I must say this one. It is not that I do not believe in Jesus Christ. It is that I do not believe in Christianity itself, particularly in the current manifestations out there. He is perhaps one of the most important figures in all of human history, and certainly one of the wisest, and we would all do better if we could simply live by His words instead of trying to interpret them to our benefits.
In the marketplace of ideas over the millennia, what was it about Christian doctrine that made it catch on and spread and be widely embraced? (And widely debated, Greek philosophized, diluted and demonized.)
To those of us who are believers it may seem obvious though not easy to verbalize. If we don't ponder our own commitment and spiritual connection to Christ prayerfully and often, it will fossilize instead of always being a growing and living energy for us.
The battle starts within our hearts. In dealing with ourselves as well as with our fellowman, only loving persuasion will bring lasting victory.
In fact, one day, I took his words to heart. And rarely the words that people mean:
For where two or three people come together in My Name, there I will be with them. -- Matthew 18:20 (KJV)
Most people use this verse as the one that dedicates their church, whether it be grand building or a table in the park, yet what really does it mean? Some folks, like this guy use it as an explanation for how God, through Jesus, picks our congregation for us.
Yet that has never been my view of worship. One does not need walls of stone, benches of velvet, or cups of silver to worship. The only thing that is required is that you open your heart and mind to Him. After all, it's there in the Bible...
Jesus said to her: Believe me, the time is coming when you won't worship the Father either on this mountain or in Jerusalem. -- John 4:21 (CEV)
One day, sitting in my former church, listening to the pastor rain fire and brimstone down upon the heathens and pagans outside the walls, a small voice kept telling me "No, this is not The Way." Week after week, listening to the same sermon dressed up in different words, I kept hearing "No, this is not The Way." One Sunday morning, just when the pastor revved himself up to full volume, it came to me again. "No, this is not The Way." But this time I was ready, and asked, "So what is The Way?"
"Go and seek it."
Fat lot of good that advice was, but I took it anyways and went to find The Way, whether it was in all capitals or not. I have spent significant amounts of time within the halls of every single major religion (Western and Eastern, young and old), a vast majority of Christian sects/denominations, and quite a few sit-downs with various folks of the cloth: some so real you can see God in their eyes and some so fake they make P.T. Barnum look like a used-car salesman. And yet, I still heard that voice saying that it was not The Way, that ever-elusive "personal relationship with God" that some people insist is out there.
One day, I was walking through the mountains of Southern California. It was an old habit of mine, which probably started from my Scouting days, to walk through forests (or even the middle of suburbia) whenever a large question was weighing on my mind, and it still is to this day. This time, I had headed towards Fish Creek Meadows, probably one of the most... Well, beautiful doesn't begin to describe it, and perfect goes too far. (Should you find the chance to visit that area, I would insist on visiting it to anyone that enjoys time in the woods, but it is not for the novice.) And, on one of the few handy rock outcroppings, I sat and said, into the wind coming down from Greyback, "So what is the way?" I didn't expect an answer, but I got one anyways.
You see, the way is our own, and our "personal relationship with God" is just that: individual and personal. You cannot simply adopt someone else's beliefs and call them your own while declaring that you have found that "personal relationship with God", regardless of how good they sound and how well they fit your beliefs. That is not finding God; that is finding Man.
Even the Bible, for all the good it has within the pages, is not just God's Word, but also Man's Word, even though I have already cited it twice in this post. You see, the Bible has been changed many times between the time of the Nazarene and the ever-moving time of Now. With over 20 different "authorized" versions of the Book, not counting straight translations into non-European languages, how could it be anything but the combination of God's Word and Man's Word? So to say that there is nothing within the Bible that is not solely of God Himself... That is being blind to the fact of human existence.
And to pry the differences apart is not the task of an amateur such as myself, and thus I refuse to try. Hence my distrust of the modern Christian denominations. Should I have to rely on an intermediary to tell me how to find The Way, then is it actually my Way? How can something be truly personal if it is given to you by someone that is not you?
And so I have read the other books, some sacred and some not. The Torah and Talmud. The Qu'Ran. The words of Kwan Fu-Tse and Lao Tsu and Siddhartha Gaurama. (For those that are wondering, those are the founders of Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism. In that order.) The Kojiki and Rokkokushi, two of the texts that Shinto springs from. Even Scott Cunningham and Raymond Buckland, probably the most fundamental writers of neo-paganism, did not pass by my desk unread and unstudied.
In them all, I saw it: that something that reaches deep within the soul and plucks the strings, turning us towards Him, in whatever manifestation we choose to see Him, who is greater than us mere humans. And that lead to the simple conclusion...
The reason there are so many religions out there is not because there are many Gods. There are simply many ways for us humans to mess things up. That is the basic fundamental fact of humanity, described in the old idiom "To err is human; to forgive divine." The simple act of humans getting involved in the interpretation of God will muck things up to the point where fact and fiction become indistinguishable. For me and my path, the only way to God is to use the four ways to measure truth we have available. We've heard references to these all of our lives, at least here in the States, but what are they?
First, the truth of the heart. When people say that they know it "in their heart," this is what they are referring to. It is a basic reference to the seat of emotions and feelings. So when something is true to the heart, it fits with our emotional state.
Second, the truth of the mind. Logical reasoning, concentrated internal discussions, the firing of neurons in random sequence, call it what you will. To know something, anything at all, is to understand the truth of the mind.
Third, the truth of the gut. The best way to think of this is the instinctive responses that we all use in varied and random times throughout the daily life of western civilization, up to and including the basic survival instincts that our species has developed over (insert length of time here).
And fourth, the truth of the soul: the entire being of a human. I've tried many ways to understand the soul, even delving into the deepest philosophical minds ever to set pen to paper, and they've all come up short, even though they put much thought into their systems of truth. Finally for me and my outlook, I've come to an explanation that is much more simple: the truth of the soul is when the other three centers of truth agree; heart, mind, and gut. And only when they are all in agreement could I say that I know it in my soul.
Is Jesus the Son of God? Yes, I believe that in my soul. Is Mohammad a true Prophet? Yes, I believe that in my soul. Do a vast majority of the world's religions contain, somewhere within their beliefs and practices, the essence of God? Yes, I believe that in my soul.
And can I be completely and totally wrong about all of this? Yes, I also believe that in my soul, for no mortal man can completely grasp the true concept of God. All we can see is a small portion of what He truly is, regardless of how far we look and how hard we think. And the fundamental fact of human existance is that we often err. And should I be found wrong, then I am prepared for whatever punishment awaits me after this life.
And that is why I will never condemn someone for their religious views, not even bin Laden. The relationship between a human and God is between them and them alone, just as mine is between me and Him. To judge someone for their beliefs and morals is to take the place of God Himself, and I am not able to put myself in His place.