August 2001

Is Jesus the ONLY Way?

Most fundamental Christians will, without hesitation, resound "Yes!" to that question.  After all, the Bible clearly states, "I am the way, the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me." John 14:6  They interpret this scripture to mean that the only people who will reach heaven are those who believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.  Thus, great effort is put into the missionary field whose work is to go to third world nations and teach the people the concepts of Christianity in order to "save" them.  Do we believe in a God who will condemn those to hell simply because they have either never received the gospel of Jesus, or because they have not made the gospel an active part of their faith life?

I cannot believe that a God whose very name is synonymous with "love" would create us in His/Her image, set us on the earth, and when our life here was through, send us to an eternal fiery pit to endure "wailing and gnashing of teeth" for all of eternity simply because we had not been a "Christian".  If heaven were reserved for only those who followed Christ, then what about the billions of other souls on earth?  Why would God allow this Holocaust?  This is the very thing which evokes guilt from those who believe they must proselytize as much as possible while here on earth in order to save those souls which are hell bound.  These people believe they must bear the burden for the "lost" souls; that it is their responsibility to spread the gospel in order to keep people from burning in hell.  What a harsh and unforgiving life view!  While I do consider myself a Christian, believing in the teachings and the example of Jesus, I have a very difficult, if not impossible, time accepting the narrow view that only Christians can and will reach heaven while all others perish in the  eternal fiery lake of hell.

I believe that when Jesus said that he was the way, the truth, and the life and that no one could come to the Father (heaven) except through him, he was telling us that we must be fully human as he was and be willing to live for the highest and best purpose as he did.  I also believe that being born again is not a figurative, "spiritual" suggestion, but a literal reference to reincarnation, a allusion to the fact that we have more than "one shot" at reaching heaven; eternal (re) union with God.

If God sent Jesus to show us the way, is it not conceivable that God sent others as well?  Sending only one person at one particular point in time and space to guide the entire world for all of eternity?  What happened to all those people on earth before Jesus came to show the "one and only" way? That makes about as much sense as having only one chance at life to master all of life's lessons and reach unity with our Creator.  What about those whose lives are cut short by accidents and illness?  What about babies, children, and young adults?  While the teachings and examples of Jesus are a perfect path to God, they are arguably not the ONLY path to God.  For those of us raised in the Judeo-Christian Western world, let's take a look at some other valid examples from Eastern religions:

Buddhism

The Buddhist story begins when Siddhartha Gautama, who was born into royalty and wealth, made the decision to renounce the world when he was 29 years old in order to find answers to human suffering and despair.  For six years, he followed an intense spiritual regimen which led him to reach enlightenment, or nirvana.  He spent the rest of his life teaching the tenets by which one could achieve this supreme transcendence.  Gautama established communities of monks and nuns to perpetuate his work.  The underlying basic teachings of Buddhism include the four noble truths: 1) existence is suffering, 2) suffering has a cause, namely craving and attachment,  3) there is an end of suffering (nirvana) and there is a way which leads to the end of suffering, the eight-fold path of right views: 1) right views, 2) right resolve, 3) right speech, 4) right action, 5) right livelihood, 6) right effort, 7) right mindfulness, and 8) right concentration.

Buddhism defines reality as a process rather than an entity.  Meditation and the observance of moral precepts is the foundation of the Buddhist faith.  There are five basic moral precepts which are observed:  1)refrain from taking life, 2) refrain from stealing, 3) do no act unchastely, 4) do not speak falsely, and 5) do not drink intoxicants.  Those who are members of Buddhist monastic orders also follow five more moral precepts:  1) refrain from eating at improper times, 2) refrain from viewing secular entertainments, 3) refrain from using garlands, perfumes, or other bodily adornments, 4) refrain from sleeping in high and wide beds, and 5) refrain from receiving money.

Islam

The religion of Islam was founded by the prophet Muhammad in the 7th century.  Soon after his birth, Muhammad was orphaned by his parents and raised by his uncle.  At age 24, Muhammad married a wealthy widow named Khadija.  In the community in which he lived, Muhammad was a wealthy merchant.  At the age of 40, he felt that he had been selected by God to be the Arab prophet of true religion, since the Arabs had no prophet at this point.  Muhammad had a vision in the cave of Mount Hira, north of Mecca, in which he was told to preach.  Throughout his life, he continued to have many revelations, of which many are recorded in the Qur'an.  The basic teaching of Muhammad are: there is one God; people must, in all things, submit to Him; in this world, nations have been greatly punished for rejecting the prophets of God; heaven and hell are waiting for the present generation; the world will come to an end with a great judgment.  Included with these beliefs are the acts of frequent prayer, almsgiving, and the forbiddance of usury.

The foundation of the Islamic faith is found in the Qur'an which is considered to be the word of God (Allah) revealed to Muhammad.  Muslims hold a belief in final reward and punishment (judgment) and the unity of the nation of Islam.  There are five basic requirements (pillars) through which Muslims submit to Allah:  1) there is no god but God, and Muhammad is the Messenger of God, 2) the five daily prayer rituals, 3) the giving of alms, 4) the dawn-to-sunset fast during the lunar month of Ramadan, and 5) the annual pilgrimage to Mecca, which serves to unite believers from all over the world.

