How Did “Do Unto Others” Become “Do What We Say”?

Ya know the game “telephone”? A person whispers something into the next person’s ear — who then whispers what they heard into the next person’s ear and so on until we get to the last person. Usually, the original message gets wildly corrupted into total gibberish which makes everyone laugh when they hear it — especially the first person. Their simple message has been turned into something totally unrecognizable.

Jesus would totally get how they feel.

“Do unto others”.

That was Jesus’s simple message. It’s actually one of the core messages of Judaism. Jews are obligated to fix the world. Not through proselytizing others — conversion really isn’t a thing for Jews and never has been — but through moral acts. Act morally toward others and, one hopes, they will act morally toward you. Act kindly, respectfully, helpfully, lovingly…

Nowhere in there is judgment. Jesus didn’t say “Do unto others — or else” or “Do unto others — the way I tell you to”. He didn’t even teach how to speak to Yahweh. He just taught his followers that they could speak to him directly; they didn’t need a temple or its corrupt priests to speak to Yahweh on their behalf. Also pretty simple.

So, how did it get so freakin’ complicated where — in order to speak to this supposedly loving god — you, first, have to subjugate yourself? How did “Do unto others” become a complicated story of a man-god born of a virgin who was put here to die for everyone’s sins? Where is THAT in “Do unto others”?

The problem is Jesus didn’t invent Christianity, Paul did. The bulk of the NT is made up of Paul’s communications with the burgeoning Christian communities forming across the Roman world. Paul didn’t know Jesus. Never met him. And, since Jews weren’t buying Paul’s version of Jesus (and his message), Paul took his message to the gentiles — all the communities he was writing to.

Paul was selling a way to beat death: believe in the story I’m telling you and you can, like Jesus, rise from the dead albeit in the afterlife where you’ll get to live happily ever after with everyone you loved. Sounds perfect! Who wouldn’t want that, right? Never mind that it’s nonsense. Never mind that it’s got nothing to do with Jesus, his message or even any sort of Jewish message. It’s pure invention — and genius. But it’s invention all the same.

There’s a gigantic difference between spirituality — how one relates to things larger than oneself — and religion — the codification of ritual designed (in theory) to help one realize one’s spirituality. It’s literally the opposite of what Jesus taught. That’s what made Jesus so radical — he taught reject the institutionalization of your spiritual quest, not dive deeper into the ooga-booga.

Paul, don’t forget, was relating a messiah story as the basis for how one was going to beat death. The messiah, the story says, was prophesied. It’s all “foretold” so there’s no point resisting it. If Jesus was the messiah, he needed to fit the prophesy to a “t” — even if the real Jesus didn’t. For Paul, the real, historical, “Do Unto Others” Jesus became both inconvenient and irrelevant.

And, so, Paul (and the church he was inventing) ditched Jesus. They kept his name (well, they kept the name they’d assigned him; Jesus’s real name was some version of Joshua ben Joseph per the culture’s nomenclature not “Jesus” which meant “savior”. Paul was pitching his evolving mythology to gentiles — unfamiliar with original texts he was talking about. Paul could twist what the texts said or meant into anything he wanted — no one was going to contradict him in the gentile world.

Jesus and “Do Unto Others” became mascots — early but clever marketing that had very little to do with the actual product being sold. Because “Do Unto Others” was too, too simple a message, the early church invented “original sin” to justify Jesus’s dying in their storytelling.

Quick — if Jesus’s purpose in being born to begin with was to die for every human being’s sins going back to Eve’s original sin in the Garden of Eden, then why is it a problem (from a storytelling point of view) for Judas to betray him? If Judas doesn’t betray Jesus and Jesus lives on, dying peacefully in his bed, an old man, doesn’t that screw up Jesus dying for humanity’s sins? Either Jesus is put here for a purpose (like the prophesy says) or he’s not. You can’t have it both ways.

Unless you’re making it up, in which case you can say whatever you want. Like believe what I’m telling you or die.

The history of the Catholic church especially may be the most un-Jesus-like story imaginable. The various Protestant churches haven’t done unto others any better.

But then, churches are all about self-preservation. They have to be. Churches are expensive to build and expensive to maintain. It takes money and to keep the money flowing to it, every church needs members — the more the better. And to make sure the church members donate regularly and adequately, it’s important to make them understand their choices. Give or die. Belong to the church or die. Follow the church’s rules — or die.

“Do what we say — or die”.

Jesus had the uber-religious pegged. If Jesus were to rise from the dead and come a second time, he wouldn’t last long. Take this to the bank: the churches would lead the charge to arrest Jesus, charge him with some sort of crime and put him to death — because his message is so dangerous.

Some things never change.

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