Tuesday, July 01, 2008

A Nation of Heretics

Heretics rule! That is the finding of the Pew Forum’s of religious belief in America. Of course that is not how they are spinning the data, but that is the unavoidable conclusion. The word “heresy” comes from the Greek hairesis meaning choice; and “heretic” comes from the Greek hairetikos, one who chooses. Americans, even religious Americans, like choice, and that should make their leaders very unhappy.

According to the Pew Forum survey 70% of us say that there is more than one way to attain eternal life. This is huge! The foundational teaching of the dominant religion in America states just the opposite: My way or the very, very, very low way.

The official position of the Catholic Church is that there is no salvation outside the Church. Of course if you ask your favorite Catholic neighbor about this he or she may well deny it. And if she does she is mistaking her belief for that of her Church. Why? Because she just cannot imagine that her Church could be so narrow minded!

The same could be said for most Evangelical Protestants as well. Jesus says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me (John 14:6), thus making very clear that without faith in Jesus as your Lord and Savior you are doomed. It seems that the vast majority of EPs ignore this doctrine in favor of heresy.

Before you imagine a wave of atheism engulfing the US, take a breath. Nothing could be further from the case: 92% of Americans believe in God. Of course the survey doesn’t ask people what they mean by “God,” so the statistic is fairly meaningless, but still we are nation of believers.

More helpful are the questions regarding Heaven and Hell. 74% of Americans believe in Heaven, and define it as a place where good people go and are eternally rewarded. 59% of Americans believe in Hell, and define it as a place where bad people go and are eternally punished. I find this last idea very tragic as it removes all hope for compassion and redemption after death. But the amazing thing is that the criterion for entry into Heaven and Hell is deeds not faith. Again, this is huge! Martin Luther staked his entire Protestant Reformation on the notion of “faith alone,” deeds are worth nothing when it comes to salvation. But America says, “No!”

Listen to this: 68% of the people polled said, “there’s more than one true way to interpret the teachings of my religion.” That is heresy, pure and simple; and those people who said it are heretics.

Why am I so happy about this? Because it shows that with all its clout, with all its money, with all its ability to threaten people with eternal damnation, organized religion cannot totally defeat the innate skepticism of the American people.

But more than this it means that we who love spirituality, who believe that seeking the Divine unity through reason, intuition, art, music, contemplation, study, etc. have a wonderful opportunity to reach out to people. More on this is my next post.

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