A few weeks ago whilst at our usual Saturday night excursion to the village local, our conversation somehow got onto religion. Someone in our group said something seemingly insignificant, but it sparked a small epiphany within me. He said, “I am a Christian, but I don’t believe in god.”
How could one be a Christian without believing in a supreme being? It always seemed to me as a fundamental element of religion, certainly a monotheistic faith. I understand an Atheist following many Christian morals such as forgiveness - myself being one - but I could not label myself as a Christian for a lack of belief in a deity. If I had to pick a label then it would be a Humanist for I am a member of that organisation and agree with many of their values. Values one could say were Christian. However could one be a Christian Atheist? And by extension, anything Atheist? For those who claim to be spiritual, but not religious, can they be Shinto Atheists for instance? Shinto is a Japanese religion based on the presence of spirits occupying our world, something that runs quite parallel with Spiritualists. Those who partake in meditation, and the healing of their ‘Chakras’, could they be Buddhist Atheists?
Does aligning one's own morals and values with a particular religion make them members of that religion but with the cold logic of no deities? After all, what is religion but a belief system of teachings? Do I need to follow every letter of said religion to qualify, or is that only reserved for the fundamentalists who are often responsible for great atrocities and cults? No one in their right mind could declare that poor old Mrs Smith who attends church every Sunday but does not follow the most backward elements of the Bible, is not a devout Christian. If my morals align with Mrs Smith, but I just don’t happen to believe in a god, am I just as much a Christian as her?
On the flip side, I have a friend who does not believe in any of the current gods, but rather another yet undescribed being which he calls ‘The Universe’. I don’t quite understand what form this Universe takes other than that there being some kind of all-permeating essence, probably somewhat akin to a spiritual version of Newton's Ether. He though does describe himself as a Christian even if he does not believe in the Christian god.
I have proposed a great number of questions for which the answers can only be provided by yourself and how you see your world. But indeed how do we square the frontier between faith, science, and morality? What defines religion and one's membership?
I believe society and how we feel are far too complex for simplistic labels, and so I tend to avoid them where I reasonably can - outside the realms of scientific definitions. But I would probably still say I am a Humanist, however, I am now less averse to being seen as Christian - albeit with an Atheist caveat.[/justify]