Open Christianity

I am part of an endangered species in the developed and educated world. Although I attended Harvard and have enjoyed a successful business career, I base my worldview primarily on the Bible. In particular I am inspired by the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth.  Most of my generation of educated people has abandoned such beliefs.

I do not deny that I am embarrassed by the conduct of some Christians today.  Like any intelligent person I abhor the evident cruelty of the Inquisition and the Crusades under the banner of Christianity.

But nonetheless, I believe that true Christianity has been a singularly powerful force for the civilization of humanity and it has given me a wonderful life.

The issue that I address is particularly to my fellow Christians, but it is also relevant to people of all religions, ideologies and persuasions.  How can we live together in peace and harmony when we hold such fundamentally different viewpoints?

In the first instance, I believe Christians should respect everyone who shares our basic belief in God, in Scripture and in Jesus Christ. Although this should be self-evident, in fact different denominations have been at war over small differences for far too long.

Secondly, Christians need to be open and accepting of people who are not Christian and who may not share most of their beliefs.  I have learned much from atheistic and agnostic scholars, both philosophically and practically.  For instance, I have gladly eaten curry and practiced Yoga, which were developed in a Hindu context.

Does that mean that my Christian beliefs are not vitally important to me? Absolutely not.

However, when I study the life of Jesus (and other scriptures) I find every reason to be open and loving towards people with other beliefs.

There is a well-known story Jesus told about the Good Samaritan who demonstrated true love for his neighbor.  When the Priest and the Levite, who considered themselves to be “people of God” saw a victim of violent crime lying beside the road, they moved to the far side of the road to avoid him.  However, the Samaritan, who was not considered part of the “Chosen People”, showed the deep compassion that Jesus so admired. 

Showing love has no boundaries.  Jesus told this story to demonstrate that we will be surprised by who is actually part of the Kingdom of Heaven.

In a shrinking world, no citizen of this planet can afford to reject and ostracize those believe differently from us.

Whether we are environmentalists, business people, scientists, or members of any religion or denomination, we need to show equal compassion and respect to all people that we meet.

Does that mean that we cannot oppose evil? Of course not. 

We may well disagree on what is evil.  However a vast majority of the world agrees on fundamental morality. Most of us oppose murder, deceit, corruption, exploitation of the vulnerable, and the destruction of our natural environment.

Conversely, most of us value compassion, kindness, generosity, courage, patience and perseverance.  We believe in education, good government, humane business practices, and social programs for the aged and handicapped.

Obviously, there are many areas where we do not agree. But could we perhaps discuss these matters with more respect?                                             

Although I grew up in a Christian family, as a youth I rejected it.  I tried many other beliefs and worldviews, from Atheism to Eastern religions. However, then I rediscovered a noble strain of Christian thought which has never indulged in the reprehensible conduct of some “Christians”. 

I would never try to compel my neighbors to adopt my beliefs and lifestyle.  However, if they find my thoughts of any value, I am delighted. But I am equally eager to learn new things from everyone I meet.

Jesus epitomized openness and lack of prejudice. He showed love and compassion for the whole world.  From St. Francis, William Wilberforce, Abraham Lincoln, and Martin Luther King, to Mother Theresa, there have been countless heroic Christians whose standard of conduct (modeled after Jesus) is an example to the whole world. Obviously, not every “Christian” is a good copy of Jesus, but if even a small percentage achieves this, how can the ideal model be discounted?

 

A very simple faith

Many people spend their lifetime searching for what lies in plain sight, right before them. Perhaps they search for their ultimate lover, when they already have a partner that could satisfy that desire; or they search for wealth when contentment is available, and better.

Some search for meaning: to make sense of a confusing world.  How can we reconcile evil with good? How can we live with inevitable death ahead? How can we resolve the needless conflicts all around us?

I have found a simple, yet profound path that answers all our searches and desires.

