Question: How do you get from “Do unto others” to “Onward, Christian Soldier!”? The truth is you can’t. Even a humble atheist can “do unto others”. A Christian soldier? They do unto others before others can do unto them. That’s their idea of Jesus. In other words, they have no idea of Jesus or, whatever idea they do have of Jesus? That ain’t Jesus. I bet Jesus would be shocked (if he actually did pull off a second coming) by all the people claiming to follow him who, in fact, hate everything about him. Is there anything less Jesus-y than a horde of culture warrior Christians?
Jesus preached a simple, confident message that even an atheist can embrace, follow and find happiness in. How we got from there to, say, the Catholic church (or, even further afield, the Mormon church) is a story (and blog post) unto itself. But, that is what Christianity did — it turned a simple relationship between creator and created into a dogma-heavy obstacle course light on logic but heavy on complications. In Paul the Apostle’s defense, when you set out to found a new religion (as Paul did among the Gentiles), you have to do everything you can to cement your brand.
Paul was very definitely a Christian. As to was he a “follower of Jesus” — no, he wasn’t. Jesus, if anything, was an impediment to Paul because of his very Jewishness. Remember: the Christian movement in Jerusalem faltered because it wasn’t Christian, it was Jewish. Radical but radical Jewish. When the Romans finally sacked Jerusalem and banished all the Jews, the diaspora created was entirely Jewish. Paul meanwhile (about half the New Testament is Paul’s writing) spun his mythology further and further away from its Jewish roots and more toward something that he was inventing on the fly — a faith based entirely on “the death, resurrection, and lordship of Jesus.”
That, right there, is Paul’s brilliant innovation. It’s his true genius: he pitched a deity to the Gentiles that cared about them (polytheistic gods didn’t really care about humans the way Yahweh seemed to), who even produced a son tasked with dying for humanity’s benefit just so that they — like Jesus — could defeat death and live forever in a magical place called Heaven along with all their loved ones. That’s Christianity’s real sales pitch: believe in Jesus the way we tell you to (no questions asked) and we’ll “guarantee you” a happy eternal afterlife with your loved ones. Can the church really guarantee such a thing? Does that really matter? Of course not!
Death makes human beings irrational. We’ll cut any deal we can to try and get out of having to die. That is, some people will. To them, religion is a kind of ongoing negotiation with the universe. It’s a “Get Out Of Jail Free” card they’ll take with them to the grave where it will rot and fall apart just like they will. But, hey — why not cover that angle, right? The early Christian church slowly evolved a mythology based on a thousand years of Jewish messiah stories radically re-imagined for a Gentile audience (who didn’t care that it didn’t conformed to the original Jewish mythology since they had no knowledge of it).
Let’s be real: the Christian origin mythology is a hodgepodge of ideas that don’t add up (unless you accept all of its illogical premises). If Jesus’s whole purpose — the reason universe-creator Yahweh mates with a human virgin — is to fix the mess Eve made (according to the early church fathers, Eve daring to eat the apple and causing humanity’s fall from grace was humanity ‘s original sin). Plus — it’s by Jesus dying for humanity’s sins that God opens the door to eternal life. If Jesus never gets betrayed by Judas and never gets crucified and never dies for humanity ‘s sins then there is no resurrection.
If God created Jesus for this specific purpose then God (being all knowing) wouldn’t have zigged because Judas Iscariot zagged. God would not only have known and anticipated Judas, he’d have relied upon it — because that’s the trigger for everything else that follows. If Jesus, instead, lives to a ripe old age and dies in his bed surrounded by his loved ones then we’re not having this conversation. Judas isn’t a villain, damned for all time, he’s a story mechanism.
And, hey — blood libels are flat out stupid. It is stupid and offensive to use a poorly constructed story as a justification to hate Jews. But then Jews have never viewed the world as something to be converted into their way of thinking. Judaism is virtually non-dogmatic compared to Christianity. Yeah, sure — there are ten commandments. There are dietary laws out the wazoo and pretty much rules for everything. But Jews didn’t imagine a hell the way Christians did. There’s “Sheol” but that’s just a place where all dead people go. It was the equivalent of the Greeks’ “Hades”. And, while Jews imagined a few less than honorable divine creatures. There’s the “Dybbuk” — a malicious, possessing spirit usually associated with a dead person — but Dybbuk’s aren’t invented until the 16th century.
Jews simply don’t rely upon the heavy weight of eternal after-life punishment to motivate Jews to do anything — like follow the ten commandments. Being good is simply one’s obligation. In fact, every Jew is obligated by the core Jewish concept of “Tikkun Olam”. Every Jew is responsible for making the world a better place just for having been in it. How one accomplishes that? That’s up to you. But, once Paul and the early church organizers committed themselves to a whole after life mythology, they took it to its extremes. And the dogma piled higher and higher.
Followers of Jesus “do unto others” because that is what following Jesus actually entails. Paul and his church had no use for any sort of historical Jesus — so they quickly dispatched with that guy. Joshua ben Joseph vanished and Jesus rose in his place. Joshua ben Joseph was born lived his entire life and died a Jew (having spent his entire life preaching and teaching to Jews exclusively). If Paul could have sold the Jews in Jerusalem his version of Jesus, he wouldn’t have had to go outside Judaism. But he did — and one of the first things Paul’s new religion did was declare war on the old religion that rejected it.
It never mattered to the faithful if the mythology didn’t add up. The point of the exercise was defeating death! If the step-by-step includes hating Jews then the faithful will hate Jews because the prize is worth it.
Why does anyone take Jesus into their heart? It ain’t the same reason people succumb to a church’s song and dance. But then, all Jesus really promises his followers is a good way to live a life.
The church needs warm bodies to fill its empty space but also its coffers. It needs people willing to go along without questioning the church. It needs the “faithful”.
It needs “Christian soldiers”.