- Posted August 20, 2013 by
This iReport is part of an assignment:
The written word: Your personal essays
There is no God but God
“And you will know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.” -Jesus of Nazareth
What follows are my thoughts. You can say that I am ruminating on paper, trying to make sense of something that may not be for me to ever understand completely. It deals with paradigm shifts, and different ways of understanding what “we know”. It is not for those that believe one plus one always equals two, rather, it is for those that understand that one plus one sometimes equals eleven. I speak from a Christian perspective, because that is the tradition I was raised in, and it is my point of reference. However, I believe my thoughts can be extrapolated to every religion of the world. If you go to a million different churches, synagogues, or mosques, you will get a million different interpretations of the same sacred texts, pertaining to the same infinite being, all of them sincerely believing that their path is the only true way. It has also been my experience that people within religious institutions often get bent out of shape when presented with thinking that runs contrary to their own, and so I offer my apologies in advance. I further understand that this does not apply to ALL of the faithful.
I consider myself a Christian…of sorts. The truth is, I consider myself a traditional Christian in much the same way that Jesus is considered a traditional Jew. Jesus questioned and assaulted the power structure of His day, a power structure that had been in place for thousands of years. He did not accept that things were “right” just because it had been done a certain way for “as long as everyone could remember”. He was militant and radical, incurring the wrath of religious leaders of the time, eventually culminating in His execution on a Roman cross.
I reference Jesus to establish how “truth” can change or be misappropriated. As Jesus taught, just because people believe something to be true, just because people preach and indoctrinate from a pew, doesn’t make them right. I have always been a thinker, and I have confounded many Christians by professing how I became a “good Christian” by quietly observing a Buddhist man whom I used to work with many years ago. I would watch as he quietly and unassumingly gave his last dollar, his last article of clothing, his last meal, to those he knew needed it most, while the Christians in the office (myself included) would twist themselves in knots trying to come up with reasons why we could not lend a helping hand.
Over time, I grew even more disillusioned by the Christian religious institution, not because of the religion itself, but because of those professed Christians who swore that they had a monopoly on God, and could predict without compunction who would and who would not get into heaven. Needless to say, I incurred the wrath of the religious faithful once I began to question the things that I had once blindly accepted as truth, without thinking critically for myself. The arrogance displayed by many Christians regarding “truth” was often nauseating, not once considering that maybe, just maybe, they could be wrong. Not once considering that there could be other paths to God, outside of the one that was fed to them every week at Church.
The irony is, if you read the Bible from cover to cover, it is hard to reach the conclusion that Christians are the only ones who will make it into heaven. In fact, the parables of Jesus often centered on actions speaking louder than words, regardless of a person’s religious station. But please, don’t believe me. Pick up a bible, and read for yourself. There are many examples to choose from, but begin with the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), work your way through to the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats (Matthew 25:31-46), and then finish with the Parable of The Two Sons (Matthew 21:28-32). In some form, he would inquire of his followers after the message had been delivered: “Who was REALLY justified in the eyes of God?”
So where do Christians get this idea that they are the only ones worthy of God’s gift of forgiveness? It stems from a frequently quoted, standalone scripture, often omitting other scriptures that would provide contextual background. If you are “saved” according to Christian doctrine, you will no doubt recognize the saving passage of Romans 10, verses 9-10:
9That if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus, and believe in your heart that God has raised him from the dead, you will be saved .10For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.
Personally, I believe this to be true, and I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, who paid the price for my sins. I also believe (as a Christian) that saying (and believing) the scripture/prayer above is a sure-fire way to make it through the pearly gates. However, I do not think that this scripture simultaneously precludes those from different faiths from making it into heaven. In fact, the bible makes provision for those “others”, via a passage that rarely (if ever) gets quoted by the religious elders of our day. I will provide the scripture in a little while, but before you read it, think critically and objectively while you consider this: Assuming you are born and raised a Christian, how would you feel if a Hindu came to you, and told you to convert to Hinduism or suffer eternal damnation?
Even if Hinduism WAS the one true religion, you more than likely would not convert, because Christianity is all you (and your family) have ever known. Well, this is exactly the pressure we place on members of other religions to convert to Christianity, urging them to turn their backs on their religious heritage, which may date back hundreds or thousands of years. I believe that an all knowing and wise God will agree that such a harsh litmus test is both unfair and unrealistic.
That notwithstanding, many Christians are swift to send those “unfortunate others” to hell, and attribute their selfish and misguided assessments of “just damnation” to a God who they say is merciful, loving, forgiving, and kind. They quickly gloss over the part where He will sentence His children to an eternity of fiery torture for not getting His name right. As Christians, we are called to spread the “Good News”, but does that sound like good news to you? It shouldn’t, because it is a non-sequitur; an inconsistent leap in spiritual and human logic that does not follow, and is a cruel attempt by humans to project their insecurities and frailties onto the Divine. As Mahatma Gandhi once said, “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”
So, what exactly does the bible say about the salvation of those who are not part of the Christian tradition? There are many passages that bear witness to God’s benevolence, but given the constraints of space and time, I will highlight a brief passage that the Apostle Paul uses to address the issue. It again can be found in the Book of Romans, Chapter 2, verses 11-16:
11For there is no partiality with God. 12For as many as have sinned without law shall also perish without law: and as many as have sinned in the law shall be judged by the law 13(For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law will be justified. 14For when the Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do the things in the law, these, although they do not have the law, are a law to themselves, 15who show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves, their thoughts accusing or else excusing them)16in the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ according to my gospel.
This scripture is surprising obscure in Christian teaching, but when presented to the flock, it is amazing how many will argue tooth and nail that it does not mean what it says. Instead of basking in its simplicity, these followers will devise untold numbers of ways to discount the text, while piously professing that others outside of their belief sphere are heading to an eternal hell that they have neither created nor seen.
In case you missed the point, Paul is saying that both believers and nonbelievers are accountable to God for judgment. They differ from each other in that believers possess the Law (bible), while nonbelievers do not, even though by nature they do some of the things that are stipulated in the Law. God has given all people moral instinct by creation, although repeated sin or cultural acceptance may distort their understanding. The point is that people will be judged according to the revelation they have. The standard of judgment for believers will be the written Law, and the standard for nonbelievers will be the unwritten law of conscience and nature. So in Christianity, there is indeed room for Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, and any other religious sect, including atheists.
That is truly “Good News”.
In closing, remember that "The language of the Bible is meant always to point us to a truth beyond the text, a meaning that transcends the particular and imperfectly understood context of the original writers, and our own prejudices and parochialisms that we bring to the text." Everyone must take this journey of faith for themselves, however they conceive God to be. Ultimately, there is only one true God, and His ways remain mysterious, but I am sure of one thing: if you seek, you will eventually find.