christian or atheist?

Last night I put up some posts on Twitter, Google+, Facebook, Tumblr, etc., about atheism. I caused quite a stir. It shouldn’t come as any surprise to our regular readers as we know I’ve talked about atheism quite a bit. In fact, some of the most prolific sharers of my cartoons are atheist sites, such as the friendly atheist.

So let me explain.

  1. The bible gives room for unbelief. For instance, in Mark 9:24, a man exclaims, “Lord I believe. Help my unbelief!” And there’s Thomas who can’t believe until he sees and touches. And Peter. And the disciples. And on and on. This isn’t to say that the bible extols this, but it is a way of being human that is always met graciously. When I say, “Embrace your inner atheist“, I mean be honest with yourself. Accept the fact that there are areas of unbelief in your life. Or perhaps your whole spirituality is characterized by unbelief.
  2. Remember that the bible doesn’t place a greater emphasis on belief than practice. I know you might disagree. But when James states that even the devil believes, isn’t this a clue that practice is key? And when the bible says those who are standing before the Lord on the last day wonder when in the world they ever served Jesus, they are informed that even though they didn’t do it knowingly, they were serving Jesus when they helped others. Those who claimed to know the Lord were sadly informed that they weren’t known because they were stuck in their sterile belief.
  3. Theologically, the incarnation implies that That-Which-We-Call-God is no longer enthroned in the Heavens, but condescended to completely invade the all. The All-in-all. The incarnation is thorough. There is no “god” out there, separate and apart. The Spirit permeates all things and there is no divining a distinction. The story of Jesus and the incarnation suggest that Deism and Theism are now seriously thrown into question as valid postures of belief.

Does this make me an atheist? Does this not make me a Christian? I don’t see how what I’ve stated above makes me not a Christian. I don’t know how what I stated above makes me not an atheist. I feel no urgency for a label. I feel no fear. I do not agonize over this any longer. I’m not anxious about it at all. My mind and heart are finally at peace.

I think there is Grace for that. And there is grace for where you are too. Accept it.

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About David Hayward

David Hayward runs the blog nakedpastor as a graffiti artist on the walls of religion where he critiques religion… specifically Christianity and the church. He also runs the online community The Lasting Supper where people can help themselves discover, explore and live in spiritual freedom.

  • Gary

    Sounds pitch perfect to me.

  • Anne

    Very well said, oh, naked one!!

    I totally related to the christian atheist label. Still very much christian in many ways culturally – only because most of my life was spent under that influence. So the parables and metaphors still resonate with me on many levels.

    Yet also very much the unbeliever/atheist when it comes to the literal interpretation of the bible and the evangelical/fundamentalist doctrines of who’s in and who’s not.

    Your third point especially resonates with me. Also grateful that I don’t agonize over my de-conversion/doubts as much as before – but still room to grow in peace :-)

  • nakedpastor

    thanks anne. nice to have fellow travelers.

  • Stu

    Thank you for saying exactly what I needed the words for today. You have many fellow travellers.

  • Lydia

    I don’t comment here very often, David, but I just wanted to tell you how much I enjoy it.

    I grew up very Christian – a preacher’s kid, actually – and when I label myself now I tend to fall in the agnostic/atheist/apathetic camp. This is the only “Christian” (ish) site I still read.

    Thank you for being you. :)

  • Mike Croghan

    David, this is wonderful. It resonates with me pretty freaking deeply. I’ve been thinking about this kind of thing a lot lately, and blogged about it just a couple of days ago. Thanks for your honesty and clear thinking.

  • Richard

    A lot of people agonise over the way a particular church may define ‘self’ and ‘other’ – but it seems to me that both they and whichever church are rather missing the point.

    It could be argued that many churches throw a lot of obstacles in the way of somebody who seeks to follow Christ rather than whatever dogma they’ve built up over the centuries… much of which isn’t supported by scripture as currently understood.

    I often hear tales of clergy believing one thing, but preaching something entirely different because their congregation have very firmly held views on what they’re willing to hear… and that’s often what they were taught in Sunday school as children – they’re 80 now.

    Theology has moved on. Most clergy know this.
    ‘Church as practised in public’ often hasn’t.

    ‘Church’ is, sadly, a very difficult place to follow Christ these days.

  • Syl

    Yes, in so many ways.

    No labels, fear, agony, anxiety – but finally peace and grace, accepted.

  • Karen

    Thank you! Very well said….”feel no urgency for a label,” is something that resonates with me.

  • becky garrison

    Ding, ding, ding. Spot on bud. :)

  • Sabio Lantz

    Wow, as I review the 10 comments so far, all are positive and sympathetic (only the tip of the iceberg, I suspect). And Steve Martin must be sleeping still. :-)

    This is a Superb post, David!

    I wrote a post called “Your inner Theist” echoing some of your thoughts from an Atheist perspective. It was written to explain suggest to some atheists that their minds may be more complex concerning “belief” than they imagine. I think the same misunderstanding of “belief” exists among theists.

    So as you said “Accept the fact that there are areas of unbelief in your life.”, for many atheists too, I’d say “Accept the fact that there are areas of belief in your life.” — well, beliefs that are close to theistic beliefs though not necessarying Yahwehist beliefs which would be too specific.