The main essence of Islam comes from its attitude toward God, or Allah: to His will they submit; Him they glorify and praise; in Him alone do they hope.  In some forms of Islam, intercession is asked of the prophets, saints, and angels, while making clear the distinction between God and creation.  The prophecy of Muhammad is viewed as a continuation and compliment to the prophecies given to recognized Biblical figures such as Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, and Jesus.  Islam also recognizes many other prophets, including Hud, Shuavb, and Salih.  Islamic law reserves a communal entity status for the People of the Book ( those with revealed religions) including Jews and Christians. 

Hinduism

Hinduism is a combination of religious traditions within the nation of India.  The early tradition of Brahmanism introduced Vedic sacrifice, which was a way of appeasing and communing with with gods and the cosmos.  Brahmanism also brought with it the mystical elements found in the doctrine known as the Upanishads.  This doctrine expressed that reality was the self of all things and its identity with the individual soul.  The Upanishads also refer to the practice of yoga, the spiritual-physical means by which one can be in union with God.

Hinduism also embraces the concept of karma, which believes that an individual will reap the results of his actions, both positive and negative, through many lifetimes via reincarnation.  The goal is to break free from the cycle of karma and reincarnation by eliminating the passions in ones life and also by obtaining the knowledge of reality, which will allow one to be united with God.

Jainism

Those who felt that the practice of Hinduism was too structured with ritualism, turned to Jainism, which is said to have originated from the succession of 24 saints, the last one being Vardhamana.  Vardhamana was known as Jina, meaning "the victor."  He taught a stern discipline of asceticism and solitude as a means of escaping the cycle of karma and rebirth.  The strict spiritual practices were to bring the soul into the state of nirvana and therefore, salvation.  Vardhamana established a group of monks who took on the vows of fasting, self-mortification, nudity, and celibacy.  A division occurred over the vow of nudity and Jainism became separated into two schools, the Digambaras and the Svetambaras.

In Jainism, one accumulates merit through good works, charity, and periodic participation in monastic retreats.  The religion began in India and spread quickly to the west.  The practices of Hinduism and Jainism have become greatly enmeshed, incorporating common saints and practices between the two traditions.  Another predominant facet of Jainism is its staunch opposition to animal endangerment and/or cruelty, therefore, Jainists will avoid taking on any occupation which may even remotely endanger the life of an animal.  One of the primary forms of charity practiced by Jainists is the establishment of refuges for diseased and decrepit animals.

Judaism

The practice of Judaism is based upon the Divine teachings revealed to prophets which is written in the Torah.  These teachings consist of faith beliefs and religious laws which the Jews observe.  The core belief of Judaism is in the existence of one God, who is Lord over the whole universe and is very much unique from all of His creations and creatures.  God is loving and compassionate toward all.  Humans are to be in awe of God, exhibiting both love and fear toward Him.  Because God is perfectly just and righteous; good and holy, people are expected to exemplify this behavior themselves in fulfillment of God's intent for humankind and the whole world.

Common Theme, Common Goal

I would not advocate that any "basically good" person will attain the salvation found in the arms of God in heaven, but I do believe that there are some basic tenets by which we must live in order to get to the goal of heaven.  

One of the primary tasks we must accomplish in this world is to remember who we are; to acknowledge our Divine origin and that there is something greater than ourselves at work in the universe; a higher power toward which we must strive to emulate.  We must believe in God, whether we call Him/Her "Allah", "Buddha", "Jesus" or by any other name.  

Next, we must live a life which does the most good and the least harm.  We must strive to bring light and love to all those we encounter; to share and nurture that light and love as we continue to learn and grow.  We must continually seek God in all things and in all people, making every effort to attain greater knowledge in our faith.  Christ exemplified this walk.  We all must become Christ-like to attain the goal of perfect union with God in heaven, whether we are Jew or Greek, slave or free, Muslim or Catholic.  If we use the term "Christian" interchangeably with the term "Christ-like", then, yes, we all must essentially become Christians to be saved -- saved from the cycle of rebirth, from karmic debt, from the imperfect lives we live here on earth.  

Not knowing God, not acknowledging His/Her presence, and failing to live in a Christ-like manner separates us from our Creator and keeps us from entering into union with our Lord.  The conscious decision to reject God and to knowingly separate ourselves from our Divine inheritance is the opposite of nirvana; the antithesis of enlightenment.  It is the separation from God-- not the  fiery inferno manned by a dragon with a pitchfork--which is hell.  This deliberate refusal is the result of our human nature; our free will.  Only those who make the choice to acknowledge and revere God, in both the universe and in all life, will attain the euphoric pleasure of being reunited to our Divine Source.  Those who deny their Divinity will remain in the hell they have chosen.

There are many paths created by religion which seek to be the only way to God, yet any path which truly leads to God is the right path.  God is boundless, timeless, and beyond anything we could contrive or imagine.  To place rules and limits on how one connects to Him/Her is not only senseless, but futile.  

In the end, all that matters is not how we reach God, but that we do reach God.

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