Real Christianity—Respecting Other Faiths and Love
Let me start off by saying that I, in no way, shape or form, believe myself to be a prophet or to be anywhere close to the perfection of God. I am far from it. I make mistakes; I sin. I get angry, discouraged, and sad, frightened, and feel lonely at times. I am human, for better or worse. Yet, there is something that has been occurring a great deal that is weighing heavy on my heart. It is personal and yet not personally against me as an individual. It is the attack on my faith.
Regardless of the person’s political persuasion, the Christian faith is and has been for a great deal of time under attack. The extremes of the political landscape demonize the Christian faith as either obsolete or narrow-minded.
It is neither.
At its core, Christianity is a faith based upon love and understanding, not hate and intolerance. Christianity is simple, yet complex and it is the complex nature of the faith that leads to its misrepresentation by those seeking to use it for his or her own gain whether it is financial or fame. These are ironic, as the person for whom Christianity basis its beliefs wanted neither. Jesus Christ did not want fame or wealth. He wanted people to get along and believe in God. It is my hope to try, in my humblest way, to show the true nature of Christianity rather than gloss it over with personal theology. With the Creator’s help, I will do just that. All I ask from you, dear reader, is an open mind and an open heart. Thank you.
I shall begin this journey with what Christ said regarding other faiths. In his time on earth, Jesus was likely to encounter a very wide variety of religious beliefs especially if the definition of what a religion is taken in the literal sense. According to the online version of the Merriam-Webster dictionary, religion is defined as the following (http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/religion):
1 a: the state of a religious <a nun in her 20th year of religion>
b (1): the service and worship of God or the supernatural
(2): commitment or devotion to religious faith or observance
2: a personal set or institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices
3 archaic: scrupulous conformity
4: a cause, principle, or system of beliefs held to with ardor and faith
Examples of RELIGION
- Many people turn to religion for comfort in a time of crisis.
- There are many religions, such as Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, and Judaism.
- Shinto is a religion that is unique to Japan.
- Hockey is a religion in Canada.
- Politics are a religion to him.
- Where I live, high school football is religion.
- Food is religion in this house.
When looked at from the dictionary definition, there are many religions even now; therefore, it should be no surprise that Jesus encountered numerous ones during his time on earth, such as, Judaism, which essentially had four different options:
Zealot-the revolutionary side that wanted an armed revolt to drive the Romans out; Sadducees-the “wealthy lay-nobles, priests and aristocrats, [who] sought to protect their wealth and power through compromise with Rome”; Pharisees-who “were in many ways the idealists of Jewish society [and] sought to live a life of spiritual purity by a meticulous following of the torah (Jewish law)”; and the Essenes-“who solved the problem of Jewish identity in a Roman-occupied Israel by withdrawing to a monastic-like setting” (http://dlibrary.acu.edu.au/staffhome/gehall/xtology2.htm).
Add to this, those who worshipped the Emperor, Islam, and various other religions based upon superstitious beliefs, omens, and portents and you have the earthly world of Jesus at that time. Jesus is seen by Christians as being, at least in his earthly form, Jewish. His teachings with regard to other religions are, at times, rather vague.
One verse in particular comes to my mind on the inclusivity of Jesus for all humankind. It is from the Gospel of John, Chapter 14, verses 2 and 3: “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also” (NRSV).
In the “Father’s house there are many dwelling places,” that particular line itself has always fascinated me. What are those dwelling places? Are they simply rooms within Heaven? Are they different paths that lead to God that humans take to get to their Creator? Some translations call them “resting-places,” “dwellings,” “abodes,” “rooms,” and even “a traveler’s resting place.” As humans, we call the cemetery a resting place sometimes. Perhaps, once our souls leave our mortal bodies, they go to Heaven and dwell in one of these places regardless of names and regardless of what path we took to get there. While the chapter from the Gospel of John continues with Jesus saying, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me (14:6 NRSV); perhaps it is meant that it is through Jesus’ death and resurrection that the door into Heaven is opened for all humankind. After all, one of the main principles of Christianity is that no human could ever reconcile their sinful nature on their own. It took God allowing Himself to come to humanity in the flesh and take on those sinful natures associated with humanity in the flesh as one of us in order to save us from ourselves. If Christians believe that Jesus was indeed both God and human, then this sacrifice was for all humanity rather than a select few.
