Sunday, September 17, 2006

Religious Diversity

"How do you feel about religious diversity? Is diversity important, or would a single, or no, religion be more beneficial for our world today?"

Thanks Mike for this opportunity to be a guest blogger. I apologize if this entry is rather short. I have had a very long day. I am an evangelical protestant Christian, which ends up being complex set of lables that merely says I attempt to follow Jesus in my everyday life. As such, I consider myself a congenial exclusivist. I am convinced that the particular set of spiritual and practical benefits that Jesus offers are only offered by him. There simply is not any source to experience what Jesus offers to all humans, dealing with our basic human issues, other than the way he has provided which is to trust personally in him.

That being said it may surprise you to know that I encourage and accept the concept of religious diversity. I am strongly convinced that human beings must make a decision for or against Jesus on their own, personally, individuals in community, without being coerced into that decision by manipulative means or by any kind of force. Any other commitment to Jesus would not be the sincere kind of relationship that he desires to have with people. Theologians call this concept "soul competency." That means simply that we each are responsible for our own spiritual decisions before God, and that those decisions should be made freely.

I am convinced that when Jesus' teachings are presented in a "free marketplace of ideas" that he will draw to himself those who are to follow him. All that I look for is a "level playing field" on which to present Jesus' teachings and claims. A few years ago we were planning as a church to have a book discussion in a bookstore that is part of a large chain. The store decided we could not discuss the book (even though they sold the book) because it was religious in nature. The fear of lawsuits eliminated healthy conversation on spiritual issues. Another national chain book store was across the street. They figured they had a Jewish discussion group, and a pagan discussion group, so why not allow a Christian discussion group. We had an excellent time, to this day we still occasionally host discussions there, and I purchase a lot more books from them than I do from their competitor.

Spirituality can be dealt with in societies in a number of different ways. You can use the power of government to insist on a particular system, or to squelch all such conversations, but in the the end the healthiest method is to allow basic liberty to all to discuss and pursue such topics within the basic limits of human behavior (i.e. no human sacrifice). Even most of us who believe in the uniqueness of our system affirm the rights of others to pursue other systems. While in the end, exclusivists as myself believe the options will fade away in the dawn of eternity (the time for discussion eventually will end), in our temporal world we strongly support religious liberty. In fact, many of us note that often intolerant societies persecute us first.

It has been said before that one should not discuss religion or politics in polite conversation. Unfortunately, that would relegate most polite conversation to worthless small talk. Most of the things that are important to us in life are controversial, and those are the very things that I celebrate the freedom to discuss. So perhaps if you disagree with me on everything else, this one thing we hold in common: everyone should have the right to express their opinion and believe what they want to believe. Based on that simple consensus of tolerance our society was built, and it indeed is the most healthy (and from my perspective beneficial) stance for society to take on religion and spirituality today.

Thanks again for letting me take part in this dialogue, I am excited to read and respond to your comments. For more on pursuing "mere Christianity" in a postmodern urban culture check out my blog: Jesusfollowers.

24 comments:

Navillus said...

I think you are right on the money. The very essence of freedom of religion and belief is the right to explore and choose whatever you like, even if you choose nothing.

I also think that religion and non-religion should be accorded equal footing in the public square and if the floor is opened to one, it should be opened to all.

I do not support persecution of any kind, but at the same time, I fear the playing floor is not equal. And I do feel that Christians (and most specifically Evangelical Christians) are the least likely to accept other beliefs (or non beliefs).

By your own admission (and please understand this is not meant as an attack, merely a point)

"There simply is not any source to experience what Jesus offers to all humans, dealing with our basic human issues, other than the way he has provided which is to trust personally in him."

I submit to you that holding the belief that there is only one path to salvation or righteousness funamentally eliminates the possibility of truly accepting religious diversity, since you will forever hold anyone not sharing your beliefs as wrong or incorrect.

To truly present a free marketplace of ideas and support the idea of "soul competancy", then each parent would have to keep their child free from any religious indoctrination until such time as they were capable of making their own decisions, and at such time each religion would need to be represented without bias from the parent so each child could make their decision.

I seriously doubt that any Christian or Muslim parent would agree to either stipulation. Furthermore, as opposed to being open to religious diversity, I would suggest that the faith are working in direct opposition to the idea of religious diversity and openly demonizing anyone opposed to their viewpoints and worldview. How else would you explain this:

“…according to a national survey by University of Minnesota scholars this year. Researchers found that Americans rank Atheists below gay and lesbian people, recent immigrants, Muslims and other minorities in “sharing their vision of American society.”

