10

The comments to this response suggest that there is such a thing as a Christian who does not believe in God. To me, that is rather contradictory, sort of like social networking without all of the people.

So...

  • how does it work?
    • What are the major authors?
    • Do they have a denomination?
  • Are there any statistics related to them? (How many, location mostly)
10
  • 2
    And anyone who cites J. S. Spong, well, I reserve my comments about them. Feb 20, 2012 at 14:41
  • I was about to ask the same thing - though you might want to ask what the percentage of non-theistic Christians is as well. Feb 20, 2012 at 14:49
  • I added a couple of sub-questions. If you can think of any more feel free to suggest (or simply add) them. Feb 20, 2012 at 15:00
  • 1
    Hey cwallenpoole: I know we've set a bad trend lately by letting a few through, but questions (as well as answers) should always be stand alone with enough background on the topic to ask without linking. People should never have to follow links to other answers, chat or comment threads in order to understand a question. If anything, include them in a post-script or even comments on the question. Thank you.
    – Caleb
    Feb 20, 2012 at 19:23
  • 1
    So it'll be like jewish reconstructionist then?
    – user4951
    Jun 6, 2012 at 15:02

4 Answers 4

9

First, define a Christian ;p It actually isn't as simple as you'd think - for example, consider the definition this site uses:

As far as the scope of this site is concerned, any group that identifies themselves as Christian are to be considered on-topic and allowed to label themselves Christian.

You would perhaps need to ask the author, but "cultural Christians" may be one answer; for example, the recent results of a UK MORI (i.e. well-respected/independent survey) of only people who self-identified as Christian showed that 65% are actually non-religious cultural Christians, i.e. identify as Christian for reasons such as "was Christened as a child", "parents are Christian", etc. Likewise, only 10% used religion as a primary tool in morality issues. Summary document - but emphasis: while the survey was commissioned by the Dawkins Foundation, the survery was conducted independently paying scrupulous attention to the actual questions to ensure the questions weren't leading, etc.

I can't know whether this relates to the thoughts of the answer you are thinking of, but that number is pretty telling, particularly when interpreting geographic religion statistics - i.e. how people identify might not actually relate much to their religious beliefs, but more to their historic/cultural identity.

15
  • 1
    I've upvoted this answer because I think its well-sourced- but I wonder if cultural Christians would call themselves "non-theistic". If you ask, many would probably say there is a God, although there would probably be no discernable impact of that statement. It is fuzzy, though, because non-theistic could mean there is no practical impact (which then means you are 100% on) or be a synonym for a-theistic (that there is no God), in which case its less valid. I think you're on a good track though. Feb 20, 2012 at 15:20
  • 1
    @Affable I don't quite see your distinction between "non-theistic" (this question) and "non-religious" (the survey). However, without a clear definition of how the OP means "non-theistic" it is hard to be sure. Feb 20, 2012 at 15:31
  • 1
    That's why I quoted the original commentator, to get to his belief, which I am using as the best available proxy for a definition. Feb 20, 2012 at 16:03
  • 1
    @Affable I think what I was trying to say is that the number of "people who identify as Christian but do not believe in God" may be much larger than you think - but yes: the "Jesus as non-deistic but still as our saviour" demographic is (I believe) a very small demographic. Feb 20, 2012 at 17:14
  • 1
    @DJClayworth no, it doesn't. I merely point out that performing such directly and obviously in association with church would bias the results. Nothing more. The survey done was performed imdependently without any mention of who was sponsoring it, or what the research was looking for - it was: research. I made no comment about non-secular anything. Mentioning that group A values X does not imply that group B does not. Feb 22, 2012 at 18:49
3

Nontheistic Christianity grew out of Existential Theology pioneered by Lutheran Theologian Paul Tillich and his concept of God as "the ground of all being". For Tillich, God could not be a being because then God would be limited by time and space as all beings are. So, instead, God had to be being itself and not an entity.

5
  • Welcome to Christianity! This looks like a good start, but can you add more details and/or links to sources?
    – Null
    Jan 5, 2021 at 13:58
  • 1
    "God had to be being itself and not an entity" Ironically, medieval theologians wouldn't disagree with that description and yet are theists.
    – eques
    Jan 6, 2021 at 13:07
  • As requested, here are a couple of sources: This link is to the Christianity section of the Nontehistic Religion on Wikipedia. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nontheistic_religion#Christianity This link about Christian Panentheism mentions that Tillich argued against pantheism (but not panentheism) and is generally considered a panentheist. Though at least one theologian disagrees with that assessment (search for Tillich on this page). encyclopedia.com/philosophy-and-religion/christianity/… Dec 6, 2021 at 21:05
  • 1
    This is unrelated to my previous comment, but here is a link to a Christian Pantheist group (unlike Tillich who was a panentheist). So, that's another perspective on non-theistic Christianity. ulcministers.org/blogs/25690/9689/we-are-christian-pantheist Dec 6, 2021 at 21:05
  • TIL Thomas Aquinas would have been typed a nontheistic Christian.
    – Fomalhaut
    May 21, 2023 at 4:34
1

Atheism is not necessarily not believing in a God. Roughly one-in-five self-described atheists (18%) say they do believe in some kind of higher power. Atheism means you do not believe in a personal God - "a deity who can be related to or thought of as a person, through an anthropomorphized persona, rather than an impersonal, and faceless, force of nature—an example of a personal god is the Abrahamic God of Judaism".

