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Relativism, Pluralism, and Tolerance. These become sticking points
for Christians everywhere because traditionally Christianity has been
seen as the only “true” religion, and all other religions as “false”
religion. (Among Christians of course.) Christianity seems also to be
the primary, if not the only missionary religion. And that mission
seems to have been understood as "convert the world to your exact way
of thinking, leave no room for creativity or thinking, lest anyone
use his/her common sense!"

Holding to this theology was easy when Christians for the most part
were far removed from exposure to other religions. While I realize that
there has never been a time in history when Christianity was completely "unexposed"
to other religions...I mean, afterall, it couldn't be a missionary religion
if that were the case. Never has the world been more pluralistic than it is
today. Some of us are trying to find creative ways to include others
into our worldviews, while others are trying to find ways to exclude
others from them. In the midst of this is fighting over who is right
along with conversion missions and the other extreme conclusion of
everybody's right. It was once easy to dismiss the other world views as
ignorant, evil or rebelling against the one true God. But now, that
we live in such a Pluralistic world...it is considered close-minded
and intolerant to hold such views.

I have gone all over the place on tangents in this article, but have
tried to stay on topic and remain as coherent as possible about my beliefs.
While I know that I cannot expect the whole world to agree with my
religious beliefs, and this is a very sensitive topic. I have tried very
hard to write this article in a way that is honest to my true beliefs (and
not just saying what sounds good and PC) but at the same time, trying
to be sensitive and respectful of the beliefs of others. I hope
that I have accomplised that task.

I have personally struggled, along with my theology on Hell with the
theology of Universalism and what kind of limits might be on such a
reasoning or theology. For one thing though, I’m not a relativist. In
other words: I don’t believe that all paths are “True.” I do believe that
all paths "contain" truth, but that's not the same thing as every path being
totally true. I know I'm not right about every point of theology.

When I say that I don’t believe all paths are true, I mean...realistically
and logically...every path cannot be true in every issue (otherwise there
would be no one who thought you couldn’t be a christian and a non-christian
at the same time because they would be exactly the same thing.) Even if all
paths end at the same destination, no one can seem to agree on what that
destination is. There are distinct differences in Nirvana, Heaven and the
Summerland to name only 3 potential destinations. Also, by saying all
paths are true...how can atheism be true AND other religions be true?

It seems we very often get caught up on labels and how our religion is
“right.” None of us will know the ultimate truth for sure on every issue
in this life, but there must be some ultimate truth out there. What we wish
to be true doesn’t alter the truth, so I think it’s very important that
none of us (including if not especially myself) gets too superior about our
religious beliefs because they are all based on faith afterall.

There most likely are some religious paths that are “more true” than others.
And necessarily, perhaps because of human nature, many of us tend to measure how
true other religious beliefs are using our own religion as a guidepost.
This is certainly a character flaw of many Christians.

For example...the Christian many times thinks he/she has the “ultimate truth”
and the trueness of all other religions are measured against how closely
they resemble Christianity. Also, the narrowness of some Christians in
accusing people of being devil worshippers simply because they are members
of other religions is not helping the matter.

One concept that I found very helpful in wading through this mess is a book
called: “God Has Many Names” by John Hick. While I don’t agree with
everything stated in the book, I feel that it is nonetheless a very profound
and well thought out piece of writing. One analogy that he used
was seeing the religions as the solar system. For a long time, people
thought that the earth was at the center of the universe.

Eventually that was disproven...however it is also likely if people
existed on Jupitor or Mars that they would also naturally assume that
their planet was at the center of the universe instead of the sun.
Christians, Mr. Hick stated, have a common problem, they see Christianity
as the center of the Religious universe.

However, the truth is that it is God at the center of the universe and all
the religions necessarily must orbit around God. As a Christian, he has
revised his theology somewhat to better incorporate this view by stating
that the incarnation of Christ was metaphorical rather than literal.

While I am concerned with Christians who think somehow they are superior
and elite compared to followers of other religions, to me in my faith
personally, to reduce the incarnation to a myth would reduce part of the
uniqueness of Christianity. (Note that I didn’t say that Christianity is the
only unique religion...there is something unique in every religion.)

For me, the incarnation, and resurrection is what makes Christianity
Christianity, without those factors, there is no Christianity. (Of course
some will disagree with me on this point, which is perfectly fine of
course.)

