008: TERMINOLOGY

All things bright and beautiful

All things bright and beautiful

Communication is the name of the game. Not exactitude. There is  some marvellous new vocabulary out there but I won’t use it to define this blog or my own position vis-a-vis the christian religion because no-one will know what I’m on about.

The apparently self-contradicting term “Christian-atheist” is bad enough but “jesusite non-theist”,  which fits me exactly,  is even less comprehensible to most people. I’m assuming a readership with the educational level of an intelligent teenager as this is the target group I am professionally familiar with.  Read on for definitions and the rationale for choosing   Zingcreed’s  imprecise tagline i.e. “A christian-atheist polemic.”

(1) The first point to make is that this is not about christians versus atheists;  it’s about how all of us can reconcile both positions in our heads! To simplify it to the slogan level: “Jesus, YES; God, NO!”

(2) “Chistian” is defined in Collins English Dictionary,(i) as

   noun (a) ‘a person who believes in and follows Jesus Christ’, (b)   ‘-informal- a person who displays the virtues of kindness and mercy encouraged in the teachings of Jesus Christ’

Obviously you can’t describe yourself as (b) unless you’re terribly conceited – it’s a complement reserved for other people.

Does (a) fit? There are 2 stumbling blocks here for me:- Firstly the word believe – what does it mean for an atheist? If I can say I believe in other great historical figures like Confucius, Gandhi or Marx then I could equally say I believe in JC.  But I don’t. A person’s relationship to the great women and men of history could more properly  be classified as respect or admiration, or more strongly as inspired by them or full of enthusiasm for their teachings and actions. No more. Secondly Jesus-OK; Christ- not OK. The title “Christ” (= Messiah or Anointed) carries with it the implication that Jesus was divine, so it is not acceptable to me or any other christian-atheist.

Bottom line I am not a christian.

“If what Jesus said was good, what can it matter whether he was god or not?”  Clemens Vonnegut on Wikiquote.(ii)

(3) “Jesusite” isn’t in the Collins dictionary although it has a Wikipedia page (iii) and the synonyms Jesusists (not Jesuits!) and Jesuans. The author Philip Pullman says “There’s no need to believe in supernatural intervention. I’m very pro-Jesus. I shall never be a christian but you can call me a “Jesus-ite!” (iv)

Gina Douglas attends the Unitarian Universalist church in America and has written on line “Being a Jesusite means that I pay attention to the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, without being a christian. Jesusites look at Jesus from a historical perspective. We try to separate Jesus’ ideas and reforms from those that were done in his name.” (v) Fine by me!

Now this term is not set in concrete. I agree with Pullman and Douglas but other minds do not think alike . A jesusite facebook page says ” Jesusites believe in all basic christian fundamentals, like the Triune God, Jesus as Messiah, the resurrection etc.” (vi) Oh dear! A trawl through other Jesusite websites  brings up even more off-message offerings.

Bottom line I am a jesusite as defined by Pullman and Douglas, but feel unable to use that term without causing confusion.

(4) Atheist  “One who disbelieves in the existence of a god.” or words to that effect. The pitch is queered here by the arrival of a new softer word “nontheist”.
In his ground-breaking book  “Godless for God’s sake, Nontheism in Contemporary Quakerism”(vii) David Boulton of the Sea of  Faith movement defines it as “the absence of any belief in a deity or deities, in the existence of God (where “existence” is understood in a realist, objective sense), and especially belief in one God as creator and supreme ruler.” He points out that the word “atheism” has acquired ” the implication of militant opposition to all forms of religious expression and practice.”  While not perfect, “nontheism” was the least disliked option among the quakers he spoke to before writing his book.

Richard Dawkins (viii) would fit into the militant “atheist” category, but I (even though I went to the same Oxford college that Dawkins is a fellow of!) fit into the less militant “nontheist” category. I don’t go out of my way to attack religion, but any proselytising preacher who stops me at the wayside can expect to get  as good as he gives!

Bottom line the simplest and most straightforward way of signifying my  position is to accept the opprobrium that so often comes with the word and declare myself an atheist.

The very bottom line  I shall declare myself to be a christian atheist (because that’s comprehensible) rather than the jesusite nontheist which I actually am (because that’s not defined in the dictionaries and is therefore confusing.) Of course I reserve the right to change my mind!

Christian atheism -and an expansion of the definition – will be on a fresh Post. Here’s a taster from Wikiquote  “Christian atheism is a philosophical stance in which beliefs in conventional  Christian notions of God are absent or rejected, but the moral teachings of Jesus are followed.”(ix)

Footnotes
(i)Collins English Dictionary, Collins 2008
(ii)
(iii)http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jesusism
(iv)http://www.reform-magazine.co.uk/index.php/2010/09/philip-pullman-interview
(v)http://www.susans.org/forums/index.php/topic,86660.0.html
(vi)facebook.com/pages/Jesusites/193697444008409
(vii)Boulton, David, ed. “Godless for God’s sake – Nontheism in Contemporary Quakerism” Dales Historical Monographs (2006)
(viii)Dawkins, Richard “The God Delusion” Bantam Press (2006)
(ix)http://en.wiki

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