The Replacement Religions Of The West

Western civilization formed in the wake of Rome, based mainly upon Christian ideals. And because of those ideals, Europe became vastly different from Rome. Most overtly, Western civilization ejected slavery from Europe. To put it simply, European Christians replaced slavery (the economic driver of Rome and of more or less every civilization up to that time), with a version of free-market capitalism.

These facts aren’t honestly arguable, presuming that one looks at the facts rather than beloved dogmas. The population of the Western Roman Empire was roughly 25% slave in 476 AD, the traditional date of its end. By 1000 AD that percentage was down to roughly zero.

The reason slavery was ejected from Europe was clearly not Roman or Greek ideas: those were proud slave societies. Slavery was ejected because Christianity insisted that all men were brothers. The usual muddiness and complications of human behavior aside, it was this ethic that made it happen.

Western civilization, then, was a Christian capitalist civilization, and remained so for a long time. This is not to say, of course, that European Christianity was ever pure. The teachings of Jesus were deeply compromised by the end of the first century, let alone the fifth or eighth or twelfth.  Nonetheless, this religion carried important ideas, and those were enough to deliver progress.

The Big Change

The big change to Western civilization began in the late Middle Ages. There is far too much to explain here, but a primary factor was the Church (the centralized one in Rome) losing legitimacy and the rising states (previously wildly decentralized) fighting to capture it.

Into this mess came religious and scientific revolutions, both of which were used by centralizing powers to champion themselves. The religious revolutionaries fought to change Christianity and the newly arising states fought to disempower the Church. (Though some joined with it.)

The scientific revolutionaries first treated religion as a personal matter. Then, after about 1750, the destruction of religion came to the fore, and of Christianity in particular. Personal choice was no longer enough and attacking belief was required for membership in the club.

This is a tremendous simplification, of course, but as a general description it stands. And since that time Christianity has been steadily pushed out of Western civilization.

The Problem

Such a movement, and especially one embodying the urge to tear down, involves many problems, but the crucial one is this: It pulled down Christian ethics and replaced them with almost nothing.

I can well understand complaints about the Church and what was portrayed as Christianity, but tearing down is juvenile and barbaric. A sensible person does not seek to tear the heart out of a civilization and to replace it with nothing.

Nonetheless, this is what the late Enlightenment did and what its intellectual heirs have continued. As a result, the philosophies that replaced Christianity in the West’s centers of learning have been Marxist-Leninism, cultural Marxism, postmodernism and deconstructionism. To call these ideologies misanthropic would be a tremendous understatement.

Enter The Replacement Religions

Carl Jung made a very important point when he wrote this in The Undiscovered Self:

You can take away a man’s gods, but only to give him others in return.

Whatever reasons stand behind this, it is a broadly true statement. Moreover, the post-Enlightenment philosophies that have reigned in Western institutions have negated the individual: atomized them, minimized them, and made their individual lives meaningless.

As a result, Westerners have gone after one replacement religion after another. These weren’t called religions, of course (that would be the brand of death in the current environment), but they were clearly religions in substance.

The first was the French Revolution, but we won’t take time for that. The next big one was communism/socialism, which ended (we may hope) with the greatest death toll in human history.

In recent times we’ve had several flavors of “save the planet,” with a quasi-scientific clergy (hint: consensus is not science) and lots of harsh dogma, leading as it does to heretic hunting. Disagreement is now being punished and echoes of the Middle Ages are coming forward.

For all its errors, Christianity generally maintained that all humans were children of God, a belief that elevated and dignified the individual. None of the replacement religions have done that. Rather, they glorified and dignified the collective or the institution, relegating individuals to outer realms of stupidity and depravity.

And Now?

Now we can choose.

We can join with the new dogma and continue in its long parade of tearing down and collectivizing. Or, we can return to the dignity of the individual.

If we wish, we can work to upgrade Christianity or its close cousin, Judaism. Or, we can choose any number of decentralizing ventures, which, by their very nature, disempower the collective and dignify the individual.

In other words, we can think for ourselves and choose from an unrestricted pallet. Then, once our understanding improves, we can choose again. And as it improves yet more, we can choose again.

