by Steve Kindle
Most of the foreign missionaries I talk to hold in common a belief that God always precedes their arrival at the mission field, and prepares the way. This notion is fraught with theological insights. Not the least of these is that God is with people whom we may consider “lost,” yet, there God is. With charity, we can call this a relationship.
A human characteristic we all share is the tendency to regard our culture superior to all others. This would include our religions. In America, we regard democracy as the best form of government and actively seek to democratize the rest of the (backward) world. This is certainly true for most adherents of Christianity—we want the whole world to adopt our faith.
This is, of course, an extension into the modern world of ancient tribalism. Not only do we find the presupposition of “We are the best,” but also the accompanying fear of those who aren’t like us. Couple this with the capitalistic notion of “win or lose” and you have the recipe for constant and continuing strife among the religions and peoples of the world.
What’s to be done about this? If you are a hardcore tribalist, you will insist on winning over all. “We have the truth and you must come to us for salvation,” is the rallying cry. Nothing will change if this predisposition dominates, and it dominates throughout the world. I find it ironic, if not humorous, that those who most exemplify this attitude are the very ones most upset when they find it in others. “Radical fundamentalist Muslims” deplore evangelistic Christianity. Fundamentalist Christians deplore “radical Muslims.” They are two sides of the same coin.
It has been said often that the only hope for world peace is that people give up exclusive claims about their own religion and accept that they are not the only ones with the truth. This is surely at least partially true. Religious strife is as ancient as Cain and Abel (the proper way to sacrifice), and as recent as ISIL. Yet it is an impractical solution; it will never happen, at least for the foreseeable future. But this doesn’t mean that the adherents of these religions can’t take this step.
Gandhi is reputed to have said, “Be the change you want to see.” If you feel that the answer to world peace is acknowledging the value of other’s truths, at least for themselves if not for you, then by living this out, there is one less person in the world agitating for division. Who knows? It might catch on.
When I read in the Bhagavad Gita, for instance, “They alone see truly who see the Lord the same in every creature, who see the deathless in the hearts of all that die. Seeing the same Lord everywhere, they do not harm themselves or others. Thus they attain the supreme goal,” I marvel at the truth therein, and my soul is enlarged. I love meeting people of other Books, and often find my own self failing in comparison to their lives and loves.
Now I know the objections to this approach are many. “The Bible says…” and “We have been given the Great Commission,” just to name two. Fundamentalists will never abandon these “truths.” It’s true that the Great Faiths are not teaching the same thing, but I believe that they are capable of producing the same kind of person—loving, considerate of the earth, peaceful—and that is the point, after all, isn’t it? In fact, if Christianity produces hateful people, willing to kill others for its “truth”, who condemn all who disagree, and hold them in contempt, why bother with it?
If I must go into all the world and preach the gospel, I will affirm that God loves all people, that God wants all people to love each other, and that God supports all who obey the Great Commandments regardless of where it is found or who said it. And you know what? God will already be there ahead of me, teaching the world through its own culture the way to Truth.