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Ethics and Religion Talk: What happens to a Secular Humanist who lives by the Golden Rule?

Does a secular humanist who follows his or her heart and lives in general by the ‘Golden Rule’ have a chance of seeing Heaven?
Ethics and Religion Talk

Ethics and Religion Talk /The Rapidian

What is Ethics and Religion Talk?

“Ethics and Religion Talk,” answers questions of ethics or religion from a multi-faith perspective. Each post contains three or four responses to a reader question from a panel of nine diverse clergy from different religious perspectives, all based in the Grand Rapids area. It is the only column of its kind. No other news site, religious or otherwise, publishes a similar column.

The first five years of columns, published in the Grand Rapids Press and MLive, are archived at http://topics.mlive.com/tag/ethics-and-religion-talk/. More recent columns can be found on TheRapidian.org by searching for the tag “ethics and religion talk.”

We’d love to hear about the ordinary ethical questions that come up on the course of your day as well as any questions of religion that you’ve wondered about. Tell us how you resolved an ethical dilemma and see how members of the Ethics and Religion Talk panel would have handled the same situation. Please send your questions to [email protected].

Jim V. from Newego writes,

Does a secular humanist who follows his or her heart and lives in general by the ‘Golden Rule’ have a chance of seeing Heaven, Paradise, gaining eternal life, etc., without the aid or direction of a Holy Book, organized religion, or the guidance of a pastor, minister, priest, imam, rabbi, holy man or woman?

Rev. Ray Lanning, a retired minister of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America, responds:

"What secular humanist wants to see heaven or gain eternal life? Such concepts are meaningless to him. Nor will anyone to be saved from sin and death by sincere intentions or by living ‘in general’ (more or less?) by the Golden Rule. To the extent that one falls short of perfect obedience to God’s law, he or she is a sinner, and ‘the wages of sin is death’ (Romans 6:23a). 

We begin therefore with a presumption of guilt, for ‘all have sinned.’ (Rom. 3:23). Reformed Christians believe that Christ died for our sins, and we can have peace with God only through faith in Jesus Christ. ‘The gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord’ (Rom. 6:23b). The good news is, Christ offers the benefits of His atoning death to all who believe in Him (John 11:25). 

What happens after death to those who live and die without God? Our comfort is that as a righteous Judge, God will not ‘destroy the righteous with the wicked’ (Genesis 18:25). But reliance on knowledge of a holy book, membership in a church, or the benefit of clergy, all are poor substitutes for faith in Christ as Savior and Lord."

The Rev. Sandra Nikkel, head pastor of Conklin Reformed Church, responds:

"The Golden Rule cannot get us to heaven. Organized religion cannot get us to Heaven. No holy book can get us to Heaven, no minister, priest, or holy man or woman can get us to Heaven. Salvation cannot be earned; it can only be received as a gift—an undeserved gift—which Jesus gives to those who come to him, those who embrace him as Savior and Lord of their lives. ‘For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the Spirit’ (1 Peter 3:8)."

Doug Van Doren, the pastor of Plymouth United Church of Christ, responds:

"There is much in the Christian Scripture that speaks of the importance of acts of loving kindness. Perhaps clearest is Matthew 25:31-46. Here, ‘all nations’ are gathered before the “Son of Man.” Thus presumable many would not be believers, or would practice other religions. The only criteria for whether they are ‘saved’ or ‘damned’ is how they treat the ‘least of these:’ Matthew 7:21 says, ‘Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of God in heaven.’

That being said, I don’t believe that ‘getting to heaven’ is the object of Christian religion. I believe, rather, it is seeking to align with the love of God for all people and working toward God’s just and peaceable realm. If heaven is the issue, it is not in a loving God’s character to deny someone God’s eternal love, especially someone who aligned with God’s love for ​others. I believe that those who act in love and care are far closer to the realm of God than those who use all the right religious rhetoric, but act in judgment, division, and callousness."

Ty Silzer, a former pastor in the Presbyterian Church in America, responds:

"I don’t know. But I believe so. I’ve often summarized the Bible as ‘a bunch of rules as man seeks to understand God, and then in story after story, God seemingly and systematically undoing all of those rules.’

Jesus tells a Roman Centurion (Matthew 8), ‘Truly I tell you, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith. I say to you that many will come… and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.’ Paul, on Mars Hill, speaking with Athenian philosophers argues they unknowingly worship the One True God. And these are just two of a myriad of examples of the exceptions to the rules.

Part of the question is really, ‘does it depend on us or God?’ Most Christians I know personally would argue it depends on God. If ‘us,’ regardless of creed, we are all in a lot of trouble. If God, then, we have no greater safety. And does not God love even the sparrows? (Matthew 10.)

Paul expounds on the Jewish teaching of Noahide Laws (whereby the ‘outsiders’ enter heaven) in Romans 2, speaking that even Torah, by which the world is put back together, is written on their hearts, much like eternity (Ecclesiastes 3) and the Golden Rule (Matthew 7, Luke 6)."

 
 
This column answers questions of Ethics and Religion by submitting them to a multi-faith panel of spiritual leaders in the Grand Rapids area. We’d love to hear about the ordinary ethical questions that come up on the course of your day as well as any questions of religion that you’ve wondered about. Tell us how you resolved an ethical dilemma and see how members of the Ethics and Religion Talk panel would have handled the same situation. Please send your questions to [email protected].

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