Conversations from the Post-Christian World
1. What do you believe?
Personally, I prefer to use the word “perspectives” instead of “beliefs.” It feels to me as if the word is more fluid and open to change while the word “belief” feels rigid, superior, and resistant to change. I make it my practice to be open to everything and attached to nothing. A belief is an assumption you make about life. It’s an idea, a doctrine, or a structure of thought that helps you articulate your human experience. But, this is all that a belief is. Therefore, no belief is infallible or superior to the beliefs of others. This is why I prefer to call my beliefs, perspectives. A perspective is dynamic, ever-expanding, respective of others, and open to all.
2. Do you believe in God?
Yes. But, can I prove he exists? No. Can anyone prove she does not? No, again. While I call God, God, I hesitate to say much more than this. Anything more I might say, no matter how accurate it is, seems too definitive and limiting, as if to place boundaries around the Divine or to squeeze God into some conceptual box. How do you define what is indefinable, limit what is limitless, or explain what is inexplicable?
3. What do you believe about Jesus?
Jesus was a human being and just as much flesh and blood, mind and emotions as anyone else. What distinguished Jesus from virtually everyone else is that he lived at perhaps the highest possible level of Divine consciousness. That is to say, he lived most fully a God-realized life, a life of oneness with the Divine. In fact, he did so to such an amazing degree that many people regarded him as Divine, even God-Incarnate. I do as well, but not in any sense that Jesus—and only Jesus—was capable of divinity, oneness with, or inseparability from God. I am too. So are you. Why else would Jesus say, “The things you have seen me do, greater things you will do…” (John 14:12). For years, I mistakenly believed that, when Saint John said, “…God gave his only begotten Son…” (John 3:16) that he meant that Jesus was God’s one-and-only Son. Now, my perspective is slightly different. Instead of translating the Greek word “begotten” as “one and only,” which, of course, many Christians have, I understand John to mean “unique.” Jesus was indeed unique. Given his impact on human history, no intelligent person would argue that. But, does that mean he was some kind of “Superman” in human flesh? I think not. I regard Jesus as God’s Son, indeed unique in how he lived, the way he died, the example he left for his followers, and the intimacy he enjoyed with the Creator herself. But I regard myself, just as I do you, to be children of God, too. By following Jesus, and so living as he lived, I, and you, too, may know the same intimacy with God and so live and die in the joyful Presence of knowing, as Saint Paul so eloquently put it, “Nothing shall separate us from the love of God” (Romans 8:31). When you know this truth, instead of trying to explain it or defend a position, belief, or idea taught you by your religious tradition, then, and only then, are you truly free to enjoy the indecipherable richness that being one of God’s sons or daughters implies.
4. Do you believe everyone can know God as Jesus knew God?
Yes. Why else would Jesus say over and over again, “Follow me?” It is in following Jesus you make the wonderful discovery of God’s indescribable Presence in your life. You become God-aware. As you practice following the sacred path of Jesus, you grow in Divine awareness. It is important to remember that following Jesus is infinitely more than simply believing in Jesus. When Saint John said, “…whoever believes in him (Jesus)…shall have eternal life” (John 3:16), what does he mean by “believe”? What is there to believe? That Jesus lived and died? No one denies this. That Jesus is the Divine Savior? Many believe this but they continue to live in darkness and do not pattern their lives after Jesus. In truth, real faith in Jesus is actually the opposite of belief in Jesus. Faith is a way of life. Since we have no verb in the English language for “faith,” we are forced to substitute in our translations of the Bible the word, “believe.” This oddity in our language has been the source of much confusion. People have confused “faithing” or “believing” with beliefs, but believing has little do to with content. It has infinitely more to do with conduct, though not in some morally superior way. It’s not what you know that produces an inner transformation. It’s Who you know and, as a consequence, how you go about living your life and patterning it after that of Jesus himself that produces inner change in your thoughts and attitudes and outer change in your conduct in the world. Again, the real followers of Jesus are those who pattern their life after his. When you make it your daily spiritual practice to think as he may have thought, to live as he lived, and to practice showing compassion to yourself, to others, and toward God, then you ARE a follower of Jesus.
5. Do you believe Jesus is the only way to God?
Jesus is my way to God. To be a “disciple” of Jesus means to be a learner of his way of thinking, living, and behaving. It is to follow his path, one that inevitably leads those who do into a life-changing awareness of the Divine presence. There may be other pathways of knowing Universal Intelligence, however. Practitioners of the Baha’i faith, for example, speak of “One Light, Many Lamps.” God is the Light of all and gives light to all. It seems most probable, as well as logical, that God may be seen and known through the light of many different lamps. It would be arrogant of me to either presume or to assert that God can only be known in one way. Besides, how could I ever be sure of such a presumptuous assumption?
6. Do not the perspectives you hold undermine the uniqueness of Jesus and the authority of the Bible?
They do not for me. Do they for you? If so, then you will likely disagree with my perspective(s), cling to some other perspective, and perhaps feel the need to vigorously defend it. But, this is not necessary unless your sense of self is attached to your beliefs or perspectives. In that case, you will react to not only my perspectives but to any different perspective as if it were a personal attack against you. Attachment to anything, including a belief system, will cause you to suffer, or so instructed the Buddha. For me, I have found it much more liberating to “be open to everything and attached to nothing.” Only when you feel the need to insist your perspective is “right” and other perspectives are wrong that you create an “us” and “them” world, which is the principle cause of virtually all human conflicts. This may be a small planet but it is large enough to sustain a variety of perspectives, provided the humans who hold those perspectives are mature enough to tolerate polarity, ambiguity, even contradiction. Branches on a tree don’t have to all look alike to draw nourishment from the same vine. Native Americans say, “No tree has branches so foolish as to fight among themselves.” My perspective is to stay open, be reflective, and keep seeking. Or, as the philosopher Andre’ Gide put it, “Believe those who seek the truth; doubt those who have found it.” Jesus said, “Seek and you will find…” and, in another place, he said, “You will know the truth and it will make you free."
