There’s No Such Thing As A “Fake Christian”; There Are Only “Christians”

Want to know what makes an atheist laugh? Hearing one Christian call another Christian “fake”. FFS, that’s what the whole Protestant Reformation was! One group of Christians calling the other group “fake“. From the vantage of point of non-Christendom? What are both groups talking about? Hey — ever Google “Protestantism sects”? There are more than you can count (if you count them all!) And then there’s Catholicism. And all the national churches and Eastern churches… And then there’s Mormonism — and its offshoots. From outside that tent, everyone INSIDE the tent is a Christian!

Look, I’m one of those Jews who’s always been fascinated by Christianity. Originally, I needed to know how and why tens of millions of people hated me and wanted me dead simply because I was Jewish.

Can we be honest? The answer you get back — why Christians hate Jews — it’s not especially satisfying.

Or logical.

Having grown up in the shadow of the Holocaust (I was born in 1959, fourteen years after the camps were liberated), I’m keenly aware where extreme anti-Semitism leads. That’s what the Holocaust was — Jew hatred taken to its most horrifying, industrial conclusion. This perverse, genocidal compulsion is based on a poorly thought-out story that was invented by Paul and the early church fathers. The former Saul of Tarsus never met Jesus. Never heard Jesus preach or teach. That’s why Paul’s version of Jesus didn’t play in Jerusalem or for anyone who knew Jesus or who actually did hear Jesus speak. That’s why Paul took his version of Jesus — and a thousand years of made-up Jewish messiah mythology — to the Gentiles (who had no background in it as Paul did and so accepted what the Jews in Jerusalem rejected).

It’s Paul — a real person — writing about Jesus — that makes me think someone “like” Jesus probably walked the earth. But, Paul revised Jesus to suit the needs of the newfangled offshoot-of-Judaism he was inventing on the fly. Paul was doing something else too — and this is where his real genius lies. The Roman world was polytheistic. Judaism was monotheistic; it rejected all of the Roman gods because, Judaism believed, only one god — Yahweh — existed. Roman gods, like most polytheistic gods, were very different in nature from the Jews’ Yahweh. They weren’t made of different material. Their lives only occasionally intersected with mortals’ lives. Though divine, polytheistic gods offered humans nothing of the divine.

Yahweh on the other hand was different. Not only was he divine, he (sometimes) liked humans (when he wasn’t flooding them out). He seemed to want to like us; we just kept disappointing him. Paul reinvents Yahweh by making Jesus Yahweh’s son. That’s not a big deal in and of itself. But then — here’s the genius part — Paul has Jesus rise from the dead, defeating death while also dying for humanity’s sins (the original sin being Eve’s)! Paul’s God (not entirely monotheistic since he can replicate by breeding with humans), unlike polytheistic gods, promises to actually DO something for humans other than just punish them. And that thing God will do for you is something only God can do — all you have to do is believe in Jesus exactly the way the Church (God’s now-infallible spokesman on earth) tells you to.

“Do unto others” has become “Do what we say — or else”. Not that the institutional church ever had the least interest in Jesus or any of his teachings. If Jesus were to return from the dead, the biggest enemies he’d have would be the institutional churches who’d race to the media to declare this “Jesus Guy” a total fraud. Oh, the irony — how it burns! Jesus taught that no one needs a corrupt temple or its correct priests in order to have a relationship with “the father”. “Talk directly to God,” Jesus taught. Anyone — atheists included — could “Do unto others” like a pro. And certainly better than any Christian.

There’s a clear distinction between “Christians” and “followers of Jesus”. My heart goes out to followers of Jesus because of what Christians have done to the brand.

Whoever Jesus really was, it’s simply a fact that he was born, lived his entire life and died a Jew. He preached Jewish thoughts to other Jews — even if Jesus’s version of those thoughts were somewhat “radical” (ignoring the Temple and its priests because they were corrupt). At the core of Jesus’s teaching — we all agree — is “Do unto others”. And “Do unto others” is a magnificent way to live Life. Imagine how much better the world would be if everyone lived that way — including (or especially) Christians. “Do unto others” is a very Jewish teaching. It’s a graceful distillation of a core Jewish concept: “Tikkun Olam”.

Every Jew (every person really) is obligated — according to Tikkun Olam — to make the world a better place for having been in it. One doesn’t have to accept this obligation (plenty of people don’t), but, if you want to live a good life, making the world better is how you’ll do it. Now, in all fairness to Christians, Christians don’t have a “culture” in the way Jews do where a way of life and a way of faith co-exist. While one absolutely can convert into the Jewish faith (a relatively rare things as Jews don’t proselytize), one can’t convert into the Jewish culture. Ashkenazis — European Jews — were excluded from European culture for 1500 years. They weren’t allowed to live with Christians. Weren’t allowed to marry them. Certainly weren’t allowed to make babies with them (though I’m sure babies made from male Christians raping Jewish women wasn’t a problem for them).

