God is so reliable. I was perusing my list of blog post ideas, looking for inspiration, when one caught my eye: Can you have faith without religion?
It’s a compelling question, especially since an increasing number of Americans now describe themselves as “spiritual, not religious.” One study reports that as many as 33% self-identify as such. I am among them.
Before I could expound on some of the reasons millions today believe God is spirit [John 4:24], rather than an angry, judgmental and vindictive Being who lives beyond the farthest star, a browser tab caught my eye. I typically have at least a dozen browser tabs visible. They’re frequently visited sites, including CNN, The Weather Channel, a couple of unfinished books on Kindle Cloud Reader, Facebook and Twitter, and sites related to whatever research I’m conducting. Right now I have 18 tabs at the ready.
It was Facebook that lured me from my writing. At the top of my news feed was a story, “My Neighbor’s Faith: The rabbi and the Christian cab driver.” I was instantly intrigued.
Rabbi Brad Hirschfield recounted the time he hopped into a Syracuse cab and was stunned to discover “JESUS LOVES YOU” stickers on practically every surface of the interior. The dashboard bore a crucifix; pocket Bibles hung from the windshield. He quipped, “This wasn’t just a cab, it was a rolling cathedral!”
The scruffy looking cabbie asked the rabbi what he thought of Jesus, and why he didn’t believe Jesus was his path to salvation. The rabbi’s response was profound:
“I can believe that Jesus is a great teacher without believing that he is God’s son and the only path to salvation. One truth doesn’t negate the other. I can love Jesus in my way. And you can love Jesus in yours. There is room for both of our understandings of Jesus. I don’t believe that you have to be wrong for me to be right.”
“I don’t believe that you have to be wrong for me to be right.” The words hit the cabbie like a ton of bricks.
I felt a punch in the gut, too. Why? Because I’m keenly aware that the Loud Mouth can be as strident and judgmental as those who describe themselves as religious, particularly those who describe themselves as Christians.
Many Christians criticize those who don’t believe that we need to be saved from God’s judgment and eternal punishment. I, on the other hand, criticize anyone who believes that God is judgmental, sadistic and unforgiving. Neither position reflects Yeshua’s (aka Jesus) teachings.
Days ago, I expressed to a Facebook friend that I wanted to be more mindful of Jesus’s admonition to “judge not” and “condemn not.” It obviously put the spiritual wheels in motion.
Enter Rabbi Hirschfield, stage right: “Why do religious people have to be wrong for you to be right, Pat?”
I’m sure he is only the first of many who will offer me opportunities to rise above my Virgo propensity to criticize and analyze.
Rabbi Hirschfield didn’t say that I have to believe that God is an angry, judgmental, genocidal and vindictive Being who lives in the sky. I don’t have to believe that God’s forgiveness has strings attached, or that God solves problems by killing, banishing, forsaking or sadistically torturing anyone to death. I also don’t have to believe that sadistically torturing an innocent child to death is a divine way to demonstrate one’s love for the guilty children.
What he said was that others don’t have to be wrong for believing any or all of these things. Another great Jewish rabbi, Jesus of Nazareth, probably would concur: “Whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear your words, when ye depart out of that house or city, shake off the dust of your feet,” he reportedly said.
I have faith that I can shake the dust off my feet. I can give others loving allowance to believe whatever they want and worship whatever kind of God they want. I have faith that I can practice Jesus’s teachings until they are second nature: Love my neighbor as myself; forgive 70 times 7; judge not; condemn not; God is within.
I have faith that I can experience and radiate the Christ within me, as he did. I have faith that with practice, I will grow in love so consistently that I’m will not be the person I was the day before.