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God Squad: Struggling with Jesus, still believing in God

My father was Catholic, my mother, Protestant. I was raised in the Christian Reformed Church, later switching to the Methodist Church. Most of my adult life (I'm now 59), I've struggled with Jesus. I believe in God, but that's where it ends for me. I believe Jesus lived and died like a man, and, unlike in the Jewish religion, I don't believe there's any "savior" to come. I believe there's just one "creator," superpower, spiritual adviser, or Godlike entity, and that's it! So, what religion am I?

- L., via e-mail

I love your spiritual struggles and urge you to continue to question your need for a savior and to be patient with your questioning. The answer will come when you least expect it.

As for the theology behind your question, saviors are needed because salvation is needed, and saviors bring salvation. Saviors are just God bringing us salvation in a form we can understand. For Christians, Jesus is the Savior, bringing salvation from the original sin of Adam and from the personal sins of mankind. Those sins are real, and the atoning death and resurrection of Jesus is the proof for Christians that salvation is real.

While this is hard for you to accept, you were raised Christian, so I'd urge you to pray about this before you leave Christianity behind.

The point of a savior is that we are broken by sin. That's the primal spiritual engine that propels Christianity and offers up Jesus as God's gift of salvation to those who believe. Don't focus so much on Jesus as upon sin. Sin leads you to Jesus, not the other way around.

In Judaism, salvation from our sin comes directly from God. The Messiah hoped for by Judaism is not about our sin, but about defeating evil in the world and ushering in a new messianic age of peace and love. Judaism is salvation-oriented but not savior-oriented. This is also the spiritual path of Islam with, of course, different rituals and prophets. Prophets like Mohammad or Isaiah are not saviors but rather are conduits of God's words to those scratching around on Planet Earth. But you are not Jewish.

In Hinduism, salvation is the result of good karma (moral virtue), which eventually leads to a release from the cycle of rebirth in which souls are reincarnated over and over until they get life right. Hinduism believes in many gods, so you're not a Hindu.

In Buddhism, salvation from suffering comes from understanding the true nature of reality and thus achieving Enlightenment. Buddhism has no god. If you didn't believe in God, you might be a Buddhist, but you do, so you aren't.

My guess is you might be Unitarian. The Unitarian Universalist Association also rejects Jesus' divinity, but its view of God may be more abstract than your "creator God." Check it out. The one true thing I can tell you is that God is not through with you yet.

We're a Jewish family. If one of my sons decides to marry a non-Jew, and if she agrees their children will be raised Jewish, will the children be recognized as such, even if their mom does not convert?

- D., via e-mail

In the Bible, Jewish identity went through the father because one man married many women from many different tribes. When polygamy ended in the medieval period, Jewish identity went through the mother because you could always know the identity of the mother.

That's how it remained until a recent ruling by Reform Judaism that the child of a Jewish father and a non-Jewish mother would be considered Jewish if the child were raised as a Jew and given a Jewish education in a synagogue.

This ruling was rejected by Orthodox Judaism and has caused a deep rift between the traditional and liberal wings of Judaism. Your question about whether future grandchildren of a non-Jewish mother would be considered Jewish falls into the maelstrom of this intra-Jewish fight. If the family joined a Reform synagogue, the answer would be yes, their children would be Jewish. If not . . . then not.

The larger issue you raise applies to Christian as well as Jewish intermarried families. Just as it's desirable to have one set of standards for discipline in a household, it's also desirable to have one religion in the house. Children do better when they see their parents as united in basic beliefs and standards.

The main question is not how will others recognize your children but how will you recognize that every child, indeed every person, has the right to be able to enter a church, synagogue, mosque or a temple and in one of those places say with satisfying conviction, "I am home with God here."

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