The other day I sent my sweet mother, a devout lifelong Lutheran, an email about my religious and spiritual beliefs. It was a topic she had skirted for decades, probably out of fear of what she would learn and what if would mean for my eternal salvation. Mom was surprised to hear me say I was a Christian.She thought I was Buddhist.In truth I’m both.How can this be?
In order to answer this question, one must first define: What is a Christian?To my mother, along with the majority of Christians in the world, a Christian is someone who believes that God was so concerned about mans’ errant ways that he sent his son Jesus to teach about human morality, and then be crucified for sedition and resurrected from the dead.According to them, belief in this provides for forgiveness for all subsequent human and earns them a place in heaven when they die if they lead a good and pious life here on earth. No mention is made of what happens to the billions of millions of people who lived before Jesus or who have existed since Jesus (including current and future times) who have never been exposed to his teachings
While this is a commonly accepted definition of Christianity, it is by far no means the only one—something many traditional Christians have trouble accepting. They often think that because they are in the majority that their beliefs represent the One True Christianity.But when one understands that Jesus was a mystic who often spoke metaphorically in parables, that no there was no tape recorder (or stenographer) present when he spoke 2,000 years ago and that the first gospel (Mark) wasn’t written until over 30 years after Jesus’death, one begins to realize that the gospels often cannot be taken literally and there are other interpretations of Christianity which are equally valid.
Six hundred years ago most people believed the Earth was flat.This all changed with exploration, discovery and education. Many modern day Christians are unable to accept the vicarious atonement story we were taught by our parents and Sunday schools. We believe that Jesus’ profound teachings on human morality are, in and of themselves, reason enough to accept him as our spiritual teacher and savior. We believe that he saves us not from eternal damnation when we die, but from the hell on earth that human minds can create when they are not aligned with Jesus’ teachings of love, compassion, tolerance and forgiveness.
The Christianity to which I adhere is based on the teachings of Jesus in the four gospels. I don’t necessarily adhere to the teachings of Paul, who was somewhat of a fanatic who never met Jesus and yet whose writings ended up comprising half of the books of the New Testament. Paul certainly had his own take on what Christianity should be, but it was just that—his own take. His words are not Jesus’ words. And while I accept most of the morality teachings in the Old Testament (i.e. the Ten Commandments) I do not unquestioningly accept them all.If I did I would have stoned my daughter to death for talking back to me.
I have read the gospels twice and don’t ever recall Jesus condemning homosexuality or abortion or advocating pre-emptive war—issues so many Evangelical Christians feel so strongly about.These phenomena existed in Jesus’ time as much as they do today, but they apparently were weren’t on his agenda as he never addressed them.I do recall Jesus promoting love, compassion, tolerance and forgiveness—time after time.And I recall him saying the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand. “At hand” means here, now, in this life, but we must open our hearts and minds to it if we are to experience it. We do this by practicing love, compassion, toelerance and forgiveness. It’s that simple……or difficult.
So the Christianity I believe in is perfectly consistent with Buddhism, which is really more of an orientation toward life than a religion.As such, many western Buddhists also adhere to other religions, usually the one they were raised in.I know several Jews who are also Buddhists. Knowing how difficult it is for people to adopt a religion from another culture, the Dalai Lama discourages people from converting to Buddhism, but rather to go deeper into the religion into which they were born.But for some of us Westerners, Buddhism is just too rich to pass up, as are the teachings of Jesus.
If you were going to build a house, you wouldn’t gather stones for the foundation and chop down trees for the structure. You’d use cement, milled lumber, copper wiring and plumbing, drywall, insulation, glass windows and carpeting. We are much more knowledgeable and advanced now than we were 2,000 years ago, so we use modern methods and materials, which result in much better houses. This is why I and a lot of other modern day Christians are unable to blindly forfeit our spiritual beliefs to the interpretations of backward, superstitious (by today’s standards) people of millennia past which have been passed down largely unchanged for 2,000 years.For us, the moral teachings of the Prince of Peace—love, compassion, tolerance and forgiveness—are all we need and will endear us to Jesus forever.
I know the traditional interpretation of Christianity brings great peace and comfort to a lot of people, including my mother.I don’t begrudge them their beliefs and I don’t try to change them, for I understand that religion is a highly personal thing. In return I ask that they recognize that their particular take on Christianity is just that—an interpretation, nothing more, nothing less.And that others may have other, equally valid interpretations of what Christianity is–nothing more, nothing less.
To each his own.Amen.Print This Post