Consequently, Jews lived apart in their own villages or, as they first started to do in Venice in the early 1500’s — in “ghettos”. The word is Italian and first referred to the islands in the Venetian archipelago where the Jews were allowed to live. Living apart caused Jews to evolve a culture separate from white Europe’s. It caused Jews to evolve their own genetic disorder — Tay Sachs disease. Jews never set out to be “different”, that was something European Christianity made us.

Can we be just a little bit more honest? The way Christians have treated Jews across fifteen hundred years of history has not been especially “Christian”. Or maybe it has been — and every single person calling themselves “Christian” is, in fact, a “fake”.

Republicans Love Grievance Kabuki

Selling good ideas that people want isn’t nearly has hard as selling terrible ideas that no one except a privileged few would want. The majority of Americans have zero interest in what the Republican Party wants to sell them because the majority of Americans don’t want to live in the distant past — somewhere around 1850 — in what Republicans and white supremacists think of as their “Golden Age”. Regardless of their current political label (the Democratic and Republican Parties have swapped names; modern Republicans are Dixiecrats while modern Democrats philosophically are the “Party of Lincoln”), Republicans no longer stand for anything except racism and naked power lust. The demographic annihilation they’ve feared since the Reagan years has begun. White people — already a minority in states like California — are fast becoming a minority all across America. And that makes Republicans nuts.

What exactly did all those Trumpists mean when, marching in lock step together, they chanted “Jews will not replace us!” in Charlottesville? What did those armed thugs have in mind as they stormed Michigan’s capitol in 2020? Why do all those anti-vaxxers lose their shit when asked even to mask up (never mind vaxx up)? What outcome did the January 6 insurrectionists aspire to? And is there any grievance bigger than someone who cheated vigorously to win an election but lost anyway and whose tender ego still can’t bear it?

Quick side note: Donald Trump’s Grievance Kabuki may be inspired more by fear of treason charges than having lost the election he needed to win in order to never get charged with treason. But, I digress…

Grievance Kabuki is a bizarre pearl that forms inside the racist’s brain. The irritating grain of sand that starts this perverse pearl is an abhorrence of “the other” — anyone that isn’t exactly like him. They don’t believe for two seconds that E Pluribus Unum. But they’re all into “originalism” which is really a schoolyard bully insisting the rules are whatever he says they are. They’re down with the tacit understanding that “All men are created equal” referred only to men and only to white, Christian, land-owning men. No one else was equal to the white man and anyone who says or acts differently is challenging this bullshit orthodoxy.

A big reason evangelicals and other religionistas embraced Grievance Kabuki is because they embrace Grievance Kabuki’s cynicism. Jesus preached “Do unto others” (a good, tight distillation of the foundational Judaic concept “Tikkun Olam” — the obligation of every Jew to make the world a better place because they live in it) which the Apostle Paul (Christianity’s actual founder) and the early church fathers twisted into “Do what we say, or else”. Original sin looms large in this worldview. Regardless of whether they believe an actual Eve ever existed, these fundamentalists think that all human evil flows from women (to them, the lustful, it starts with lust). The whole point of Jesus is 1) to zero out the original sin’s negatives and 2) to give all these forgiven Christians a chance to live forever — just like Jesus is doing. The trick is you have to believe in Christianity’s version of Jesus in the exact, dogmatic way they’re telling you to. And woe is to you if you dare contradict their version of the world!

Feelings over facts. That’s the music playing in the Grievance Kabuki artiste’s head as he awkwardly shifts this way and that, white people having no rhythm. They think louder equals “more right” when louder only equals more loud. And, of course, there’s always their “Second Amendment Conflict Resolution” approach to solving their problems (like people who disagree with them, Black people too successful for their liking or women getting to do with their bodies what they want): you pick up a semi-automatic and the glorious spray of gunfire makes all those problems go away. Or at least, bleed out where you can see them. They don’t want to share power with “others”. It’s the part of democracy they’ve always hated on the down low. It’s the reason they voter suppress and gerrymander. It’s the reason they can shrug off Vladimir Putin being the leader of a crime syndicate with a corrupt government at its disposal as their ally in altering election 2016’s actual outcome (we will get to the bottom of exactly how Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin went red by 78,000 votes combined). Whether it’s violence to deal with personal issues or the political violence of an actual coup d’etat, violence is very much a part of the Grievance Kabuki toolkit.

