"She prayed for me because she believed I was blind to sin, wanting me to kneel and pray too, because people to whom sin is just a matter of words, to them salvation is just words, too."
~*~As I Lay Dying, William Faulkner~*~
I live just south of Asheville, North Carolina. And, I love Asheville. It’s WEIRD. One of my favorite things to do is go sit downtown with a cup of mocha or chai and watch people. In Asheville one can witness almost every sort of strangeness that’s allowed public display. Asheville is known for it’s ecclectic community of artisans, hippies, trustafarians, homosexuals and wiccans. Most of them are very intelligent and highly educated. They have very strong convictions and beliefs, and are not afraid to share them.
I like to read some of the local publications, because they give me a bird’s eye view, as it were, into the minds of those who believe and live their lives very differently than I do. What I have gleaned from this is a respect for them and their views, even though I often disagree completely. I think that is because, in many ways, we have so much in common. We love our children and want what’s best for them. We love our communities and want to improve them in whatever ways we feel would be most valuable. We want to create a sense of belonging and security, and we feel very threatened, and often attacked, by those who do not share our beliefs.
And that is where I think the problem lies. Not just with the street people, but with everyday folks, as well. Asheville is also located in the Bible Belt. In the midst of the colorful array of humanity swarming downtown Asheville, one can almost always find some sort of self-appointed ‘apostle’ or ‘evangelist’ or ‘prophet’ screaming out dire predictions about the ‘end times’ and the need for ‘salvation’ at anyone who slows down long enough to catch his/her words.
But how meaningful is that, really? I mean, honestly, how many of us respond to someone yelling at us and threatening us? Especially if the threat seems as ridiculous to us as someone telling us that if we’re not good, then Santa Claus won’t come to see us? Because the truth of the matter is, a growing majority of everyday people do not believe in "sin". They do not believe in "heaven" or "hell". And they sure don’t believe in the Fundamentalist’s "salvation".
These people have abandoned Christianity for many reasons, and most of them are really good reasons. They have been mislead by pithy propaganda from the "Religious Right". They were told that if they only believed, that everything would be okay. Nobody stopped to ask them what "okay" means to them. Nobody bothered to figure out how these people would interpret the promises they heard. And, by and large, nobody has stuck around long enough to be there when those promises came up empty; to help them find God on a meaningful, practical level. They were too busy running off to ‘save’ the next one.
We have got to understand that most people do not believe in ‘salvation’, per se. They do not understand the need to be saved from a hell that, in their minds, does not exist. And they certainly don’t understand the motivation behind someone wanting to change them in order to save them from something they don’t believe in.
Actually, I don’t understand it either. I didn’t respond favorably to my father yelling and screaming at me when I was a kid. As an adult, I no longer have to subject myself to that sort of abuse, but it still raises my hackles when I hear some preacher or self-proclaimed evangelist treating complete strangers that way.
Anyone who knows me even superficially knows that Blessed Mother Teresa is my hero. She didn’t care what anybody thought, and she wasn’t out to preach at anyone. She spent her entire life loving people. All people. She understood that people are lonely and hurting. She understood that they are needy, and that sometimes all it takes is a smile or a gentle touch to warm their hearts and fill their starving souls with love. She didn’t yell and scream at them to ‘get saved’ or to ‘repent’. She didn’t accuse anyone of being a ‘hellbound rotten sinner’. She didn’t care about that. She just loved them, and when she did, they met Jesus in her, and she changed the world.
Never once in the Bible did Jesus ask anyone if they were ‘saved’. There is not a single ‘altar call’ recorded in the Bible. We have no record of Jesus asking anyone if they wanted to go to Heaven, or if they had prayed some "sinner’s prayer". Jesus knew the desires of our hearts. He knew that everyone, given the chance, would choose Heaven. Because in Heaven, love is perfected, and there is no more pain, or lonliness, or emptiness. In Heaven, we are one with the Father, and so we are one with Love.
So Jesus loved people. He told them about how much God loved them. He cared for them, healing them and even raising them from the dead. He fed them. He taught them about loving one another and about not being judgemental. Over the past almost 2000 years, very few of us have really ‘gotten it’. We are more concerned with the sins of our fellow man than with his needs. We are more concerned with tallying up how many souls we’ve ‘won’ than with really touching those souls, and the bodies they inhabit.
How can we tell someone they are going to burn in hell, and all they need to do is kneel with us and pray some prayer in order to be ‘saved’, when we don’t even know them? When we have no idea what their hearts are crying out for? When we haven’t bothered to take the time to really, truly, love them and serve them like Jesus did, like Bl. Mother Teresa did?
Faulkner was chillingly accurate. When sins are just so many words, so is salvation. And then none of it is real.