I’m not talking about denominations here where people fight out doctrinal issues. I’m talking in more practical matters – the practical living out of one’s faith.
Let me state this – nothing in what I write about today should be shocking to anyone. This is nothing new. As long as there have been people and organized religion we’ve had various types of religiosity. There’s the true believers. And the Pharisee-types – you know the ones who know all the rules and are arrogant enough to think they are better than everyone else. And there’s the lukewarm and then the just going through the motion people – people who don’t give a damn, but will go through the motions in order to get the job, marry the person, or people who just want to be left alone. And then there is evangelical atheist – you know these people. They are out proclaiming the news that there is no God and trying to convert people to their belief system. It takes a great deal of faith to believe that there is nothing to believe in.
I read an article from earlier this month that talks about practical atheism.
One of my teachers, Stanley Hauerwas, calls this phenomenon “practical atheism.” Atheism, as he describes it, is not necessarily an explicit denial of God but living as if God does not exist. Many of those who ascribe intellectually to the idea of God or even those who have “given their hearts to Jesus” go about their 24/7 without their words, thoughts, deeds or wallets impacted in any way that would suggest authentic Christian faith. This is Christian atheism.
Again, this isn’t new. The author gives examples from previous centuries where lukewarm Christianity was rampant.
One of the classes I took in Finland talked about the debate that goes on in scholarly circles about how many people were really “true” Christians when Constantine made it legal for Christians to practice. The debate is that there were many people who were baptized, but only did what they were required to do. We don’t know what they actually bought into as far as what they believed.
The debate about this subject is certainly not new. You’d think we’d have figured this out by now, but we just don’t know what people actually believe. All we can do is see how people act. And as for actions:
“It is not so much that U.S. Christianity is being secularized. Rather, more subtly, Christianity is either degenerating into a pathetic version of itself, or more significantly, Christianity is actively being colonized and displaced by quite a different religious faith.”*
That’s a quote in the article from the book Almost Christian, which happens to be an excellent book.
So the question is – what kind of Christian are you? One who says the words, but then goes out and lives the way they want? What kind of church is your church? One that is more interested in right belief, but ignores living according to what the Gospel says? Is there humility and humbleness and grace? Enough to know that the church is made up of sinners and saints at the same time? Is your church more concerned with partisan politics and whose going to be the next president rather than living out the Sermon on the Mount?