Tolerance doesn’t mean that I have to agree with every religious belief
or even every religion in the world. There will necessarily be theological
differences among all people, otherwise we would all be one religion and
there would be no arguments. Tolerance DOES, however, mean that I have to
respect the other people and their rights to believe how they feel is right
and to follow their chosen religious path without hindrance.

This means, that while I may be passionate about Christianity and I may
share my passion for Christianity with someone and why I believe what I
believe; if the person I am sharing with has found their spiritual path
and is not interested in mine, tolerance and love say that I have to back
off and respect their religious rights. (It would be very presumptuous of
me to assume that because they are not following a Christian path they have
not found God.)

It absolutely does not give me the right to continually try to convince someone
with the threat of hellfire. In my opinion this is a horrible doctrine of the
Christian faith, and it’s unrealistic portrayal as literal flames that torture
for eternity has done more to hurt the Christian cause and the Christian image
of God than most other doctrines. (more on this on the Hell page.)

If one is logical and rational, they will know that there have been many people
who lived before Christ and also many people who lived after Christ in areas
that were not touched historically by Christianity. Are we to believe then
that God is an exclusivist who even bothers to create people that he knows
won’t even have a chance to make it to saving Knowledge in his son, and then
condemn them to eternal torture?

It’s hard to imagine a God who would wish to spend eternity with a group
of people who had the “right” theology even though they acted “superior”
toward other religious groups, and that he would then torture in Hell all
people who didn’t have the “right” theology or the pristine label of
“Christian” even though they loved their creator with all their heart and
sought relationship with him/her. (Of course, all of this comes from a
Christian worldview and means very little to a non-christian except for
the annoyance of conversion attempts made towards them.)

In this way, it can be said that all Gods are one God...because although
there are differing opinions on this as well, if there is one ultimate
Creator and presence, anyone who worships that Creator is worshipping the
same Creator no matter what name they assign to him/her or what culture
influences their worship style. Afterall names and labels are human
inventions invented to help us to understand the divine in a more personal way.

Let me put it another way: Let’s say there is a woman named: Carol. Her
boss at work calls her his employee, the people she works with call her a
co-worker, her parents call her daughter, her husband calls her wife, her
children call her mother. Carol has a different type and style of relationship
with her boss, her co-workers, her parents, her husband, and her children.
Each of these individuals sees a different part of Carol. They each also
assume certain things about her personality which may or may not be true.
Which one is the real Carol?

It is not necessary for each of them to know everything there is to know
about Carol, only Carol knows that. In addition, just because one of these
people might not know certain things about Carol and may even be wrong in
some of their assumptions about Carol, they still are able to be in a loving
relationship with her.

By the same token however, some people could have all kinds of little facts
and tidbits about Carol. They could have systematically taken apart and figured
out her entire personality. They could have the “ultimate truth” about
everything there is to know about Carol. They can sit and be very smug in
fact with this information they have about her.

How much better they are than all the other silly people and ignorant
stupid people that don’t know all the facts about Carol. Carol must not love
those who misunderstand her. (Note, these ideas apply to every religion)
But what good are all the facts this person has about Carol if he/she never
talks to her, never shares confidences, never shows love and friendship?

Is there a relationship just by virtue of knowing facts? Sadly I think
some of us believe we have the “right” theology. We have all of God’s
personality figured out. (Forget the fact that this is an impossibility.
If we can’t know everything about another human being then how can we possibly
presume to understand the mind of the Divine being we call God?)

What good does it do if there is no relationship? Who cares if you have
the “right” dogma or the “ultimate truth” in religion. Where is your
relationship? Sometimes I think that other religions have succeeded in
this area where many of us Christians have failed. No one can prove
beyond a shadow of a doubt whose religion is the most “true.” God
doesn’t need a psychologist. He doesn’t need help figuring out his
personality or motivation. What he wants is relationship.

Some of us will be closer than others of us in our assumptions and beliefs
of what this Creator is like, however none of us should automatically
presume that we have all the answers to what is inside the divine mind. Even
with a book such as the bible which claims to the the word of God. It may
very well be the word of God. (I personally believe that it is...although
I don’t interpret everything in a literalistic way with no regard to textual
context, cultural context, changes of meanings, mistranslations, etc. etc.
And I certainly don’t believe that after the bible God “stopped talking.”)
Belief that the Bible is the word of God doesn’t make it the word of God.
Saying the Bible is true because the Bible says it is true is completely
pointless and unintellectual to boot.

