I wanted to continue to discuss why I use the term “abuse” in reference to much of Christianity, but before I do, allow me to back up and address what I see as the underlying issue which leads to abuse. I hope to elaborate on the issue which many Christians are going to have to face in trying to reach the world. The answer to our problems is not better apologetics; the problem is that we need to face a few realities.
This is the problem as I see it: for most veins of what I would consider to be conservative Christianity, if you do not believe that Christ died on the cross for your sins, you will go to Hell. Do I believe that Christ died on the cross for my sins? Yes, I do. Do I believe that salvation is only through Christ? Yes, I do. But saying that “salvation is through Christ alone” is very different from saying “you will go to Hell if you don’t believe Christ died on the cross.”
I have touched on this lightly in previous posts: certain Christians believe that salvation is all about propositional assent. A proposition is a formal way of talking about a specific statement. For example, “X is Y” is a proposition. Whether or not you believe a proposition is true will not affect who you are as a person. For example, a murderer might affirm the statement “killing people is bad,” but despite this, he might also love killing people. In this way, propositions are forever disconnected from morality.
James tells us very clearly: “even the demons believe—and shudder.” (James 2:14-26)
This is the sort of thing which makes “sola fide” (“faith alone”) Protestants very uncomfortable: the demons believe everything which is true about God. Think about that: all of the demons believe that Jesus died on the cross as atonement for sin. If all it took to be a Christian were assent to that belief, then even the demons would go to Heaven.
The reason the conservative position is so uncomfortable for people (other than conservatives, themselves) is that it makes it look as though God has turned propositional belief into morality. A Christian philosopher might argue that it is necessary but not sufficient to believe in this statement, that Christ died for us. Yet that still faces the same problem: God has seemingly turned something which cannot possibly moral in nature into an integral part of the defining aspect of Christian morality: whether or not you go to Heaven.
There is, however, a sound alternative within Christian tradition. This is the doctrine of inclusivism. Inclusivism states that all truth is God’s truth, and all people have access to truth within certain constraints, though they may differ in the language of how they express it. This is not the same thing as universalism, wherein all religions are equally true. This would be impossible, because religions make contradictory claims.
I understand that many may be skeptical of this sort of a claim, but I would urge you all to read the “Christianity” section of the inclusivism article I linked above. There is strong scriptural support for this claim. Inclusivism also has the support of such people as CS Lewis and even, more recently, Billy Graham, whom I list in spite of my vast disagreements with him on other issues.
Inclusivism frees us from the problem of turning beliefs into moral imperatives. The self-proclaimed atheist living in a manipulative, abusive community may reject that which he believes Christ represents, but by rejecting abuse and hatred, he may also turn toward what Christ truly is. The language is different, but the different words (Christianity for some, potentially even atheism for others) may point to the same sorts of realities — namely the reality of Christ. Remember, language is a system of signs and it does not directly represent reality as it is. If we change the words but keep the realities underlying them, we have only altered what appears on the surface.
If a man preaches Christ but stirs up hatred, God will see past his words and judge him accordingly. If he preaches Buddha or atheism but engenders love — Christlike love — then he is a child of God. God will judge each according to their own hearts, not by the words which they use or the historical facts which they claim to be true.
Belief is problematic if one’s disposition does not align with the belief. Until conservative Christianity can come to terms with this, then it will always be abusive, because it will consider all people of differing worldviews to be sinners destined for Hell, which is the ultimate moral concern. For such a view, the Muslim around the corner is not a neighbor but a threat.
We must acknowledge this, or self-proclaimed Christians will continue to turn issues of belief into morality, which will result in abuse.