This, to me, is even more evident in the often-quoted verse of John 3:16 where it is said that God loved the world so much that He sent Jesus to die so that no one would suffer for eternity. The verse that follows this states 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 NRSV) and going on to say, “…this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God” (John 3:19-21 NRSV). While verse 18 states, “Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God” (John 3:18 NRSV), I believe that verses 19-21 explain this as being the difference between those who choose to follow God’s teachings through Christ versus those who say they do, but act differently in the reality of the situation. Those who do not follow the two greatest commandments are those who refuse to come into the light, as those two commandments are the light of God through Christ. The two commandments in question are, of course, those mentioned by Christ as being to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength” and to “love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these” (Mark 12:29-31 NRSV).
The Christian Bible states, before these verses, “the Lord our God, the Lord is one” (Mark 12:29 NRSV). Notice, there is no mention of the Lord’s specific name. Part of this may be due to the mention of God’s name was and is considered inappropriate to the Jewish people. Hence, the reason why most people of Jewish faith will write either G-d or YHWH rather than the name of our Lord straight out.
Some will argue here that I must be incorrect because other faiths follow other Gods. Those who follow Islam follow Mohammed. They fail to see that Mohammed is a prophet, not God. This is a bit like those who are Jewish who see Christians as being similar in that we follow the teachings of Jesus whom we see as the Messiah, but they see as a prophet. In no way do I plan to continue with the intricacies of the main theology of these religions, or the variations on those, so I hope that you will see there are more similarities than not. I will, however, provide a very basic overview of how these three religions are interconnected.
The Jewish people trace the origins of their faith through Abraham, the father of Judaism. Yet, those who are Islamic can also trace their origins though this great patriarch since he had another son named Ishmael. While the official Jewish birthright went to Isaac, both the Jewish and Muslim faiths owe their existence to the same man. Out of this, Christians trace their origins back to Abraham through Jesus’ stepfather Joseph who is a descendant of Abraham. These three great religions should get along, as they are inter-related. However, human actions have caused them to stray from being family. Among those are the sins of the Crusades, Jihads, and Pogroms that have been perpetuated by humans who sometimes followed specific doctrines of these belief systems.
There are many variations of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. I am not qualified to get into all the variations of these religions. Suffice it to say; though, since all contain the aspect of human freewill and with it, human stupidity, then there have been many times when what some believed was the will of the Creator has been used as an excuse to justify the persecution and death of others. What they fail to see is that this clearly is not what the Creator wants the created to do. For some of that, we will continue in the next chapter.
Depending which translation of the Christian Bible being used, there are between 131 to 319 references to the word “love”. There are about 93 references to “love” in the shorter Koran, also depending on translation. Love plays an important role in the majority of the world’s religions. That love, found in the forms of agape, filial, and passionate love, is an important aspect of faith. Those who adhere to almost every form of religion perform acts of charity.
It is a requirement in Islam to do charitable works. It is the third of the Five Pillars of Islam, the sacred requirements of that faith. The first two are the profession of faith and prayer. According to an article from a website entitled, “The Religion of Islam,” there are two types of charity required of those who follow Islam: zakat and sadaqah. Zakat is “an obligation for those who have received their wealth from God to respond to those members of community in need” (islamreligion.com/articles/46/). In contrast, sadaqah is “voluntary almsgiving, which is intended for the needy. The Quran emphasizes feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, helping those who are in need, and the more one helps, the more God helps the person, and the more one gives, the more God gives the person. One feels he is taking care of others and God is taking care of him” (islamreligion.com/articles/46/).
All of this should sound familiar to Christians as it sounds a great deal like what Christ taught when he taught,
…for when I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me. Then the righteous will answer him, Lord, when was it that saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you as a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you? And the king will answer them, Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me. Then he will say to those at his left hand, You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me. Then they also will answer, Lord when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you? Then he will answer them, Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me” (Matthew 25:35-45 NRSV).
The sad thing is that there are those who profess to be Christian who do things in contrary to Christian love. One thing is neglecting the poor, the needy, the children, the old, and the infirm. When a political party calls out any of these people as being somehow worth less because of their situation, that is not love. When laws are passed that take assistance away from those who need it, that is not love. When laws favor only the wealthy, that is not love for everyone as one would love themselves. There are people suffering in our world, if we truly are a Christian nation, then we need to act as such. We need to provide assistance to those who need it whether it is financial, health-related, or emotional. We need to make certain the homeless have homes, the hungry have food, the naked have clothing, and the sick have healthcare. If a Christian says otherwise, he or she needs to re-read their Bible.
