Christianity 2.0: Secular Christianity

I remember, years ago, being startled by the idea that “Jewish” could be an ambiguous term. It might mean an ethnic identity, or a cultural one, or a religious one. In other words, someone could be a Jewish atheist, identifying with Judaism culturally but not religiously. Indeed, Israeli Jews are predominantly secular.

Christian belief within America has changed continuously, going through Great Awakenings and spawning new flavors of Christianity such as Mormonism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Seventh-Day Adventist church, and the Christian Science church. At the turn of the early twentieth century, during the Golden Age of Freethought and decades after Darwin’s The Origin of Species, observers saw Christianity on the wane. But Christianity rebounded, with Pentecostal and other new charismatic churches. Today, Christianity continues to change, lately becoming more polarized within America while Europe becomes more secular.

Since Christianity will continue to evolve, might it follow the example of Judaism, creating secular Christianity as a viable position?

Consider what this might be like. A secular Christian—I could be a candidate, for example—might go to church for the beautiful or traditional or inspiring music. The church building might be a draw, whether it were awe-inspiring or quaint. Sermons about finding the right path or avoiding the shallow temptations in life or even Bible stories might be edifying. Services could mark the important events in life such as births, marriages, and deaths. Whether the secular Christian went weekly or only a few times a year, the community of good people, eager to help others, would be welcoming. It might give focus to good works, providing opportunities for volunteering and direction for charitable giving.

But—and here’s the interesting bit—secular Christians would reject the supernatural origin of Christianity, would be open about their atheism, and would be accepted within the church community. The Christian church has millions of members who are secular Christians except for the last part. They’ve lost their faith in the supernatural claims, they’ve admitted this to themselves, but they can’t come out to their church community. The concept of a secular Christian would allow these people to keep their community, charitable, and even family connections.

The Christian church isn’t pleased with these ex-Christians simply leaving the church, and this broadening of the church community, as is done in many Jewish communities, could provide a soft landing for many mainstream churches hurting for members. Conservatives will insist that a no-compromise position be taken, but the church is determined to evolve, and this direction seems to be a win-win.

Of course, keeping the good parts of Christianity and discarding the supernatural beliefs wouldn’t solve all the world’s problems. There would still be human folly. But perhaps there would be just a little bit less.

Even if atheists removed all religion from our planet,
it would still not mean that people are engaged
in more fact-based thinking than before.
I would argue that religion is a symptom of belief-based thinking,
but there is all sorts of New Age and superstitious thinking
that is just as damaging.
— Tyson Gill

(This is a modification of a post that was originally published 9/14/11.)

About Bob Seidensticker
  • Amanda

    My husband recently deconverted from Christianity to atheism and his biggest fear in the whole situation is “coming out” to the religious community we are a part of, the community he has grown up in and given years of service in. We established the start of our lives in this community and have given so much to it and gained so much from it. Just a reminder that this is a reason why “an atheist would choose to attend a church”. Many atheists are post Christian. Though they may have come to see Christianity as illogical or harmful, the fact remains that the social circles that they are established in are Christian. It seems to me leaving that community is not the best option, creating a place for secularism in that community may be.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Amanda: From an atheist standpoint, having a completely secular community does sound better. I’m just imagining a soft landing for Christianity that might be more atheist-friendly.

      If you can find community outside the church (I find Meetup quite helpful–just be sure to search for lots of synonyms to atheist like Bright, freethought, heathen, humanist, agnostic, and so on) that sounds great.

      • Amanda

        Thanks for the tip on meetup. That could be helpful when we decide to go that route. Right now my husband is the one who wants to stay connected to the church community; I’m actually leaving our specific church in a few weeks. It’s definitely been an interesting transition to say the least.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Amanda: I’d be interested in hearing about your transition away from the church. If you have any interesting insights during this process, drop by and tell us. Good luck!

