by Thomas Ashes
Some time ago, I decided that there was a need, in our modern society, for a place to discuss the many issues that Christians and all people must deal with. Everyone is aware that we live in a time of great change. Many church-goers are upset about these changes, and to me, these people seem to be retreating back into their comfort zone, and becoming even more conservative, more fearful. In dealing with these changes, I feel that we are being poorly served by the traditional Church. I know that many others agree.
We are tired of hearing from the religious right, the conservatives, that the Republican political party is representative of most Christians, and that liberals are all irreligious heathen.
The fundamentalists of the religious right have attempted to hijack our Faith. Some of them may mean well, but too often, they come across as being bigoted against minorities, and terribly closed-minded. They have become pawns for the wealthy backers of the Republican Party of the USA, a political party that claims to have the moral high ground. We see this as a deception. After all, the Republicans, and the Tea Party have become the party of guns, of resentment against immigrants, of hawkish war-mongers, and bigots of every kind, hateful of anyone who is not of their race, and seeking ways to discriminate against those among us who may not be in a traditional heterosexual relationship.
We are Christians, and we don’t think that the hypocrisy demonstrated by the religious right represents us at all. We see more good in the liberal left side of the political spectrum. We see more love in those who resist military action, in those who care deeply for immigrants and for persecuted minorities. This is not to advocate for any political party. But we would like to trash the common notion that the Republican right-wing is somehow the ‘party of God’.
But as Christians, we understand that we must be a loving, inclusive people. We must face the fact that in a changing society, God gives us the wisdom to accept and support those who are different from us, whether the difference is a matter of race, Faith, or sexuality.
We see a need to return to a progressive concern for the poor, for the unemployed, for those that need health care. True Christians are not people who hate science. We are not ‘married’ to conservative economic theories. Of course, such terms as “trickle-down” are nowhere to be found in the Bible.
There seems to be some interest in a form of Christianity that is not weighed down by the negative aspects of right-wing fundamentalism. I like to call the typical conservative Christian ‘extremists’, to borrow from the terminology often unfairly applied to Muslims. We can abandon extremist views. So there is an opportunity to begin afresh and anew. One only need accept that the same Holy Spirit that inspired the writers of the Bible can still lead us today. And perhaps, after 2000 years, it is time for an update, as to how we, as Christians, relate to the world around us.
If we understand that the church must evolve, and that God is still, today, providing his/her people with modern guidance, we can feel more free to actually abandon some of the teachings of the Bible, understanding that the writers were influenced by the culture of their day. We can develop new and more inclusive doctrines. We can adopt a kinder form of Christianity.
After all, what is it about Christianity that many people find offensive, or upsetting, and difficult to believe? Most of the criticism is directed toward the concept of a god who sends the vast majority of people to some eternal hell after they die, as a punishment for their unbelief, or their belief in an “incorrect” religion. Well, so let’s do away with that completely, as a positive first step.
I believe that the key to understanding everything, in relation to the teachings of Christianity, is a true understanding of the term, ‘grace’. There is more than one definition, but the important one for us is this: grace is ‘unmerited favor’. In other words, acceptance, with no strings attached. There is much more that could be said here, but I want to keep it simple.
Even more important, and key to being really inclusive, is the understanding that “God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” (John 3:17, Revised Standard Version). In this scripture we see that it is God’s will for all in the world to be saved. My ideas on this may be attacked, but all I am saying is that Christ was successful, in doing what he came to do. He did a good job. God did a good job in assuring that his/her will actually would be done. [Having acknowledged that God is both Father and Mother, not having a strictly male identity, I will just use ‘He’ from now on.]
In the next verse, John 18, there are words to the effect that those who don’t believe will be “condemned”. This doesn’t mean that people who aren’t Christians will be damned. I look at it as a way out, for those few who will refuse eternal life. I know that God is so loving that He would never force anything upon anyone. So, for those who reject life, he will give them annihilation. Actually, one must acknowledge the many scriptures that seem to indicate that many will not come to salvation. I am no expert, nor a prophet. Maybe we, who believe that salvation can come to all who want it, are mistaken.
But Christ came to save all mankind. Was He a success? Of course he was. But the traditional teaching of the church is that in spite of Christ’s coming, in spite of the fact that it is God’s will for all to be saved, for most, it has failed to bring salvation. They say that all those of differing Faiths, and all those who fail to adhere to their teachings, are bound for something worse than death. This failure to be saved would apply to all who never heard of Christianity. And so, they say that God’s will, his plan for saving us, will be carried out only for a small group. They believe the will of God has been thwarted, somehow. I can’t believe this. I believe God succeeded, in accomplishing His will, and that all who wish to be, are, or will be, saved.
