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4/6/09

When Jesus Met Buddha

What would you say if you discovered that what you had been taught about Christianity is wrong? If you found out that the doctrine you learned as a child failed to acknowledge a part of Christianity that could undermine the teachings?

There is such a history, lost to orthodox Christianity.

First, though, consider the orthodox view.

I
Orthodoxy. When they die what happens to those souls who practiced their beliefs, be they Hindu, Buddha, Muslim, Zoroastrian, if they never had the chance to hear of the one truth faith, as proclaimed by Christian doctrine? They will be unable to enter the Christian heaven according to centuries-old dogma.

In comparison to Pope John Paul II, Benedict XVI displays a conservative hard-line bent and has done so once again by making clear that strait is the gate to heaven and the faithful had better believe it.

He has set the path for the Catholic church today. The church holds to the unique role of Christ.

In an open letter to Italian politician Marcello Pera, Pope Benedict declared that "an inter-religious dialogue in the strict sense of the term is not possible." Cultures other than those informed by Christianity are not equally valid, although Christians should hold conversations with them, according to the Benedict.

This view is not peculiar to Catholicism. Most Christian churches see Jesus as the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and they believe it with missionary zeal, so much so that they must take their conviction to unbelievers in heathen lands. As we know, Muslims become outraged to see Christians trying to convert their people, and Buddhists are bemused, as well as amused.

To be sure, the Vatican does not see Mohamed or Buddha as demons. But it does fear modernity in which other faiths might mix with and dilute what it perceives as Christian truth. The church has a strong tradition developing out of Ancient Rome, and she has guided her flock through the Dark Ages, the Middle Ages, and the Renaissance into the Twenty First Century. She has a long history as shepherd, one which she will never easily surrender.

II
The problem here is that Europe's is "not the only version of the Christian faith, nor is it necessarily the oldest heir of the ancient church. For more than 1,000 years, other quite separate branches of the church established thriving communities across Asia, and in their sheer numbers, these churches were comparable to anything Europe could muster at the time. These Christian bodies traced their ancestry back not through Rome, but directly to the original Jesus movement of ancient Palestine. They moved across India, Central Asia, and China, showing no hesitation to share--and learn from--the other great religions of the East. Something remarkable happened when evangelists for two great religions crossed paths more than 1,000 years ago: they got along." Christianity, for much of its history, was just as much an Asian religion as Buddhism. More at Boston Globe.

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