“Satan and hell aren’t the problem. It is this violent and intolerant image of God that causes the world such grief… The chosen are free to do great evil to those they consider damned.”
Philip Gulley & James Mulholland, If God is Love (2004)
I picked up a second-hand copy on impulse, and I am glad I did. The more orthodox hate the book (and its predecessor If Grace Be True), written by two American Quakers, but I think this is the path, or something very like it, that we really should take to heart.
Run your eye down this page from Religious Tolerance — best spiritual books of 2004 — to a review of If Grace be True, but take note of the other books along the way. Landover Baptist Church this isn’t — thank God.
Now read The Gift of Thinking Differently by James Mulholland from Friends Journal January 2005.
Elaine Pagels, in Beyond Belief: The Secret Gospel of Thomas, quotes Tertullian, another early Christian leader: “Whenever they [heretics] hit upon something new, they immediately call their audacity a spiritual gift-no unity, only diversity! And so we see clearly that most of them disagree with one another, since they are willing to say-and even sincerely-of certain points, ‘This is not so,’ and ‘I take this to mean something different,’ and ‘I do not accept that.'” Tertullian described this activity-what the psychologist Charlan Nemeth considers a creative discernment process-as unnecessary and evil. Tertullian thought there was no need for further questioning when we had all the proper answers. Ironically, he ended his life by dissenting with the leaders in Rome and being labeled a heretic himself.
I can identify with Tertullian. Having been raised in conservative, evangelical Christianity, I spent my childhood convinced that my sole task was to memorize the truth, not to seek it. The Bible, rather than being the culmination of a long and divisive theological battle, was the Word of God, dictated perfectly and open to only one valid interpretation. Salvation was through the Church alone-and by the Church we meant our own sect. I grew up knowing there were some things you didn’t say, some questions you didn’t ask, and some problems you were encouraged to overlook.
You didn’t say non-Christians could be saved. You didn’t ask why Mohandas Gandhi, a man who lived the way of Jesus better than most, was burning in hell. You didn’t struggle with the justice of millions of sincere men and women being condemned for faithfully following another religious faith. Eventually, after many years of working to be orthodox, I found myself saying, “This is not so,” “I take this to mean something different,” and “I do not accept that.” Like Tertullian, I found myself, once a defender of orthodoxy, being called a heretic.