But perhaps most importantly, we can recognize our mutual dignity and value: The beauty and potential of the individual, separate from and above any institution and any collective.


If you want a deeper understanding of these issues, see:

FMP issue #70

FMP issue #90

Parallel Society issue #5

Production Versus Plunder

Discourses On Judaism, Jesus And Christianity

Paul Rosenberg

The Religion of Jesus PART 7: His Key Characteristics

Taken together, we see a picture of Jesus involving certain key characteristics: Jesus kept himself remarkably separated from the mayhem and issues of his day. Never does he get political or seek political solutions.

Continuing from Part 6.

Taken together, we see a picture of Jesus involving certain key characteristics:

  • Jesus kept himself remarkably separated from the mayhem and issues of his day. Never does he get political or seek political solutions.

  • He was deeply devoted to his friends and tended to their practical needs. He makes sure they get enough rest, for example.

  • Jesus protected his privacy, to the point of living outside Roman control (only Judea was under direct Roman control during this time), hiding, and sneaking in and out of places. He was careful to stay “under the radar.”

  • He often preferred to be alone, surrounded by the natural world. He clearly found it best to seek the most complete individualism – being the only person – when praying and/or communing with himself((We see something very similar in the passages where he tells people not to pray in public, but rather to shut themselves in their closets and pray. (Matthew 6.) )).

  • Jesus sought people out to help them, going to the places where they chose to be. He didn’t command that they chase after him. They went to synagogues to find spiritual meaning, and so he met them there. They went to work camps to get income and/or food for their families, and so he met them there.

  • He continually told people good things – the amazing opportunity that stood in front of them – and did not go on about how bad the world was and how everyone but him was wrong. When he says “good news” (aka, “gospel”) the words he used truly meant “good news.” And he really meant it. He was happy about this news and intended for his listeners to be happy about it as well.

  • A fundamental component of Jesus’ character (and of his beliefs) was compassion. “Come unto me all ye who labor and are heavy laden, I will give you rest,” was no aberration. His feelings for others were deep and frequently overflowing. His level of compassion may have been the most unique of his characteristics.

The Inner Workings Of Jesus

The points noted above, and the last point especially, give us a good understanding of who Jesus was on the inside.

Those of us who have been moved by the gospels were not moved by doctrinal arguments, by promises of miraculous power, or by words of consolation: We wanted to embrace Jesus himself. It was the essence of this pure, kind, brave, and wise being that we responded to with love and admiration.

Jesus was an open doorway to the pure, the good and the elevated. And not an ‘elevated’ that requires strain, fear, threats or self-disgust of any kind. Never, in any of our records did Jesus tell someone to “obey.” Nor did he praise “obedience.” His mind – his inner workings – simply didn’t operate that way. Nor did Jesus ever say “thou shalt not,” or anything like it, save in the compendium of sayings in Matthew 5 (and even this is a bit of a stretch), which is in the vein of “You’ve heard it said, but I say.”

So, inside Jesus’ mind, laws, rules and forcing one’s self to do the right thing, were non-players. He focused on what he was (and by extension what others were and were capable of being), not forcing himself to obey. In other words, he followed his own, internal standards, and intended that we should learn to do the same.

However much it clashes with the doctrines of the churches, this is how Jesus operated. It’s up to us to decide which we prefer.

I’ll close here with a passage from my newsletter issue on The Lost Philosophy of Jesus of Nazareth. (FMP #44.) This is how I imagine Jesus would describe his philosophy in our modern era. And it reflects the mentality noted above.

Being by nature self-referential, you judge yourself every time you act. Treating others as you wish to be treated, you define yourself as a benefit in the world. Treating others in ways you wouldn’t like, you define yourself as a hazard. There is no escape from this arrangement, though men attempt it by ceding their will to others, as when following rules.

Obedience to a rule, however, displaces self-reference, which is what produces all the joy, goodness, and creativity in the world. However much you lay your will at the feet of a rule, you rob yourself and others of that much happiness. Obeying the rule, you place your will in the service of an inferior morality and contribute to the darkening of mankind.