My simple faith is in the God who created us.  He also created the vast reaches of interstellar space. He has created the most infinitesimal particles. He is still creating all of these, in a dance beyond human comprehension.

I realize that my belief can never be proved, or disproved. But I have illustrious company. Albert Einstein believed in God and the original founders of modern science also shared my belief. 

I tried out the skeptical viewpoint for a decade and found that it doesn’t satisfy the human heart: it can only produce unceasing discontent.

I cannot describe or explain God – that is beyond human limits.  However, I found that humanity’s most ancient book, the Bible, sheds considerable light on who God is.  It delves into the mysteries of life with more profundity than any other source-book.

Finally, I find great inspiration from Jesus of Nazareth, the greatest human who ever lived.  His understanding of both God and humanity has never been equaled.

However, faith is often rejected.  Because some people who share my Christian faith have little education, or uncivilized manners, it is assumed that faith is not compatible with intellectual integrity. The poor, helpless, and distressed cry out to God for help, but the rich and sophisticated too often reject divine aid.

As life goes on, however, our apparent wealth and learning seem poor defenses against old age and death.  Our proud independence is a gateway to despair and depression. 

When nothing anymore makes sense, we wonder how we could have missed out on the wondrous potential of our life.

Faith brings me an eternal wellspring of hope.  It shows me great blessings every day. It is the foundation of my boundless optimism in face of troubles all around.

I am not limited by any particular creed or theology: God, Jesus, and the Bible are sufficient. People often differ about the details of their faith, but that matters little to me.

All I need is a clear picture of ultimate reality, and my rules for the road — essentially compassion for all God’s creatures. That is my very simple faith.

 

Mystical Christianity

The mystery of Christianity is the simple acknowledgment that we can never really grasp the enormous concept of God.  Nor can we truly fathom the endless depths of the Bible. Both will remain a mystery all our lives. Christianity is, in that sense, mystical.

By mystical I also mean we need to go beyond the mind and senses to find direct communion with God.

God speaks directly to all who listen to his Voice.  Discerning that voice is often difficult. Friends and scripture can help us understand it. We can also learn from the saints, prophets and sages of all ages how God speaks.

I don’t understand mystical to mean sitting for decades in a silent cave, awaiting heavenly brightness to descend. However, we should contemplate the wonders of nature; sit in silence; reflect on our inner thoughts; and go ever deeper into the Spirit.

Mystical implies the profound mystery that surrounds every aspect of our daily lives, living with God.  It does not mean that we can’t know some things well and gradually learn more. It simply means that we can never reach the full depths of wisdom concerning God

I am a mystic in the plain ordinary way that I garden or do any other kind of work.  I try things out that I don’t fully understand, and I learn more by trying.  This includes matters of faith.

I have heard Christians debate issues concerning scriptures for my whole life.  Many seek a single rational summary that will encompass the entire Bible, but I have not seen any set of theological statements that even comes close. I am old enough now to realize that theological issues can never be fully resolved and agreed upon, not in a thousand more years.

Controversies can seriously detract from our life of faith. So what are we to do?

Reading the scriptures is helpful to all, even to skeptics.  They contain plentiful wisdom, which can never be found elsewhere.  More than a billion people find inspiration from Christian faith and scriptures; that number is growing every year.

However, employing scripture to prove a point often diminishes it; the exception is when we share with others how a scripture has specifically helped us. However, we need to hear with respect how others understand this scripture, which may be different from our own understanding.

Does this sound challenging?  It is.  But it is also enjoyable, intriguing, and worthwhile.  Faith is about what we cannot perceive through our normal senses, and what can never be fully proved to another person.  But it can be shared with those who wish to hear, and we are enriched as we hear and share our experiences of encountering God in our lives.

St. Paul wrote to Timothy about a God so incomprehensible that it blows my mind:

“God… who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see.

Even on the human level, I speak with people whom I can never fully understand, nor they me, but the conversation benefits us both. Uncertainty does not diminish the value of things – it can enhance it.

The benefit of the mystical perspective is that it allows me to associate happily with people who have perspectives at odds with my understanding. Maybe, if I fully understood them and had their same experiences, I might believe as they do; or maybe not. Perhaps my perspective of God, if gently laid out, might be of help to someone else.

Jesus taught that the great, unfathomable God loves us as a father would love his child.  That is enough for me to know. I don’t need all the theological details. We can speak to God; hear his voice and commune with him.

That is comfort, even ecstasy. Until we reach the land beyond, we shall always “see through a glass darkly, but then face to face”.  Until then, the mystery will remain.

 

Why Try Christianity?

Some people say we need Christianity because we are sinners in need of salvation.  Others say we need it to avoid Hell and to enter Heaven. Christians have widely differing views on these theological matters.

But all Christians would agree on a more basic reason for trying Christianity:  it is the most effective way to live our lives on earth.

About 3,000 years ago, Moses explained the essential reasons for following God to ancient Israelites:

  • “So that you will prosper in everything you do”;
  • “God will give you many years (longevity); he will keep you free from disease”;
  •  “God will love you and bless you”.

 

The central concepts of Judo-Christianity have long been taught in the diverse sections of the Bible, the oldest book on earth.

It was best exemplified by Jesus of Nazareth, who lived a most extraordinary life!  Jesus recapped his teaching in two sentences:

Love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and muscle and intelligence—and love your neighbor as well as you do yourself.

I have seen extensive benefits in my life, and in the lives of others who sincerely practice Christianity. The benefits include:

  • Understanding human nature and our most ancient history.
  • Practicing healthy disciplines that reduce pain and increase our enjoyment of life.
  • Instilling hope and confidence, even in times of danger and hardship.
  • Teaching us about our divine soul or spirit, which connects us with God and with all of humanity.
  • Encouraging a generous and kindly approach to human relationships
  • Offering the highest ethical ideals for family, community, government and business.
  • Providing both an effective philosophy and coherent worldview

 

There are many variations of Christianity. Those arose due to varying circumstances and cultural traditions throughout the world.  But all are based on the life and teachings of Jesus, which anyone with a Bible can easily read.

Not all who call themselves “Christian” are sincere followers of this high ideal.  However, a billion people around the globe have improved their everyday lives, and those around them, by practicing this faith and philosophy.

And of course human beings, Christian or otherwise, will continue to make mistakes and misjudgments.  But Christianity shows us how to acknowledge, recover and move onward, when that happens

The practice of Christianity does not contain any magical formula to manipulate fate and fortune.  Rather, it is an effectual way of walking in harmony with both nature and with people.

I think it is worth exploring for anyone who wants a better life.

 

Comparative Religion

There are several questions about religion and spirituality that have gripped me for most of my life. Increasingly, I find that these issues perplex most of the world.

First, let me expand our definition of religion and spirituality. Some people believe in spirituality, but abhor organized religion. A study of history reveals that this is a false dichotomy. Religions start with individuals with great spiritual insight and revelation. When they teach their wisdom to others, it gets set down into scriptures and formal teaching. The informal community around the founders evolve into more elaborate organizational structures.

Religious and spiritual groups wax and wane over the centuries. They undergo decline and corruption, followed by intense revivals. I have studied this phenomena for several decades. I have read ancient texts from previous millennia.  I have read autobiographies and spiritual histories from religions around the world. I have also studied secular/academic history from the same periods and cultures.

I don’t claim that we can reach conclusions beyond any doubts. However, I have learned much of value to me, and I hope to other seekers of truth. There are thousands of books in this field, far too numerous to even list. The academic studies have become increasingly specific. To avoid controversy, they have attempted to remain objective. However, spirituality is inherently subjective, a portrait of our inner soul and the working of human community.

So I present my findings as hypotheses, to be confirmed, rejected or modified by other inquirers.