There do appear to be a few at least partial dissenters, filling the role that good conservatives fill in all essentially modernist movements: adding respectability and preventing mistakes from being corrected. But any movement that considers verbal games insinuating that Richard Dawkins is really a “non-theistic Christian” profound, as some kind of big “agree and amplify” of protestant heretics, is either a dead end or worse.
The claim that Dawkins is a “non-theistic Christian” is not a ‘verbal game’, but neither is it a claim that atheism is Christian in essence. It is cladistic in nature, modern, Western atheism is an evolution (in the neutral, non-progressive sense of the word) of Christianity and Christian culture.
Here’s (part of) the original writings on the topic:
So: Professor Dawkins is an atheist. But – as his writing makes plain – atheism is not the only theme in his personal kernel. Professor Dawkins believes in many other things. He labels the tradition to which he subscribes as Einsteinian religion. Since no one else has used this label, he is entitled to define Einsteinian religion – perhaps we can just call it Einsteinism – as whatever he wants. And he has.
My observation is that Einsteinism exhibits many synapomorphies with Christianity. For example, it appears that Professor Dawkins believes in the fair distribution of goods, the futility of violence, the universal brotherhood of man, and the reification of community. These might be labeled as the themes of Rawlsianism, pacifism, fraternism and communalism.
Following the first two links above will take you to UR discussions of these themes, in which I outline their evolutionary history in the Christian clade and make a case for their morbidity. I have not yet discussed fraternism and communalism, but I’ll say a little about them later. If nothing else, they are certainly very easy to find in the Bible.
If Professor Dawkins was not a Christian atheist, but rather a Confucian or Buddhist atheist, or even an Islamic atheist (some clades of Sufism come daringly close to this rara avis), we would not expect to see these obvious synapomorphies with Christianity. Instead, we would expect to see synapomorphies with Confucianism, Buddhism or Islam, and we would have to construct a historical explanation of how these faiths made it to Cambridge. Fortunately we are spared this onerous task.
Nontheistic Christianity, therefore, can describe any tradition in the Christian clade in which the ancestral God theme has been replaced by the derived theme of atheism or agnosticism.
This is no more surprising than the replacement of the ancestral Trinitarian theme, which was part of all significant Christian traditions for a thousand years, with the derived Unitarian theme. Every variant of Christianity, by definition, considers itself orthodox. And as such it must question the legitimacy of any other Christian tradition which contains conflicting themes. To a good Trinitarian circa 1807, a Unitarian was simply not a Christian. Today, while most Christian traditions still officially conform to Trinitarianism, few spend a huge amount of time worrying about the Holy Ghost. If more examples are needed, denying the divinity of Jesus is another obvious intermediate form between Christian theism and Christian atheism.
We can also ignore the fact that Professor Dawkins does not classify Einsteinism as a form of Christianity, and nor do any non-Einsteinian Christian traditions. Clearly, accepting a tradition’s classification of itself, or of its competitors, is foolish in the extreme. These minor thematic features are best explained adaptively.
For example, it would be maladaptive for Einsteinism to self-classify as Christian. One of the most adaptive features of M.42 is that nontheistic or secular Christianity can be propagated by American official institutions, which are constitutionally prohibited from endorsing its ancestor and competitor, M.41 or theistic Christianity. Considering as this set includes the most influential repeater network in the world, the US educational system, it’s hard to see what could justify abandoning such a replicative advantage.
It would also be maladaptive for theistic Christianity to classify nontheistic Christianity as Christian. M.41 deploys the unchristian nature of its enemy, the dreaded “secular humanism,” as a rallying point for its dwindling band of followers. If Einsteinian religion was Christian, M.41 would have to define its (increasingly ineffective) counterattack not as a defense of faith, but as a mere theological spat. Once this may have had some resonance, but in a world where God Himself is under fire, it’s hard to excite anyone over such sectarian minutiae.
Therefore, I conclude that claim 1 is satisfied: nontheistic Christianity is a sensible concept.
As for claim 2, I’ve already described some of the links between Einsteinism and Christianity. Let’s sharpen this claim, however, by proposing a hypothetical chain of events that outlines the exact historical connection.
