A Pew Forum poll in 2008 found that about seventy percent of religiously-affiliated Americans believe there are many ways to God. Fifty-seven percent of people who attend evangelical churches think so. Here’s how it might look for one of them, “Anthony,” as he was just beginning to think through what that really means. I think that person would come to some realizations, and yet still have some questions:
This is going to be an awkward letter for me to write. I mean, how do you tell God you’re worried he made a mistake? Not just any mistake, either. The biggest. I hope you’ll pardon me, but I’m wondering if it’s too late for you to go back and fix it.
You see, I’ve been learning some things from school lately. I’m in a class on religions. The prof and the other students tell me it’s cool I’m a Christian and that I have that for my truth. I like that they’re okay with that, and I get the idea that’s how we’re all supposed to treat each other.
They’ve got their own truths, and I’m cool with that, too. We’ve got a good mix in this class. There’s a Muslim student from Indonesia, a Hindu who grew up in New York but whose parents are from Sri Lanka, a couple of girls from here in Virginia who are into the “Now” thing from Oprah and Eckhart Tolle (I think they’re lovers but I’m not sure; and anyway I’m not judging them or anything) and some others who are just checking things out. There’s one guy who really seems to have it all together. He’s a Baha’i, and they believe in all the traditions, he says. They’re the ones who really seem to get it, that there all these different truths and they’re all okay. The prof seems to like him a lot.
But that gets to what what I’m worried about, God. They keep talking about different paths all climbing the same mountain, and that this mountain that ends up with you at the top (or Nirvana, or The One, or whatever we decide to call you). I’m thinking this through, and even though no one has said this in class, that must mean that some of these paths must be, like, optional. I mean, suppose there’s a hundred paths or something like that; why can’t we just use ninety-nine and stay off the other one, if they’re all just as good?
So here’s what I don’t get. If I could get to the top of the mountain with you, God, by being a good Muslim or Buddhist or Baha’i, why did you have to have your Son Jesus get tortured and die on that awful cross? You loved him, didn’t you? I thought you loved him even more than my parents love me–and they would never let me go through something like that. They wouldn’t want anyone to go through that kind of pain, not even their worst enemy, unless somehow there wasn’t any other choice. And what I’m learning is that with all these other truths and all these other religions, you didn’t really have to have Jesus die on the cross.
See what I mean by a big mistake? So I’m wondering if, well, since you’re God and all, and you know everything and you can do anything you want, do you suppose you might want to go back in time and undo what you did there—I mean, now that we’ve figured out it didn’t have to be that way?
But then—oh, I’m confused, I knew this was going to be a hard letter to write!—if you know everything, then way back 2,000 years ago you must have known about this class I was going to be taking and this letter I would be writing. This isn’t really news to you, is it? You must have thought through whether Jesus really had to die for us, or whether there were other ways for us to get to the top of this “mountain” we’re supposed to find you on. The only way you could have let that happen must have been because there was no other way.
That’s why you did it, isn’t it? At church they tell me you loved us so much you gave your only Son so that we wouldn’t have to die (or “perish,” in Bible language), but instead we could live with you forever. I’m really, really glad you loved us that much! I don’t understand it totally, but maybe I’m getting a picture that you did it because that was the only way.
It kind of makes my head hurt, though. I don’t know what my prof and the other students are going to think of it. They tell me they think it’s cool that I believe in Jesus and I believe in your love, as long as I think it’s cool that they believe what they believe. Now all the sudden I’m having trouble figuring out how I can do that. If I believe in your love, including your love for your Son, then along with that I have to believe the reason you let him die for us is because there aren’t any other paths up that mountain after all. I’m not sure how I can be okay with everyone having their own truths any more—it doesn’t make sense.
People tell me religion doesn’t have to be make sense, but I draw a line when it comes to believing you let your Son that you love die that way if you didn’t have to. That’s not religion, that’s like family!
God, this is turning out awkward in a different way than I expected. I’ve got some other things to think through now. Is it really true that you loved us enough to sacrifice your Son for us? Is this something that really happened, or is it just some spiritual kind of message instead? Because if it’s really real, then I have to believe you didn’t have any other way to get us up that mountain. Why don’t the other paths work? What is this mountain they all say they’re climbing, and could it be that some of us are climbing the wrong one? How can I know? How can I be sure I’m on the right path?
Thanks for listening. I hope you’re not mad at me for starting out the way I did. It’s just that it’s kind of hard being here. There’s lots of pressure, you know? Where I live, you’re supposed to believe all the different beliefs are just as good. It’s like it’s your moral duty or something. I’m trying to fit it all together, and I’m pretty sure now that idea doesn’t work. I’d like to know the real truth.
Now, how do I close off a letter to God? “With love,” or “Yours truly,” or … wait, I know: