I just can't wrap my head around this. I was raised Christian, but haven't been one for decades. I still kept going to church though long after my conversion just to remain undercover. I remember an evangelical preacher, who let's say wasn't exactly the most tolerant or moral person (this man was an open wife beater, and his entire congregation was 100% fine with this to give you a idea). He thought the idea of a "cultural Christian" was absurd. Loo-loo as he was, I see no reason to disagree with him.

Christianity is centered around belief. Christians define themselves as people who "believe in Jesus", believe in God, the Exodus, etc. I even had one person one Reddit once asked me if I kept to the tenets of Christianity, and then proceeded to list nothing but beliefs on history and how the universe works. Not one thing about morality or behavior.

Yes, Christians do have behaviors and practices, but they all come from how they believe the universe works. They evangelize because they believe non-Christians all go to hell. They campaign against the LGBT movement because they believe the Bible says it's wrong. They oppose the teaching of evolution because it contradicts the narrative given in Genesis (though the 'old earth' theory itself also poses some logic problems).

If you don't believe any of this stuff, I don't see how you can be a "Christian". What, are you going to be a homophobe and go around trying to convert people to Christianity when you're not a Christian yourself? Are you going to deny evolution when you have no practical reason to do so? Are you going to continue to believe in the historicity of the Exodus despite evidence to the contrary (granted, I myself kept believing that the Exodus was a historical event until rather recently, minus the supernatural bits of course).

Based on my own upbringing, I don't see how you can be a "cultural Christian". Christianity hinges too much on how you believe the universe works. If you ditch all that, how can you be a Christian? That makes no sense. What else is there to Christianity outside of its beliefs? What, are you going to be unlike other atheists and appreciate Christian art rather than blasting it simply because it was made by Christians? That's the only thing I can imagine: a "Christian" taste in aesthetics. Although I don't see why a person like that would still call themselves a "Christian" in any other capacity.

  • 5
    The whole point of "cultural Christianity" is to have the culture of Christianity, but not the substance. Sometimes that means taking the easy parts of Jesus's teachings. Sometimes it means having the judgmental attitudes you mentioned, but without the theology and foundational attitudes of grace and forgiveness that Christians are meant to have, which turn identification of sin from judgement into the empathetic comradery of a fellow sinner. Cultural Christians probably won't try to convert people to Christianity, but they may try to convert them to their ethics and politics.
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Apr 5 at 3:23
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    This is too vague for an answer to be practically possible. The question uses the terms 'Christian' and 'cultural Christian' according to ill-defined precepts and is based largely on the personal experience (of 'Christianity') of someone who confesses to not being a Christian 'for decades'.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Apr 5 at 8:25
  • "Are you going to deny evolution when you have no practical reason to do so?" Presumably not, but as a hypothesis, Common Descent is so bad that even some atheists deny it for the sake of wanting truth.
    – Matthew
    Commented Apr 5 at 16:02
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    @Nigel I don't even know what a cultural Christian is. Like I said, it makes no coherent sense. Christianity is all about belief, there's nothing secular about it. How can you be 'culturally Christian' while not being Christian? Either you're fully in or you're not. Even as an ex-christian, I can't imagine it any other way.
    – user64678
    Commented Apr 5 at 21:06
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    Yes, I agree. There is nothing secular about the coming of the Son of God into the world and the fulfilment of God's eternal purposes (a new creation, a heavenly kingdom realised in new heavens and a new earth). I agree with you - How can anyone be 'culturally Christian' ? And I agree, it makes no coherent sense. Which is the reason that it was difficult to actually pose a question about such a ridiculous proposal. No wonder you could not manage to achieve it. I wish that you were not 'a Christian decades ago' but rather, now ; and in the future ; altogether and wholeheartedly. Kind Regards.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Apr 5 at 21:51

6 Answers 6


This is a very astute question. One is either a Christian or one is not. 'Cultural Christianity' is somewhat of a misnomer. If you don't mind my saying, it sounds like you were a 'cultural christian' yourself. You were 'raised Christian', attended church, and probably did other 'christian things' but were never born again and indwelt by the Holy Spirit, as evidenced by the fact that you currently have no faith in Jesus. True Christians are 'kept' by the power of God; they may waiver but they do not fall away.

