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There are cultural Jews. Are there cultural Christians who do not interpret the religion as factual? Is this possible?

Apparently it's also called a "Nominal Christian" - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cultural_Christian

From the comments:

To my understanding there are people who call themselves Jewish but don't take the religion as factual. They just abide by the culture that coincides. I'm wondering if the same exists for Christians.

I am asking if someone can call themselves Christian and not believe the claims are factual but they abide by the messages as metaphors instead

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yes, otherwise known as most Christians in the west... –  Greg McNulty Apr 5 '12 at 20:35

6 Answers 6

up vote 11 down vote accepted

Yes, it's called "cultural Christianity." It merely means that you live in a culture that has Christian habits, such as celebrating Easter and Christmas.

If you moved to India, you might - without converting to Hinduism - get into the habit of celebrating Holi or Onam or Diwali with your friends and neighbors.

If you do not believe in the tenants of the religion, however, you're not "a Christian" in the sense you mean.

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There are two answers to this question. One is the general type of "Cultural Christianity" to which other answers alude. A person can be non-religious, but still operate in a largely Christian context, clebrating some Christian-flavoured festivals (notably Christmas), and thinking of "God" in a Christian context, even without necessarily believing in that God. Richard Dawkins is such a cultural Christian, and is happy to talk about it.

But it's also possible to be deeply religious (a word which is notoriously hard to define) within a Christian context without taking the beliefs literally. Mysticism is not confined to "Eastern religions" and Neo-Paganism. There are also mystic traditions within Judaism, Islam, and Christianity.

Since you mention Judaism in your question, let's talk about that.

The "Cultural Jews" you mention may not be simply thinking of themselves as Jews. They may also follow many Jewish traditions, keeping strict kosher, following Sabbath law, and suchlike, and find great meaning in those traditions, without necessarily believing in God. Mystic traditions often find the question "Is this really true?" to be quite uninteresting. What matters to them is whether it's useful, and whether it's meaningful. Many people can find great meaning and beauty, and a sense of connection and deep mindfulness, with the tradition of Judaism, without really caring whether God exists. This is clearly a step beyond simple "Cultural Judaim". It's a religious practice. A deeply felt, important, sincere religious practice. And yet it meets your criterion of "not interpreting the religion as a fact".

This experience is perhaps most well known within Judaism, which is why I've used that as my example, but it certainly exists also within Christianity (and Islam). So there is a larger answer than "Cultural Christians". There are many varieties of mystic and semi-mystic experience, which may take Christian beliefs more or less literally. Some don't take them literally at all. And many don't see that question as important.

(Of course, some people have a mystical approach to faith while also taking it literally. Mystic does not necessarilly imply non-literal.)

Syncretic Neo-Pagan faiths can also operate in a somewhat Christian contexts. Wiccans may possibly draw on Christian figures. Vodoun is probably the most Christain-influenced form of Neo-Paganism (certianly the most Christianised one I know of). These faiths probably wouldn't be refered to as "Culturaly Christian", or, indeed, as Christian at all, but everything exists on a spectrum, and religions and cultures bleed into one another. (All categories have fuzzy edges, as I've said before.)

So the answer to your question is manyfold: Christians who don't take the belief literally include,

  • the "Cultural Christians" mentioned in other answers,
  • Mystic Christians,
  • Semi-mystic Christians,
  • people who find meaning in Christian practice, but who wouldn't necessarily believe it or call themselves mystics,
  • Neo-Pagans who are stronly enough influenced by Christianity that they might possibly be counted as Christians themselves,
  • people who use Christian teaching as an ethical framework, without necessarily believing in anything supernatural,
  • and others.

All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.

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Its a different story. Jewish people are a part of a nation. One can still be a Jew by birth and do not take their religion as factual. However, with Christians, its a different story. You do NOT become Christian by birth. You cannot be a Christian and don't take their (or our) religion as factual. You are either a Christian or you are not.

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I was suspended for a month so I was unable to respond to this earlier. Does this mean "cultural Christianity" is inaccurate? Within your argument, is it impossible to be a "cultural Christian" or "nominal Christian"? –  rpeg Dec 15 '11 at 21:42

Of course it's possible to be a cultural Christian without walking in the way of Jesus.

I claim it's impossible not to be a cultural Christian in the USA. You can't go shopping during Advent (December, it's called in the cultural calendar) without being blasted by muzak versions of ancient Latin plainsong -- O Come All Ye Faithful -- and Dr. Watts hymns -- Joy To the World -- about the birth of Christ. Occasionally you even get blasted by a song that's appropriate to the Advent season -- O Come Emmanuel -- but Advent music is often in a minor key so doesn't promote the euphoria the shopkeepers need.

If you think of God as a old guy with a long beard and a white robe in the sky, you're culturally familiar with the "Ancient of Days" in Daniel's vision.

If you know the meaning of the cultural trope "Good Samaritan" you are familiar with one of the most culturally challenging teachings of Jesus. If you've ever said "my bad" or "forgive me" to somebody about something you've done wrong, you're following Jesus's call for human beings to repent.

If you get a twinge of conscience when you read a news story about how a hospital tossed a homeless person out of the emergency department, this is why: you live in a culture that has institutionalized the idea that God judges the nations by their treatment of the "least of these my sisters and brothers."

Can you be a cultural Christian and not believe the claims of Christianity? Obviously.

This rant has ended. Go in peace. :-) :-)

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Some of those are specifically Christian, but are you seriously claiming that treating poor people well is a specifically Christian virtue? –  TRiG Sep 1 '11 at 19:27
I am asking if someone can call themselves Christian and not believe the claims

Yes, of course, who's going to stop them?

I believe this applies to a large percentage of western Europeans, due to the fact that most still are members of the former state churches, pay their dues and go to church on christmas and easter, marry in the church etc.

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Allot of Americans fall into this catigory too, not so much now aday, but my grandpa was one example. He thought that since this was a christian nation that meant he was a christian. Thankfully he found out the Truth later and not only gave his heart to Christ but became a pastor. And then there's people like Opera who would claim to be a christian but then be angry at people who say Jesus is the only way to God. youtube.com/watch?v=xM5ILOsHLnw –  2tim424 Aug 31 '11 at 10:09
    
@WhatAboutJohn3_17 I like that alot. –  TRiG Apr 7 '12 at 0:42

There certainly are. In fact, some Christian traditions make it far too easy to claim to be a Christian without actually caring about Gospel principles, due to an overly-literal and badly out of context interpretation of a few specific passages of scripture, such as Romans 10: 9

That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.

Taking this overly simplistic theology at face value leads to many people who consider themselves to be "saved" or "born again" while living and behaving in ways that were explicitly and unambiguously condemned by the Savior. (One of the more extreme examples is Larry Flynt.)

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