There is a theologian and religious philosopher named Adam Kotsko who claims to be a Christian Atheist. In an interview in Religious Dispatches Magazine he seems to try to explain this. The section of the interview which he addresses this idea is below and the full article can be read here.


Christopher Hitchens has said something to effect, and I can't find the quote, that if you take away many of the revolting aspects of religion, pushing your faith on others, the mandatory fear and worship of god, etc.. then he too would be a fan. This is not what Kotsko is suggesting but I believe he is saying that if you make Christianity more "humanistic" in nature, then you can both be an atheist and a christian.


I personally reject the idea, and think this is just another theologan trying to find a way to push back against the rise of secularism but I was wondering your interpretations and thoughts.

Can a chrisitan be an atheist according to Kotskos "logic"? 



One of the interesting things I’ve found from reading your blog is that you are in fact an atheist. What relevance do you see this theory having for atheists?

Well, first I want to hedge on this atheist question in some way, and say I’m not a traditional theist; but if I’m an atheist, I’m at least a Christian one.

In any case though, I think that a lot of work by secular philosophers recently has been reclaiming the Christian tradition, and theological concepts, that provides some prima facie evidence for its relevance—people like Slavoj Zizek or Alain Badiou or Georgio Agamben. My work’s been very influenced by them as a way to reclaim the Christian heritage in a more convincing way than simply rejecting it because it has religiousness all over it.

At one point theologian Thomas Altizer posted on your blog that we haven’t really thought through a proper atheism yet.

Right. I think that you can see this with the New Atheists. Dawkins’ and Hitchens’ and Dennett’s books are a kind of simplistic critique of religion that’s basically not going to change anyone’s mind. I think there has to be more to say about religion other than the fact that it makes no sense as an empirical claim. That’s just too obvious to be interesting. I think that we as a society deserve a better form of atheism.

Another of the interesting moves you make is you effectively leave the anthropomorphic God “in place,” which is a definite contrast to the attempts to deconstruct the God of metaphysics in the work of philosophers like Jean-Luc Marion and Richard Kearney. What was the rationale for leaving God in place?

I took my cue from Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who has argued that we have to accept the metaphysical parts of Christianity. This is against the work of Bultmann who in his reading attempts to rehabilitate Christianity by cutting out the bits that seem credible to contemporary people.

Bonhoeffer says basically to leave the myth in place, but what we need to do is remove the religious framework through which we interpret it. So we’re not necessarily talking about God, we’re talking about human beings. My reading is relevant to our concerns in our world, and not primarily about salvation or the Church. I object to the de-mythologizing approach in that it’s fundamentally arbitrarily and that it always has Christianity and theology in retreat. It’s trying to be acceptable to a liberal audience, and it’s doomed to be unpersuasive. You’re basically admitting what you’re saying is irrelevant. So I think preserving the text as is but with a different framework is a better approach.

So is it possible to have atonement if we deconstruct the idea of God?

I think it’s possible to have redemption, and have change and transformation in the way we relate to the world and each other. I don’t think that requires God.

Views: 458

Reply to This

Replies to This Discussion

I agree with the comments by Christopher Hitchens, and I also think that it could be possible to be a "Christian atheist," but that would depend on how you define Christianity.  Of course, Christianity as the majority of people understand it is not compatible with atheism.  However, there is no single authority on what makes someone "Christian."  There are those that say that only their branch is "Christianity" and all else is heresy.  In any case, someone could say that they follow the moral teachings of Jesus, and use his example as inspiration, yet reject Jesus' divinity and the God concept.  So it's possible in theory.


"Dawkins’ and Hitchens’ and Dennett’s books are a kind of simplistic critique of religion that’s basically not going to change anyone’s mind."


This is false on its face.  Just read Dawkin's blog of deconversions as a result of reading his book.


"I think there has to be more to say about religion other than the fact that it makes no sense as an empirical claim. That’s just too obvious to be interesting."


