If you think Christian atheism is an oxymoron, you might be right.
On Twitter, psychology professor Ben Winegard seems to favor the idea of separating Christian ethics from Christian theology:
It’s hard to know if Winegard is being serious or sarcastic. I hope it’s the latter, but based on his follow up comments I wonder if he might be serious.
I responded to Winegard’s tweet:
Not being a Christian, who am I to say if or how Christians should reform their religion?
Or, if one wants Christianity without Christ then call it something else, like humanism.
It is what it is
There’s a larger problem with Winegard’s statement (if taken seriously) that there’s something to be said for keeping Christianity ethics without Christian metaphysics.
Winegard appears to unwittingly argue that Christianity would be better if it wasn’t Christianity.
Which is like arguing that tofu would be better if it wasn’t tofu.
Look buddy, just use ground beef instead.
Stupid is as stupid does
Winegard isn’t a stupid man. The problem is that he doesn’t seem to understand Christianity.
Christians feel that way about a lot of atheists.
Atheists make fun of Christians who ask, “If evolution is true, why are there still monkeys around?” But atheists all too often fail to realize that they sound just as clueless when they critique religion.
Christian theology is the foundation of Christian ethics
You can’t separate Christian ethics from Christian metaphysics.
The central question Jesus poses in the gospels is, “Who do you say I am?” Peter answers that Jesus is the Son of God.
A Christian is someone who believes in the incarnation. If you don’t believe in the incarnation, you’re not a Christian.
And when asked about ethics, Jesus responded that the greatest commandment is to love God with all your heart, all your mind, and all your soul. He makes it explicit that loving your neighbor as yourself follows from loving God.
But you can’t love God if you don’t believe in God. So atheists cannot have the same basis for loving their neighbors as themselves.
It’s like saying you really like your house, but you don’t like the foundation:
Caller: “Dude, could you, like, come over here and destroy my foundation? But keep the house—it’s a really cool house.”
Contractor: “You smokin’ the wacky tobacky?”
Is Christian atheism really a thing?
This doesn’t mean atheists can’t love their neighbors. But it does mean that atheists must find a non-Christian basis for loving their neighbors.
Besides, how many atheists really want to be Christian atheists?
St. Paul, in his letter to the Romans, condemns homosexuality. St. Peter wrote a letter telling wives to be submissive to their husbands.
Does Winegard also want to retain these aspects of Christian ethics?
Or, in addition to rejecting the very basis of Christian ethics (loving God), does Winegard also want to cherry pick other aspects of Christian ethics, but only the ones he finds amenable?
If Winegard was being serious rather than sarcastic, I think it’s fair to say that even with the slightest critique, the notion of Christian atheism disappears like morning fog embraced by the sun.
Those of us who aren’t Christian are better off coming up with a basis for love of neighbor that doesn’t rely on God.
Here’s my stab at it:
- No one wants to suffer.
- Therefore, the maximum point is a world where no one suffers.
- This perfect ideal may never be achieved, but we can try to get as close as possible.
- Universal, equal human rights is the best way to minimize the suffering of every individual.
- But if I don’t respect your rights, why should you respect mine? Human rights collapse without everyone’s equal responsibility to respect the equal rights of everyone else.
- “Love your neighbor as yourself” and “treat others the way you want to be treated” neatly sum up the responsibility each one of us has to respect the equal rights of everyone else.
And, not only does this perspective make it easy to support LGBT rights, women’s rights, religious rights, and so on—it actually requires it.