This is pretty startling given the massive Christian-led anti-gay crusade currently underway in the U.S..

I have no reason to doubt your sincerity or genuine feeling, so I will simply say that you would be the exception, and that truly holding a beleif in religious diversity would necessitate fighting for the right of all beliefs and non-beliefs to be equally voiced - even amongst your own constituents.

Angela said...

Jon, my response to your post is similair to Navillus'. You state that you support religious diversity, but yet you imply that those who do not embrace Jesus have chosen a lesser and incorrect path. What do you believe are the consequences of not embracing Jesus?

I believe that true religious diversity will only be achieved when no one is judged for what they do or do not believe. One does not have to embrace or agree with views that differ from their own, but all should respect the validity of the opposing view point for that believer. In my opinion all religions provide a means to a common end goal -- those with beliefs that differ from our own have simply chosen a different path to reach the same destination.

LV7 said...
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LV7 said...
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LV7 said...

(weak! it still shows that the comment was there.. booo. just a smidge of reformatting.. content's the same)

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I wasn't real sure what my response was going to be.. and in the middle of talking about it with Q:, I decided to be lazy and use it as my reply, and spin it as a fun Q&A format, instead. :)

--

Q: are you going to have eventual comments about religious diversity? (i dont mean right now)

the post i'm thinking about, if anything, will probably try to put everybody in their place, and remind folks that any approach that says "we're all right", is wrong. there IS one way the world is. e.g. my belief or disbelief in North Dakota has no bearing on its real existance

Q: one way the world is?

I know sojourner wanted Jon to believe that everyone's "way" was okay.. but there truly truly is still a base reality here... If it turns out that his way is the Truth (upper T), then he's 100% correct in his statements, and we should be trying to learn everything we can, blah blah.. But.. if he's not.. he's leading astray countless souls in a lie..

Q: right but the truth is we will never know the truth

yes. i love the exploration, and love to hear what people think on each topic, which is why i liked that UU place a lot..

Q: right, so you can find what works for you - so why not let all believe what makes them happy as long as it isnt harming anyone else

the reason "why not", is because if the Truth is that it matters, then, honestly, it matters. If i'm damned to hell for not believing (and following!) the muslim faith (if it's the Truth), then I'm in trouble. (or following the jewish, mayan, norse, ..., ...)

Q: hmm? you are going in circles tho. you will never know the absolute truth; you can only decide what your own personal truth is.

I do agree with you that I cannot know. I don't agree though that it's therefore "okay" in the end, no matter how it turns out.

Q: but that's because you fear you might be making the wrong decision

i'm hopeful for an honest trial, to prove that I've done what I can to believe what I do with the info i had at hand.. whether that's enough will be up to the governing force..

Q: if there is a governing force...

but if there is, and I didn't do what they wanted, I may very well end up in a terrible place and [what I've done] might very well not be [enough].

Q: see, fear. you can't act out of fear.

certainly not. I can't, because without knowing what to actually do, it's impossible to take the "right" action. it's the folks that want to change other people that I have the most trouble with.. since you might be changing them from something that was Right, to something that's not

Q: but the reason you can't decide for yourself is because you are afraid of making the wrong decision. its ok to not know, but don't be afraid because you don't

i have no fear at all of hell and such, because I have no proof of their existance at all. I do have a solid respect for the fact that I may well end up there though. my thoughts/actions/etc may absolutely not protect me from that, depending on what the Truth turns out to be

Q: lol true, true

and *that*s what i'm saying.. we've talked about this a little before... someone in my family always mentions how eager she is to go to heaven, however soon it is.. since it'll be all joy, and for eternity, etc.. and why wouldn't you want to start that right away?.. etc

Q: then tell her she should kill herself
Q: (i know that sounds bad but it is almost as ridiculous)
Q: so she is just waiting around...


she's not fearful of that.. except that suicide keeps you out (in theory)
or, suicide is the only way in, and she won't get to go.
right? we don't know. these suicide bombers might have their 80 women and i'm a moron for not joining in..