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The Religion of Jesus Part 6: The Religion Jesus Practiced

As noted earlier, it is by looking at what Jesus did without being prodded that we can learn about his personal beliefs. And so, following are the things Jesus initiated – things he did solely because he wanted to. This is the full list from the Mark gospel:

Continuing from Part 5.

As noted earlier, it is by looking at what Jesus did without being prodded that we can learn about his personal beliefs. And so, following are the things Jesus initiated – things he did solely because he wanted to. This is the full list from the Mark gospel((In order, verses 1:14, 1:21, 1:29, 1:35, 1:38, 2:1, 2:15, 3:1, 3:12, 3:19, 4:1, 4:35, 5:43, 6:1, 6:2, 6:6, 6:7, 6:31, 6:46, 7:24, 7:31, 8:10, 8:26, 9:2, 9:9, 9:30, 10:1, 11:1, 11:11, 11:15, 14:22, 14:32, 16:12, 16:14.)):

Told people good news.

Went to synagogue and taught.

Went to his friend’s house.

Went to a lonely place before dawn and prayed.

Went to the next town, telling people the good news.

Returned home.

Held a dinner in his house with a wide variety of guests, some not particularly respectable.

Went to synagogue.

Took his friends/students to the sea.

Told two men who had been healed not to tell others.

Returned home.

Went back to the sea and taught there.

Left the crowd and took a boat to the other side of the sea.

Advised a person who was healed not to tell others about it.

Went back home and took his friends/students with him.

Went to synagogue and taught.

Went from village to village teaching.

Sent his friends/students to teach in villages.

Took his friends/students to a lonely place to rest.

Hiked up a mountain to pray.

Went to foreign cities to hide.

Returned home.

Ran away from a crowd.

Advised a person who was healed not to go back to the village, but rather to go home.

Took his closest friends up to a mountain.

Told his friends not to talk about what they’d seen.

Sneaked back home.

Sent two of his students to make arrangements.

Visited the temple in Jerusalem.

Chased buyers and sellers from the temple.

Blessed food at the passover meal.

Withdrew from his friends to pray.

Joined two friends for a walk through the country.

Visited his friends.

The word for village on this list is significant. It referred to very small places where laborers would sleep, like small labor camps. In these cases – these very many cases, including an unknown number of villages/work camps((The village as a place of temporary residence seems to be borne out by Mark 8:22-26. In this passage Jesus is traveling to Bethsaida, and as he approaches a blind man is brought to him. After the man is healed, Jesus tells him not to go back to the village, but rather to go home. The village then, was not his home. In this case it was almost certainly a fishing camp, as is indicated by the meaning of Bethsaida in Hebrew (“house of fishing,” or “hunting”), and by archaeological finds there of fishing paraphernalia. Note also that Jesus frequented a quiet spot just outside of Bethsaida, as per Mark 6:45 and Luke 9:10.)) – Jesus is specifically presenting himself to laboring people. In fact he sought them out.

Jesus was trying to plant seeds quietly. He wanted to reach people where they were, and he assiduously avoided fame. The reason, almost certainly, is that a great number of people would believe in him precisely because he was famous. He held that to be a poisoned kind of belief.

We live in a world held back by status and all that flows from it. Jesus clearly avoided that. He taught in workers’ camps as much as he taught anywhere, and almost certainly more. Moreover, he didn’t go about looking for people to heal. Rather, he healed mainly by accident((See Mark 5:25-34, among many others.)). 

Before we sum this up, it’s also important to note that the gospels mention six separate incidents when Jesus “had compassion” or was “moved with compassion,” plus two more where he wept over tragedies. That’s quite a few, but still more striking is this comparison: In the rest of the New Testament, we never find these things said of anyone else.

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The Religion of Jesus PART 5: The Advanced Man, continued

However Jesus ended up in 1st century Galilee (virgin birth or otherwise), he finds himself among people less developed than himself. He seems to know he has a limited time and needs to change these people from the inside – to clean the inside of the cup – so they can improve the broader world once he’s gone.

Continuing from Part 4.

