I have attended the services of a large number of Christian denominations, as well as the Friday prayer service of the local mosque. I have also heard talks about faith from a minister of the Baha’i faith and have heard conservative and reformed Jewish Rabbis speak on their faith.
I am hardly an expert on any of these perspectives, but my sample is wide enough to allow me to draw one conclusion about all of it. My conclusion is that the spiritual “fault line” (if you will allow me a geological metaphor) is not best or most accurately drawn along the lines of which religion a person practices, as if the real issue in the religious and spiritual world today were whether or not a person is a Christian, a Jew, a Muslim or a Buddhist. We don’t actually learn much by answering that question. The real issue is whether or not the people believe that the love of God includes everyone in the world, or includes only members of their particular religion.
If, for example, I say that my faith in Jesus leads me to believe that the love of God extends unconditionally to all people, I am actually practicing a very different kind of religion than the person who says that his faith in Jesus leads him to believe that everyone who doesn’t accept Christ as savior is going to hell. What this means is that I have discovered that I have far more in common with certain types of Muslims, Jews and Buddhists than I do with certain kinds of Christians. The Dalai Lama, for example, makes a great deal more sense to me spiritually than Oral Roberts ever did, even though I don’t believe in reincarnation or karma.
Rev. Bill Ellis is dean of St. John’s Cathedral. He has a bachelor’s degree in history, a Master of Divinity and holds an honorary Doctor of Divinity degree from Church Divinity School of the Pacific.