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An essay donated by Grace Li

Different people, different paths to "God"

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I think that every single person who has ever walked this earth, no matter what their faith or nationality, can agree on one thing; people are different. I am different from my next-door neighbor, who is different from her teacher, who in turn is different from his pastor. At very least, all human beings are physically different, but we also have psychological and emotional differences in how we function, how we react to the world, and how we think.

Therefore, if one believes in the idea of God and in salvation, there should be different ways of reaching a level of salvation, enlightenment, whatever you believe in. I find it rather difficult to comprehend the common belief that one religion, one path is the way to salvation. A religious leader shouldn’t preach the exact same "path" or "way to salvation" for all his listeners any more than a doctor should prescribe the exact same medication to all of his patients. It is important to have faith in what you happen to believe in, but it is also important to show tolerance, if not respect, for the faith of others.

Perhaps the religion that illustrates this best is Hinduism. Hinduism has often been mistakenly portrayed as polytheistic, when in doctrine, it recognizes one ultimate deity. Most Hindus believe in Christianity’s Jesus Christ as a God-man, just as the Christians themselves do. Hinduism teaches that all the religious leaders, all over the world, are spoken through by the same transcendent God. In essence, separate religions are simply different ways of salvation or enlightenment. If only every religion was this tolerant of ideas other than its own…

On the other hand, we have Christianity (which I am using simply because it’s the most obvious example). I have the deepest respect for all religions, but I do not hesitate to strongly disagree with the Christian mentality that "their" path to salvation and eternal life is the only valid one, and that all others will end up "in the lake of fire." Gandhi was not a Christian, and Hitler was a Catholic. Does that mean that Gandhi will burn in hell while Hitler enjoys a land of overflowing milk and honey? Does that mean that the Boston sex-abuse priests will have tea with Jesus while Wiccans who faithfully serve their country and harm none will have eternal torment? One would certainly hope not, and one would hope that good deeds play some part; even though the Bible states that deeds are irrelevant.

The true mark of spiritual salvation, whatever you may believe that to be, is that you open the door to others. Yes, I have heard the argument that we human beings have a "free will" to follow or not, but that’s not a choice. It is an ultimatum that has been stated all too often: adhere to my religion and mine only, or suffer for all eternity. What drives people to religions with this narrow mentality is fear of the consequences, not true belief, which punches a gaping hole in the "free will" thread. You simply leave leeway for other religions to be valid, not just your own. You open the door, exposing your religion to the scrutiny and (sometimes) acceptance of others, without pushing anyone through.

It would be rather nice if we lived in a world where everyone’s beliefs came true for them. The Christians would go to heaven, the Muslims to paradise, the Buddhists and Hindus would achieve nirvana, and the atheists would have a peaceful rest. Unfortunately, that’s all wishful thinking. We don’t know what’s true or not…so we might as well acknowledge the differences and various validities of all paths to a higher being, whomever you believe him, her, or them to be. Even if you, like me, don’t acknowledge a higher being at all.

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Originally written: 2003-SEP-14
Latest update: 2003-SEP-14
Author: Grace Li

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