However Jesus ended up in 1st century Galilee (virgin birth or otherwise), he finds himself among people less developed than himself. He seems to know he has a limited time and needs to change these people from the inside – to clean the inside of the cup – so they can improve the broader world once he’s gone. He knows that scripture fights and doctrinal strivings don’t work (if they did we’d all be magnificent by now), but he has to do something. What?

When confronting closely-held doctrines – pre-set opinions of whatever sort – we’re dealing with what an important psychologist named Boris Sidis called “a disaggregation of consciousness.” We might, in more descriptive terms call it a place where there’s a gash or a gap in our minds. Behind such a gap, a doctrine is disconnected from the reasoned analysis. And from that position, it reflexively protects itself, robotically and amorally. (I think we’ve all noticed such processes in ourselves.)

In such a condition arguing doctrine is futile. What is required is a path around the gash. If we can find alternate paths from one side of the gap to the other, it will be traversed. This is done with analogies and metaphors… with parables. Rather than attacking the gap, parables – image-based more than word-based – create parallel paths around it.

I’m convinced this is why Jesus insisted on speaking to people in parables, rather than making direct arguments. The people who weren’t able to take his discourses without reflexive opposition could and would respond to parables, which would communicate the concepts without hanging people up in word fights.

The choice to teach only in parables, then, sprung from some fairly advanced psychology. And it obviously worked.

Similarly, we see that his listeners became acutely aware that he spoke with authority, “and not as the scribes.” This can easily be seen from the advanced man perspective. He didn’t have to project or claim or imagine. He simply knew.

Consider the scenario of an electrician from today going back in time five hundred years. He or she could walk into Cambridge University and start explaining the operation of lightning, the laws underlying it, the applications of this to creating machines, artificial lighting and much more. This person wouldn’t be speculating, or even come off with “TV preacher confidence.” He or she would simply know, and wouldn’t cling to anything else. They’d seen it. They had done it themselves. They knew.

That was how Jesus came off to the people of his time. He didn’t need certifications or signs. He just said what he knew to be so.

We see this prominently in the fact that Jesus didn’t bother to quote scriptures. In the whole of the gospel of Mark, for example, Jesus quotes scriptures a total of seven times; eight if you include the “haven’t you read what David did?” passage. And all of those quotations were forced upon him. That is, he used scripture only in response to challenges, because (as we may presume with some confidence) these were the things the people questioning him took as proof.

At the same time, Jesus refers to nature or commonplace events at least eleven times.

The other gospels differ a bit, but not terribly much. Jesus simply did not rely upon scriptures to teach. He used them when he was pushed into it because that’s what the people on the other side of the arguments saw as proof. (And often as “You’ve heard it said, but I say…”((And note that by doing this, he is overriding the law of Moses. We can describe this as “extending the commandments,” if we wish, but he was clearly changing them… thus changing the scriptures.)))

Compare that to modern religion, or even to the writings of Paul, who quotes scriptures well over fifty times in just his letter to the Romans.

Related to this is the fact that Jesus cared very little for what people said, and far more for what they did. He wanted people who were actually better; people with improved inner lives. The emblematic statement of this is from Matthew:

Cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also.

Jesus clearly wanted people to focus on what he taught them, and not on who he was. Again: “Why do you call me Lord, but don’t do the things I say?”

People majoring on “calling him Lord properly” – making theirs a religion about Jesus – was clearly not what he wanted. And the sermon on the mount finishes with his parable of the house built on rock and the house built on sand to communicate precisely this point: To talk about Jesus is nothing, to do what he said – to practice his religion – is everything.

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The Religion of Jesus PART 4: So, What Did He Believe?

So, now we come now to the question of what Jesus himself believed. What was his religion? Or, more properly stated, what were the convictions that Jesus put into action?

Continuing from Part 3.

So, now we come now to the question of what Jesus himself believed. What was his religion? Or, more properly stated, what were the convictions that Jesus put into action? 

In Discourse #4 we explained why we will be sorting the record of Jesus words with three preferences:

  • We will prefer Mark where possible, being the first gospel written, and the gospel that Matthew and Luke copied.

  • We will consider the town-to-town teachings as especially authentic and well-remembered, mainly because they were repeated so often.

