On January 12th, the board of directors of the Secular Coalition for America announced the appointment of Larry T. Decker (an unaffiliated Christian) as the new Executive Director of the organization. I for one am not impressed!
If someone tells me that they are an “unaffiliated Christian,” I assume that they are someone who might not believe in religion or go to church but still believes in some wacky supernatural stuff.
I am an Atheist. All that is necessary and sufficient to be an Atheist is a lack of belief in gods. Notice that some Atheists go further and state that there is no God or gods but that is not necessary. An Atheist can leave the door open for evidence and most of my friends would start believing in a god if there were sufficient evidence that one exists. However, most would admit to a very low probability of the existence of a personal, creator god as depicted in the most popular religions on the planet—highly improbable. Richard Dawkins in his book The God Delusion (page50) proposed a scale from one to seven. A one on his scale represents a total belief in God 100%, in other words, no doubt. A seven on his scale is exactly the opposite—a person who believes there is no possibility of a god existing, in other words, an extremely strong Atheist. Dr. Dawkins doesn’t know many of these. In fact he puts himself slightly below a seven on his scale. He believes that the existence of a god has a low probability but not zero. Atheists do believe in some things but not universally. If you don’t believe in a god, you’re in the club.
Then what is a Christian? Are Mormons Christian? How about scientologists? I’ve heard some fundamentalists say that Catholics are not Christian! Full disclosure, I was raised Catholic. I was baptized when I was 4 years old and I have a vague recollection of the event. I also had nine years of CCD–Confraternity of Christian Doctrine–classes. When I hear someone saying that Catholics are not Christian I’m moved to correct them to this day. Catholic indoctrination is very lasting.
Perhaps, as a minimum, a Christian must believe in the Apostles’ Creed. While there are slight variations of the creed depending on specific Christian sects, the source dates back to about 390. There were multiple edits but essence remains—roughly twelve articles of faith.
- I believe in God the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.
- I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord.
- He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary.
- Under Pontius Pilate, He was crucified, died, and was buried.
- He descended to the dead. On the third day he rose again.
- He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
- He will come again to judge the living and the dead.
- I believe in the Holy Spirit,
- the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints,
- the forgiveness of sins,
- the resurrection of the body,
- and the life everlasting.
The above list comes from the Catechism of the Roman Catholic Church. Of course many Christians like many Atheists believe in other things but let’s take this list as a minimum set of beliefs to be called a Christian. Every Christian believes in at least these twelve things. A Deist can stop at the first article. A belief in a creator god would be sufficient. The “Christ” part of Christianity begins at the second article. Jesus existed and he was the son of God the Father. The supernatural belief intensifies with the third article. Jesus was born of a virgin impregnated by a “Holy Spirit.” There is nothing supernatural in the fourth article. People were tried, convicted, and killed in the past. However in the 5th article he came back to life and rising up after being killed doesn’t happen naturally especially after three days. Briefly, the Christian believes that Jesus “ascended” into heaven and sits next to God, his father and he’s coming back. In light of article 3 is article 8 even necessary? Christians must believe that there is one catholic (universal) church and that saints continue to exist after death and that sin can be forgiven. The resurrection of the body is a bit confusing and I’ll admit some ignorance on this article. Article 5 covered the resurrection of Jesus so my best guess is that a Christian must believe that his or her body will be resurrected. According to article 12, then enjoy everlasting life. So the articles specifically about the supernatural Jesus are: 2 through 7.
There is an Ecumenical version created in 1988:
I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended into hell.
On the third day he rose again;
he ascended into heaven,
he is seated at the right hand of the Father,
and he will come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic and apostolic Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.
It differs slightly but contains the same basic beliefs. The highlighted section corresponds with the Catholic Church’s articles 2 through 7: Divine man, virgin birth, died for three days, rose again, went to heaven, sits with God, and coming back sometime.
Therefore, being a Christian, unaffiliated or not, is prima facie evidence of believing in an irrational supernatural event. A belief that a living breathing human being died, was dead for three days, and came back to life. Outside of a story in an old historically inaccurate book of fables, there is absolutely no evidence supporting this belief. The only way someone justifies such a belief is through faith and according to Mark Twain, “Faith is believing what you know ain’t so.” Skepticism and a healthy measure of curiosity should be enough to overcome early indoctrination and force someone to look into such claims.
Larry Decker might be a great guy and an able administrator but as long as he claims to be a Christian he’s not the best choice to lead the Secular Coalition for America.
I never heard of Larry Decker, but if he is a Christian, I would hope that he is a Christian similar to Rev. Barry Lynn of Americans United, who overall has been a good spokesperson, although it may be possible to find an occasional disagreement over the years. Even the ACLU has not always been perfect (initially supporting the so-called Religious Freedom Restoration Act, for example.) So the question is, can a religious person, likely a “religious humanist,” be an effective advocate for a secular society? Barry Lynn shows that it can be done. So the next question is, what is the “mission and vision” (as much as I hate those trendy corporatist terms) of the Secular Coalition for America? Is it primarily meant to be a broad coalition of non-theists, only (atheists, agnostics, and secular, but not religious humanists)? If so, I agree with your point- a Christian cannot lead the organization. But if the Secular Coalition exists primarily to lobby for laws and public policies that advance a secular society and be a watchdog for church / state separation, then it may be perfectly appropriate for it to be led by a religious humanist type, who is firmly committed to a secular society and church / state separation. My impression is that the Secular Coalition wants to be both, and it should be able to be both. But to the extent that it wants to effectively work in the political arena, then outreach to, and inclusion of, liberal, religious humanists, is essential. The non-theist community, although larger and more influential than ever, is still a minority of the total population, and we cannot stand alone in all instances where the values of a secular society are at stake. So there may be a case for having a religious humanist at the helm, assuming that is what he is, and, as long as he is also a good person, and a capable administrator. Hopefully his successor will be an open Atheist, leading an organization that functions in a truly secular society, where not even the religious will begrudge Atheists the right to lobby for our own interests.
There is no doubt that Larry Decker identifies with Christianity. There are at least three interviews posted on the internet along with an interview on at the Dogma Debate Podcast:
http://www.spreaker.com/user/smalleyandhyso/219-libertarian-atheist-a-christian-secu?tab=messages&utm_source=widget&utm_medium=widget (at the 7:25 mark)
…and here is one of the interviews reported on a blog:
The evangelicals have a much simpler version. If you believe in Jesus and accept that he died on the cross for your sins and accept his forgiveness and invite him into your heart, then you’re a Christian. This set of events is commonly referred to as being “Born Again” or “Saved”.
And furthermore if the belief and the act are genuine they consider it IRREVERSIBLE! Once saved, always saved. Once a Christian, always a Christian. Kinda like the roach motel of religions.
I used to be one of those evangelicals. I was “saved”. At the time, my belief was genuine. When I stopped believing and (eventually) told everyone that I’d stopped believing, they considered it simply “backsliding”. Since I was a teenager at the time, they chalked it up to a teenage phase.
To this day, after decades as an avowed atheist they still insist that I’m a Christian, and one of these days I’m going to realize my doubts were misplaced and come back to the fold. Yeah, good luck with that.
I joke that if it turns out they’re right and I’m wrong, I’m gonna be a super rare sight in the afterlife: an atheist in heaven!
That said, I don’t ever call MYSELF a Christian. I think the evangelicals who insist that I am are as wrong about that as they are about the rest of their supernatural beliefs. So I agree, if Larry Decker is calling himself some kind of Christian he’s implying that he believes in at least some of their crap.