There’s A HUGE Difference Between “Christians” And “Followers Of Jesus”

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”.

Bad Things Happen When Messengers Screw Up The Message — “Do Unto Others”, For Instance…

Here’s the question I can’t get out of my head: why are Christians so bad at practicing Christianity? Why do they seem so utterly incapable of “doing unto others” — a teaching so exquisitely simple, graceful and flat out do-able that even a humble atheist can pull it off with ease? Why can’t they? Here’s a clue — you know the game “Telephone”? A group of people — the more, the better — try to transmit a message from one person to the next. The fun is how mangled the message gets from first person to last. “Pineapple on pizza is an abomination” turns into “Aunt Minnie says you’re mutant”. People mis-hear stuff. They’re drunk and having fun. And, of course, some people are just assholes. They’ll deliberately screw with the message because, down deep, it was always about them anyway.

I spend a lot of time here on this blog critiquing not so much Christianity as Christians and what Christians did to Christianity. I want to understand how Christianity arose out of Judaism and broke free as a thing unto itself. That’s the most painful irony of all where Christianity and Jews are concerned: Christianity’s core message is entirely Jewish: “make the world a better place for having been in it” aka “do unto others”. And yet, the messengers of this magnificent teaching have turned it on its head. Worse — the messengers have made the message about themselves.

Jesus was pretty clear where his thinking about religious institutions and corruption were concerned. He saw no need for an earthly priest overseeing an earthly Temple. A believer’s relationship with Yahweh could be — and should be — entirely personal: no need for intermediaries. Jesus wouldn’t then go and invent a church to spread that message (“you don’t need a church”). That’s where the Apostle Paul comes in. Take Paul out of the equation and Christianity never gets invented.

I don’t know why we even call Christianity “Christianity” when, really, it’s about Paul. We should call it “Paulism” except the Catholic order of Paulists (their patron saint is Paul of Thebes the First Hermit) have already expropriated that brand. Paul never met Jesus. Never heard him speak. Everything Paul knew about Jesus was entirely second hand. Thus the game of “Telephone” was already up and running. We don’t know how the messaging changed from Jesus to “Listener One” and if “Listener One” spoke what he/she heard Jesus say accurately when they transmitted Jesus’s message. If there were more listeners between “Listener One” and Paul? See the problem?

I’m not calling Paul an asshole. He’s a genius. But he’s like the asshole in a game of “Telephone” — deliberately altering the original message to suit his own purposes. Paul had an idea in his head — that sprang not from Jesus but from his idea of Jesus. Jesus wasn’t traveling with Paul on the Road To Damascus except as a passenger in Paul’s mind. The converted are especially committed to their new faith — witness Paul. And Paul was determined to bear witness to what he now believed about Jesus.

Like Jesus, Paul was a Jew by birth. They both knew all the same background mythology because they both knew the same texts. They both knew what a messiah was and what had been prophesied about a messiah hundreds and hundreds of years before. Quick reminder: a prophecy is just a guess based on the information at hand and the desires of the heart. It’s no more real or reliable than a racetrack bet. Sure, sure — there’s a good shot of reality in there: there are horses! Jockeys! The race track itself! But favorites lose races every day. An informed guess is still just a guess.

Another reminder — the men who wrote the texts of the Pentateuch (betcha most every last one was a man) were operating from a very limited knowledge base. They had no idea other continents even existed on the planet. They had no idea that our planet was part of a much larger solar system and galaxy and universe. They had no idea that germs and viruses and pathogens existed — and were killing them every day. They knew bupkis (that is the technical term — look it up)! They honestly didn’t know where the world came from or how it all operated. Their deity Yahweh (that’s “God’s” name — “god” is actually is job title) emerged from a world filled with gods. From a polytheistic point of view (from the Roman’s point of view in fact), Hebrews and Christians were atheists who denied the existence of THE gods. Their gods.

Amazing how relative atheism can be if you think about it…

Paul embraced an idea of Jesus and tried to preach it to the Jews (including Jesus’s own family) who roundly rejected it. Paul’s version of Jesus was not the Jesus they personally knew: you know — JESUS. What Paul said Jesus said, they rejected. Had Paul respected Jesus’s original message, he might have stopped there. But Paul wasn’t preaching Jesus’s message, he was preaching his own — and his was, in a way, “better”. Well, it was “new and improved”, let’s say. “Doing unto others” is nice. Beating death is way, way better.

Paul’s genius was turning “Do unto others” into “Believe my version of Jesus and you, too, can live ‘forever’.” Eternal life is Christianity’s main sales hook. What does every human fear most? Dying! Hey, what if someone invented a religion where — if you followed along the way they told you to — you could, in a way, live forever in a place called “Heaven” where you and your loved ones can be together forever in a state of bliss. While gods had existed before, none of them had offered humans anything nearly as valuable — and godlike — as this.

