Why exactly did DJ suggest that Dowd was “Christian-lite”? Though I personally happen to reject any particular conception (even more abstract or earthy ones) of God, the Divine, Ultimate Reality, or whatever, I also reject the practice of the so-called “new atheists” to define Christianity and the religions in only the most narrow, fundamentalist terms. This is an occurrence I have often encountered in discussions, atheists and agnostics telling Christians that they’re not really Christians because they don’t believe in A, B, and C.
Shouldn’t the Christian be able to define for his or individual self what exactly it is to be a Christian?
I understand that DJ was originally Christian himself, but frankly I find it a bit arrogant that he would suggest that the particular form or thought process of the Christianity he belonged to is the ONLY form of authentic Christianity. Many fundamentalists, for instance, regard Catholicism as a kind of distorted version of the Christian faith, if they even regard it as being Christian at all. If we’re looking only to Christian fundamentalists for our definition of Christianity, then shouldn’t we then leave out things like the Inquisition, Crusades, etc. when criticizing the Christian religion? After all, according to the fundamentalists, Catholicism is barely Christianity at all. Do the new atheists agree?
Catholicism, which is the largest denomination of Christianity, also teaches (however wrongly) that there is no inherent contradiction between evolutionary theory and the Christian faith, which is why you have a Catholic like Dr. Kenneth Miller providing damning testimony against ID at Dover and co-authoring the high school textbook for biology, or a Catholic like Francisco Ayala spending time as president of the AAAS and being awarded the National Medal of Science. Interestingly enough, something so important to science as Big Bang theory itself can be traced back to the “hypothesis of the primeval atom,” proposed by none other than a Catholic astrophysicist, Fr. Georges Lemaître (who eventually served at the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy of Sciences). According to the way many of my fellow atheists define Christianity, these people aren’t real Christians at all since they don’t accept a literal reading of Genesis, one of the staples of true Christianity. Yet, their church says they don’t have to. Is then Catholicism itself Christian-lite, and only Protestantism actual Christianity?
Hey, but wait. Biblical criticism had its advent in the Lutheran church, so literalism is obviously not a given there. What about the Episcopal Church? Isn’t their presiding bishop, Katherine Schori, a marine biologist? Are those another two churches gone Christian-lite?
The way I see it, I as a non-believer have no business questioning the sincerity of faith of any Christian. A great example of the nonsense of such a practice is Sam Harris, who on pg. 21 of “The End of Faith” accuses religious moderates of “scriptural ignorance” (something repeated in Susan Jacoby’s otherwise excellent “The Age of American Unreason”). He, a neuroscientist in training, is in effect claiming to be more aware of authentic Biblical teachings than somebody like John Dominic Crossan, a Biblical scholar, and [like most serious Biblical scholars and theologians] a moderate, who was educated at the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome and the Ecole Biblique in Jerusalem. Sorry, but I think that’s just nuts.
Fact is, Christians who accept evolutionary biology as fact and shape their Christianity accordingly aren’t doing anything different than what Augustine and the other church fathers did when they Hellenized the Christian faith to make it more acceptable to the world of their time. Their way of understanding and explaining the Christian faith was distinctly Greek, not Jewish. Indeed, all of the most hollowed of Christians dogmas, such as the Trinity, two natures of Christ, etc. were fashioned in a Greek philosophical vocabulary which earlier Christian Jews wouldn’t have recognized at all. What Dowd is doing, then, actually seems to be very much in line with Christian tradition, and not that radical at all.
Incidentally, not even Augustine advocated a literal reading of Genesis. Guess he was just as “Christian-lite” as all the rest.