What really is Christianity? How does it relate to other faiths? How is it similar or different from other religions or faith traditions?
If a Christian takes the Bible, Old Testament and New Testament, literally, he or she would be hard pressed to be an inclusivist among world religions. If a Christian does not take the Bible literally, but as a record of humankind’s perception of the sacred in the world in which we live, and of experiences of relationship with a perceived power of becoming which we call God, then it becomes possible to embrace one’s own religious traditions while still respecting the religious traditions of other cultures in other places throughout the world. A good chaplain is trained to do this. Just as two witnesses to the same event will see and described two different events, each from the perspective of that observer, so the experiences of the sacred or divine will also appear within the frame of the experience, intellect, reasoning and emotional life with respect to each witness.
The Christian fundamentalist or literalist has often argued that if the Bible is not literally true, and if Jesus Christ is not literally the Son of God, sacrificed for the salvation of humankind and bodily resurrected, then Christianity is a fraud. One scripture which is used to support such a position is 1 Corinthians 15, “If Christ be not raised, then your faith be useless and you are still under condemnation for your sins. If we have faith in Christ, only, in this life, then we are the most miserable people in the world.”
To take the Bible literally, as God’s own Word directly from Him to us, is, from my perspective, tantamount to a view of nature which limits all knowledge to that which appears to the senses, i.e. from the object’s surface or exterior. The notion that humankind was made in the image of God, Imago Dei, necessarily implies God’s activity in the lives of all people, and in the world surrounding each, whatever their religion, their faith, or their “lack thereof.” I use the latter phrase advisedly with reference to skeptics, agnostics and atheists: in fact, one cannot live productively without some kind of faith – at a minimum, in the physical world in which they live. See Eric Fromm, Psychoanalysis and Religion.
In the posts to follow I will explore Christian concepts and principles which appear to have some universal recognition.