Today I was watching a news program on the Iraq war and the effect it has on the citizens of Iraq. This particular program covered the lives of three girls who saw their parents murdered in front of them, and are now at an orphanage, which because of cultural reasons, make them outcasts from society. One of them is thirteen and has already received three marriage proposals, and there are thousands of other children like these in Iraq, many of them not even lucky enough to be in an orphanage.
While I watched this, I reflected on something I’d seen on some other blog, which stated all the usual (Protestant) ways we need to be saved, such as believing Jesus died for us, believing in the resurrection, and loving Jesus and living a life in Him. At the end of the post, the blog very bluntly stated “if you do not believe all of this, you will go to hell.” As I watched the program, I realized that there was no way these girls were Christians, because they talked about being Muslims. Then I thought about what it says about cosmic justice, to think that people who suffer so much and still try to do good, will go to hell because they never heard of Christ, or if they did, didn’t convert because conversion is a crime punishable by death in most Islamic countries. Allow me to be blunt now, how can people actually believe this? Fundamentalism is an easy path to take when you do not think about issues, do not pay attention to the rest of the world, and think that anyone who isn’t your particular religion is a bad person anyways. However, we realize that there are billions of unfortunate people like those three girls out there, people who never heard of Jesus or Christianity, or if they did never got the chance to convert. This clearly does not follow our human common sense does it?
Now here’s the funny thing about Jesus Himself, we often dehumanize him, and this is a trait followed in both Catholic and Anglo-Catholic doctrine, as well as in Fundamentalist doctrine. Take for example, the idea of Marian Intercession. I’m not going to argue this has no Biblical support or reasoning, because I’ve seen clear arguments that it does, but I guess I don’t understand the reason behind it. The idea is that Jesus can’t possibly ignore a request from his beloved mother, but why would Jesus ignore a request from us pathetic humans? He was willing to let us nail him to a cross and let him die, so why wouldn’t he be willing to hear a sincere prayer to please be with someone’s dying grandmother in her time of need, even from some lowly, imperfect human like you or me. I see the concept of marian intercession not as sinful or idolatrous, just unecessary. Similar to this, for Fundamentalists, Jesus often becomes a political issue. People ask questions like “what candidate would Jesus vote for” or talk about how “they’re proud to be Jesus-Freaks.” I’m glad you’re proud to be a “Jesus-Freak,” but no one is trying to stop you from being a Jesus Freak. I have discussed this before in my posts, it’s the eternal desire of humans to want to think that people with different viewpoints are somehow trying to oppress them. There are no laws out there that stop you from passing out your copies of the new testament and sharing the Gospel, but Jesus becomes the center of some political freedom of speech debate and becomes more of a freedom fighter than the Son of God.
My point in saying this is that neither of this perspectives really make sense when you look at who Jesus was and what He really had to say. We revere Christ as king of kings, but he was not into the whole “I’m the king of the world thing,” why, consider when he insisted on washing all of the Apostle’s feet. Jesus was all about common-sense and thoughtfulness, remember when he healed that broken hand on the Sabbath day? The Pharisees were scandalized, thinking it was sinful, and Jesus was astonished to think that people could be so infernally obsessed with the letter of the law that they would ignore the spirit. Imagine if our modern EMTs and Doctors and Firefighters were not allowed to work on Sundays, and if you got sick or hurt or stuck in a disaster on Sunday, you were simply out of luck. Does this make logical sense? Of course not, and Jesus makes a clear statement about it when he cures that hand and rebukes the pharisees. So now, we are confronted with salvation and justification. It does not make logical sense (in my humble mind) that a good person out there that never got the chance to become Christian would be damned for something he had no control over. However, the Bible does make a clear, literal statement about this doesn’t it? “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the father except through me.” This is a pretty clear statement right? Sure it is, except that if you put it into historical context, it becomes even more clear.
I believe Lewis Black makes the best statement about the severity of Old Testament when he says “The reason our book ([Lewis Black is Jewish, so he refers to the old Testament here]) is so damned severe is because the Israelites were a few back-hairs short of still being Baboons, and God needed to whip them into shape!” Now there’s definitely truth in that for the Old Testament, but we can apply this to the New Testament as well. At the time of Christ, 0 BC/AD Israel was not a fun place to be. If you were a Pharisee, and some insignificant other Israelite pissed you off, you could slit his throat in the street and not even worry about it. People really were abysmal people, and no pagan religion had stepped up to describe a just code of rules, and Judaism was failing miserably. So God sends Jesus to the Earth, and Jesus says “no one comes to the Father except through [Him].” You know what’s funny about this statement in the cosmic justice sense? It’s true! The reason no one “comes to the Father” except through Jesus at the time of His resurrection is because frankly, at that time, there really weren’t any other moral people around. It really says something about how bad things must have been, if God had to “give his only begotten Son, that whosoever believed in him should not perish but have everlasting life.”
However, two thousand years have passed, and now morality, especially in the western world, is at an awkward stage. Even among Atheists and Secular Humanists, the value systems that Jesus taught run rampant. No modern Atheists are saying that we should oppress or hate one another, or do evil deeds because there is no cosmic justice. To me, the only thing I can accuse Atheists of is forgetting their roots, forgetting where their morality and justice came from in the first place. This is, on the one hand, a wonderful time because those values that Jesus brought us from God have become common sense-values, and no one questions whether they’re “right’ or not anymore. On the other hand however, as Atheists like Dawkins or Harris show, we are often very quick to forget where our values came from, and that they are not our natural tendencies.
So here is the problem that results in my logical paradox: we have people who are clearly good, honest people that live the way Jesus encouraged us to live, but they do not know about or do not care about the message of Jesus and the Bible. Will these people be condemned for not believing correctly, even if they acted correctly?
I do not believe so, because Jesus so obviously wasn’t into these kind of nonsense conclusions about cosmic justice. Let me put this into an educational situation for comparison. You have a test in school, and you choose not to study, but amazingly, you pass anyways. Later on, the teacher learns that you did not study for the test. Will the teacher give you an F or a 0 because you did not study? Or will the teacher count your performance where it counted? We would think it was remarkably unfair if the teacher failed us for not studying, even if we passed the test, but why would God behave any differently? I believe Christianity is the “best” religion, the only “correct” religion, and I do believe that Jesus Christ is the “way to the Father.” I believe that Jesus Christ and Christianity, in the spiritual sense, are the “studying” for the “test of life.” However, I do believe that should a person happen to be lucky, happen to follow all the rules that Jesus and Christianity teaches, even if he does not believe in the resurrection or the other tenets of Christianity, they will be saved through God’s mercy. This, in my opinion, is “passing the test without studying” in the spiritual sense.
A fundamentalist could here provide me with a thousand passages from the Bible that mean that only Christians can be saved. However, I am now going to say something that I know will get me in trouble, but that I must say: the Bible is a book. It may have the word of God inside of it, it may be extremely important, but it is a book, a sterile, non-living, non-breathing, non-thinking book. If we choose not to use our minds to interpret this book, if we choose to just obey the letter of the law and not the spirit (the way the Pharisees did) we are not living a life in Jesus Christ, we are living a life enslaved to a book. And at that point, whether the book is the Bible, the Koran, the Tao-Te-Ching, or “Mein Kampf,” we are not free to grow as God originally intended. “Salvation through faith,” “salvation through works,” it all becomes meaningless after awhile doesn’t it? No matter, the only choice I know I have is to pray, live a life in God,through Jesus Christ, and continue to constantly do as much good as I possibly can. “For with such sacrifice, God is well pleased.”