And, ya know who else loves Grievance Kabuki? Our news media. They eat it with a spoon. Being acolytes of “both sides do it” brand journalism, most American journalists insist that all points of view are equally valid — the good and the bad, the true and the untrue (it’s not for them — journalists — to judge). But it also asserts that all points of view (even if diametrically opposed to each other) are equally valid. Therefore Hitler’s authoritarianism is equal to the Allies democracy. To be fair, that does correctly assert that authoritarian Germans had a point of view. Its mistake is in also asserting that their point of view was as valid as any other. As a Jew, I have big problems with that.

Our news media may have been taken aback by Donald Trump’s Grievance Kabuki when he began his presidential campaign in 2016 by announcing that “Mexicans are rapists” and “pussy grabbing” is okie-dokie for rich guys like him, but they quickly jumped aboard Trump’s Grievance Kabuki tour bus when it started their “But Her Emails” act. Any other former president — having lost the White House, the House and the Senate — would have hurriedly faded into the woodwork to avoid being harangued by the press. But, Donald Trump needs to be in the White House because, according to that stupid Department of Justice rule that says you can’t indict a sitting president, being POTUS means Trump gets away with EVERYTHING. And that includes turning America from the greatest (semi-flawed) experiment in human self governance into the biggest shithole country in the world.

That, really, is the goal of Grievance Kabuki — an America that looks like 2021 but feels like 1850. I’ve some bad news for my Republican chums: aside from them and their bitches in the American news media — no one else is interested. We ain’t buying tickets to the show. And if the GOP thinks it can shove this show down America’s throat? They’re about to witness a whole other kind of “performance art” — one where America finally lives up to its “EVERYONE is equal before the law (and the law is applied equally”) potential. It’s called E Pluribus Unum. And it rocks.

As Texas’ New Abortion Ban Proves, Right Wing Religionistas Don’t Believe IN God, They Believe They ARE God

No words are more darkly ironic than “pro-life” when seen through the lens of American politics. It’s kinda like the southern states claiming — after the Civil War — that the whole thing was an argument over states’ rights rather than what it WAS an argument over, slavery. The Confederacy still lives, having lost the war but won the peace that followed. They literally rewrote history right in front of us. The most vehemently pro-life also are the most vehement when it comes to denying living, breathing people an iota of human sympathy. These institutionalist Christians have perverted “Do unto others” into “Do what I say — or else”. Not an ounce of Jesus in it. That’s because Jesus wouldn’t recognize the sentiments behind it. He was born a Jew, lived his whole life as a Jew and died a Jew, only ever preaching to other Jews about subjects Jews understood and non-Jews didn’t. His biggest teaching (aside from reminding his fellow Jews that they’re all obligated by “Tikkun Olam” — the responsibility to make the world a better place for having been in it; “Do unto others” is the genius ad slogan for that very human ideal — is anti-corruption. He taught that one doesn’t need a temple or its corrupt priests in order to talk to God. All one had to do is talk to him .

Jesus did not invent Christianity, Paul did — and Paul deserves most of the credit for modifying some old Jewish ideas into a new religion which offered its believers (gentiles with no knowledge of these old Jewish ideas) a way to beat death. If Jesus could do it, so could his followers. All one had to do, the early church said (as it slowly figured itself out) was believe in the Jesus story the way the church wanted you to — to the letter. Do that and, the church promised, just like Jesus, you would “rise from the dead” like Lazarus and live forever in a magical after-life filled with nothing but goodness and all your loved ones. To a world where polytheistic gods had little real impact on human lives — and really didn’t give a toss about humans — a monotheistic deity that cared about them personally was a revelation and a radical, new idea. That this deity could also give you immortality of a kind? It’s genius! But, that it’s still with us is, my opinion, more a testament to the underlying desire not to die than it is to the “truthfulness” of the dogma that gets a believer there.

Who gets to control life and death? Why, God does of course because that’s what God does. The fact that God — a being powerful enough to create literally everything — can’t put that simple idea into literally every human’s head (because aren’t facts facts?) gets tossed down the “free will” rabbit hole. The same institution that invented the idea of “free will” also insisted that the earth was the center of all creation until pretty much now. I’d stick a giant-sized pin in the institution’s hold on reality.