  • We will especially accept the parables, since each has an inherent unity (errantly translating a word here and there doesn’t change the point of the story), and since Jesus relied so heavily upon them.

This gives us a solid core of teachings to look at… a set of passages that are sufficient by themselves to establish what Jesus actually believed.

A further distinction showing what Jesus actually believed concerns what he chose to say and do, and which actions and responses were thrust upon him. I think this is a very important distinction. Any reader of the gospels has noticed the many times when people ran up to Jesus and thrust questions and challenges at him. Granted, there are lessons to be gleaned from some of these cases, but we learn far more about Jesus from the things he chose to do. Answering challenges were not part of his spiritual practice, they were impositions.

If, then, we pull away the actions that were thrust upon Jesus, we gain a much better look at his personal practices… the things he chose to do when nothing was pressing in upon him.

The Advanced Man

The picture we get of Jesus in the gospels is that of a very advanced man… a man deeply out of place on planet Earth at 30 AD. At first that may not sound like a terribly untraditional position (“the son of God” would necessarily be “highly advanced”) but the picture we get is less of a “divine being” and more of a “future man with a time machine.”

I’m not saying Jesus had a time machine hidden behind Mary and Joseph’s house, of course. But I do think this is an instructive model, and one that fits quite well.

Bear in mind, please, that Jesus did not go about telling people he was a divine being (no one in the Mark gospel seems to conceive of him that way), and that the earliest Christian theology… the earliest Christology… was that he became the son of God at his resurrection((See Romans 1:3-4, Acts 2:36 and Acts 13:32-33.)).

Then we see that even his hand-chosen students were unable to understand him. Here are four examples, among others((Mk. 4:13, 7:18, 8:17, John 16:12.)):

Do you not understand this parable? How then will you understand all the parables?

Then 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? How is it that you do not understand?

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

Beyond this, we see the disciples jumping wildly to conclusions, as if emotionally overcome by this man… erupting into some variant of the nervous smile. This is obvious in the transfiguration story (Peter was far out of his depth to suggest anything, and clearly spoke in some type of nervous response), as well as in the sequence of Mark 8 and Matthew 16, where Jesus warns them to “Beware of the leaven of the pharisees and of Herod.” Upon hearing this, the disciples chatter amongst themselves that maybe Jesus meant something about eating their bread. Jesus must then bring them back to reason, making them understand that he was talking about the teachings of the pharisees and Herod((And as with his parables, which will be discussed immediately, Jesus doesn’t give them the conclusion. Rather, he leads them to it and allows them to make the final connections themselves.)).

The advanced nature of Jesus is also to be seen in his use of parables. Jesus evaded doctrine, seemingly wherever possible. And I think the reason is obvious enough: Doctrine is “argument fodder,” and seldom adds any real substance to anyone.

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The Religion of Jesus PART 3: Are People Ready for This?

The separation between the religion of Jesus and the religion about Jesus is not only huge, but has continued over many centuries. And that means that there are reasons for this separation.

Continuing from Part 2.

The separation between the religion of Jesus and the religion about Jesus is not only huge, but has continued over many centuries. And that means that there are reasons for this separation.

As we’ll note momentarily, Jesus was a terribly advanced person, and other people simply weren’t ready to act as he acted. It has been easier to follow a religion about Jesus than it has been to follow Jesus directly. More than that, those who start by following Jesus directly are usually pulled into a religion about Jesus quickly enough.

I’m not saying these things have been done with malice in the majority of cases, because I don’t believe they have. But they have happened all the same.

So, are people now ready to move from a religion merely about Jesus, to the religion that he practiced? Are they able to do that? Because if they aren’t able, bringing up such a thing, publicly, would be an act of cruelty. It would be like ripping off their coat in a blizzard and giving them nothing to replace it.

I, however, believe that average humans… average Christians… are more than able to rise to this choice. I think that humanity is far better than most of us presume it to be. I quote this passage from G.K. Chesterton’s The Defendant often, because I think it is a beautiful expression of a true and important concept:

Every one of the great revolutionists, from Isaiah to Shelly, have been optimists. They have been indignant, not about the badness of existence, but about the slowness of men in realizing its goodness.

