Still selling well in 2023
I don't believe in God, but I miss him, wrote Julian Barnes. Philip Pullman and Philip Larkin both described themselves as Christian Atheist. Others are drawn to religious ethics, language, art and community, but cannot accept the metaphysical claims that being a member of the Christian Church seem to require.
Based on conversations with twelve people of this ilk, Brian Mountford explores the phenomenon of Christian Atheism, facing the challenges that reason, science, doubt, and modernity throw at orthodox belief. And consequently we get sparkling new insights into the theology of Aesthetics, the Moral Compass, Doctrine, and Doubt.
Christian Atheist validates the Christian agnostic/sceptical/deeply-questioning position within the broad spectrum of Christianity and says to the Church -- you ignore this phenomenon at your peril, because the ground between atheist and religious adherent is now very blurred.
'This book is in one sense the report of a conversation -- a conversation I have had over three years both formally and informally with a wide range of people who are wrestling with their personal religious faith.
Perhaps the best theology is conversational, mutual, gregarious; not the opinion of one determined theorist. Indeed I consider that theology at its best should reflect shared communal experience.
Christian doctrine is fluid, developing, flexible, and must be ready to adapt - even to the point of abandoning some of its most historically cherished fundamentals.
In her recent research Linda Woodhead suggests that at the same time as people have been growing less religious, the Church of England has been growing more religious: more exclusive, more of a club for self-conscious believers, prouder of being out of step with the people it once served. She also says that the 'church systematically violates the moral intuitions of most of its own natural constituency?’ I.e. the Church simply isn't on the same page.
Why did you write this book?
My friends all know I'm a priest and quite a lot of them are curious enough to want to talk about what that means for me. Its often because they themselves are struggling with religious questions, attracted to Christian insights about ethics, beauty and society, but repelled by impossible metaphysical claims and biblical fundamentalism. The conversations became so frequent and the interest so widespread, I began to write it down.
What is it about?
It's about the difficulties of religious faith in modern Britain. Many of the metaphysical claims of Christianity are hard to believe, yet the appeal of Christian ethics, community, and aesthetic can be as strong as ever.
Who's it for?
For all those wrestling with faith, whether from a positive or negative point of view. That's to say, it should be of interest both to the person who wants to take a fairly conventional religious position, but finds themselves constantly tripping over archaic dogmatic views, and also the sceptic who has really decided that God is dead, but is still raking over the ashes.
I certainly don't see it as a restrictively religious book. Besides, ideas that are categorised as religious usually belong in principle to the wider spectrum of human thought and interest. Its a bit like the question of religious poetry: most poetry has religious significance in a broad sense and those poems which are intentionally religious are usually more minor, and much less inclusive in their approach.
'Christian Atheist' is a bit of an oxymoron; aren't you worried that you will offend devout church going people?
A little offending is a good thing. It can sharpen how we think, so I rather hope that someone will shout, Blasphemy and then I can explain to them why it's not!
February 16 2017 Terry Smith, Honor, Michigan, U.S.A
While in Oxford I chanced upon your book, and reading it has brought a culmination of many years of searching, studying, observations, and thoughts on religion and secularism today. I've always been an observer, interested in other's points of view, and looking at life from as many perspectives as I can. I've never questioned my personal faith, but have always been open to holding it up for inspection from these many "angles". I've read your book several times and it has allowed me to openly look at these many perspectives. I remember in college back in the 60s first encountering the idea of pantheism, and that experience sent me the message that I had never really explored ideas about God and my Christian upbringing (Methodists can believe anything they want, right?). It was then I truly began to actually "look around" and start asking questions that had been lurking within me. Your book has been a great pleasure for me and I greatly appreciate your work.
"Arches", The University of Newcastle Alumni magazine,
Devout religiousness and atheism are hardly complementary positions, but are they mutually exclusive? Certainly not, argues Canon Brian Mountford, in this erudite and equitable book, which explores the place of doubt and compromise within the Christian church.
‘Christian Atheism’ was first coined by writer Philip Pullman to denote his appreciation of the cultural heritage of the church – its language, morality and sense of community – without belief in God. It might seem an untenable position for religious conservatives, but Mountford identifies members of his own congregation with similar views, and explores the phenomenon through conversations with 12 people – including a parishioner, a student, a philosopher, and Pullman himself.
Vicar of the University Church at Oxford, and a Fellow of St Hilda’s College, Mountford has the vantage of a preacher, a scholar and an ambassador for the Church, and he tempers his own beliefs with a non-judgemental quest for tolerance and understanding.
As science and modernity cast doubt over the dogma and metaphysical claims of traditional Christianity, the unquantifiables of love, morality and metaphor are still as important as ever. Prizing personal interpretations and the collective good of the church-going community, Christian Atheist offers an olive branch to believers and non-believers alike.
