Should our faith be inclusive or exclusive?
It is one of the most sensitive questions in human histories, which is derived from the birth of our self-consciousness. Once we are aware of ourselves, we would inevitably ask such questions as “Who are we?” and “Who are others?”
Since the birth of our self-consciousness, we have been facing these fundamental questions:
Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going?
It is also the title of French artist Paul Gauguin’s painting above. The original sentences are on the upper left corner in French without question marks:
D’où venons nous, Que sommes nous, Où allons nous.
As one of the French post-Impressionist artists, while describing people in the late nineteenth century Taiti, perhaps he kept on asking these questions.
We all have struggled with these questions. Facing these fundamental questions, we are indeed artists, philosophers, scientists, theologians, and people of faith.
Have we found the right answers? Yes, we have. No, we haven’t.
There are too many answers, which overwhelm us. Not only that, we’ve created a series of bloody, violent histories in fighting over those answers.
Some insist one answer is right, others are wrong. For others, vice versa. Still, some insist all could be right. Or, others would say, if so, then nothing is right, nor wrong. Or else, some others would say, it is subjectively right and yet objectively wrong, or vice versa, so on and so forth.
Where can we find the right answer? Can we find it, which must be universally truthful? Or, could everything be merely relatively true? Can we find the right answer and truth that sets us free? What about righteousness? Could it be universal or merely relative? What about beauty? Is it just subjective or objective, or just for the eye of the beholders?
Throughout various category errors, it seems we’ve never learned anything over all these questions.
We have been struggling with such a dichotomy whether we could be inclusive or exclusive. And it seems our struggle looks more obvious in the advent of the secular age, encountering diverse cultures and values.
We now live in the age of diversity and inclusion. Perhaps, even Gauguin himself sensed this value with his unconscious ambivalence under the late nineteen-century socio-cultural values embedded in his mindset.
So does our mindset consciously or unconsciously in the twenty-first-century globalization. It is supposed to set us free and compassionate. It indeed does, to a great extent. On the other hand, it has also polarized us into two perspectives of either inclusive or exclusive, especially in the realm of our religious faith.
In the Judeo-Christian traditions, for the direction of inclusiveness around the nineteenth to twentieth century, the theologies became liberal. We witnessed the emergence of universal, ecumenical, and perennial movements. On the other hand, we also faced a series of counter-movements, such as limited reconciliation, evangelicalism, and fundamentalism.
By its definition, one’s religious faith tends to be ambivalent. Claiming salvation, we are inevitably exclusive. On the other hand, affirming unconditional atonement, we are inclusive. In this difference, there are two theological perspectives; universal reconciliation and limited one. Some say, both could coexist; others say, both should be mutually exclusive. Here, again, we ambivalently face the same dichotomy.
Also, in the realm of mysticism and contemplation, we could see this approach of transcending all these dichotomies and dualisms. It is, however, so esoteric. It could be easier said than done.
In our dualistic world, we cannot be completely inclusive in our faith. If so, as anything goes, one’s faith cannot stand as its own in the relativistic, nihilistic domain. But then, we cannot be completely exclusive, either. Claiming the self-righteousness is far from one’s true faith and God’s merciful, compassionate, and unconditional love.
It is not either-or, but both. Being so, it is always paradoxical and perhaps inevitably esoteric in the non-dual, non-boundary domain.