Faith without faith?
It’s understandable that there would be those who like Christianity, just not the faith. They buy their burgers without cheese, buy their cars only with automatic transmissions, and buy their homes made of brick, not wood. It’s perfectly understandable as some things never change.
I believe one of the newer religious paths could be a “belief-less” Christianity. In this “sect,” one is not required to believe things. One learns and draws upon practices and products of our cultural tradition to create meaning in the present. The last two congregations I have served have huge commitments to equality for LGTBQ people and eco-justice, among other things. They draw from the well of our Christian cultural tradition (and other religious traditions) for encouragement in these efforts. I think a belief-less Christianity can be a positive good for society.
Belief-less Christianity is thriving right now, even as other forms of the faith are falling away rapidly. Many liberal or progressive Christians have already let go or de-emphasized belief in Heaven, that the Bible is literally true, that Jesus is supernatural, and that Christianity is the only way. Yet they still practice what they call Christianity. Instead of traditional beliefs, they emphasize social justice, personal integrity and resilience, and building community. The cultural artifacts serve as resources.
And as the church of Jesus Christ finds it appealing to move toward social justice and building community causes while de-emphasizing the namesake of the faith and His work it’s just as understandable that there would be as many gradients of Christianity as there are denominations. True, some Christian churches are nothing more than Sunday clubs, but then there are some few who still believe and know the true meaning of Christian community. After all, we’re all moving toward the same goal, we’re all going to heaven, just on different paths, and it’s not a question of how we get there, is it?
Don’t care for the platitudes of Christianity, but like the idea of caring for the poor, just don’t have the time? Sure, get laws instituted by government to constrain us all to believe as you do. Don’t believe politicians should lie or cheat their constituents, but can’t accept the thing about a man dying on a cross for sin? Sure, borrow Christian principles like poker chips and call the bet with nothing more than a bluff. Don’t like the idea of Christian community being one of submitting to one another? Think acknowledging faults in the true bond of fellowship while participating in the communion of Christ’s forgiveness is too messy? Sure, just build community around the things people like such as camping, backyard barbecues and trite, innocuous conversation. That way no one gets offended and everyone has a “good time”.
And while there may be evidence that “belief-less Christianity is thriving”, thankfully there is evidence that such Pollyanna, smorgasbord approaches to faith are being rejected because there are those who know that there can’t be one without the other. In an age in which advertisement branding is supreme, Christianity has also been relegated to a brand among brands. Unfortunately, the belief shoppers fail to realize that faith isn’t a commodity which can be chosen or picked from among common shelf varieties. There is no Christian Atheism or Christian Buddhism, etc.
But someone may well say, “You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder. But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar? You see that faith was working with his [Abraham’s] works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected; – James 2:18-22
“Belief-less” anything, much less Christianity, is impossible. Belief is inherent to the human condition. Even the atheist believes…in themselves. The question every individual is faced with is in what they will believe.
As James in verse 18 speaks of faith and works he’s addressing not only belief in God, but the idea or quality of belief itself. The point here is that faith in God is a necessary requisite of Christianity. Just as James could demonstrate his faith in his works, he wasn’t displacing faith by works but instead affirming it as a necessary foundation for them. Belief-less Christianity, then, is nothing. It is self indulgence in shiny popular Christian platitudes. Real Christianity is more than the cute platitude of saving those who are lost. It rips a person’s life apart with joy. It tears down a person’s belief system through faith in God. It suffers the personal ignominy of being surrounded by a world in darkness which hates the light. Most of all, Christianity is real, because its faith is the substance of things which cannot be hoped for in this life.