Tag Archives: truth

Engaging Religious Pluralism – Is Jesus the only way? – Part 1

I grew up with the belief that Christianity is an exclusive religion. We have the “one, true, and only way to get out of hell card.” Come to us you can experience God’s blessings.

This raised many questions:

What about those who lived before Jesus? How could they possibly be “saved”?

What about those who died and have never heard about Jesus?

What about those of other faiths?

Here are the simple steps I took in my own journey.

Step 1 – If God exists, then all truth comes from God. This is true not only of all religions, but of science as well. Thus, if science reveals a long evolutionary process of creation then I need to figure out how to read and interpret the Bible in light of this evidence.

Step 2 – I saw truth, goodness, and compassion in people of other religions (and no religions at all) that I believed came from God. If Jesus was the only way, why do I find so much to celebrate in others who don’t claim to have Jesus?

Step 3 – Do I have to believe that Jesus is the only way? I began to wrestle with the Bible, my experience, and my upbringing to see if there was a way to be a Christian without being exclusive.

Two One Way roadsigns indicating opposite directions over blue sky - confusion concept

So first the Bible.

The go to text is John 14:6, Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.'” 

Plain, simple, straightforward, right?

Only pulling one text (or several) out of context and putting it into another context is not good interpretation.

The way or the path of Jesus is the way to God correct? Then what is that path?

I believe that path is the path of death and resurrection, which, interestingly enough, is a path found in most religious traditions. Paradoxically, the path of Jesus is a path to life, yet one must go through death in order to experience this life (resurrection). Isn’t this what all the major wisdom traditions tell us?

When Jesus talks about death, I used to think he meant that I couldn’t act on any impulses because they were all selfish. I should resist buying nice clothes, food, etc for if I denied these things that was “dying to self.” I no longer find this true or helpful, actually it is quite destructive.

The way of death and resurrection is the way to die to our own ego, our sense of superiority, our need to be right or correct, our need to see the world in black and white, our need to have clear boundaries of who is “in” and who is “out.” What I thought was “dying to self” was actually only bolstering up and feeding my ego and sense of superiority…wow!

This is also the great temptation of all religious people at the immature levels.

Interestingly enough, it was the religious leaders during the life of Jesus who seem to struggle with this the most. They did not want to die to these things for it is ultimately a death of the ego. We learn from them that one can use religion to feed the ego and go against this path.

I find it very fascinating that a religion that claims to follow the way of Jesus-  the way of death and resurrection – has a strong tendency to walk a different path and to create more exclusion, bigotry, racism, sexism etc.

Marcus Borg wrote that there are three ways of seeing one’s religion:

1 – The absolutist understanding – one’s own religion is the absolute and only truth

2- the reductionist understanding – all religion is a human invention

3- the sacramental understanding – “religions are human constructions in response to the experiences of the sacred.”

Eventually, through a long and difficult journey, I have come to the third understanding and would agree with Borg when he wrote, “Each of the enduring religions is a mediator of ‘the absolute,’ but not ‘absolute’ itself.”

If God exists, then God cannot be fully known or captured in any one religion.

The question then becomes, “why be a Christian?”

For me personally, I am a Christian because this is the tradition most familiar to me. It is the tradition I was raised in and it is one I continue to find beautiful and compelling. It is “in my bones” so to speak and is very much a part of who I am. It has and continues to be the way I find a deep connection to God.

That being said, I have little interest in converting someone else. If someone is seeking a tradition, or they are wanting to go deeper, I enjoy walking with them. If they are walking along another path or tradition, I don’t feel it is my job to convince them to “change sides.” Rather, I see my job as reflecting the image of God to them and helping them along their path.

I love the story of a Christian who came to the Dalai Lama wanting to convert to Buddhism. His response was to encourage the Christian to follow his tradition (Christianity) in a deeper way.

What a beautiful story!

 

 

shift in paradigm

If you know much about me at all, it is clear that over the last 3-4 years I have changed my views on a few things. It would take many posts to go over the ins and outs of each of these changes, but, as I reflect, I think much of the change can be summarized as a shift in paradigm.

Growing up I used to see life as the picture below.

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Truth was clear, and all the correct beliefs were filed away neatly, and could be pulled out at any moment. As seen in the picture above, this belief system had clear boundaries which made is simple to tell who was “in” and who was “out”.

The goal was to first solidify your beliefs, then organize them, and then try to convince others that all your views are correct. In other words, you are trying to get everyone else outside of your way of thinking to come inside.

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Then something happened…

this whole system no longer worked for me.

I find it quiet interesting that some have (and continue to) suggested this happened because I fell of the wagon, turned my back on God, truth, Scripture, the Spirit or was offended or hurt by someone. (Usually this is because I see things differently then they do and they aren’t sure how to handle it).

The fact of the matter is, that this shift took place while I was seeking after God’s direction, attending church on a regular basis, and attending a conservative Bible College. What happened wasn’t that I walked away from truth, but that I wrestled with the answers that were given and being given to me and found them lacking.

While it began with a few small changes, it soon became clear that the whole system or way of operating didn’t work…it didn’t make sense…I didn’t just need to change a few beliefs, but I needed a completely different way of understanding life.

I needed a new paradigm.

Instead of a “truth box”  life is much more colorful, interesting, dynamic, and complex. Instead of the goal being to try to make my beliefs stronger and then convince others I am right, I see life much more like a journey towards growth, and growth always requires change.

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What this means is that I do not see things the way I did before and I think this is a good thing.

We all start somewhere, but hopefully we don’t remain there. Hopefully we will grow, discover, come to better understandings of God, the universe, creation, purpose, meaning, the sacred etc.

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Maturity is not about solidifying all of our beliefs exactly as they were five or ten years ago, but about learning to be open – we will not see things the same way and that’s actually a good thing.

We start somewhere, but then we move.

This also means that the place we are at, will not be the place we will be at in another 5 or 10 years.

Now, in honesty, this is usually not an easy transition and often it brings with it a sort of disequilibrium. The old system or way of seeing doesn’t work and it can throw us off or put us in a tail spin of sorts. It is during this time of disequilibrium, where we choose. We choose to either go back, chuck out everything because it’s just to complex, or we fight to move forward.

Going back is safe.

Giving up is simple.

Going forward is strenuous.

In my experience, going forward can often be a major struggle, but it is worth every ounce of effort!

I now see life as a serious of movements. Each step we change, grow, and see things in different ways.

Life is more complex, truth more inclusive, and love more expansive.

As part of this process, I also see God as the force that is drawing us forward into more love, inclusion, justice, and compassion.

I think it is quite a beautiful thing!

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