[some stuff here about virgins, and what women bombers get, instead. off topic :) ]

in real truth, at the grand end of the day, I don't believe any of it is true. I truly think we're here, and then we're gone. I'm absolutely willing to believe there's more, but I simply don't believe we can know. My actions in life are built, as best that I can, to be as positive as I can be towards other people, in the hopes that they'll carry that forward to others. i do still wish, beyond anything, to know what's True.

Q: yes. see you're a humanist!

pretty close. humanism doesn't help me understand the dinosaurs, or aliens, or the grand universe as a whole though.. that's why i said the other day, i kind of feel like it was an incomplete answer to the grand 'question'

Q: i guess it depends on what you're theory of evolution is

it's all fine.. i agree with so much of what they said.. but there were things that they just didn't bother to talk about either

Q: right, but how did we get here? (universe)

that we started from nothing isn't even really something i believe, actually...

i'm 100% fine with the universe contracting back down again to an overwhelmingly mass'ful single point, exploding out again in a constant cycle; i have no trouble with that at all.. If i did believe we started purely from scratch/nothing at the big bang, ... it'd take me believing that something kicked it off.. may very well be the Truth, but I certainly have no way to know

so, yeah. somewhere in there, is my post
and maybe it -is- my post. /ponder

Q: lol. go for it

Q/A time with Loki

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and, done.

I will say, to close, that I believe there's a value in allowing diversity in our current, present lives. I do believe there's happiness to be found through tolerance. But there's limits, and with limits comes the hole in my argument.

I can't say that everyone should be allowed to practice what they believe, if some truly believe that certain "others" should be harmed/killed as part of their practice. Within our lifetime, there is legitimate harm that will be caused in the name of Belief.

Focused only, purely, on our human existance, univeral tolerance is the way to go.

Focused beyond, it might absolutely not be the way to go, and it may well put each of us at risk for not following the Right religous practice. We can talk as much as we want about what we think is fair.. but that can so easily be meaningless to whatever's on the other side.

Good luck, to us all. :) :)

Pastor Jon said...

Angela and Navillus:

Thanks so much for your responses to my article. I will probably answer your comments in more detail in the future on my own blog. Two things I wanted to mention: 1) The kind of responsibility and relationship a parent has with a child by its very nature changes the level of influence they should and do have with that child. 2) Just because we all agree that others should have the right to their opinions does not mean that we have to agree with their opinion, or assume that that the opinions are unimportant or without consequence. I believe in tolerance not in pluralism, and that is a serious distinction. Just because, however, I think someone wrong, or incorrect, or risking eternal spiritual consequences, does not mean that I cannot respect them or value dialogue with them. Every person should be treated with human dignity even if you think their position is wrong.

Pastor Jon said...

Loki- a few more questions for you:

Q1: Are you absolutely certain we can never know any part of absolute Truth?

Q2: Does being eager for eternity mean you have no meaning in living a temporal life?

Q3: Are their not some potential eternal consequeces worth considering even if you cannot rationally prove their existance with certainty? (Though mind you, I do not think fear is the best place to start a pursuit of faith).

Angela said...

Jon, thanks for the response! I wasn't implying that you feel that those who do not embrace Jesus should be treated with less respect than those who do. However, what bothers me is the implication (from what I infer from your post) that those who do not embrace Jesus will be subject to harsher consequences than those who do. In my opinion, this view still implies superiority on the part of those who call Jesus their savior. I am interested to hear what you feel those consequences are. Perhaps this is one of the subjects you will address on your site!

Pastor Jon said...

By the way... I just wanted to mention to everyone... in a funny twist of irony... thanks so much for tolerating my position in the dialogue, though you may believe it to be absolutely wrong :)

Angela said...

Jon, I think we are all in the same position here. That was the purpose of this discussion! Thank you for tolerating mine as well and being open to the discussion of your beliefs! I enjoy these types of dialogues as they really make you examine what you believe to be true and why you believe it to be so!

Pastor Jon said...

Angela...

If I assume that Jesus does offer certain things that others do not offer, then that would logically imply there are consequences for not following Jesus (ie. you don't get what he offers). It is unfortunate that the concept of Truth has been used by many to look down on others as inferior, however, that does not automatically negate the claims of Truth. Indeed, this looks like an entire blog post I will have to get around to some time in this next month. Thanks so much for the dialogue.

Anonymous said...