No, it's not "too obvious to be interesting" to a good portion of the world's population.  Yes, I agree that it's obvious, but when we are talking about billions of people believing it then the discussion is necessary.


"I think that we as a society deserve a better form of atheism."


Does not compute.  There are no "forms" of atheism any more than there are "forms" of people who do not believe in Russel's teapot.  Of course, I understand what he is trying to say, and he is trying to do something good.  Certainly, being an atheist says nothing about what kind of person one is.  That because atheism is not a belief system, nor a set of values.  It's not supposed to be.  Certainly it's a noble goal to encourage people to "be good", be it via Humanism, some form of Buddhism, some sort of secular moral philosophy, or even "atheistic Christianity."  Being an atheist (and critical thinker) is simply the first step in the right direction.  But I would not call any of the above philosophies "forms of atheism."  They are simply moral philosophies / religions that do not invoke a deity and/or magical thinking.


"Bonhoeffer says basically to leave the myth in place, but what we need to do is remove the religious framework through which we interpret it."


The Christian God either exists, or it doesn't.  It seems like he's saying that while he knows that the Christian God is not real, it's better to keep the "myth" (his word) alive in the background simply to make his belief system more appealing to the general (theistic) public.  He says that to remove it would be pandering to liberals, but actually it's the opposite.  If he's to be an atheist Christian using Jesus as a moral teacher (which I do not agree that Jesus is a perfect example, that's another story...)  then he needs to toss out the God concept.  If his ideology / religion includes a god then the followers would be theists, or at the very least deists. 




While it could be possible to be a christian atheist, the philosophy / religion that this man is promoting keeps the God concept alive in the background.  This is not atheism.


I don't care how many theological hoops you jump through, Christianity boils down to accepting that Jesus was God. Yes? You are Christian. No? You're anything but Christian. Atheists don't believe there is a god in the first place, so how could they believe Jesus is God?

It's dumb on every level.

To address the point that people who follow the moral teachings of Jesus, but don't accept that he was god or the messiah are still Christians, just look at Muslims. They respect his teachings as a prophet, but do not accept that he is the messiah. They would not call themselves Christian or even Christian-Muslim.

I am personally down with the "do unto your neighbor..." golden rule... Does that make me Christian? Where do you draw the line if not with "Jesus is God"?

Your analogy is slightly off.  Atheism is the lack of belief in gods.  (Or, the rejection of the theistic claims that god exists.)  Muslims are theists because they believe in Allah as the one true all powerful God.  Christians (mostly) believe in a triune god.  (3 forms, one god).  Muslims and Christians are both theists.  But, someone who looks to Jesus' example as a good moral philosophy without accepting that he was a god, and also rejecting the entire concept of god due to lack of evidence would be an atheist for sure.  Would that person be a "Christian" is the better question to ask.  No, not according to the majority, but that's not really relevant to the fact that it's possible in principle, as a kind of "New Christianity."  (Perhaps using the Thomas Jefferson Bible?)


"I am personally down with the "do unto your neighbor..." golden rule... Does that make me Christian? Where do you draw the line if not with "Jesus is God"?"


In theory you could be a Christian if you wanted to consider yourself one.  But I take it that you probably find other philosophies more persuasive than the non-theistic Jesus' message.  Just because people agree with some ideas of Marx does not mean that they are Marxists.  Since we are not talking about theism anymore but moral philosophy at this point, I would say it would completely up to how you wish to label yourself.  (as opposed to an "atheist" who is just "angry at god" for something.  Such people exist, and they are theists even if they do not realize it)

Regardless of what you think of my Muslim analogy, the point still stands that if you don't believe Jesus was god, and therefore the trinity (which you don't if you're really Atheist), then you can't be Christian. That's the root of my argument.

