Friday, October 22, 2004

The Discussion Part III - Trev's Final Post

I was sitting on my deck last evening, watching a small insect dodge and duck through the grass when it hit me. Out of the silence of the moment I realized that my original post - "Thoughts on What It Means to be Christian" - was headed by an incomplete title. I would like to share with you a more appropriate title to the article, but let me first preface that by two preliminary thoughts: one regarding the culture and one personal.

No one would deny that humanity's short history has been framed by a series of stages. One of the many series of social stages has been: Tribal to National to Global. Our ancestors first had community and identity in tribes which shared a common worldview, ethos, and religion. As time progressed and history unfolded, tribes banned together and became nations. And now, in the past couple hundred years through trade, travel, technology and communication we are slowly but surely moving into the "Global" arena. Yes, we have moved into a period of our history where LIKE NEVER BEFORE we are able to communicate and travel between (literally) the entire planet.

In the tribal and even national setting, a group's worldview, ethos, and religion were very highly guarded and enforced. Neighboring tribes and nations were often a threat and so honest discussion and dialogue regarding these topics were rarely welcomed. And yet as we as a people began to move into a global culture and began honest discussion between differing groups, we soon realized something VERY disturbing and disconcerting: Other people from other cultures not only had differing views from our own, but were just as convinced that their way was the right way.

To speak personally, this first came to a head for me when I was in a comparative religion class in college. Suddenly, I realized - for example - that the Buddhist philosophy was just as intricate and had as deeply convinced and committed followers as my then-current Evangelical Christian faith. I saw that millions of Muslims too wholeheartedly believed that they were "right." I examined the passion and conviction of the Native American spirituality. I came to understand that many, many Hindus believed the Bhagavad-Gita and Vedas to be the literal Word of God.

There is no doubt that, like many of you who have posted have said, there are many differing and disagreeing points between religions and therefore they cannot all be equally completely true. One's initial reactive response is to deem everyone wrong but themselves. It is at this point, though, that I believe that if one adapts an attitude of humility and wonder then you begin to ask the important question: "Is there a possibililty... MIGHT there be a chance... that I may not be 100% correct?"

When this happened personally for me, I had a major crisis of faith. After a pretty major breakdown, I decided that the whole Christian thing was bunk and threw it out entirely. I began dabbling in other religions, but existed in a mostly agnostic state for about a year before God began to open my eyes ... little by little. You see, what I had done was throw the baby out with the bathwater. Ok, so perhaps my Christian theology - in light of all of these other religions and worldviews - may not be 100% true - but that doesn't mean its not a valid path nor does it mean it's not 80% true, or 50% true.

Many of you may know the (overused) story of the three blindfolded men sent in a dark room to investigate and describe an elephant. The first one comes out and says: "An elephant is thin and wiry and flips about, to and fro." The second one comes out and says: "An elephant is thick and round like a tree trunk." The third: "An elephant is like a fat hose with two big holes in the end." Of course the three men each got an incomplete picture of the elephant by only focusing on one attribute, namely the tail, leg, and trunk respectively. Are each of these descriptions "conflicting"? YOU BET! Are each of them true? SOMEWHAT!

I'm not trying to be profound or original here... I realize that this is a very old argument, but in light of the myriad of theologies and philosophies around the world, perhaps each of our groups are like the blindfolded men. We each focus on different aspects and characteristics of God, of religion, of living out a faith-life. Each somewhat conflicting, each somewhat true, but none grasping the totality and infinity that is the great I AM, the GOD beyond duality, the HOLY and NAMELESS Mystery to which we all owe our lives.

So, yes, I am aware that I have "glossed over" the differences in religions in my past posts. And yes, I realize that my "bent" on Christian theology is far, far different than the standard American Evangelical view and that in light of where many of you are coming from I am very, very "wrong."

The question becomes: what do the religions have in common? What kinds of things can we agree on? Might these similarities be "most true"? Or at least consider what "attributes" of God does another faith focus on that is different but congruent with your own. If you were to say at this point that God has called ONE PEOPLE to be his holy people, ONE PEOPLE to unveil the truth, and to hell with the rest, I urge you to reconsider the logic and the heart behind such a stance. Instead of closing up and building a fortress around our own faiths and worldviews, we are at a unique crossroad of opportunity to begin to truly share and learn from one another. Having said this, what I don't believe is that one's faith or worldview should be entirely personal. If one cannot find a valid community that shares his/her views, these views should probably be rejected as they will most likely be born of egotism. I believe that morality, ethics, and religion should be viewed and implemented through a "we" lens rather than an "I" lens.

Some of you have challenged me to accept a more fully complete and orthodox Christian theology. I am now challenging you all to step out of your faith ghettos and truly converse with people that have differing views. I may be guilty of "glossing over" the differences in religions too much, but many of us are instead guilty of reinforcing the segregation by believing oneself to be unapologetically "right." And there is no way you can make any steps into the right direction with heady, theological assumptions. You must make friends and have conversations with a Hindu. You must sit down for coffee with a Muslim.

It is with this mindset that I wrote that initial article: "Thoughts on What It Means to Be Christian." But looking back now, perhaps a more appropriate title would be: "Thoughts on What It Means to Be Christian in 2004: Not Throwing the Baby Out with the Bath Water in a Global Age." (Haha, kindof a ridiculous title... the first definitely had more "ring" to it)

That article was an attempt to look at and discover what truths in my faith still hold true in light of the many conflicting theologies and philosophies. What appears to be the most universally true? How can one be a follower of Christ in way that realizes that it is not the only way? This isn't a wishy-washy, politically correct, don't-want-to-hurt-anyone's-feelings view of acceptance and openness. It's a real and humble attitude that says: "What can other people teach ME about loving and following God?"

A final note - I have also been accused in my past posts of presenting a moral code - a "way" - that must be followed to either find favor with God or to get into heaven. That definitely was not my intent. I have not "substituted God's grace towards sinners" for a set of moral standards that one must keep up. When have I even once said that one MUST follow "the way" to find favor with God or to get into heaven? Rather, what I proposed is a lifestyle CHOICE that is born out of a desire to live a God-life after the example of Jesus. It is indeed a choice that like Dan said on his blog: "[is] because we love God and want to be more than just 'saved' we want to be followers of Christ." The "way" I proposed spoke nothing of God's favor or of heaven. It is indeed purist Christian theology that proposes a requirement for God's grace... if even that means "accepting" it, saying a prayer, intellectually believing a certain thing, or otherwise.

Thank you again to all who have followed this discussion. I welcome all comments, but please understand that there is a 90% chance that I won't respond. I will let you have the last word. I will love to read your responses, but I can't keep this dialogue up for ever (these long posts take multiple hours to write!!). God bless... may we continue to seek God as God continues to seek us. May we each strive for truth and beauty and love and may peace and happiness be found every step of the way. "Be the change you wish to see in the world." - Ghandi


dave said...

Well put. I truly enjoyed reading it, especially since I was challenged by it. I am in a current place of disgust with the church, so being reminded of the importance of a faith community was well timed.
Thanks. Enjoy the journey.

Adam Omelianchuk said...

Thank you for being honest and curteous.

swingingpuss said...


THat's a great post - I've blogged about it on my blog at Bonds that Bind us together"Tell me what you think