Basically, western theology in general defines a 'God' as a personal God who believes there is a physical supreme being that is personified and talks to people directly, which is what theists believe. You even have Oxford language define theism as "belief in the existence of a god or gods, especially belief in one god as creator of the universe, intervening in it and sustaining a personal relation to his creatures". Another source supports this by saying theism - in common parlance at least - is "a belief in God or in gods without the rejection of revelation as is characteristic of deism", which usually includes the personification of said God or gods as physical beings existing in an anthropomorphized manner. An atheist simply rejects that, which is why non-theistic/atheistic religions actually exist such as certain versions of Hinduism, Buddhism, and even some forms of Christianity. For example, you have Paul van Buren who rejected the idea of the Christian God being a personal God after reading some text from the Bible that was previously considered non-canon:

We cannot identify anything which will count for or against the truth of our statements concerning 'God' - Paul van Buren

Because of this, plenty of people who read certain parts of the Bible still believe in Jesus and his message but do not necessarily believe he literally is an exceptional physical embodiment of God. In the Netherlands, 42% of the members of the Protestant Church in the Netherlands (PKN) are nontheists according to God in Nederland by Ronald Meester. According to the same book, 17% of Catholics in the Netherlands reject the idea of a personal God and based these beliefs on interpretations of less popular parts of the Bible interpreted by Catholic thinkers like Spanish philosopher Miguel de Unamuno y Jugo (which he presents in a realistic fiction novel called San Manuel Bueno, mártir). Again, they still believe there is a 'God' in a higher power, but Christian atheists tend to not believe God was a literal, personal God and literal 'magic man in the sky' God is stereotypically depicted as. Many theologians who study the Bible - again, including content that is not traditionally read by most Christians - become Christian atheists including:

Also forgot to mention pandeism: a theological doctrine that combines aspects of pantheism with aspects of deism & it is considered a form of non-theism too.

Deism and pan-deism, as well as agnosticism and atheism, are all Non-Theisms.- Theologian Charles Brough

Christianity has a version of pandeism that believes that God became the entire universe and no longer exists as a separate being. The idea of pandeistic Christianity goes back to Catholic thinker Bonaventure back in the 1200s and Unitarian Christian William Ellery Channing with some believing that God became 'one with the universe' and no longer existed as a physical personal God after the sacrifice of Jesus, something that was stated by a Unitarian minister in an article of the 1906 Chattanooga Daily Times called "Man of Sorrows: Place of Jesus in the Religion of Today".

5
  • Welcome to Christianity.SE and thank you for your contribution. When you get a chance, please take the tour to understand how the site works and how it is different than others.
    – agarza
    Oct 27, 2022 at 19:08
  • 1
    "Atheism means you do not believe in a personal God - "a deity who can be related to or thought of as a person, through an anthropomorphized persona, rather than an impersonal, and faceless, force of nature" I don't think that definition is going to work very well when pressed upon. Nature can be thought of as a person. Arguably various Greek deities were anthropomorphized aspects of nature or physical reality. In the other direction, 'person' when applied to God (as a whole or as 3 'persons' of the Trinity) is intended sui generis - not the same as any other usage of 'person'. Feb 24, 2023 at 23:11
  • This definition of theism is not a mainstream viewpoint; possibly only held by one single person. Readers should consult various histories of the word, and any contemporary dictionary. There's a good range of discussion at: plato.stanford.edu/search/searcher.py?query=theism
    – djeikyb
    Feb 25, 2023 at 2:40
  • @OnlyTrueGod The point is that different people have different looks at their particular God and while some anthropomorphize nature and see it as a person, some see it as more of a 'force or general energy'. It is the difference between personifying gravity as a God you talk to and acting as a physical person/being & treating gravity in the sense of a force that pulls us down.
    – Tyler Mc
    Feb 25, 2023 at 14:31
  • @djeikyb Guess it depends, but what I looked at in the mainstream looks at God having a personal relationship and being a personal physical being as being a part of theism. Oxford language seems to define theism as "belief in the existence of a god or gods, especially belief in one god as creator of the universe, intervening in it and sustaining a personal relation to his creatures". For atheism according to what I've looked at, it is more of the personal relation aspect or idea of a personal God that is argued about.
    – Tyler Mc
    Feb 25, 2023 at 14:35
0

In the Netherlands we used to have a 10-yearly returning academic study “God in the Netherlands” about what the Dutch believe. The latest version was in 2016 as far as I can find, so the numbers will be irrelevant by now, but the tendency is the same for decades: only a minority of the people in the Netherlands say they are part of any Christian denomination. Majorities of both Protestants and even more so Catholics do not go to church on Sunday anymore. Among Protestants “orthodox” belief is strongest, but even there about 1/3 doesn’t believe in the divinity of Christ. Among Catholics this is even stronger.

My personal experience, so not scientific relevant at all, as a member of the Catholic clergy in a Dutch diocese, underlines these findings. It has become very rare for Catholics to have their children baptised, to marry in Church, to come to Sunday mass, and so on.

Even if parents wish for their children to be baptised, it is very clear that most parents do not know much about the Catholic faith, and on most points do not subscribe to it verbally. It is impossible to know what people really believe, but I think it gives an indication.

So there is a very large group of Catholics, and a bit smaller but still large group of Protestants, who call themselves Catholic, Protestant, or Christian, who say they believe in “something”, “a force”, “the universe”, but definitely not in the central Christian teachings and very often not in a personal God, let alone a God in three Persons.

These people have all freedom to call themselves atheist. In the Netherlands there is absolutely no social stigma on being an atheist, there is a growing stigma on being religious. Still, this group that can hardly be described as theists in the Christian sense, wishes to see themselves as Protestants, Catholics, Christians. They feel the need to belong to this group, the need for certain rituals, and maybe some sort of sense making attached to being Christian.

(news story in Dutch: Hoe God (bijna) verdween uit Nederland)

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .