Secular Christianity

Posted by Mike

It does sound like an oxymoron, doesn’t it? And yet, I expect that we have more secular religious people around than you’d might think. Just recently we had in town  representatives of an organization of secular Judaism. They were in the process of developing a congregation in the area, so that non-believing Jews would be able to get together and benefit from their traditional culture, religious services, and liturgy, without the necessity of having to believe or accept the basic theology of the religion.

 I think there is a natural human need for the spiritual, for respectful ritual, for recognition that there is more to life than we can see and touch, a need for community and sharing, respectful awareness of this “spiritual other” that is variously defined by religions. It seems to me that this natural human need is what we can call the need for the religious. I suspect that many observant Christians, when questioned closely about the theological basis of their practice, would feel uncomfortable with such questioning and change the subject rather quickly, that the real basis for their practice is the sense of community they derive, the emotional comfort of their attendance, and the structure that it gives to their moral and ethical life, that the theology and beliefs are quite secondary and unimportant to them. I understand that this would not be the case with many other Christians, especially evangelicals, but could be expected within the congregations of the more mainstream Protestant denominations and Roman Catholics.

 We do have at least one secular religion in this country, Unitarian Universalism. Unitarianism is an effort to see the value in the positive aspects of all religions, and to incorporate those in religious service and practice. It draws on multiple religious traditions and encourages members to seek their own spiritual path. Some people may confuse Unity with Unitarianism. Unity attempts to separate the teachings of Jesus from his alleged divinity and to focus on his teachings and the positive value of those. Unity does see God as “the source and creator of all.” So Unity could not be called a secular religion.

Are there secularists in the other major religious traditions, Islamic, Hindu, Buddhist? I have no expertise to speak with assurance on that issue, but expect that we would find many. People want the connection with a religious community with which they share culture in common, but often they want to believe what makes sense to them, not what an authority expects or demands. I’ll just give one example of someone, in an unusual position of authority, who has uniquely solved the problem for himself. John Shelby Spong is the retired Bishop of the Episcopal Church Diocese of Newark. If you read his books, it is clear that John Spong does not believe in Christian theology, that he doesn’t believe that Jesus was divine, that he doesn’t believe in the virgin birth or in Jesus’s bodily resurrection, or in the reported miracles of Jesus. But he makes it clear that Jesus’s teachings, the liturgy, and much of the apparatus of religious practice is vital and necessary to him and has benefit for the practitioner and her or his community.

 Bishop Spong seems clearly to be a secular Christian. It works for him. It likely works for many others, but they are sort of “undercover.” It might be a healthy “opening” process were the mainstream churches to welcome all to join their practice of spirituality, with no qualifications regarding what one must believe, and with only the behavioral qualification of appropriate behavior, and respectful honoring of the great unknowns of the universe.

 

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6 Comments

Filed under Christianity

6 responses to “Secular Christianity

  1. I expect that you’re right that there many secular Christians that don’t let others know the truth to their beliefs. We should be open about our beliefs and not let group-think change who we are.

    At the same time, we should not let group-think not let God change who we are either.

    I also expect that most churches would welcome having secular Christians in their midst. Even the most extreme churches that I’ve been to would accept anyone’s attendence–membership would be a different matter.

    The important issue is truth. People should be truthful and not follow the other lemmings over the cliff.

    When we live a lie, everything is obscured. When we live in the truth, we find out what the truth is.

    I’ve found the truth to be Christ.

  2. Most secular Christians are mainly just followers of jesus, who have been led astray by religious thoughts from others or ideas that are not true with the word of god or bible. I can write in more explanation if you need, It is just running late here.

  3. cstrupp,

    I agree…there are a lot of mixed messages out there that push people towards being secular. Please expand your thoughts…

    Mike is also correct that many just want that feeling of belongingness that they get feeling a part of the community.

  4. I ment in generally that you can be called “secular” if you agree with what the church or others tell you versus what the word of god says, even though they are in contradiction. The main reason why secular even really exsists is because of peoples misbeliefs or wrong knowledge on what the word of god says. What I am trying to explain is far more difficult to explain by typing versus speaking, because there are so many overlying things that need mentioned if you are unaware of certain truthes in the word. I am honestly lost by the way you worded somethign sin the article above, so feel free to write out a shorter to the point version of what you were saying, as I think I might have misunderstood something,which I eblievos the case otherwise I could give the exact naswer I wantedd to give.

  5. cstrupp, I’ll let Mike answer you on this one, he can clarify what he meant.

    I think I understand what you mean, I’d also look at 1 Corinthians 11:19 for the reason for the secular church.

  6. Mike Zelenka

    estrupp: Clearly we see things differently, and that’s the way it is with people sometimes. Don’t be concerned with what I have said above. I am only presenting an opinion: the article is meant to inform, to give people pleasure or entertain, and to influence (I suspect these are some of my unconscious motivations for writing). You clearly have some very strong beliefs that I touched on in my writing and they are what you need and what you are grounded upon. I don’t get a clear picture as to what you would like me to explain and I suggest that you let go of any of your concerns re the article. If I could clarify, it is clear that we both have strong opinions and would continue to be “on opposite sides of the net.” That’s ok; we see things differently in life, because of our own unique experiences. Go with God.
    Mike

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