My friend and colleague John Shuck recently wrote a guest post for the Friendly Atheist in which he gave this description of his own beliefs:
Religion is a human construct
The symbols of faith are products of human cultural evolution
Jesus may have been an historical figure, but most of what we know about him is in the form of legend
God is a symbol of myth-making and not credible as a supernatural being or force
The Bible is a human product as opposed to special revelation from a divine being
Human consciousness is the result of natural selection, so there’s no afterlife
The comments proceeded to explode with both atheists and Christians calling his beliefs self-contradictory. I find it a bit disheartening to see people in both camps approach the subject with so little sophistication. Both sides apparently understand religion as nothing more than intellectual assent to specific ideas about the supernatural, which is so far from being the case that it’s difficult to even continue the conversation.
It’s hilarious to me that two years ago we Friars/Fools wrote about this for Christian Piatt’s Banned Questions About Christians and it remains true today:
12) Can someone be both an atheist and a Christian? If “Christian” actually means “follower of Christ,” could someone be a student of the life of Jesus without accepting the claims of his divinity, or claims of the existence of any divinity at all?
Many people already self-identify as both atheist and Christian. Groups like the Christian Humanists and Non-Theistic Christians are doing just that – following Jesus, practicing Christianity, but for the most part holding to a naturalistic worldview where there is no supernatural or transcendent God.
In fact, the earliest Christians were called atheists by their neighbors because they refused to worship anyone but Christ. There is an anti-superstition impulse deep in the heart of Christianity. As Peter Rollins likes to say, to believe is human; to doubt is divine.
It is true, though, that the Jesus we read about in the Gospels seems to have believed in a transcendent, supernatural God, and is described as performing acts we would now call miracles like restoring sight to the blind, walking on water and so on. For some Christians, it is necessary for these things to be historically true. God must be in some way outside the world, and also able to act directly in the world.
For other Christians this is not as important. We don’t call ourselves Non-theistic Christians or Christian Humanists, but we don’t have a problem calling people who do identify that way brothers and sisters in Christ. They can be more than just students of the life of Jesus – they can be “doers of the word”. They can live out the title “Christian”, “little Christs”, in their daily lives just as well as we can.