A Non-Theistic Christian Now Running the Washington National Cathedral

Washington National Cathedral

The Washington Post seems to love the guy.

He is, after all, a “Christian” after their own heart.

Rev Gary Hall, the new Dean of Washington National Cathedral believes that teaching people to wait for marriage to have sex is “unrealistic.” He isn’t too keen on the idea of life-long commitment or fidelity in marriage, either. But he’s in the bag for gay marriage and has personally assured Dr Richard Dawkins that he also “doesn’t believe in the God” that Dr Dawkins doesn’t believe in.

That sounds like a real dome scratcher, since Dr Dawkins has made it abundantly clear that he doesn’t believe in any kind of deity. However it all comes into focus when the top priest at the cathedral that is often called our nation’s “spiritual home” announces that he’s a “nontheistic Christian.”

Aside from the fact that this sounds like he just announced he’s the drug dealer for Narcotics Anonymous, this preposterous statement does fit in the drawer alongside Dean Hall’s other commentary.

No wonder the Washington Post oozes all over him in this article. He’s the kind of religious leader they hanker after: A “priest” who gets his beliefs from reading polls just like everybody else does in Washington.

Dean Hall should fit right in on the beltway. His morals can “evolve” there along with everyone else’s.

A “nontheistic Christian?”

Puh – leeeez.

From the Washington Post:

Life experiences informed Hall’s unconventional views on marriage. (His parents were married seven times between them.) “We have this cartoon in America where you grow up, get married and stay the same person,” he says. “For the church to say, ‘No sex before marriage,’ is not realistic,” he argues.

… Under Hall’s leadership, the cathedral announced it will start performing same-sex marriages.

… He tells of sitting next to the renowned atheist Richard Dawkins at a dinner and discussing God. Hall told Dawkins, “I don’t believe in the God you don’t believe in either.”

“…I don’t want to be loosey-goosey about it,” he says, “but I describe myself as a non-theistic Christian.”

  • FW Ken

    He sounds like a popularizer for Epis. bishop John Spong, who was a popularizer for the English bishop J.A.T. Robinson. He will certainly end up a bishop, too.

    Bp. Spong was the one that wrote that Christianity must give up theism and all vestiges of supernaturalism or die. He implemented that in his diocese and lost 40% of his membership. Or maybe it was 60%. When he rerouted, he doubled down on his apostasy and made a lot of money writing books.

    • Fabio Paolo Barbieri

      You are wrong about poor old JAT Robinson. He not only was a genuine Christian, but he wrote a few books which absolutely destroyed the pseudo-history of Bultmann and his like; “Re-dating the New Testament” and “The Primacy of John.” The former has been immensely important for me, doing more than anyone else I ever read except Georges Dumezil to teach me how to read a historical document. Robinson wrote some mildly speculative books which journalists made into enormous cases – CS Lewis, who was no friend of modernism, found that in so far as he understood what Robinson meant, he could see nothing objectionable in it – but his works of historical research have been silenced by the same crowd, although any historian will tell you that they are fundamental.

  • Bill S

    Christians should admit that the “God” that Dawkins calls a delusion is the fictional God of the Bible. What Dawkins fails to recognize is what some refer to as the Creator.

    Dawkins has no answer to the origin of a universe that has all the perfect conditions for the development of the human race. This country was built on the existence of the Creator and the National Cathedral should not deny the existence of that Creator. That might not qualify as theism but it does as deism.

    • TheodoreSeeber

      To be exact, the “God” that Dawkins calls a delusion is the fictional God of fundamentalism- not even really the Bible in whole, but the 30 or so verses popular among a certain segment of American Christianity that when taken out of context, can be construed to be contradictory.

      • Bill S

        “To be exact, the “God” that Dawkins calls a delusion is the fictional God of fundamentalism”

        No. It’s more than that. Dawkins’ delusion extends to all religions.

        • TheodoreSeeber

          He claims it does- but every bit of his evidence against religion comes from American Fundamentalist Christianity.

        • Fabio Paolo Barbieri

          I call that remarkable, seeing as how the second largest religion in the world – Buddhism – absolutely rejects the concept of God.

