In Parts One and Two, I have written about the supreme purpose shared by all religions as well as their shared failure. Here is what I think must happen within Christianity and among all religions so that shared failure might be transformed into a shared purpose:
First, accept the fact that there will always be many religions. No one religion will ever convert the whole world to its way of believing. How do I know this? Followers within the same religion can’t even agree on everything and so have divided into an almost endless number of sects and denominations. In Christianity, for example, there are more denominations than there are flavors of Baskin-Robbins ice cream.
Noted historian, Huston Smith, once observed: “…if we were to find ourselves with a single religion tomorrow, it is likely that there would be two the day after.” So, what does this mean? Your place at God’s table is a given. In other words, we must make room, not only for all Christians, churches, and their denominations, but we must make room for all religions as well.
Second, religious leaders must continually remind themselves of the supreme purpose of their religion—to bring followers into a meaningful relationship with the Divine—and, stick to this purpose. Everything else is secondary. However, if secondary matters—things like your understanding of God, your beliefs, or your group’s beliefs, and so forth—are given a place of preeminence, the eventual consequence is a feeling of superiority. That feeling quickly gets ugly and, when it does—and it always does—no good thing will ever come of it.
So again, there must be room at this table for everyone. How? The only way to accomplish this is to grow up. Your ego (and the arrogance around it), as well as the collective ego of your group, must die, which is what Jesus meant when he said "Deny yourself," (Mark 10:37) or the Buddha meant when he referred to “anata," or “no self."
Just call it maturity if these concepts don’t work for you—the capacity to cherish your individual beliefs while making room for the differing beliefs of others. F. Scott Fitzgerald put it something like this, “The mark of maturity is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in the mind at the same time and still be at peace.” Religious people who continually debate, defend, and then demand their way of believing is the “right” way or, worse, the “only” way are only revealing their immaturity, as well as inability, to live with paradox, ambiguity, and, most important, to live by grace and with grace.
Third, I would suggest you make the effort to forgive your faith tradition for its failures. Today, there is so much anger and well-deserved rage toward the church, particularly from those who’ve been damaged or disenfranchised by it. I was one of these persons myself but, since I describe that story in detail in The Enoch Factor, it isn’t necessary to go into it here. Suffice to say, forgiveness will be no small task for many of people. The injury inflicted on them by the church is not only inexcusable, it is in countless instances so inconceivable, even horrific in nature, it borders on being unforgivable. I admit there are times I fight the impulse to walk away from it myself. I still find it incomprehensible, for example, even reprehensible, how the church could expect gays and lesbians to return to the proverbial closet, as someone so eloquently put it, while hiding, as well as protecting, clergy pedophiles in closets of it's own. If you haven’t forgiven your religious tradition for its insanity, or simply cannot just yet, know that I completely understand. For myself, however, I’ve chosen to forgive and, of course, that’s what forgiveness really is—a choice.
Finally, the fighting must end, too. And, this statement isn’t directed just to Islamic fundamentalists but to Christian fundamentalists as well. The former use weapons to destroy people who don’t agree with them. The latter use a little belief system they call the Rapture against those who don’t agree with them. This system has no Biblical basis as any scholar knows but it postulates that Jesus will return to earth, hover in the clouds while Christians are zapped from the earth, leaving behind all disbelievers.
It’s a belief system straight out of the comic books, which is the irony because, if Christians actually knew where the idea of the Rapture came—which of course they do not—they would reject it outright. Meanwhile, however, belief in the Rapture serves as a convenient way to take revenge on disbelievers or all of those whom Christians have failed to convert to Christianity.
Thinking Christians know that, whatever was meant by the words of Jesus’ return to earth, the New Testament passages that speak of this all suggest it will only occur when people least expect it. Since fundamentalist Christians are all looking for Jesus’ return, they do not realize but they are likely responsible for his delay.
Here’s how Mark Twain once framed the insanity I’ve attempted to describe in all three articles:
"When I, a thoughtful and unblessed Presbyterian, examine the Koran, I know that beyond any question every Mohammedan is insane; not in all things, but in religious matters. When a thoughtful and unblessed Mohammedan examines the Westminster Catechism, he knows that beyond any question I am spiritually insane. I cannot prove to him that he is insane, because you never can prove anything to a lunatic—for that is a part of his insanity and the evidence of it. He cannot prove to me that I am insane, for my mind has the same defect that afflicts his... When I look around me, I am often troubled to see how many people are mad."(From Christian Science, Book I, Chapter V by M. Twain, 1907).
Again, just as it is outlandish to believe your religion is going to convert the world to its way of thinking, it is equally outlandish to develop a belief system that would leave behind the world you can’t convert. We’ve got to learn to get along. “No tree has branches so foolish as to fight among themselves” (Native American wisdom).