The history of the church itself — of any church — is a proof that the institution itself (and those running it) think THEY are God. Hey, why do you think God talks to them and not to regular people? Because they’re special, don’t ya know. They hear God better than the rest of us. They “understand” what he wants from all of us, but more specifically from them. God wants them to be the tip of his spear. His enforcer. His spokesperson. His raw intent.

Texas took a clever tack to get their law this far. They made all the peril civil. Now, literally ANYONE from anywhere in America can sue anyone they even suspect of helping a woman get an abortion in Texas. They’ve put a $10,000 bounty on literally everyone in Texas who doesn’t answer the accusation. Don’t appear for the shit show cos it’s a shit show? You lose. The fix is built right in. It’s a way for EVERYONE to play God with the bodies of any woman seeking or needing an abortion in Texas. And — count on this — the point of the exercise is to “lead the way” for other “pro-lifers” who think they’re God to force their Godness upon other people.

Personally, I blame monotheism. This kind of egomaniacal free association with the self as deity is baked right in to the architecture. Ask ten sincere theists what “God” is and you will get ten different answers. That’s not a function of the fluidity of God, that’s a function of the fluidity of the CONCEPT of God. It’s the “Get Out Of Logic Jail Free” card that religionistas always have up their sleeve. Magical thinking and their feelings will trump everything — especially facts.

Hey, when you’re God, you get to say what’s a fact and what isn’t. And, in Texas, you get to decide between life and death.

Every Church Has A Dirty, Little Secret: Jesus Taught You Don’t Need Them

Sometimes, atheist that I am, my heart goes out to Jesus. On the one hand, I see Jesus as a fellow Jew. The simple fact is Jesus was born, lived his whole life and died a Jew. He preached only to Jews. The ideas he taught were fundamentally Jewish. “Do unto others” is a graceful, eloquent, actionable expression of the Jewish concept “Tikkun Olam” which commands every Jew (every person actually) to make the world a better place simply for having lived in it. If not for Paul — and his complete repurposing of Jesus away from Jesus’s actual teachings and toward the teachings of an institutional church that Jesus could never have and would never have imagined — there would be no such thing as “Christianity”. According to the Jesus Seminar (a group of theologists and actual Bible scholars versus Bible college graduate,), Eighty-two percent of the words ascribed to Jesus in the gospels were not actually spoken by him. That’s 18% attributable to Jesus. For comparison’s sake, Paul himself wrote 28% of the canonical Bible.

Even by the numbers, Paul has a greater say in what we call “Christianity” than Jesus. Per Wikipedia, the Jesus Seminar “was formed by American group of about 50 critical biblical scholars and 100 laymen founded in 1985 by Robert Funk that originated under the auspices of the Westar Institute.[1][2]“. Westar Institute remains active today online. The Seminar’s goal (in addition to “Honest scholarship in religion for the public”) was to try and parse an historical, real Jesus from both the texts themselves and from the real scholarship that’s been done regarding Jesus, his time and his world. In other words, the Seminar wanted to strip out the church’s dogma while focusing on Jesus himself.

Being scholars equipped with actual analytical skills, the Seminar’s participants recognized that Christianity did not drop from the sky in one piece. The early church was the product first of Paul and the message HE took to the gentiles after the Jews in Jerusalem (including Jesus’s family) rejected it. Paul never met Jesus. Never personally heard Jesus teach. His vision of Jesus occurs AFTER Jesus physically dead. We have to believe Paul literally if we’re to believe Paul at all. What inspired Paul’s conversion on the Road to Damascus? Does it really matter? He experienced it. That’s what matters — and good for Paul that he did experience it.

But the fact that he “experienced” it doesn’t make it real. J. K. Rowling “experienced” Harry Potter. She made Harry and his world seem incredibly real to all of her readers but, as we all know, Harry and his world are NOT real. Same goes for Paul. Jesus (per the Jesus Seminar) “did not refer to himself as the Messiah, nor did he claim to be a divine being who descended to earth from heaven in order to die as a sacrifice for the sins of the world. These are claims that some people in the early church made about Jesus, not claims he made about himself.” Further, “Jesus did not hold an apocalyptic view of the reign (or kingdom) of God—that by direct intervention God was about to bring history to an end and bring a new, perfect order of life into being. Rather, in Jesus’ teaching the reign of God is a vision of what life in this world could be (emphasis mine).

