Is tolerant Christianity a contradiction in terms?

1. Even if one insists (wrongly in my view) that I am suggesting that Alex Alexander is not a Christian, there are two ways of looking at the object of my assertion: (a) it is about the unique individual that Alex Alexander is; (b) it is about him in so far as he is an instance of the tolerant Christianity that some Indian Churches are supposed to be. I am not discussing (a): I do not know this unique individual, his history, his feelings and such like. Let us look at what discussing (b) entails.

2. Consider the following two assertions he makes:

(i) My Christianity does allow me to accept the rights of others to seek God in whatever manifestation they like.

(ii) I value and cherish the teachings of Jesus as conveyed to me through my early religious influences in my childhood.

On the basis of these two statements alone and asking further clarifications and amplifications one can know more about the kind of Christianity Alex Alexander’s Church represents.

3. Regarding (i), some of the questions are:

(a) Does it imply that there are no obstacles to finding God in manifestations like Shiva, Vishnu, Saraswathi, Hanuman, and such like? That is, if one believes that these are manifestations of God, are they also the manifestations of God?

(b) Could one earn salvation through personal efforts? That is, is salvation a reward for the efforts a human being puts in?

(c) What should be saved and from what? Can an individual save himself? through his own, individual efforts?

(d) Could a moral individual who denies God also attain salvation?

(e) Is doing puja to the idol of Ganesha identical to the worship of God?

(f) Supposing an individual explicitly denies that Jesus is the Saviour and follows Ramana Maharshi instead equally explicitly. Are there impediments to his salvation?

Thus one could go on. Answers to these questions will tell us whether the Church Alex Alexander belongs to is religiously tolerant or not.

4. Regarding (ii), the following questions can be raised.

(a) Is one who follows the ethical teachings of Jesus (e.g. love thy neighbour) is saved if he only followed these ethical teachings?

(b) What, if any, is the difference between Jesus and Christ?

(c) Is a figure like Buddha also the Christ figure? Are Shankara, Ramakrishna Paramahmsa, Ramana Maharshi the same as Jesus of Nazareth or the same as Jesus Christ or both or none?

(d) I value the teachings of, say, Ramanujacharya, and Shishunala Sheriff (a Sufi Dasa). Does Alex Alexander value the teachings of Jesus the same way, i.e. because they provide insights into human beings? I can reject some aspects of their teachings, if they do not satisfy me. Does he have the same freedom to reject some aspects of the teaching of Jesus and still lay claim to salvation?

(e) I cherish the teachings of Shankaracharya regarding some aspects and that of Ramana Maharshi about some other points. That is, I can say that, regarding some or another aspect, I dislike their teachings or that they are wrong or that I prefer someone else’s teachings. Does Alex Alexander cherish the teachings of Jesus in the same way?

Thus one could go on and on regarding these kinds of questions as well.

5. Such questions are legitimate because Alex Alexander’s Church will have explicit standpoints (or they are derivable as implications) on such and similar issues. These are not questions about whether Alex Alexander feels the same kind of reverence whether in a Church or a temple; they are about what religious tolerance means with respect to the Church he belongs.

6. One could easily be against conversion by Islam and some brands of Christianities in India. The rivalry between the Christian sects could easily explain (much more satisfactorily) why some Christian Churches in India are won for anti-conversion legislations. That, however, does not make all of them into tolerant Christians, does it? We need far more proof (which could easily be given by answering questions like the above) to be convinced that tolerant Christianity is not a contradiction in terms.

7. It is also advisable not to seek easy parallels between a Jesus-Bhakta and a Christian. Most of us heathens understand too little about the theory and practice of Christianity to do that.

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