I don’t wish to lessen the integrity of the Christian faith by diminishing
it’s precepts or by saying things which would almost certainly offend EVERY
Christian. However, I also don’t wish to lessen the integrity of the
Christian faith by showing an intolerance and superiority towards those
with differing beliefs, which probably wouldn’t honor God as a loving
Creator but instead would make him seem vindictive and scary.

One thing that I am starting to more readily believe is that God has been
at work in all of the various religious traditions and they have been
shaped very much by culture and history. I think probably part is divine
revelation and part is human interpretation. Which may account for certain
things which seem completely incompatible within the various religious
traditions, but which also could account for some of the similiar stories we find
popping up in the various religious cultures of the world.

Another problem with this frame of exclusivist thinking is: “How does one
define a Christian?” Exactly what theological issues have eternal
significance. Looking at the Fundie perspective you would think that EVERY
doctrinal issue had eternal significance. If that is so...then not only would
only Christians go to Heaven, but only certain “Groups” of Christians who
had the most perfect theology. And how does one know if they have the
“Perfect” theology? People have used the bible to defend practically
everything even many contradictory ideas (see my page on the bible.)

If God is a God of love and a God who is pained by anyone being lost, one
would think he would make it possible for EVERYONE who wanted to be with him
to be with him. But if you MUST have specific knowledge and correct knowledge
(because, let’s face it, if what you have heard about Christ is untrue...
you can’t benefit from it, and may even reject it out of hand...but did you
really reject the person of Christ or did you reject some of his more freaky
messengers?) then a LOT of people would necessarily be lost.

However as a Christian to dismiss Christ’s saving work on the cross out of
hand because it doesn’t line up with every other religion to me dismantles
the very foundation of the religion in the first place and makes one of the
world’s major religions completely unneccesary. So, to me, I do believe that
a saving work was performed on the cross and that salvation comes by the
grace of God through the sacrifice of Christ.

However, because God is outside of time and not necessarily bound to it (C. S.
Lewis has some wonderfully profound thoughts on this topic in “Mere Christianity”)
then no matter what time in history Christ came and did his work, it still holds
true for every person making the cross valid for salvation for all who seek God.

That is Christianity’s contribution to the world religions. Not everyone
believes this implicitly...but I think on some level there has been so much
scripture and doctrine twisting that it is hard to separate Christ the
person from Christianity the religion. I believe therefore, that those of
whatever religion who are seeking a loving relationship with God are
included in this promise.

The problem of this theology was pointed out to me on an Inter-religious
message board. The problem is: “So, I’m “Saved” by the Christian God even
if I don’t want to be?” I admit that this is offensive. Just like I might
not necessarily wish to be thought of as a Hindu who didn’t have the
enlightenment to realize I was a Hindu. That is pretty insulting.

The only thing I can say about this that might lessen the offense taken is,
religious beliefs and our views of the divine are so intensely personal and
tied into who we are, that to deny a major portion of that belief because it
doesn’t line up with a pluralistic world view seems to deny who we
intrinsically are. It’s difficult sometimes to separate God from the
various religious traditions that we have used to try to express those
beliefs. In many cases our entire understanding of God is wrapped up in our
religious beliefs and in many cases, to reject certain traditional tenets
of our own belief systems seems to in effect be a betrayal of God.

I believe firmly in the religious freedom of every person. No matter what
their religion...but for many Christians to deny the incarnation seems to
deny their religious freedom. So, then Christians might say that people of
other relgions are saved because of Christ’s saving work on the cross, even
though they aren’t consciously aware of it. It isn’t meant to offend, but
rather to include those of other faith traditions in a way that most closely
fits in with the identity we have found within our own respective religion.

While many theologians and bible scholars will take the road of total
pluralism (i.e. Jesus was not needed, but was only ONE road of many to
the divine) Most Christians outside the far left won’t like this theology.
Homogenizing all our religions into one singular world religion should not
be the goal. For, then, where is religious freedom and diversity? Not
only would Christians have to give up their incarnate God theology, but
other religions would undoubtedly have to give up some of their cherished
beliefs, so that we could all believe the same thing.

Of course, your average pluralist will say: “No, that’s not what I meant!”
To ask Christians to stop believing that Jesus was God incarnate is to take
away religious freedom in the name of religious freedom. In order for
religions to remain distinctive each person must figure out how their religion
applies to the rest of the world in order to include other people with
differing beliefs in the love we believe we have found in the divine without
completely destroying the foundation of our particular spirituality.

