Wrestling with Universal Truth and Christian Certainty
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.