Are Progressive Christians Atheists?

I lifted this from a comment I offered to a recent discussion on how Progressive Christians might view traditional prayer.   Perhaps this is obvious, but in discussions such as this, since we all travel different paths and what’s more, paths followed with faltering steps, some humility is needed.

Since many of us no longer hold to our original beliefs and understandings we should acknowledge we almost certainly still see through the glass darkly and it is highly likely there may be further radical insights around the corner. Even astrophysicists haven’t made much progress in discovering the mysteries of the Universe. That someone doesn’t share our insights of the moment may not be the real issue. Arguing over whether or not we are atheist in that we might differ as to whether we should accept Jesus is God, the Son of God, bodily resurrected, or human as we are human, is all very well but by itself won’t necessarily help us live helpful and constructive lives in community with others.

When we know there are thousands of opinions about the use of the term “God” (OK…. G-d then!) to say that we don’t believe some or even most of them is a no-brainer. But does this tell us refusing to “believe the unbelievable” is what we mean by the term “Atheist”? Surely if for example when we used “God” we actually intend to mean love or compassion it is similarly a no-brainer to say such an ideal is essential to keep as something at the centre of everything we venerate and strive toward.

The reason why I am drawn towards the thinking expressed in the Sermon on the Mount is not just the quality of the aphorisms. It is rather that not only did the gospels portray Jesus as living out his teaching, but when the same principles are seen applied by his followers, it seems to lead to a kinder and more compassionate community and world. The reason that Marcus Borg similarly gained my admiration is not just that he was able to look at the best that he felt scholarship and science can offer the insights of faith, but also that he was able to apply his insights to his own dealings with others – including his critics.

I guess for me the issue is not so much deciding which beliefs I can accept at an intellectual level. For me the issue is whether or not what I believe helps me live the sort of life that deep down I recognise as having value.

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