What’s the appeal of Christianity without God?

I was only previously aware of Daniel C. Maguire as a theologian on the liberal end of Roman Catholicism. But it seems he now rejects belief in God altogether and has written a book called Christianity without God.

I’m not interested in criticizing anyone for what they can or can’t believe. Atheism can be a rational response to the world as we experience it. But what I’m less clear on (even after reading the interview linked above) is why, in the absence of some form of theistic belief, you would still want to place the Bible at the center of your moral and spiritual life.

Sure, you can mine the Bible for ethical wisdom that doesn’t make an explicit reference to God, and you may be able to use its stories as powerful parables of social justice, as Maguire seems to be suggesting. But this seems like it would require an awful lot of effort if nothing else. Why go to all the trouble of jerry-rigging a godless Christianity when there are plenty of perfectly respectable non-theistic traditions available?

It’s strange when people reject belief in God, but still want to give the Bible and/or Jesus pride of place in their moral and spiritual lives. To my mind, the Bible (or the teachings of Jesus) without God would be more than a little bit like Hamlet without the prince.

It could be, as the recently departed Marcus Borg used to put it, that the God Maguire doesn’t believe in is one I don’t believe in either. But I’m skeptical that a Christianity that totally dispensed with the transcendent would be worth holding on to, or even particularly interesting.


7 thoughts on “What’s the appeal of Christianity without God?

  1. Perhaps theres a qualitative difference between a Christianity emptied of the transcendent, but still containing a residue of the divine, and a form of outright atheism in which there’s not even a memory of God? This seems to be one way of understanding the fascination of folks like Zizek and Vattimo. I admit, I’m not familiar with Daniel Maguire, so I cant say if the same thing is true for him. But I think that, for certain minds, its the allure of a trace or residue of the transcendent that makes the difference.

    1. Alton C Thompson

      “Lee M.” says: “But what I’m less clear on (even after reading the interview linked above) is why, in the absence of some form of theistic belief, you would still want to place the Bible at the center of your moral and spiritual life.”
      My own religious ideas parallel those of Dan somewhat, but:
      1. Learning of the idea of a “discrepancy” (a concept originated by Thorstein Veblen, and developed by sociobiologist David Barash) has caused me to perceive a Tradition that began with the Hebrew prophets—a Tradition that I have seen it important to continue (https://www.academia.edu/13648715/Continuing_a_Tradition_NeWFism).
      2. In doing so, I have come to perceive institutional change as most important—with that involving abandonment of a Scripture, clergy, etc.

  2. Thanks for reading and commenting! I admit, I’m not as familiar with thinkers like Zizek and Vattimo as I probably should be, but I’m intrigued with the concept of a “residue of the divine.” Can you say more? Or point me toward something I should read?

  3. Well, I cant claim to be an expert on either of them. In Zizek’s case, theology (or a particularly idiosyncratic reading of theology) plays an important role in his atheistic/Marxist critique of ideology. For Zizek, Christianity is basically about tge death of God: what dies on the Cross is transcendence as such. And this, he sees, as freeing humanity from the grip of ideology. He thinks that straightforward atheism (a la Dawkins) is not radical enough, because they just wind up trading the God of religion to the god of science. Ironically, its only through Christianity (so his story goes) that one can be truly atheist. Vattimo’s account is similar in many ways, but he’s less Marxian and more Hegelian, less concerned with overcoming ideology, more concerned with overcoming metaphysics. Both are atheists, but both see Christian theology as integral to that atheism.

  4. William Converse

    Maguire clearly prefers orthopraxis to orthodoxy! This is really a return to Christianity’s Hebraic roots, away from Greek metaphysics and Scholastic philosophy. In Jewish thought, justice and righteousness are things that are done (acted upon), not just believed. Jesus himself is reported as saying, “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord’ and do not do what I say? I will show you what someone is like who comes to me, hears my words, and acts on them.” (Luke 6: 46-47 NRSV). The early Palestinian movement that later became Christianity started out as a Jewish sect within Second Temple Judaism.It was known popularly as The Way (Acts 24:14). Maguire is very much aware that there are traditions that are non-theistic, for example, Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism.Whether theism is essential to religion and morality is an argument as old as Plato’s early dialogue Euthyphro. Maguire recognizes that supernatural/metaphysical theism is increasingly superfluous or redundant and can now be dispensed with. He has embraced Richard Dawkins, Carl Sagan and Stephen Hawking. His position may be surprising for a Roman Catholic theologian (although I have met some young Jesuits with very radical ideas!) but is not uncommon among progressive Christians who are exploring different kinds of post-theistic religion. The Sea of Faith network in England is an example. I have read Vattimo and highly recommend him!

  5. You can be “post-theistic” or you can be for a return to Christianity’s “Hebraic roots”; I’m not sure you can be both. God is pretty important in the OT.

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