Jesus Versus Religion

JvsR

Religious people get an unfairly bad rap these days, so I want to start by defending them. My purpose here is not to slam religious people, but to show that religion doesn’t adequately represent Jesus.

It was religious people who killed the ancient evil of slavery. First, the religious people of Europe, having inherited a full social system of slavery from Rome, disassembled it between about 500 and 1000 AD, precisely because their ethics were better than those of Rome.

Then, after slavery sprang back up in the New World… and once a serious number of religious Europeans got to the New World… they killed slavery again. Regardless of what we were taught in civics classes, it was religious Christians who defeated slavery in the 18th and 19th centuries, not Abe Lincoln.

And even through the worst times of the European Middle Ages, most towns had kind and concerned religious people in them, people who did not abuse the parishioners, who helped the sick, interceded for the poor, and supported the weak. Yes, there were massive abuses from the top, but at the bottom there were many good and decent religious people.

Now…

With that said, I will continue to my primary point, which is this:

Religion is a very poor container for Jesus and his ideas.

To illustrate the difference between Jesus and the religion based (partly) upon him, please consider these statements:

Jesus never said anything about a virgin birth.

Jesus never said anything about original sin.

Jesus never said anything about a trinity.

If he believed in these things at all, he apparently considered them to be trivial, because we have no record of him mentioning them.

Isn’t it odd, then, that the bulk of Christianity has established itself upon these ideas?

And things get still worse for religion if we pay attention directly to Jesus and not to the people interpreting him:

  • Jesus flatly contradicted the Fourth Commandment (not working on the Sabbath), placing compassion above it. (See FMP #44 for details.)

  • Jesus taught that the barbaric passages of the Old Testament were to be ignored and that compassion and self-honesty were to be placed above them. (See FMP #89, which will be available in a few days.)

The Gulf Between Jesus and His Interpreters

This idea of paying attention to Jesus and not to the people interpreting him rests on a very strong base. It is very clear that even his closest followers didn’t understand him very well. I’ll leave off the citations (again, see FMP #44), but Jesus said a number of things like these to his closest students:

  • Do you not yet understand, neither remember?

  • How is it that you do not understand?

  • Are you also without understanding?

  • Do you not yet perceive or understand? Is your heart still hardened? Having eyes, do you not see? And having ears, do you not hear? And do you not remember?

  • I have many things to say to you, but you are not able to bear them now.

Let me add one more telling fact:

The gospels mention six separate incidents when Jesus “had compassion” or was “moved with compassion,” plus two more where he wept over tragedies. Never, in the entire New Testament, do we find these things said of anyone else.

This man was very clearly not religious and was very clearly not understood by the people who interpreted him. These people may have been well-meaning, and I suspect that they were the best available, but their ideas should never be used to define Jesus’s ideas.

Let me restate that to make the point clearly:

The teachings of the apostles should not be used to explain what Jesus believed, taught, or intended.

I understand how disruptive that statement will seem to many people, but I think truth matters more than tradition.

What Religion Imposes

Whether purposely or simply by a slow adaptation to necessities, religion established a set of beliefs on top of the bare-bones teachings of Jesus. Here are three of those beliefs:

There is a great gulf between God and man, requiring special men and women to fill the gap (aka the clergy). Jesus was clearly an anti-cleric and held a high view of humanity. Nonetheless, over time, the concepts of “fallen man” and “unapproachable God” carried the day.

Structure and “rule” are necessary. Jesus directly opposed hierarchy and trashed the concept of status. But again over time, religion brought these things to the followers of Jesus and established them as fixed structures.

Doctrine is all-important. Jesus quoted the Bible infrequently, and even then mostly to contrast his teachings with it or when he was challenged. The idea that God would condemn you to eternal torture for incorrect doctrine was simply not part of his message. (He taught that we were justified or condemned by our own words.) Religions, however, compete for adherents, and as a practical matter, that requires doctrine and dogma. And many early Christian leaders (Ambrose and Chrysostom are good examples) worked hard to differentiate their religion from Judaism and to condemn Judaism.

Last Words

Religion is a poor container for Jesus’s ideas. It has twisted and obscured the message. And no one has been more damaged by this than the many millions of decent and well-meaning religious people.

This would be a good time for people to step outside of the container and to take a raw, fresh look at what Jesus taught.

* * * * *

A book that generates comments like these, from actual readers, might be worth your time:

  • I just finished reading The Breaking Dawn and found it to be one of the most thought-provoking, amazing books I have ever read… It will be hard to read another book now that I’ve read this book… I want everyone to read it.
  • Such a tour de force, so many ideas. And I am amazed at the courage to write such a book, that challenges so many people’s conceptions.
  • There were so many points where it was hard to read, I was so choked up.
  • Holy moly! I was familiar with most of the themes presented in A Lodging of Wayfaring Men, but I am still trying to wrap my head around the concepts you presented at the end of this one.

