc.

    Even worse than functional atheists, they're not even True Scotsmen!

    The horror.

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  14. Reminds me of Lahaye and Jenkins continually dividing True Christians(tm) from those who will be Left Behind.

    Thesauros said...
    Of course PF is right in that they aren't literally atheist but they may as well be for all their "faith" matters to them.

    How much a persons faith matters to them is a seperate issue from whether or not they've got one. The difference is subtle, but it's there. To clarify:

    - "Jesus and what He wants" doesn't matter to the nominal christian, whereas
    - "Jesus and what He wants" doesn't exist to the atheist.

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  15. How much a persons faith matters to them is a seperate issue from whether or not they've got one.

    Ah, but you missed the point, James. Thesauros doesn't want to believe that real Christians are capable of getting divorced, cheating on their spouses, or getting arrested. Ergo, anyone who does those things and is claiming to be a Christian isn't a real Christian.

    It's not about missing a subtle point by accident. It's about intentionally not claiming a reality that doesn't exist.

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  16. They're why the divorce rate of "Christians" is as high or higer than secular society. They're the reason teen pregnancy is as high or higher for "Christians" than non etc. etc. etc.

    Right, it totally has nothing to do with the fact that Real True Christians! oppose premarital sex, meaning that people rush into marriages to have sex, or that they say that your genitals are more important than whether you actually love each other, or like they oppose birth control and sex education, or anything like that.

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  17. Regarding Jewish atheists, the issue is complicated because "Jewish" can be defined as a racial, cultural, religious descriptor or even some combination thereof. There forms of Judaism that even are religious and yet accept atheists in some sense (Reconstructionists being the most obvious example). For people who are culturally Jewish, an atheist Jew is somewhat akin to say an atheist Irish-American. Sure, they're culturally Irish and a lot of that culture has to do with Catholicism, but it doesn't make them not an atheist.

    In regards to "Christian Atheists" what this sounds like in this sense is much more just another term for Christians who this person doesn't think are practicing enough. They are going through the motions and haven't been really saved. Or something like that. I could however conceive of someone being a Christian Atheist in a more reasonable sense if say someone liked many of the ideas of Jesus as described in the Christian scriptures but didn't believe in God.

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