Interesting you would ask me this, as others have asked me this question, too, and I suppose it is because I no longer pretend to believe that Christianity is the only way to know God. Yet, as far as my own faith journey is concerned, I regard myself as more Christian today than I’ve ever been.
Admittedly, there are some dramatic differences.
For the most part, my spiritual life is a whole lot less about beliefs and a whole lot more about faith. There is a canyon of difference between the two. Like most religious people, I had confused belief for faith for decades. For example, there are many people who believe in Jesus but, in terms of living by the way of Jesus—that is, living by the example and teachings of Jesus—they do not.
Take this one example, although there are really many examples I could give you. Jesus said, “Love your enemies.” What that really means is “Have no enemies.” Yet, many churchgoing people—perhaps even the majority of them—who would vigorously defend the US war in Afghanistan and in Iraq. There was a time when I could have, too. Now, however, I find it very difficult to live by Jesus’ teaching and try to justify war, any war, at the same time. I suspect that’s why most Christians throughout history have looked to St. Augustine and his “Just War Theory” as a way to circumvent the rather clear teaching of Jesus. For me, now that I regard myself as more Christian than ever before, feel, if I am going to say I’m a follower of Christ, then I must truly follow Christ and his teachings, instead of looking for some clever way to explain away his hard teachings.
For most of my adult life, I thought that being a Christian was about believing certain things about God, Jesus, and the Bible. That being a Christian was about living a certain way – which usually meant ordering your life around some arbitrary but cultural standards somebody concocted as a definition as to what it meant to be Christian. For Baptists in the south, where I grew up and with whom I attended church, being a Christian meant you walked a church aisle – hopefully soon after reaching the “age of accountability”—whatever that is, said you believed in Jesus and renounced your terrible sins (which were many at the age of seven when this “salvation” event occurred for me), and then promising you wouldn’t “drink, cuss, smoke, or chew or run with girls who do.”
There were a few other things that defined the “right” or “good” Christian—attend church regularly – the really, really good Christians came on Sunday night, too, and again on Wednesday—be patriotic, salute the flag and don’t cheat Uncle Sam, and, of course, pay your tithes and offerings. If you did not do that…well…you might not go to hell but you’d smell like you’d been there.
Now, however, I know, as Deepak Chopra once put it, your “beliefs are a cover-up for insecurity. You only ever believe in the things you’re not certain about.”
Faith, on the other hand, is the capacity to live in ambiguity; or, to step confidently in the face of uncertainty. It is to live with an inner sense of security, knowing that, since nothing could ever surprise the Divine, you can live without fear, without stress, worry, or anxiety. You can live without religion, too. That being a person of faith has very little to do with what you believe and a whole lot to do with how you live. To be a person of faith is to not just to believe in God or Jesus, or even to know a lot about God. It is, instead, to actually know God for yourself, as yourself, and to walk in the joy of her ineffable Presence.
As an educated scholar, theologian, and religious leader, I knew much about God. I could argue and debate with anybody about what I believed. But, in terms of those beliefs making any real difference in my life…well…I cannot say that those beliefs made any difference. You can’t argue God’s presence into your life. Clinging to a set of beliefs, no matter how correct they may be, won’t change the human heart. Jesus said as much to the religious leaders of his day who, like many today, believed that they had to believe the right beliefs to be right with God. It was insanity then and it is insane today. You only argue and debate about the things you do not know. When you really know God, what is there to debate? Or, to put it another way, when people set out to prove that God exists, it could only ever mean that they do so because they secretly fear she doesn’t.
You don’t believe in the sun, do you? You don’t argue and debate whether it really exists. The notion would be absurd. What’s there to believe in or to debate about the sun? You know the sun. You see it hanging in the heavens, feel its warmth by day, and observe its effects on earth. Similarly, when you know the reality of the Eternal Presence—and that inner knowing could only ever occur when you exchange beliefs about God for faith in God—then you cannot but see God everywhere, in everyone, as well as in everything. All of life becomes to you the sacred sanctuary of God’s eternal presence.