Consider the following statements:
(1) She’s a Christian in name only.
(2) She’s an atheist in name only.
It seems significant that (1) makes sense to us, and that (2) seems absurd.
What follows from this? If (1) sounds like it can be said meaningfully, then we can infer that there is a distinction to be made between Christianity as a title (name) and some other sort of Christianity that entails more than taking on the title. The obvious distinction is that this other sort of Christianity involves some sort of practice, some doing, in which this sort of Christian participates. Certainly Jesus said his disciples would be known by their love, so it seems plausible to infer that a necessary condition of being a member of the set called “Christian” would be Christlike love. Thus, if somebody calls herself a Christian, yet fails to meet this necessary condition, one might describe her by uttering (1), distinguishing her as not a Christian as normally understood.
But (2) seems nonsensical to me. This doesn’t seem to be because one is only an atheist in name, for consider the following:
(3) She’s a secularist in name only.
(4) She’s a scientific reductionist in name only.
Both of these seem meaningful. It follows from (2), (3), and (4) that there is some distinction to be made between atheism and what are commonly presumed to be near synonyms, secularism and scientific reductionism. I think this has to do with passivity. One needn’t do or believe anything to be an atheist. The only condition is that one fails to believe in the existence of God. Thus atheism is perfectly passive in its most basic form. In contrast, to be a secularist or a scientific reductionist is to be somebody who believes certain things and acts certain ways as a consequence.
I muse on all this because it implies a “something more” to Christianity.
It’s very easy to go through Christian motions—church attendance, creed recitation, and so forth. But how simple is it, indeed, how often do I find myself finding excuse to, become passive and to become a Christian in name only? I readily confess that’s the position I find myself in more frequently than should be the case. Indeed, until recently—until I came to embrace God’s creation of me as I am and not as I’d often hoped I were—I had fallen into a four-year-long passivity, not even going through basic Christian motions, though still identifying as a Christian. A non-practicing Christian. A pretender.
This is striking, because one cannot pretend atheism—not like one can pretend Christianity.
True, a distinction can be (indeed, probably should be) made between practical atheism and theoretical atheism. The latter refers to atheism as belief structure, the former to lifestyle.
Thus, a nominal Christian can be a practical atheist—calling oneself a Christian, but for all intents and purposes, living as if she doesn’t believe in any God. That was me. It seems to me, then, that Christianity is, in some way, harder than atheism. And I don’t mean by this that it’s hard to believe certain implausible claims. I mean that one must act out one’s Christianity in ways that one need not so act out atheism. Practical atheism seems to be the easiest way to live one’s life—one need merely wander through life reacting to sundry stimuli. Living without purpose is living as if there is no God. And living without appropriating and transmitting Christ’s love to others is living as if one is not a Christian. Practicing atheism.