Basically I disagree with your implication that, "someone could say that they follow the moral teachings of Jesus, and use his example as inspiration, yet reject Jesus' divinity and the God concept," and these people would still be Christian. Correct me if I misunderstood the implication there.
And that is a valid argument as long as Christianity is defined strictly as a belief that Jesus is God.  But now we're playing a numbers game here.  What if, say, in 100 years we still have all the churches around America but they don't teach that God is literally "real."  They just teach a moral philosophy based on Jesus' message.  In this possible future world, the person who believes that Jesus is divine would be rare to find.  So what I'm saying is that the definition of what is a "Christian" varies from sect to sect, and person to person.  There were early Christians who believed in God but taught that Jesus was only a man.  They were outnumbered (and slain) so their teaching became "heresy."  But it could have gone the other way.  It's not cut and dry like atheism.  And if someone really looks to and respects Jesus as a moral example, then in that sense one could still say that they are following him as a "Christian."
I guesss I have trouble with that because IF you follow the teachings of Jesus, then in my mind you must necessarily accept that he is God. I mean he SAYS he is for god's sake.

So if you're going to cherrypick jesus, anyone could choose any combination of Jesus' points and still call themselves Christian. But I think we all agree that would not be correct.

I agree with your criticisms of the concept.  I cannot understand how you could throw out the majority of the bible, but keep Jesus.  (As we only know of Jesus because of the bible.)  But we're talking about Christians here.  You know that logic isn't their strong point.  Just because it doesn't really make sense won't stop people from doing it if they want. 


The problem is that he's brewing a cup of weak tea.  Take out God's almighty power and you'll Christians to actually look at the teachings of the Bible.  They teachings will have to stand on their own merit, rather than on divine authority.  This will force them to toss out most of them.  (Including some of Jesus')  With all metaphysics aside, a quick stroll through various moral philosophies would provide a plethora of better options.  Despite all that, such a form of Christianity could gain some acceptance in Christian majority countries due to Jesus' cultural appeal.

You keep mentioning Jesus' moral philosophy/message.

Did you read the same bible?

Here are just a few wonderful moral teachings of Jesus from the book of Matthew in the New Testament (and only a small part- the list keeps on going in this chapter and all chapters throughout the "good book". 

see for many more:

  • Those who bear bad fruit will be cut down and burned "with unquenchable fire." 3:10, 12


  • Jesus strongly approves of the law and the prophets. He hasn't the slightest objection to the cruelties of the Old Testament. 5:17


  • Jesus recommends that to avoid sin we cut off our hands and pluck out our eyes. This advice is given immediately after he says that anyone who looks with lust at any women commits adultery. 5:29-30


  • Jesus says that most people will go to hell. 7:13-14


  • Those who fail to bear "good fruit" will be "hewn down, and cast into the fire." 7:19


  • "The children of the kingdom [the Jews] shall be cast out into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth." 8:12


  • Jesus tells a man who had just lost his father: "Let the dead bury the dead." 8:21


  • Jesus sends some devils into a herd of pigs, causing them to run off a cliff and drown in the waters below. 8:32


  • Cities that neither "receive" the disciples nor "hear" their words will be destroyed by God. It will be worse for them than for Sodom and Gomorrah. And you know what God supposedly did to those poor folks (see Gen.19:24). 10:14-15


  • Families will be torn apart because of Jesus (this is one of the few "prophecies" in the Bible that has actually come true). "Brother shall deliver up the brother to death, and the father the child: and the children shall rise up against their parents, and cause them to be put to death." 10:21


  • Jesus says that we should fear God who is willing and "able to destroy both soul and body in hell." 10:28


  • Jesus says that he has come to destroy families by making family members hate each other. He has "come not to send peace, but a sword." 10:34-36


  • Jesus condemns entire cities to dreadful deaths and to the eternal torment of hell because they didn't care for his preaching. 11:20-24


  • Jesus will send his angels to gather up "all that offend" and they "shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth." 13:41-42, 50


