One of the projects I am working on for my Christian apologetics class is to visit a temple of some other religion such as Buddhism, Hinduism, or Islam. Unfortunately or perhaps fortunately, these are pretty hard to come by where we live. There are a few in Mexico City, but I have no idea where. The location should not require extensive logistics, and so I received permission to visit a Catholic sanctuary since that is pretty much what we have in this area. Of course, we’ve been in the local ones on the downtown plaza here before, and we already had some understanding of many things, but most of that understanding came from an assortment of indirect sources, observations, and assumptions. I approached the interview as much as possible as if I knew next to nothing so that I could get a fresh perspective and minimize the bias of any preconceptions.
Earlier today, David, our Italian landlord met Beth and me at his store which is right across the street from two of the most important Catholic temples here in San Juan. He agreed to help me with my project by giving us a tour of one or both of these churches. It just so happens his store is a Catholic gift shop. So, we spent about 10 or 15 minutes there as we simply pointed at things and asked what they meant. We could have done that for about a month. The amount of knowledge of these things that he possesses is impressive.
Keeping tabs on our budgeted time (we had about 90 minutes), we walked across the street to take a look at the temples. Unbeknownst to us, today was a special day. They were celebrating the “coronation of Mary,” which apparently is a local town celebration. David said that towns all over Mexico celebrate this, but on whatever day they choose.
Coronation of what? Well, Mary is considered to be the queen of heaven, the queen of Mexico, the queen of San Juan del Río, the queen of just about everything. She’s considered to be the mother of God since she was the mother of Jesus. Thus, they celebrate the historical Catholic recognition of this position of Mary, and part of that celebration was to have a special mass. It just so happens the the area bishop was here to give the mass, so as we sauntered across the street, David looked across the courtyard and said, “Look! It’s the bishop!”
So, we decided we’d go ahead and walk over to that temple which is dedicated to the Virgin Mary and follow the bishop in. We didn’t follow him to the front, of course. We stayed in the standing-room-only back, but here we were inside observers of a Mexican Catholic mass. We only stayed for about 10 minutes to get a flavor of the proceedings, but since it wasn’t conducive to asking questions and observing all the objects inside, we departed and headed next door to the other sanctuary.
That church is dedicated to Saint John the Baptist. Since the local devotees were mostly crowded into the mass next door, there was rarely more than one person in the entire chapel at a time. This sanctuary was originally a segregation of the indigenous people and so the building and decorations are much more modest and rustic than the other sanctuary, which has more gilded surfaces and is in better upkeep. At some point in the past, the local bishop or priests decried the prejudice against the indigenous which confined them to worshiping in the “humble” building, so the colonial sanctuary was officially opened to all. David didn’t say or didn’t know when that happened, but he did know that this was part of the history of these two places of worship.
We spent the rest of our time in this temple and asked David many questions and received many answers. The difficult part of this was his answer to my question as to what is the teaching for how one receives salvation and who can receive it. Parts of his answers surprised me. He replied that one cannot know if one will be saved or not. One will only know when standing before God at the great judgment. As to whom can be saved, David said that anyone can be saved. Christ died for everyone. He further explained that it doesn’t matter if a person is Catholic, or Buddhist, or Muslim or nothing at all, as long as the person is sincere and lives a good life, they have a good chance of being saved.
I asked David, “Do you mean Christ died for the sins of people who do not know him and even may reject him and still can be saved? He replied, “I don’t know. I think so. Only God knows. Just recently the Pope distributed a lovely video in which there are images of people all over the world of other religions, and at the end of the video, the Pope says, “We are all children of God. So, that’s the way it is. We’re all children of God. He loves us all.”
I mentioned to David that in our Sunday Bible study that we’ve been reading through different books of the Bible and learning what they have to say. Not long ago we finished a study of 1 John. In 1 John 5:12, John says that he writes the things in his letter so that the people can know that they have eternal life. I pointed out that “know” is in the present tense. We can know right now that we have eternal life.
