Sunday, July 31, 2011
Secular Sunday Sermon: Sola Fide and the Bodhisattva Vow
Sola fide is a central tenet - or maybe even the central tenet - of almost every branch of Protestantism. As far as I can discern it, it comes from an interpretation of Romans, it literally means 'faith alone', and it refers to the concept that only by believing in Jesus as our personal saviour are we saved...
Please note that I don't speak out of disrespect; it's merely my personal attempts to reconcile the belief system of hundreds of millions of people with my own beliefs. Having said that, it appears to me that this principle effectively renders the remainder of the Bible completely moot, and leads Christianity down a path to amorality. I mean, if it's true that belief is enough, why not even have a Bible? Wouldn't it be enough to reduce the whole Bible to the single sentence 'Jesus is your personal Saviour'?
Furthermore, what is the point of attempting to live a moral life? I know that they are old questions, but I've yet to hear a practical answer to them. People will say that 'belief in Jesus means wanting to live like him and wanting to do as he would like you to'. Okay; at least that's practical. But it still seems paradoxical to me. So many people directly state that bad Christians go to heaven and good non-Christians go to hell. It makes me wonder just what the point is then (and it amazes me when they question the morality of an atheist like myself!). It truly does seem to me that somewhere along the way Protestant denominations decided that their Church was in a fight for survival, and consciously decided to create an us-and-them mentality by declaring - in the most straightforward manner - that you're either with us or against us, and God is with us, so either you pray at our churches or you go to Hell. The price they paid for this was to take human actions out of the bargain and state - somehow - that God is not interested in how you live your life, only in what you profess. It appears to me to put the Church not in the position of moral arbiter or even moraliser but merely in a position of self-preservation.
Which leads me to the real thing I want to talk about - self. All three branches of Abraham's religion seem to put the focus most squarely on the individual - in fact, solely on the individual. Judaism, Christianity and Islam all attempt to tell each individual how to gain personal salvation for him- or herself only. At least there are concepts like the Golden Rule that tell us that we need to take care of others - but the final motivation remains completely self-centred: I help my neighbour not because my neighbour needs help, but because God will see it and send me to Heaven in the end. Many religions talk a lot about the power and importance of altruism; Abraham's religions seem strangely mute on the topic.
Consider the question of what will happen in heaven to ‘true believers’ who are ‘unequally yoked’ to disbelievers. The orthodox answer – that the believer will go to heaven while his loved ones sizzle – seems to imply that the love of God is greater than the love of other people. I'm sorry but I can never accept that someone who truly loves his family will sit in bliss at Jesus's feet while his non-Christian loved ones burn in Hell. People have also stated that those who do not love God do not know what love is - I'm sorry, but it almost seems that the opposite is true (in many cases). To completely substitute divine love for human love seems unpalatable to me. I've often been aware of a fundamental misanthropy underlying the beliefs of many God-believers, but I've tried to put it down to a fanatical minority or a misunderstanding. But it seems to me that large elements of Christianity are actually designed to require people to forego their love of other humans for their love of God - and, in the end, for many people that so-called love of God appears merely to be an attempt to 'play God's game' in order to get themselves into heaven.
As for me, I'm taken by the notion that if you know how to swim, your duty is not to swim to safety but to stay behind and teach the others how to prevent themselves from drowning. How can the human species ever possibly survive if we're motivated solely by our own personal salvation?
In light of that, I present the Bodhisattva Vow. I am no more Buddhist than I am Christian, but it gives me great peace to know that there are people in the world who can see a higher calling than merely getting their own backsides into heaven at any cost...
I vow to liberate all beings, without number.
I vow to uproot endless blind passions.
I vow to penetrate dharma gates beyond measure.
I vow to attain the way of the Buddha.