"what bothers me is the implication (from what I infer from your post) that those who do not embrace Jesus will be subject to harsher consequences than those who do. In my opinion, this view still implies superiority on the part of those who call Jesus their savior" -angela-

I can understand where that perception could come from. However, if someone claiming to follow Christ's teachings actually does so, then there truly is no room for a feeling of superiority, for to follow Christ is to follow a model of humility, service, and self-sacrifice of the Self for the Other. The two greatest commands of the Old Testament, according to Christ, are to 1) Love God and 2)love your neighbor. While we may believe something to be true and someone else may not agree with us, that doesn't mean we are to love them any less, or regard them as any less of a person.

Don't know if that clarifies anything, just wanted to share my thoughts. I'm really glad for what's happening here and hope that it continues.

LV7 said...

Are you absolutely certain we can never know any part of absolute Truth?

My challenge with this question is that I don't have an idea in my mind about what level of proof we'd need, to "know". The evidence currently in hand is from what I consider to be a terrible source.

'Never' is a really important word, and I appreciate your asking it in that way. The true question I have for myself is what evidence I *would* be willing to believe, if something new were come along. If a physical spaceship showed up, truly, and its inhabitants looked just like us, and explained to us that we'd been dropped off here.. would I believe?

If the heavens above opened, beaming with light, goodness, and more ozone than our bodies could possibly withstand, and someOne explained why we were here.. would I believe?

What else is there? This is where I'm at. I don't know by what process we could follow to determine Truth. It certainly isn't just "what makes the most sense". I'm gonna be the first one to say that that's meaningless, and is NOT proof of anything. Certainly a comfort. But not proof.

And for me, it's about perspective.

I read a book a long time ago that delved into "dimensional theory". (this term made up by me, just now. if it means something in real life, that's not what I mean.) It was about a guy that could move in the two directions "ana" and "kana", in the 4th dimension. It was really hard to wrap my head around, and the author already knew that.. so he told the story from a 2D/3D perspective instead:

Imagine a 2D world. A world entirely made up of height, and width. Only. A world that's effectively just a single plane of lines, dots, circles (which to other 2D beings would still look like lines), sqaures, etc. The letter "B" is an entire creature, with a back, and two round bits in front, living on a 2D piece of paper.

Describing depth, to a 2D creature, would literally be meaningless. There would simply be no context that you could draw from to explain what a sphere was, or a cube. A true sphere passing through the 2D world would start as a point, grow into a full circle (filled in), and shrink back down to a point before vanishing. A 2D being experiencing the sphere, always only a slice at a time, still would never truly understand 'depth'.

Something living in 3D, would be a God to these people. All seeing.. even through "walls", and such.. simply because of its perspective on their world. It could cause immeasurable harm (or good) in their world, and vanish without a trace. (just move out of their plane (z axis) )

So.. such was the difference between 3D, and 4D, says the author. there's another direction, which runs perpendicular to all 3 of our current dimensions that we know, and if you could literally understand/manuever through it, you'd vanish from here, in some sense.

Now. I don't believe God is a 4D hypercubic whateverHeis. My point is only about perspective.

If you were the little 2D letter B, it would take a certain level of faith to believe in "depth". You'd never be able to truly experience it. Never move amongst it (no physical capacity to "come off the page"..). You'd have nonbeliever letter I's that might say you're full of it. (mostly because they're only 1 dimension anyway, so they never fully "got" 2D life, either)

Anyway. Your belief in the thing isn't what makes it so. Nor does non-belief make it impossible.

My lack of proof doesn't negate the existance of God. It can't. It's the reason I have a very difficult time with athiesm. They believe outright that He does not exist, and yet hold no proof of that. Faith and belief alone cannot produce God either. It's the reason I have a hard time with Christianity.

From my perspective, in the world I live in, I don't have the capacity to experience and know what's beyond us. I can't know what happens after death, because I simply can't get there from here. I can choose to believe there's an afterlife, or that there's none; but neither will make either so.

But I don't believe that just because both are believable, that both are therefore True. I do genuinely believe that there's only one truth here. And that I don't know it. And, that I don't believe I'll ever have the perspective to know.

Does being eager for eternity mean you have no meaning in living a temporal life?

I don't think there's a valid connection to be made there.

That's my honest answer to that. I don't think that the existance of an 'eternity' means your life here is meaningless, and if there's no eternity to come, I don't think it means your life here is any more important.

I just don't personally make a connection between the two at all.

