Jesus Christ came into the world to grant us salvation. We mortals must atone for our sinful natures. If we accept Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, hie will forgive us our sins and bestow upon us everlasting life in heaven... During my growing up, this was my mantra.

I attended a school in the high Himalayas that commanded a stunning view of the snow-capped Kanchangunga range. Together with hundreds of other missionaries' children, I received a proper Methodist upbringing. I sang "Onward Christian Soldiers." recited the Apostle's Creed and heard the good news about God's mercy, how salvation is guaranteed to all who accept Jesus Christ into their hearts through baptism. I was indeed a true believer.

But that was long ago. Today as I think of salvation, the image of a risen Christ sitting at the right hand of God the Father dispensing life-after-death to the select few does not come to mind. Instead, I recall a group of teenagers in the wilds of northern Vermont, paddling their canoes down a turbulent, rock-strewn tributary of the Connecticut River.

These kids were campers, trucked many miles from the wilderness camp where Wini and I were co-directors. Plying the scenic waters of this historic river was great fun, a grand adventure for the youngsters reared in the over-protected suburbs of our great urban centers. They were on their own. Two counselors provided mature guidance - or so we thought.

Well, those same counselors committed a cardinal sin. They abandoned their assigned trip plan, striking out on a unfamiliar waterway with no map to show the danger spots. The carefree lark began to look like it might become a ghastly tragedy. In due course, our young, misguided adventurers, propelled by the mountain stream's raging white water, rounded a bend. Two men were standing on the bank waving their arms and shouting. Stop! Stop! Puzzled, the flotilla pulled over. What was the problem? The men pointed downstream. There, very near, was a huge problem - a foaming, roaring, deadly, 20-foot-high waterfall!

I regard these men's life-saving intervention as salvation, pure and simple. Did Jesus Christ, looking down from on high, perceive the peril and instantly send them to warn the kids in the very nick of time? Perhaps. But I am skeptical. I think it was dumb luck that preserved the group from the consequences of their stupid and sinful behavior. To this day, I shudder to think what could have happened. No doubt all those who plunged over that waterfall would have perished. It is awful to contemplate the resulting sorrow that would have spread far and wide among the families who had entrusted their children to our care.

Now if you have discerned in my tale an analogue to George W. Bush's war in Iraq, that's quite alright with me. But I suggest there's a deeper meaning. Our saviors were strangers, appearing as if by magic. They were probably trout fishing. Most importantly, they responded to the dangerous situation from a fundamental, humane instinct that is in every one of us. I bless their memory.

It seems to me that the self-righteous religious types who are obsessed with separating the true believers going to heaven from the infidels destined for hell have much to learn from these two guys. Salvation, my friend, is not pie-in-the-sky. Salvation is here and now. It springs from an inclusive, forgiving, peace-loving posture towards all humanity -- and its name is "humanism." Thank you.

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Acknowledgments is made possible in part by generous support from the Fahs Collaborative