Is it possible for a Christian to be a Universalist? This question made me think about the common assumption that universalism is a monolith, or at least that all forms of universalism are somehow equivalent. However, while I believe that the historical dominance of universalism among Christians demonstrates that the belief that Christ came to save all humankind, even people who can’t or won’t acknowledge him as Lord, is consonant with Christianity, a non-theological universalism that is based on the idea that all religions are equally valid ways of understanding and approaching God is not merely incompatible with Christianity. Worse, it seems to spit in the face of religious experience.
When I was fourteen, I took a course on Islam. My high school required taking a certain number of religion courses, and, in September 2001, Islam seemed to be an essential religion to be familiar with. As I studied Islam, I began to fall in love with the religion. When we took a field trip to a Muslim community center, I was enchanted with the way that people lived their faith in their modest dress, their dietary choices and daily behavior. What a far cry it was from the way that many of the self-proclaimed Christians I knew saw no conflict between grinding on a stranger on the dance floor on Saturday night and singing in the choir on Sunday morning! I began to contemplate converting to Islam, entranced by the idea of being united to a faith community that seemed so united in its desire to embody faith. I was attracted by a religion that followed a prophet who often proclaimed the importance of mercy and gentleness, who recognized the rightness of sexuality and who was a trailblazer in the Arab world in mandating inheritance rights for girls and forbidding marrying a woman against her will and giving that woman the right to demand a divorce.
But in the end, I could not become a Muslim because the fact is that there are some elements of the faith that I simply don’t agree with. I don’t mean just that there are some “bad apples,” like violent extremists; I’m talking about universally recognized points of doctrine based in the Qur’an or the hadith. For example, in the face of religious violence, the exemplary Christian is called to martyrdom, while the exemplary Muslim is called to resistance and, if necessary, violence. [See, e.g., Surah 2 (The Cow), verses 190-193, calling on Muslims to fight and slay those who oppress them.] Things like this within Islam just don’t seem to be true reflections of God’s will for mankind.
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