In a recent interview with the BBC, Richard Dawkins defined himself as a “Cultural Christian”. In his terms this means he’s interested in Christian traditions such as Christmas carols but he doesn’t have the underlying belief.
So can you be a Christian atheist? I’m not so sure. It’s all a question of definitions, but in my mind a “Christian” is someone who believe that Jesus Christ was the son of god, and by implication that a god exists. Therefore, cultural or otherwise, I am not a Christian.
Being interested in a particular tradition does not immediately make you part of the belief system behind that tradition. Enjoying Christmas carols doesn’t make me a Christian, it just means I enjoy some of the music that was inspired by Christianity. I’m sure there are Buddhists who enjoy Sarah Maclachlan’s beautiful rendition of Silent Night, but they wouldn’t call themselves Buddhist Christians.
I love Christmas, but I’m not a Christian, Yom Kippur fascinates me but I’m not Jewish, I enjoy the festival of light but I’m not Hindu, I dress my son up at Halloween but I don’t believe in witches.
By calling himself a cultural Christian, Dawkins is effectively redefining the word Christian, or maybe creating a new definition when used in conjunction with the word cultural. Either way, it doesn’t sit quite right with me.