Are there not some potential eternal consequeces worth considering even if you cannot rationally prove their existance with certainty?

I tried to talk about that a smidge in my other post earlier. I'm absolutely not saying that there's no eternal consequences.. nor that I won't have to face them, simply because of my beliefs. I'm saying more than that, even, that if there are, they may likely be what some other faiths amongst our people believe today, or have believed in the past. The norse folks may well have had the answers, and if we're held accountable to those rules, the eternal consequences you have in mind will not hold True, and we'll be judged against an entirely different set of criteria than we might imagine in Christianity.

I agree that fear isn't a place to start, because I simply don't know what to fear to begin with. Hell and the North Pole (Santa style), exist equally to me as "real" places. Certainly both easy to describe, easy to teach children about, easy to find books to support, and difficult to prove the non-existance of.

I think it's comforting to believe that as long as you've been good to others, that you'll be judged fairly in the end. But there's no proof of that. I think it's comforting to believe that as long as you accept Jesus as your personal savior, that you'll enjoy an eternity with Him, and those you love dearly. But there's no proof of that.

There's no harm in the belief, by itself, but there is a -great- amount of pressure placed on my direct family from my extended family that we must not love them, if we don't look forward to spending eternity with them. That our decisions, day to day, are evil in nature if not spent pursuing that goal.. The attachment of -very- negative consequence comes with the conditional acceptance into Heaven, by default. It's not tolerance. And it's not acceptance. And it's not love.

They feel it is. They're always very .. hmm, "open" to talking about religion.. as long as it's about what's keeping us from believing what they do. They certainly do not ask me about my beliefs in order to see if it makes more sense to them.. and some decades ago, they did not travel to Ethiopia to ask about the native beliefs to see if it made more sense, either. (they might be right, too.) The discussion, wasn't an honest one. It had an agenda, right from the start.

So. All of that said. I think there may be consequences, but I don't believe we know what they are. Nor do I believe we've been given adequate information to be truly held accountable. I don't know that it'll matter. Nor do I know that anything happens at all. So my focus is here. It's to shake your hand because I'm genuinely happy to see you. And it's to hug goodbye, because I'm genuinely sad to see you go. It's important to me to have the relationships I have today be strong, because this is truly the only timeline I *know* for certain that I'll experience.

i should stop typing.

heh.

done.

Angela said...

Anonymous -- I guess I am referring to the potential underlying motives and beliefs which is why I questioned what non-believers receive versus believers. For example, Are non-believers damned to eternal suffering in the after-life? Is conversion in the forefront of your mind when dealing with non-believers?

I am not suggesting that this is what you or Jon believe, but rather they are questions that come to my mind. If the answer to either question is yes for any certain person, I feel that their beliefs are rooted in a sense of superiority as a non-believer could never be on equal footing (whether in this life or an after life) if they do not embrace Jesus.

Mike said...

Wow, great discussion here everybody!

Two quick comments:

Loki: "So my focus is here. It's to shake your hand because I'm genuinely happy to see you. And it's to hug goodbye, because I'm genuinely sad to see you go." That is the epitomy of Zen! :)

Angela: "I feel that their beliefs are rooted in a sense of superiority as a non-believer could never be on equal footing (whether in this life or an after life) if they do not embrace Jesus." Perhaps one could never be on an equal footing in the afterlife with such a belief, but I think it's a stretch to assume that one must not see those of other beliefs as not on equal footing in THIS life. Some, of course, probably do believe that non-Christians (or non-whatever, depending on the speaking person's faith) cannot be ethical because of their non-belief. But I know several Christians who, by the nature of their beliefs, obviously place absolute Truth in their faith, and yet do act with the same level of respect toward non-believers as believers, and do place them on equal footing in this life. Obviously, I cannot jump inside their heads to see their motivations, but given that I know these people quite well, I'd have to say that they hide it very well if they did believe that non-believers were incapable of living in this life equally well.

Angela said...

Mike, I am not disputing anyone's opinion regarding the capability of believers and non-believers to be on equal footing in THIS life. However, if someone told me that I will suffer eternal damnation in the next life if I do not embrace their beliefs, I feel that person is judging me for what I believe and does not view me as an equal. For example, would a strict believer marry a non-believer?

Perhaps I am extending the conversation beyond the issues that have been previously addressed. I want to stress that I am speaking in general terms. I am trying to be careful as to not imply that I am stating the beliefs of any of the posters here as that is not my intention.

