Monday, December 28, 2009

The Need for an Inclusive Faith

I believe that the more inclusive one’s Christian faith becomes (or for that matter any religious tradition) the more transformative and real and spiritually healthy it becomes.

The more dualistic a faith is the more its adherents concern themselves with who is “in” and who is “out,” who is “saved” and “unsaved,” and in the more fundamentalist versions of Christianity this means separating those who are going to heaven from those who are going to hell.

Dualistic believing Christians employ different methods and criteria in determining who is in and who is out. The criteria may include church membership, baptism, believing certain doctrines, adopting certain formulas like saying the sinner’s prayer, etc. For example, I have a Christian friend who was labeled “unsaved” by some of his more conservative Christian friends because he doesn’t believe in the virgin birth.

Certainly I believe that church membership, baptism, Christian doctrine, etc, have their place, but I am convinced that a strong dualistic orientation toward life and God will only continue to kindle animosity and division. Dualistic religion is killing us—literally.

I don’t mean to suggest that our differences have no significance; they do and there is a place in religious dialogue to talk about them and even debate them in a context of mutual respect and friendship. The more inclusive I become, however, the less importance I attach to specific doctrines and the more I look for what I have in common with other Christians and persons of other religious faiths.

Priorities and emphases differ significantly between dualistic/exclusivistic Christians and those with a more inclusive orientation. For example, for many dualistic oriented Christians evangelism basically means getting other people to believe what they believe (which of course for many is the “only” way to believe) and converting them to their faith system, which is often connected to the afterlife—saving them from God’s wrath, hell, etc. and promising heaven.

For more inclusive oriented Christians evangelism means sharing God’s unconditional love and forgiveness, and inviting persons to become disciples/followers of Christ as the way to discover, experience, embody, and live God’s love and grace.

I certainly believe in life after death, but I also believe that God will never give up on a person. This gives a much different slant to God’s judgment, imagining it as more restorative and redemptive, and less punitive and condemnatory.

When I was more dualistic in my faith the key question was: Are my beliefs correct and how do I get others to believe the right things? Now that I am more inclusive in my thinking the key question is: How can I fall in love with an unconditionally loving God and share this love with others?

If our primary interest in Christianity is to secure our own fate (make sure we are going to heaven when we die), then our commitment to God is grounded and pervaded by our passion for self-preservation. Such self-interest is a far cry from the kind of self-giving love manifested through the life and death of Jesus Christ. Many dualistic versions of Christianity are simply Christianized versions of “the survival of the fittest,” prompting believers to embrace the faith out of self-interest or group solidarity (it’s important not to break the family/tribal circle).

When we impose our either-or mentality onto God, then God ends us looking awfully petty and needy. When we make “our” way God’s way, and then claim that it is the “only” way, we are not only trying to manipulate and force God into our way of thinking, we make God look as narcissistic and manipulative as we are. Richard Rohr observes that our tendency is “not to see things as they are, but to see things as we are.” We constantly project our fears and egoism onto God. Dualistic religion is more apt to fashion God in our image than more inclusive approaches.

Because religion is such a potent force in the world I think that the future of our planet hinges upon humankind’s capacity to grow up spiritually, to recognize the divisiveness and destructiveness of dualistic religion, and embrace a more inclusive gospel that really is “good news.”

4 comments:

  1. Great BLog--Love the Rohr comment. This should definitely get people thinking(well maybe more reacting than thinking--espcecially virgin birth) Someone mentioned a quote in SS yesterday that we "get the God we deserve" We seem to have a hard time accepting that God's Kingdom is here on earth, now or at least tryng to be thru our efforts and not somewhere aout in space.

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  2. Benny, it is understandable that we have difficulty imagining a transformed world, because evil is so pervasive and forgiveness so costly in the world as we experience it. We get glimpses of a what a transformed world might look like, but let's face it, even in our own lives habits of sin are difficult to break. So it is much easier to think about this world as doomed and damned, and imagine some other world where everything will be different.

    I remember a conversation once where someone said that in heaven we will not want to sin? I think I would ask now, "Why not?" "What will make us fundamentally different than we are now?" I think some folks use this as a justification for failing to work at responsibile change now, either in their own lives and in the structures of society.

    I don't believe in magical tranformation and I tend to believe that whatever life after death involves it will be in some ways a continuation of the spiritual progress we make now.

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  3. We had the blessed good fortune of sharing a train car for about 4 hours with a man from Jordan who has lived in Calif for several years, meaning that he could speak English quite well, as we were traveling across Morocco. He was Muslim. We spent the entire trip talking about Islam and Christianity. We learned so much and we all came to recognize that our respective beliefs have so much in common. The differences are there but so what? It is indeed arrogant of Christians, Baptist in particular, to assume that God does not come to people all over the world, whether or not they have a particular faith tradition.

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  4. As a member of the Universal Life Church inclusive faith is very important to me. I really enjoyed reading your post, thanks for the insights :)

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