Richard Cheetham | Church Times
The subject matter of this book adds some welcome texture to an important topic.
Philip Feakin | Sofia
Well worth reading.
Christopher Rivers | MA USA
Christian Atheist, is absolutely brilliant. Such a timely and essential topic, handled with such insight, erudition and humor. It manages to be both quite simple and very sophisticated. If more people,both clergy and lay, were as strightforward and generous as Brian Mountford, perhaps the Church would be more attractive to more people. [This book is] a truly significant contribution to the ongoing dialogue about what organized religion means today and where it might be headed.
Mar 13, 2012: Leonora Jagessar-Visser't Hooft | REFORM
If you recognise that you can be an ‘a-theist’ - rejecting the supernatural claims about God as set out in dogman and creed - but still maintain a cultural affinity to the Christian faith and tradition, then this book provides an excellent exploration of the borderland between Christian orthodoxy and atheism.
Richard Wilson | Oxford Times
This important book by one of Oxford’s outstanding church leaders takes us into a debate that never goes away: about the nature of religious belief, conflicting viewpoints of science and belief, the origins of faith and the guidance it can offer to moral behaviour and comfortable and civilised living together. Canon Mountford has positioned himself to take advantage of the opportunities his unusual job has offered him: as a don, he writes with perception and verve about poetry, music and theatre, but he caters for town and gown, tourist and connoisseur, believer and non-believer. Beauty, the numinous, and mystery matter, but so do accessibility, common sense, and inclusiveness. Combining all this in a short book is what he manages to achieve here.
Revd Robert Reiss | Canon of Westminster
The spectrum of ways of believing in God from at one end the literalistic acceptance of some of the biblical explanations of how God works to at the other end something like Christian Atheism is an interesting and important one to recognise. I wonder where you stand on that spectrum. It is a question worth pondering.
Elizabeth Hoare | Church Times
Mr Mountford wants to stay engaged in the conversation of faith and this is what makes his book so interesting and pertinent in the current cultural situation we find ourselves in Britain today. Anyone who wants to engage seriously in the work of apologetics or simply to understand where 'Christian atheists' are coming from should read this book.
George Taylor | GoodBookStall
Philip Pullman, author of Northern Nights coined the phrase 'Christian Atheist' when taking part in a public discussion on the release of the film The Golden Compass based on his book. His critics had claimed that both the book and the film were anti-God and anti-religious but Pullman retorted that he was not only a Christian Atheist but also a Church of England Atheist, a Common Prayer Atheist ,and for good measure, a King James Bible Atheist. He clearly meant that although he valued the cultural heritage of Christianity through art, language, music and morality he did not actually believe in God.In discussions with twelve people who echo Pullman’s view, the author has explored the idea of Christian atheists, these ranged from a businessman, a philosopher, a scientist, and author (Pullman himself) and a teacher of English amongst others.The result is a new view of Christianity with insights into Aesthetics, Doctrine and the meaning of doubt within and without the Church which the church cannot afford to ignore.
Living Spirituality News
In his fascinating and thought-provoking new book Mountford discovers a fertile and creative source of meaning and value in the ground between the atheist and the religious adherent.
I enjoyed it enormously and found it immensely relevant.
One of the best things that happened to me recently was an encounter with a prominent member of the Chipping Norton Methodist Communion who, for some reason, was moved to confide that, of course, she found "all this Incarnation stuff" gobbledegook, although she enjoyed the social gathering at Church and wanted to learn more, and did believe in God. I enjoyed the pure honesty of her remarks which made me laugh out loud. I also recently read Jeanette Winterson's "Why be Happy When You Could Be Normal?" which paints her experience of the Church in a pretty unfavourable light but is just enormously refreshing because it is so very honest, and questing of the authentic - like "Oranges are not the only Fruit".
I agreed wholeheartedly with your remark that one of the most important things the Church can offer is a place where anyone can go. Too often, though, it feels like a walk into a cage. I think people do need the freedom to find "God" in their own terms, and that it's important for the Church to risk that they won't encounter an experience they would describe as "God", whilst still retaining its welcome.
How very much I appreciated and enjoyed your exploration of "Belonging without Believing". I found it an "un-put-downable" read, which to me posed all the right questions--or at least the right questions for me and many of my friends/colleagues who've spent much of their lives and careers involved in church activities and culture, without being quite able to accept the doctrinal trappings. You guessed it--I'm a musician! Thank you for a thought-provoking experience; I shall not only re-visit it myself (now that I've looked up the definition of "numinous"!) but also buy copies for any number of my friends with whom I've always shared doubts and concerns.