A lot of people focus on the pragmatism of Christianity. They may not be deeply religious themselves, but they see that Christianity’s teachings make society better. They treat it as a story that coheres with human nature, yet lacks a historical basis. They celebrate the joy of Easter, but don’t believe in the historicity of the resurrection.
But can you really be a cultural Christian without accepting the historical and metaphysical truth of Christianity’s teachings?
Here’s why the answer is a resounding “No!”
You can’t take the good from Christianity without embracing the religion.
Social studies distinguish between extrinsic and intrinsic religiosity. The extrinsically religious are our “cultural Christians”. If they go to church, they do it more to be part of a social club than to render to God the worship due Him. Even some atheists can be “Christian” in this sense.
An intrinsic Christian actually wants to follow the tenets of the religion. It’s a part of them. They respond to Christ’s invitation to follow Him, obey His teachings, and develop a personal relationship with Him.
Numerous studies show that all the benefits of Christianity come from intrinsic religiosity. It decreases aggression and extramarital affairs. It increases self-control, conscientiousness, and agreeableness.
These same studies show that extrinsic religiosity produces the opposite of all the effects listed above. In other words, extrinsic religiosity makes you a worse person!
The good in Christianity comes from people who actually believe it. They are not motivated simply by a desire to serve people. They serve and help people because they believe in the historical fact that Jesus Christ rose from the dead. By doing so, He proved He was God and therefore validated all His teachings.
Imagine going to another country and telling the people there to give up polygamy. If they practiced this for centuries, would they really stop because you tell them to?
Probably not. A greater motivator would be saying Jesus died for their sins, rose from the dead, and opened the kingdom of heaven to them and that monogamy shows Christ’s singular love for the Church.
There’s a difference between something being pragmatic and something being true. Pragmatism only gets you so far. It’s the truth that will ultimately set you free.