A few days ago I got a comment from Scott, who wrote: “I beg of you to listen to the true Gospel message. Repent and believe in Jesus as your Savior so that your sins may be wiped away and that you may have the hope of eternal life.”
Scott, thanks for the offer. I understand that you sincerely believe in Jesus and consider that I’m heading for hellfire. Which I may be. I don’t know. And this gets to the main difference between us. Uncertainty.
You’re certain that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. I’m not. Even more: I’m uncertain about every other religious claim that this is the Way. Scott, you’re probably aware that many religions say that they have a direct link to God that others don’t.
Hindus consider that the Vedas and Upanishads are divinely inspired, the Word of God. Ditto for the Koran, from the Islamic perspective. To devout adherents of Judaism, the Jews are God’s chosen people. I’m an initiate (satsangi) of the Sant Mat tradition and can testify that satsangis are taught that they are the chosen people—having been part of the small percentage of souls who didn’t want to leave the Lord back at the beginning of time.
So you see, if I wanted to believe in salvation, that would be easy. According to what I was told at initiation, I’ve already been saved by the guru. He is considered to be God in human form, just as Jesus was.
Except, the guru is alive and Jesus is dead. I’ve talked with the guru. I’ve sat at his feet. Thus I have a lot more reason to believe in the salvific power of Sant Mat than you have for believing in Christianity. Your gospels are secondhand accounts written sixty years or more after Jesus’ death. The “gospels” in which I used to believe came direct from the pen or mouth of the guru.
Plus, I’ve got a backup salvation avenue. I was baptized Catholic and went to first communion. Baptism supposedly gives me a free pass into heaven. I’ll find out if that’s true after I die. That’s when all the uncertainties will become certain, one way or another, for each of us.
I’m sure your Christian belief gives you a lot of comfort. That’s great. Naturally you want to share your good feelings with other people. That’s understandable. Just keep in mind that the true believers in every religion believe that their way is the way. Everyone can’t be right. Or, can they? More uncertainty, Scott.
I’ve become a believer in the value of uncertainty. This is the core of my spiritual questing these days. I call it my Wu Project. Not this, not that. Not yes, not no. Not faith, not atheism. Something else. Wu. I’m pretty sure this is the best way of approaching God: as mystery. Humbly, in a spirit of unknowing.
In one of his books Huston Smith speaks of a Zen friend who tells him, “I’ve got a new koan: I could be wrong.” Wonderful. I think it would be great if each and every religious person had the same attitude: I could be wrong. The world would be a much better place if everyone had that open-minded perspective.
Imagine a joke that begins, “Three fundamentalists walk into a bar: a Muslim jihadist, a Christian evangelical, and a Jewish Israeli hardliner.” What would the punch line be? “Only one of them walked out”? Except, that’s not so funny. Likely would be true, though. Milder version: “They all sat at different tables.”
Let’s change the joke: “A Taoist, a Zen Buddhist, and a Hindu walk into a bar.” What comes next? “At closing time they were still laughing together and arguing about who should buy the next round.” Still not funny. Also likely would be true, though.
You see, it’s possible to be spiritual and not rigidly religious. No Christian knows for sure whether Christianity is true. Neither does the adherent of any other religion. So why not be honest and admit that uncertainty? Faith then would become the embrace of mystery and a confidence that the cosmos rewards sincere truth-seeking.
To my mind, this sort of faith is far superior to a dogmatic clutching onto theological tenets that are clearly the stuff of mankind, not God. Which brings me, Scott, to your statement that:
The gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are unanimous in their declaration that Jesus came to lay down his life for His sheep and to be raised again for their salvation. These gospels have stood the test of archaeology and historical criticism, and have more historical validity than any secular works from the ancient world. I understand you're a proponent of anything that might reduce the credibility of Christianity, but really, the gospel of Judas is as historically suspect as any of the other gnostic gospels to date.
In an update to my recent post about the Gospel of Judas I included an article by Biblical scholar Elaine Pagels where she makes the point that early Christianity was much more diverse in its views than the four Gospels that made it into the New Testament. Those Gospels were chosen by a human being, Irenaeus, because they reflected his personal theological views.
A National Geographic program about the Gospel of Judas that I watched included a realistic re-creation of Irenaeus’ editorial approach. Dozens of scrolls were stacked on a shelf. Irenaeus would pick the ones he liked and throw the rest on the floor. The modern New Testament is the result. There’s no reason to believe that the discarded gospels are less representative of Jesus’ actual teachings than the gospels that were kept.
Of course, this assumes that Jesus actually existed. There’s good reason to believe that he didn’t, since the contemporary historical record is virtually silent about him. Jesus certainly didn’t make much of a splash at the time. I suspect that Christianity is much more the result of good marketing and the political support of Constantine than the legacy of a God-man.
But what a difference two thousand years makes. Now it takes much more courage to doubt than to believe. The easy way out, particularly in the hyper-religious United States, is to parrot the party line: Jesus saves.
The thing is, questioning religion requires faith also. Faith that human consciousness was given to us for a purpose—to understand our place in the cosmos and what reality consists of. If we don’t use what many would call our “God-given” faculties of rationality, intuitive insight, and questioning, I doubt that it’s possible to be saved from our ignorance.
That’s the salvation I long for—genuine knowledge of ultimate reality. The pseudo salvation promised by Christianity has no appeal for me.