Get it at Amazon ($18.95) or on Kindle: ($5.99)

TheBreakingDawn

* * * * *

Paul Rosenberg
www.freemansperspective.com

The Inconvenient Sayings of Jesus

InconvenientSayings

Some things just need to be pointed out. I’m not sure I’d go quite as far as P. C. Hodgell when she wrote, “That which can be destroyed by the truth should be,” but truth – so long as it’s for the purpose of building and improving – should be told.

As the title indicates, I’ll be discussing several of Jesus’s sayings today. And I’m doing this because I think there’s tremendous potential among the world’s 2.4 billion Christians. As I’ve said before, these are people who have committed themselves to a great man and to a generally useful book. There is a tremendous amount of good that could come from them. I write this to remind them that “church” should never be more important to them than Jesus.

So, let’s begin.

“Call no man ‘father.’”

This one’s obviously going to be hard for Catholic and Orthodox Christians, who call their ritual leaders “Father,” but truth matters, and we may as well start here:

And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven.

That’s from the 23rd chapter of Matthew, by the way. And yes, it flatly condemns calling a religious leader “Father.” Don’t blame me for this. Jesus said it; I’m just pointing it out.

And if this bothers you, please decide who is more important to you: Jesus or a church organization. You really can’t have it both ways here (as much as many have tried). Jesus said a specific thing, and while we are free to say, “He was wrong,” or “The book was wrong,” we cannot claim that Jesus and the book are right and still call a man in a robe “Father.”

That’s just the way it is.

“When you pray…”

This one will hit nearly all the big churches and most of the small ones too. Nonetheless, here it is:

When you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

So, that’s how Jesus said to pray. Notice that he didn’t say anything about praying together at a church… or even holding hands and praying together at home. Nor do we see Jesus presiding over any such thing in the New Testament. But we do read, “after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray.”

And in the verse just prior to this one, Jesus said:

When you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites; who love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners…

Where then, does this leave public prayers?

So, if you think your church knows better than Jesus, pray in unison as much as you like. But if your church bosses don’t know better than Jesus, you might want to take your advice from the rabbi from Nazareth.

These passages are from the 6th chapter of Matthew, by the way, which
continues this way:

And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions, as the heathen do; for they think that they will be heard for their many words.

You might want to give that one some consideration too.

“He that is greatest…”

Here’s what Jesus had to say about being a “great man” or “great woman”:

He who is greatest among you shall be your servant.

The word for servant, by the way, means “one who runs errands.” So, in modern speech, the saying goes like this:

The greatest man or woman will be the one who runs errands for you.

I’ll leave you to compare the actions of the big-name ministers to this verse (from Matthew 23), but I think we all know how that’ll turn out.

“My kingdom is not of this world”

Jesus wanted nothing to do with the governments of this world. It would be hard to be clearer than this statement from John 18, though there are others that are similar. Jesus defied the state agents of his time, and his first followers did the same. These things are obvious to any reader who isn’t hell-bent on evading them.

Christian “leaders” have whored themselves out to governments since the third century, and their ideas currently dominate many Christian minds. But with every theological excuse they spin, they push Jesus farther away from themselves.

“A new commandment…”

This last saying, from John 13, is, in my opinion, of central importance:

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you.

Church people (and yes, I am generalizing, which isn’t entirely fair) are happy to debate doctrine at any length, but they consistently evade loving. Indeed, they become agitated or worse if you press the subject.

And to love one another the same as Jesus loved his disciples? They won’t accept that as a serious possibility.

But Jesus did think of it as a serious possibility. He thought his followers could do this. If not, he was simply being cruel.

So, again, you are free to shuffle past this saying with all due haste, but you are not free to call yourself a proper follower of Jesus at the same time.

You could of course call yourself a faithful churchgoer, son of the church, daughter of the church, or whatever. And that’s my point:

I hold that you should be free to choose whichever way you like, but I also hold that you should be honest about it: Jesus and church are not the same thing.

* * * * *

A book that generates comments like these, from actual readers, might be worth your time:

  • I just finished reading The Breaking Dawn and found it to be one of the most thought-provoking, amazing books I have ever read… It will be hard to read another book now that I’ve read this book… I want everyone to read it.

  • Such a tour de force, so many ideas. And I am amazed at the courage to write such a book, that challenges so many people’s conceptions.

  • There were so many points where it was hard to read, I was so choked up.