This is exactly how to be a cultural Christian: You attend Christian services and say and do 'Christian things' because that is the cultural norm rather than because of personal faith. Of course, every child in a believing family starts out this way until such time as they actually repent and believe or remain unconverted in Church or depart. There are certain Christian denominations which imply or overtly state that membership (via Baptism, etc.) and attendance 'makes' one a Christian but this is misleading at best.

For example, most towns in the southeastern United States are almost completely empty on Sunday mornings except for the Churches. Most places of business are empty and many are actually closed during 'church hours'. Given that Jesus said there are few that find the 'narrow way' it is safe to assume that a large majority of the southeastern United States are 'cultural Christians'.

You will hear people say they are Christian because they were raised in a 'Christian family' or live in a 'Christian nation' or attend a 'Christian church'. In Sierra Leone I met a great many people who admitted to being Muslim in this same fashion, not really because of believing but because of custom, and even a large number of folks who claimed to be both Muslim and Christian!

Personally, I was raised Roman Catholic, was baptized and made my first communion and confirmation. I attended Mass every Sunday as well as on many other occasions. I went to a parochial school, served as both an altar boy and a lector, and overall did and said all of the 'Christian things' required. Anyone, myself included, would have called me a Christian. I was not. I became a Christian on 6/12/2002 at the age of 37 and had I died at any point previous to that things would not have gone well for me.

Every Christian who has not personally and individually repented of all else and put all stock and faith in Jesus Christ alone for both forgiveness (Savior) and life (Lord) is a 'cultural Christian'. Bible study, church attendance, good behavior, theological knowledge, religious activity, all these things and so much more may aid in bringing one to genuine faith in Jesus but, unless and until one gets there, it is just so much busywork accomplished by the spiritually dead.

Whom, Jesus asks the disciples, do men say that I am? The answers are all over the map. Who, Jesus asks the disciples, do you say that I am? The critical question for every individual claiming 'Christian'.

Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves. Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates? - 2 Corinthians 13:5

  • I didn't attend church of my own free will. I only did it so remain undercover. Also, I lost my faith due to being exposed to atheism online. I was never told how to deal with that. Granted though i was never a very good Christian growing up. I often slept through church (though that was mainly because the preacher rarely talked about anything I could comprehend when I was little). I mainly abandoned my faith though because I got sick of being called stupid.
    – user64678
    Commented Apr 5 at 18:10
  • Again, I wasn't living a Christian life because I wanted to, I was simply trying to pass. I stopped as soon as I moved out and no longer had to do such things. It was quite nice actually. Keep in mind, I live in a community that seriously thinks you're delusional if you're NOT a Trump-supporting evangelical who seems to believe every conspiracy theory under the sun, even if its neither religious nor political in nature.
    – user64678
    Commented Apr 5 at 18:11
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    Please don't give up on Christ just because people are ridiculous. There's no spiritual requirement to be a Trump supporter, or anyone else for that matter. Commented Apr 5 at 21:39
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    @user8600 It seems you have mixed with some odd people. I hope you find better friends with whom to pass through this short and uncertain journey on our way to our eternal destiny.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Apr 5 at 22:08
  • @Mike I hope you meant to say 'you don't have to be a Trump supporter to be spiritual'. So you have to support an anti-semite who only cares about himself and TRIED TO OVERTHROW THE GOVERNMENT, and removed veteran benefits, and betrayed israel and has little attachment to reality, and has even RIDICULED CHRISTIANITY IN THE PAST. He's on of the reasons why so many people are leaving Christianity; you shouldn't be required to join one political party or support some lunatic just because he's part of that party to be part of the religion. There's more besides that of course, but HE'S NOT HELPING.
    – user64678
    Commented Apr 6 at 2:25

According to this article cultural Christians are:

non-religious or non-practicing Christians who received Christian values and appreciate Christian culture. As such, these individuals usually identify themselves as culturally Christians, and are often seen by practicing believers as nominal Christians. This kind of identification may be due to various factors, such as family background, personal experiences, and the social and cultural environment in which they grew up.