So, if we go strictly by Jesus (avoiding Paul’s spin), we get a completely different teaching. What the hell is Paul talking about? The Jesus Seminar answers that question, too: “At the heart of Jesus’ teaching and actions was a vision of a life under the reign of God (or, in the empire of God) in which God’s generosity and goodness is regarded as the model and measure of human life; everyone is accepted as a child of God and thus liberated both from the ethnocentric confines of traditional Judaism and from the secularizing servitude and meagerness of their lives under the rule of the empire of Rome.” Though preaching exclusively to Jews, Jesus sees Yahweh (that’s the “god” Jesus believed in) as a universal god. As Jesus put it (per the Jesus Seminar), “Render unto God that which is God’s and render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s”.

The God that Jesus imagines doesn’t seem to need that much help being generous and good. And whenever people do intercede between God and believer? Corruption ensues! The temple priests let money changers in the temple’s front door!

Nowhere does Jesus say — “But, after ‘doing unto others’, don’t forget to join my church!” There’s a reason. To Jesus, doing unto others is as universal as his idea of Yahweh. Anyone can do it — even a simple atheist (another thing Jesus probably couldn’t imagine). Jesus taught a simple, eloquent, very Jewish message. The church that Paul created in Jesus’s name teaches a far more complicated message that Jesus himself would find confounding if not entirely contradictory. Paul didn’t care so much what Jesus said as the fact that he died for having said it (regardless of what it was he said). Paul had latched onto Jewish mythology about a messiah that had percolated orally for a thousand years.

Let’s not rush past that. It’s MYTHOLOGY. Tribal mythology. There is zero basis in reality for any of it. That’s Paul’s starting point. When he tried to preach HIS version to the Jews, they rejected it because it wasn’t the mythology they knew. But, the gentiles had no such knowledge. To them, this monotheistic mythology was brand new. It was different — especially because it featured a god that (unlike most polytheistic gods) cared about humans having personally created humans. In fact, the god Paul was pitching offered something no other deity had ever offered a human before: a way to beat death.

That, ultimately, is Paul’s (and the early church’s) message: believe in Jesus the way we’re telling you to and, like Jesus, you too can defeat death. Can we talk “genius”? Can we talk “invitation to dogma”?

Can we talk corruption?

If Jesus never said he was any sort of messiah then any institution flocking such a thing is flocking bullshit. Any institution that says Jesus’s dying is more important than the fact that Jesus lived isn’t selling Jesus. They’re selling something they invented. To sell to you. Like a money changer in the temple forecourt.

Hell, even non-believers can tell you how Jesus felt about those guys.

If Christianity Isn’t In The “Do Unto Others” Business (It Isn’t!), What Business Is It In Exactly?

Outside of its “sales literature”, Christianity has zero use for “Do Unto Others”. Same goes for Jesus. Christianity uses Jesus the way McDonald’s uses Ronald. He’s a mascot, nothing more. The church is about as worried whether their actions would meet Jesus’s approval as McDonald’s is worried about Ronald’s. As the McDonald’s Corporation would remind you: Ronald is just a clown. The institutional church feels pretty much the same way about Jesus. “Do unto others” is just another part of the “Christianity Brand”. To its credit, the early Christian Church realized early on how important branding would be in building their new institution. Hey — they seem to have understood that “branding” was a thing to begin with. What’s the symbol for literally every church — for the Christian religion itself? A cross. Remember — prior to being taken over by the Christian church as the symbol representing itself, crosses were the Roman equivalent of an electric chair or a gas chamber or a guillotine. If the Romans had invented the guillotine before the French did (the idea for the device was proposed in 1788 by French physician and politician Joseph-Ignace Guillotin), Christians would all be walking around today with little guillotines around their necks.

Hmmmm… Christianity isn’t really worried about the guy ON the cross (crosses can have him or not have him — they mean the same thing; Jesus is an adornment on a cross)… that must mean that Christianity cares more about the cross itself. The Romans crucified people because the shape of the cross causes a person nailed to it to slowly, painfully, agonizingly asphyxiate — usually over several days. If they had found a circle or a square caused an equally painful kind of death? They probably would have used that instead. The point isn’t even the cross. It’s what the cross causes that Christianity is really messaging: death.

The first message (never mind the “first cause”) is “Jesus died”. Not “Jesus taught ‘Do unto others’,” Jesus died. That was the essential thing about Jesus to Paul The Apostle as he went about inventing Christianity. That’s a stone cold fact: Jesus had zero to do with the invention of Christianity. Paul had EVERYTHING to do with it. One could remove Jesus and every one of his teachings from everything most Christian churches call “Christianity” and you’d still have Christianity. That’s not a criticism. Hell — that’s Paul’s genius and Paul, most certainly, was a genius. The way we look at Paul has to be different from the way we look at Jesus because we KNOW Paul was 100% real; unlike Jesus, Paul left behind a written record of himself. The bulk of the New Testament is composed of Paul’s letters and epistles to the burgeoning Christian communities spreading across Asia Minor.