          • Bill S

            Dawkins rejects certain Buddhist beliefs as well such as reincarnation. I was making a general statement about religions and their gods for those who have gods.

      • mountainguy

        Dawkins has claimed that he doesn’t believe in any kind of god, but maybe your comment is more on the line that the god Dawkins has succesfully rejected is more the god of fundamentalism, or more exactly, a strawman.

        • TheodoreSeeber

          Correct. What I’m saying is Dawkins has convinced himself (and several others) that God doesn’t exist, by attacking a single very narrow view of who God is- the God of American Fundamentalist Christianity. And given the number of denominations with less than 1000 adherents that covers, I think it kind of deserves to be mocked, don’t you?

    • Sqrat

      The universe that “has all the perfect conditions for the development of the human race” is one in which the human race exists (as far as we know) on only one planet, and is unevenly distributed even on that planet because large parts of it are inimical to humans.

      Dawkins might ask you to perform the thought experiment of imagining yourself tossed out of a spacecraft without a spacesuit, and ask you whether you would the conditions in outer space as “perfect” for you.

      • Bill S

        I never said that all parts of the universe are perfect for life. It is absolutely amazing that all of the required conditions exist anywhere at all. The list of conditions required for our existence is extensive. Even having a magnetic field protecting us from solar wind.

        As sure as I am that there is no supernatural anything, Nature itself shows infinite signs of intelligence. I just am at a loss to explain the source of that intelligence. Maybe it just is and doesn’t need to have a source. I just don’t know. No one really knows but some of us think it is God.

        • TheodoreSeeber

          Why can’t nature itself be a part of God?

          • hamiltonr

            Nature itself is God’s creation, not a part of God.

            • TheodoreSeeber

              When I create a software engineering project, I quite often feel like a part of me has been poured out into the computer’s memory- and then set free to run on its own within the constraints of its nature (the logical business rules I’ve built in).

              I have to wonder if it is the same for God and the Universe.

          • Bill S

            If I say that Nature is part of God or created by God, you are going to automatically think that I mean your God. Your God is a fictional character from the collection of writings that make up the Bible. Your God was described by Jesus as our Father in Heaven. That wouldn’t be who i mean by the architect of the universe or the intelligence behind Nature. So, I really shouldn’t call it that.

        • Sqrat

          It seems to me that the list of conditions required for life to exist could be greatly shortened, or entirely eliminated, if you did away with the requirements for the existence for life, or did away with the things that would prevent the existence of life. To take your specific example, we would not need to have a magnetic field to protect us from the solar wind if the denizens of planet Earth were not so constituted as to be vulnerable to the effects of solar radiation, or if the sun emitted no solar radiation of a type and intensity capable of harming us.

          I agree with you entirely that a whole lot of things had to go improbably right for a very long time in order for the earth to give rise to a highly intelligent, self-aware species such as ourselves. To me that suggests that we are freaks of nature, not that Nature, or God, designed the universe for the explicit purpose of giving rise to us.

          • Bill S

            “I agree with you entirely that a whole lot of things had to go improbably right for a very long time in order for the earth to give rise to a highly intelligent, self-aware species such as ourselves.”

            So, how did that happen? Instead of being in awe of the Biblical God and things like the parting of the Red Sea and the Resurrection, I am in awe of the chain of events and the factors that have resulted in our existence. That is truly awesome.

    • Sven2547

      Dawkins has no answer to the origin of a universe that has all the perfect conditions for the development of the human race.

      Spoken like someone who has never read Dawkins. He has explicitly responded to this point.

      Seriously though: the human race can currently only live on a small fraction of a tiny planet. The claim that the universe is fine-tuned for humanity is a joke.

      • Bill S

        It doesn’t matter that humans can only survive on a small portion of a small planet and not anywhere else. The fact that the right conditions exist anywhere at all is unbelievable. I agree with most of Dawkins’ views but he doesn’t have credible answers for all my questions.

        • Sven2547

          What’s unbelievable about it? Humans evolved on Earth, so we’re relatively-well-adapted to Earth. Earth didn’t adapt to fit us.

