How Did “Do Unto Others” Become “Do What We Say”?

Ya know the game “telephone”? A person whispers something into the next person’s ear — who then whispers what they heard into the next person’s ear and so on until we get to the last person. Usually, the original message gets wildly corrupted into total gibberish which makes everyone laugh when they hear it — especially the first person. Their simple message has been turned into something totally unrecognizable.

Jesus would totally get how they feel.

“Do unto others”.

That was Jesus’s simple message. It’s actually one of the core messages of Judaism. Jews are obligated to fix the world. Not through proselytizing others — conversion really isn’t a thing for Jews and never has been — but through moral acts. Act morally toward others and, one hopes, they will act morally toward you. Act kindly, respectfully, helpfully, lovingly…

Nowhere in there is judgment. Jesus didn’t say “Do unto others — or else” or “Do unto others — the way I tell you to”. He didn’t even teach how to speak to Yahweh. He just taught his followers that they could speak to him directly; they didn’t need a temple or its corrupt priests to speak to Yahweh on their behalf. Also pretty simple.

So, how did it get so freakin’ complicated where — in order to speak to this supposedly loving god — you, first, have to subjugate yourself? How did “Do unto others” become a complicated story of a man-god born of a virgin who was put here to die for everyone’s sins? Where is THAT in “Do unto others”?

The problem is Jesus didn’t invent Christianity, Paul did. The bulk of the NT is made up of Paul’s communications with the burgeoning Christian communities forming across the Roman world. Paul didn’t know Jesus. Never met him. And, since Jews weren’t buying Paul’s version of Jesus (and his message), Paul took his message to the gentiles — all the communities he was writing to.

Paul was selling a way to beat death: believe in the story I’m telling you and you can, like Jesus, rise from the dead albeit in the afterlife where you’ll get to live happily ever after with everyone you loved. Sounds perfect! Who wouldn’t want that, right? Never mind that it’s nonsense. Never mind that it’s got nothing to do with Jesus, his message or even any sort of Jewish message. It’s pure invention — and genius. But it’s invention all the same.

There’s a gigantic difference between spirituality — how one relates to things larger than oneself — and religion — the codification of ritual designed (in theory) to help one realize one’s spirituality. It’s literally the opposite of what Jesus taught. That’s what made Jesus so radical — he taught reject the institutionalization of your spiritual quest, not dive deeper into the ooga-booga.

Paul, don’t forget, was relating a messiah story as the basis for how one was going to beat death. The messiah, the story says, was prophesied. It’s all “foretold” so there’s no point resisting it. If Jesus was the messiah, he needed to fit the prophesy to a “t” — even if the real Jesus didn’t. For Paul, the real, historical, “Do Unto Others” Jesus became both inconvenient and irrelevant.

And, so, Paul (and the church he was inventing) ditched Jesus. They kept his name (well, they kept the name they’d assigned him; Jesus’s real name was some version of Joshua ben Joseph per the culture’s nomenclature not “Jesus” which meant “savior”. Paul was pitching his evolving mythology to gentiles — unfamiliar with original texts he was talking about. Paul could twist what the texts said or meant into anything he wanted — no one was going to contradict him in the gentile world.

Jesus and “Do Unto Others” became mascots — early but clever marketing that had very little to do with the actual product being sold. Because “Do Unto Others” was too, too simple a message, the early church invented “original sin” to justify Jesus’s dying in their storytelling.

Quick — if Jesus’s purpose in being born to begin with was to die for every human being’s sins going back to Eve’s original sin in the Garden of Eden, then why is it a problem (from a storytelling point of view) for Judas to betray him? If Judas doesn’t betray Jesus and Jesus lives on, dying peacefully in his bed, an old man, doesn’t that screw up Jesus dying for humanity’s sins? Either Jesus is put here for a purpose (like the prophesy says) or he’s not. You can’t have it both ways.

Unless you’re making it up, in which case you can say whatever you want. Like believe what I’m telling you or die.

The history of the Catholic church especially may be the most un-Jesus-like story imaginable. The various Protestant churches haven’t done unto others any better.

But then, churches are all about self-preservation. They have to be. Churches are expensive to build and expensive to maintain. It takes money and to keep the money flowing to it, every church needs members — the more the better. And to make sure the church members donate regularly and adequately, it’s important to make them understand their choices. Give or die. Belong to the church or die. Follow the church’s rules — or die.

“Do what we say — or die”.

Jesus had the uber-religious pegged. If Jesus were to rise from the dead and come a second time, he wouldn’t last long. Take this to the bank: the churches would lead the charge to arrest Jesus, charge him with some sort of crime and put him to death — because his message is so dangerous.

Some things never change.

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.

America Is Still Dealing With Its ‘Original Sin’: We Screwed Up On Slavery

If you really think about it — and you don’t have to think too hard — an awful lot of our current debate about racism in this country is as old as the Republic itself.  When the Founders of this Republic sat down to hash out what this country was and what it wasn’t, what they wanted it to be — and not be — they got bamboozled by the pro-slavery faction.

The fact that the Founders of this country couldn’t/wouldn’t outlaw slavery within our borders was a staggering mistake.  We fought a whole Civil War over it.  We’re battling over it still.

Either ‘All Men Are Created Equal’ or they aren’t.  There can’t be ‘Some Men Are Created MORE Equal’.  Well — there can — but that isn’t this country.

Except it is.  Because we screwed up at the start and allowed slavery to not only ‘be’ but — and here’s where slavery STILL haunts us — to guarantee slavery’s survival, we reverse-engineered how OUR version of democracy would ‘work’.  We empowered the slavers.  We empowered A MINORITY.

I’m sure it’s just a coincidence that that minority is WHITE, CHRISTIAN & MALE.

Historically, White-Christian-Male Culture has hated and feared any culture that wasn’t IT.  It’s used the Law to punish ‘the other’ and their culture.  Quick ‘for instance’ – marijuana prohibition never had anything to do with marijuana being a health risk (it isn’t — not compared to thousands of OTHER things we do or imbibe LEGALLY) – it was about the fact that marijuana (unknown to White Christian Male Culture) was enjoyed by MEXICANS who brought it with them when they migrated (many after the Mexican Revolution started in 1910).

Those same White Christian Males hated marijuana even more when Jazz Musicians — code for Black Men – took to it enthusiastically.

If you look at the arguments we’re having today — and it’s heavy with racism — you can’t miss slavery’s echos all over the place.  What is VOTER SUPPRESSION if not white people trying to keep black people from voting?  That’s not occurring in a vacuum.  It’s White People resisting the fact that Black People (‘slaves’ to the republican mindset) are free, are citizens, and can vote.

Republicans despise the fact that Black People or Brown People or Asian People or ANY PEOPLE that aren’t them can vote.  They’ve seen for eons where this would lead — to the demise of White Christian Male Culture as the ‘dominant culture’ in America.  To the End of Slavery, really.

And Republicans desperately don’t want THAT to happen…