Friday, October 7, 2016

A secular Jesus-follower?

I often describe myself as a "cultural Christian" or a "secular Christian" as I hang out in church A Lot, even though i don't believe in God.

This recent article in the HuffPo puts a new spin on that idea.
Despite the fact I am a secular person, I find that there is something compelling and transformative about the figure of Jesus — that, indeed, this figure is someone worth following. Here are five important ways in which I continue to reshape my approach to life as part of a deepening commitment to being a secular Jesus follower.
He goes on,
Perhaps my most flagrant “transgression” in this regard is my engaging seriously with the figure of Jesus, who would seem off limits to a nonbeliever like me, who is deeply bound up with a Christendom that is not my world—but whose wisdom and way offer far too much to remain confined behind a culturally imposed boundary.
In my case, I don't think that I engage seriously with the figure of Jesus, who sometimes I admit I find annoying, but I do try to engage with his teachings. They are the teachings of MLK, of course, but Gandhi and the Dali Llama too.

The author describes them thus:
1. I have been inspired to hang out with the “wrong” people.
The poor, the marginalized, of course.  But for a scientist and an atheist, perhaps hanging out with the Christians is also the "wrong" people.  It challenges expectations and the barriers we put between us. :-)
 2. I have become cognizant of the futility of violence.
Didn't need church to see that.
3. I have been persuaded to worry less, trust more.
Yes, this has been a huge thing. But,  I ascribe it much more to the effect of being married to my beloved BP, as our relationship has had a huge influence on me and my sense of peace.  She has radically changed me, and it's not just because she drags me along to church.
4. I have come to see how Jesus can “save” us (and, no, it’s not what you think).

But I’ve come to see that the Jesus way indeed can “save” us, depending on what you mean — even if we are secular and find no motivation whatsoever in the promises and threats of a wondrous or hellish afterlife. Following Jesus, I suggest, can save us from trivial self-seeking, from consumerism and the never-satiated need for more, more, more, and from a life that misses the point. Jesus, I have found, can save us from the hell of a life lived only for ourselves.
Yeah, I don't buy this part.  I don't think you have to hang out around Jesus followers to learn to avoid consumerism and self-seeking.  I know a lot of engaged and thoughtful atheists who aren't part of that world.  There are a lot of non-believers who are social activists making a real difference in social justice and environmentalism.  This smacks to me of self-satisfaction and "us vs them"-ism.
5. The Jesus way has got me to see that we cannot cast off responsibility for the plights and problems of “other people.”
Again, I don't think that Christianity owns this.  See answer to 4.
This yearning for justice — justice for all — is something Jesus promoted and practiced. The Jesus way has got me to see that if we are going to live meaningful and ethical lives, we must reject the notion that we have to look out only for ourselves and our kind. Jesus taught that everyone counts, that the only “group” we’re part of is the human group, and that if one segment of our global neighborhood bears the weight of suffering and injustice, so do we all.
I suppose you can credit Christianity generally with some of this, just as a cultural force in what is a predominantly Christian culture.  Yet, you will find similar concepts in Judaism and Islam and Buddhism, and there are plenty of atheists who get this, so I think it's a straw man to claim this for Christ.

In sum, I find this author much more Christian than I am.  He may not "buy" son of God and Resurrection, but I think he is more than culturally attracted to the community, and definitely much more of a disciple than I am. I don't think you need to be a Christ-follower to practice these rules, at all.   But it's good if you are, too.  :-)


Marshall Scott said...

I'll agree with you about this, and especially about 4 and 5. No, I don't maintain one has to be "religious," much less Christian, to have a disciplined moral life and have good reason to do good in the world. I do fear that because Christianity has so pervaded culture in these United States one has to come to terms with Jesus - terms including everything from flat rejection to profound adoration, a very broad spectrum - just as a powerful cultural theme. (I once heard Madeline Murray O'Hare speak, and remarked on just how thorough an understanding she had of this "God" she claimed to have no interest in.) My wife is more Buddhist these days, and has a broad religious history (official memberships notwithstanding), and we periodically speak of "Bodhisattva Jesus" because Jesus said something that fit the parameters.

So, well and good that this author found these themes culturally useful without needing them to be institutionally defining. And, to paraphrase someone I think very important, blessed are those who don't claim anything and find reason to do good in the world.

JCF said...

Ever since I came to an "adult" conception of faith (probably Fowler Stage 4), I've phrased it thusly: "I think of God [in Christ] as more a 'What', but I reserve the right---when I need to---to think of God as a 'Who'".

The God (no G word necessary) of my understanding is really not incompatible, I believe, w/ a secular faith. I'm a 12 Stepper, and I'm very comfortable talking about my Higher Power---knowing that some Steppers HP's are "Good Orderly Direction/Group of Drunks". When God is "What", there's not that big a difference.

All that said---and perhaps this had to do w/ my "reserve right to think of God as 'Who'" clause!---I find the nature of my relationship to God/Jesus/Higher Power largely ineffable. I can't agree or disagree w/ the 5 points in this essay: I just can't think in these terms. There's more awe & wonder for me---and also clinging need. I think this is faith?

8thday said...

Like you, I hold many of Jesus' teachings, among others, as important life and societal guides. But I seriously doubt if Jesus would recognize anything in today's Christianity.