I have come to believe that how one’s beliefs function practically in day to day experience is more important than the beliefs themselves. In other words, right belief takes a back seat to believing in the right way.
I’ve come to believe this over the course of 4 years of Bible college as well as many years of personal reflection and study, not to mention a lifetime of personal experience. I would almost describe my coming to this particular belief as a “conversion”–it has radically changed the way I interact with others, especially those who are different than me. I have “converted” from a way of looking at the world that says there is one right/correct/orthodox belief that all must conform to lest they inherit eternal punishment. I now believe that there are many correct ways of conceiving ultimate reality.
I would stop short of identifying as a full blown relativist, however. I still believe that some beliefs are better than others. Not all worldviews are created equal.
My criterion for deciding whether or not a particular worldview is good is how well the belief under consideration yields compassion in the believer.
I’ve begun to ask myself: “Do my beliefs about God limit my ability to accept people who are different than me or am I more prone to accept the other because of my faith?”
Additionally, I believe that true compassion reaches out to even the non-human. Thus, I ask myself: “Do my religious beliefs help me to become a better steward of the earth or am I pushed towards selfish consumption of the earth’s resources?”
In short, the goal of religion, in my opinion, is to help one become a better global citizen. I reject religion that has another world as its focus. It seems to me that other-worldly and escapist religion leads to apathy and passive inactivity when it comes to working for justice in the here and now. Religion ought to be about making this world, the world where we live and move and have our being, a better place.
Because I believe that religion must be functional if it is to be accepted, I no longer believe that everyone must become a Christian. If the dominant worldview in one’s context is a particular stream of Buddhism and that particular stream of Buddhism contains the resources necessary to live a compassionate life, then I see my job as a global citizen to be encouraging that person to live life well as a compassionate Buddhist. The Christian and the Buddhist can work together to create a better, more compassionate global community as they are both challenged and creatively transformed by one another.
Thus, I believe that conversion is necessary not at the level of religion but rather at the level of the functionality of one’s religion/beliefs about ultimate reality. In other words, I’m less concerned about making you a Christian than I am with convincing you that living a life of compassion is the best possible way to live.
All this to say, I still self-identify as a Christian and my reasons for doing so most definitely need fleshing out. That will have to wait until another time.