(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
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?".