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.
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.
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)
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 http://skepticsannotatedbible.com/ for many more:
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.