Managing Editor’s note: all Contributing Scholars begin writing by answering the following question as their first post: Why are you committed to building relationships with those from different religious or ethical traditions? Their answer to this question is below.
I once wrote a paper on why I believe in Santa Claus. The argument, in a nutshell, went something like this: human life consists not just of physicality but of that for which we live. If this is true, then the end of our physicality marks the end of just one part of our “living”; insomuch as our legacy, ideas, or work are carried by others, a portion of us continues to live. Therefore, I argued, St. Nicholas exists in that he, like all humans, was both an historical individual and a representative of the values for which he lived.
As a Christian, my belief in Jesus Christ looks not too dissimilar from my previous statements. Truncated – and unfair – as it may seem to compare Christianity to belief in Santa, St. Nicholas and Jesus Christ at least share the commonality of being figures who indicate that life on earth transcends death in some form; that is, they are (arguably) both humans and symbols who point to something beyond their physicality. This latter aspect of what constitutes their lives continues to be present and vibrant in those who share the values and commitments that these figures represent.
Do I agree with orthodox Christian confessions regarding Jesus’ divinity? Yes – but that’s not really why I am a Christian. Søren Kierkegaard once wrote that “the thing is to find a truth which is true for me, to find the idea for which I can live and die.” I am a Christian because I believe in that for which Jesus lived and died: for the reconciliation of all creation from hegemony and oppression to loving, just relationality. This is the truth which is true for me and in which I seek to invest my life. In fact, this is the truth for which so many of us who are religious, spiritual, or deeply relational live. All who identify as their existential purpose the struggle toward this just relationality are “persons of faith” in this beatific vision and in the combating of oppression and hegemony. In a nod to Derrida, I conceive of Christ as operating as my “orienting center without centrality.” That which Jesus represents through his life and teachings becomes the center to which I attempt to orient my life. As a symbol, Christ transcends his historic, individual, or literary moment, pointing beyond himself to peace, justice, and the paradoxical power of self-giving love and of the Other. However, this “orienting center” can be represented by other movements and names, thus not requiring nominal centrality. To me, differences between religions and perspectives are important and offer new perspectives and correctives to our partial, provisional ideas of truth. But for many of us, the content of our orienting center is congruent. And we who struggle and strive toward the same “truth for which we would live and die” are inextricably bound to one another, need one another, and are stronger and more effective when working together in self-giving, just relationality.