I have theologically rejected a lot of my former Christian beliefs. My thoughts about salvation are pretty much what Jasmine describes here, which is that it’s our responsibility to cultivate goodness in our selves. I then think of heaven and hell as the natural consequences of what we cultivate through our lives, and I’m more comfortable with varying degrees of reward or punishment than with a bi-modal either-or. What about salvation through Jesus? The idea of atoning sacrifices has its roots in Judaism, where I understand it to be about a person humbly sacrificing something valuable to them – an animal – as a form of worship, to draw closer to God, in much the same vein as fasting. This does not apply to the death of Jesus, because he was no-one’s possession to be sacrificed. If you argue that he took the wrath of God altruistically, suffering hell on our behalf, this would be horribly unfair unless Jesus actually was God (which I won’t discuss now but I think is problematic). Nor does it seem to be necessary: having your sin forgiven alone does not instantly make you a better person; we need redemption for it to make sense, and I’ve pretty much come to the conclusion that the “fallen” and “redeemed” states of the Christian doctrine are nonexistent. Instead there’s a whole rainbow of natural states through which we move upwards by concerted effort – a concept Christianity seems to sneak in through the back door.
Having said that, I’ve come to realise that my thinking is still wired up in a Christian way in a lot of things. I still feel Christian. I guess our automatic thought obeys habit, and old habits die hard. It means I feel very uncomfortable and anxious about change. This has confused me lately.
As for Islam, I’m not sure whether I can trust it either. I don’t see why Jesus needed to have been born to a virgin, nor why he should return at the end of time. These seem like Christian doctrines that have found their way in somehow. I think Islamic theology is closer to my beliefs than anything, but I have trouble seeing the Qur’an as the literal words of God – I think at least some of the meanings might be from God, but I think putting undue emphasis on the actual words is almost like idolising the message. I also dislike the way Muhammad is revered to the extent that every little insignificant thing he may have done is copied, things that have no spiritual significance. I also feel Islam is too legalistic for my liking, too letter-of-the-law, e.g. specifying to the nth degree things that must be done in worship and things that invalidate it; but this may arise from hadith, which are perhaps vulnerable to the effect of people’s insecure desire to have detailed instructions vs. God’s instructions which are usually more vague.
Generally a problem I have with organised religion is the need for an explicit belief in God and in that religion. As Jasmine said in a comment on her post, faith may be more subtle than that. Everyone is not equally able to join a religion; it depends on exposure and many other factors, so this seems an unfair criterion for salvation. I don’t like the assumption that someone is “in the fire” because they did not profess a particular faith, and I don’t like a refusal to pray for their forgiveness based on that assumption.
But to be honest, I want to believe in something. I want to find a path that I can trust, I want the hope and self-esteem that comes from committing to spiritual self-betterment and having some success with it. It’s really tiring me that I’m not.