Saturday, January 14, 2012


Here in the Bible belt, it is common to talk with folks very passionate about their personal beliefs - and very passionately OPPOSED to those who hold different beliefs.  It is also common to hear emphatic statements to the effect that people who believe and teach differently deserve to "Burn in hell!" 

I am troubled and saddened by conversations such as these. Doubly so, I think, because as a former fundamentalist my own previous convictions would have aligned nicely with this brand of evangelism.  From my current understanding that the heart of Jesus' message is Love,  however, the driving force behind such passion appears to be hatred and fear.  

I read an article by Jay McDaniel over at Jesus, Jazz, and Buddhism that expresses some of my concerns more eloquently than I am able to, so I thought I'd post some excerpts:
What is that impulse within human beings to "strike down" others and its relation to the need to "be right?"...Why do we need to be "right" about things?  Many evangelically-minded Christians and Muslims do proselytize in aggressive ways.  Many believe that God commands them to seek converts across cultures; to proclaim that their religion is the only true religion; and to be clear that all who do not follow their religion are in big trouble, in this life or the next...more than a few wish they could pull bad ideas out of people's minds and replace them with what they believe is the Truth.  There is only one way to salvation, they say, and we happen to have discovered it.
Jesus taught that the best hope of humanity is not violence but love...Indeed the principle of non-harm was built into Jesus' teachings.  He was a pacifist, non-violent Jew.  He taught that, even as people tried to follow his way of love, they should pray for those who persecute them, turn the other cheek when someone slapped them, and sell their possessions and give to the poor.  He asked them to become the love they hoped to see in others.  Love was the Way which, for him, was also the Truth and the Life.  When he said "I am the Way and the Truth and the Life" this is what he had in mind.  He wanted others to become the Way and Truth and Life, too...

When other people are "wrong," we become angry.  Among Christians and Jews this anger is sometimes validated as righteous indignation.  We say "I am outraged.  I am mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore."  This indignation seems holy to us.  We feel right in being indignant.  We want to ventilate.  Some of us wrongly imagine that even God is filled with this kind of feeling.  We speak of a wrathful God and say that this wrath is called holiness.  We speak of God as scary and unloving: a holy warrior who is preoccupied with being right. For my part, I do not see holiness in righteous indignation.  I find holiness in tenderness, in forgiveness, in gentleness, in love.  

...[Sometimes belief is held] so tightly that the belief becomes a false god.  When we hold on this way, we divide the world into good and bad, right and wrong.  Many of us commit this sin all the time, liberals as well as conservatives.  We think they are "right" and others are "wrong."  We divide the world into believers and non-believers.  We become arrogant.  Sometimes arrogance can look very sophisticated.  But it is always smug and self-assured.  It is never humble and honest.  It wears protective armor covered with an emblem which says "I know and you don't."
...I appreciate the opening to the gospel of John, which sees Christ as the light that enlightens all people, not just Jesus; and which says that Jesus reveals the light, but does not exhaust it.  I have seen more than a little of this light in people of other religions and no religion.  I have also seen it in evangelical Christians.  I cannot join the critics in a wholesale critique of evangelical Christianity.  I think the spirit can flow even in those who might think they, and they alone, possess the spirit. 

I do understand the evangelical approach, because I find it in myself.  Implicitly if not explicitly, we are all evangelicals.  In espousing our own values there is an implicit universalism.  I would not be writing this article if I did not think it would be nice if you - my reader - might be affected by what I say.  I conclude with the hope that as we try to influence others with our views, we simultaneously avoid anger and greed; we cool off and calm down; we remember that the spirit can be at work in our lives even apart from our mediation; and we recognize that our way, at its best, is but one way of being open to the spirit of wisdom at work in the world.  Let's hold onto our own convictions with a relaxed grasp, lest we fall into the sin of too much conviction, and fall away from the very hope that rightly inspires our hearts: namely that the will of God be done on earth as it is in heaven. 
Read the entire article here.