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Secular Christians?

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?

Categories: Uncategorized
  1. July 1, 2012 at 7:31 pm

    I hope we are moving toward “cultural” “christianity” as they have in Scandinavia. People are married in church, they baptize their children, and they hold funerals there. I like that – keep the celebratory things and do away with the irrational stuff.

  2. Rick
    July 2, 2012 at 3:03 pm

    So when are you going to start an organization that promotes cummunity and not myth

  3. John Stutzer
    July 3, 2012 at 1:38 pm

    Mike, you posited in an earlier blog that formal attendance of Christian churches are dwindling, and perhaps marks a clear change in cultural adherence to myth/mysticism. I countered that formal religions do so much more than perpetually loop th same dogma – they provide extended cummunity support.

    Oxymoron or not, “Secular Christianity” is the business model churches are morphing towards. I’m adamant in using “business model”, because ultimately, any organization without sound financial pockets simply disappears, along with their dogma. Isn’t that why the Catholic church had to “get busy” and offer the selling of favors as a means to heaven – which in turn, caused The Reformation?

    Using American non-denom models: Elmer Gantry morphed into Billy Graham and Oral Roberts, Norman Vincent Peale morphed into Robert Schuler, who morphed into Joel Osteen. With each morph, less hellfire & brimstone, more postivity. Less mention of “Salvation” (I truly believe Pat Robertson has a special hatred reserved in in his “christian” heart for Osteen).

    Roxie & Rick each bring up enduring (and endearing) but less publicly touted reasons for God/Theistic based religions – ritual ceremonies and community service.

    Two service organizations I’ve belonged to for many years, are secular in practice and have a long history (I am NOT promoting either) (a) Optimmists and (b) Lions Club.

    Here’s the short list of the Lions raison d’etre:

    * Sight conservation and work with the visually impaired
    * Hearing conservation and work with the hearing impaired
    * Citizenship, educational, health, and social services
    * Youth programs including drug education and prevention, community outreach, and volunteer programs
    * Diabetes detection and research
    * Work for international cooperation and understanding, including international youth camps, youth exchange programs, and the Lions International Peace Poster Contest

    But there are just certain things we only do once in life (hopefully) that no service organization is worth a darn at:

    Marriage, Baptisms, Holidays, funerals/grief counseling, Bar Mitzvah (more).

    Having witnessed an Anglican baptism in all its finery, ritual and robes more than once, I cannot imagine it being done by a tall bony guy wearing a “Dick’s Sprting Goods 10K – 2009” tee.

    And really, you think secular Jews would be OK with “my cousin Sidney the Optometrist” peforming a Bar Mitzvah?

    But I have to ask Roxie & rick: What is the business model? That is, where does adequate funding come from to keep secular “religions” afloat?

    Maybe not elsewhere: But here in America, if you don’t pay, you don’t play (or pray).

    • July 9, 2012 at 1:37 pm

      Hi John, I left you a reply in the comments to Mike’s post. Sorry I didn’t hit the “reply” choice I just started typing. Let me know what you think!

      Love ya!


  4. July 3, 2012 at 4:31 pm

    Sounds good to me, a secular Christian community would essentially be a humanist community, which we need anyway. I worked as a music minister at a VERY liberal Presbyterian Church in Bend, OR (www.bendfp.org) for three years. They were all about the rituals, helping the poor, social justice, community, etc. Their pastor was a humanist/atheist as far as I could tell. And it was their approach, accepting of gays, focus of social issues, and acknowledgment that the bible was full of myths that led me out of faith altogether. I am forever grateful for how they influenced my life, leading me gently out of faith, and think that Christian churches, like that one, could eventually head the direction of being humanist centers. Instead of destroying the Christianity, maybe we could let it evolve. Of course I know that only the liberal mainline churches are anywhere near this secular ideal, and more conservative churches are nowhere near ready for something like this.

  5. John Stutzer
    July 5, 2012 at 11:15 am

    Ritual without myth?
    Theology without theos?

    What hath thou wrought, William Hamilton?

  6. Andrew
    July 7, 2012 at 5:25 am

    Ritual without myth?
    Theology without theos?

    Yes, exactly. The rituals only have meaning in the context of myth and vice versa.

  7. Jennifer Hancock
    July 7, 2012 at 11:56 pm

    There is definitely a need for scularmchristian organizations

  8. July 9, 2012 at 1:34 pm

    I’m glad you asked.John. I am president of the Humanists of Houston and our group is working on building the community of which you speak. Humanists have celebrants who perform baby-naming ceremonies, weddings and funerals. Our group in particular has joined the Foundation Beyond Belief and we are working on building our community involvement as a group.

    We run on donations just like a church, except we don’t make any promises about what will happen to your finances if you donate. Everyone in our group is a volunteer. You are MORE than welcome to drop by and visit. You can like us on facebook or find our website. Humanists of Houston. You can join our meetup group for reminders of our events.

    I look forward to meeting you and hearing your ideas!

  9. John Stutzer
    July 11, 2012 at 2:17 am

    @Roxie,Sounds like you and friends have a plan. However, I do not consider myself a humanist maybe an animalist – just one of the critters making my way along the food chain. But thanks for the invite.

    • July 13, 2012 at 5:43 am

      Humans are animals, right, so technically Humanists are Animalists too. We’ll be in Kingwood at Jason’s Deli on Kingwood Drive tonight Friday 13th starting around 7:00 if you’d like to come observe some fellow creatures.

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