And the specter of a future in which a small fraction of God’s created beings live in bliss, while ten times that many fry forever in unspeakable agony, this is obviously so absurd, that it’s not worth an argument.
As a result, I live in a world with only one supernatural supreme being, who is supremely loving and benevolent toward all of his/ her creation, and who has nothing but good planned for everyone. All of humanity are my brothers and sisters. It’s a good place to be.
This new attitude allows us to look at persons of all good Faiths as our brothers and sisters. It does away with the need to have only one “true” religion, a concept that has been, and is now, the cause of a great deal of horrible violence, wars, and factionalism.
In contrast, the average church-goer believes in a world where two supernatural beings are in competition, in a war against each other. One of these beings hates God’s people. According to this belief, which is not based on the Bible at all, this ‘devil’ has been rewarded for his rebellion, being given a kingdom with millions of ‘demons’ all of whom also hate the Christians, and are out to hurt us, to kill us. They say that God is all-powerful, but in spite of that, everything is going to get worse and worse, we will be attacked, more and more, by a wicked world, until God gets so angry that he throws all non-believers into eternal hell. This is an unfortunate ending, but evidently they think there is nothing God can do to prevent it. God’s will is not done; the devil’s will is done, for the most part. The devil is finally thrown into hell as well, but I would like to point out the injustice of the fact that while millions have been suffering in hell for so long, according to this doctrine, the devil has been having a free-for-all for thousands of years. What kind of justice is that?
Most people believe they are sinful, and that God is often angry with them for their faults, their mistakes, their sins. This feeling is amplified by our society, if one is homosexual, or if one is transsexual. People are belittled if they become homeless, which is becoming a crime, more and more. If they are sick, if they are a failure, it is because God is angry with them. They sinned, and so this came upon them.
They are made to believe that people of other races, with different Faiths, are serving the devil, and so they are our enemies. They believe that God is angry with these foreigners, and that eventually, God will kill them and send them all to hell. So, I suppose that makes it easier to agree with sending troops and bombers to kill them. This is an important statement, and is the root of much of the warfare occurring in our world.
I don’t like to go into a lot of religious argument. But that was necessary, in order to explain how that a group of liberal Christians could accept members who are of differing Faiths, or of an agnostic or atheist persuasion. As a doctrine, it’s called ‘universality’. Salvation is universally available to all.
I would love to be a part of a group that speaks truth and love to those who need to hear it, not to evangelize or to proselytize, but to bring comfort to the disheartened, and discomfort to those who are abusive and exploitative of people and of the planet. I know that many Christians will be quite put-off by these concepts. But some will think about it, and evolve. And it doesn’t matter if we all agree, or if some can only agree somewhat. The obsession we have had for centuries, that all must agree with all church doctrine, can be cast aside. With no condemnation to be feared, the door is opened wide for a wonderful new atmosphere of tolerance and acceptance of those who may differ from us, in our beliefs.
Universalism, the belief that ALL will be ‘saved’ (or, ‘are’ saved) is not a new thing. Christian Universalists have been around, as a small minority, for hundreds of years. Even now there is a movement called Progressive Christianity. A few ministers are joining in these groups, like Carlton Pearson. Many have called him a heretic, because of his universalist views. He was the pastor of a huge Church, who were traditionally fundamentalist, and evangelistic. He says he had an epiphany which changed his mind.
To be true to his vision, he suffered the loss of his church, and has been rejected by most of those who were his closest supporters and friends. But God gave him a new church, one that is growing, and doing well.
There are a number of Churches who call themselves Progressive Christian, The United Church. These seem to be something along the line of what I have in mind, though I am unfamiliar with them and with Carlton Pearson as well, at this time.
But, putting aside doctrinal differences, even those who believe in hell will admit that it is God’s will for all to be saved, and that anyone, without exception, is welcome to become a child of God. There are differences about what kind of requirements one must meet. But why can’t we set those things aside, too? Why can’t we accept everyone, as Jesus would do?
The problem with traditional evangelical Christianity is this: the first thing they have to say to most people is, “You’re going to hell.” What kind of “good news” is that? [The meaning of ‘gospel’ is good news.] But then they will say, “Oh, but there is a way to avoid hell. All you have to do is to accept Christ as your Lord and Savior.” But what you will be told, over time, is that many things about you must change. Basically, you’re required to fit the mold. You must dress in certain ways, have a certain political viewpoint, and actually agree to everything you’re spoon-fed over the next year or more, things that lay down their particular viewpoint about virtually everything.
You are told to avoid all of the traditions of their parents, if they are from other Faiths, and, incidentally, that those parents went to hell, where they will be forever. You may be required to change your sexual orientation to avoid going to hell. This is a terrible way to try to win people over.
