I bet that lights a few fires.
First, let’s define “church”. We can’t define it the way Jesus would have defined it because Jesus never imagined “churches”. He was born, lived and died a Jew. He knew from temples. And — if you recall — Jesus preached AGAINST the temple and the temple authorities. They were corrupt. And anyway — after “Do Unto Others”, Jesus’s core message was “You don’t need the Priests, don’t need a Temple; speak directly to the Father — talk directly to God”.
Why, Jesus would ask, would anyone need a church to follow him when part of his core message was “Ditch the church”?
I know — logic, right? It has no place in religion. That’s the point. That’s why religion and spirituality are two separate things. Everyone — atheists included — experiences “spirituality”. Look it up. You can bring any god you want to the Spirituality Table. You can bring no god at all. Spirituality is just you and the fact that there’s something bigger than you — how’re you gonna deal with it?
“Religion” happens when people try to quantify spirituality. They try to define it specifically. But whose spirituality are they talking about? Fact: being sentient beings, all with our own particular way of seeing the world, experience existence differently. Ask ten theists what “god” is and you’ll get ten different answers. That’s not God’s fault. He is whatever we need him to be.
Jesus did not invent Christianity. If he were to actually return from the dead (something he never knew he could do) and see what’s been created in his name, his head might never stop exploding. How the hell did we get such a simple message — “Do Unto Others” — so completely and utterly wrong? The bulk of the NT is Paul’s work. It’s his noodling over this evolving concept in his head. The NT is Paul’s letters and epistles to all the far-flung gentile communities he was creating and building. It’s Paul inventing a mythology based on Jewish stories but adapted for a gentile audience who wouldn’t know how far Paul was departing from the source material.
This is in no way to diss the magnificent fiction Paul created. This is a testament to it. Paul turned Jesus into something he never was — a messiah. And he turned belief in that invented messiah into a literal “cure for death”. Believe in (Paul’s version of) Jesus and you, too can live forever!
Want to know why Christianity spread? It was selling a genius product.
There’s always been a huge dichotomy to Christianity. On the one hand you have Jesus — and his simple philosophy (“Do Unto Others”) that even an atheist can agree with and follow. On the other hand you have these massive church organizations. You have the monolithic Catholic church. You have politically active Protestant denominations here in America. You have televangelism and evangelicals who adore Trump — and NONE OF IT — not one bit — has the least relationship whatsoever with Jesus.
From the Church’s point of view, Jesus is the “Guy-On-A-Cross” mascot. He’s Ronald McDiedForOurSins.
Died for our SINS? As in Eve? As in The Garden Of Eden? That is integral to the Jesus story as the Church preaches it, right? If you want to buy in to what pretty much every Church wants to sell you, you have to buy that the Jesus THEY’RE selling you is the cure for what Eve did to Mankind by biting into the apple. What purpose in the Grand Story does Jesus serve if not to die for humanity’s (Eve’s original) sin? That, understand, is the Jesus that Paul (and, over time, the early Church fathers) invented. It’s the “Concocted Jesus” they concocted a church around.
But, again — Eve’s just the underpinning for the “beat death” sales pitch. Believe in Jesus and you can both overcome what that horrible bitch Eve did to us all AND get to live forever as the most idealized version of yourself that you can think of. Want to do all that? Then follow these rules “religiously”.
People who love their churches — over their spirituality — they need their churches (with their rules & regs) because they don’t HAVE any spirituality. It must be so — because a person filled with actual spiritual feelings (which are expansive by their nature) would look at an institution built on reining in those feelings (do it OUR way) like they had ten heads.
The one thing of real value a Church could offer — and they do — is community. Ah, but there’s the rub. What is a community built on? A church built on common spiritual goals would be one thing.
Pretty much every Church though is built on self preservation — of the Church and the church. I’ve a dear, dear friend who’s a Presbyterian pastor. At present he doesn’t have a church; his mission — he works for the Southern California Presbytery — is to travel around to all the failing Presbyterian churches all across Southern California and help them as best he can into non-existence.
Every one of those church communities are dying (or have died) because the cost of the church building itself was impossible to bear. Buildings take money to construct and then maintain. The bigger they are, the more they cost. Who’s going to pay for it? God? Good luck with that.
To maintain a church building requires dues-paying members. Lots of them. And they have to be regular dues-payers. Got priests? They need salaries. God won’t pay their bills.
The reason more and more young people are abandoning organized religion is because organized religion does not satisfy their spiritual ache. The community is nice and all but they still walk out the door with their Big Questions unanswered. The reason is their church isn’t in the “Answer Big Questions” biz. It’s in the “Keep Being A Going Concern As A Church” biz. That’s not the same thing.
Churches are where spirituality goes to die — so its body can be sold off as relics.