Why I Am Not a Christian

Why I Am Not a Christian June 26, 2015

Reflections on Bertrand Russell’s speech from 1927. (Read the essay online here.)

This is the only essay of his I’ve read. I recommend it. It’s short, amusing and to the point. Many of the arguments he raises are still being raised by those in the New Atheism movement. I want to use this post to talk very briefly about Russell’s essay, even more briefly about the New Atheism movement, and about why I, Niki, am not a Christian.

mothermary

We begin with Russell’s essay. It’s hard to deny most of his points: that many of the arguments made for Christianity just don’t hold water. Morally, the world will not fall apart if we’re not Christian. Plenty of moral people exist in other religions and no religion at all. No one can prove the existence of God in any scientific way. The argument from design is not compelling. Christ is a fascinating character, but equally problematic. I love the discussion of the fig tree story in the New Testament – Jesus passes by a fig tree, it isn’t bearing fruit and Jesus is hungry, Jesus angrily curses the fig tree to never ever bear fruit. Dude, what did that fig tree ever do to you? Jesus could stand to work on some anger management issues.

Like the ‘New Atheists’, Russell believes that only science is the way forward; science, along with “knowledge, kindness and courage.” I can support these things, and I think most people of faith can too. As great as the essay is I find that he raises up intelligence as a sort of God-like entity. And this is one of my main critiques of the New Atheism: that science becomes godlike. It is raised above all things. Our intelligence is trusted as the single most guide. I love science but it is a tool, not a god, not the end all and be all of wisdom.

Another of my issues with New Atheism is that science and religion (or faith, because often people of no particular organized ideology get thrown into the cart here) are not incompatible. There often is conflict between the two, but science and religion are not inherently opposed, nor is it a zero sum game where only one can stand victorious.

I have read some essays by the handful of (privileged, white, male) New Atheist writers, but I have not read their books. I do not want to as I find their tone smug and belittling. And yes, there has been legitimate critique of the movement as anti-feminist (this Ms blog post on the topic is a great place to start). I find that the writers in this movement are as closed-minded as the people the critique.

One of my biggest concerns is that many of the arguments laid against belief by atheists are actually quite specific to the Abrahamic faiths. Many of the things they don’t agree with or like are things I don’t agree with or like! When the average atheist is talking about why they don’t like God, I have to ask them which God. The Judeo-Christian monotheistic idea of and personality attributed to God is usually discussed as if it is the only one. I don’t believe in that God either. Millions and millions of people don’t believe in that God. So we all have something in common there.

I don’t want to spend too much more time on New Atheism. It’s been a few years since I followed the movement with any regularity; I’m sure I’m out of touch already on the subject. I will stand with them in support for a secular government and public arena, but I don’t support a religion-free world. I’m a big fan of religion. I like it. And there that is.

As for why I am not a Christian, the simplest answer is this: it isn’t my story. I’ve said that before, but it feels more and more true with each passing day. There is much I love about the Christian story: the Annunciation, the Resurrection, even the story of the Crucifixion. Jesus is a great and divine person. I support the social justice aspects of the Christian message. But Yahweh is not my god. I don’t believe that Yahweh is the Great Ground of Being, who created the whole universe. I do not want to bad mouth a god, from a spiritual point of view, nor do I want to bad mouth anyone else’s god, so I’ll stop there. While I love and respect the Jewish tradition, I do not see how the god of one group of people could be the god of all. I do not see how there could be now or have been then a Chosen People. How could one tiny tribe be chosen among all the tribes in the world? It doesn’t make sense intellectually, nor from a position of faith. I fully believe that Yahweh chose the Jewish people – but that is their story, not mine. I cannot be a Christian because so much of the Christian story and symbolism is dependent on Jewish symbols and stories.

I want to pause here and admit that I fear talking about the above because I am afraid people will assume I am anti-Semitic. I reject Yahweh, but I see that from a monotheist view-point it could be construed that I reject God entirely or people who believe in Yahweh. From a polytheist view-point, which is how I see the world now, I don’t reject God, just that specific god as mine, as the One God.

