Why Do They Even Call It “Christianity” When Their Religion Has Nothing To Do With Jesus & Never Did…

I’ll confess right here — lifetime atheist though I am, I am also a big time fan of Jesus. I don’t know for sure if a historical Jesus ever existed but someone like the character depicted in the New Testament seems to have put forward a teaching — “Do Unto Others” — drawn directly from the Jewish culture into which he was born and lived his entire life — that, today, still resonates loudly across the millennia.

In 1985, a group of actual bible scholars (people with actual academic degrees from reputable institutions of higher learning as opposed to bullshit degrees from bullshit Christian universities with bullshit standards and zero integrity) got together and formed The Jesus Seminar. Their goal — apply some serious objective analysis to the NT texts so as to coax out, as best they could, an historical Jesus.

The Seminar identified 15 or so phrases unanimously agreed upon by the canonical gospels which, the seminar felt, could have been spoken by a historical Jesus — so as to be disseminated by his followers. The Jesus who steps from the pages of the Seminar’s analysis has a simple message — Do Unto Others (which includes suffering the Little Children to come unto you) and, if you need to speak to god, go to “the father” directly. You don’t need a church to intercede on your behalf. GO DIRECTLY!”

If you recall from the stories about Jesus, he didn’t like the money changers. He didn’t like that the temple authorities allowed the money changers inside the temple’s forecourt. That, Jesus taught, debased the core message. It invalidated the temple’s authority to speak for god or to even pretend that they could intercede on their followers’ behalves.

Jesus advocates AGAINST having churches or religious “authorities”. So — how come there’s a Christian “church”? How could so gigantic a contradiction sit right in the heart of the Christian faith itself? The answer is ask Paul.

Paul (the former Saul of Tarsus) invented Christianity. The majority of the NT texts are Paul’s letters & epistles to the various gentile communities to which he was spreading his version of Jesus, Jesus’ story and Jesus’ message. Remember — Paul never met Jesus. Never spoke to him. Never heard his voice.

For a good, solid understanding of and perspective on Paul, I recommend A. N. Wilson’s excellent book Paul: The Mind Of An Apostle.

While Paul started by selling his version of Jesus to the Jews, they didn’t want it — because Paul’s version wasn’t authentic. Gentiles didn’t have any history or knowledge of Jewish customs, thought or mythology so Paul’s contorted version — virgin birth in Bethlehem, wise men presaging greatness, rising from the dead — seemed perfectly authentic. Never mind the fact that it was all invented, top to bottom. When Paul speaks of Jesus, he never stresses the messages Jesus himself stressed.

That’s because historical Jesus was of no use to Paul. So he invented a new Jesus. A Jesus that worked for him. Paul invented the Jesus that smiled upon the Catholic Church — an institution Jesus would have hated with every single atom of his being. Don’t hurt yourself laughing so hard, Protestants — your version of Jesus is just as disconnected from reality.

We won’t even talk about the Mormons (whose version of Jesus even visited North America — a place the real Jesus had no way of knowing even existed).

Ya know how, these days, we can’t figure out why Christians are so… “un-Christian”? This is why. The problem isn’t them, it’s us. All those people are being COMPLETELY Christian. What they aren’t being are “followers of Jesus”. To follow Jesus means all those devout Christians would have to denounce their “Christianity” — and all the oppressive, regressive, obsessive rules and regs that are the real appeal of their faith — and, instead, become spiritual. That ain’t happening.

To follow Jesus, one must be spiritual or have the capacity for spirituality. That’s the opposite of following a religion. Religions are crowd control. They are defined by their rules & their structures — and those structures don’t build or sustain themselves. The money has to come from somewhere which is why churches work so hard to get bodies into the pews and money from the pockets in those pews. Churches don’t really exist for the benefit of anyone’s faith, they exist for the benefit of themselves. Churches are like sharks (and relationships) — they have to keep moving or they’ll die.

If a historical Jesus could come back, he surely would not recognize the faith being touted as his creation. That’s because it isn’t his — and never was. It pains me deeply to quote Woody Allen but he got this one right. If Jesus were to come back to see what’s been done in his name, “he would never stop throwing up”.

There’s A Huge Honkin’ Difference Between Being “Spiritual” & Being “Religious”

Even a stone cold atheist can feel profound awe as he or she stares up at the stars. Atheists especially understand the scale — tiny human on a rock at the far edges of a galaxy in the middle of a billion galaxies feeling both his insignificance in the greater scheme of things while also being keenly aware that he “is” and therefore can “experience” this feeling of cosmic scale. That awe is spirituality. It’s abstract. It’s a riddle. It’s a quest.

But not everyone wants to go on a quest. They just want to live their lives and leave the heavy thinking to others: Just tell me what to believe and I’ll believe it. THAT is religion. It’s NOT about a journey or a search or an exploration. It’s about following rules. It’s about crowd control.

I grew up in a Conservative Jewish, deeply Humanist culture. That’s the middle ground between rule-following orthodoxy and total rule-rejecting reformed Judaism. In my house we rejected most of the rules. We didn’t keep kosher. Didn’t do any of that whatsoever. We went to shul on an occasional basis (for sure on the High Holidays). Though the ten commandments are a cornerstone of the faith, they’re not complicated. As rules go, they’re straightforward. Don’t do this, don’t do that. One thing we didn’t do — as a religion or culture — the institution (the synagogue) was not set up as your over-seer. Unlike the Catholic church, a synagogue never demanded that you confess every last bit of your dirt to it — so it could hold that dirt over your head in perpetuity.

