And now for something completely different!

This is a HUGE departure from my usual posts, but something that’s been running around in my head for a while now. I’m posting mainly because this is my blog and that’s why I have it: to take things from my head and put them out in the world. I welcome your comments.

“Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’” John 14:6 (NIV)

This statement is, as I understand it, essentially the foundation of the Christian faith: There is but one way to reach heaven and that is through Jesus, the Son of God. Living in the US, this is a message I’ve been hearing for my entire life, although growing up in a non-religious family, it’s not one that I heard with much reinforcement at home. Now, as I attend a church regularly with my wife (who recently came to faith), it’s one I hear even more.

Thing is, I don’t believe it.

Please allow me to explain:

Like I mentioned above, I had no particular religious upbringing. My family is nominally Catholic, and I received First Communion in the Church when I was about 7. That was basically the end of my religious education and participation until adulthood. I still identified as Catholic, but out of convenience rather than conviction.

I saw people with great religious beliefs around me, but never shared them. On one hand I admired those of great faith: they seemed, often, to be at peace and to be getting a great deal of comfort from their beliefs. On the other hand, I also so those who were clearly using their self-applied label of Christian for personal gain and seemed to be doing little more than paying lip service to the tenets of Christianity while acting self-righteously and superior to others. It was the latter who most colored my perceptions of religion in general and Christianity in particular, and who reaffirmed my conviction that I was better off living my life as best I could, having a personal relationship with God that did not include Jesus as a separate individual, and adopting a “live and let live” attitude towards the faiths, or absence thereof, of others.

I never really gave all that much thought towards what I believed. I accepted the possibility of a God, or Gods, but rejected the idea that He or She or They took much of an active interest in the lives of those here on Earth. Religion, I came to believe, was at worst a tool used by one group of people to control another, to enrich themselves, or to excuse their avarice, land-grabbing, murder, discrimination, and conquest, and at best a way for people to find peace in their lives by assigning responsibility for their condition, good or bad, to an all-powerful being or beings.

As I’ve learned about other faith traditions, one thing has struck me: adherents of all of them believe that theirs is the “right” way. Many believe that God has spoken directly to them or to the founders of their faith, and that their beliefs, traditions, and practices will gain them entry into the better part of the afterlife.

So, who’s right? It seems reasonable to assume that there is one, true faith, and that adherents of those others are in the wrong and doomed to eternal suffering or, depending on your belief system, separation from God/Gods/Creating Spirit or continued reincarnation into the mortal cycle of life, death, joy, and pain.

But, here’s my question: God, assuming one believes in him, is all-powerful, all-knowing, all-present. How, then, can we presume to limit Him to one path?
A look around you will remind you that God loves diversity. Look at the variety of life He created; animals, birds, insects, and people. Rain, sunshine, deserts, mountains, oceans, storm and calm. People point to John 14:6 and say, “But, God says right here that THIS is the only way! We’re not the ones limiting Him to one path; He chose the path, and it is through Christ.”
Yes, that’s what it says. But think for a moment: Assuming that God wants mankind to live by a certain code and, as a reward for that wants to allow them to continue for eternity alongside Him, and assuming that He wants as many as possible, from around the world He created, to come to Him, doesn’t it stand to reason that He has many different paths, paths that will be attractive to us, in all of our diversity?

I’ve always wondered, when I hear people say things like, “Christ is the only way!” what happened to those who lived before Christ, or those who lived and died long before Christians moved outside of the Middle East and Europe to spread the word of God. Were they damned to Hell simply because they were born at the wrong time? The answer I’ve often heard is this:

“You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” Jeremiah 29:13 (NIV)

Those who seek Him will find Him. Doesn’t that, right there, allow for other paths to “salvation?”
I find it hard to believe that a God who loves us, who wants us to be good to one another, to act out of love towards one another, would punish us for being good differently.

Look to the example of the Dalai Lama. By all accounts, this is a person who exemplifys “Good,” with a capital “G.” Yet, by Christian standards, he worships false gods and is doomed to burn in Hell. How can a just, loving God do that?

I attend a Christian church with my wife. I even volunteer with the church as a camera operator every 3 weeks, we contribute a portion of our income to the church every month, and we sponsor a child in Kenya through a ministry partner of the church. There are many, many good people there, and I feel that the church has a positive impact on our community; our family has participated in two community service days sponsored by the church, cleaning up local schools. The senior pastor is, as far as I can determine, sincere in his faith and lives by it, unlike some notable examples of ministers who have abused the trust of their congregations and the power of their positions. He’s an engaging speaker, and for the most part I enjoy listening to his messages; there’s a lot of good there for everyone, I think, regardless of religious conviction.

But I wouldn’t consider myself a Christian, a “follower of Jesus.” I typically pass when the Communion cup and bread come around, I don’t sing during worship or participate actively in prayer. I don’t hear God speaking to me while I’m there, telling me to accept the sacrifice of Jesus on my behalf. I don’t feel God pushing me towards baptism. There’s no voice in my head or in my heart telling me that this is the one, true path that I must follow.

Some will say, “Read the Bible, and you’ll see what God wants for us!” I have a problem, I will admit, accepting as authority for any belief system the central document of that system: “I-believe-the-Bible-is-the-word-of-God-because-the-Bible-says-it-is-the-word-of-God” (I acknowledge this is a gross over-simplification) isn’t exactly a convincing argument. And, honestly, the idea that God allowing Jesus to be crucified was a sacrifice on His part rings hollow to me (God is omnipotent, omniscient. Jesus is son of God, and is himself God. God knows that Jesus will be crucified, but afterward will live again and eventually come to heaven and rejoin God, or come back to join Himself. If you knew you could give something up and get it back, would you really consider that a sacrifice?)

This church is not my home, although it is the home of many. This church is not my “forever family,” though many have found a “forever family” here.

And I believe that’s OK.

I believe that there are many paths to God, and that what is important is for us to live as good as we can, to serve our families, our communities, our world, with what talents and resources we have. It’s important that we act out of love for one another, and care for those who need us. The ideals of service and sacrifice are not exclusive to any one faith, but are a common thread through all of human society; how can one religion possibly claim exclusive right to them?

I admit, this is a superficial examination of faith in general and Christianity in particular, and despite what it may seem I am open-minded. I admire those people who hold to their beliefs, who exemplify the best that a religious tradition teaches. Sometimes I envy them the peace they have, the certainty that things will work out. But I’m honest enough with myself to recognize that I don’t possess that faith, and that to participate in worship actively, of any faith tradition, would be hypocritical and meaningless; if it’s not in my heart, it shouldn’t be on my lips.

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3 comments so far

  1. Matt on

    Jim,

    Thanks for sharing this great post. I identify very much with the sentiments you express. There is not one right way. The way I see it, if we strive to do no harm the rest will follow.

  2. Diane Main on

    Dude. Let’s talk later.

    • Rollie on

      Jim, I just stumbled on this. I loved it. It was very well written and honest. Good job!


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