  • Holy moly! I was familiar with most of the themes presented in A Lodging of Wayfaring Men, but I am still trying to wrap my head around the concepts you presented at the end of this one.

Get it at Amazon ($18.95) or on Kindle: ($5.99)

TheBreakingDawn

* * * * *

Paul Rosenberg
www.freemansperspective.com

How Jesus Condemns Christianity

Jesus

People I love and respect are committed to Christianity as it exists today. And so I’m relieved that they’ve acclimated to me and won’t take this personally… because it needs to be said:

Modern Christianity is something Jesus would condemn.

And yes, “condemn” is the right word. Do you remember all those passages where Jesus rails against the religious “hypocrites” of his own time? Well, he’d be doing the same if he were here now.

Let’s take these three lines as a warm-up:

Jesus never mentioned the virgin birth.

Jesus never mentioned original sin.

Jesus never used the word “trinity.”

None of these doctrines originated with Jesus. All of them were religious additions… later additions. Jesus never taught them.

Does This Offend You?

I am openly driving a wedge between Jesus and “Christianity” here, and I’m not going to apologize for it. My sympathies lie with Jesus rather than Christianity. If this offends anyone, I dare suggest that they consider their priorities.

The truth is that Jesus was more radical than religious people have ever been able to accept. How many of his original “disciples,” after all, were from a religious background? They were mostly fishermen and construction workers.

How strange, then, that within a century or two, intellectuals would take over entirely. And they did: Justin Martyr, Tertullian, Ambrose, Clement of Alexandria, Cyprian of Carthage, and Augustine were all professional intellectuals before they encountered Christianity. They changed a great many things.

We do, however, have records of average believers in the early days. We haven’t space for details here, but you can find them in several issues of our subscription letter. And what we find in those records looks nothing like modern Christianity. We see people devoted to good works rather than incessant talking. And we see no Bible devotion. In fact, the first mention of reading anything like a Bible reading in a meeting comes at 155 AD (several generations after Jesus), and calls the passages “memoirs.” Whether church people like that or not, it’s a fact.

“But the Apostles Taught Jesus’s Way”

Sorry, they didn’t. They were good men, and they tried. But they didn’t understand Jesus very well (lots of evidence for that), and they soon fought among themselves. And here’s a very telling fact:

In the New Testament, Jesus is noted as expressing “compassion” in six separate incidents and weeping over a death in a seventh. In a striking contrast, such actions are never attributed to any of “the apostles.”

The Way of Salvation

Christianity offers “salvation” to people based upon keeping sacraments, membership in a group, appeals to “accept his Word,” admonishment to “surrender to him,” and so on. Jesus’s teachings, however, are wildly different:

No one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.

Every plant which my heavenly Father has not planted will be rooted up.

All that the Father gives me will come to me.

In all of these cases, internal enlightenment is the only path to salvation. Either you get something from the Father, or you don’t. And that’s it. End of discussion.

This passage makes the same point:

You are blessed… because flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father….

We also see this in the earliest followers. At about 130 AD, an old man – old enough to have known some of the very first believers – tells a young man this:

Pray that, above all things, the gates of light may be opened to you; for these things cannot be perceived or understood by all, but only by the man to whom God and his anointed have imparted wisdom.

It would be hard to overstress the implications of this teaching. And it’s incompatible with the doctrines of the churches.

One Final Point

There’s much more to be said on this (again, see the subscription letters), but I can summarize this way:

All that matters to Jesus is the real, the essential. He flatly rejects the value of form, ritual, and symbolism. Everything hinges on actual substance and on nothing else.

Jesus declares authority to be worthless. He declares tradition to be worthless. He declares acts of devotion to be worthless. The only thing that matters is what you are. No exceptions; no wiggle room. And if what you are isn’t sufficient, then change your mind (that’s the actual meaning of repent) and get busy fixing it.

Perhaps that’s still too radical for mankind to bear, but it is what he taught.

* * * * *

A book that generates comments like these, from actual readers, might be worth your time:

  • I just finished reading The Breaking Dawn and found it to be one of the most thought-provoking, amazing books I have ever read… It will be hard to read another book now that I’ve read this book… I want everyone to read it.

  • Such a tour de force, so many ideas. And I am amazed at the courage to write such a book, that challenges so many people’s conceptions.

  • There were so many points where it was hard to read, I was so choked up.

  • Holy moly! I was familiar with most of the themes presented in A Lodging of Wayfaring Men, but I am still trying to wrap my head around the concepts you presented at the end of this one.

Get it at Amazon ($18.95) or on Kindle: ($5.99)

TheBreakingDawn

* * * * *

Paul Rosenberg
www.freemansperspective.com