THAT is how religion works.

Jesus was pretty clear in his message: Do unto others… suffer the little children unto me… the meek shall inherit the earth. He didn’t preach about how he wanted his church hierarchy to be structured because Jesus wasn’t about building churches. He was about teaching spirituality.

I mention this because Jesus is kinda the Poster Child for what happens when a spiritual message gets religion. Doing unto others requires a spiritual connection with the rest of humanity. Confession requires that you feel guilty mostly for just being human.

Isn’t that the whole point of “original sin”?

The Church’s genius — dark genius though it was — was to convince all those billions of people that being human wasn’t good enough. That instead of a spiritual journey, its followers needed to be locked in a box — like a veal being fattened up for slaughter without ever having seen the sun. The greatest threat overhanging any church member is expulsion from the group. Excommunication.

No one, it seems, gets excommunicated for diddling little boys. Question the church’s authority though and you’re gone.

A religious person looks up at the stars and wonders where their imaginary friend lives — and is that imaginary friend spying on them? A spiritual person sees a life-long journey of discovery, all to answer one question: how do I fit into that? How can I make my brief time as a sentient being more meaningful? How can I fill every moment with meaning? How can I…?

Spirituality is the freedom to explore. Religion is its diametric opposite.

True Fact: I’m An Atheist Who Loves Churches

I’m always fond of saying (or selling t-shirts that say) “I am grateful to Hebrew School for making me the atheist I am today” (the t-shirts also have “…grateful to Sunday School…” & “…grateful to Sunday School…” versions because I’m all about being inclusive).

I have always been grateful to Hebrew School

I suspect I was born an atheist but whatever lingering doubts I might have had as to atheism’s core truths were quickly tidied up by my religious education.  I attended Hebrew School in one form or another for 8 years.  I was bar mitzvah-ed.  In fact, I was so good at doing the “bar mitzvah song & dance” that the synagogue my family belonged to invited me — at age 14 — to recite torah portions several times.  I was fully immersed in my religion’s ooga-booga — the “conservative” (as opposed to reform or orthodox) version that held onto traditions like the orthodox but didn’t quite turn the synagogue service into a  wannabe church service like the reform temples did.

Mind you, I don’t view my religious education with any animosity.  At all.  I mean what I say: I am grateful for that education.  I consider myself a cultural Jew.  I am damned proud of my tribe’s culture.  I have no use for its religion however.  To a large degree, I have Hebrew School to thank for that.

My fascination with Christianity began with being hated by it.  It seemed a natural question for a curious kid to ask: “Ummm, I get that you hate me, but why?  What did I ever do?”  When you get down into the “why”, if you’re honest about the history you’re reading (as opposed to the religious text — one of my Hebrew School teachers, Mr. Hymen, was very clear on that; the Pentateuch is a religious book, not a history book), the whole reason that Christians hate Jews — the “Jews killed Jesus” story — is absolute rubbish.

Quick diversion… It’s a fact: none of texts of the Old or New Testaments magically wrote themselves. People — men most likely — wrote them. Call their inspiration divine, call it gas. Call it whatever. A person thought it up and wrote it down — inspired in whatever way you like.  Jesus did not write a word of the New Testament.  Paul (the former Saul of Tarsus) however did.  The bulk of the NT is Paul — writing to the new, far-flung churches he was creating and instructing on the just-invented rules and mythology of Christianity.  That HE was inventing.

Back in the 1985, American biblical scholar Robert Funk put together a group called The Jesus Seminar. The Seminar’s 150 members focused on the New Testament’s historicity — and what, if any, of a historical Jesus could be drawn from the texts. The Seminar settled on about a dozen-and-a-half of Jesus’ sayings that all the gospels agree on — that Jesus said (versus things the gospel writers — or Paul — put into Jesus’ mouth).

The Jesus that emerged from the Seminar’s work was big into doing unto others. He wasn’t into forming churches.  Why would he be? He was a lifelong Jew who, actually, hated the institution of the Temple because, to Jesus, no one needed a go-between.  The believe could/should go directly to the god character.

Churches exist for the sake of their own existence — like any institution.  Whatever its founding principles, once you get past the abstract, it all comes down to survival.  Churches need money and believers to remain in the church business.  They are motivated first and foremost by the need to continue “being”.

The Catholic church was brilliant — once it created its message — at selling its message.  One of the ways they sold their message was in the way they ultimately imagined their own sanctuaries.  If money permitted, they imagined them BIG.  Big was the point.

These are from inside Notre Dame de Paris — before the fire.  See how enormous the cathedral is vs how small each individual human is?  That’s the point.  To put a single human in his or her place relative to the power and awesome size of the institution and its church.  It’s a not-so-subtle kind of psyche war the church launches against its own believers.

But, I love it.  I adore the use of architecture to create a visceral feeling.  Churches are all about that, of course.  To put you in the right frame of mind to approach the divine.

There’s a church in Venice – San Pantalon. Like lots of the churches in Venice, it’s beautiful. But this one has something quite special — a painting that fills the entire sanctuary ceiling. The painting depicts an opening to heaven — into which all the people and creatures in the painting are being sucked.  It’s as if a portal to heaven had opened directly above the church — and the painting was revealing that fact.

It’s a brilliant affect.

So, yeah — I’m an atheist who likes visiting churches.  I wouldn’t sit too, too still when the magical incantations began, but I do appreciate the artistry of the people who imagined the church then manifested their vision out here in reality.  For what it’s worth, I’m a big museum-goer, too.