My belief is that Professor Dawkins is not just a Christian atheist. He is a Protestant atheist. And he is not just a Protestant atheist. He is a Calvinist atheist. And he is not just a Calvinist atheist. He is an Anglo-Calvinist atheist. In other words, he can be also be described as a Puritan atheist, a Dissenter atheist, a Nonconformist atheist, an Evangelical atheist, etc, etc.
This cladistic taxonomy traces Professor Dawkins’ intellectual ancestry back about 400 years, to the era of the English Civil War. Except of course for the atheism theme, Professor Dawkins’ kernel is a remarkable match for the Ranter, Leveller, Digger, Quaker, Fifth Monarchist, or any of the more extreme English Dissenter traditions that flourished during the Cromwellian interregnum.
Elsewhere non-theistic Christianity is referred to as Crypto-Christian or ultracalvinist:
If you are not an ultracalvinist, you are probably some other kind of Christian, presumably one who still believes in God, the Bible as revelation, non-universal salvation, etc. Therefore you see ultracalvinism just as Catholics once saw Protestants, or Trinitarians saw Unitarians – as not Christians at all. So the result is the same. The ultracalvinist cloak of invisibility is only at risk from freethinking atheists, such as myself – a tiny and mostly irrelevant population.
We can see the argument is not that progressivism is Christian in essence. Rather, the argument is that progressivism is a non-theistic evolution of a particular sect of Christianity, puritanism, that has discarded the essence of Christianity but kept the accidents of it. (Although, it could be argued that universalism is the essence of puritanism, while Christianity was an accident of it).
Either way, accepting that ultracalvinism is an ideological adaptation of puritanism is not a verbal game and is definitely not “denying God”.
Zippy could argue that calling these heretical puritan progressives “non-theistic Christians” is mistaken. I personally think it captures nicely the self-contradicting nature of progressive thought, but theism is a part of the essence of Christianity, so I could buy the argument that calling post-Christian atheists ‘Christian’, even in the cladistic and cultural sense, is anti-essentialist and wrong.
But if that is the case, then instead of throwing around accusations of blasphemy, Zippy could have simply made the point that even if it is the cultural and intellectual descendent of Christianity calling a post-Christian ideology ‘Christian’ is wrong.
Zippy also commented on the Mark Shea affair, remarking that Neoreaction was childish. I don’t know how much Zippy knows of the affair, so I’ll outline.
This whole thing started when Mark Shea slandered neoreactionaries on his blog. Some neoreactionaries tried to honestly engage him but he deleted their responses. I myself, pointed out a few Bible verses contradicting his position, which he deleted. While he deleted the rational and reasonable posts he purposely left up some of the worst ones (yes, neoreaction has crazies like every other grouping) to create an impression we were all insane haters.
So someone decided to illustrate his ignorance of neoreaction and his willingness to slander us by giving him an opportunity to show his own willingness to do so by sending him something incredibly and unbelievably absurd about neoreaction. Mark Shea then illustrated his willingness to slander by posting the absurdity.
Rather than apologizing for the slander and humbly admitting he was uninformed regarding neoreaction, Mark Shea used the incident to double-down on the slander.
What’s that saying, ‘you can’t con an honest man‘? If Shea had been willing to engage with intellectual honesty and hadn’t been looking for ways to slander neoreactionaries however he could, this would not have occurred. The letter was quite effective in making its point, that Mark Shea had no idea what he was talking about and was engaging in slander, and one can’t help but see the humour in it.
As for lying, would any honest, rational analysis lead to someone thinking that swearing upon Darwin and “inspect my phenotype” are anything but a joke. A practical joke is usually not considered a moral lie. Submitting something absurd for someone to publish to prove a point about their absurdity is usually not considered either childish or a lie.
Even so, almost every neoreactionary on Twitter not involved with crafting the letter almost immediately pointed out the absurdity of the letter on Twitter and numerous people pointed out on his blog that he had been punked.
Now, neoreaction does have its own in-jokes and memes and has adapted a fair bit from internet culture, some of which can be juvenile. But as CS Lewis wrote:
Critics who treat adult as a term of approval, instead of as a merely descriptive term, cannot be adult themselves. To be concerned about being grown up, to admire the grown up because it is grown up, to blush at the suspicion of being childish; these things are the marks of childhood and adolescence. And in childhood and adolescence they are, in moderation, healthy symptoms. Young things ought to want to grow. But to carry on into middle life or even into early manhood this concern about being adult is a mark of really arrested development. When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.