Christmas with A Kempis

Chapter 25: Earnestness in Amending Our Lives or From Allah to Zarathustra, There is Nothing Better

“[One] has no need to go beyond Jesus, for [one] will discover nothing better.”

Allah, Buddha, Christ, Dao, Elohim…I was thinking about going through the whole alphabet naming more Ultimate Realities, but I got stuck on “F”.

I thought of St. Francis mostly because I’ve been soaking in the city[1] which bears his name, but he’s generally not considered an Ultimate Reality.

I borrow that term from the pluralist theologian John Hick, who sees all religions/philosophies as attempts to reach the “Ultimate Reality.” Just as we moved away from a Ptolemaic/geo-centric view of the universe to a Copernican/helio-centric view of the universe, Hick calls Christians to move away from a Christo-centric view to a theocentric view. In other words, just as we no longer see the earth as the center of the universe, we ought to learn to no longer see our faith as the absolute truth. Christianity is not the Truth that all the other faith traditions revolve around and fail to reach. Rather, Christianity is one faith tradition (“earth”) among many (“other planets”), revolving around an ineffable Ultimate Reality (“the sun”), to which no particular tradition can claim full and complete access.

Hick’s view makes a lot of sense to me. By seeing our own faith as one among many invites dialogue and mutual respect across religious borders. Hick’s pluralism invites us to expand our idea of God, to see God as One who transcends all cultures and metaphors while also expressing God through different cultures and metaphors. A Christian can encounter an entirely new understanding of the divine through an encounter with a Hindu or Buddhist or Muslim. This new understanding does not have to replace or falsify an older understanding but rather complement it and enhance it. Hick’s theology of religions excites me and inspires me to learn more about other faith traditions and understandings of the divine and Ultimate Reality so that my own limited perspective of God might be enhanced.

I am also attracted to Hick’s model because I realize that if I were born in Sri Lanka or Saudi Arabia I probably would not be a Christian, but rather a Buddhist or a Muslim. So, therefore, how do I evangelize to a Muslim in the Middle East if I know that I would have been a Muslim myself if I were born there?

Counterpoint: Just because someone is born racist (or born into a racist environment) that does not automatically make racism tolerable. No, racism must still be resisted. Touché.

Although it has some serious weaknesses and problems, pluralism makes a lot of sense to me. We’re all blind monks touching different parts of the elephant. Some of us feel the tail and call the elephant (the divine) a snake while others feel the tusk and describe the elephant as a horn. Still others crawl on the elephant’s back, insisting the elephant is actually a wall. We’re all touching different parts of the same thing. Although we seem to be contradicting each other, we are all describing the same elephant. From Allah to Zarathustra, are we not all describing different aspects of the same Ultimate Reality?

Perhaps.

But after exploring other faiths, I have learned that I have no need to go beyond Jesus, for I will discover nothing better.

I went out searching for someone or something better than Jesus and then came to realize that he’s my Lord and I want none other than him. Maybe Jesus is just the tail of the elephant. Or maybe the Triune God is just the trunk and the tusks. If so, I am okay with my decision to devote my life to these aspects of the Ultimate Reality: to Christ and the Paschal Mystery.

“[One] has no need to go beyond Jesus, for [one] will discover nothing better.”

In the fourth century, Pope Julius replaced the birthday of the Sun God with the birthday of the Son of God when he made December 25th the official date to commemorate Christ’s birth. The date had previously been the date of the Feast of Saturnalia, when longer days of sunlight resumed.

An unknown theologian of the fourth century said, “We hold this day holy, not like the pagans because of the birth of the sun, but because of him who made it.”

In light of Hick’s heliocentric model of theocentric pluralism, I also hold this day holy not because I believe all other faiths are false, but because I am so in love with Christ who I believe both made the sun and humbly became a son. And, for me, there is no need to go beyond him for I know I will discover nothing better.

And the Bishop of Myra, also known as St. Nicholas, feels the same way.


[1]soaking in” as in enjoying and taking in, but also as in “soaking in” since it has been a rainy day in the city today.

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