The fact that there WERE burgeoning Christian communities across Asia Minor was entirely because of Paul. Without Paul, those communities don’t exist. They never start. The idea for them — for what those communities are going to believe — originates in Paul and NOT in Jesus. Jesus — Joshua ben Joseph is how he would have thought of himself — was born, lived and died a Jew. He grew up steeped in the Jewish texts, Jewish traditions, Jewish mythologies and Jewish thinking. Key to that way of thinking is “Do unto others” or, as it’s expressed in the Mishna and Talmud, “Tikkun Olam”. It is every Jew’s obligation to make the world a better place for having been in it. One does not get a choice in the matter; it’s an unspoken commandment from God. Making the world a better place begins with treating everyone as YOU would wish to be treated aka “Do unto others”.

Jesus never thought of taking his message outside the Jewish world. Why would he? He wasn’t trying to invent Christians when he preached the Sermon On The Mount, he was trying to make Jews better Jews. Nothing Jesus did — let’s remember that the stories we have of Jesus were not even remotely eyewitness accounts; they were collated and edited and chosen as canonical by the Christian church’s early leaders who themselves were part of the invention process. Again — this is not a criticism, it’s merely an observation of the process by which Christianity came into the world. And it WAS a process that took CENTURIES to happen — and the texts they were using as part of that formative process themselves were the accumulation of as much as a MILLENNIUM of oral traditions finally written down.

After his “conversion on the road to Damascus” from Saul of Tarsus to Paul the Apostle (a thing we can assume DID happen because real person Paul wrote about it), Paul went to Jerusalem to try and sell the powerful vision in his head. The problem was, Paul — who’d never met Jesus — was trying to sell HIS version of Jesus to people (including Jesus’s FAMILY) who actually KNEW Jesus, who’d actually heard Jesus speak — who’d heard his message straight from his mouth. They rejected Paul and his version of Jesus out of hand. Their version of Jesus — the REAL JESUS (as much as we can point to a “real Jesus”) — more or less died with them. Not long afterward, the Romans destroyed the Second Temple and the Jewish presence in Palestine was mostly obliterated for almost two thousand years. Scattered to the diaspora, Jewish culture turned away from a physical temple to a more intimate, rabbinic approach where questioning God’s true intent so as to decipher a meaning was the goal.

Paul meanwhile took his version of Jesus to the Gentiles. Unlike the Jews who’d rejected him, the Gentiles didn’t know Jesus and didn’t know any of the Jewish mythology Jesus knew and based his teaching on. Also, the Gentiles didn’t know any of the messiah mythology from The Book Of Daniel or The Book Of Enoch. If Paul strayed from what was written and understood, none of the Gentiles were going to call Paul on it like the Jewish community would. That liberated Paul to both adulterate and “improve upon” the original with his own focus. To Paul, it was the fact that Jesus died and, in Paul’s telling of it, rose from the dead like a zombie.

Who tells us Paul rose from the dead? Was it Jesus? NO — it’s Paul. Paul is the only reporter the church relied upon to tell us who Jesus was. Our version of Jesus is Paul’s version of Jesus; not his family’s version or even Jesus’s version of Jesus. It’s all Paul’s version. And Paul — here’s the true heart of his genius — was selling the idea that if Jesus could rise from the dead and defeat death itself (and isn’t that what scares human beings most?) then so could someone who believed in Jesus (so long as the version of Jesus you believed in was Paul’s). THAT is what Paul invented; it’s what the institutional church Paul also was inventing took as its Big Sales Tool.

“Have you heard the good news” is how they put it — and it also was genius. Prior to the Jews and their personal, monotheistic tribal god Yahweh (the god we’ve come to call “God” though, really, god is Yahweh’s job description not his name), the polytheistic gods had a very different relationship with humans. Yahweh on the other hand was personally interested in humans since he, personally, created them. Yahweh has a lot of the Canaanite god “El” in him, Yahweh’s creators having been a lesser tribe in that larger tribe’s shadow. El’s presence is still felt in various place names: “Isra-EL” for example or “Beth EL”. Yahweh creates Adam in his own image. How sad for Yahweh that Adam let him down in the end (oh, right — that was all Eve’s fault).

Paul cleverly took the “mankind’s fall from grace” idea from Genesis and made that the whole reason Jesus died — no, HAD TO DIE. The whole point of Jesus’s existence, Paul told his followers, was to die as collateral for Eve’s “original sin”. Nowhere in Judaism is such a thing demanded. But it is in Christianity because Paul (and then the early church “fathers”) put it in the faith they were mythologizing on the fly.

