Toward a Secular Cosmopolitan Soteriology
Salvation is a stumbling block for secular cosmopolitanism. Religious people worry that because secularism is primarily focused on life lived in this world, it undermines discussions of salvation. Among religious people, one of the primary challenges is how to account for rival claims about the path to salvation. At the same time, agnostic and humanistic thinkers will see discussions of salvation as foolishness. This is the problem of soteriology. Soteriology is linked to the notion of sin. It is sin that creates the need for salvation. In 1 Corinthians, Paul explains, “For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling block ( skandalon ), and unto the Greeks foolishness” (1 Corinthians 1:22-23). The word skandalon is translated as stumbling block. It could also be understood as a snare or a trap. The passage indicates that Jews will see the claim that Jesus is the Messiah as a trap, which causes them to sin-to fall away from their own faith. And indeed, the word skandalon is related to the word skandalizo , which means to offend or sin. The gospel of Matthew uses this word (Chapter 18, for example) in a way that is linked to sin. Jesus uses the word when he says that if your hand, foot, or eye causes you to sin, you should cut them off and cast them away. It is better, he suggests, to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be cast into the everlasting fires of hell. For Christians, Christ provides the path to salvation from damnation and hellfire. For non-Christians, it may be a sin or a trap to believe what the Christians preach. Paul notes the Jews saw Christian preaching in this way. Meanwhile, agnostics and philosophers or those who come from polytheistic or pagan traditions (i.e., “the Greeks”) may view the whole discussion of sin and salvation as foolishness. And so it goes: diversity runs deep. The depth of pluralism is recognized in this Biblical passage. Christians, Jews, and others have been arguing about salvation for millennia. Because sin, damnation, and salvation are at stake in this argument, this argument has deep existential, even eschatological implications. The challenge is find ways to live together despite our deepest differences about the meaning and purpose of life, the universe, and everything.