Richard Dawkins has described himself in several interviews as a "cultural Christian" and a "cultural Anglican". In his book The God Delusion, he calls Jesus Christ praiseworthy for his ethics.

However, simply praising the ethics of Jesus or admiring the rich cultural and historical traditions of Christianity does not make one a Christian. Neither does taking part in the liturgical services conducted by some of the older Christian denomination. You can sing the hymns, say amen to all the prayers, cross yourself and take communion, but that does not mean you live your life to serve Christ Jesus and exercise compassion and love towards your neighbour.

As you rightly point out, Christianity is centered around belief, and not just any old belief that suits you, but belief in Christ Jesus who died and was resurrected and who is now your Lord as well as your Saviour. You have to “walk the walk” as well as “talk the talk” and that means living a life that will never bring reproach on the name of the one whom you serve – Christ Jesus. Sadly, many professing Christians only pay lip service to living a God-honouring Christian life.

Christians today might believe you have to be “good” and “moral” but those values are defined more by popular culture than the moral imperatives of the Bible. Today people are expected to tolerate every type of behaviour even if the Bible says it is a sin. Christians are now expected to shut up and keep their opinions to themselves otherwise they are branded as intolerant or hateful.

The problem with the definition of a "Cultural Christian" is that being "non-religious or non-practicing after receiving Christian values" at some point in their life is a contradiction in terms. "Nominal Christian" is closer to the mark. A person might give intellectual assent to Christianity, or even believe that Jesus Christ was real and a "good person" or a prophet. But mere intellectual assent isn't enough. Action is required in the form of a transformed life. Perhaps a better question might be along the lines of “What does it mean for a Christian to pick up his cross and follow Jesus?”


James 2:19 ESV

You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!

A 'cultural Christian', due to the culture and religion in which they may happen to have been born and brought up, can happen to believe many correct things about God.

Demons can do that as well.

Thus, as per James 2:19, it is possible to be a 'cultural Christian' without being a true Christian.

How can a 'cultural Christian' become an actual Christian? See What are Christian guidelines for making the transition from "knowing about God" to "knowing God"?


It's easy, this is the wide gate that goes to Hell.

But I will nitpick one thing

Christianity is centered around belief.

This is not true, Read Pope Benedict in Deus Caritas Est explains it better than I can, but Christianity is centered around encounter. One encounters Christ in prayer.

I don't know a ton about the innerworkings of other Christian denominations, but the Catholic Church teaches that everyone is saved through Jesus and that outside the Church there is no salvation. So you have to consider if these people are really in the Church or out of it.

Among Catholics, there is the subset of "Creasters" who only show up for Church on Christmas and Easter (day, not vigil), these people, may God have mercy on their souls, put themselves more at risk of Hell than others simply by virtue of having neglected their duties as Catholics (there are precepts - attending Mass weekly is one; as is yearly confession; providing for the needs of the Church; and observing fast and abstinence days).

Then, even among the non-creasters there are the "Cafeteria Catholics", who pick and choose which spiritual or moral tenets of the Church they want to follow. Maybe they don't believe Jesus is really present in the Eucharist or maybe they use artificial contraception or advocate for abortion. These people might follow all the precepts of the Church and even serve on boards or in other ministerial roles. These are likely the people that Pope Leo XIII condemned 125 years ago

And among the non-creasters and non-Cafeteria Catholics are the arch-conservative reactionary Radical Traditionalists. They're committed to preserving what they see as authentic Catholic Culture (which hit its zenith in 1952), even if it costs them loyalty to the Roman Pontiff, they sanctimoniously turn their noses up at any new invention in Catholicism and eye with suspicion modern prayers, meditations and saints. They avoid contact with Catholics who attend Novus Ordo masses (at least ones which they are not forced to attend).

