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Cultural Christians are nonreligious persons who adhere to Christian values and appreciate Christian culture. As such, these individuals usually identify themselves as culturally Christians, and are often seen by practicing believers as nominal Christians. This kind of identification may be due to various factors, such as family background, personal experiences, and the social and cultural environment in which they grew up.
In China, the term "Cultural Christian" can refer to intellectuals, openly religious or otherwise, who are devoted to Christian theology, ethics and literature, and often contribute to a movement known as Sino-Christian theology.
Traditionally, Christianity has been considered a "foreign religion" (Chinese: 洋教; pinyin: yáng jiào, means non-local religions) in China, including all the negative connotations of foreignness common in China. This attitude only started to change at the end of the 20th century. In China, the term "Cultural Christians" (Chinese: 文化基督徒; pinyin: wénhuà jīdūtú) can refer to Chinese intellectuals devoted to the study of Christian theology, ethics, and literature, and often contribute to a movement known as Sino-Christian theology. Some of the earliest figures in this movement in the late-1980s and 1990s, such as Liu Xiaofeng and He Guanghu, were sympathetic to Christianity but chose not to associate with any local church. Since the 1990s, a newer generation of these Cultural Christians have been more willing to associate with local churches, and have often drawn on Calvinist theology.
The liberal writer Benedetto Croce, in his book "perchè non-possiamo non-dirci Cristiani" ("why we have to call ourselves Christians)", expressed the view that Roman Catholic traditions and values formed the basic culture of all Italians, believers and non-believers, and described Christianity primarily as a cultural revolution.
The provinces North Brabant and Limburg in the Netherlands are historically mostly Roman Catholic, therefore many of their people still use the term and some traditions as a base for their cultural identity rather than as a religious identity. Since the War of Independence the Catholics were systematically and officially discriminated against by the Protestant government until the second half of the 20th century, which had a major influence on the economical and cultural development of the southern part of the Netherlands.
From the Reformation to the 20th century, Dutch Catholics were largely confined to certain southern areas in the Netherlands, and they still tend to form a majority or large minority of the population in the southern provinces of the Netherlands, North Brabant and Limburg.
However, with modern population shifts and increasing secularization, these areas tend to be less and less religious Catholic. Since 1960 the emphasis on many Catholic concepts including hell, the devil, sinning and Catholic traditions like confession, kneeling, the teaching of catechism and having the hostia placed on the tongue by the priest rapidly disappeared, and these concepts are nowadays seldom or not at all found in modern Dutch Catholicism. The southern area still has original Catholic traditions including Carnival, pilgrimages, rituals like lighting candles for special occasions and field chapels and crucifixes in the landscape, giving the southern part of the Netherlands a distinctive Catholic atmosphere, with which the population identifies in contrast to the rest of the Netherlands. The vast majority of the (self-identifying) Catholic population in the Netherlands is now largely irreligious in practice. Research among Catholics in the Netherlands in 2007 shows that only 27% of the Dutch Catholics can be regarded as theist, 55% as ietsist /agnostic/deist and 17% as atheist.
Outspoken English atheist Richard Dawkins has described himself in several interviews as a "cultural Christian" and a "cultural Anglican". In his book The God Delusion, he calls Jesus Christ praiseworthy for his ethics.
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Other Deists and natural religionists who considered themselves Christians in some sense of the word included Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin.
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...the father of his country... died as he had lived, in dignity and peace; but he left behind him not one word to warrant the belief that he was other than a sincere deistCS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
- Tricia C. Bruce, Cultural Catholics in the United States. Annual Review of the Sociology of Religion, Volume 9, 2018.
- David Masci, Who are ‘cultural Catholics’?, Pew Research Center. 3 September 2015.
- Mark Bauerlein, Cultural Catholics. First Things, 29 March 2019.
- Ireland and the End of Cultural Catholicism, Catholic World Report, 28 May 2018.