Human beings are neither evil beyond measure nor good beyond credibility. That is my position as a Humanist and religious liberal even though I am well aware that many Humanists tend to have a view of human nature that is far too ‘rosy’ and unrealistic.
Even when I was a card-carrying Christian, which thankfully I no longer am, I never accepted the view that Jesus died to ‘save us from our sins’. As I see it, the doctrine of vicarious atonement was not part of Jesus’ original, as opposed to interpolated, teachings and more properly belongs to Mithraism and other pagan mystery religions. As a religious liberal I place great emphasis on the development of character and healthy-mindedness. I simply do not believe that we are saved by Jesus’ shed blood on the Cross. It is what that blood represents that saves us, namely, the power of suffering love and self-sacrifice in the form of the givingness of ourselves (that is, the person each one of us is) to others. It is we who must ‘die’ to self and ‘rise again’ as persons into newness of life.
Despite the approach taken by most card-carrying Christians, the world is not to be divided into the saved and the unsaved, the chosen and the unchosen. Yet having said that, I submit that we are all in need of salvation, but just what can and does that word mean? The English word ‘salvation’ comes from the same Latin root as the word ‘salve’ and refers to a healthy kind of wholeness. Again, despite what we have been told by the self-described ‘Bible-believing Christians’ salvation is not primarily connected with so-called sin but an underlying ‘morbid’ condition of the human psyche. When a person is ‘truly saved’, that condition is offset or corrected. However, I refuse to limit salvation to just one idea or event at a single point in time. As I see it, we are saved in stages, over time. In other words, conversion or salvation is an ongoing process of continually dying to self and rising to newness of life. That can and should happen every minute of every day.
The English word ‘sin’ has an ‘I’ in the middle. The essence of sin is selfishness, self-absorption and self-centredness---that is, an attempt to gain some supposed good to which we are not entitled in justice and consciousness---and we all need to be relieved of the bondage of self. That is what salvation---call it self-transformation, ‘enlightenment’ or ‘waking up’ if you prefer---is all about. Further, because we are all one family, I take the view that no one is saved until we are all saved. Goodness is that which makes for unity, oneness, and wholeness. Evil is that which makes for separateness.
Now, here’s something ‘biblical’---at least in the Catholic tradition of Christianity---that I do accept. Salvation is simultaneously a past, present and future reality, involving a saving ‘coming’ to newness of life, a saving ‘standing firm’ in that conviction and life-stance, and a saving ‘holding fast’ to the end of our days.
Salvation may be said to involve the following steps or stages:
We see ourselves as we really are. We become aware, and surrender to the fact, of our self-inadequacy, powerlessness (as respects the bondage of ‘self’), selfishness, self-centredness, self-absorption, self-obsession, self-consciousness, frustration and sense of separation, and of our need to be in proper relation with ourselves and others. We admit, with all honesty, that we are in need of fundamental change.
We acknowledge that the self-imposed ‘penalty’---I make no apology for using that word---for the above state of affairs is alienation, emptiness, loneliness, life unmanageability and a state of ‘dis-ease’. We surrender to the fact that self cannot renounce or change self---that is, no effort of the self can remove the self from the centre of its own endeavours. Self is image---self-image---and is unreal in the sense that it has no separate, independent or permanent existence from the ‘person’ that each one of us is. Only the latter is ontologically real.
We lay aside our old ‘selves’, indeed, all of our false or illusory selves, and ‘repent’ (to use a theological term) of, that is, turn from, our self-centredness, pride and wilfulness, recognizing that the way of self-sacrifice and love is the answer to the problem of our lives. Having already come to understand that no effort of the self can remove the self from the centre of its own endeavours---that is, the person that each one of us is---we turn and surrender to a power-not-our-selves. That power, which can take various forms, is the power of our whole personhood (the primal power of be-ing itself) over our illusory selves, situations and circumstances.
STEP FOUR---TAKE AND TRUST
Having made appropriate amends to those whom we have hurt or otherwise injured, we forgive ourselves (that is, the person that each one of us is) for our past wrongs and failings, for as we forgive life, life forgives us. We release forgiveness to everybody, including ourselves. We become renewed in the spirit of our minds and over time we become new persons. Our old sense of isolation and alienation is gone. We accept the fact that we are now changed persons and start to act accordingly. We live in faith---that is, with courage, confidence and conviction (note: this is not a matter of belief at all)---trusting and relying upon the power-not-our-selves completely. We learn to live as a person among persons.
Out of gratitude for the profound psychological mutation that has taken place in us, we now desire to live selflessly for others and share the fruits of our experience, strength and hope with them. This is not a matter of proselytizing or evangelizing (heaven forbid). It is simply sharing our changed lives with others as we interact with them on a daily basis. One more thing---we need to continue to ‘die’ to the bondage of self every day. We must also remain ever willing to change, grow and evolve, no matter what happens in our lives.
Note. This article is based on an earlier article of the author’s entitled ‘An Interpretation of the “Way of Salvation” for Modern Day Unitarians and Free Christians’ that can be found online on SlideShare and certain other sites.