An Atheist’s Easter Sermon: Why REALITY Matters More Than Ooga-Booga

Christmas is a pagan holiday redirected.  For all its “holiness”, all its fanciful storytelling about Wise Men from the East and stars that shine above spots on a planet light years away from them, Christmas still celebrates something; it’s a happy holiday.  Easter, on the other hand, is about Christianity’s core message: “Jesus died (but then rose from the dead – as YOU can, in essence, IF you agree to accept the story we’re pitching you as ‘gospel’ truth.”

Jesus being born and having a life is all well and good.  He can preach all he likes.  But it’s dying that gives the Jesus character purpose.  If Jesus never dies the way he dies (if, say, the NT celebrated his living a long life, dying in his bed surrounded by loved ones), there’s no Christianity.  It doesn’t happen.  But it wasn’t Jesus who told his own story.  Most of what we call “The New Testament” was written by Paul.  13 of the canonical texts are ascribed to Paul though only 8 can really be ascribed to him.

In 1985, the bible scholar Robert Funk created a group of 150 similar scholars.  The Jesus Seminar wanted to coax a historical Jesus from the NT texts.  They discerned a Jew whose core message (they found a dozen-and-a-half sayings that Jesus could have said — that weren’t clearly PUT IN HIS MOUTH BY OTHERS (like, say, PAUL).  What they also saw clearly — “According to the Seminar, Jesus was a mortal man born of two human parents, who did not perform nature miracles nor die as a substitute for sinners nor rise bodily from the dead.  Sightings of a risen Jesus represented the visionary experiences of some of his disciples rather than physical encounters.”

The historian A N Wilson wrote a biography of Paul that I highly recommend — if only to create the proper context in which to understand Christianity’s creation.  The bottom line is simply this: Jesus did not “invent” Christianity.  Paul did.

Paul took the notion of Jesus as a messiah — threw out Jesus’ core “Do Unto Others” message and focused his proselytizing instead on making Jesus The Messiah the basis for a whole new religion that he sold to non-Jews for whom Jewish tradition was meaningless.  But, to prove, HIS invention’s “truthfulness” (maybe “truthiness” is more warranted), Paul based his mythology on Jewish mythology.  Paul needed Jesus being prophesied as part of his branding.  To make the “prophecy” part of Jesus’ story stand up, Paul had invent a story for Jesus because Jesus’ actual story just didn’t fit.

Paul didn’t worry himself with his story’s lack of authenticity.  He wasn’t selling real.  He was selling magic.

But part of Paul’s mythology involved making Jesus’ death important — more important than his life, really.  Jesus needs to rise from the dead to garner the star power needed to front Paul’s new religion.  To rise from the dead, Jesus needs to die spectacularly — even more spectacularly than mere crucifixion. And, because Paul was now committed to selling his story to non-Jews, it mattered nothing to him if Jews became the villain in the STORY he was inventing.

The early church fathers who bought & then themselves began selling Paul’s story loved having a villain.

As a member of the “villain” tribe — I have issues with this.

Jesus preached a simple message.  Even a humble atheist can easily (and happily) “Do Unto Others”.  Most do, actually because, humans are social creatures.  We recognize that behaving one way versus the other makes your life better.  There’s no reason to muck that message up.  It doesn’t cry out for explanation.

It requires no magic.

It stands — resolutely — without any need for Ooga-Booga to justify it.

So here’s the deal.  Believe whatever you like, Christians — it’s your “god-given right”.  But what you do with that faith — how you manifest its teachings out here beyond the walls of your church — it matters.  When your pervert “Do Unto Others” into “Kill The Jews” — you’re doing it wrong.

Why Do They Even CALL It ‘Christianity’?

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Paul (the former Saul of Tarsus) is pissed:  Yeah, yeah, Jesus — sure.  But Jesus didn’t invent Christianity, PAUL did…

Growing up Non-Christian in a predominantly Christian country does things to you — especially when you realize that you know more about Christianity than most Christians — if only because you bothered to actually READ the texts the religion says it’s based on.

You start to develop a sore neck cos your head’s always tilted on one side (as if you were a dog asking a question).  And you start to realize that, when it comes to their own faith, most Christians don’t know what they’re talking about and would be hard-pressed to have any sort of in-depth discussion about the particularities of their faith.

This is a triumph of the Institution — The Church — over its core message/messager — “Do Unto Others”/Jesus.  And that’s not only fitting — but inevitable.

Jesus did not invent Christianity.  If you were to dig him up today (sorry, he did not rise from the dead), and ask him his take on ‘Christianity’ — the faith supposedly named for him — he’d stare at you like you had three heads, two of which are on upside down.  Cos Jesus never HEARD of Christianity.

Historical Jesus — if such a person ever existed — was born a Jew, lived as a Jew and died a Jew.  He never for a moment in his life ever thought of himself as anything other than a Jew.  He preached to Jews exclusively — a message not about a new, non-Jewish institution that he wanted to see formed and founded, but about how to make his own ‘Mother Religion’ — Judaism — better.

His own words — his core philosophy — are so simple, so elegant, so UNIVERSALLY TRUE that anyone can do them.  And their message is so UNIVERSAL that it’s transcended time like very few other messages:  “Do Unto Others”.  Actually?  A fairly ‘Jewish’ message.  But who’s counting?

Jesus never intended (or wanted — based on his words) a Church to be built around him.

Good thing (if you’re Christian) that there was Paul — the former Saul of Tarsus — converted on the Road to Damascus to… what exactly?  I don’t think even HE knew.  But once that idea — whatever it was — was inside his noggin, Paul refused to let the thing go.

Aside from the gospel writers (who can’t agree on a whole lot of actual ‘details’ about the life of the man they claimed to love like no other), most of the rest of the New Testament is Paul — his letters to far flung congregations, his instructions & and his formative notions of how to make Jesus’ message play outside of Judea.

But Jesus’ message stopped being Paul’s point early on.  Paul took over not only the messaging but the message.  If Paul never exists, there IS NO Christianity — because there would have been no one to imagine it, describe it & its aims, and then cajole goyim (strangers — non-Jews) — into following its newly minted tenets.

Paul became so convinced that HE was the right guy to ‘preach’ the message that he even went up against Jesus’ own family for control of Jesus’ message.  And PAUL — who didn’t know Jesus, never spoke to him, heard his voice, broke bread with him — won the argument — at least in the historical sense.  Here we are.

If I’m Paul — and I had the luxury of perspective — I’d be thrilled that my idea of how to make Jesus’ Idea better spread exactly the way I said it would.  But I’d be a little angry, too — cos who really thinks about Paul any more?   A few Catholics?  Meh.

If I’m Paul I’m pissed as hell.  In some small way the religion itself SHOULD have Paul’s name on it.  If there were any sort of Justice in the Universe, we wouldn’t have called it Christianity in the first place.

The religion would always have been called ‘Paulism’.