      • pagansister

        Do you think that this is THE only planet on which there is life? Isn’t it possible that way beyond our current means to explore there is a planet that sustains a form of life that we could recognize as such? Perhaps even a form of life that is able to communicate with us in some way? I know, sounds like SF, but how is it that we on planet Earth would be THE only planet with a life form? Doesn’t make sense to me.

        • FW Ken

          There’s a fun little sci fi novel that posits the existence of life on the sun. Si Fi, but fun.

    • Brian Westley

      the National Cathedral should not deny the existence of that Creator

      Well, it’s not your cathedral, it’s owned by the Episcopal church, and if they want to put Darth Vader on it and have it run by an atheist, they can do that.

      What do you expect in a country where the courts have said that “under god” is not a religious statement and that a cross isn’t a religious symbol?

      • FW Ken

        Actually, they had the then-president of Iran as a featured speaker at the cathedral awhile back. If they can host a lunatic like him, why not a “non-theistic Christian”.

  • Mary E.

    What the heck is a “non-theistic Christian” anyway? Someone who likes the idea of being Christian but doesn’t actually believe in God?

    • Bill S

      To be a non-theistic Christian is to recognize that, in our evolution, Christianity has been the key component in the development of Western civilization. Regardless of whether there really is a “God” or not, Christianity provides the framework for just about everything we do in our Western culture. To disassemble and/or eliminate Christianity would leave a void that would be filled by Neo-Darwinism where the only known mechanism for human development would be “survival of the fittest”. It is highly unlikely that the void would be filled by Islam or another religion. Anyone who would reject Christianity would likely reject other religions as well. I could see myself as a non-theistic Christian. Especially if non-theistic Christians were more tolerant than theistic Christians in matters that are none of their business. I don’t have a problem with something like the Jefferson Bible that accepts Christianity as a philosophy but rules out the supernatural. That would suit me just fine. Thank you for this article.

      • Barfly_Kokhba

        I really don’t mean to be rude, but one would have to be profoundly ignorant of history, psychology, theology, and even simple modern global politics to think that such a thing can ever work in practice.

        And frankly it seems like an insult to people of genuine faith. I’ve never understood, for all the “cultural tolerance” and sensitivity and Political Correctness in our culture, how is it not considered offensive to co-opt someone else’s faith heritage and completely re-shape it to your own tastes into utter meaninglessness? I could go around calling myself black or asian or gay or muslim, and then offer some absurd justification for why, back here in physical reality, I appear to everybody to be a white, heterosexual non-Muslim. I could theoretically or semantically defend such positions (“well, all human life started in africa,” “my great grandmother was half-Kazakhstanian,” “I meant that I’m just really happy all the time” etc.) but wouldn’t that be denigrating, belittling and insulting to the people to whom those categories actually apply, to whom being black or gay or Muslim is a real, permanent state of being or way of life?

        Christianity is a religion with beliefs. Those beliefs are well-documented over 2,000 years, just as long a period of time or longer than almost any area of secular political philosophy or academics. If you don’t believe in the theological positions of Christianity then do everybody a favor and don’t call yourself a Christian.

        • pagansister

          Your last statement (not believing in the theological positions of Christianity) is why I don’t consider myself a Christian, but a person who respects those who follow a particular faith, in this case, Christianity. My sisters are both very devout Christians, as the 3 of us were raised in a Christian faith. I left at 17. There are liberal Christians and conservative Christians, IMO, neither a better Christian than the other.

        • Bill S

          “If you don’t believe in the theological positions of Christianity then do everybody a favor and don’t call yourself a Christian.”

          That’s fine. I can do that. But “non-theistic” Christianity is conceivable based upon what I said previously. Suppose I do not believe in the supernatural but want to be married in a church or volunteer my time to, say, Catholic Charities. If it is going to bother you to participate in activities with non-theist Christians, then maybe it is not such a good idea.

        • Bill S

          “And frankly it seems like an insult to people of genuine faith.”

