Posted by: amharmon | May 11, 2009

Christian Atheists…

Hey everyone, I thought I would take the time to discuss  a bit of my presentation topic from last week.  I focused my papar on it, but with the presentation and the editing I had to leave out many key points that could have possibly made the topic a bit more understandable. 🙂 Sorry guys!  Overall, the attempt of my paper was to make parallels of the Christian Atheist movement with that of the New Atheists and discuss why I thought the aforementioned movement had more validity than the New Atheists. So here goes…

The Christian Atheist movement may seem to you guys ( as it does to many) like an oxymoron. How can one call themselves a Christian and an Atheist? Christian Atheists who follow the belief system of Thomas Altizer, believe they are Christians by following the belief that God has died and been reborn in the person of Jesus. He thinks that God’s death occured at the time of human creation and that it was an act of self-extinction. With Jesus’ crucifixion, the death of God was ended His full spirit of God was forever put into the world. These Christian Atheists believe in the importance of church, community, and overall spirituality which can enhance a person’s well-being and their relation to others around them. From what I have seen, there are no main or established Christian Atheist churches that I know of, though there are groups of Humanists (see link: and probably small groups of C.A.’s that meet up on their own. What Christian Atheists do not believe in is the traditional, what they call ‘orthodox’ God of the Old Testament. They feel that there is no place in the modern world for God, which is why they also believe that he killed himself off. So they technically call themselves ‘Atheists’ because they do not believe in ‘God’  in our current times, but they call themselves Christians because they believe in the centrality of Christ and of his spirit that exists in this world. They feel that most humans have not been able to remove the emotion associated with Theism and the idea and concept of God. There has been nothing published yet on what either the New Atheists or Christian Atheists think of one another, though, as I mentioned in my presentation, Dawkins has called himself a ‘cultural Christian’, meaning he enjoys Christian-centered and themed holidays, like Christmas, in which he loves singing Christmas carols. This could be interpreted by many as him being a so-called Christian Atheist, but I dont believe that he is. He doesn’t believe in the immanence of Christ existing in the world and also doesnt believe that God ever existed or for that matter, that he died. I can relate to much of the Christian Atheist sentiments and beliefs and feel that anyone who is questioning their Christian faith, yet wanting to retain some of the fundamental beliefs and practices of the faith could also find a place (even if temporary) within this belief system. I would be curios what you guys think and welcome any responses or comments.



  1. This is a really interesting topic. I had never heard of this group until this blog post (I think I was out of the room for your presentation- sorry!). Just out of curiosity, how did you hear about Christian Atheists?

    I can see how there might be some similarities between the New Atheists and Christian Atheists, maybe how they sometimes both celebrate Christian holidays. Still, it seems to me that one of the biggest differences is that Christian Atheists don’t seem to take an actively hostile approach to abolishing theistic beliefs from the world- they actually possess their own theistic beliefs on some level. I would like to hear what a Christian Atheist would think about the mission of the New Atheists. Also, since my presentation was about religious violence, I wonder if the New Atheists believe that the beliefs of Christian Atheists could be destructive? I think these questions would be interesting to explore further.

  2. A few years back, in a class with Dr. McClymond, I remember hearing someone briefly mention Christian Atheists and Death of God theologians and I thought it was interesting, but didn’t think anything of it. Then, during this semester I began to research the movement more and thought it was interesting how many parallels the groups movement had with the New Atheists. I struggled a lot during my research to find out what either group thought of one another and could not find ANYTHING! The closest link I could make was Dawkins calling himself a cultural Christian and I made an attempt to dispute that and disassociate him from the Christian Atheists. The foremost C.A./ death of God theologian is now Mark C. Taylor (As Altizer is now old and retired:) and it will be interesting if he breaks the silence on what he thinks of the New Atheists. I am not sure that Dawkins or anyone else in his camp would comment on the Christian Atheist movement, as it has died out considerably and is much off the public radar, but it would be interesting to find out if the New Atheists believe that C.A. beliefs are destructive. And you are completely right in understanding that the C.A. do not take up the same hostility as Dawkins and his bunch. That was one of the fundamental differences I noted in my paper between the two groups. I guess we will have to wait and see if there is ever any direct dialogue between the two groups and if the New Atheists, suffer the same sudden decline in popularity as the Christian Atheists (which I believe will happen).

  3. Thanks for clarifying this topic. I was actually a little bit lost on the Christian Atheism movement and this is very helpful.

    This “Christian Atheism” thing seems to fit into Rahner’s category of the ‘anonymous Christian’. Rahner essentially argues that we can be Christians if we live the Christian life–even if we have never been introduce to the concept of Jesus or live in a society that doesn’t hold that there is anything other than this world at work. I wonder, though, if “Christian Atheism” could only work as a type of self-identification. I know a lot of people who could probably fit the mould of a “Christian Atheist” pretty well, but might resent the title.

    In any case, this is certainly an interesting area of study. On the anthropological level, I wonder if this kind of “christian atheism” would only be able to survive in societies that have adopted a postmodern mentality in full? I feel like it requires a certain type of admittance of interconnectivity in order to work.

  4. Allyson,
    I thought your topic was so interesting and I had never heard of it before so this was all new to me. I also really appreciated how you made it personal in your panel presentation. It’s hard and scary to question something like religion especially when these are beliefs you have held to be true throughout your life. It was clever how you thought that perhaps Christian Atheism could be a stepping stone for those of us that are questioning or for those who have lost their way. You may be on to something.

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