A Curry of beliefs
Yesterday morning at 7.30am, I was waiting by a local church to get a lift to do a day’s labouring on a building site. A young female jogger stopped to look at the notice board of the church. Interested in singing, she was drawn to the notice about the community choir. Because I go to the church, I was able to give a bit more information and invite her to an Alpha course running on Sunday evenings. When I asked if she was a Christian, she replied that she was brought up Catholic and tends to add Christianity to other beliefs, rather like you might add various vegetables and spices to make up your own curry.
Like many people today, this young lady’s main problem with Christianity is its exclusivity. Exclusivity, it is believed, leads to prejudice and for groups to stereotype each other. Curry is the preferred dish of the age. We like to put several beliefs in a pot, mix them around and come up with our own dish. The view believed today by the majority of people I encounter, is “All religions are equally valid and basically teach the same thing.” One journalist recently wrote that anyone who believed that “there are inferior religions” is a right wing extremist. Most people, however, who assert the equality of religions, have in mind the major world faiths, not splinter sects.
The major problem with this belief though is its inconsistency. It insists that doctrine is unimportant. God is a loving Spirit. That is all that matters. But this view assumes doctrinal beliefs about the nature of God that is at loggerheads with those of all the major faiths. Buddhists do not believe in a personal God. Jews, Muslims and Christians believe in a God who holds people accountable and who cannot be reduced to simply an all loving Spirit. The insistence that doctrines do not matter is really a doctrine in itself. It holds a specific view of God which is touted as superior and more enlightened than the beliefs of most major religions. This is also an “exclusive” claim about the nature of spiritual reality. If all such views are to be discouraged then this one should be discouraged too. But if it is not too narrow to hold this view, then there is nothing inherently narrow about holding to traditional beliefs.
Christianity actually provides a firm basis for respecting people of other faiths. Christians believe that all human beings are made in the image of God and are capable of goodness and wisdom. Because God has made us as his image bearers we can expect non believers to be better than any of their mistaken beliefs could make them. On the other hand, the bible’s teaching about the universal sinfulness of mankind also leads Christians to expect believers will, at times, be worse in practice than their orthodox beliefs.
Jesus claimed to be the only way to God. He is not one more teacher to throw into the curry pot. He claimed to be the saviour of the world to whom all the prophets had previously pointed. Although his claims are exclusive, his call is inclusive of all who will believe regardless of race, gender, class or creed. At the very heart of the Christian gospel is a man who died for his enemies, praying for their forgiveness. I hope the lady jogger does come to the Alpha course on Sunday so she can discover this amazing news for herself but on that occasion we won’t be serving curry for dinner.