December 13, 2007

Richard Dawkins Admits To Being An Atheist Christian

In a recent interview, Richard Dawkins stated: "I'm not one of those who wants to stop Christian traditions.
This is historically a Christian country (Britain). I'm a cultural Christian in the same way many of my friends call themselves cultural Jews or cultural Muslims."

His comment makes perfect sense. Even though I'm uncomfortable with calling Canada or the USA Christian countries, I could rationalize the UK being a Christian country historically. All three countries have definitely been influenced big time by the overwhelming Christian majorities over time historically.

The UK historically recognized Christianity as a state religion, but especially today, it does not require her citizens to follow the religion. This is not true of America.

Of course, in many regions of the US and Canada, the vast majority of inhabitants are Christians. It is impossible and really unnecessary to escape the Christian culture.
Could someone escape the Jewish culture in any Jewish community in any large city in the US or Canada?

But it is deeper than that. As an atheist Jew, I at least have Webster's Dictionary and the majority of the world allowing me to keep my Jew status. Dawkins doesn't have such luxury.
But just as most of my Jewish friends, cousins, and aunts and uncles celebrate Jewish holidays, go to synagogue (mostly very occasionally), and at least claim they believe in the Jewish God, Dawkins and most ex-Christian atheists or atheists who had Christian parents, have things very similar to me as far as family and friends go.
I often use the stereotypical example of an Irish Catholic who becomes atheist. From all that I know (mostly from comedies and cartoons on the subject), it is farcical to think that someone from an Irish Catholic family could possibly remove himself from the Irish Catholic culture. It wouldn't be a stretch, to me anyway, to call this person an Irish Catholic atheist.

This debate can go further, because who is to say exactly to what degree any Christian believes in Christ. What percentage of time does a Christian have to believe in the myth of Jesus to be considered a Christian? From my understanding, you can believe, have doubts, even reject, then have doubts again, etc. and still celebrate Christmas and Easter. Who knows what degree of acceptance each Christian has at Christmas time when it comes to the entire Jesus story, and the state of belief each Christian is in at the time.

Dawkins goes on: "So, yes, I like singing carols along with everybody else. I'm not one of those who wants to purge our society of our Christian history.
If there's any threat these sorts of things, I think you will find it comes from rival religions and not from atheists."

I feel the same way. I consider Christmas to be a very good time of year for friends and family to get together, and eat, drink and be merry. I view it in the same way I view Halloween. I don't want to eliminate either, and I have no problem wishing someone Merry Christmas or Happy Halloween or Happy Thanksgiving. I even sent out a few "Holidays cards" that said Merry Christmas on them.

As far as Dawkins contention that it is other religions that are trying purge Christmas, I think atheists in the Americas have a play in it as well (though purge isn't a good word for it):

I like Christmas songs, as long as they don't mention the mythological guy from 2000 years ago. I have no problem with Jingle Bells or Jingle Bells Rock being played in a school, but I do draw the line when it comes to Away In A Manger. I have no problem with it being sung on TV, or the streets (though I would find it annoying), or a household or a place of worship.

Back to Dawkins, I think the term atheist Christian is rejected so much because ex Christians are generally trying to disassociate themselves from the whole Christian thingy. But it really is impossible to escape the Christian culture here in Canada, or the US, and Britain. If 8 out of 9 of your immediate family members outside of your home identify themselves as Christian, and you grew up with Christian beliefs, I have no problem calling you an atheist Christian.


  1. I'm also culturally an atheist christian, specifically an atheist methodist. :)

  2. Eh. I don't believe in Jesus per se but I'll sing Away in the Manger because it's a pretty song. I also don't believe in Santa but I like Santa Claus is Coming to Town, and I don't support half the stuff my music is about, what with the alcohol abuse and the promiscuity that they always talk about.

    I figure, it's just a song. Why should we care?

  3. My immediate reaction is that "atheist Christian" has an odd ring to it as compared to cultural or atheist Jew.

    I think it's because, as you point out, the wider culture is so steeped in Christian heritage that it becomes hard to distinguish an "atheist" from an "atheist Christian." Atheist/cultural Jews, in contrast, are more readily identifiable because their traditions aren't identical to those of the wider secular culture.

  4. My heritage is Baptist Christianity from Yorkshire, Britain. Sadly, I cannot be an atheist Baptist, as the whole thing about the Baptist Church is that you are either in the Christian thing 100% of you're not in it at all. Shame.

  5. Have you read D'Souza's response?

    I never knew what retching and laughing at the same time was like until I read that article. Yuck.

  6. Dan, or is it Methodist Atheist?

    Bas, I'm with you, except I have always been uncomfortable with singing Jesus and savior, except for Spirit In The Sky. "You got a friend in Jesus"

    Paul, good points.

    Ed, I don't know if I agree. You are still probably a cultural Christian.

    Wbhb, D'Sousa is borderline retarded. He stretches for motives that aren't even considered by most atheists. I retched, I couldn't laugh.

  7. Despite working in the science and university world I avoid calling myself an atheist because secretly, I feel, and have always felt, that there is a God. Unfortunately Christianity requires my brain to believe too many impossible things before breakfast (e.g. Son of God, the resurrection, virgin birth). So I am a God believing, cultural Christian who feels uncomfortable with atheism and Christianity. Oh dear!

  8. So it's "farcical" to imagine someone from an Irish Catholic background becoming an Atheist. Why? The Irish are also endowed with reason. I was born into an Irish Catholic family but have been an atheist as far back as I can remember. I don't consider myself a 'cultural' Catholic, just somebody who doesn't believe in supernatural forces.

  9. Eoin, I didn't say that it was farcical for an Irish Catholic to become an atheist. I said it was farcical to think he or she could escape the Irish Catholic culture assuming they still lived in Ireland.