“Religion is blowing up our world.”
That’s how writer and psychology professor Daniel Helminiak characterizes the state of the world. Until we can come to grips with the pluralism of religious beliefs in our world, there is no way we can end the intramural fighting between religions.
“I believe that a person who cant be at peace with much of whats going on in other religions then they dont know what the depth of Christianity is about either. If Jesus and what he taught didnt have to do with everyone in the world then it cant be true and if it does have to do with everyone then we should be able to find it elsewhere,” Helminiak told Whosoever during a recent interview.
In his book, The Transcended Christian, Helminiak invites us on a journey to learn about the depth of Christianity by transcending “the box of religious formulas and regulations.”
“Unless one is willing to question and break down some of the taboos that surround religion one does not begin to realize the core that is in our own hearts trusting the Holy Spirit that lives within us,” Helminiak said.
Helminiak, who also authored the bestselling What the Bible Really Says About Homosexuality, said it was Jesus himself who set the example of breaking down religious taboos.
“He broke the laws and was criticized. It was this issue of getting out of the taboos and getting to the substance. Its not what goes into the mouth that makes you unclean but what comes out of it because of whats in your heart,” he said.
Helminiak, too, is willing to questions such taboo subjects as whether Jesus died for our sins and why the innocent seem to suffer the most in this world.
“Jesus did not die for our sins,” he declared. “We are saved because he was willing to go to the end – to give his life for what was right. Its not the death or the pain that saved us – it was the virtue that he expressed even to the ultimate. I cant imagine God wanted him to die. I cant imagine God clapping his hands in joy because Christ was suffering thats perverse, but thats what we hear.”
Instead, for Helminiak, a professor at the University of West Georgia in Carrollton, Georgia, it was “Jesus incredible virtue the purity of his heart, the goodness of his soul, the kindness that he had that was saving. Its what reversed the human standing before God. Finally there was a human being who was absolutely faithful. Thats what turned the story around, not the death or suffering, but the goodness of one of us. One of us had opened up a new way to get to God.”
While Helminiak’s view may seem heretical to some, he is quick to point out that, “nothing in the history of Christianity that ever clearly defined how Jesus saved us. Different traditions have their versions but there was no consensus ever on how it happened. It was just that somehow through his death he saved us. Even the scriptures say that. If you read them clearly they dont say he paid the price for our sins, instead the debt was cancelled not paid. Thats very different. The emphasis on the death is mistaken.”
Helminiak believes that Jesus could have “saved his skin” and avoided the cross, but he would have sacrificed his integrity as an honest and innocent man. Jesus continues to call us to walk the same path – not because our suffering is redemptive, but because goodness, even in the face of death, is redemptive. To follow Jesus means that we must be the ones to go out of our way to help heal the world. We must be the ones ending cycles of violence and seeking reconciliation – even if we believe we are the wronged or oppressed party.
This is the “Law of the Cross” that Helminiak’s mentor Bernard Lonergan taught.
“The rogues of the world are not going to change to make things better. Those who are innocent and good will pick up the slack and its not fair. The good people do more than their share but if they didnt theyd become rogues just like the rest and the whole system would go down the drain. The cross is an example of that. There was no just reason for Jesus to suffer and die but our world did that. Unless he was willing to face that and pay that price, the good he was attempting to do wouldnt have been achieved,” Helminiak said.
But, to become a transcended Christian, one must do more than do good and seek justice. Even fundamentalist Christians can do that, Helminiak said.
Instead, a transcended Christian is one who has “moved your religion to a point where it comes together and touches the other religions of the world, where youre able to live as a Christian and still be in harmony with the rest of what is going on insofar as its good. You can respect other religions and you can see Jesus in other people. You know Jesus well enough that you recognize him wherever you see him and he doesnt have the word Christian written across his chest,” he said.
For Helminiak, this is the essence of faith. It’s not in how we believe, but how we live.
“Try living a good life and continue going on doing whats right in the face of all the opposition. Thats faith. I believe that its worth being a good, honest person. I believe its worth picking up the slack a little bit beyond my fair share. Do I believe in goodness? Thats the bottom line of faith and that opens up into God and Jesus and everything else.”
When we reach that level of faith, then religion no longer blows up the world – but heals the world and reconciles it to God.
Learn more about Daniel Helminiak by visiting his Web sit at visionsofdaniel.net.
Whosoever founder and Editor Emeritus Rev. Candace Chellew is the author of Bulletproof Faith: A Spiritual Survival Guide for Gay and Lesbian Christians. She earned her masters of theological studies at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology, was ordained in December 2003, and trained as a spiritual director through the Omega Point program of the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta. She serves as the spiritual director of Jubilee! Circle in Columbia, S.C., and blogs at Motley Mystic.