Think about it: if Jesus, instead of being crucified, lives out his days teaching and preaching to fellow Jews and dies in his bed, a respected old man (though maybe not by the temple and its priests), then Paul never has a revelation about Jesus dying (that Jesus’s family thinks is hogwash) and Christianity never comes to be. Or, maybe Paul does have his revelation on the road to Damascus — except it’s NOT about Jesus dying and being resurrected — it’s about Jesus’s message: “Do unto others”. Instead of founding a church outside of Judaism, Paul, instead, would have become more Jewish.

He’d have become a better Jew than he was. More devout maybe. More thoughtful about what Yahweh said was important (Yahweh being a mercurial cat to begin with).

The early church needed compliance with its emerging mythology, not more discussion about it. That’s why they created a canonical testament — a New Testament that reimagined and reinvented the Old Testament by turning it away from everything Jesus thought to everything Paul thought. And Paul, don’t forget, had been soundly rejected by his own. Paul, as we know, took being spurned badly. We have no idea whether or not Jesus was actually crucified even. We have Paul’s account of it and the accounts — the four canonical gospels — whose stories lined up just enough to seem like a coherent narrative. Again: there are no contemporaneous accounts of anything Paul or the Gospel writers describe. All we have to go by is them — and the thing they were beginning to figure out and figure out how to sell: Christianity.

Jesus taught his followers that none of them needed a Temple or its priests. They, Jesus taught, were corrupt! Anyone and everyone could speak directly to Yahweh without a “middle man”. That’s how approachable Yahweh was. So, how come there’s a church speaking for Jesus (of all people)? It’s a total contradiction of a core teaching. Same goes for all the dogma required to justify any church’s existence. Churches do not, in fact, teach anything “Jesus” because their very existence would disturb Jesus to his toes were he to actually experience a “second coming” and return.

Not only would Jesus be disgusted by the religion that rose in his name, he’d be doubly disgusted by that religion’s anti-Semitism. Jesus never had an anti-Semitic thought because he was a Semite. He would find the church’s history repellant. He would be crushed by the number of his fellow Jews who the church-with-his-name-on-it murdered in cold blood just because they were Jews. He would be especially blown away by how that church-with-his-name-on-it turned “Do unto others” into “Do what we say”. There may not be a bigger contradiction in the whole history of contradictions.

But, that’s exactly what Christianity’s selling. In their defense, they are selling rubbish and magical thinking — that requires a lot of hard work especially in a world that replaced theology as the Queen of Sciences with actual science. Had Paul chosen to try and sell real Jesus, he probably would have failed. His version captivated the Gentile world. In time, Paul’s genius became the state religion of Europe. Think that’s what Jesus had in mind as he preached the Sermon On The Mount?

Your Average Atheist Is Likely A Better “Follower Of Jesus” Than Your Average Christian

Seriously, how hard is it to “Do unto others”? Impossibly hard, to judge by most Christians who, somehow, have reimagined “Do unto others” as “Do what we say”. More accurately, it was all those churches those Christians belonged to their whole lives that bamboozled them into thinking that the institution and Jesus were one and the same. That is exactly why most Christians are so bad at following Jesus; in fact, they’ve NEVER followed him. They were never taught to follow him. Instead, the institutional churches that hung out their cross-shaped Jesus Shingle like he was Jesus McSaviour taught a doctrine that Jesus never imagined — because he didn’t! Jesus did not invent Christianity; Paul did. Want proof? Crack a New Testament and look who actually wrote the bulk of it. That’s “literally wrote”. We can PROVE Paul existed because we have HIS WORDS that HE PERSONALLY put to paper — the letters and epistles he sent to the far flung communities across Asia Minor that, he, personally, was nurturing with his letters.

By contrast, we can’t prove that Jesus existed except by inference. Paul’s inference mostly. But, also, the existence inferred by the existence of various gospels. Keep in mind, the canonical gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke & John) were not the only gospels written about Jesus. Many more were written that didn’t “make the cut”. Jesus didn’t edit those voices from the mix, deliberately excluding them. But, the early Church DID. This is a very important detail that few people with a religious bent seem to grasp. Their religious doctrines did not just fall from the sky as they are. They were imagined and (eventually) written down over time and, at some point, SOMEONE edited them and someone else decided which of these texts were “good” and which weren’t. Who got to decide WHICH visions and versions of Jesus represented “the truth” and which represented “nonsense”? Who got to decide, for instance, that the Gnostics needed to be shut up? Surely THAT wasn’t Jesus’s doing…