The illogical and ridiculous vision of a god who would create people who would never hear of Jesus, and then send them to hell, is impossible to accept. To ask people to change in ways that are impossible for them is unacceptable.
Some may ridicule my vision of a loving God who accepts all of his children, without exception. But to try to support the idea of a God who sends the majority of his creation to some eternal punishment, is even more difficult, and is being rejected by many, for good reasons.
And when one does away with the concept of hell, then immediately the whole question of being “saved” can be rethought. Because what did it mean, to be saved? It meant being saved from hell. So why must we speak of being “saved” at all? Let’s speak of receiving Christ. Let’s speak of positive things. It’s an entirely different ‘ball-game’.
I have recognized the very ugly side of this right-wing kind of ‘christianity’. Almost every time someone attacks some gay couple, the attacker is spouting scriptures from the Bible as they do it. Their message is, “God hates you!” Well, if they think God hates, they why wouldn’t they be hateful as well?
It is so easy to understand, when one looks at both sides, which side are the ones on the side of love, and goodness. It’s the ones who are supportive, accepting, and loving with their gay brothers and sisters. It’s the better way, obviously.
This doesn’t mean accepting ungodly relationships, whether they are heterosexual or homosexual. Everyone who is concerned about morality at all understands that sexual relationships should be thoughtfully considered, so that no one is hurt. We know what immorality looks like. But there are homosexual couples, in serious, committed relationships that seem much more happy and holy than their conservative counterparts.
I claim no special insight. I’m not a leader, not a preacher of any kind. I’m just saying something that needs to be said, and saying it at my personal peril, too, I might add. I open myself up for a lot of criticism, and persecution, even if I am writing under an assumed name. I am just a Christian, who has changed many of my views, over time, which is a good thing. I have evolved. We all must evolve. The writers of the Bible didn’t know there was an India, an America, or a Siberia. Europe and part of Asia, and northern Africa was as far as the world went, as far as they knew. They didn’t know they were writing the Bible. Nowhere is it written that God would stop all divine revelation when the Bible became complete. Nowhere is it written that the only true teachers and Holy men and women would all be Christian.
Worldwide, all true religions teach that God is loving, merciful, and good. I’m not saying to accept any new gods, but perhaps these various religions are all based in fact upon the same God. All of the major Faiths, at their best (in their true form) teach that salvation, or enlightenment, is a product of God’s grace. Salvation is something that God has done, not something that we must do. To simply accept this is not too much to ask, and maybe that’s all that God is asking for. Salvation by grace, plus…nothing; grace alone.
Here are some scriptures that seem to back-up my assertion that everyone who wants salvation, eternal life, will find it.
1Corinthians 15, verse 22.
1Timothy 4, verse 10.
Colossians 1, verse 17.
Matthew 18, verse 14.
Yes, it’s high time that we reclaim Christianity for the normal people, everyday people of all nationalities. To take it back for liberals, who care about people in need, and who realize that when the churches and charities fail to meet the needs of society, it falls to government to take up the slack. High taxes on corporations and the wealthy, along with social programs, big government programs, along with strong labor unions; these were what made the prosperity of my parents. These were the base upon which a rocket to the moon was launched, This was the formula that created the Interstate Highway system, the largest man-made project in history.
Everything we have done to serve this idiotic idol erected by the religious right-wing has been a mistake, and has brought us to this awful time, when we are deciding whether or not to just hand the government over to the rich, and relinquish all control over our lives, hopelessly existing until we die. This is the meaning of the Supreme Court decision called “Citizens United”. The flood-gates of corrupting campaign contributions have been opened wide.
That’s why good people everywhere need to wake up. We can’t trust the existing churches to lead people. They have ‘dropped the ball, big time’.
I believe there is a good case to be made that the various Faiths can be reconciled, to a great extent. The Christian and the Jewish Faiths both use the same Torah, or Old Testament. The Muslims and the Israelis are all descended from the same ancestor, Abraham. The religions are similar in many ways. The Buddhists, and the Hindus, and all good religions teach LOVE, and kindness, and the golden rule of doing for others as we would have them do for us.
Even if there is disagreement, we can live in peace. We can start with tolerance, and work our way towards acceptance, in as much as it’s possible. Speaking hopefully, we can even work together for the common good of all, instead of striving for the destruction of everything we feel is wrong, so our particular cult can be advanced.
In the words of the band, Canned Heat, I say…
“Let’s get together. Because together we’ll stand, every boy, girl, woman and man!”
And the new, liberal Christians can work alongside everyone, without exception (for good causes), accepting ALL as children of God, our brothers and sisters.