Swimming in the Christian Waters (or: Beware, You May be a Humanist)

Let’s say you find yourself living in, oh, let’s say the United States. It’s a country where something on the order of seventy-five percent of the population claims to be Christian. Let’s say you don’t believe in any other religion, either: you aren’t Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Sikh, Baha’i, or any other of the myriad religions brought to the US by immigration or popular books. Perhaps you were even raised Christian. What do you do? How do you get through the year, filled as it is with Christian holidays and tsunamis of piety every time there’s another mass shooting or terrorist act?

Then there is the eternal question: how do you communicate with co-workers and–horror of horrors–the family at Thanksgiving?

I think there are five options:




Admit you don’t believe but allow for doubt


Conversion is your easiest course. If it’s an option, go for it. Then you won’t bristle at Federal holidays built around a particular religion. You won’t roll your eyes at each proclamation of every politician concerning her or his Christianity. Convert. It makes swimming in the US waters warm and clear.

Conscience won’t let you do that? Then try pretending. Just tell grandma and Aunt Betty Lou that you love the new pope and you’ve been planning to go back, really you have. Any day now . . .

Conscience won’t let you pretend? Reinterpret. Get yourself to the nearest bookstore (NOT a Christian one) and find writers such as John Shelby Spong, Cynthia Bourgeault, Brian McLaren, and a whole–excuse the pun–host of others. These writers swim in the Christian tradition, yet reinterpret the old metaphors. For many people this is a comfortably place. After all, you can still tell your mom that you’re Christian. And the denizens of Washington, DC won’t get on your nerves quite as badly.

Then there are those who just can’t believe in the whole bloody business anymore. What then? Face it: you’re probably a humanist. You have two options. The first is admitting you don’t believe but allowing for doubt. After all, you probably don’t know how particle accelerators really work either, so it appears that the human brain doesn’t comprehend everything. You’re agnostic! When Uncle Jim mentions how atheists are ruining the country, you can go “um” and then try to change the subject.

If all else fails, resist. I don’t recommend this final option, unless you just feel that you have to do it in order to be true to your conscience. Resistance is perhaps not futile, but it is uncomfortable. You will be joining the beleaguered folks who sue the state of Texas (maybe even Rhode Island) for its latest enormity. You won’t win any popularity contests (and you won’t be elected President). Perhaps Aunt Betty won’t even invite you over for apple pie.

But, hey, the benighted ones hated Jesus too, didn’t they?

The waters of America. Not so easy to swim in for some of us. Oh, and there’s a turning leaf. Almost time for that “controversy” over Halloween. And then a snowflake will bring us a whole new chapter of the War on Christmas . . . . Keep swimming!

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