And all you had to do was “believe”.

That the world remains in Paul’s thrall — that a whole Catholic church (then a bunch of Protestant ones) could arise from Paul’s repurposing of Jesus — is a testament to the universality of the human dread of death — of not being here.

“Do unto others” and “Defeat death” have zero to do with each other. Paul’s church, for all it preached “do unto others”, never actually practiced it — as an institution. Oh, yeah — newly minted Christians could be quite good at “doing unto each other”. But the institution they created around them all — it was dedicated to selling that other idea. And that other idea relied explicitly on faith and the faithful. It sure didn’t help matters — or deepen the nascent church’s dedication to Jesus’s message — when Paul imagined the idea of Miles Christianus, the Christian Soldier, “doing unto others” on horseback, the “armor of Christ” protecting them as they delivered “the good news” with the tip of a spear.

“Do unto others” morphed into “Do what we say — or else”. THAT became the Catholic church’s mantra. It justified Crusades and Inquisitions and Pogroms and all sorts of mayhem that did the opposite of Jesus’s teaching. Imagine what Jesus — born, lived and died a Jew — would say when he learned how HE was used to justify murdering so many fellow Jews. Think he’ll sit back, nodding in satisfaction at how well Christians were “doing unto others” like he taught them to?

The problem isn’t Jesus. Never was. The problem is Paul — the messenger — and how he changed the message. And then Paul’s church asserted itself as the only “official” followers of Jesus and the only body authorized to speak on Jesus’s behalf — and therefore on God’s behalf. Quick reminder — the people who run the Mormon Church think the people who run the Catholic Church are frauds. And vice versa. From a neutral point of view, who’s to say who the fraud is.

Jesus is but a mascot in both worldviews. He’s “Jesus McDo-Unto-others”. People walk in the door because of him. But the “Happy meal” the church is selling is a completely different product entirely.

The church’s real message — the one Jesus saw through and hated — is corrupt. Like the corrupt Temple authorities Jesus railed against, modern Christians (as opposed to followers of Jesus) are being seduced by corrupt churches interested much more in their own success as institutions over anything touch feely — you know, “Christian” — they might impart. Churches — the physical buildings — cost money to build and maintain. The financial obligation alone can and has put churches literally out of business. That they have a BUSINESS to be put out of — that’s where the corruption begins.

The messenger has fully co-opted the message.

“Do unto others” now services “We gotta pay the rent”. Whatever brings believers in the door, puts them in pews and gets them tithing — that’s any church institution’s bottom line: survival. As churches have proved for almost two thousand years now, their survival always comes at everyone else’s expense.

Dear Christians: Why Do You Make It So Hard To Live Side-By-Side With You?

Some of my best friends are Christian. For real. Correction — some of my best friends are Followers Of Jesus (FOJ). In my experience — as a total outsider — those two things (being Christian and being FOJ) are not the same. While all FOJ are Christian, not all Christians are FOJ. Maybe that’s the problem! If every Christian was FOJ, America would be a very different country from the one it is now, dominated as it is by people who call themselves “Christians”. FOJ would make America a country where people actually “did unto others”. It definitely wouldn’t be a country where some people believe their racism and bigotry are “sanctified” — giving them all the justification they need (inside their heads) to regard all the other citizens (who aren’t like them) as if they were cockroaches. In my experience, Christians do do that. FOJ do not. There is a difference.

These Christians might thank Jesus for Donald Trump, but I’d bet the ranch Jesus would not feel as “passionate” about Trump as they do. I bet Jesus would look at the people who believe they’re his biggest fans with palpable horror — mostly because they’re coming for him. Because of who he is…

Let’s be quite real and quite clear here — and, growing up Jewish in America (and in the world), I can attest to this fact because I have lived it: when most Christians learn that you’re Jewish (or “identify you” thus), a little light goes on in their eyes. It’s subtle, but clear. “So, you’re Jewish, are you…?” It means “You’re different. Not like us”. If the next thought isn’t “You killed Jesus” or some variation on that theme, you’re talking to an alien. Regardless of how any Christian might presently feel about Jews and their Jewish friends (if they have any), they grow up being fed a steady diet of mythology whose core message is “the Jews killed Jesus”.

Yeah, that’s Christianity’s core message. It’s the ace that’s always in their pocket. When you really want to get folks together, you don’t shout “Let’s all go do unto those Jews the way we’d have them do unto us!”, you shout “Pogrom!” or “Jews poisoned the well!” or “Jews own all the banks and newspapers!” or “Jews will not replace us!”.

Jew-hating is part of some peoples’ Christian experience. Please, tell me I’m wrong.