    • Dmitriy
  • Gavin Young

    What Bob Seidensticker writes about sounds a lot like what I am trying to achieve, namely the creation of Atheistic/Secular Humanistic Christianity!

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Is this a project with a name that we should know about?

      • Gavin Young

        You decide. See my Yahoo Group which has some posts I made about it, at .

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Sounds like an interesting group. Best of luck.

          You’ve got a few oddball goals (metric system, calendar reform) thrown in there. I think I might support your positions there, but what’s the logic that pulls those in?

        • Gavin Young

          The metric and calendar reform things are there because I originally created my Yahoo group to promote those metric and calendar reform things. Nearly all of the people who joined the group did so when the group was about those metric and calendar reform things. Later when I changed the purpose of the group to be primarily about Naturalism and Humanism, I left the metric and calendar reform files and message posts there for the benefit of those who had joined the group for those reasons.

          But hey, calendar reform and quasi-religions (and regular religions) go together. For example Comet created a reformed calendar (see ) and he used it in the secular religion (called “Religion of Humanity”) he created (his religion had Catholic-like rituals but otherwise was secular). The latter Wikipedia article says ‘The Religion of humanity was described by Thomas Huxley as “Catholicism minus Christianity”.’ It sounds like Comet created the first Secular Humanist “Atheist Church”. Comet’s calendar is an forerunner to the calendar I promote in my Yahoo group (they are both calendars of 13 months with 28 days each in each year, plus an additional day per year [two in leap years]).

          Likewise Jews and Catholics each of a religious calendar and it was Catholic Pope Gregory XIII who created the Gregorian calendar that is in use today as secular calendar. However I don’t have plans for calendar reform to be used in conjunction with my Humanistic Christianity quasi-religion concept (nor my purely non-religious “Educators of Naturalism and Humanism” group, but in some fashion it might later get incorporated into them. For example a number of people and corporations (such as Intel) used the ISO week calendar (see and ). Further, metric is legally authorized for use (though not required for all transactions) in the USA, and the USA customary unit system (inches, pounds, gallons, etc.) is actually defined in reference to the international metric system standards (in a very old USA Treaty with France). As a result any major documents I write for the “Educators of Naturalism and Humanism” group and the Humanistic Christianity quasi-religion concept would use metric system units in preference to USA customary units (the latter being a variation of British imperial units which are in turn a variation of Roman empire units).

        • Gavin Young

          Oops, the correct name is “Comte” instead of “Comet”.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          I like the idea of calendar reform, but I would prefer 12 months (easily divided into halves and quarters) rather than 13 (prime).
          I suppose with both calendar reform and metric, one wonders if the benefit exceeds the hassle.

        • Gavin Young

          I understand. I do realize that having 13 months per year makes it harder to divide into halves and quarters. Regarding metric, the USA is nearly the only country that doesn’t officially use metric as the sole or primary measurement system. But world society is becoming more and more interconnected and thus there is an incentive for businesses to all use the same measurement system. Likewise writers of websites obtain benefits when using metric units in their articles (at least in addition to USA customary units if not in place of them) if they want people throughout the world to read their articles, since metric is used in virtually every country of the world.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          US, Burma, and Liberia don’t use the metric system–not great company.

  • Brian
    • Bob Seidensticker

      I’m amazed that Craig’s book is available online. Is the entire thing online? I’ve never seen that before–it’s legit and not pirated?

      But to your challenge: I appreciate the resources, but that’s a lot of material. I’m pretty familiar with these arguments, I think. But if you want to focus on any particular one, I’d be interested in your summary of the reasons to adopt the Christian position.

      I don’t have much use for homework since my to-be-read pile is already quite tall. But if you want to discuss/debate, I’m up for that.

  • Lucy

    I am visiting Israel now on business, and am fascinated with the concept of secular Jews. The concept of people connected through their culture and customs, but not requiring a belief in god. What a wonderful concept.

  • Loren Petrich

    Logical positivism
    Naive realism
    The religion-science conflict “myth”
    The secularization thesis