It’s a safe bet that for many church-goers, the myths and doctrines of their particular religion have little bearing on their experience of church life. Really, how many people actually think that the act of splashing water on an infant (or dunking an adult) saves that individual from the fires of hell? How many people receiving communion really believe the wafer becomes– either literally or figuratively–the body of a first-century Jew? Surveys have consistently shown that a majority of Roman Catholics can’t tell you anything at all about Transubstantiation. So what does that say about an organization if most its adherents are unable to explain the significance of the group’s essential and defining ritual?
A few readers of this blog have commented that, while the metaphysical and historical claims of religion might not be true, religious life is still valuable to society. It provides people with community and caring they couldn’t find elsewhere in our culture. And churches often support soup-kitchens for the needy, Twelve-Step groups for the addicted, and other programs beneficial to the community.
True, churches do many nice things for the world. But wouldn’t it be possible to do those nice things without propagating myths, fairy tales, world views not based on reality?
I have many Jewish friends who are, for all intents and purposes, non-theistic. But they still call themselves Jewish and have found a way to live as secular Jews. They might even still celebrate Passover with their family and friends, but they don’t pretend to believe that the Exodus story actually happened.
Now some would say, “Well, it’s different for Jews because being Jewish involves more than doctrine. It’s also an ethnic heritage.” Yes, it might be true that being Jewish is something that transcends theology, but beginning of the Tribe are grounded in some very particular theological claims.
So if many Jews have found a way to live as “secular Jews,” could the same thing happen for Christians–who could frankly acknowledge the mythical nature of Christianity’s theology but still do some of the good things that came out of church life? Or is the term “secular Christian” too much of an oxymoron?