johnmac's rants

Friday, June 02, 2006

Christian Atheist?

(Note: The following was posed as a question on the Inwood
Cafe
and awaits answers)

Can a person identified with a theistic religion also be an
atheist or visa versa? I remember years ago, when reading
Exodus (the Leon Uris book, not the biblical work), being
dismayed when a Jewish character in the book identified the
most influential Jews in modern history as Karl Marx, Sigmund
Freud, and Albert Einstein -- dismayed because both Marx and
Freud disavowed God and Einstein was not, to my understanding,
a conventional Jew.

Over the years, I brought this up to many of my Jewish
friends, always asking the question "Can a Jew be an atheist?"
-- and, always, I was told (in differing words) "Yes -- 'Jew'
means not only a religion but also a 'race', a 'people'; a
people who have been persecuted for being a Jew no matter what
their religious belief".

I came to understand and accept this explanation over the
years but never thought that it could apply to "Christians"
who, after all, tended to identify themselves as "Italian",
"German", "Irish", etc. before reaching down to religious
side.

Today, however, in a discussion with Frank Mulderrig, the
question came up -- "Is a "Christian Atheist" an oxymoron?"
Frank felt that one could accept the person and message of
Christ with attributing Divinity to him or other beings. I
thought that there may be few of folks who would identify
themselves as such -- but that many might accept "Christian
Agnostic" as an appellation -- "I accept the message of Christ
but I'm not sure if there is (or is not) a God."

I don't think that you can be a "Catholic Atheist" -- one
must belief certain "articles of faith" to be a Catholic and
the existence of God is certainly one of them. I think you can
cut the "Catholic Agnostic" a wider birth -- "I'm not sure if
there is a God but, if there is, Jesus rose from the dead"

Once again, I think Garry Wills "What Jesus Meant" is a
terrific book (see the New York Times Book Review piece by
Newsweek writer Jon Meachem) -- and parts of it bear
directly on the
question "What constitutes a Christian?".

2 Comments:

  • Comments sent to me and / or the Inwood Cafe

    From: Carlo J Evangelisti (carloev@juno.com)

    do a search on:

    oriana fallaci "catholic atheist"

    and you will get two pages of hits.. she has no problem calling herself a
    "catholic atheist"

    carlo
    --------------------------------------------------
    carlo evangelisti
    carloev@alumni.union.edu
    www.geocities.com/carloev
    www.geocities.com/respmodel

    ---------- Forwarded message ----------
    From: Tamar Friedman [Tamarsfriedman@yahoo.com]
    Subject: RE: Christian Atheist?

    Judaism is a lot more than religion. In fact religion is only
    one aspect of Judaism. I would say that the overall
    characterization of Judaism is first and foremost a culture
    that shares many of the characteristics of any cultural and
    ethnic group such as language, a focal geographical place, human propensities, genetic make up, a set of values, and also
    but certainly not limited to- rituals and religious aspects.
    Since Judaism borders on nationality it cannot be
    characterized as strictly a religion as other religions may.
    See the quote below from Wikipedia. The fact is- most Jews are
    not religious.

    from Wikipedia:

    Judaism

    In general, formulations of Jewish principles of faith
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jewish_principles_of_faith
    require a belief in God (represented by Judaism's paramount
    prayer, the Shema http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shema ). In
    many modern movements in Judaism, rabbis have generally
    considered the behavior of a Jew to be the determining factor in whether or not one is considered an adherent of Judaism.
    Within these movements it is often recognized that it is
    possible for a Jew to strictly practice Judaism
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Judaism as a faith, while at
    the same time being an agnostic or atheist, giving rise to the
    joke: "Q: What do you call a Jew who doesn't believe in God?
    A: A Jew." It is also worth noting that Reconstructionism
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reconstructionist_Judaism does
    not require any belief in a deity, and that certain popular
    Reform http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reform_Judaism prayer
    books, such as Gates of Prayer, offer some services without
    mention of God.

    Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abraham_Isaac_Kook> ,[39]
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atheism#_note-36#_note-36> [40]
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atheism#_note-37#_note-37> first
    Chief Rabbi of the Jewish community in pre-state Israel, held
    that atheists were not actually denying God: rather, they were
    denying one of man's many images of God. Since any man-made
    image of God can be considered an idol, Kook held that, in
    practice, one could consider atheists as helping true religion
    burn away false images of God, thus in the end serving the
    purpose of true monotheism.

