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!

  • Woodstock Churchlady

    You think this is hard? Try being a Christian (especially a new one) in a family of formers or nons! Fortunately. we have help available.

    • David Breeden

      I agree. Community is the best thing for all of us!

  • nanomanoman

    Thanksgiving is not exactly a Christian holiday? Isn’t it a very “American” holiday? What’s wrong with America? I’m not American but hey, those “Christian” holidays – at least they’re holidays and every country has them in one form or another. If it really makes you so uncomfortable remember Christianity latched on to pagan roots – “Sun” day for example, or Christmas being the same time as a traditional pagan festival, complete with pagan (German) tree. Or when you are in the month of August remember it is named after Augustus as July is Julius…. I could go on.

    Also – try to not see only the Christianity peddled by popular culture. There is a lot more to it than that. Don’t mistake how America interprets Christianity with the religion itself.

    • David Breeden

      I agree–Thanksgiving is a perfect national holiday, in that it honors various religious practices without forcing any particular one. That’s why I’m saddened that Thanksgiving is becoming only “black thursday.”

      Yes, lots of pagan holdovers–celebrating Fria’s Day today. Oden and Thor and Tues got their due this week. Always lighting candles for something!

      I like Neil Gaimon’s American Gods for its insightful look at how a materialistic culture chews up gods and and spits them out as shadows of their former selves.

      • nanomanoman

        I love American Gods too. I forgot about Thor’s day. Didn’t know about Fria’s!

    • Scot Nattrass

      In David’s defense however, I would add that although Thanksgiving is an American Holiday it has been obviously been assimilated by the so-called capitalist Christians who slather bible verses over the event like so much fatty gravy, and give all thanks to God instead of the natives of history who helped the early colonies from starvation only to be repaid with betrayal, murder and persecution with broken promises and treaties tossed for flavor.

      Though when many starved in years after that, of course God had no responsibility.

      But hey, they did not starve that year, and they thank God as though the almighty intervened through the softened hearts of a people who had already learned to lean on each other and be helpful in times of need long before the appearance of these early Christian settlers.

      But then history is written by the victors who then thanked their twisted
      God who “gave them” this land and blessed them to eliminate all who
      got in the way.

      No, I’m not bitter, really, but recently I find myself leaning towards the “Resist” side on David’s continuum. I spent plenty of time in “Pretend” after “Convert”, and a few years in “Reinterpret” after reading Spong’s “Why Christianity Must Change or Die” but eventually even that became no longer was feasible due to the internal dissonance it created.

      Now I flutter between “Admit” and “Resist”. (Materialist science, which is oft associated with Humanism still has problems too) so it is fortunate that I have no designs on public office, ever.

      I am still looking for the opportunities to make resistance seem less futile and where I “admit but leave room for doubt” I find it in science and philosophy, and less in a religious context.

      Everyone needs a hobby, right? At least I can say that as our collective consciousness evolves, the numbers numbers of “Admitters” and “Resisters” increase.

      David, I think you may have missed one point however. There is one more option. I would label it as follows:

      “I don’t know and I don’t care, the game is on channel 4, now shut up and drink your beer”

      Never underestimate the power of apathy and lethargy!