Christian atheism, also called non-realistic Christianity, is a bizarre form of quasi-spiritual philosophy that keeps the forms and practices of Christianity while denying God’s existence. Christian atheists attempt to “de-mythologize” Christianity, doing away with all belief in the supernatural yet maintaining liturgies and corporate worship experiences as meeting humanity’s need for socialization and the communication of lofty ideas.
Christian atheism has roots in the 1960s’ “Death of God” movement, which claimed God actually did exist at one point, but died. According to “Death of God” proponents, when God became incarnate and died on the cross, God ceased to exist as a being independent of the universe. This was the position of Thomas Alitzer, one of the earlier proponents of Christian atheism. Modern adherents of Christian atheism generally believe in a more literal atheism in the sense that they disbelieve that God has ever existed. Of course, in Christian atheism, Jesus is not divine.
Christian atheism, like most esoteric spiritual approaches, can be difficult to explain in brief terms. There are multiple interpretations and no particular definition to bind them all together. In broad strokes, Christian atheism is a spiritual approach using the teachings and example of Jesus while denying the existence of a literal God. As a result, Christian atheism is entirely focused on earthly concerns and earthly justifications. Religion is a purely human endeavor, and God is simply a projection of a person’s mind. Belief in an afterlife is incoherent within a Christian atheist framework. In fact, Christian atheism generally holds that Christianity, like all religions, is nothing more than a “benevolent lie,” a fiction that makes life easier to understand and control.
All of this is interesting in theory, but, in practice, Christian atheism is really just atheism. Christian atheism is a non-religious, non-spiritual, and non-Christian worldview that borrows biblical terminology and ideas without actually believing in them. Non-realistic Christianity is not really Christianity at all.
What is concerning is the surprising number of people who identify as orthodox Christians yet hold beliefs similar to Christian atheism. It is easy to find clergy who do not believe that Jesus was actually God. Many churches teach that Jesus was merely a good example. Some churchgoers participate in religious practice while openly doubting that God exists. It seems that Christian atheism is not an uncommon approach today, and non-realistic Christianity has made inroads into the church.
The Bible warns against those who, in the last days, possess “a form of godliness but deny its power. Have nothing to do with such people” (2 Timothy 3:5). Christian atheism denies the Father and the Son, a rejection of truth that brings a stern scriptural rebuke: “Who is the liar? It is whoever denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a person is the antichrist—denying the Father and the Son” (1 John 2:22; cf. 1 John 4:2–3).
Christian atheists see themselves as intellectual sophisticates who are smarter than your average churchgoer, who might actually believe that God is real and that the miracles in the Bible happened. But what Christian atheism rejects as “fairy tales” the Bible calls “many convincing proofs” (Acts 1:3). And what the Christian atheist considers an intellectually superior position the Bible calls foolish (Psalm 14:1).
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