Kevin Sartin | Theology Columnist
For the first time ever, Pope Francis is sending his monthly prayer intentions to the world in video form. Interested parties can navigate in their web browsers to www.thepopevideo.org, where they will find each month’s video message front and center. January’s video, titled “Interreligious Dialogue,” makes quite a statement during its short minute-and-thirty-one seconds of run-time. The video begins with the subtitled assertion that the great majority of the planet’s inhabitants declare themselves “believers,” a fact that should lead to “dialogue” among religions. My interpretation: We should be able to talk about religion with people of other religions. So far, so good, I guess. The video continues on with an injunction to “collaborate” with those who think differently about religion, which is followed directly by four leaders from different religions affirming their own belief systems. Lama Rinchen Kandro has “confidence in the Buddha.” Rabbi Daniel Goldman “believes in God.” Catholic Priest Guillermo Marco says he “believes in Jesus Christ,” and Islamic Cleric Omar Abboud says he believes “in God, Allah.” The Pope then states that though many are “seeking God or meeting God in different ways,” the one certainty that we all have is that “we are all children of God.” The same four religious leaders reappear on screen one at a time to repeat the phrase “I believe in love” before the Pope makes his final statement about “sincere dialogue among men and women of different faiths” producing “the fruits of peace and justice” before the video closes with the religious leaders’ hands holding symbols of their various religions – a Jewish menorah, a statue of the baby Jesus, Islamic prayer beads, a Buddha statue – all together in one little ecumenical group as the instrumental soundtrack reaches its crescendo.
On a purely emotional level, I suppose this video could be celebrated as a simple expression of the sincere desire that people from different religious backgrounds be able to peacefully co-exist and dialogue about their respective beliefs. On an intellectual level, the video is borderline insulting. The idea that Muslims and Christians, with their widely divergent beliefs concerning the nature of God and their contradictory holy books, are worshipping the same God is bad enough, but throw Buddhists and their lack of belief in any divine being whatsoever into the mix, and it’s a laughable proposition at best to insinuate that these religions are simply different ways of “meeting” or even “seeking” the same God. On a theological and spiritual level, the Pope’s video dissemination of his prayer intention for the month of January is terrifying. While there is a sense in which we are all “children of God” by virtue of the fact that He is our creator and that in Him we “live and move and have our being” as the apostle Paul is recorded as having said in the book of Acts, there is another sense in which we only become true children of God when we receive the death of His Son, Jesus Christ, for the forgiveness of our sins by faith. In chapter one of his Gospel, John penned these words: “But as many as received Him (Jesus), to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe on His name.” There is a direct, Biblical correlation between belief in Jesus Christ as the Son of God and being a “child” of God. What’s more, 1 John says that “no one who denies the Son has the Father.” Guess what? Buddhists reject the idea of Jesus Christ as the Son of God. So do Muslims. So do Jews. It seems disingenuous at best and downright deceptive at worst for Christian leaders to apply the label of “children of God” to those that the Bible clearly identifies as being outside of the family of faith. Here’s a suggestion: Instead of praying that Buddhists, Jews, Muslims, and all others who reject salvation through Jesus Christ be affirmed in their lostness and spiritual darkness, why don’t Christians pray that God would “shine in [their] hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ” as Paul put it in 2 Corinthians. Such prayers wouldn’t make nearly as moving of a video, but at least they would be an accurate reflection of Biblical, historical Christianity instead of a capitulation to the politically correct, “everybody’s truth is equally valid” idealism of the present day.