I received the following question the other day by Facebook Messenger. Since it took me a thousand words to respond, and I get asked questions like this all of the time, I thought I would respond here. If you have questions, feel free to send them. I don’t always have time to go into this sort of depth, but I will try my best. – HH
Him: I was reading your posts, and I wondered what you are exactly? Are you a Christian?
Me: Well, I am not sure what you read, but it doesn’t bother me if you want to call me a Christian. I generally use the label “Christian Humanist” myself, but whatever.
Him: What does that even mean? Are you Christian? Do you believe that Jesus is the only way for people to get into heaven?
Me: Well, that opens up a lot of conversation. If you are asking, “Do you, Hugh, believe that apart from someone explicitly praying a prayer, asking Jesus to be their personal Lord and Savior, they will burn in hellfire for all eternity?
Because if that is what you are asking, the answer is no. I do not believe any of that. I do not believe that people who grew up Hindu, who faithfully lived as Hindus and tried to live good lives and raise their families and make their world better are abhorrent in the eyes of God and will burn in fire because they did not say the magic words only revealed to a small colony of the Roman Empire in the Middle East some 600 years after Hinduism was even formed.
I do not believe that my friend Tim, who was sexually abused by a priest and is now an atheist who gets physically ill if he sets foot in a church is damned forever because he cannot believe in God anymore.
If there is a God, I cannot believe that God would be so capricious and ego bound that people who do not praise the name of that God would be eternally punished. And if God were like that, I would have no use for that God, and whatever spot I have in heaven could be given to someone else, because I can imagine nothing worse than to spend eternity praising such a monster.
When I say Christian Humanist, what I mean is this:
I am part of the Christian story. It is my story – I was born into it, and its ethical teachings permeated me and formed me. The teachings of Jesus captivate me, and I have willingly submitted myself to them. If you ask me who do I aspire to be like, well, I want to be like Jesus. I want to love that way, I want to see the world that way, I want to be captivated by creation that way. So I follow Jesus.
But I also recognize that were I born in India, I would have a different story, with different examples. Or had I been born in a Buddhist family, or a Wiccan family. I can’t speak to that – because that isn’t my story. Mine is the Christian story.
I am humanist because I am human-centric. I think people matter. I think people have inherent dignity and worth, and I think that we are responsible to each other.
So, in short, I am a humanist who loves and finds himself within the Christian story, and who has decided they are not incompatible. Or a Christian Humanist.
As a Christian Humanist, I believe that people have inherent worth, and they are made (as the Christian scriptures tell us) in the image of God, only a little lower than the celestial beings. I do not discount the possibility of supernatural miracles, but I do not have any experience with them myself. I believe it is not we who wait on God to act – rather, it is God who is waiting on us.
I believe the God who heard the cries of the slave in Egypt and sent Moses to liberate them still hears the cry of the oppressed and still sends people. I believe God hears the cries of the oppressed, and God hears the belly rumblings of the hungry and feels the tears of the abandoned and sees the devastation we wreck on the environment, and I believe God has a plan to deal with all of that: To right the wrongs, to comfort the afflicted, to humble the mighty, to fill the bellies of the hungry.
I believe that God has a plan. God’s plan is us.
And that is what I mean by Christian Humanist.
By now, if you are still with me, you might have some questions.
What about the divinity of Jesus? Did Jesus rise from the dead on the third day? What happens after we die? Do we go to heaven? Is there a hell? Do you believe in predestination?
I am an ordained minister, in an historic denomination. As such, I can tell you what the church has historically believed about all of those things. Or rather, I can tell you what churches have believed, because there have been a wide variety of beliefs about all those things, many of which clash with and contradict each other.
The simple truth is, there is no such thing as historic Christianity. There have been many manifestations of Christianities that sought to provide the answers those particular people in those particular places wanted answers to.
But me? Those questions aren’t questions I have or need answered. Those questions are in response to the bigger question, “How can I make God not be angry with me?” I don’t have that question, because I don’t think God is angry at me.
Rather, the question I want answered and have devoted my life to finding the answer to is, “How do I find healing for myself and the world?”
So, I don’t know (I mean, really know) what happens when I die. I don’t really know what happened on that first Easter, thousands of years ago. No one knows, and anyone who says they do is trying to sell you something.
But I know exactly what happens to me and the world when I forgive someone who has wronged me. I know exactly what happens when I make the table I sit at more open and inclusive, and I know what happens when I offer a hungry man some food or a homeless man housing.
Those are the things that answer the questions I have, so those are the things I spend my time worrying about. And as for the afterlife and the rest of it?
Well, as I said earlier, if there is a God, either that God is way more loving and accepting than I am, or that God can give my spot in eternity to someone else. Because while I do not get to decide what God is like, I do get to decide what sort of God I deem worthy of worship. And if that God isn’t more loving than me, more generous than me, more open than me, more accepting than me, then that God isn’t worth my time or my devotion.