Monday, March 27, 2006

Even an Atheist Can Pratice Christian Virtues

I don't believe Jesus Christ was the son of a God that I don't believe in, nor do I believe Jesus rose from the dead to ascend to a heaven that I don't believe exists
This is a quote from an article by Robert Jensen, an atheist who recently affirmed that he (1) endorsed the core principles in Christ's teaching; (2) intended to work to deepen my understanding and practice of the universal love at the heart of those principles; and (3) pledged to be a responsible member of the church and the larger community - in front of the congregation of St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church in Austin, TX.

Jensen has become a secular Christian, or a non-believing believer, or something that I can’t quite put a name too. I am a little confused. Why would an atheist do this?

Jensen’s rational – his decision was political. As in, Jensen wanted to engage people in discussion about politics and their underlying values. This seems well… interesting. He holds the same moral perspective as the parishioners, he wants to talk about it with like minded people, and he feels that perhaps the bible can be read symbolically and not literally. It is a complicated argument.

I wonder, does his membership in a Christian church imply that he cannot find this same sense of community and moral grounding among his fellow atheists? My guess is the answer is yes. My experience is that Atheism is essentially a very lonely experience. I don’t know many other atheists personally, except for 2.5 people I work with (one has a foot in both camps). I certainly do not share the same moral position with any of them, and more importantly, besides are work relationship, there is not such thing as a community. What I a saying? Well… Based on Jensen’s definition, I would have to call myself a secular Christian too – I prefer the Atheist title, my morally does not need to be purchased by the blood of a martyr, no matter how well meaning.

The big question is, would I take the step of attending a church like Jensen has done? Would other atheists? No, I would not. Although I find my life grounded in Christian values, in general, I find Christians to be people I try to avoid socially. I cannot imagine becoming a member of a church, it would drive me crazy. In fact, I am having a hard time understanding why Jensen did it. If I am going to invest my time and energy in building a community, I’m going to do it with people who share my disbelieve, my skepticism, and my goals.

Jensen’s decision to join a church was not without controversy. Jim Rigby answers the question, Why We Let an Atheist Join Our Church, in a well written response to membership criticism. Rigby’s main justification:
Neither the church nor Jensen views his membership as surrendering anything, but instead as an attempt to build connections. Such efforts are crucial in a world where there seems not to be a lot of wood to build the bridges we need. And the shame is, while we fight among ourselves, the world is burning.

Jim Rigby makes a strong statement: while we are fighting among ourselves, our world is burning. - Jim, are we on the same team? If so, can you talk to the guy who just sent me a death threat for criticizing the Willard Preacher?

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Anonymous said...

If the church is living the life Mr jensen will either love it and get converted or love it and find he has to leave.

Christianity is a worldview with huge moral demands on the believer in that worldview. Jesus is God; Jesus is the standard of morality; Jesus is the only rightful authority over all of life; Jesus is worthy of all our worship and adoration. Jesus sends His spirit into us to empower us to live His life and be led by Him in our daily lives. Jesus loves us so everything is going to be OK. Jesus answers prayer. I imagine eventually all this Jesus centered worldview will have to be reckoned with.
May Jesus Bless You,

Anonymous said...

I also believe that Jesus was a great man, but not the son of God as I am not a Christian. I'm not an atheist, but as a Hindu, many of my beliefs also coincide with Christianity. If Jesus is the standard of morality, then all Christians should give their worldly belongings to the poor and live simple lives, but few do. Materialism is as rampant with Christians as it is with those of other religions including my own.

As for an atheist joining the church, I think it's the community and ritualistic aspect that draws Mr. Jensen to the church. Perhaps atheists should come up with some cultural gatherings such as conferences. To develop a community, they also need to share certain rituals.

Mojoey said...

Brad - in the end, it is all about Jesus. Mr. Jensen does not even believe Jesus existed. The whole thing seems hypocritical Disingenuous to me.

I don't get it.

Mark said...

Some time ago I wrote about "Jesus without the miracles" The article was publised in Harpers Magazine a while back. It is based on the Jefferson Bible. Jefferson essentially redacted all the miracles from the Bible and came up with a list of the core teachings of "Jesus."

I does not matter if there ever was a Jesus (AFAIC he did not exist) but the teaching gleaned by Jefferson are sensible and hard to argue with.

You can read more Here.