I was just reading a “coming out” statement by another blogger who feels immensely liberated to say aloud: “I am an Atheist.” I gave him a blog-pat on the back for that. Then, responding to his comments about “freedom from Jesus” I felt compelled to say something related to what I’ve said many times and written about in Life After Faith, Nature is Enough and elsewhere:
Jesus was never a Christian and he could never be a Christian
“Followers of Jesus” never like to hear this. It makes believers very uncomfortable to hear that.
Even those who readily admit that Jesus was Jewish and never called himself the “First Christian” or some nonsense like that, that he was never a member of any church or religious congregation, these folks get a bit squeamish when someone like me (especially someone like me. . .a former born-again, Pentecostal, Campus Crusader, seminary trained Protestant minister, Interfaith chaplain-sort) points out the most obvious:
Jesus of Nazareth was a-religious (be serious, which Religion would he neatly fit into?). He continually criticized and attacked religious leaders, condemned self-righteous piety and twisted scriptures so much he was called a heretic, son of the devil and a criminal worthy of death.
It’s one thing to say he was not a Christian or member of a Church. . .but folks really want us to believe that, “He would sure be welcomed into OUR Church; we’d LOVE to have him among US, his True Followers!” Uh, well, sorry, maybe not.
Oh, I hear you. He wasn’t so religious, he was “spiritual.” Really? How? Because he prayed to his “Father”? Hmmm. If I prayed to my dear departed Dad, would you say I was “spiritual”? Was JC “spiritual” because he read the Torah? The only time we hear of him reading one passage from the Torah in a synagogue he was, according to the storyline, taken out to be murdered by the congregation! Not a good reference for public speaking! He was “spiritual” because he talked of “heavenly places” and otherworldly things? Alright, let’s get real here. We don’t know that he said anything of the sort. . .and even if he did, Why be distracted from his life and teachings centered primarily, almost exclusively, on the poor outcasts judged by the “fearfully faithful” as “lost sinners”?
Why indeed. Those who have built an Imaginary Jesus in their mind for centuries, who don’t want to admit that he was NOT the “founder” of this thing we call Christianity, that he cannot be “owned” by any one sectarian religious perspective or bias. . .these Imaginary Jesus Followers spend a majority of their time and energy studying and debating Theology and Bible-ology instead of doing what the Man of Nazareth did: being with, serving and loving the outcast outsiders; touching the untouchable. So they would “believe in him”? I’m a doubter so I kind of doubt that was the Whole Intent of Helping! Where would the Ethics be with that?!
Yet, many of “His Followers” say, or at least imply, that the Whole Purpose of Jesus touching the untouchable, healing the sick, teaching the crowds, hanging out with the homeless, etc, etc. . .the Whole Purpose was: so they would BELIEVE. I’m sorry, but these people have turned ministry into megalomania. . .What kind of Ego-Jesus have they created! And I’d like to know, Why?
Believe me, I know the power of the distraction! I was there. It can be great fun to divide the world up into Believers and Nonbelievers, Children of the Light and Children of the Dark, My Faith or No Faith, My God or No God. It can be a great (serious and sobering) endeavor to spend one’s life searching and memorizing One Book, One Sacred Scripture to live by. Except, problem is, where is the Living By part? “Oh, but I KNOW the Bible. . .KNOW the Creeds. . .KNOW how to Pray.” Good for you. But what’s that have to do with the actions and teachings of You Know Who? The distraction from being a good human being and recognizing the goodness of other human beings, is very strong. Why is it so strong? Because there is a whole army of clergy. . .the Masters and Doctors of Divinity, the Preaching Professionals, the God-Experts. . .the God-Talkers (Theologians). . .the Bible Scholars. . .who make a living and hold respectable positions by telling all the rest of us Who God is, What God thinks, What the Words say and, especially, Who Jesus was and is. I happen to know how cool being clergy can be! But it can get pretty cold.
So, we come full circle. Who was Jesus and why should we care? Those who claim him for their own, as their “Lord,” may need to hear what they don’t want to hear and see what they don’t want to see. . .to face the Man and his Message, rather than the Skywalking Savior of the True Believers. Seculars, agnostics, atheists, freethinkers might be the ones to Teach a New Jesus who is really much more like the Old Jesus. Audacious! Ridiculous! Maybe. But many of us know the story of the Man quite well. We know what it’s like to be an Insider AND an Outsider. We may even be in a better position to state this Outrageous Claim:
IF Jesus was here in our world today, he might just enjoy being out with us, out among the nonbelieving nonmembers of the accepted religions of our time. Not to “save” us. . .no, to savor us, to savor good conversation and cooperation among people not trying to suck up to some imagined Superhuman Savior who needs an ego-charge. We would surely discuss, debate and disagree about many, many things! But perhaps we would “get” his message in a way “His Church” has rarely apprehended. Maybe those of us who see him not as a High God but as a Good Human, would join him in his self-less work among people open to mutual education, and among those in need, on the streets, in jails, in distress wherever they be found. His “followers” would be welcome to join in. Just don’t Do Theology on him, or us! We don’t have the time for that. Too much to be done to be distracted!
Hey, maybe Jesus was one of the first Secular Chaplains!
I’ll have to think about that. . .
What do you think about all this? If you’re a “follower of Jesus,” what is your response to this? If you’re an Atheist, what are your thoughts? As I’ve asked before, Can Jesus Be Saved (from his followers)?