About a month ago, I stumbled on some nuanced language regarding ex-evangelicals. The main term I read about was “Jesuism” which is valuing the person of Jesus Christ, his teachings and disciplines, but not recognizing a certain supernaturalism or spirituality, per se. It’s an updated version of deism.
It made me think of one of my best friends, who clearly holds onto the religion handed to him by tradition (like I did for as long as I could), but some of the organized bits of religion as well as the current zeitgeist of Christianity upholding men and women who love guns, immorality and Donald Trump more than than the teachings of Christ.
During that rabbit-hole peek into Jesuism, I ran across a book titled, “the Christian atheist” on a website and I put it on a list to check out. My take on “Christian atheism” is a person who values Christianity’s teachings, but maybe not its pursuit of the unseen. I read it as a positive combination of words. Being a Christian atheist, to me, would be holding the values that Jesus preached while not believing in God or that Jesus as a deity.
My wife Tina’s side hustle is finding purses that others throw out and reselling them at an online store. She frequents a circuit of second-hand stores and searches out estate sales in North Carolina and Chicagoland. One of her favorite haunts in North Carolina is a Goodwill full of rolling bins filled with donated items that are resold by weight. Tina comes home with piles of loot for $10 to $20, coats, books, purses, accessories, etc. On Monday while at the bins, she shot me a picture of the above book and asked if I wanted it. “YES!” I wrote back. She had no idea it was on my list to buy or borrow from the library.
I flipped through it when she got back that day, and I was concerned that it wasn’t what I thought it was. But I needed more time. Another day, I thought.
I opened it this morning to take a closer look and I went from excited to deflated. In the forward written by the author: “A letter to the reader”, Pastor Craig Groeschel spells out what he’s talking about when he refers to someone as a “Christian atheist.”
Spoiler: it’s not a good thing. Why would I ever think that a believer would associate atheism as a positive, I don’t know.
The author opens with two pastoral-style stories about two different people he met while flying on airplanes. Both he claims are atheists, though they never seem to admit it in their stories. They are his views heaped onto them.
By pastoral stories, many of us know what I’m talking about. They are these anecdotal “big fish” stories that pastors relay to make a point. They are one hundred percent BULL SHIT. Congregations LOVE them. I find them unbelievably dumb.
According to Pastor Groeschel, Christian atheists are people who go through the motions of Christianity, go to church, say the right lingo, know that they live like heathens, but call themselves “Christians.”
So Christian atheism should really be defined as Christian hedonism. That’s to say, living like you want, immoral, absent of discipline or decent human values.
To establish his definition of so-called Christian atheism, Groeschel describes two encounters on back-to-back flights with strangers sitting next to him on the planes. One is with Travis and the second is with Michelle. Travis is: “A middle-aged father of two, who was headed home from an unsuccessful business trip.” And Michelle is: “an exceptionally witty and bright twenty-three-year-old grad student starting her summer break. Both were tired. Both were anxious to get home.”
At first, Groeschel describes the flight with Travis. It’s a jovial conversation, albeit tinged with concern that Travis’s business of commercial real estate is floundering. But he has hope for a better day when the downturn upends.
As soon as Travis finds out Groeschel is a pastor, Travis turns into a monster. Groeschel writes: “That’s when Travis pounced: ‘So you’re a minister?’ Doing his best to remain cordial, he asked in an obviously sarcastic tone, ‘I guess that means you believe in a literal seven-day creation, huh?’ Before I could even respond, he began blurting out his rapid anti-Christian barrage. ‘No disrespect meant, but Christians are the weakest people alive. They use Christianity as a crutch to avoid the real world. And the more vocal they are about their religion, the more hypocritical they are.’
Groeschel ended the story with this: “Christian Atheists look a lot like Christians, but they live a lot like Travis.”
Let’s get this straight: Travis, an otherwise kind airplane seat neighbor loses his noggin when he discovers his new friend is a pastor, berates him, and acts like a complete fool, which likely never happened. But if it did, Groschel’s take away is that his business issues and his blatant hate towards Christians and Christianity is how atheists behave?
No idiot stuck on any plane at any time would barrage their seat mate with a diatribe against the belief system that they hold dear. No way. Never. Anywhere. At any time. Craig Groeschel made that entire scene up based on stereotypes and bullshit he’s read in his bubble of dumb literature supporting his point of view and his only. That shit comes from a place of insecurity and ignorance.
Wheels up with Michelle on the next flight. Twenty-three year old Michelle struck up the conversation to pass time. “She seemed eager to talk,” he wrote. “as if our chat might make the flight pass more quickly. After describing her difficulties with balancing her checkbook and handling her divorced parents and her live-in boyfriend – who’s scared to death of marriage – she asked me about my life.”
When she learned he was a pastor, she ended up hemming and hawing about how she knows she should be living a certain way, but that she can’t. That she should be dating a Christian, and if so, he would want to put a ring on her finger.
That, dear reader, is a Christian atheist. Someone who lives a life of immorality, knows better, but doesn’t.
No, Craig. What you’re describing is a Christian Christian.
The thing about atheists I know is that they put their best foot forward to follow the golden rule. When they make mistakes with their spouses or loved ones, they own up.
This view of atheism is a crying shame. That acting like an asshole = atheism is what needs to change. I’m shocked anyone would ever take Craig Groeschel seriously, but after a few clicks on the old google, I found out that he’s the pastor of the third largest church in America.
He is why people like me do not have one iota of interest in the church. He taints the mission. He is a perverse and dishonest witness to the truth. The truth isn’t that disbelief is some pejorative standpoint. We’re just people who are doing our damndest to live a good life, surrounding ourselves with good people and not people like Craig, who are so uncool that they think human people being human is negative.
This must change. But it won’t. Because one makes people throw more money in the collection plate and the other does not.