    Some Jewish atheists reject Judaism, but wish to continue
    identifying themselves with the Jewish people and culture.
    See, for example, Levin (1995). Jewish atheists who practice
    Humanistic Judaism
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Humanistic_Judaism> embrace
    Jewish culture and history, rather than belief in a
    supernatural god, as the sources of their Jewish identity.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Atheism&action=edit§ion=30> ]

    Christianity

    By necessity, Christianity, as a theistic
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theist> and proselytizing
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Proselytism> religion views
    atheism as sinful. According to
    http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Psalm_14:1&action=edit>
    Psalm 14:1, "The fool hath said in his heart, there is no
    God." Additionally, according to John 3:18-19,

    3:18 "Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever
    does not believe stands condemned already because they have
    not believed in the name of God's one and only Son. 3:19 "This
    is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved
    darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil."
    (NIV)

    implying that all who reject the divinity of Jesus (and
    presumably its attendant theism) do so "because their deeds
    are evil", rather than evil being a consequence of disbelief.
    ----------------------------------
    From: frank mulderrig (frankmulderrig@yahoo.com)
    To: InwoodCafe@yahoogroups.com
    Subject: Re: [InwoodCafe] Christian Atheist?

    John, My feelings are that theism is the belief in a God who
    we can know by looking at ourselves, since we are created in
    his image. Thus a theistic God has a personality, get angry, must be pleaded with to get involved. He is thought of in
    terms of Father and Son. There are, however, other images in
    the bible of God as a loving creative force, a breath of life,
    a wind that sweeps over a nation, a fire that burns in the
    hearts of men. These images, in my mind, are of a diety that
    is not theistic, that is mysterious and unknowable. An origin,
    sustainer and destination of life.

    Christ to me displayed that energy in healing and loving all,
    not just the good, in calling for people to act as if the were
    living in the Kingdom of God, despite being oppressed by the
    Roman empire, and by challenging his follower to see him alive
    and with them even though he was about to be executed. Is
    Jesus God? My answer is a see God in Jesus life. I no longer
    ponder a physical resurrection or wonder in which direction he ascended.

    -----------------------------
    From: jrtaylor (jrtaylor@prodigy.net)
    To: InwoodCafe@yahoogroups.com
    Subject: Re: [InwoodCafe] Christian Atheist?

    Interesting observations, Frank, as always. God must also be
    lonely, in need of company and someone to love and be loved
    by. He can claim to being an atheist with no one to argue the
    opposite case with him. The God that must be pleaded with is
    the God Job dealt with, and somewhat successfuly. At the end
    of the story, Job was restored to happiness and prosperity,
    and his friends/neighbors, who ridiculed Job for daring to
    question God, were disgraced.

    A possible wrinkle in the image concept is that perhaps it means that we were made according to the image God had of us,
    though not necessarily in his own image.I find it hard to
    compare the frailty, meanness and venality of humanaity with
    the view of God as seen in Jesus. To complicate things, the
    "image and lilkeness" concept is found in the first Genesis
    creation story, but not in the second version, which is quite
    different (they are found in Chs. one and two, respectively).

    These points are not well thought out, but I thought I'd throw
    them out for whatever they're worth.

    Jim
    ----------------------------------
    From: Gene Schneider (gene@qedmgtconsulting.com)
    To: InwoodCafe@yahoogroups.com
    Subject: RE: [InwoodCafe] Christian Atheist?

    Don't do this much, but it seems to me that throughout history
    "man" deified that what was not understood...sun gods, gods of
    fertility etc. We, "man" also attributed many of our traits onto gods...then turned around & stated we were similar in
    many ways to the Gods. The idea of a 1st being is very
    plausible, but we being made in His image is simply human
    pride...the idea that an all powerful being "personally"
    intervenes in our life is another example of human pride &
    self importance. What ever the religion, they have a God &
    he/she/it has human traits with documented tails exalting both
    the God & we humans...if, according to the bible the original
    sin was pride, that is human pride, then...in my
    opinion...most all religions are still back in the Garden of
    Eden.

    Gene

    By Blogger johnmac, at 6:29 AM  

  • I'm going to disagree with the whole notion that Judaism is close to a nationality. I think people of good faith can differ on this, but to my mind, a Jew who does not believe in God is still culturally a Jew in the same way that a Protestant who does not believe in God is still, perhaps, culturally a WASP. But it doesn't make you a Jew in the religious sense. Although those who have persecuted Jews have done so on the basis of "one drop of blood" the truth is that Judaism is a RELIGION. Which means you can convert to Judaism, which means it's not a race. I have heard people say that they are "half Jewish" and I always wonder what that means religiously. Would anyone say that they are "half Catholic?" I guess what I am saying, not very elegantly, is that it is possible to be a Lox and Bagels Jew without being a God and Torah Jew; I just wish there was a word like WASP to differentiate the two, ie, not all WASPs are Protestant or religious but they are part of a socio-ethnic culture with particular things in common.

    One (religious Reform Jewish) woman's opinion...

    By Blogger E, at 10:56 PM  

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