I believe, based upon a continuing stream of evidence, that humanity at present is far better than advertised. More than that, I believe we are capable of become far better than we are now. Bad news sells papers and keeps tyrannies in power, but news that reflected reality would leave us believing in our virtues and capacities.

What comes of this remains to be seen, of course. My job is to put it into the world and to support it as well as I can. It is up to the people who read and hear these concepts to do something about them. I have no group for anyone to join. Those who agree will have to forge their own paths, as they should. Following the great leader is an evasion of responsibility and effort. It bears the seed of a return to servitude.

The Way of Transformation

The wonderful thing about the religion of Jesus it that it’s far more transformative than the religion about Jesus. That statement is based as much on my experience as it is on anything else, and so you’ll have to make up your own mind, but if you examine it honestly I’m confident you’ll come to the same conclusion over time.

Jesus didn’t care at all about rituals, symbols and traditions. But he always cared about good seeds being planted in people. He cared about those seeds growing until they bore good fruit. And, very importantly, he wanted these things to be done naturally and organically (“first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear”), not by obedience to external standards. As Ernest Renan noted so well, “Never has anyone been less a priest than Jesus, never a greater enemy of forms.”

Jesus did not want mankind’s obedience a higher being. He didn’t want them to bow down and grovel. He didn’t want them to force themselves to conform. Rather, he wanted them to become better in actual substance. All that matters to Jesus is the real, the essential. Everything hinges on actual substance, and on nothing else. What matters – the only thing that matters – is what you are and what you become.

In this you can see why the religion about Jesus seems easier: You can be sure of “salvation” based upon your standing with a human organization, by your participation in physical ceremonies, by saying some magic words. The way of Jesus, however, concerns what you are on the inside, and accepts no evasions.

Jesus is gentle, accepting and eager to help, of course – he says so clearly – but his only focal point is what we are on the inside.

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The Religion of Jesus PART 2: The Big Issue

I’ve already said “it would be hard to over-state this,” or words to that effect, several times in these discourses. Now I’’m going to say it again, because its importance in this case is truly immense. In fact, what I’m about to write is such a powerful concept that it might, merely by being mentioned often enough, change the beliefs of billions of people.

Continuing from the Part 1.

I’ve already said “it would be hard to over-state this,” or words to that effect, several times in these discourses. Now I’m going to say it again, because its importance in this case is truly immense. In fact, what I’m about to write is such a powerful concept that it might, merely by being mentioned often enough, change the beliefs of billions of people. And so, please consider this statement carefully:

Christianity has not been the religion of Jesus. It has been a religion about Jesus.

Time and money permitting, I might put that on billboards. I think it calls for it.

Consider the things Christians require as beliefs for church membership. Many of them are things that Jesus never said at all. For example, a belief in “the trinity” is required for membership in Roman Catholic, Russian Orthodox, Lutheran, Baptist, Anglican, Presbyterian, Methodist, Congregational and Assembly of God churches, among many, many others. Indeed, nearly every church requires a belief in the trinity.

Jesus, on the other hand, never used the word. Nor did he ever use the concept. (If you’re at all unsure about that, please look it up.) In this you can see the depth of the issue: More or less every Christian institution requires people to believe something that Jesus never endorsed at all. And yet, no one seems to bat an eye over it. The truth, you see, is that Christianity is primarily a religion about Jesus. (How it became this way will be something we address in another discourse.)

And then there is the likewise-mandatory belief in the virgin birth. And again, Jesus never mentioned it, or even hinted at it. In fact, he specifically undercut the idea that his mother was a terribly special person. Again, this belief is about Jesus, not of Jesus.

Likewise the concept of original sin; most churches major on it, but Jesus never said such a thing.

The conclusion here is inescapable: Jesus didn’t consider the doctrines of the trinity, virgin birth and original sin to be of any importance. If he believed them at all, he didn’t think they were important enough to teach. And yet, the Christian churches are devoted to these things, down to their cores.

This distinction between what Jesus believed and what Christianity believes is so immense that many people, if confronted with it, will feel driven to eliminate the concept, no matter how much many excuses and how much “blanking out” may be required.

