Not that long ago when you sat down with someone who you were getting to know, deeper than a ‘hi’ across the grocery counter and happened to wander into conversations about religion, most people in Canada would verbally identify as ‘christian’. It was said basically in the same way that you would respond to the question of citizenship, “Well, of course I’m a Christian, I’m Canadian.” I would argue it would be possible that this person might have held a sense of traditional Christian moral values [“Don’t drink, don’t chew, and don’t hang around those who do.”- wisdom jokingly handed out by my dad, rural New Brunswick style]; Most likely went to a christian church semi-regularly or forced to go as a kid; Held the basic assumption that there was some kind of a God who kick-started this spinning ball and who at least checks-in every so often to see how things are going; Probably would believe that when the bell tolls they’ll find themselves standing in front of some manner of pearly gate and giving reasons why God should be happy enough with them to give them a key to their own private cloud, some harp lessons and a halo then basically leave ’em alone to chill for an eternity.
“So what religion are you?” “Of course I’m Christian” = I’m Canadian, basically good and God’s cool with that.
I don’t think this main stream is the main stream anymore. Conversations within our community. Talking with my older kids friends. Interaction with young skeptics. Listening to the young parents in our neighbourhoods. Add to this, the broader spiritual climate that we hear echoing in the greater Canadian cultural conversations I would propose: ‘Atheists’ are the new main stream ‘christians’
What does this main stream atheist look like? They would say they don’t really believe in a God, I believe in science. They equate traditional moral values with organizational and religious restraint and navigate moral issues on a need-to-know basis (using their own understandings in the moment as the source of authority); From here, what they believe is atheism gets blurry… I’ve had self-identifying ‘atheists’ ask if I believe in angels, ghosts, spirits, demons,and ultimate powers that we can’t see? THEY do. My push back is that the main stream atheist in not really an atheist but more of an agnostic, it’s just more accepted even celebrated to call yourself a ‘science’ guy/girl.
“So what religion are you?” “Oh I’m not religious. I’m an atheist. I believe in science” = There’s probably not a traditional God. I don’t want outside moral restraint but, “do you believe in the spirit world ’cause I do?”
Why do you care?
Perhaps, for many of you, it doesn’t matter. If you are someone who calls yourself a follower of Jesus- it should.
First, just because main stream identifies as ‘christian’ doesn’t mean most people are genuine Christians. That’s important if we claim Jesus is the only way to God and that there is an eternal consequence for rejecting Him, then it’s important that we know what truly being a Christian means.
Second, just because main stream is identifying as ‘atheist’ doesn’t mean people are genuine atheists. Knowing that most ‘atheists’ are open to spiritual conversations should be refreshing. In fact its a great place to have both broader and more pointed conversations. Broader in helping people navigate the reality that we have a spiritual side that is left feeling empty or searching for the mystical if we simply state, “I don’t believe”. Pointedly, are you just identifying as an atheist because you don’t like the idea that there might be moral standard outside of yourself? God does change us…. but maybe not in the ways you think or fear.
Thanks for reading.