    Which I think your third point captures well, when he wrote:

    “… the incarnation implies … The Spirit permeates all things and there is no divining a distinction.”

    Some Christians may claim this permeation occured at one point in history (an incarnation/resurrection event), some may claim it has always been the case. Either way, this sentence reflects the the inner theist that some atheists have though their theology may be extremely different.

    I think it is very hard to “be honest to yourself” for several reasons.

    (1) As my post tried to illustrate, our common sense notion of “self” is confused.

    (2) Our minds are incredibly self-deceptive.

    It is for that reason that a position of humility of belief is essential — and I find this to be a theme on this your blog.

    David: To me, you are neither an Atheist nor a Christian unless you tell me you are — and I don’t care which you are. To me you are a great guy trying to lead a good life. And hell, I enjoy your comics. I agree with you in all the ways that matter, it seems — and when I don’t that is fun too. Wish you had been around when I was deconverting in my twenties and thirties.

  • nakedpastor

    thanks Sabio. actually, i’m not sure about that certain point in history. although i believe the gospel story points to something in the movement of time… historical… i think it is pointing beyond it, like a lens, into the reality i’m trying to explain in point #3.

  • Christine

    Well, my first take on the post was that 3. did not seem very atheist-like at all, but that maybe that was just my mistaken view of atheism. And not two seconds (in my reading time) later, Sabio confirms. David, you do seem to be on to something. Thanks to both.

  • Sabio Lantz

    Thanx, David. Yeah, I suspected you were “not sure about that certain point in history” issue. (If I understand you correctly). As you know, several other faiths have historical figures that, for them, are also the focus of some permeating divinity. I think their stories do similar pointing to what you are speaking of. (again, if I get your drift)

    But many times, those other faiths, like many Christianities, can be grabbed by those who want control, miracles or false security.

  • nakedpastor

    thanks for your comment christine. i hope so ;)

  • nakedpastor

    true. somehow the theoretical must find expression in the historical/physical…

  • Marsha Lecour

    Good morning David.

    I get IT!

    I love these lines:

    “Theologically, the incarnation implies that That-Which-We-Call-God is no longer enthroned in the Heavens, but condescended to completely invade the all. The All-in-all. The incarnation is thorough. There is no “god” out there, separate and apart. The Spirit permeates all things and there is no divining a distinction.”




  • nakedpastor

    whew! thanks marsha. glad you love the lines. i need to flesh this idea out though. lots of work to do.

  • Sarah HI

    Thank you for clarifying this. I was feeling a little flummoxed on FB. I have come to know the enormity of God’s grace over the past few years.

  • nakedpastor

    you’re welcome sarah. i still have a lot more explaining to do. grace is huge.

  • Societyvs

    I really enjoyed this! I tend to agree with all of it. Faith these days should allow for doubts – since the era/times themselves seem to be filled with it (for gov’t/big business/authority)…a Gen X thing.

    But good faith should be able to ask questions, tough questions, and faith needs to adapt to it’s time period.

  • nakedpastor

    thanks societyvs… nice to hear from you again.

  • Maria

    Outstanding article!! Thank you David.

  • nakedpastor

    thanks maria

  • Christine

    Societyvs!! Good to hear from you.

    I went over to your blog. Looks great. Lost a comment to the cyberspace gremlins, but I’ll pop back later.

  • Emily

    This is a wonderful post! I was wondering where the Bible says that people serve Jesus unknowingly by helping others? It’s a beautiful quote, but I don’t know which verse it’s from.

  • nakedpastor

    thanks emily. it’s the famous story of the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25:31-46

  • Daniel Schealler

    Depends on how you define ‘Christian’ I suppose. :P

    I always took the Nicene Creed as a baseline. The version of the First Council of Nicea seems to me to be a good summation of the basic level of belief required to define a Christian (the updated version from First Council of Constantinople strikes me as more of a narrowing in on Catholicism).

    Under that definition, if you’re not on board with the ‘we’ in ‘we believe’ then you’re not a Christian.

    But then again, that’s no reason for anyone else who chooses to self-identify as Christian to adopt my labels and definitions. Obviously, go for whatever labels you feel identify you best, and ignore those such as myself that observe from the sidelines and scratch our heads in confusion. :P

  • Daniel Schealler

    Note: My usage of ‘anyone else who chooses to self-identify as Christian’ in my previous comment was misleading.

    I do not identify as Christian. I’m an atheist.

  • Robin Lionheart

    “Christian atheist” seems like what I’ve previously called a “Jeffersonian Christian”. Chuck the supernatural, keep the moral philosophy.

  • Stephen

    You have perhaps heard of Thomas Altizer, the “Death of God”? Fascinating stuff. I considered myself a “Christian atheist” for a while but for me it was a temporary waypoint on the way to becoming an atheist, and then a Buddhist. I wish you well on your journey, where it may lead.

  • Doug Sloan

    Why is it so hard to understand that when there is cognitive dissonance because of a conflict between your theology and reality, it is your theology that needs to be re-thought and adjusted.