Others, however, will reluctantly accept reality. And because of them, Christianity will change, and the greater portion of the world with it.

This concept is only threatening, of course, if our allegiances are divided between Jesus and religious organizations. If we prefer Jesus, the creeds have to be pulled apart. If we prefer the churches, we must discount Jesus, as indeed has been done, consciously or otherwise.

Christianity has contained some thoughts from Jesus, of course, but they’ve been continuously surrounded by beliefs about Jesus that guided men and women away from the way Jesus lived. (Which we might also call the religion he practiced.) That has been a problem, and one that will have to be dealt with if Christianity is to endure.

I am confident that Jesus would care far less about what we think about his divinity than doing the things he taught and practiced. In fact, we have a beautiful statement of that concept in two of our gospels. Here is Luke’s version:

Why do you call me Lord, but don’t do the things I say?

However we turn that statement, it clearly places doing as more important to Jesus than what we believe about him and say about him. As we might say, talk is cheap, doing is precious. 

And while writing these discourses I stumbled upon another distinction: I found myself feeling a need to write “believe him” rather than “believe in him.” I quickly realized it was the same issue. Do we believe (and thus do) the things Jesus said? Or do we merely believe in Jesus… that he is “the son of God,” “born of a virgin,” or whatever? This difference is the same as “do we do what he said, or merely call him Lord?” And according to Jesus, everything turns upon this difference.

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* * * * *

Paul Rosenberg

The Religion of Jesus PART 1: Introduction

I’ve recently completed a book I never particularly expected to write. It covers subjects we’ve touched upon in some of the columns, but my guess was that the book would wait for quite some time. It’s called Discourses on Judaism, Jesus & Christianity, and it rather forced its way out of me, regardless of what I had in mind. (Writing can be a very odd exercise at times.)

And so I’d like to run through one of the more important chapters in our public articles. The full book (106 pages) is available on Kindle for those who want it.

In this first installment we’ll include the table of contents and the preface. After that we’ll go through Discourse 6, one section at a time. I think you’ll find this interesting and probably surprising.



Discourse One                     The Progress of Judaism  

Discourse Two                      Whose Religion?                            

Discourse Three                  The Judeo-Christian Principles

Discourse Four                    What Really Did Jesus Teach?

Discourse Five                    The Sayings of Jesus

Discourse Six                      The Religion of Jesus

Discourse Seven                 How The Way Became Christianity

Discourse Eight                   The Kingdom of God          

Discourse Nine                    The Son of Man                  

Discourse Ten                     The Crisis of Christianity               

Discourse Eleven                The Progress of Judaism, Part Two

Coda                                     Yeah, We’re Better


I expect my books to move from one subject to the next smoothly. And so when I decided to write this one, I presumed that my collection of “terribly important but almost entirely overlooked” concepts would form themselves into some kind of logical and naturally-flowing unit.

The book, however, wouldn’t come together that way. And so, after some struggle, I decided to let it be what it naturally was, a collection of generally- but not directly-related thoughts.

Soon after that I finally understood the importance of specifically not turning these discourses into a single unit.

Nearly every set of religious or spiritual ideas is quickly turned into a full-spectrum answer to all of humanity’s deep questions: Where did we come from? What will happen to the world? What will happen to me once I die? And so on. Anyone who puts forth new religious ideas faces tremendous pressures to answer all the questions and to extend their findings into a complete set of answers and/or a complete ruleset for living. Yielding to that pressure, however, is a grave error.

So, not only am I not attempting an answer to every question, I’m advising you that we’re in no position to do such a thing. I think we humans carry immense potential; in time we will become wonderfully advanced creatures. At present, however, we have a long way to go. I think all healthy humans carry the potential to be stunning creatures and to understand just about anything that can be understood in this universe. But we’re not there yet, and we probably won’t be for a while. Ultimate rulesets and fixed determinations are not for us.

All that said, I would very much like for this set of discourses to turn our eyes toward better vistas, and I thank you for taking the time to read and absorb it.

Paul Rosenberg
June, 2019

(Available now on Kindle)

Jesus Versus Religion


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.


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.

