Cultural Christians

Posted on August 2, 2011 by

The Church has a very strange problem right now. On the one hand, many Westerners profess to be Christians. On the other hand… you can’t tell that by the way they live their lives or their beliefs. Many don’t bother to attend church, some are into “spirituality”, others attend just to put in Sunday “face time” and polish their public reputations. Who are these people, and why do they claim to worship a god they don’t really believe in?

The dichotomy between their self-classification and their actual non-belief is starting to create a statistical headache. How do we sort the faithful from the merely cultural? This came to a head during Britain’s recent census, where a humanist organization began a campaign to convince people to document themselves more truthfully:

The leading question ‘What is your religion?’ meant that lots of people ticked the ‘Christian’ box even though they do not attend church and may not believe in any meaningful sense.

The Census data is used by government and other public authorities like the police and health services to work out what policy and services people need and how to target them to specific groups of people. What is needed for this is accurate statistics on practice as this is the only thing related to religion that should affect service provision. For example, loosely identifying with a particular belief system, rather than actively practising it, would not affect the way you access or experience a health service.

Christians have the same problem, but the other way around. Anytime we try to point out the positive affect religious belief and practice can have on behavior we’re hit with a barrage of statistics that “prove” that self-professed Christians are the same as everyone else. This data changes dramatically for the better when “religious attendance” and orthodoxy is controlled for, but it does create a lot of confusion.

For now, I’ll leave you with this thought:

“Just going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than standing in your garage makes you a car.”

— G.K. Chesterton

Posted in: Religion