One theory that I have toyed around with very recently is perhaps Christianity
was never supposed to be a religion in the first place, but rather a divine
revelation. If it were seen this way instead, perhaps people would not feel
that Christianity necessarily had to be a “superior” religion, because it
wouldn’t technically be a religion.

What makes Christianity so different from Judaism is Jesus the person.
In fact, when Jews converted to Christianity, they were called "messianic
jews" and many of them continued with their Jewish cultural practices and
many of their other beliefs, while including the divine revelation of Christ
into their understanding of the world. When gentiles were "converted"
to Christianity, however, while the Jews were trying to force them to
practice the Jewish cultural traditions to be true followers of Jesus
the book of Galations refutes this practice of trying to force them
to conform to someone else's cultural practices. So then, outside
of messianic Judaism and those who decided to embrace cultural practices
simply because they resonated with them, we are left with Christianity
being a religion centered on one event...not necessarily an entire world
view with religious practices, symbols, etc. etc. So, yes...Christianity
borrowed some practices...and while some may find this offensive, the
truth is, they were only using practices familiar to the culture to
express their beliefs. There are only so many symbols in the world.
there are only so many different activities in the world. This is why
I feel that Christianity should be more about divine revelation than
an organized structured whole new religion.

Let’s take a hypothetical situation. Let’s say, for whatever reason God
felt that his justice must be satisfied but he doesn’t want to punish the
world. So, he send’s his son (many non-christians who are bothered by this
belief, see the side of: “What kind of Father would send his son to earth to
be tortured” whereas, the common Christian understanding is: “Since Jesus was
equal to the Father, he made the choice out of love, it is therefore seen as a
beautiful expression of love.) to do this redeeming work.

If he wants to do this, and he wants to do this one time only then he
necessarily would have to pick a place to do it in. This doesn’t make one
religion superior to another...it simply means that’s where the event took
place. Now, obviously non-Christians are going to consider the incarnation
a mythological event...but for many Christians, there is such a depth and
mysticism already attached to it, that we cannot let go of it as metaphor only.
(Not to mention the fact, that to let go of it as metaphor only would be, for
many of us a lie. And I don't think lying is a virtue in any religion.)

Another thing I have thought about is: what about the other “incarnation myths”
there are many similiar to the Christian story. I found a really good explanation of
this Check it out here: Was Jesus Christ just a CopyCat Savior Myth?
One theory is, perhaps God wanted to share the story with other cultures in a
mythological format. (Of course, saying this, I must necessarily admit that
it is at least a possibility that one of the other “myths” is the truth
rather than the Christian story.) But even given that, as long as a
Christian is not yelling “turn or burn” there is no reason to feel offended
by their belief in the literal incarnation in Christ.

This view of seeing the incarnation of Jesus as divine revelation rather
than the birth of a new “superior” religion, changes the context of things
and makes it possible for people to believe in the incarnation as a literal
saving work, while also believing that God has been at work in other religious
traditions. Then the “good news” of the gospel becomes a revelation intended
to share God’s love and mercy with the world, not necessarily to convert the
world to a new religion.

Also, one other rambling thought on this: If you are riding with someone
in a car to the airport. The most important thing is that you are in the
car that is driving you to the airport. It is less important that you know
the exact model of the car or that you can intelligently argue it’s features.
Also, if one person says “This is a Ford Taurus” and you say: “No it isn’t,
it’s a Saturn.” Whether it is one of those things or neither, does it really
affect whether or not you will arrive at the airport. (obviously this analogy,
as many are always lacking when speaking of the divine...I’m sure if you
yelled at the owner of the car that you hated him, your little butt might be
kicked out of the car...but the exact parrallel to the divine/human
relationship I cannot begin to truly understand, so I will leave it alone.)

So, this may be the best that can be done for now until we can truly see that
God is at the center and not all of our own arrogant theological claims. By
the same token though...just because a claim is in a religion and not in others
doesn’t make it untrue. In fact there are probably some ultimate truths located
in all religions, but it would be next to impossible to figure out what those
truths are objectively.

To close off this article, I would just like to say that It may be
neccessary for each of us to cling to some religious beliefs that may not be
in agreement of those of others. However, never do we have the right to
threaten others or suppress the religious expression of others which flows
from the heart of man to the center of our religious universe which is God.

Blessings,
Zoë Grace =)




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