Recent events at a “safe place” I’ve found to discuss Universalism prompted this post; though it’s been brewing for quite a while. Everyone at the place I frequent is a “Christian Universalist”. But, we do have our differences of opinion. While discussing Jesus’ sacrificial death the other day one of the regulars there took a poke at some of us, including me, by denouncing me as not being a “true Christian”. I guess this was supposed to be the ultimate insult and cause me to quickly capitulate because I would certainly value being a “true Christian” over being right or seeking the truth.
There have been several times in my life I felt I might have to make a choice between truth and Christianity. This is a scary place to be for someone who values his faith so highly. But, it’s a consequence of being an honest truth seeker. Being a truth seeker is a both a blessing and a curse. But, it’s something I have no choice about. I realize for many people this isn’t an issue at all. Many of us accept Christianity, as it is handed to us, and never question whether it’s true or not. But, if you were that type of person, it’s highly unlikely you’d be reading this. So, perhaps this question of “truth or Christianity” will have some relevance for you, too. I remember when I started out my website to defend the truth of Christianity (many years ago). I had to do a lot of research to defend the faith and began running across things that challenged my faith in the process. I started doing research on evolution versus creationism. Up until that point, I was a literal, six-day, young earth creationist and didn’t think a true Christian could be anything other than that. But, as I started researching supporting material, I had to make a choice. Did I just ignore all the evidence against a young earth, six-day creation? I still remember the day (actually the moment) when I accepted that Christianity did not preclude the belief that God created the universe as we know it over a long period of time starting a very, very long time ago and that Adam and Eve were not literal beings formed from dust and plopped into a garden with a talking snake. That revelation however, rocked my world as the reality of what I had believed began slipping away before new revelation had fully formed to take its place. What I learned from that experience though was that it is more important to pursue truth than to blindly follow “Christianity”. Facing up to the truth not only allowed me to continue in my faith, it strengthened my faith.
Since that time, I have had several issues I’ve had to wrestle with. But, rather than looking at them from the perspective that whatever Christianity has to say about these issues must be true and burying my head concerning any other points of view, I seek the truth first. This pursuit of ultimate truth has its consequences and its benefits, like just about anything else in life.
Consequence number one- even making the statement that I value truth over Christianity would freak out many of the people in the circles I travel in. The statement is not meant to imply that Christianity and truth are somehow inherently different. If I thought that, I wouldn’t be a Christian. But, if I ever get to the point where I find Christianity and truth diverge, I have made the choice to follow the path of truth. Consequence number two- I don’t have the assurance of possessing the truth that so many people seem to think they possess. There’s something very comforting about “God said, I believe it, that settles it” (or “the Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it.”). It must be nice to think you are in possession of absolute, unshakable truth. But, as a friend of mine put so well (I paraphrase) “I believe there is absolute truth, I just don’t think we have a clue of what it is.” I agree with this wholeheartedly. I don’t think all truth is relative, just a matter of perspective or changes with the observer. But, I think we know a lot less about God than most of us would care to admit. Consequence number three- It’s difficult for me to identify with many Christians and I’m uncertain about my future as a Christian. When I started reading about postmodernism and its embrace of the unknown and unknowable, it really resonated with me. Some think this uncertainty would make life unbearable. But, on a certain level, I really don’t have more uncertainty than anyone else; I just admit that I am uncertain, which leads to some of the benefits of this pursuit of truth that I value so much.
Benefit number one- by being willing to part with the “truth” I think I possess I make myself available to receive the real Truth. The analogy you may have heard when you were a kid about God not being able to give you something if your hand is closed holds true for truth, as well. You can’t embrace a new revelation until you are willing to let go of what you think you know. You can’t move on to a new paradigm without being willing to part with your old one. Benefit number two- by admitting to uncertainty I am not as dogmatic about things as many people are. Some might choose to call this being “wishy-washy”. But, I think most people who know me would describe me as anything but “wishy-washy”. Benefit number three- by not believing that what I know or even what Christianity knows is the completely, unadulterated truth about everything, I am free to actively seek knowledge from any source. I have learned so much by studying other traditions. Yes, some of them have a lot of junk. But, guess what? So does “churchianity” (traditional Christianity as defined by established churches). What I have found fascinating is there is a core of truth in most religious traditions and there are many places of intersection or overlap. My experience has been what resonates as true to me lies in where the religions overlap and the farther out their beliefs are (in any direction) the less likely they are to be true. While religions seem to highly value exclusivity and uniqueness, I don’t find these things particularly appealing or likely to be true when it comes to seeking spiritual things. I think God reveals the big important things to most people in a wide variety of ways- not shows them to an elite few behind closed doors.
Lately, as I feel I’ve gotten to know God more and more, I have been open to more and more revelation from Him. No matter what that revelation might entail. This openness allowed me to finally discover and embrace Universalism and reject the characterization of the Creator of this universe as a sadistic torturer. This was a major, major turning point in my life in so many ways. Had I not been willing to explore outside of my “safe zone”, God could never have revealed this to me. As I move further and further away from “churchianity”, it’s a little scary. Recently I realized that I would have to embrace Universalism, even if it weren’t biblical. Don’t get me wrong. I think the Bible is very, very important in the Christian tradition and I am a Christian. But, the Bible, after all is just one of several books that people claim to be “holy”. The Jewish Scriptures (the Tanakh) claim to be Holy and the Jews reject the New Testament as just a false add-on. Christians think the Koran has a false add on- to the Christian Bible even though Muslims claim it’s holy and infallible. Most Christians reject the Book of Mormon. Then there is the Bhagavad Gita and on and on it goes. Instead of basing my “belief” in the Bible on what I was told to believe about it, my belief is now based on what it reveals and how true that seems to be. If the Bible really claimed that God was the kind of god who would create creatures for the sole purpose of eternally tormenting them for his “glory”, I would have to reject this claim. And, based on such a very critical mischaracterization of God, I would probably have to reject the whole thing. Ironically, I believe this is a biblical point of view. We should test “prophets” and spirits.
So, is being a Christian important to me or is the truth important? The answer is “yes”. Both are important to me. But, I remain a Christian because I think Christianity is the fullest revelation of the truth of God that we have. I don’t think we’ve got it all right and I don’t think God has only revealed Himself in the pages of the Christian Bible. Will I always be a Christian? I honestly don’t know. I think I will be. But, I will always be a seeker of truth and hopefully always moving in the right direction. It’s a scary path to be on. And, much of the time it’s lonely. But, I think it’s the right one.
What do you think?