          People like Dawkins don’t care if not believing in the supernatural is an insult to people of genuine faith. The fact of the matter is that, even if God does not exist, there are still many good things about being a Christian and to give them up would be to throw the baby out with the bath water. The “baby” is all the good that has come from Christianity (and especially Catholicism in my case). The “bath water” is all the superstition and judgmentalism.

    • Sid

      An atheist who enjoys singing hymns.

      • pagansister

        Some hymns are great pieces of music and one doesn’t have to agree with the words or worship aspect of a hymn to appreciate the music.

  • pagansister

    Very interesting indeed. I would feel comfortable going to his services, I think. Looking forward to seeing what others feel about this fellow and his beliefs.

  • kenofken

    Hall’s theology should only be an issue within his own Episcopal congregation. The cathedral is not the “nation’s spiritual home” because we don’t have a national church or state religion in this country. It’s gained that unofficial standing because it’s a nice space for inaugurations and state funerals, but Hall is not America’s Archbishop of Canterbury. Our federal government does not properly have any religion at all. The spiritual home lies within the consciences and hearts of each one of America’s 316 million people.

    • pagansister

      “The spiritual home lies within the consciences and hearts of each of of America’s 316 million people”. Well said!

  • Steve

    “this sounds like he just announced he’s the drug dealer for Narcotics Anonymous”

    Which is a very profitable career choice, and I should know.

    • FW Ken

      Sure it’s profitable, until you average the earnings out over the years you spend in prison. From what I hear, prostitution doesn’t pay that well.
      :-)

      • FW Ken

        No, I meant “the Hoe Squad”, which is working the prison fields. I think the other – about which I would not post a joke – would not have the “e” on the end. Sorry, I guess that was a little too much insider lingo.

  • erikcampano

    A lot of Episcopal thinkers are moving toward atheism. Their wordsmithing is sometimes almost mockingly disingenuous. Bishop Pierre Whalon of Europe:

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/bishop-pierre-whalon/god-does-not-exist_b_1288671.html

    I don’t mean to pull an ad hominem, but I find it interesting that this phenomenon occurs in the country’s wealthiest and just about whitest denomination per capita. Whalon, the Dean of the National Cathedral, and full-time Episcopal clergy in general often live upper-middle class lifestyles with fabulous salaries in some of the fanciest neighborhoods in the country. You should see the offices of the Bishop of New York, which happen to be two blocks away from me. It’s like a palace, and his allotted yearly compensation is $300,000 a year (although he claims he actually doesn’t make that much).

    It’s easy to start talking atheism when you’re appealing to the aristocratic set whose lives are so comfortable that they can sit around musing about whether God exists or not. I’d love to see how Whalon or Hall’s messages hold up in a starving African village where Roman Catholic and Evangelical missionaries are living in poverty to try to provide, you know, food and shelter for dying people. The compensation package of the Rector of the Episcopal Trinity Wall Street church alone ($1.5 million) could probably feed a small African country for a month.

    But, of course, let’s not be “loosey goosey” about the message.

    • Steve

      Christianity is a poor man’s religion. It should not surprise anyone that it is weakest among the wealthy and privileged. You don’t hear about secular humanist groups in slums.

      • FW Ken

        Steve,

        My work takes me into what passes for slums around here. I am always in awe with the number and variety of churches you see there. Of course, there are also lots of drugs and crime, but faithful pushback as well.

      • Fabio Paolo Barbieri

        You used to, but they were offering them an alternative hope. Once upon a time Anarchists and Communists were very popular among the poor; but those groups, for all their faults and actual crimes, were selling self-respect and hope. Today’s atheists sell nothing but hate, ridicule and contempt.

  • TheodoreSeeber

    Wait- I missed something? Is this the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception or the Episcopal National Cathedral?

    • Bill S

      If it were the former, that would really be news.

      • TheodoreSeeber

        Post Vatican II and with a Jesuit Pope? It would be a shock but not a surprise.

  • MainlineP

    I await your column on those members of your legislative body who consider you an idol worshipping, Mary-obsessed, non-Christian. True, in Okie land those who hold such views are less numerous than, say, 30 years ago, but they exist in numbers sufficient to note. I don’t expect your disapproval of such views to ever reach public notice for one reason only. Their politics and yours are congruent and for someone like you politics trumps theology as readily as it does for Gary Hall.