David replied, “God is in eternity. We are in time, but time is inside eternity. So, we can know that we have eternal life, but not until we leave time until we reach eternity. Until then, we make our own heaven or hell by doing good works. We can hope that we will receive eternal life, but we won’t know that until we’re no longer in time, but in eternity.”
I asked him if there would be people who are not saved. He affirmed this. I asked who will those people be? How can we know who those people will be who are not saved? He replied that only God knows. We can’t say. I brought up our recent Bible study of Acts 9 and the salvation of Saul/Paul. He was a very religious man and devout in all his ways.
I asked David, So, would Saul be saved if he died before Acts 9? He said, he thought possibly so. I replied by mentioning that Saul was killing Christians. “Yes, he was killing Christians. It’s hard to say. That was bad. The law said not to kill and he was killing. So, probably not.”
So, what does David believe? Pluralism…a fairly post-modern version of it. Although, he would say that all ways lead to heaven but through Christ (even though Christ can be left out of it from the human side). Christ died for all so all can be saved, and thus it doesn’t matter what the person believes. As long as they are good, they can be saved. Aside from a relativistic, works-based salvation, there sure isn’t any certainty, and not much attention to Scripture, although he did point out that the interpretation of Scripture is key. Unfortunately, I couldn’t agree with any of his interpretations on key points.
At more than one point in our entire time together, the topic of Mary was discussed or mentioned. David said the Trinity is God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He did not place Mary there as part of a “Quadrinity.” He did emphasize her sinlessness as chosen by God to be sinless, and that she was the Mother of God because she was the mother of Jesus who is God. I did ask him where in the Bible one could come up with the idea that Mary was sinless, and he replied it is found in what the angel Gabriel said to her.
I didn’t push questions in that direction too much, but I suspect that it would be difficult to extricate Mary from the Trinity at some point in the logical chain of maintaining that she is the mother of God. Some years ago I read that some Catholics were pushing for the Church teachings to recognize Mary as part of the Quadrinity: Father, Mother, Son, Holy Spirit. As I recall Mother Theresa of Calcutta and Pope John Paul II were in favor of this, but I don’t think it has ever become official Roman Catholic Church doctrine or dogma. I am not certain of this, but it would not be surprising to me if many Mexican Catholics either believe this or at least implicitly assume this.
There was much more information that we learned and observed today. I recorded much of our conversations with my tablet. I will have to review the audio to refresh my memory of many details. It was a fascinating discussion and opportunity to learn more about what our landlord believes and to think of ways to engage with him in the future. He seemed to thoroughly enjoy the opportunity and seemed to like the idea of future discussions. We may just do that. I’d looking forward to gaining more insight through my apologetics class on how I may better question, engage, and respond to David’s ideas. Obviously, Scripture is a key element:
“This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”
Here are some pics that I took (while trying not to drop my tablet and notebook!). Oh yes, we talked a bit about “saints.” He said that they don’t pray to them for things. They ask the saints to intercede on their behalf to Jesus. Only Jesus can answer prayers and do the things people ask. I thought that was interesting. I also thought the saint below with the black robe and missing left hand might be “Saint Luke.” I’m not sure who is father would be though. ;) We talked about almost everything in these pics. I’m sorry I don’t have time to explain all the details for these. For some I would have to go back to the audio file to pull out the details.
If you have any questions concerning the pictures, place them in the comments section and I’ll try to answer them if I can. If you question is tied to a particular picture, please be as specific as possible about the picture so I may understand which picture you’re referring to. This was mainly an interview of observation and of asking questions.
[NOTE: This blog is open to the public which can sometimes not be a helpful thing. I will critically evaluate questions and choose to ignore any comments or questions that are of a combative or derogatory nature. Thank you for your understanding and for keeping the spirit of open engagement and mutual respect that David and I enjoyed. I did not agree with many things, but I was not engaging David in order to critique and debate his views, but to better understand them and to ask him questions concerning points that I felt he would benefit from further critical thinking and consideration of Scripture regardless of his response in doing so. It was not my intention here to clarify our differences to any extent. I honestly don’t have time to do that right now.]
This is the video I mentioned produced by the Pope earlier this month: