Q & R: Christian? Muslim? Other?
Here's the Q:
I have been following your works for several years now. I find that my understanding of Christianity and what it means to become a Christian has been thoroughly changed. In many ways it has been a liberating experience. But, I do have several questions that I'd like to ask of you.
First of all, let me tell a bit of my background so you would know where I'm coming from. I've been a Muslim for 21 years. And after that I became a Christian 15 years ago through an evangelical friend who shared with me. So my formative years as a Christian was influenced very much by conservative evangelicalism.
I live in [a country] where converts to Christianity from Islam face severe difficulties, to put it mildly. I have been discreetly trying to live out my faith as best as I could. I mean I don't practise the Islamic rituals any more ever since I converted since I cannot do it in good conscience. Besides, I don't believe in it anymore But I wasn't able to go to church publicly too due to the dangers it could cause to the congregation. So I'm very much an underground person here.
I still do interact with some Muslim friends, but I would never tell them about my conversion because it'll lead to violence. My parents knew about my conversion for years and they are accepting of it. Unfortunately all of my siblings have not accepted it. In fact it almost led to altercations since one of them stated as an 'apostate' I have no right to live and has made threats against me. As for my non-Muslims friends here, I would simply say this vague statement when asked about what I believe: I believe in God but not in religion.
I've read your writings on the importance of dialogues with Muslims. In many ways, I do agree with you. The thing is, I do wonder what is the role I can play in that, since most Muslims will consider me as a 'traitor' to my former beliefs. And I do tend sometimes take a hardline stance against Islam. However, looking at the big picture, I do agree with what you said about reaching out to the 'others', not just in the sense of trying to convert people. The thing is I don't know any more where I fit in the bigger picture. In the sense that having to remain discreet and yet hoping to play my part. So, what's your thoughts on that? I hope that I'm making sense with all my lengthy exposition.
I enjoyed your book 'A New Kind of Christianity' and I'm glad I've read it!
Here's the R:
You're asking a difficult and important question. It really is a question about religious identity - and that was the subject of my most recent book, Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road? I would be very interested in how you respond to that book - which builds on 'A New Kind of Christianity'. Your complex religious identity means that you are in a position to have great empathy for others who don't feel they fit in normal categories. Your comment - I believe in God but not religion - describes the feeling of growing numbers of people around the world for reasons I explore in the book. On a pastoral level, I would encourage you to keep your eyes and heart open for people who extend to you the kind of unconditional love that makes you feel safe and accepted as a human being, regardless of religious label. They might be Muslim, they might be Christian, they might be "secular" or "spiritual but not religious" - but they know something, and I think they are good people to get to know and share your experiences together. And I would urge you to make it your goal to extend that kind of love and acceptance to everyone - so they recognize you as a safe person who values them as God's children, Jew or Gentile, bond or free, male or female (in the words of the apostle Paul).