    • TheodoreSeeber

      If her politics were so congruent with the fundamentalists, then why have the fundamentalists blocked every piece of pro-life legislation that Rebecca has brought forth?

      • hamiltonr

        Tried to block, Ted. I passed most of the pro life legislation I authored. However, it was at a great personal price — a price I was honored to pay. I’ve been the object of outright character assassination, picketed, was nearly censured by my own party. But God has protected me, and I am still here.

        • FW Ken

          Why would fundamentalist Christians object to pro-life legislation? Unless they object to all legislation, which some do.

  • http://theoldadam.wordpress.com/ Steve Martin

    Why bother?

    Just stay home on Sunday and…garden… or watch the ballgames.

    They must have some ‘religious itch’ that they must scratch.

  • Mikegalanx

    ” I’ve never understood, for all the “cultural tolerance” and
    sensitivity and Political Correctness in our culture, how is it not
    considered offensive to co-opt someone else’s faith heritage and
    completely re-shape it to your own tastes into utter meaninglessness? ”

    I’m sure the Jews would agree.

  • LogicGuru

    Why can’t the people separate the “Christian ethics”, which is worthless garbage, from the metaphysics? Religion is metaphysics–speculation about the existence and nature of supernatural beings and states of affairs. Believing in God has nothing whatsoever to do with ethics.

    • FW Ken

      Well, since Christ informed us that “No one is good but God”, Christians have been a little touchy on this whole “ethics” thing. Then, St. Paul wrote in Romans 7:

      21 So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22 For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; 23 but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me.

      The answer to the problem, as given in Romans 8, involves transformation of the person, and not simple adherence to rules. It’s not a surface conformity to laws, but an intimate relationship with God, His Son, Jesus, and our brothers and sisters.

      So what is a “good Christian”, or a “good person”? The usual answer seems to be “someone I like”, or maybe “someone nice”. Christianity makes a bolder claim, which is hardly related to metaphysical speculation.

      • Bill S

        “an intimate relationship with God, His Son, Jesus, and our brothers and sisters.”

        You talk a good game, Ken. If that works for you, more power to you.

        • FW Ken

          “a good game”? My eternal destiny depends on the grace of God, just like yours.

          Your rudeness and arrogance caused me to quit reading this blog once, but I don’t think you deserve that much power. You’re not even man enough to make a choice to embrace the Catholic Faith or get out completely. Of course, riding the fence tends to rob one of the parts necessary for manning-up.

    • Bill S

      “Why can’t the people separate the “Christian ethics”, which is worthless garbage, from the metaphysics?”

      Really? The ethical teachings of the Gospel writers is garbage and the supernatural aspects of the faith appeal to you?

      Wow! I feel exactly the opposite. We owe our Western culture to the ethics and we owe nothing to the metaphysics.

  • cary_w

    In the words of your own pope, I have to ask, “who are you to judge?” According to his bio, he has been an ordained minister for over 35 years, he is well educated in theology and has held a number of leadership positions, so who are you to say he is not qualified to lead the National Cathedral? Who are you to judge that he is somehow “not Christian enough”. The National Cathedral’s mission is to be welcoming to people of all faiths, including those who are followers of people like Rev Hall. My hope is that he would be more tolerant of your religious views than you seem to be of his.

    • FW Ken

      cary_w -

      Perhaps you are unaware of the way Episcopalian “liberals” treat people they disagree with. “Lawsuit” is a term more accurate than “charity”. In some cases, the Episcopal diocese has been willing to sell property to Muslims and Catholics, but not to the groups which left their web. There are instances of diocesan bishops intimidated by their presiding bishop and forced to back out of arrangements made in good faith. It’s not a pretty picture.

      Moreover, this particular minister is at the cathedral because he ran Seabury-Western Seminary into the ground. Considering that the cathedral has shown membership growth from 2008 to 2011, there is an actual basis for seeing how they do in the future.

      http://pr.dfms.org/study/exports/1770-6565_20130807_09092994.pdf


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