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Fifty Years Later

2nd in a Series

 
Almost 50 years ago I wrote a book entitled What to Believe?, subtitled The Questions of Christian Faith. Fortress Press had been looking for such a book, and so published it in 1974. Fifty years later, I thought it might be interesting to see how my thinking today has changed. Hence the title. This is the second in a series.

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Part 2: How is Christianity Related to Other Religions? 
 
Past
 
The dominant view in the history of Christianity is that Jesus the Christ is the savior of the world, the one and only mediator between God and humanity. This absolutist perspective led to the Crusades, where the idea basically was to kill and plunder those who differed, and also led to missionary enterprises around the world, where the idea was to lead native peoples away from their own way of life and into the Christian Church. The church of my youth sponsored a missionary family, who would come back “home” once a year and describe the “progress” being made.

In the 60s, when What to Believe? was taking shape, absolutism of any type was replaced- or at least displaced- by relativism. Believe whatever you want, because as long as you believe it, it’s valid, at least for you. I had as much difficulty with that attitude as I did with the-one-and-only-savior idea, and so came to believe in what I called a modified absolutism. The idea basically was that, yes, Jesus was the one-and-only sent by God, but you didn’t have to believe it. No matter who or where you are, you were included in the cosmic event of the incarnation, whether you accepted it or not. All religions were equally valid for its adherents, as long as they did not violate or contradict the love of God manifest in Jesus.

Present

Today, relating Christianity to other religions is but one element in a much larger picture. We are aware today that we live in an unbelievably vast universe with trillions of galaxies as neighbors. Certainly somewhere there exists another civilization of conscious beings. And what might Jesus have to do with them? Nothing, I would guess. And right here on earth, homo sapiens have evolved from other hominid species, and if we assume that Jesus is homo sapiens, what does he have to do with those other species? Nothing, again. Pushing it a step further, but now in the opposite direction, should we survive, it is inevitable that we will evolve into new species, leaving Jesus irrelevant, in the dust, so to speak.

This level of relativism, be it dealing with E.T., Neanderthals, or some future being, casts the whole question of relating Christianity to other earthly religions as somewhat limited. We live in a new matrix, where ecumenical discussions certainly have replaced the twin motivations of crusade and mission, but this new matrix must also include a cosmic perspective. Theology today must focus on the overarching reality of love, be it on this planet or another, during this time or some other. If the love manifest in Jesus is true, then it is true for everyone, everywhere.

I suppose this makes me a love absolutist of some kind, but the alternative is believing that we live in an amoral universe, an alternative I cannot accept. This also makes me a universalist: the Reality of love embraces all and is where everything comes home to rest. I personally get my bearings from Jesus. That’s just who I am. You may get your bearings another way. And it doesn’t matter what the place may be, this planet or far off into the stretches of the universe, or what the historical time may be, Neanderthal or homo sapiens, or what the religion may be, it is and will be love that is the ground of all.
 
Read 1st Article in Series Here
Read 3rd Article in Series Here
 

Dr. Carl Krieg received his BA from Dartmouth College, MDiv from Union Theological Seminary in NYC and PhD from the University of Chicago Divinity School. He is the author of What to Believe? the Questions of Christian Faith and The Void and the Vision. As professor and pastor, Dr. Krieg has taught innumerable classes and led many discussion groups. He lives with his wife Margaret in Norwich, VT.

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