Love goes beyond charitable acts, though. It transcends boundaries, many of which are put in place by people. The boundaries of race, creed, gender, gender identity, gender preference, national origin, politics, and the countless other boundaries that we humans put up against those who are not like us are not love. However, they can be broken down by love.
This brings to mind one of my father’s favorite verses from the Bible. He liked I Corinthians 13 as a whole, but he especially liked the last two verses of that chapter that say:
For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we shall see face to face. Now I only know in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love (I Corinthians 13:12-13 NRSV).
At first, this verse puzzled me greatly, especially these two verses together. Yet, I think I get what is trying to be said here by Paul. In our lives here on earth, we think we see what the Creator means for us, but we only see it through the blinders of being imperfect humans. This causes us to put up boundaries between one another for a myriad of human reasons. We only really know part of what God plans for us, but we fail to grasp the fullness of God because we are only humans. We are imperfect. However, when the time comes for us to meet our Creator, then we will see it all so clearly. We will see that life boils down to three essential elements by which we are to live: faith, hope, and love with the greatest one being love. A love that transcends our imperfections of being human and setting up barriers between fellow human beings and ourselves. A love that knows no boundaries. Some humans have seen this world and tried to lead us more toward it during their lifetime. People like Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Mother Teresa, Nelson Mandela, and others who strove to bring about peace and justice for all people.
The love that Jesus is asking Christians to have is one that accepts others for who he or she is as a person, as another human being, who is on this journey through life with us. It does not ask us to change him or her to our way of thinking; just love them for who he or she is as a person. Jesus spent time with everyone from every lifestyle, Jew and Gentile, tax collector, just ordinary person on the street. Jesus simply asked people to follow where He lead them.
We are, by that same token, called to love one another as Christ loved us. The world we live in throws enough at us without our constantly causing more stress for one another. It is pitiful how, for instance, people only seem to help one another during holidays or time of disaster. We are called to love one another as Christ loved us. That means all the time, without prejudice, and without seeking material gain for ourselves. We are not called to love only those like us or who agree with us, but everyone. As Paul writes in Galatians:
There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28 NRSV).
Jesus came and saved us all, every human being, through His death and resurrection. Paul continues to write in Galatians and says, “…God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children”(Galatians 4:4-5 NRSV). Those under the law are much more than just those who were Jewish, everyone regardless of whether they followed the law was affected by the law in some way and were, as such, under the law. It is like the laws of our country. Everyone who is in our country is expected to abide by the law. No one is exempt from the law. No one was exempt from the law Jesus speaks about either. If a Gentile wanted to do business with a Jew, he or she needed to know when, where, and how they were permitted to do so. Hence, they were under the law even though they did not follow the law for themselves. When Jesus tells us to love one another, he means everyone.
One particular boundary humans place on love that is especially talked about is whom someone may marry. There are a large number who say that same-sex marriage is wrong. Some even try to point out Christ as being against it. However, Jesus says nothing about same-sex marriage. Nothing. Zilch. Zero. Nada.
While it is found within the Old Testament as being against the law of the Israelites, we must remember that the laws were written by both God and humankind. The Israelites needed to set themselves apart from those living around them where same-sex marriage was a common practice. In addition, the much smaller Israelite community needed to grow in population, which biologically cannot happen if people choose to live in a same-sex relationship. It was a matter of necessity for people to procreate in order for the community to survive.
I would argue that the problems people have with same-sex marriage are based on ignorance far more than scriptural directive. It is not what they are used to seeing as the media does not portray homosexual couples like they do heterosexual ones. Would I like to see two homosexuals displaying their affection in a public manner? No, but I also do not think heterosexual couples should do so either. Holding hands or a quick kiss is not a problem. Putting their arm around their loved one is not the problem. Making out is a problem regardless of a person’s sexual preferences. I do not care to watch any couple making out in public. It is a personal thing that should be kept that way. Want to make out? Get a room. Plain and simple.
Again, I do not have all the answers. Some who read this may now think I am insane. Others will think I’m on the right track. Still others may send me nasty emails or comments. If I offended you, then I apologize. If I inspired you, then thank you, now go out and inspire others to serve our Creator regardless of what path you follow so long as you do no harm to others.
Peace be with you.