Finally, there are Lazy Catholics, like myself, who complain about others to my own detriment. We constantly fall into sinful habits and flit about from devotion to devotion. We volunteer to help with impossible things that are poorly attended and then freak out about them and complain about priests not doing enough (when there aren't enough priests to do anything).

Basically, I wrote all this to emphasize the point that the dichotomy is not Cultural Christians vs "True Believers". Like autism to ADHD, it's a spectrum and we all find ourselves falling into traps now and again.

The sin of Cultural Christianity is a sin of Sloth and Pride. Sloth because it is easy (your culture fits you like a glove) and pride because it takes humility to submit to the parts of Christianity that don't fit.

So to wrap it around, "Christianity is an encounter with the person of Jesus Christ", you encounter Him through spiritual and corporal works of Mercy. Cultural Christianity simply feeds off society and as Chesterton says in his essay Is Humanism a Religion:

“The fact is this: that the modern world, with its modern movements, is living on its Catholic capital. It is using, and using up, the truths that remain to it out of the old treasury of Christendom; including, of course, many truths known to pagan antiquity but crystallized in Christendom.”

It will all end soon, hopefully not in winter.

  • 1
    Our pastor referred to the Creasters as "CEO Catholics" (Christmas and Easter Only). 😁 Commented Apr 8 at 2:20

I am confused as to what is meant by ‘a cultural Christian’. I have never heard of this before. But only yesterday I heard for the first time the phrase “Moral Therapeutic Deism”, which was first coined in 2005. Is this actually what you speak of? Here are a few things this attitude to Christianity (by professed Christians I suppose) promotes:

"There is a god who created and watches over the earth and its people. This god wants people to be nice to each other, as taught by the religions of the world. But it is viewed as wrong to hold strong theological convictions (which are shunned and said to be harmful and judgemental, preventing equality amongst all religions). There is no repentance for sinning [which is an action of the will of the individual to go against God’s will], there is no idea of becoming a servant of Christ, or of devotion to prayer and Scripture reading. This leads to congregations where people do have a form of belief but do not have any understanding of their own religious traditions and what they are supposed to believe in order to be Christians. If they do under-stand their traditions, they simply don’t care to believe them and substitute whatever makes them feel good."

Is this what you ask about? A clear definition of what “a cultural Christian” is, is essential at the outset. We need to know what is at back of this ‘cultural Christianity’. I think I could answer a question about Moral Therapeutic Deism as I will be able to collate information about this movement. If this ‘cultural Christianity’ is better known as Moral Therapeutic Deism, then that needs to be stated. It seems like it to me, but the OP needs to clearly state this. If so, then I can add an edit with a clear answer.

EDIT - My quote came from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moralistic_therapeutic_deism

Given what it says, and the definition of cultural Christians in another page on that site (as quoted in Lesley's answer), the two 'things' are different. I will say nothing further on cultural Christians here but hope to post a question on Moralistic Therapeutic Deism in a couple of day's time.

  • @Nigel - This is apparently what Moral Therapeutic Deism claims - it's their idea of the god they are promoting. I'm just at the start of investigating this Moral Therapeutic Deism, and hoping the OP will clarify if this is, indeed, what is meant by by 'cultural Christianity'.
    – Anne
    Commented Apr 6 at 7:09
  • @Nigel Lesley helpfully did that before I saw your query and suggestion. Thanks to you both.
    – Anne
    Commented Apr 6 at 13:12
  • That is all clear now. Up-voted +1.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Apr 6 at 13:14
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    Oh man, I absolutely don't want to look into that. It sounds like a idol lodged in my brain that I take out and rub when I'm feeling depressed.
    – Peter Turner
    Commented Apr 7 at 18:48
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    @PeterTurner Sympathies. This Q did my head in and I clearly have latched on to another [wrong] religious philosophy doing the rounds since 2005. As per my last sentence, I hope to post a Q on MTD shortly, so this is just to flag up a warning for you - Don't Go There! (Smiles)
    – Anne
    Commented Apr 8 at 8:16

You misunderstand the correct meaning of Cultural Christian when you expect them to evangelise or proselyte others. Cultural Christians wouldn't try to convert others or try to save sinners by preaching morality or the Bible, because essentially, their Christianity lie in the back of their mind, in the subconscious, in their routine behaviour and culture. This is why they are cultural Christians. You should already know that many of the Church goers are unbelievers like yourself, and therefore cultural Christians.

