My friend Sam Gates wrote an interesting post (although annoyingly without capitalization). I wanted to make some observations interwoven with some of his (capitalization fixed):
"No major religion that I know of considers belief in a certain orthodoxical structure to be a core tenet to salvation. The jews worked out their salvation as a holy nation. The muslims have normative orthopraxy but their metaphysics are relegated to obscure mystics and lay philosophers. I am not nearly as qualified to comment on buddhism or hinduism, but from what I understand neither accord systematic theology the place that it holds in modern christianity. And why is this? Is it the centrality of the concept of faith? But what does that mean? The concept of having to believe the right thing about the trinity to save your eternal soul defies my synapses! Is a true knowledge of God really best summed up by a church doctor, or by the good Samaritan?"
I do think the centrality of the concept of faith is the reason that systematic theology holds such a place in Christianity because faith is a difficult concept to define, and sometimes to deal with (depending on how it is defined). How exactly do we even define faith? Is it putting our emotions first in a blind leap for an arrant ideal against all knowledge, like trusting in a spouse whether or not you believe she is trustworthy? Or is it as C.S. Lewis said in "Mere Christianity", "Faith is the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods."? I am for the latter, although I sometimes think this an oversimplification even though I have nothing better to suggest.

I certainly agree that according to Christianity someone doesn't need to believe the right thing about the trinity to have salvation. But I disagree with Sam's first statement that, "No major religion that I know of considers belief in a certain orthodoxical structure to be a core tenet to salvation." (depending on how you define orthodoxical). Because all religions require belief in some kind of structure to achieve whatever they aim for (whether or not it is salvation). For instance even people who just believe in Karma need to believe in the existences of right and wrong, or at least in the existence of pain and pleasure and that their own actions affect real things; whether this is an orthodox type of belief in Sam's definition I don't know, but it is a belief and I would like to know where he draws the line. If these people did not have this belief they would be incapable of doing intentionally good acts and so would not be able to achieve the implied objective of good Karma.

In the same way in Christianity it is impossible to achieve the implied objective of goodness or the forgiveness of your sins by asking it of the Christ if you do not believe that the Christ exists, whether your concept of the Christ is correct may be an important issue, but it is a side issue nevertheless, not affecting the implied objective. So to answer Sam's last question in my own way, true knowledge of God is best summed up by the good Samaritan, although the Samaritan needs to understand something before he can even be the good Samaritan, and according to Christianity goodness is defined as doing God's will, or God's will is defined by goodness (another problem in philosophy). So whether or not it disturbs your synapses, correct belief is a necessary component of almost every belief system, except maybe Zen, but I am not knowledgeable enough to know.
"Since James tells us that the demons believe, and tremble, we know that correct belief certainly is not enough to make one a Christian. But it's a necessary component, no? In addition to correct belief, we must have that certain nebulous something, that so many people seem to be so fuzzy on. but what is it that we need?"
Sam goes on to write beautifully about the relationship between God and the individual, and I would encourage you to read the rest of it for yourself because I can't do it justice here. I would only add that another nebulous something that is central to Christianity is the concept of becoming good and achieving salvation through being born again. The concept, as I understand it, is the dying of the self, or ego, where you become devoted to doing the will of God (goodness) rather than satisfying your selfish desires. And this is where I disagree with many Christian apologists when they make arguments like "Christians have more incentive to do good (or be altruistic) than atheists do, because a Christian believes God will reward our actions." The argument is true only in Pavlov's waiting room where we can remark without consulting Christian theology; once our name is called we realize that a Christian must desire to do good whether or not they are rewarded for it. This idea is summed up in Paul's statement (if it is not hyperbole) in Romans 9:3, "For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers..." And was expressed in the old testament by Moses in Exodus 32:32, "But now, please forgive their sin—but if not, then blot me out of the book you have written."

For the atheist to yield herself to pure altruism and for the will-be Christian to yield herself to pure goodness are both concepts that defy comprehension, for how can selfish genes decide against themselves? And how can our ego decide to kill itself? There must be something already in us that allows this to happen. In the atheist's case this brings to mind a concept grasped at by Bertrand Russell in "A Free Man's Worship" and for the will-be Christian it suggests a direct intervention of God, and if it isn't her that makes this decision then where does this put Calvinism?

Taking my inspiration from Sam, I am going to tell you--after you have already worked hard to read through this long post--that I have no clue what I am saying.

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