Seriously, how hard is it to “Do unto others”? Impossibly hard, to judge by most Christians who, somehow, have reimagined “Do unto others” as “Do what we say”. More accurately, it was all those churches those Christians belonged to their whole lives that bamboozled them into thinking that the institution and Jesus were one and the same. That is exactly why most Christians are so bad at following Jesus; in fact, they’ve NEVER followed him. They were never taught to follow him. Instead, the institutional churches that hung out their cross-shaped Jesus Shingle like he was Jesus McSaviour taught a doctrine that Jesus never imagined — because he didn’t! Jesus did not invent Christianity; Paul did. Want proof? Crack a New Testament and look who actually wrote the bulk of it. That’s “literally wrote”. We can PROVE Paul existed because we have HIS WORDS that HE PERSONALLY put to paper — the letters and epistles he sent to the far flung communities across Asia Minor that, he, personally, was nurturing with his letters.
By contrast, we can’t prove that Jesus existed except by inference. Paul’s inference mostly. But, also, the existence inferred by the existence of various gospels. Keep in mind, the canonical gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke & John) were not the only gospels written about Jesus. Many more were written that didn’t “make the cut”. Jesus didn’t edit those voices from the mix, deliberately excluding them. But, the early Church DID. This is a very important detail that few people with a religious bent seem to grasp. Their religious doctrines did not just fall from the sky as they are. They were imagined and (eventually) written down over time and, at some point, SOMEONE edited them and someone else decided which of these texts were “good” and which weren’t. Who got to decide WHICH visions and versions of Jesus represented “the truth” and which represented “nonsense”? Who got to decide, for instance, that the Gnostics needed to be shut up? Surely THAT wasn’t Jesus’s doing…
Jesus was born, lived his whole life and died a Jew. Even as he expired — whoever he actually was — if you could have stuck a mic in his face to catch his last breath, he would have told you he was Jewish. Never in his life did Jesus ever meet a Christian. He never preached to one, never taught one, never washed one’s feet. In fact, everything Jesus thought and taught was implicitly Jewish — especially “DO UNTO OTHERS”. One of the core concepts inside every Jew’s head is “Tikkun Olam“. While this can be (and has been) interpreted a gazillion different ways — because that’s how religious doctrine works (versus, say, scientific doctrine) — the overwhelming majority of Jews understand it to mean that each and every one of us — regardless of how deep our religious faith is — is obligated to make the world a better place for having been in it. It’s cultural, see? One doesn’t need the fire-breathing, deeply neurotic Yahweh of the OT looking over one’s shoulder to compel one to be a good person. Just being a person, in essence, should compel one to behave that way because one has to live with others! It’s just basic, social animal common sense.
The simplicity of Tikkun Olam is that it’s born of observations about life and living it socially. There’s nothing inherently supernatural about it. The phrase first appears as mip’nei tikkun ha-olam, “for the sake of repairing the world”, in the Mishnah — the “Oral Torah” of traditions that was eventually memorialized starting in the third century BCE. The assembled Mishnah became all the practical legal measures taken to ameliorate social conditions. To make the world better in the here and now — never mind any after life. The minds who put the Mishnah together were problem solving. They weren’t designing dogma.
That’s where Paul comes in. When Saul of Tarsus had his revelation about Jesus on the road to Damascus and became “Paul The Apostle”, he was working — always — with what was inside his own head (divine inspiration notwithstanding). We don’t have to accept Paul’s word as factual — that Jesus actually appeared to him — because it happened inside Paul’s head — where all ideas originate. Whatever inspired Paul, it inspired something remarkable, all credit to it (whatever it was) but mostly to Paul who ended up doing all the heavy lifting. Paul never met Jesus in the flesh. That’s a stone cold fact that even the loopiest evangelist has to agree with. The reason Paul took his version of Jesus out to the Gentiles is precisely BECAUSE Paul never met Jesus. The Jesus in Paul’s head was not the Jesus people who knew Jesus KNEW. Paul’s Jesus said things and did things Real Jesus didn’t (according to the people who’d know).
Filled with messianic passion, but, now liberated from having to be faithful either to the original Jewish mythology or anything to do with Real Jesus, Paul took the evolving idea in his head out to a Gentile world that only knew polytheism. The Jews’ idea that their one god Yahweh superseded all previous gods was radical to begin with in that it even imagined all gods as one; it was even more radical because that god felt such a personal connection to human beings — who, the radical notion of this one god went, cared for them because he’d “created” them personally. What captivated Paul, remember, wasn’t exactly anything Jesus taught; it was the fact that Jesus — in Paul’s mind — had risen from the grave. Never mind “do unto others”, Paul saw the power of “beat death!” If Jesus could do it, Paul reasoned, then belief in Jesus could get the same results for everyone else.
The whole crux of Christian dogma is to get believers over the “beat death” hump. That’s a big lift, overcoming death, and it required a lot of “thinking” to justify it. There are no data points anywhere, but there is a lot of “thinking”. And rule-making to justify and validate that “thinking”. Suddenly unverifiable thoughts about Jesus become church rules dictating how to think about him. In 345 AD, the Church Fathers met at Nicene and wrote down a Creed spelling out exactly what “God” was. Funny thing? Jesus (remember him?) never advocated for such a thing. If Jesus HAD risen from the dead and walked in on that meeting at Nicene? He’d have looked around at a roomful of strangers talking crap that meant nothing to him.
“Why not just ‘do unto others’?” Jesus would have wondered — isn’t that simpler? Isn’t that really the point?
No, Paul would have explained to Jesus (annoyed by him already), it’s NOT the point. Now, please — go back to being dead because THAT’S the only value you have to me — as a malleable corpse.
The reason Christianity is losing its institutional grip on more and more Christians is because institutional Christianity’s promises never EVER live up to their hype. Until the day comes when they can PROVE they’ve found a way for its believers to actually “beat death”, they’ll always be selling a phony product via phony means. Meanwhile, Jesus’s message — “Do unto others” — feels fresher and more vital than ever. More necessary than ever too.
Good thing there are plenty of atheists around — unencumbered by history and dogma — to maybe teach all those poor, angry Christians how to do it.