I am back from my spiritual quest, and I feel that it has been very worthwhile and very spiritually uplifting. I feel that I have, and am continuing to develop, a relevant and authentic personal understanding of how I relate to and conceive of God. So in that sense, my time away from blogging and debating religion in Internet forums has been good. I also hope that I am learning to develop a more calm, confident tone in my writing when it comes to religious discussions, moving away from the shrillness of many of my previous essays. I can't promise that some may not still find my ideas troubling, but I at least hope to present them calmly and rationally, without the need to offend unecessarily.
Anyway, here is my latest effort:
Many Christians frequently argue that God is omnipotent and all-knowing, omniscient and all-powerful. God, they say, is love – an all-loving, all-merciful Father in heaven. They further argue that God desires every person on earth to be saved. They will point to biblical passages such as 1 Timothy 2:3-4 which states exactly this: “God…wants all mankind to be saved.” Indeed, it is the altruistic, if not Utopian, goal of all evangelical Christians to bring the message of Christ to every person on earth, with the hope that every person on earth can be saved.
Many other religions have, or have had, similar concepts that necessitate the need for all humans to accept faith in their particular image of God, so that all humankind can be saved.
The problem with this idea is that it is entirely impossible and fails to take into account the basic nature of the very human beings that God created.
There can be no absolute, unanimous consensus.
By our very nature, human beings are incapable of agreeing on anything, from where to eat for dinner, to how to image and relate to God. If a study of human history can point to any absolute truths about human nature, it is that we disagree. Even evangelicals agree that while their goal is to convert all the world to Christianity, this is an impossible prospect. No sane modern person, regardless of religious persuasion, can argue that there could ever come a time when 6 billion people might agree on even one cultural persuasion, much less one religious persuasion. Even just among Americans, if we can’t agree on healthcare reform, politicians, or what constitutes good art, how could we possibly ever agree on God?
Evangelicals frequently point to the prominence of Christianity as evidence that Christianity is the “right” religion. Two billion people in the world are Christians. That is an impressive number, but if fails to point out that this leaves 4 billion – or twice as many – who are not Christians. Furthermore, and more significantly, it fails to demonstrate the wildly diverging beliefs among those two billion Christians. Indeed, by its very nature, Christianity is one of the world’s most malleable religions. Because Christianity is easy to mold into a highly personal religion that can fit comfortably with a wide variety of cultural and cognitive persuasions, it has been able to spread far and wide over the centuries.
In fact, there are far more differences among many various Christian groups than there are between other Christian groups and completely different religions. For instance, a Greek Orthodox Christian will likely have far more in common, religiously, with a Buddhist than a fundamentalist Southern Baptist Christian will have with a progressive Christian of the United Church of Christ. Similarly, a Pentecostal Christian will have far more in common with a Hasidic Jew than a Unitarian Christian will have with a Roman Catholic Christian.
So even within Christianity itself, the various views and beliefs are so divergent as to render any claims of the unity of “2 billion Christians” absurd and meaningless.
Human nature absolutely guarantees that human beings will never come to any unanimous consensus about anything.
How, then, can we reconcile this apparent truth to the general Christian idea of an omnipotent, omniscient, and all-loving God who desires the salvation of every human being? If God created humanity, and if God desires that we all accept his revelation through Christ, then why would God have created humans in such a way that positively guaranteed this would never happen? Such an idea makes God inconsistent at best and a monster at worst.
The inability to reconcile these problems, of course, is what has led many modern people away from any traditional belief in God at all.
Others, however, have used the same irreconcilable problem to argue predestination. Instead of rejecting a God who would create human beings in such a way as to guarantee the eternal damnation of most humans, those who believe in predestination have actually embraced this very idea as God’s intended method. By their beliefs, God predestines some people to be saved and some people (actually, most people) to be damned. This, of course, only makes God even more of a monster, and even more repugnant to most people.
Yet even those Christians who don’t actively and consciously accept the doctrine of predestination (and many, even probably most, don’t), they are still implicitly accepting the doctrine by assuming that an omniscient and all-loving God would create humans in such a way as to secure most people’s highway to hell.
It is for these reasons that I reject any notions of exclusivity within any single religious tradition. No matter how strongly some evangelically-minded Christians may feel about “getting the Word” out to all the world, there will never be a time when all the world accepts Christianity, or any other single religion. As I’ve already said, the world’s 2 billion current Christians can’t even agree unanimously on God’s nature or the significance of Jesus’ life – the two most central aspects of the religion. And since I reject any notion of a God who would purposely damn most humans to hell simply by virtue of the very nature with which he designed them, I reject the idea that any religion holds the exclusive pathway to God. That is the only honest and all-inclusive answer I can conceive of to the problem. God is revealed differently to different people, groups, cultures, and religious traditions. If that is not true, then God must be, by definition, not all-loving and not all-merciful.
Of course, others would say there is a second answer – atheism. I reject this as well, however, as God can most certainly be experienced in a very real and life-changing way. But it is the very nature of this experience that points to a God who is approachable from many different pathways, and by many different methods. I don’t even believe you have to actively believe in God to be experiencing the ineffable reality of God.
If there is a hell (and I don’t personally believe in any traditional concept of hell), then I suppose it must only be reserved for the most base, degraded, twisted examples of humanity. But even these folks must surely find mercy before an all-merciful God, because no one chose to be born, and no one chooses their genetics, their parents, their upbringing, their culture, or their particular social status – and these are the things that determine our particular paths in life. Everyone is born utterly innocent. Thus, the only possible authentic image of an all-loving, all-merciful, omniscient God is one that welcomes all humankind into eternal spiritual union with the Absolute, through myriad paths and persuasions. Any other image of God is, for me, inauthentic and irreconcilable.