Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Cultural Christianity

Cultural Christianity

I was talking with Infidel753 when in my post, Pope Rat Strikes Again I mentioned that about 2/5ths of French Catholics don't believe in any god (which was given to me by Stew's blog post about the subject and subsequently confirmed by at least one other person I know that lives in France). Infidel753 said that he'd read that roughly 1/3rd of Germans who identified as Christian also did not believe in any gods, which seems to suss up with the data about the French pretty well. Apocryphally, I have good Danish friends who tell me that religion is not important for Danes, even though almost all of them are legally Lutheran. Infidel753 then linked me to one of his posts that talked about this article out of The Nation magazine, which is about as square as journalism gets, talks about the bad journal and polls about religion – such as journalists concluding that 91% of Americans believe in god because they believe in a “higher power” without noting the distinction between a higher power and a god. I mean, by the hazy definition of believing in a “higher power” it could be said that I believe in god, because I believe in the power of human reason and experience to transform the world into a better place.

One of the things this means, of course, is those charts that say how many people are Christian or whatever aren't worth the paper they're printed on. It's pretty obvious that many Christians are cultural Christians – that religion is part of the cultural heritage. Many Jews are this way – I'm sure most of us know the sort: they eat bacon and cheese on their pizzas, never seem to celebrate the Sabbat, yet clearly identify as Jewish as part of their cultural identity.

I'm increasingly sure that this is where religion – all religion – is going. Religion makes such little sense, but is nevertheless so integrally part of our culture that separating ourselves from it is troublingly difficult. In many ways, I am a cultural Christian – I'm spending a year of my life to write a book about Simon Peter and Jesus! Yes, the book is wholly secular in nature and intents, but it's obvious I'm heavily invested in Christianity in America, emotionally and intellectually.

I am seeing now that being religious or secular is a false dichotomy. That it is possible to be religious and secular, even an atheist, because many people are already cultural Christians (or cultural Muslims, Hindus, etc.).

I am thinking that . . . we might want to hasten the arrival of a purely cultural Christianity, especially here in the United States. Naming something makes it powerful. And cultural Christianity, totally divested of any political influence, and only artistic influence socially (which can be quite strong, of course), is something that would please a lot of people who are "Christian" in name only, or who are struggling to incorporate this important element of Western civilization into their own lives but having trouble doing so because the only paradigm, currently, that one is allowed to be a Christian is religiously. But it doesn't have to be that way. It is possible to be culturally Christian, to recognize the place of Christianity in Western civilization, but not to fall prey to the religious aspects of it, the absurd beliefs and predatory institutions of religious Christianity.


divabeq said...

Not in response to this post, but I read this today, and it made me think of your posts regarding religious child abuse. I'm going to comment with a link to your post on the topic.

L>T said...

You do have a really good point.I'm going to be more mindful of that distinction, myself.

Infidel753 said...

The decline and collapse of Christianity in Europe (outside of Poland) is far more advanced than most commonly-available statistics would lead us to think.

Even more remarkably, one country has apparently accomplished the same with Islam.

Chris Bradley said...


Well, if it was going to happen anywhere, Russia would have been a good guess. ;)

But I think this malady awaits most religions. They're culturally important but how can anyone intelligent take them so seriously? It's a testament to the power of early brainwashing, alone, but it seems increasingly clear to me that religion is a nightmare from which we're waking up.

Robert Taylor said...

I think there's much more culturally Catholic people than culturally Christian (ie Protestant or Lutheran etc). Just my opinion ;)


Chris Bradley said...


Yeah, that's my feeling, too. As an atheist ex-Catholic type I feel that we ex-Catholics still obsess more about our religion than ex-Protestants, hehe. I suspect it's because of all the rituals of Catholicism and it's steep hierarchy. ;)