There are many other intellectual reasons for my moving away from the Christian faith – issues with politics, the roles of and beliefs about women, the body and sex, systematic examples of hypocrisy and domination of the weak and vulnerable by those in power. We can pick up any newspaper and find numerous reasons why the Christian tradition leaves a lot to be desired. But I know that those things are not the entirety of the Christian tradition. There are many beautiful and helpful parts too.

What it comes down to is personal experience. I am not a Christian because my deepest spiritual experiences have never been in church or with or about Jesus. My deepest spiritual experiences were in the wilderness, alone in prayer, or in decidedly pagan space.

It’s taken me a long time to let go of the Christian label. I wanted to fit in. I wanted all that was best about it, but I found that I couldn’t reconcile all the pieces. I have a great love in my heart for the tradition, as I do for the Jewish tradition. I still cannot read or watch people like Pat Robertson or Rick Santorum because their views hurt my heart. Physically, it hurts me to see their distortions of something I find meaningful and beautiful at its best.

But when we get down to the core of who I am, I am not a Christian. And there that is.

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • roberto quintas

    my simplest answer: this isn’t my God.

  • Lori Anne James

    I agree. Thank you for your story. .¸★♡★.•☆*´¨`☽ ( ☆* ´`★.¸¸¸. •°´♡¸.★*´♡ Love¸.★*´♡.☽✪☾ ¸¸¸. •°´♡¸.★*

  • One of my biggest concerns is that many of the arguments laid against
    belief by atheists are actually quite specific to the Abrahamic faiths.

    I’ve had that problem, too, and I’ve tried to remind people that the Abrahamic faiths are not the only ones, and there are other religions, and hey, not all religious people have the same beliefs or values! It usually doesn’t work. Hateful people cling to their hate no matter what side of the “debate” they’re on.

  • aought

    I was told once, that “Yahweh” actually meant “one of the host.” If true, that would indicate that “god’ is “gods.” Even “…You shall have no other gods before Me.” indicates that there is more than one “god.”

  • lizzysimplymagic

    Love your writing as always! You have a knack for giving me lots of great reading material to chase around too.

    I find myself in a weird place spiritually right now, because I have had profound spiritual experiences in nature, in ritual, and in church! I don’t know how to label myself. I don’t love the Christopagan label. My most dramatic divine encounters have been with Mary, but I encountered Her while practicing Paganism! I’ve since had very transformative encounters with Jesus, but I feel like my Pagan practice is what opened me to these experiences in the first place. I resisted it at first, but the Christian story is my story… I guess it’s just not the only one in my library.

    • Joanna Wagner

      I’ve had a similar experience but in the opposite direction. Toward the first of the year I decided to renew my spiritual life and be part of a faith community. I returned to the Episcopal church and struggled to believe Christianity again.

      In the meantime I had been learning Spanish and discovered a music video of the story of Perséfone. It’s an opera in five minutes. I knew a version of the story that had Perséfone kidnapped by Hades and taken to the underworld. I was surprised when I could understand the lyrics that it’s a love song in duet between Perséfone and Hades.

      Holy Week came and I was out on Palm Sunday handing out palm leaves as part of the church service when I spied a robin sitting in a tree. The first thing that entered my mind was “Look, Perséfone has returned and brought the spring!” At that moment I knew I was in the wrong place. I found my spirituality in Hellenistic polytheism. Now, if I could find community….

  • Nicholaas

    Interesting article. I’d like try to clarify one thing about New Atheism’s focus on Judeo-Christian religion: Western culture has a long history with Judaism and Christianity, the latter being the dominant religion (in one form or another) for much of Western Europe and particularly the United States. Here in the States, we have to deal with encroachment of religion in government and public policy – as you pointed out in your article. This is why we spend so much of our time focusing our criticisms against Judeo-Christian-Islamic religion. Also, many of us who consider ourselves atheist also came from a Christian background, so it’s a very familiar form of religious expression.

    That said, many of the arguments against belief in the Christian god can also be applied to theistic belief in general.