Pastor Jon said...

Mike, Great to have you back in town! Hope your trip went well.
Thanks for the opportunity to engage in this dialogue.
People who are not Christians can certainly live ethical lives. Different psychologies and philosphies can certainly also help people change behavior.
My point is simply that Jesus offers things (that I will detail on my own blog) in this life and the next that no one else offers... therefore, there are clear benefits to knowing him. That certainly gives no one who chooses him any right to boast over another person since, as Anonymous mentioned earlier, that in and of itself would not match with Jesus' teachings. My point in the essay is that the kind of exclusivist perspective I affirm still allows for dialogue because it supports tolerance, indeed you know that, because that is the ground of all of the philophical discussions we have as friends. Talk to you soon.

Mike said...

Good point re: "would a strict believer marry a non-believer." In many cases, no. And I would have to question anyone who would not marry someone else SOLELY out of a difference of religious belief. However, if that difference resulted in vastly different values, then perhaps the two are simply not compatible and probably should not marry.

Of course I understand that you're not implying any of the posters here are described by what you're writing. I'm just raising the possibility that full tolerance and respect of a non-believer is possible even under a believer's belief in absolute Truth. For instance, the environment is probably my #1 political issue. I have difficulty understanding how anyone can vote for anything that is destructive to the environment given that they are then voting against our planet, the only home we're ever going to know. Therefore, I think environmental issues take precedence over ALL other issues, including personal quality-of-life. I would be fine if our economy took a major hit if we would make some dramatic, good ecological shifts in policy. I would also gladly never drive again if it would save our planet's resources. Very few people share these views to the degree that I do. While I cannot understand them, I do respect their choice, and have to respect the fact that they probably cannot understand my view. Do I see them as inferior? No. I see their VIEW as inferior. But I do not see the PERSON as inferior.

In the same way, someone who says you will suffer eternal damnation sees your VIEW as inferior. They might also see you as inferior. But not necessarily.

Mike said...

Hi Jon - I agree, and that's what I'm trying to say, that complete respect can be given to the PERSON, while the VIEW can still be considered inferior or misinformed. Just like anyone who thought the Lions were going to beat the Bears held an inferior VIEW... :)

Pastor Jon said...

As a side note... I want to make clear that it is not my goal to judge anyone at all. Assuming my claims about absolute truth prove true I certainly would not be the one doing the judging. I do think that applying critical thought to philosophical systems in the process of adopting them is very wise, and that practicing that kind of discernment is aided through healthy dialogue, of the kind we are having currntly.

Pastor Jon said...

Mike -

Great job distinguishing between VIEW and PERSON!

On the marriage issue, I am tempted to ask how serious a religious view would be that did not effect a person's values deeply, but perhaps that is best saved for my blog as well.

Pastor Jon said...

By the way LV1, I missed your second post, which is surprising given it's size. :) The epistemological (sp?) question you have raised is one that I find very interesting, and that Mike and I have discussed in great lengths in the past. I will try to remember to post a blog article on my blog in the future that deals with those topics and perhaps we can continue our conversation there.

I certainly cannot speak for your family, but I do have some ideas on the topic that have proven to be helpful for me. It certainly is possible to be tolerant and yet disagree, many close friends of mine disagree with me but we are still friends.

Two additional food for thought statements: 1) Perhaps there has been more disclosure about the eternal that we would expect - I would argue that we have been given much. 2) Are we certain that we are always good to others - I would argue that we usually are not.

By the way, i think I read the same book on dimensions... If it is the same one it is by a british scientist who actually shares some of my conclusions

Jen said...

Ok, since the marriage topic was brought up, I guess I’ll jump into the fray…..