7. What denomination are you?
I grew up a Baptist and, more specifically, a Southern Baptist. I didn’t know it at the time but there are as many Baptists as there are flavors of Baskin-Robbins ice cream. Today, I regard myself as the product of many Christian traditions, as well as many non-Christian ones. For example, I recently joined the Roman Catholic Church. I did not, however, abandon my Baptist faith or my membership in a Baptist church. So, today, I hold membership in two churches. Who knows, perhaps before I leave this planet, I may just join the Methodists, too, as well as the Presbyterians, Episcopalians, the Unity Church, and the Snake-Handling Pentecostals in the hills of eastern Kentucky. I’m drawn to the Buddhist teachings, too, as well as the meditative practices within Hinduism. Having consulted with virtually every branch of the Christian church, I have come to find much affinity in all of them. I am a follower of Christ. But, I have no interest in debating the supremacy of my faith tradition over another. My choice to be a Christ-follower has been shaped by my background, as well as my ever-expanding perspectives. So, when I am asked, I tell people I’m a Christ-follower by choice, a multi-denominationalist with ties to Buddhism, Hinduism, and Sufism within the Muslim faith. As a Christ-follower, I’m a Baptist by heritage and a Roman Catholic by choice. But, I also love the Methodist for their emphasis on the sacredness of our religious traditions, the Episcopalians for their emphasis on equality of all persons, the Presbyterians for their emphasis on Divine providence, the Pentecostals for their emphasis on joy in the Spirit, and the Evangelicals for risking the “doing” of church outside the box. Frankly, however, labels mean little to me. My desire is to simply walk with God…to master this sacred art that was once described by the ancient Catholic mystic, Brother Lawrence, as “the practice of the presence of God.” In the final analysis, isn’t walking with God, as did Enoch in the Old Testament, all that really matters? What could be more important than this?
8. Then, what do you believe?
Not much, I suppose. For example, when someone says, “I believe in God,” I wonder what they mean by that. Does it mean they believe in the existence of God? Well, so do I and, if surveys are accurate, so do the overwhelming majority of Americans. But, I feel no need to try to “prove” God exists. It can’t be done anyway. I find it far more fulfilling to spend my time getting to know the God I know exists. My own suspicion is that religious people try to “prove” God exists because they’re secretly afraid she doesn’t. You only ever “believe” or “defend” those things about which you are uncertain. If you knew God, what would there be to either prove or defend? I want nothing more than to cultivate God’s ineffable presence within my consciousness and so remain in that Presence continually. It is there I am at peace. It is there I experience the joy that is, as Saint Paul put it, “unspeakable.” It is there I find my thinking changes, my living takes on meaning, and my fear of death dissolves. If this is not what the New Testament meant by “salvation,” what the Easterners call “enlightenment,” then what is it?
9. What do you mean by the words “post-Christian world?”
When I was young, all of my neighbors were Christian. Even those who were not regular churchgoers regarded themselves as Christian nonetheless. Furthermore, virtually everyone thought of America as a “Christian” nation. Today, however, the little world in which I grew up has changed. Your neighbor now might just as likely be a Muslim, a Buddhist, a Hindu, or even an atheist. Near our house in Louisville, Kentucky, for example, there is a service station where I regularly fill my car with gasoline. Recently, I made a stop there and discovered there were new owners, an Indian man and his daughter. As we got acquainted, I observed tilaka on his forehead, the round, red dot symbolizing the "third eye," for mindfulness or meditation. I asked if they were Hindu. “He is,” answered his daughter, as she gestured toward him. “But, I’m a Muslim.” I remember thinking to myself, “This is the new world in which we live.” If humanity is to survive, religious people must actually start practicing the very things their faith professes – love, peace, and acceptance of all, those like you, those different from you, and even your enemies. While virtually every conflict throughout history, down to and including the present, has been religiously inspired, this insanity must end if humanity is to survive. In this regard, the Dalai Lama was right when he said, “When there’s peace among the religions, there will be peace in the world.”
10. What do you believe is wrong with Christianity?
G. K. Chesterton purportedly said, “There’s nothing wrong with Christianity; there’s everything wrong with Christians.” It is the Christians within Christianity who have been the source of much human division, destruction, and human and planetary suffering. Throughout history, for example, Christians have repeatedly labeled, judged, and sought to destroy their perceived enemies. Furthermore, they have even acted this way toward those within their own faith tradition. It is insanity and it must end. There is room enough for everyone on this planet. But, until Christians actually live as Jesus lived, treat others, but especially their enemies with openness and respect, and make room even for those who choose to have no religious affiliation, the conflict will not only continue, it will escalate. All labeling and judging must stop, too. All this nonsense of believing, “We’re right, others are wrong!” “We’re God’s chosen, others are not!” must cease. There will always be many different religions, even many subsets within the same religion. Or, to put it another way, there will never be just one way of understanding or knowing Eternal Truth I call God. If the present divisions within Christianity alone have not made it abundantly clear to you that humans are incapable of subscribing to the same religion, even to the same beliefs within the same religion, then there isn’t much I, or anyone else, could ever teach you. So, there’s nothing wrong with Christianity. There’s everything wrong with those of us who call ourselves Christians. We must change but change can only occur within. And no inner change will ever take place until each Christian makes the decision to “follow” Christ—that is, to really follow Christ. Make this your ambition. Not only will you change, but your world will change, too.