Friday, May 30, 2014

Richard Dawkins and "Secular Christianity"

It was a little odd, I'll confess, to see recent reportage of die-hard neoatheist Richard Dawkins asserting that he's Christian.

"Secular Christian," of course, but still.

If you've ever read anything by Dawkins, that statement might seem like a coding flaw in the Matrix, or perhaps a sign that the upcoming Left Behind movie is going to come out at a particularly auspicious moment.  No, actually, scratch that.  I think the last thing the studio wants is the Rapture right before it opens.  Poof, there goes your target audience.

Whichever way, here arguably the world's most famously strident atheist is saying: "I am a mumblemumble Christian."

It seems peculiar.

What Dawkins is trying to say, honestly, is something completely in line with a position he's stated and restated over the years.  He likes the ritual.  He enjoys caroling, and pageants, stockings and trees and Old Saint Nick. Even the churchy ritual itself, with vicars and funny hats and incense, there's appeal in that.  There's something comforting about it, something vewy Bwitish that puts him at ease, even if he thinks most of it is utterly absurd.

So there it is.  He's a secular Christian.

But can such a thing even exist?  Are there "secular Christians?"

On the on hand, of course there are.  There have always been.  Tradition and authority, pomp and ritual, these things have been a part of Christianity almost from the git-go.  Oh, it took them a few centuries to get rolling, but roll they have.

On the other hand, of course, I'm not sure that's what I would describe as Christian in the first place. Ritual means very little, unless it serves a deeper purpose.  The forms and structures of Christianity have often become nothing more than the ritual trappings of secular society. One has only to look at the rather awkward origin story of the Church of England for evidence of that.

Being Christian, as my teacher George MacDonald puts it over and over again, means nothing more and nothing less than doing what Jesus tells us to do. Nothing else matters. A disciple follows the teachings of their master. Period.

Ritual is only meaningful insofar as it reinforces that radical commitment.  What does that look like?

Live your life humbly and graciously.  Make decisions guided by a compassion not just for your family, friends, tribe, or nation, but for all beings.  Even enemies.  Particularly enemies.

Which means, oddly enough, that I think there can be secular Christians.  "I'm not sure about the God-thing," they say.  "But I can do those things that Jesus asks. I can live that way."  I don't know if Dawkins falls into that category.  It might be interesting to ask him.

Ultimately, I think that's what counts.  Jesus did too, of course.

2 comments:

  1. You can count me among the secular Christians. I have serious doubts about a personal God, but I readily call Jesus my Lord because I seek to pattern my life after His example to the best of my ability.

    It is nice to see you affirm what I have long held to be true: "Being a Christian...means nothing more and nothing less than doing what Jesus tells us to do."

    Like every sinner, I often fall short, but there is no better ideal to follow than the example set by Christ.

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  2. Though the other way it has been looked at is in terms of what the individual is "Atheist" of. And in this case it is of Christianity, being in another cultural context may have meant another form.

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