My religious background is a mixture of Methodist and Baptist. My mom’s side of the family is Baptist and my Dad’s side was Methodist. We went to Baptist church’s for awhile when I was young but eventually switched to Methodist by the time I was in junior high school.
I was active in the Methodist Youth Fellowship at my church when I was in high school and attended a Methodist church in college where I met my wife, whose family is strongly Methodist.
I went through a period in college, like many people do, where I was questioning my religious faith and it was during that time that I discovered Hans Kung, the Catholic theologian. His book “On Being a Christian” was both an inspiration and a comfort to me as I struggled through that period. Kung helped me realize that one can be intellectually honest and open-minded without losing one’s faith.
Once you see just how marvelously complex the world really is, it becomes clear that religions, which are man-made constructs that attempt to bridge the gap between humanity and the divine spiritual world, cannot explain it all. A lot of people who hit that wall turn towards atheism or agnosticism, while others go the other direction and become hyper-religious and fundamentalist. Most people, however, just go with the flow and pay little heed to the wall as they concentrate on other aspects of their lives.
What I came to understand is that there are many paths to God - some well-trodden, others less so - and no one path is particularly superior than another. It wasn’t long before I abandoned the notion that “non-Christians” go to Hell. The prospect of a loving God condemning billions and billions of people to eternal damnation because they were raised in a culture that did not practice Christianity seems absurd to me and I reject it outright. Likewise, I reject the notion that people who fail to jump through certain theological hoops (i.e. repeating the mantra “Jesus is my Saviour”) after being “exposed” to Christianity are Hellbound.
I don’t think God has the oversized ego that everyone imagines. I do not believe that he sits on a throne and demands ultimate fealty from his creation. I don’t think he particularly cares whether one is a Christian, Jew, Muslim, Budhist or Agnostic. What I think does matter to God is how a person lives their life and how they treat their fellow humans here on Earth. Whether he sends people to Hell when they fall short of his expectations, I do not know. I tend to think not. I believe God’s capacity for love and forgiveness is beyond our meager understanding of those concepts. I think God is all into giving second and third and fourth chances - whether through reincarnation or shipping souls off to other parts of the universe, I don’t know.
I am perfectly content in my belief that Jesus is the son of God, but I do not believe that Jesus came to Earth to have people fall at his feet and worship him. He came to show us the best way to live our lives and it is an example that is hard for most people to follow or even to accept. He stressed forgiveness and charity, turning the other cheek, helping the poor, healing the sick, visiting those in prison. He did not come to denounce homosexuals or abortion. He would certainly not condone the greed and bigotry prevalent in many of the right-wing offshoots of Christianity active in today’s society. He said the most important commandment was to Love God. But how do you do that? How do you show your love for God in a world where God is everywhere but nowhere? Perhaps by loving God’s creation? Loving your fellow humans as you love yourself? The second commandment, which necessarily complements the first, is the clear path that Jesus wants us to follow.
But all that is not to say that I think any less of religion. I believe religious faith can be a very good thing and I respect people who are faithful to their religions. I think that going to church and practicing one’s faith is an important part of living a good life, and while it may not be a necessity or a requirement, I do believe it is both helpful and beneficial.
The exception comes when that faith leads to violent confrontations with other people of different faiths. Or when it leads to ostracizing certain people from a community. And that is why efforts by people like Hans Kung to reach out and form connections between various religious faiths is so important. And it is why having a separation between Church and State is vital to maintain for the proper functioning of the government.