God exists. That is my religion.
Jesus preached the truth about God. That is my Christianity. That is all for me, thank you.
Oh, and in case you forgot what Jesus preached: Love your enemies. That is enough.
I have read so much about religion and theology that, instead of expanding my religion into a full blown systematic theology, I go back to the basics. Simplicity! says Thoreau. The simple religion of God and love is all I need for my life. I prefer it. My mind is full yet empty. Everything else, all the doctrine and creeds; that’s all extra. Sure, I believe the soul lives on. Sure, I believe reincarnation is better than hell. I am not against beliefs or people having them. But these are all fancy additions to a firm foundation. God exists. God is good. God is love. Act accordingly. This alone lights up my world, always has. When you focus on what really matters, you begin to take it more seriously. For example, I believe in loving my enemies. Really? Really. And when Jesus teaches to turn the other cheek and not to resist evil, I believe it. Literally, he really meant that? Yes, of course he did! Having enough love and understanding to actually love your enemies–that’s the pinnacle of religion, the mountaintop, the goal.
Modern Western people tend to think of religion as a set of beliefs that you agree to, like filling out an application for church. No. Religion is life. Your religion is your life. As Karen Armstrong says in her books, the point of belief is action. Faith without action is dead. And, God forbid, you find yourself doing something stupid because of a belief, perhaps you should rethink it?
- Other Religions: I left for college a Christian and came back a “religious pluralist,” or enlightened Christian (sounding arrogant). Religious pluralism allows space for other religions. It means all religions are valid paths to the same transcendent Reality. If God is beyond our comprehension, it makes sense. We look at the night sky and say “did you see that?”…”See what?” Religion begins. We experience the spiritual world differently. It’s okay. Sure, some doctrines differ drastically among and within religions, but at the end of the day all religions share the same basic moral code (love and compassion). See John Hick.
- Prayer: sadly, I don’t pray anymore. But I do believe in prayer as meditation on God, on yourself, on other people, and on your life. I believe it can have many psychological benefits, as some studies show. It makes you slow down and think, which is really important. I am against petitionary prayer; that is, asking for stuff. It’s not that God doesn’t care about you, He just thinks your silly little requests are silly. God works through the beautiful laws of nature that he created–deal with it. The best way to pray for healing is to become healthy. I know this is hard when it comes to accidents, cancer, and when bad things happen to good people. For that, we rely on faith alone, not prayers for God to “fix it.” Again, religion is life. Live out your religion instead of relegating it to a sleepy Sunday night prayer session.
- Jesus: he was a mystic, a great man, a true spokesman for God, and my hero. In fact, the greatest hero in my life. He has opened my heart to love enemies more than anyone else, living or dead. That’s an incredible thing. I do not think he was God (judging by what he says in the Gospels), but I am open to the fact that his death might mean something greater. If you ask me “did Jesus die for my sins?” I must admit I don’t really understand the question. What really matters to me about Jesus is his teachings; diamonds in the ruff, life changing and world healing teachings.
- The Bible: experience is primary (you and God), scripture is secondary. Scripture, however, is special because it describes the original experiences that brought about the religion in the first place: Jesus preaching the gospel, Buddha sitting under the tree. It is crucial. Is the Bible the Word of God? Well, sure, the good parts are. But not the bad parts (and there are many). Even Jesus criticized or reinterpreted many of the bad parts of the Bible. St. Augustine and many great Christian thinkers have taught us to interpret the Bible through the lens of love. They also taught us not to interpret the Bible against scientific fact. The truth, like God, is much too big for one book. As for reading the Bible, I stick to the Gospels, Proverbs, and Psalms–all beautiful books that have a direct impact on my life.
As I look back on my religious life, I must be honest with myself. My passion has lessened. As a high school kid who would wake up at six in the morning to read the Bible, when Christianity was fresh and new and God was opening my mind, I was much more zealous, excited, passionate. I was much more willing to go out of my way to help a perfect stranger (that’s the sad part). I have tempered. In the Case for Faith, I remember reading that this is normal. We all become moderate with age I suppose. But my faith in the God of love has never been more rock solid. And the religious life never ends. I expect to have different views in 20 years.