You are also confusing the characteristic of a Christian by narrowing it down to modern Fundamentalist beliefs, particularly the European 19th century denial of the evolution. Furthermore, you are judging the criteria of being a Christian by cultural norms or tradition, rather than the Bible. The vast majority of atheists are created from the fundamentalist traditional dogmas which pushes irrational beliefs, thus, the meaning of faith and belief itself is twisted to be believing something irrational. This traditional religion that abhors reason also comes from the European reformation by Luther who taught faith alone, thus reducing and cancelling the need of moral works, reason and truth which reduced religion to not just faith alone, but an irrational faith system.

A wise Christian theology also does not force one to believe every single supernatural events in the Bible to be historical when studying the literary genres and mythological aspects of the ancient literature. Thus, we should not base our faith on the details of Exodus to be entirely historical. However, even though we can assume certain aspects of the book as mythological, they must have been based on actual historical events. The plagues of Egypt are mentioned in the Egyptian Ippuwer Papyrus.

You should consider the Ethical nature of Christianity, as the Prophets (Hosea 6:6, Isaiah 1, 64 etc) and the NT Gospels also described ethical behaviour to be worthy rather than ritual and traditions. Thus, your attacks on Christianity are strawman, and you should embrace ethical Christians or Christianity.

Even a fundamentalist Militant (Marxist) atheist like Richard Dawkins often reveals himself as a Cultural Christian for his cultural and ethical affinity with the Christian human civilization. There are even excellent theologians and literary experts of the Bible who remain cultural Christians despite their unbelief. Therefore, judging by the best authority for Christianity, that is the Bible, you should acknowledge Cultural Christians which includes not just atheists, but Muslims and Hindus around the world (from Gandhi, Mother Teresa to Imam Tawhidi, Tommy Robinson, Richard Dawkins, Jordan Peterson and Vivek Ramaswamy) like the Good Samaritan, you should embrace and respect their ethical Christianity as they live as ethical and righteous lives due to direct influence of the Jewish religion of Christ. To embrace ethical Christianity, you still need to come out of the cultural fanaticism which fail to distinguish between good and bad Christians, between popular Church or tradition and Christianity.

  • Kinda wondering what Mother Teresa is doing in that rather random list of people...
    – Peter Turner
    Commented Apr 7 at 21:56
  • It's an irregular list, but she was indeed a cultural Christian as an unbeliever inside. She never preached the Gospel and confessed there was no God in her life. She was just a philanthropist cultural Xian. See Letters of mother Teresa americamagazine.org/faith/2007/09/24/…
    – Michael16
    Commented Apr 8 at 3:25
  • there are two publications that bear absolutely no weight in the mind of a Catholic - one is America Magazine, the other is National Catholic Reporter. Of course she didn't preach the Gospel, she was a religious sister, that wasn't her vocation. And her period of spiritual dryness didn't last her entire life. It was a very hard test that she persevered through - through prayer and faith until the end.
    – Peter Turner
    Commented Apr 8 at 12:53
  • Oh brother, I did, click the link long enough to read the byline. I can excuse that if you don't know anything about Catholicism, the author of that article rightfully draws the ire of every semi-traditional believing Catholic in America. It's entirely conceivable that he would write an article to make someone believe something about St. Teresa of Calcutta that is entirely the opposite of the truth. It's little wonder she wanted her words burned, because they'd be likely to instill doubt and cause confusion.
    – Peter Turner
    Commented Apr 8 at 13:07
  • I didn't read much of this but know about her letters in details there was a documentary on youtube. The analysis that she was an lifelong atheist or unbeliever is true. That's a cultural Xian. A God-less Xian
    – Michael16
    Commented Apr 8 at 13:12

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