Why I Am A Secular Christian

I don’t believe in God. I know that, as a philosopher, that statement, in and of itself, can be a dangerous one to make. It might be assumed that, by saying that I don’t believe in God that I am also (implicitly) stating that I not only believe that there is no God, but also saying that I know that there is no God. And to that charge, I plead gulity. I will say, without reservation, that I both believe that there is no God, and know that there is no such thing as God. Of course, we (myself included) refer to an omnicompetent being (called God), and that for some, he is as real as you and I. My point, and I want to make this point clearly and quicky, is not to debate the evidence for or against the existence of a supreme divine being — nor am I interested in taking up the various metaphysical and epistemological debates associated with declaring that I know that there is no God. Those arguments are for the real philosophers, and they can, frankly argue those points ’til the cows come home. My point is a little closer to home. I’ve heard it said that, if there is no God, then there is no morality. That is, without an ultimate measure (and one might say punishment) for rightness and wrongness, there is no reason to act morally. In a world without God, it is said, all is justified and all is permitted. Likewise, as an atheist, I am often accused of lacking morality. Well, perhaps this is a bit extreme — and I might say that such a charge is easily disproven — anyone who claims that an atheist lacks any moral sense should ask himself how he walked away from the conversation with his wallet firmly planted in his pocket and with all of his limbs. But, the accusation is there — atheists are often asked to justify from where their morality comes from. Until some time ago, I used to say that my moral base was rooted in egoism. Egoism is the moral theory that states that all acts are morally correct if the act benefits the actor. That is, if I do what is good for me, then I am acting morally. I had embraced egoism, and had justified my decisions, even those that appeared to be in accordance with another moral theory, as being in line with egoism, but looking a lot like kantianism or utilitarianism. I realized that I had embraced egoism because I had felt that my atheism precluded my embracing any objective moral theory. But, whenever I was asked my (ethical) positions on various moral topics, my ethical views were always solidly rooted in what could only be best described as Christian ethics. I often found myself quoting (or at least paraphrasing) Jesus whenever I laid down my ethical views. But I was an atheist. How could I reconcile my lack of belief with my morality? That’s when I came to a startling conclusion: what I was, or rather what I am, is a secular Christian. I know what the first objection may be (as well as it should be): how can a person claim to be a Christian yet claim that there is no God. You cannot separate one from the other. And to that point, I concede. I am not claiming to be a Christian. The first word I use is secular. That word is used first because secularism is the overriding quality of my ethics. I am still a committed atheist. I believe that we can find morality without God, and I believe that, as rational beings, mankind possesses the ability to act in a good (or bad) manner. Secondly, one may say that what I am doing is playing a game of semantics. I am trying to disguise humanism as something other than what it is. My belief in man’s capacity to do right and wrong and find truth are the principles of humanism. The humanist, like myself, rejects religion’s role in the public sphere. And like the humanist, I tend to look to worldly things (like “common sense” or even logic) for moral guidance rather than getting down on my knees and praying for divine guidance. But unlike the humanist, I have recognized the part that the Christian ethic plays in my life. Like many people in the West, I was raised within a society that was based (whether I liked it or not) on the Christian ethic — in particular, the Protestant ethic. My moral choices have always been made through the prism of Christianity. I think that it is important to make an important distinction here: what makes the Christian a Christian is his belief. He believes that there is a God who loves him and looks after him. He believes that there is a God that will reward him with eternal grace for his beliefs. His ethics are grounded in his belief in God. And this is where the Christian and I part ways. My ethics are grounded in a choice to follow rather than believe that the word of God is true. Bertrand Russell wrote,” it may be not belief but feeling that makes religion: a feeling which, when brought into the sphere of belief, may involve the conviction that this or that is good, but may, if it remains untouched by the intellect, be only a feeling and yet be dominant in action”. If what Russell says is true, then I may accept the word of Christ as feeling, yet not commit to his words as belief. So I ask, even if we do not believe in the Bible (as the word of God) or reject the divinity of Christ, what should stop us from embracing Christianity as a set of ethics and not as a set of beliefs? (That is, if I take my moral choices as a matter of what I feel rather than what I believe?) I feel that the ethics as written in the Bible (the Ten Commandments, the Golden Rule, etc.) are moral rules that are more conductive to living a good life. There is no need ( other than the Bible itself telling me so) to accept the notion that the Bible was composed by a celestial inspired hand or that Jesus was indeed the son of God.

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