    One more little nit-pick: I’ve never heard of, spoken with, or read about any atheist who claims or acts that science is “god-like”(if they exist, they are waaaaay in the minority). We understand full well it’s a tool, which happens to be the only reliable tool to discover the natural world and its workings with any degree of accuracy. We don’t believe science and religion are compatible because when religion makes claims about the natural world (existence of a god/gods, creation accounts, intercessory prayer, existence of the soul, etc) they are either demonstrably false (as in the case of the Genesis account of creation and intercessory prayer) or have no reliable evidence to support them. Thus, they (religions) don’t tell us anything about the world. And as most atheists do not accept the claims of what would be considered the supernatural, anything a religion would have to say about such a thing is irrelevant to us.

  • P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

    I don’t disagree with anything you’ve written here, other than the understanding of the various Jewish and Christian gods.

    To put it simply, the notion that “God,” the Christian god(s), and the Jewish god(s) are the same is one that is monotheistic, and specifically Christian. So, of course, I reject it outright, as you do.

    However, that doesn’t mean that they’re right about this (or anything else, for that matter!).

    In my own experience, the Jewish god(s) have several different forms, and historically speaking, Jewish monotheism is a henotheism that arises out of syncretism, which isn’t even covered up very much in the Hebrew Bible…even ignoring the presence of Asherah and other goddesses and gods in the Hebrew Bible, and all of the references to the Hebrew god(s) as being one among several gods (even if a particular important or even preeminent one), there are at least three deities that the singular Jewish god seems to be derived from, of whom Yhwh is only one.

    In my interactions with that god (more in the Graeco-Egyptian-Jewish syncretized form of Iao Sabaoth), I’ve found that he’s much different than is said in either Judaism or Christianity. “Ground of being” or “ultimate reality”? No; but incredibly powerful in potential adaptability, yes, definitely.

    Part of this, certainly, is due (I suspect) to my own Jewish ancestry, which I’m finding is much more essential to take into account for some of the things I’m doing as a polytheist (e.g. ancestor worship, reverence for particular goddesses, etc.) than I ever would have expected. That one particular god that was the “god of the tribe” for some of the Jewish peoples then got tagged with the notion of having a singular “chosen people” and then being the “only god” is a real atrocity and exaggeration, I think, of what the more basic nature of one of the constituent gods of the Jewish god was all about.

    And that god being the same god as the Christian god? Couldn’t be–the Christian god necessitates Jesus (if, in fact, we buy this “Trinity” stuff, which I’m inclined not to), which has nothing to do with Yhwh/Iao. I think Christianity fell away, very early, from actually having any connection with this particular god, and the atrocities done in that god’s name (as well as Jesus’, which I don’t think he appreciates either) don’t necessarily have anything to do with that god or what he’d like to see in the world, etc.

    It is so easy for many modern pagans to separate Odin from the actions and ideas of many modern racist “Odinists”; I don’t know why it is so difficult for so many to separate the actions and ideas of Christians (or Jews or Muslims) from their various deities, nor why we have to accept their theologies as being true or accurate when the very basis of them cannot exist within thoughtful polytheism. But anyway…

    This is not to say that there aren’t egregores of various religious groups as well that have power and presence, and that they think are the “One God” or their particular version of “Jaysus” (and if you can pronounce his name with four syllables, then you’re that much holier, dontchyaknow!), but that’s another story. 😉

  • Weaver95

    This article really hits home for me. I’ve often told others that it isn’t that I hate or fear christianity (ok, some individuals who happen to BE christian are scary but that’s different) its just that the christian god isn’t my god. I have no problem supporting diversity in religion, I can even see why its good to support the social justice efforts of local churches. Feed the poor. heal the sick. Help out. don’t be a jerk to your neighbors. Be a better human being. all of that I have in common with christians. But their church isn’t my church. their god does not call to me. I have heard the call of other gods, other spirits all my life. i’m just a very bad listener and didn’t start to take any of my calling seriously until I was almost 40.

    I hope I can find a way to maintain at least a cordial relationship with local christian churches. For my part, I don’t wish them any harm. I don’t try to convert others. I don’t try to correct their views on magick or the gods. I let them walk their path, and I am firm in my commitment to my own. If and when things get really bad, I try to agree to disagree and leave it at that. its not always easy, but i’ve found its the best solution to a problem with no real answer.