Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Mushy Faith on the Rise

That's the title of a GetReligion piece by Terry Mattingly where he makes fun of a recent Newsweek article by Lisa Miller who looks at polling data in America that suggests Americans are increasingly comfortable with the notion that there is more than one valid spiritual path. We are all Hindus now, Miller claims.

Mattingly says this news has "no news hook" whatsoever; it's old news. Probably true. But I wanted to take aim at Mattingly's title claim "Mushy Faith on the Rise." I would suggest this is not necessarily true. It certainly isn't true for this liberal Christian.

I was raised in a Christian home, in a predominantly Christian town, in a predominantly Christian country. But it might have been otherwise. I think that our choice of faith is likely to be dictated more than anything else by where we were born. It is highly unlikely that I would be a Christian had I been born in India or Saudi Arabia. I might very well have been born into a family of Hindus or Muslims.

That simple fact gives me pause when I think about the truth claims of Christianity that seem to close the door on the validity of other faith perspectives. "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except by me." Really? Can we really say that with certainty anymore when the world has become so interconnected and when our own country has become so religiously diverse? Are we really ready to condemn to eternal death the majority of the population of the world simply because by accident of birth they grew up in other religious traditions that make their own truth claims?

There is nothing mushy about my belief that this kind of thinking is wrong. I am certain it is wrong. I am convinced that there are many valid spiritual paths, even as I choose to follow in the way of Jesus. I am, in fact, fairly intolerant with those who hold these kinds of intolerant views about Christianity and its supremacy over other faith traditions. It's an ironic position to be in, but there is nothing mushy about it.

I suppose that there are some liberal Christians who have a mushy faith believing that anything goes, just as there as some mushy conservative Christians who see no conflict of interest between being a follower of Jesus and being a super capitalist/militarist.

Mattingly closes his post with the three questions that apparently separate, in his view, the true Christians from the mushy ones ("the fault lines in Christian churches and denominations"):

(1) Are the biblical accounts of the resurrection of Jesus accurate? Did this event really happen?

(2) Is salvation found through Jesus Christ, alone? Was Jesus being literal when he said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6)?

(3) Is sex outside of the Sacrament of Marriage a sin?

If you hang your hat on doctrine as the dividing line between "true" and mushy faith then these are your questions. It is all about getting your ticket to heaven and believing the right things and living the kind of life that will get your ticket punched. You want to be up there with your tribe sitting at the right hand of the Father.

Me, I'd rather hang my hat on these three questions:
Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?
I want to know whether your beliefs lead you to care about the immense social ills in our world today? Have you done your duty by going to church on Sunday and reciting the creed or by bowing in the right direction at the right time for prayer? Or does that faith lead you to care about changing the world and doing something about it. If the fault line is doctrine - any doctrine - and protecting your heavenly turf, then I think your faith is pretty mushy.

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