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A reader recently asked this question:

Q: How do you understand “broad is the way that leads to destruction, narrow is the path to salvation”? This has been used to justify Christianity as the ONLY true path to the exclusion of all other religions. I have just read your “Heart of Christianity” and I want to know how you interpret that phrase in the Bible.

Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it. – Matthew 13-14

A: Your biblical memory is good. Jesus (like much of the OT) spoke of two ways, one that leads to life and one that leads to death (both states this side of physical death).

As I understand the Bible and Jesus, “the broad way” is the way of convention, that is, conventional wisdom about what reality and life are like, and how then we should live. This is how most of us most of the time live. When we were children, we were socialized into a way of seeing life – which basically means seeing as our culture sees. Psychologically, socialization is about internalizing the cultural messages of our time.

It has always been so. This is “the broad way” – it’s “what everybody knows,” and how most of us live. In a state of “mass hypnosis” and “consensual paranoia,” to use phrases from Sam Keen.

The “narrow way” is the path of centering in that which is beyond convention and culture – namely, God, the sacred, “isness.” Not a particular religion’s conception of God, but the sacred, isness, beyond all words. Known in many religious traditions? You betcha. Misunderstood in equally many religious traditions? You betcha.

The narrow way – in Christianity, Buddhism, Lao Tzu, and others – is the path of centering in the sacred – “what is” beyond the conventions and domestications and projections created by our words.

Then your question moves to whether language about “the narrow way” in the gospels needs to be understood to mean that Jesus and Christianity are the narrow way, the one and only way. Have many Christians taken this for granted? Yes. Do a significant number of Christians today vociferously insist upon it? Yes.

But I do not think this is correct. “The way” that we see in Jesus is known elsewhere, in all of the enduring religions of the world (the ones that have stood the test of time).

For those of us who are Christians, Jesus “embodies “the way” – this is the central meaning of “incarnation,” which means “en-flesh-ment.” In Jesus, his life and his death, we see “the way” embodied. But to say this need not mean, and should not mean, that the narrow way is unknown elsewhere. It is known in the great wisdom traditions of the world’s enduring religions.

Did Jesus know and travel the narrow way? Oh yes. Do you have to know the word, the name, the two syllables Jesus, in order to travel that way. Oh no.