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Wrestling with Universal Truth and Christian Certainty

Photo: Jacob Bøtter

Photo: Jacob Bøtter

I had an atheist friend ask me an interesting question after reading one of my blog posts. He asked me, “How much does your Christianity allow for pluralism?”

It was an intriguing question and, after spending the evening thinking about it, I replied in a private message.

But, after giving it some thought, I decided to turn my response into a post.

Die-hard exclusivist (sort-of)

I believe that the universe is governed by one overarching, universal truth—we’re all just trying to figure out what it is.

Maybe the atheist is right and the world is exactly what we see occurring naturally. Or maybe the universe is exactly how it’s explained in the Quran. Perhaps this whole experience is summed up in one of the world’s great faiths, or maybe they’re all completely wrong.

Whatever the truth is, I don’t believe the universe is built upon multiple, contradictory realities.

So, if by pluralism you mean that everyone’s right, no, I’m not a pluralist.

Is Jesus reality?

I didn’t choose to follow Jesus because that’s how I was raised. I didn’t choose him because his philosophy suited me best. In fact, Jesus’ own words are some of the worst marketing for any ism on the planet.

  • You can’t find your life until you lose it.
  • Take up your cross and follow me.
  • If you follow me, you will be persecuted.

These are not the sorts of things that make me say, “Oh yeah! Sign me up. That’s sounds great!” I find the Christian life (as expressed by Jesus, not as exemplified by the church) to be more of a challenge than a cakewalk. I didn’t choose it because it was the path to my best life now. I chose it because I believed it represented reality—I still do.

What if I’m wrong?

According to a study from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, there are approximately 41,000 Christian denominations in the world, some with small variances in practice and some with major, opposing differences in theology.

So the question about whether I’m right about the nature of the universe is bigger than whether I’m a Christian or not. I mean, what if I chose the wrong Jesus? Dear God, what if Westboro Baptist Church is right!? What if Jesus is a fag-hating bully who’d make his point picketing funerals of dead enlisted people? If I was right about choosing Jesus but he turned out to be that guy, I’d still be screwed.

I carry into my life the tension and cognitive dissonance of an unshakable faith in Christ coupled with the willingness to accept the fact that there are areas I could be wrong. I know that probably sounds like heresy.

We tend to see faith as a rigid, dogmatic refusal to see light or truth in any other ideology than our own. It’s as if inflexibility is a virtue.

Flexibility was required to follow Jesus

Jewish tradition, law, and interpretation was pretty firmly established when Jesus came. He quickly turned the system on its head, challenging heartfelt and seemingly important ideals.

Jesus’ life was defined by those whose religious beliefs were either malleable enough to welcome his teaching, or those who were so inflexible that they’d rather kill him than entertain any philosophical missteps on their part. In first-century Jerusalem, you either wrestled with your beliefs and followed Jesus or you clung to your understanding and denied him.

It seems willingness to accept your fallibility may be an asset.

Not a pluralist but . . .

When push comes to shove, I follow Jesus because I cannot get past the historic and philosophic roots of Christendom. I believe it’s true. The more I’ve prodded, poked, kicked, and wrestled with it, the more convinced I’ve become.

I believe that Jesus has something to offer to everyone who searches. And if you and I were to have a conversation, I would share what I believed with the sincere hope that you’d see the wisdom in it.

But . . .

I’ve only had my experiences, I’ve only been raised in my culture, and I’ve only been exposed to the philosophies I’ve been exposed to. There is so very much I don’t know, and it seems crazy not to factor that into the way I view what others believe.

Do I believe that truth is relative? No. Do I believe all beliefs eventually reach the same conclusion? No. Do I firmly believe that I benefit from the martyrdom of some Galilean 2,000+ years ago? Yes.

Do I believe it with certainty needed to ridicule, devalue, diminish, or dismiss your beliefs? No. No, I don’t—and I won’t.

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2 Comments Post a comment
  1. jh #

    Interesting. But your answer feels like a side-step. How does Christianity and Christians fit into a multicultural democracy would be a better question. (I could be wrong but I wonder if the atheist was considering how he would be treated in a christian theocracy. But I could have misinterpreted the question and the motivation.)

    Do Christians have the right to pass laws (inspired by their religious beliefs) onto other people? An example would be abortion. See the murder of that Hindu woman because of the Catholic Church’s influence in Ireland or the case of Marlise Munoz in Texas.)

    Do Christians have the right to pretend that they donate to charity when their offering usually go’s to paying the pastor’s salary and related expenses with a tiny bit for public service? Isn’t that offering really a social club due rather than a charitable donation to help the poor/needy/children/animals/environment or any other social/environmental cause?

    Do Churches and religious organizations have the right to impose their beliefs on the personal lives of their employees (even when the job is non-religious such as janitorial or lunch duty or accounting for taxes)? Do they have the right to impose their religious beliefs in educational settings – such as intelligent design, new-earth beliefs?

    Do people have the right to refuse service if it violates their beliefs? (A bakery that doesn’t want to bake cakes for gay weddings or a pharmacist who doesn’t want to fill a birth control prescription. Or should they just sell their business or job and find another profession that doesn’t have a conflict of service and belief.)

    Do Christians have the right to dictate medical procedures and deny patients full access to information? “The suit was filed in federal court in Michigan on Friday on behalf of a woman who says she did not receive accurate information or care at a Catholic hospital there, exposing her to dangerous infections after her water broke at 18 weeks of pregnancy…The A.C.L.U. said it had filed suit against the bishops because there had been several cases in recent years in which Catholic hospital policies on abortion had interfered with medical care.”

    Do religious groups have the right to their tax-exempt status and their IRS privilege? A church is automatically given a tax exempt status (meaning it is subsidized by tax payers rather than the congregants).

    I think this was the real question that your atheist friend wanted you to answer.

    March 18, 2014
    • Actually, the atheist in question is my friend. I know what he was asking and, if I was mistaken, he is definitely able (and willing) to speak up.

      March 18, 2014

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