This is not like Ba’hai or Unitarianism. It’s not a non-religious/pan-religious concept that tries to accommodate all religions. It’s also not about missionary work or converting people of other religions to Christianity. But this is a Christian message. If you are not a Christian and read it, please read it understanding that this is intended for Christians and is not intended to convert or subvert your beliefs. This argument has no meaning if you are not a Christian.
The basic point is this: If we take the key beliefs of Christianity at face value, a true believing Christian may view a person from any part of the faith spectrum as Christian. The key beliefs are simple. Christ taught that you should love God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself. He stated that “in this lies all of the law and all of the prophets”. His parables make it clear that “neighbor” is defined very broadly. I don’t think there are limits to its meaning in a Christian context. Christ challenged us to regard the entire human race, maybe all of life, as our neighbors whom we are asked to love as ourselves. It may be possible to love others at a distance, without empathy, but the qualifier “as yourself” removes that option. We must be able to identify others as ourselves no matter what belief they profess.
The direct route to this is given in the text “I am the way, the truth, and the light, and no one comes to the Father except by me”. This is usually interpreted to mean that unless you worship Jesus by name, you cannot reach God, and God will never hear your prayers. This interpretation is small and parochial, not grand and revolutionary, which is what Christ was about.
The text has another interpretation. It is Christ revealing himself as divine. It is the answer to the question, “Who are you?”
Imagine a wide and deep chasm with only one bridge across to the other side. There is no trick here. There really is only one way across. No great bird or airplane or catapult or magic spell exists to get a person from one side to the other. If you meet someone on one side of the chasm, then you cross the bridge and meet that person on the other side, you know that person has crossed that bridge. There is no doubt. There is no other way.
So it is with prayer and the love of God. If as a Christian, you believe that Christ is the way, the truth, and the light, and no one comes to God except by Christ, when you meet someone who is devout and lives with God, whatever language they may use to express beliefs and experiences in human terms, you have only one conclusion you can draw. That person has arrived through the bridge of Christ. There is no point in arguing about the name.
Christ identified himself as the bridge from the human to the divine, from each one of us, to the source of us all. In so doing, he revealed himself as available to all who call on God. That is the love of Christ for each of us.
So, a Christian may regard any religious person who loves God and lives the will of God, no matter what religion they profess, as experiencing Christ. “By their fruits ye shall know them.” If a person makes loving God and loving others the center of their life, to a Christian, that person is in the love of Christ.
This does not make that person a Christian to themselves. Such a person may not pray to Christ as the son of God, nor accept Christ as savior, nor believe in the Christian doctrines of redemption and resurrection, nor any of the other beliefs that usually identify a person as a member of the Christian faith. But a Christian must accept that person as living in Christ, and the living Christ is present in them. If Christ loves, accepts, and lives with a person, shouldn’t we, as Christians, be expected to do the same?
What if the person professes no religion? A self-described atheist or agnostic? If that person is doing the work of Christ in the world, that person has crossed the bridge in Christian terms. Don’t complicate it.
What about the handful of truly evil people in the world? This is beyond us. There are some that only God can love. We must defend ourselves from them by whatever means we allow ourselves to use, as we would from any attack, and then let them go.
For people with beliefs different from ours, we do not need to convince them of our point of view. They have their languages and their paths. What matters is divine and beyond language or point of view. All our human thoughts and interpretations, including our religions, fail before the divine anyway. Christ loves the others as much as Christ loves us. We must strive to do the same, as if they were not “other” at all, as if they were us.
April 13, 2009
NOTE – Loving others as ourselves implies that we must love ourselves, which is difficult at times. It is the love of others for us that is the root of love of self. Therefore, the gift we give to others by loving them, is in fact a gift of self-love, which is the beginning of peace in the world.