Crickets.

In theory, Christianity’s big selling point is “believe in Jesus the way we say you should and you, too, can live forever!”. That, my opinion, is genius. Judaism imagined a deity intensely focused on humanity (in a world where all the other deities didn’t). Paul improved upon that idea by giving Jesus super powers. This deity (deities, really) wanted to fix humans for once and for all, granting them eternal life even — totally defeating death, the scariest thing in any human being’s life. But first, Jesus has to die in order to initiate the whole process. In order for anyone to be “born again”, Jesus has to die.

But that’s not how the story’s messaging works. Whereas the logic says Jesus dying is essential, the messaging insists it’s the worst thing that could possibly have happened. Make up your minds! Or am I thinking of this the wrong way? I suppose “the Jews killed Jesus” will get a crowd going a lot quicker than “Pull up a chair — at some point, you’ll beat death!”

Judging by history, putting your faith in eternal life pales in comparison to feeding your bloodlust. I bet that’s why The Crusades were invented! You get the promise of eternal life and bloodlust for one fabulous, low price. For the record: Jesus didn’t militarize Christianity (he never even knew Christianity existed and would probably be shocked by what it’s done in his name — especially to Jews). Paul though did introduce this military metaphor. In his letters, he describes a “Christian soldier” (miles Christianus) “spreading the good news”. One’s Christian faith is a weapon to be used on infidels. And Jews.

As I’ve written here before — I grew up in the shadow of the Holocaust. The Holocaust, really, was a millennium of Jew hatred all rolled up into one mechanized death machine. Think about what the Nazis called it — their “Final Solution”. Solution to what?

Do ya suppose when all those Nazi soldiers — Christians to a man! — looked at the Jews they were guarding, did they ever think to themselves “Boy, these poor Jews!” Of course they didn’t. The first step in genocide is you stop thinking of the people you want to commit genocide on as “people”. You see them as something less — cockroaches is good. Killing cockroaches is easy. They’re cockroaches. It makes killing people easier if you don’t see them as people.

The same dynamic applies to giving people rights or allowing them to live in peace. Why, the racist thinks, would we ever give cockroaches rights — or allow cockroaches to live in peace? Here’s the problem, my Christian friends (and, I do aspire to make you my friends — that’s my threat): are you even capable of NOT thinking of us as cockroaches? If you can’t stop yourself from thinking of us that way, you definitely won’t be able to hide it. And if we can see it in you, that that hatred IS you.

Here’s something everyone needs to understand: racism, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. The racist does not get to say if he’s racist or not. His perspective sucks. Unless he’s proudly racist (quite possible!), he won’t want anyone knowing or even thinking he’s racist. More and more, it’s bad for business. But, keeping hate in your heart is hard when what you really want to do is share it with the world — and other haters. American racists were getting bored apparently with keeping all their hate on the down low.

In this country, Christians have done some terrible things in the name of their faith. They treated the Native Americans as inferiors (not very Jesus-like). Held up their Bibles as justification for slavery. With their Christian faith fully displayed — and sometimes blended right into the horror — Christians lynched innocent Black people.

Their hateful, racist organizations were deeply connected TO their religious institutions.

That same religious fervor stormed the Congress on January 6…

And those with religious fervor burning in their heads, weren’t just doing it for country, they were doing it for God, too. Aside from them? I don’t know anyone else whose God behaves, lives and thinks like their God does. I think their God needs therapy and medication.

Look, I know what it’s like to be so screwed up you think neither therapy nor medication can help. You’re wrong. And the religion you’ve turned to will not bring salvation. It has no idea how to.

To be honest, I’m not entirely sure what to suggest here — how to help you overcome this. And you absolutely do need to overcome this.

Maybe — it’s just a thought coming from an infidel — start with “Doing unto others”. Look, I’ve seen what following Jesus has done for my friends’ lives. Even a humble atheist can “do unto others” — most do, in fact. The first thing you must do though — it’s imperative: nothing can proceed without it. Try to freeze how you look at other people in your mind’s eyes. Take it away from your face and analyze it.

See how your eyes look out at the world? Do you see now how others see you seeing them? Like a cockroach? Put yourself in OUR shoes now — as the object of your disrespect and worse. As the “cockroach”.

If empathizing won’t do it for you, maybe this will. Jesus said “the meek shall inherit the earth”. He also said that what anyone does to the least of us, they do to Jesus himself. Jesus stands with us — with the cockroaches. Because in Jesus’s eyes, no one’s a cockroach. And we won’t seem anywhere near as “meek” when we finally DO “inherit the earth”.

Trust me, you won’t want to be on the wrong side of THAT bit of history.

