Exclusivity, Part 3
I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. John 14:6
Prior to concluding my thoughts about the exclusivity that has become an identifying characteristic of churchianity under the guise of Christianity, I wish to reflect upon why exclusivity has become so important in the first place. I believe we can trace its roots to several defining characteristics of life in the Western world, beginning with the Enlightenment in the 17th Century. This Age of Reason opened new intellectual vistas for humanity, while at the same time closing or dominating more traditional ways of knowing through the heart (feeling) and body (instinct). These more traditional paths to knowledge are now often considered pagan or heretical, garnering much less respect. This is evidenced by the Protestant revolution occurring during the Enlightenment. The soaring cathedral ceilings, the haunting acoustics, the archetypal artwork, and the spacious fragrance of strong incense were replaced by more modest, less awe-inspiring houses of worship with a strong focus on teaching, preaching, and sharply focused arguments of right and wrong. Instead of being held safely within the wordless reverence of deeply holy spaces, we were rounded up into revival tents and altar calls proclaiming an exclusive holiness of one true God, one Word, and one Life. Suddenly there was only one correct understanding of the way to God because that is the nature of intellectual knowing. It is force-fed to us from our first days of school. We are given lessons with only one right answer, and if we do not get the answer right, we fail. Churchianity thrives in this intellectual age because if we do not get its one answer right, we fail our way into eternal damnation. It is a fear-based faith.
It is not that the intellect is bad or evil. It is a gift from God. But intellectual knowing is not the only way to understanding. What it offers is incomplete. We experience this in many of our schools where the focus is on which lessons we can parrot back to our instructors instead of what practical skills we can develop to help us thrive in our lives outside of the educational system. We are told what to know instead of being taught how to learn. We are taught to listen instead of to explore. We are taught to know instead of to wonder. 16th Century Christian mystic John of the Cross is credited with saying we cannot know God; we can only love God. The difference between intellectual and experiential knowing is the difference between reading about the fragrance of a rose and smelling it.
Our obsession with all things intellect has led us to see life through an excruciatingly dualistic lens. For one thing to be right, another must be wrong. One must be bad and another good. We have learned to ignore the continuum between and beyond the two extremes, which is where life occurs. In fact, even the extremes are not extremes because they are relative terms, one extreme being defined by the other. There is no purely conservative or liberal stance because there are always additional degrees of each – an infinite number of degrees in fact. Even so, no one wants to find themselves on the “wrong” side of any issue, whether that issue is a math problem, a political dilemma, or a belief system. To be wrong is to risk becoming a social outcast or labeled a failure. We desperately strive to find ways to be “right,” whatever the current definition of “right” is at the time.
This obsessive need to be “right,” to be morally “correct,” or to always be on the “winning” team is a direct outgrowth of our obsession with the intellect and its dualistic categorization of reality. We have been enculturated to believe that if Christianity is not the one, true religion then it must be wrong. If Christianity is not exceptional among all world religions then lead us to one that is! If being a Christian does not make me superior to non-Christians, why bother? Jesus taught a way where all could be winners, everyone could be included, and there was plenty of everything needful to go around.
Yes, Christians are special and chosen by God. But so are Jews, Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus, and non-believers. Jesus’ work was about welcoming everyone into the kingdom of God, not by forcing everyone into a single belief system but by throwing open the gates of all belief systems so everyone would be and feel welcome and loved for who they are and as they are. Christianity is not an exclusive club, nor is the kingdom of God. Our work is to invite and encourage people to enter by whatever path is available and accessible to them.
This is the 60th in the series of Life Notes titled Churchianity vs Christianity. I invite your thoughts, insights, and feedback via email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or through my website, www.ContemplatingGrace.com. At the website, you can also sign up to have these reflections delivered to your Inbox every Thursday morning and browse the archives of my Life Notes, Podcasts, music, books, and other musings.