  • Jesus is criticized by the Pharisees for not washing his hands before eating. He defends himself by attacking them for not killing disobedient children according to the commandment: "He that curseth father or mother, let him die the death." (See Ex.21:15, Lev.20:9, Dt.21:18-21) So, does Jesus think that children who curse their parents should be killed? It sure sounds like it. 15:4-7


  • Jesus advises his followers to mutilate themselves by cutting off their hands and plucking out their eyes. He says it's better to be "maimed" than to suffer "everlasting fire." 18:8-9


Wonderful morals and teachings that fit right into an atheist life...NOT

Which one of these should we implement in our houses, schools, government?

I say not one speck, not one iota, No, Nyet, Nadda, and NO F'n way!


Christian/atheist an oxymoron with the emphasis on Moron.

You can't cherry pick which "teachings" and "morals" you think are good while leaving out all the  fire, torture, and other forms of celestial punishment which far, Far, FAR outnumber anything positive.


And what is "cut and dry like atheism"? Show me "THE BOOK of ATHEISM" that has the way, the one true way, the one that is "cut and dry". There isn't one.

Show me one atheist that is "cut and dry"...

You seem to be upset, but I'm not sure why.  In any case, most of your post was unnecessary because I am not arguing this as my philosophy, only that one's position as a "Christian atheist" could exist.  Believe me, I know all about Jesus' "dark side."


"You can't cherry pick which "teachings" and "morals" you think are good while leaving out all the  fire, torture, and other forms of celestial punishment which far, Far, FAR outnumber anything positive."


This is true, IF you are saying that the Bible is the perfect word of an all-knowing creator.  But for someone who doesn't believe that a god exists, what is to stop them from cherry picking?  One could argue that this is akin to having admiration for the founding fathers despite the fact that they owned slaves.  Focus is places on the positive bits.  Is this the best way (or even a good way) to construct a moral philosophy?  Certainly not!  But I'm not sure that you could make they case that someone "can't" do it, at least in principle.


It seems the words "cut and dry" have caused some confusion.  I could have also said that "theism is cut and dry."  That is to say that a person's position as a theist or an atheist is not bound to how a person or group chooses to self identify.  As I stated in an earlier example, a person can be an atheist without even realizing it.  But when talking about something like "Christianity," it is entirely up to what the group makes of it.  For example, for the longest time being "Christian" meant that your highest religious authority on earth was the pope.  The, with people started to believe differently about that.  The idea of what is "Christian" changed.  Hopefully that should clear up any misunderstanding.


Edit:  This chart here shows how people can self identify as something other than "atheist" but still be atheists.

There is NO need to cherry pick through it to find the "good" morals. The Holy books are irrelevant to and un-necessary for treating people with kindness and compassion and usually contribute to neither and more often work against.


How can you be an atheist an not realize it?

To NOT have a belief in god(s) and not realize it, when we all live amongst the "faithful", have televangelists, door to door sales people, billboards, TV, internet and ALL this information, seems a stretch.

Maybe a hermit living in a cave that was raised by wolves.

I can see someone not calling themselves an atheist. As I've stated elsewhere- Why do we even need the word? If you don't believe in unicorns your not called Aunicornist. 


"The idea of what is "Christian" changed." ???

When was there just ONE idea of what xtian means? Even way back then there where various sects and cults- and before the bible, koran and torah there were various sects and cults of other religions/beliefs. Remember Zeus, Wotan, Ra, Apollo and the 1000's of other gods.

Way back then there was that probably at least one guy who thought- "You guys are absolutely bonkers"- but like most of history- kept his mouth shut if he wanted to live very long. Especially if he was near a group of believers.

I'd like you to take a look at this.

I consider myself atheist but culturally Jewish. I see no contradiction in it. I don't believe in god or the torah or anything like that, but I still feel connected to the Jewish people. I see no reason why Christianity cannot be the same.


© 2022   Created by Rebel.   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service