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Paul Rosenberg

The Military-Evangelical Complex


There are evangelical Christians whom I love and respect. Nonetheless, it’s time to face this: The military-evangelical complex is not just politically dangerous; it’s a corruption of the Judeo-Christian tradition and thus of Western Civilization itself.


Let’s start by defining this clearly: The military-evangelical complex is an intricate partnership between the US government and thousands of churches, typically evangelical. These churches support and glorify government-authorized violence. Their messages to their members are clear: To enforce laws is noble and righteous; to bleed on a foreign battlefield is godly; the US military is a great force of goodness upon Earth; America, manifested especially through military action, is God’s special tool.

Every American past high-school age should recognize this description, but to be clear, here are a few exemplary images:

  • It is announced in church that Johnny has joined the military. He is asked to stand and is heartily applauded by all.

  • Memorial Day church services (or Veteran’s Day or July 4th) feature dedicated sermons and proud displays of flags and uniforms. There is effusive praise for soldiers, casting them as godly heroes.

  • Military-themed ceremonies are held before every major sporting event.

  • Children are encouraged to choose “service” as a life plan; if not in war, at least enforcing state laws.

  • Enacting violence on behalf of the state is certain to get you public praise and pats on the back.

  • Government-ordered violence is prejudged to be good and right.

  • Funerals include the ritual touching of flags by military veterans.

  • Churches promote slogans like, “Jesus died to save us; soldiers die to keep us free.”

  • Rituals of saluting flags, singing anthems, and thanking soldiers for ‘service’ are obligatory.

Now, let’s be honest about this. Military service has become a sacrament in these churches; soldiers are the new missionaries, and wounded soldiers are the new martyrs.

And let’s be honest about something else: If we found records of such things in ancient inscriptions, we’d define them as the rituals of a military cult… and we would not be wrong.

How Did This Happen?

It happened because it was the easiest thing to do.

Christianity, however, was never meant to be easy. Not only did early Christians risk serious persecutions, but Jesus had warned them that “all men will hate you for my sake,” that they would be persecuted, and that they would “suffer for righteousness’s sake.” A follower of Jesus is supposed to lead mankind “into the light,” thus angering those who remain in darkness. (“He that dwells in darkness hates the light….”)

Most Christians, however, don’t want to suffer and don’t want to be hated. On top of that, leading mankind into the light is hard work. Alternatives to such things – easier ways – have always been popular.

And so, joining with the state – the biggest and most powerful entity – is the safest thing to do; once joined, no suffering and no hatred are required. And to gain that position, all you have to do is spin a theology that makes church-state partnership into a righteous thing.

Christians began making such arrangements just a few centuries after Jesus’s time. The Middle Ages had their versions, and modern times have theirs. And right now, among the most vocal advocates of Christianity, we have a military-evangelical complex.

And we all know what has supercharged this process over the past decade and a half: 9/11.

In a single day, people in uniforms were promoted into a new Hero caste. Minds stewing in fear skipped right past contrary facts and the lessons they had learned in the 1970s. (The Pentagon Papers, the Church Committee reports, the Gulf of Tonkin, etc.)

All of this gave Christian leaders an immediate opportunity to fill their pews and keep them full. So they jumped at it. Presently, they are clinging to it. Military leaders jumped at it too and have spent millions of dollars promoting it, notably at sporting events.

We Were Warned

There is a great deal more to say about this, and I am tempted to ramble on about the military-evangelical complex inverting the most fundamental elements of the Judeo-Christian tradition, how it turns government into an agent of sanctification, and how the Scriptures condemn it. But I shall not. I’ve made my point and I will leave it where it stands, adding only this:

As he was stepping down from the US presidency in 1961, Dwight Eisenhower warned about this. He talked about the threats of “an immense military establishment,” that it was “new in the American experience,” and that Americans “must not fail to comprehend [the] grave implications” of this “total influence – economic, political, even spiritual.”

And yes, this was the speech where he warned Americans to “guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence… by the military-industrial complex.”

But, like all the great warnings of history, Eisenhower’s were flatly ignored.

It was the easiest thing to do.

* * * * *

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* * * * *


Paul Rosenberg