Those of you who know me, know this but for those who don’t, bear with me…

I am a Christian and have been all my life. I was born & raised in the Catholic Church. During college I stopped attending church regularly, but still held a belief in God & Jesus. After college, I started attending a United Methodist congregation that I liked very much. After a few years, I moved to Chicago and didn’t go to church for a while as I didn’t really know where to start in looking for one so I kept putting it off. A variety of circumstances prompted me to finally look for a church and now I attend a small nondenominational Christian congregation. I have been going there for about 4 years now. I consider myself a Christian. I rarely describe myself as a Catholic as I do not feel that that part is very important to my beliefs. If anything, I like to say that I am a Christian first and a Catholic second, but more and more I just leave the Catholic part off completely.
That’s the background. What prompted me to jump in was the question from Angela: “For example, would a strict believer marry a non-believer?”
My gut reaction was “Yes,” but then I thought about it and I would first have to ask, “How do you define a strict believer?” I guess I can only speak from my experience. You will have to decide if I am a “strict believer” or not:
I am a “life long” Christian (I have never held any other religious belief system) and I am engaged to marry a Buddhist. If you had told me 10 years ago that I would be marrying a non-Christian, I probably would have not believed you. I also have previously been married- to a Christian- that marriage ended in divorce. One of the things that prompted me to go in search of a home church in Chicago was my struggle with the fact that I was seriously dating this person who was not a Christian and that the relationship could potentially turn to marriage. I had dated non- Christians in the past, but this was the first time that marriage was a serious consideration with someone. The only thing I knew that the Bible said about believers marrying non-believers was the following scripture:

14Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? 15What harmony is there between Christ and Belial[b]? What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? 16What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said: "I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people." (2 Corinthians 6, New International Version)

Now, granted, it doesn’t specifically reference marriage but I think we can assume that marriage would fall into the category of being “yoked” with someone. Anyway, this was a big deal for me as you can imagine. I fretted for many months over this passage and talked with many people as to what it would mean to mean to marry a non-Christian. My mother, who is a Catholic and has been all her life, has no problem with it at all. For her, marrying a non-Christian is not a “deal-breaker.” She prays for my fianc√© and that he will eventually come to know Jesus (he knows this by the way) but she has not advised me not to marry him for that reason. I even talked with a priest. Apparently, to my surprise, the Catholic Church no longer requires the non-believing partner to convert to Catholicism before they can marry. In fact, I was specifically told by this particular priest when I brought up 2 Corinthians 6:14 that the Catholic Church considers this more of a guideline rather than a hard & fast rule….

I did some further research on my own (as did my mom who was trying to console me during this difficult time) and we found the following scripture passage together:

13 And the woman which hath an husband that believeth not, and if he be pleased to dwell with her, let her not leave him.
14 For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband: else were your children unclean; but now are they holy.
15 But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart. A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases: but God hath called us to peace.
16 For what knowest thou, O wife, whether thou shalt save thy husband? or how knowest thou, O man, whether thou shalt save thy wife? (1 Corinthians 7, King James Version)

Reading this made me much more comfortable with the idea of marrying a non-believer. I started thinking that maybe God put me in this person’s life for a reason. Now please don’t misunderstand, I do not see my fianc√© as a “conversion project” or someone that I personally need to save. Ultimately, the choice is his and his alone. Can I be a positive influence? Yes. Can I demonstrate Christian caring and love to him? Yes. Can I talk to him about God, Jesus and my beliefs? Yes. Can I convert him? No. That is something that if it were to happen, would have to happen between him and God.

So what do I think will happen to us in the afterlife? Well, I am certain that I am going to heaven. Will he? I’m not sure. The bible and other Christians in my life have told me that non-Christians, regardless of how ethical & moral they are, will not get to be with God in heaven (notice I didn’t say “go to hell”). Therefore, I guess he won’t be. Does this make me sad? Yes. Will I miss him if I am in heaven and he is not? I don’t know. Considering I have no idea what heaven will be like, I have no idea if I’ll even remember who he is or even know him if I did see him. I guess it all depends on if there is marriage or relationships in heaven. Perhaps Pastor Jon can shed some light on this for us….
Mostly, his not going to heaven makes me sad because he will not get to enjoy the opportunity to be with God and commune with Him forever in ultimate happiness. I’m not as sad about him not being there with me because I have a feeling that being in the presence of God will be so utterly awesome that I probably won’t care about anything else.

To Jon’s comment, my religious view is serious enough that it did effect my values on this issue and forced me to confront an issue that I had avoided in the past. Am I 100% certain that I am doing the right thing by marrying a non-Christian? Well, honestly no. But I am also not 100% sure that breaking off the relationship for that reason is right either. What I do know is that I am content with my decision.

Pastor Jon said...

Jen,

Thanks so much for sharing in this dialogue. Looks like future topics for my blog are stacking up....benefits of following Jesus, epistemology, biblical marriage issues, etc. I have my work cut out for me, and I am supposed to pick the topic for our next interfaith dialogue :)