Let’s Go to Heaven Together

By Progressive Malaysian Christian (PMC)

 

Kuala Lumpur, 12 December 2020 | PMC (Progressive Malaysian Christians) is a community for socially, politically, and theologically progressive Malaysian Christians residing in Malaysia or in the diaspora. We support each other and discuss faith, identity, and current events.

 

Inter-religious dialogues are like buffets. They sound great on paper – bridge across differences, a platform for mutual understanding, peace, you know, possibly a free makan after. But what it feels like after you have come home and read news of cocktail bombs hurled at churches or firefighters attacked in a riot on temple grounds is this – nauseous. All those niceties piled up feels good when you first take a bite but when it sinks to the bottom of your stomach i.e. when reality hits, you wonder why it even felt good in the first place.

Inter-faith forums also tend to be very male in representation even if women are higher in attendance or who tend to be the ones to pass on the faith to their children. Nevermind that women are often the victim of patriarchal interpretations of scripture, whether it is from Christianity or Islam. But that story is for another day. Today, we would like to propose a new way of looking at inter-religious relationships; by proposing the concept of universalism.

 

Statue of Saint John of Nepomuk holding Christ by Fabrizio Verrecchia

 

In traditional doctrine, Christians are taught to see the world in binaries: saved or unsaved. There are ‘saved’ people who ‘believe in Jesus Christ,’ and ‘unsaved,’ well, everybody else. In other words, Christians think only Christians go to heaven. This is an ingrained value. It is quite the exclusive club, really. With this in mind, we often wonder if a Christian can truly reach across the aisle to a person of a different faith, because if such exclusivity is thought to be a central tenet of the Christian faith—albeit shrouded in love and good intentions—is there really capacity for true middle ground? Having said that, there is a trend that we find encouraging. Independent of the desire for improved interfaith relations, there are an increased number of Christians that gravitate towards universalism.

Universalism, in simple speak, is the belief in universal salvation—that all shall go to heaven. Kinda. That is an oversimplification of a very complex idea. But more and more Christians especially millennials, are moving away from the standard belief that only they would enter heaven.

The late Rachel Held Evans, popular progressive Christian writer, wrote in her book Faith Unraveled about her struggle with the salvation-for-Christians-only theology. Such beliefs, she wrote, would exclude a crazy amount of people that just happened to be born outside the Christian tradition. And where did she find her comfort? In the obscure, final book of the bible:

“I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb.—Revelation 7:9

She went on to say, “The fact is, while the Bible certainly speaks of God punishing the wicked, no single passage on judgment can compete with the scope and size of John’s description of the redeemed.” Craig R Koester in his commentary on Revelations (Yale University Press, 2014) explains that “some interpreters suggest that John’s vision points to the fulfillment of God’s promise that Abraham’s descendants would be countless and that he would father many nations”. We are well aware that Abraham is the father of Ishmael, a prophet and ancestor of Muhammad.

 

Author Rachel Held Evans speaks at a church in early 2015. Photo Credit : Religion News Service

 

We take comfort in Rachel’s words. When we think of the great multitude in John’s vision, we think of girls in Saris and women in Baju Kebayas. In the crowd, we hear Mandarin and we hear the Kelantanese dialect. We spot a few Iban men performing the Ngajat, and we notice children of every race playing sparklers together. It is a scene reminiscent of so many festival ads but instead of a temporary feel good moment it is for eternity.

There is singing and joy. And above them, swaying in the wind, is a giant Jalur Gemilang.

To echo a radio PSA we heard a long time ago, we ask this question again; “Who are your people? Because that’s where your humanity ends.” Our humanity will color our doctrine. Our humanity will determine how receptive we are to the doctrines of those across the aisle. But it seems like right now, humanity is fenced up by the high walls of dogma. Perhaps, this is our way forward. Instead of allowing narrow interpretations of scripture control our lives, maybe we could allow our lived experience of being neighbors to inform our path.

 

Tulisan ini adalah sebahagian daripada kempen #Kebersamaan atau #Togetherness oleh Komuniti Muslim Universal (KMU) bertujuan untuk membawa wacana progresif mengenai hubungan antara kaum dan agama di Malaysia.
The views expressed are those of the author and do not represent the views of KMU Malaysia