Jesus was born, lived his whole life and died a Jew. Even as he expired — whoever he actually was — if you could have stuck a mic in his face to catch his last breath, he would have told you he was Jewish. Never in his life did Jesus ever meet a Christian. He never preached to one, never taught one, never washed one’s feet. In fact, everything Jesus thought and taught was implicitly Jewish — especially “DO UNTO OTHERS”. One of the core concepts inside every Jew’s head is “Tikkun Olam“. While this can be (and has been) interpreted a gazillion different ways — because that’s how religious doctrine works (versus, say, scientific doctrine) — the overwhelming majority of Jews understand it to mean that each and every one of us — regardless of how deep our religious faith is — is obligated to make the world a better place for having been in it. It’s cultural, see? One doesn’t need the fire-breathing, deeply neurotic Yahweh of the OT looking over one’s shoulder to compel one to be a good person. Just being a person, in essence, should compel one to behave that way because one has to live with others! It’s just basic, social animal common sense.

The simplicity of Tikkun Olam is that it’s born of observations about life and living it socially. There’s nothing inherently supernatural about it. The phrase first appears as mip’nei tikkun ha-olam, “for the sake of repairing the world”, in the Mishnah — the “Oral Torah” of traditions that was eventually memorialized starting in the third century BCE. The assembled Mishnah became all the practical legal measures taken to ameliorate social conditions. To make the world better in the here and now — never mind any after life. The minds who put the Mishnah together were problem solving. They weren’t designing dogma.

That’s where Paul comes in. When Saul of Tarsus had his revelation about Jesus on the road to Damascus and became “Paul The Apostle”, he was working — always — with what was inside his own head (divine inspiration notwithstanding). We don’t have to accept Paul’s word as factual — that Jesus actually appeared to him — because it happened inside Paul’s head — where all ideas originate. Whatever inspired Paul, it inspired something remarkable, all credit to it (whatever it was) but mostly to Paul who ended up doing all the heavy lifting. Paul never met Jesus in the flesh. That’s a stone cold fact that even the loopiest evangelist has to agree with. The reason Paul took his version of Jesus out to the Gentiles is precisely BECAUSE Paul never met Jesus. The Jesus in Paul’s head was not the Jesus people who knew Jesus KNEW. Paul’s Jesus said things and did things Real Jesus didn’t (according to the people who’d know).

Filled with messianic passion, but, now liberated from having to be faithful either to the original Jewish mythology or anything to do with Real Jesus, Paul took the evolving idea in his head out to a Gentile world that only knew polytheism. The Jews’ idea that their one god Yahweh superseded all previous gods was radical to begin with in that it even imagined all gods as one; it was even more radical because that god felt such a personal connection to human beings — who, the radical notion of this one god went, cared for them because he’d “created” them personally. What captivated Paul, remember, wasn’t exactly anything Jesus taught; it was the fact that Jesus — in Paul’s mind — had risen from the grave. Never mind “do unto others”, Paul saw the power of “beat death!” If Jesus could do it, Paul reasoned, then belief in Jesus could get the same results for everyone else.

The whole crux of Christian dogma is to get believers over the “beat death” hump. That’s a big lift, overcoming death, and it required a lot of “thinking” to justify it. There are no data points anywhere, but there is a lot of “thinking”. And rule-making to justify and validate that “thinking”. Suddenly unverifiable thoughts about Jesus become church rules dictating how to think about him. In 345 AD, the Church Fathers met at Nicene and wrote down a Creed spelling out exactly what “God” was. Funny thing? Jesus (remember him?) never advocated for such a thing. If Jesus HAD risen from the dead and walked in on that meeting at Nicene? He’d have looked around at a roomful of strangers talking crap that meant nothing to him.

“Why not just ‘do unto others’?” Jesus would have wondered — isn’t that simpler? Isn’t that really the point?

No, Paul would have explained to Jesus (annoyed by him already), it’s NOT the point. Now, please — go back to being dead because THAT’S the only value you have to me — as a malleable corpse.

The reason Christianity is losing its institutional grip on more and more Christians is because institutional Christianity’s promises never EVER live up to their hype. Until the day comes when they can PROVE they’ve found a way for its believers to actually “beat death”, they’ll always be selling a phony product via phony means. Meanwhile, Jesus’s message — “Do unto others” — feels fresher and more vital than ever. More necessary than ever too.

Good thing there are plenty of atheists around — unencumbered by history and dogma — to maybe teach all those poor, angry Christians how to do it.