In theory, following Jesus is remarkably easy. So easy, in fact, that even an atheist can do it just by “Doing it unto others”. And yet, looking around at the most “Christian-y” among us, people “doing unto others” is the last thing you’ll see — unless they’re doing it unto others before those others can do it unto them. But, in theory anyway, the most Christian people should be the people who most want to model their lives on Jesus’s. Hmmmmmm… the most visibly Christian people visible to us are televangelists like Jimmy Swaggart and Jim Bakker and Kenneth Copland and Jerry Falwell, Jr. and Joel Osteen Copland famously explained why it’s just not possible for a “man of Jesus” to fly commercial. Each of these characters is a study in performance art, not spirituality. Kenny Copland and Joel Osteen couldn’t care less about your problems unless you start making monthly donations via your credit card. The only thing these scumbags have faith in is their bank account.
Jerry Falwell, Jr wants you to know it wasn’t Jesus who put THAT smile on THAT young woman’s face. No sirree. Jesus couldn’t do that on his best day. But Jerry just did (he wants us all to know).
The fact that it’s sooooooooo easy to pick on televangelists should tell us something. The fact that religious figures have been figures of satiric fun going back to Moliere’s Tartuffe (1664) should tell us something. In Tartuffe, a rich guy takes a religious fraud into his house believing it will raise his standing. Of course, the rich guy doesn’t realize Tartuffe is a fraud (though everyone else in his house does). Even when Tartuffe seduces his wife atop the very table he’s hiding under doesn’t convince him. That’s some serious bamboozlement — but that’s the whole point of televangelism. It’s theater. God Kabuki geared not toward anyone’s spiritual enlightenment but toward enriching the preacher as quickly as possible. As Kenny Copeland will happily tell you — it costs Jesus a bomb to fly private, but a messiah’s gotta fly how he’s gotta fly — and, hell — where’s my damned drink?
Why is it the most ardent Christians seem the least good at it — like they need to keep talking about Christianity or, they know, they’ll stop believing in it. Like they’ve “heard” the good news they’re selling except they can’t quite make themselves buy it.
To be fair, being a Christian is indeed hard: you have to swallow a lot of things no one should have to swallow. But, that’s only if you insist on practicing Christian dogma rather than Jesus’s simple life philosophy.
Fact: just as he did not invent Christianity (Paul did), neither did Jesus invent a single bit of the mythology that says 1) he rose from the dead or 2) is coming back any time soon. Again, Paul the Apostle did all that. Paul never met Jesus (like has family had). He never heard Jesus teach. So, when Paul tried to hijack Jesus, Jesus’s family and followers objected. That’s why Paul took HIS version of Jesus — and the Jewish mythology that suggested Jesus was any sort of “messiah” — out to the Gentiles. They didn’t know Jesus either. And they had even less background in the Jewish mythology than former Jew Paul did. So, when Paul twisted the Jewish mythology around to meet his needs, no one objected because no one knew any better.
Judaism, by its nature, is relatively dogma-free. One can toss the whole religion and still be welcome as a Jew (that’s because Judaism is more than just a religion; fifteen years of isolation in Europe did turn Jews into a unique tribe with its own genetic disorder caused by in-breeding). The most dogmatic part of Judaism is its dietary laws and no one is obligated to follow them. It’s a choice. Christianity, on the other hand, is steeped in dogma — and you absolutely must buy the dogma if you want the Christian bone. And not a whit of Christian dogma has the least bit to do with anything Jesus said, thought or taught.
But then, Jesus was born, lived his entire life and died a Jew. He preached only to Jews about topics only Jews understood in a language that was uniquely theirs. IF Jesus were to miraculously rise from the dead and walk the earth again, the first thing he’d bump on is the staggering amount of hatred his followers feel toward his tribe. He’d be blown away by the number of Jews MURDERED by Christians for a reason that Jesus himself would insist was bullshit: that any Jew “killed him”.
On pure story logic, it makes zero sense. If the whole point of Jesus’s existence is to die for the sins of humanity so as to right the wrong Eve committed in the Garden of Eden, then it would not serve humanity if Jesus doesn’t get crucified and, say, lives to be a very old man who dies happy. For the mythology to work, Jesus must die at the hands of the Romans. If you look at the bigger picture — the one God’s working — Jesus MUST die. To Paul’s credit, his invention endures like few things have ever endured.
I don’t think that’s because the Christian message resonates with so many people, I think it’s because Paul cleverly added a new dimension to Yahweh — and having a deity that cared about humans because he created them was a game changer. Whereas polytheistic gods did very little for individual humans, Yahweh the monotheist deity supposedly cared about each and every human. But Paul improved on that idea of a personable god by having Yahweh offer up something every human wanted more than life itself: a way to defeat death.
That, really, is Paul’s sales pitch to Christians: “Believe in this version of Jesus I’m pitching to ya and, just like Jesus did, you, too, can defeat death!” Who wouldn’t want to live forever and be surrounded by the people and things you love?
The problem for Christianity is, most people have figured out that Christianity cannot possibly deliver on its promise of defeating death. Without that benefit, what’s the point? I mean, Jesus is a perfectly nice guy but so’s my nephew. Can Jesus cut video like my nephew can because otherwise he’s useless to me and probably everyone else. If it isn’t about following Jesus (or beating death) then what’s the point of Christianity for most Christians? This, I suspect, lies at the heart of the problem. The object of being a Christian is to keep Christian dogma in your prayers. You damn well better adhere to it — or stop calling yourself a “Christian”.
For the record? Followers of Jesus do not have the same issues.
Maybe the real problem is that it’s so easy to be (or at least call yourself) “a Christian” that any angry, racist jerk can join the club. When Christians proselytize, they honestly don’t care what you’re guilty of. As far as they’re concerned, once you’ve “bathed in the blood of Christ”, all your sins are forgiven — including the really ugly, violent ones you’re going to do at your church’s behest.
I take back what I said up top. Guys like Jerry Falwell, Jr and Kenneth Copeland don’t suck at being Christians. In fact, they’re great at it. It’s following Jesus where they completely fall down.
As if following Jesus mattered to them.