This Atheist’s Problem Isn’t With Jesus — It’s With The Institutions That Have Perverted His Simple “Do Unto Others” Message

I’ve said it once, I’ll say it again and again: atheist though I am (and always have been), I consider myself a very real “Fan Of Jesus”. That’s not a contradiction. Jesus was a person (it’s debatable, agree, but let’s go with it). Christianity is a faith based on that person. But loosely. Very, VERY loosely. Jesus was born, lived and died a Jew. His audience was Jewish — as Jewish as he was. They knew all the same mythology, texts and rituals. Jesus only ever spoke of and about Judaism. He did not invent Christianity. That happened quite a while AFTER he died. He did not advocate for Jews breaking away from Judaism — not even remotely. If anything, Jesus wanted the purest form of Judaism he could get to — just the Jew & God. That was the Temple Jesus aspired to be part of, freed from the priests and their corruption.

Institutions, Jesus rightly said — they’re corrupt! That’s why you render unto Caesar that which is his but keep “the good stuff” for God. Seems like, to Jesus, a corrupt Roman government was as corrupt as the Temple institution. Certainly neither represented God’s interests. Hey, I’m just spitting back the story that’s been spit at me — but freed from the strange perspective that belief lays on people. In my podcast “The Faitheism Project Podcast” (which I highly, HIGHLY recommend but then, I would — I’m biased), Presbyterian minister Randy Lovejoy and I begin our conversations about faith, unfaith and the world we live in with the understanding that spirituality and religion are two different things — that religion is but one way some people address their spirituality. That the awe I feel as I gaze up at the universe we all live — the “connectedness” I feel to it and to everyone and everything — that fits the definition of “spirituality”.

Why is that an important distinction?

In America, the religious right commandeered “spirituality” in that particularly “Hey, have ya heard the good news!” way they have. Before Christianity, people saw “god” differently. Even after Paul invented Christianity and it flourished — other people saw “god” differently (and still do). As before, many saw “gods” not just “god”. To a polytheist — as sincere in her faith as any monotheist — a monotheist is pretty much an atheist — because the monotheist has denied pretty much every single one of the polytheist’s gods. True fact — The Romans viewed early Christians as “atheists” for that very same reason.

Hey, as Forrest Gump would put it: “Atheists are as atheists do”. Didn’t know you were “in club”, did ya, Christians? Hey, no worries — in this club, we don’t judge the way they do in your club.

The thing about many, MANY atheists — we didn’t become atheists because we’re lazy. Many, MANY of us have thought long and hard about it. Many, MANY of us think about it literally every damned day. It’s that important. Why, it’s like a matter of “faith” to us — and, like the “faithfulliest” of the “faithful” do, we, too like to touch base every day because this is the foundation for all of our thinking, for our behavior, our morality. How we see ourselves and our place in the universe — the benefits and responsibilities of being here — yeah, atheists need to stay connected to it. It’s who we are.

For an atheist, “doing unto others” is the most natural instinct there is. Humans are social animals. Our success as individuals will be determined by our success in the group. Measured by it, too. It’s pure survival instinct, hard-wired into our DNA. Jesus’s “Do unto others” is a more direct way of putting the core Jewish directive “Make the world a better place for having been in it”. How shall I make the world a better place, Lord, if I want to live the best life I can — accepted by the group and as part of the group?

“Do unto others”. Got it.

“Do unto others” is perfection because, in those three words is a whole concept of how to live successfully as a social creature. Have good bonds with everyone — the rest will follow. When things aren’t going well — the group will be there for you! When you’re succeeding — you pay your good fortune back to the group. It doesn’t have to be money.

Ah, money…

The root of all evil. Rather — the WORSHIP of money: that’s the root of all evil. Money’s just a thing. Greed is how some humans react to money. It’s like how most people “handle their drink” while alcoholics cannot. Their biochemical craving for alcohol literally destroys them — destroys those they love, too. Greedy people are like “power-drunks”. Greedy bastards glug money like a guy with the DT’s chugging a quart of rotgut. They’re answering a sickness. That’s an important distinction, too.

Money also brings power, of course. The people with the most money always seem to have the most power. I guess that’s why someone wrote down: “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely”.

Money, greed and corruption. That’s what Jesus preached against. I dare ya — point me to a church institution that isn’t — even in some small, money-related way — CORRUPT. As they say in Maine, “Ya can’t get there from here.”

Jesus ain’t the problem. Never, ever was. Those who claim their violence is righteous because they do it in Jesus’s name — that’s more like the problem. It wasn’t Jesus who triggered them. How could “do unto others” trigger violence? Where did such a message that “faith in Jesus” meant taking up arms and killing people come from if it didn’t come from Jesus?

It’s a trick question. “Onward Christian Soldiers” didn’t write itself. But, hey — a Christian did.