By Hank Hasse – March 2014
I am currently reading John Shelby Spong’s Jesus for the Non-Religious. It was written in 2007. I remember reading somewhere else that “When you are ready, a light will appear.” I must not have been ready for this seven years ago. Spong and I seem to share several conclusions concerning Jesus, the Galilean from Nazareth. And his opening chapters have inspired me to give another account of my recent discoveries.
Most of the good people who attend their Christian churches today are completely unaware of the historical facts that follow. Today, I can freely write that theology is mythology, and, therefore, Christianity is mythology. Not very many years ago I may not have been quite so ready to write that. But today I understand that truth only offends a closed mind, a mind trapped within the tyranny of ancient explanations for unsolved mysteries. My mission is to set people free from religion.
For the best example I can think of, think of how theology changed the Jewish Jesus (bar Nasha) from an everyday human into a divine being. Apparently, he was known in Nazareth as the bastard that Joseph, the local carpenter, had adopted as his own son. (It was not unusual for soldiers of conquering armies to take advantage of local girls.) But Joseph offered protection and provided for the care of both Jesus and his mother.
“The hysterical claims of infallibility of theology (authority) and the inerrancy of sacred scriptures” are the cornerstones of Christian orthodoxy (the right way).
Christianity’s core stories of the Fall, a promised Messiah/Savior, an incarnation via virgin birth, an atonement, a resurrection of the body, an ascension to the sky-god as a triumphant and worthy payment for humanity’s sins, a return for an end-time judgement, and handing out a hellish punishment for unbelief in this salvation plan, are nothing but myths – all of them are complete nonsense concocted by tyrannical theologians wishing to explain the malady of human suffering and death.
Over hundreds of centuries, theologians had developed a divinity, a sky-god, out of many ancient writings dating back to the Sumerians, the first civilization to leave written records of their existence in Mesopotamia. Their sky-god became upset with humanity’s choices, chased them out of a paradise garden home, and finally decided to drown humanity in a flood. These myths became part of Zoroaster’s religion, the official religion of the Chaldeans and Babylonians. It told of a Messiah/Savior persona of the sky-god who would take on human form to sacrifice himself as an atonement for humanity’s sins that had continued to separate them from the sky-god. There was much more – a resurrection, an ascension, a return in judgement, and a hellish apocryphal punishment for unbelief in a holy salvation plan. Most of this religion was adapted by Hebrew priests who freely used it while under captivity to rewrite the Hebrew’s oral history. And they craftily incorporated Zoroaster’s threat of an apocalyptic end for sinful humanity as a wedge to enforce compliance to their rituals and laws.
But even before the captivity, there were always some who saw their lives and surroundings as a gift from a benevolent, unthreatening, and loving God whose mysterious presence among them became such a part of themselves that they could not help but share such ways with others. There were Hebrew pre-captivity Prophets who challenged the laws and rituals of the ruling priests and tried to comfort people with the news of a God who provided good things to all and was unconditionally forgiving and accepting in death. Their message was quickly called “heresy” by the theologians, and they faced horrible deaths as punishment for challenging “sacred authority.”
The Hebrews experienced Assyrian, Babylonian, Persian, Greek, and then Roman invasions and rule during the seven to eight centuries BCE.
Enter the Galilean Sage. His message was very similar to the message of the pre-captivity Prophets. He discovered the presence of a generous “Father” God whose unconditional love, caring, kindness, and forgiveness yearned to be shared with all humanity, especially with those oppressed by tyranny, whether political or religious. His mission became to set them free with this good news of our Father’s real justice, scandalous as it was when compared to humanity’s ancient retaliation type of justice. He was murdered for this message because it threatened the tyranny of the Jewish standard of justice, “an eye for an eye,” and that murder was accomplished by accusing him before the Roman court for starting another Jewish rebellion. Since there had already been several messiah-led rebellions, the Romans were on the lookout for others and ready to “nip it in the bud.”
Jesus’ life and message had been simple and comforting to ordinary people. After his unjust death, they often gathered in homes to share the comforting words which they had heard him teach, and they practiced his kindness and caring toward those in need. Their testimony to what they remembered from Jesus was generally kept private and local. Those who did go public with Jesus’ message were arrested and jailed or stoned. Only a few of Jesus’ words were finally recorded by local scribes, and after the Romans had destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple (70CE) after yet another rebellion attempt, some of those words turned up in a narrative written by Mark. Unfortunately, the source he used was either lost or hidden during those troubling times for the Jews.
An intellectual graduate of the Jewish Torah (apocalyptic Jewish Law), Saul, who had grown up in Tarsus, the home of Mithraism (the apocalyptic religion of many Roman soldiers), volunteered to impress the Jewish Sanhedrin by rounding up scattered followers of the hieratic, Jesus, who had been arrested and crucified twenty years earlier. Those arrested were then either jailed or stoned to death under his watch. While performing this duty under cover of Jewish Law, he had time to meditate on higher ideals. He wished to use his expertise and knowledge of Greek and Roman mythology to help spread Jewish Messianic apocalyptic theology among the Gentiles. All he needed was a “Christ/Messiah” as the centerpiece of his new religion.
A trip into the desert of Arabia to practice his meditations resulted in a vision on how to change the crucified Galilean into the “Christ” he needed to spread his own myth. He changed his name to Paul and began doing exactly that among the synagogs of Asia Minor and drew in many converts because, he said, the sacrifice of this “Christ” would save them from the coming end-time apocalypse. He also used the “Christ’s” supposed resurrection as proof that the sacrificial payment was acceptable before the God of the universe.
When Peter, James, and John heard what Paul was teaching and that he no longer required Jews to follow the laws and rituals of the Torah because his “Christ” had fulfilled them all, they went ballistic! Worse, his salvation message completely contradicted Jesus’ message of our Father’s presence and real unconditional justice. They demanded that Paul should return to Jerusalem to discuss the matter of using Jesus and his death in such a way that disregarded Jesus’ teaching. Paul finally did come to meet them in their synagogue, but he later ridiculed the disciples as “uneducated super-apostles.” Paul continued to teach his “new gospel” and anticipated the end-time apocalyptic judgement to come on any day. He even told his converts to give away all their property because they would no longer need it.
Paul’s letters, written between 50-55CE, became the first sacred authority concerning salvation as taught among the early gatherings of his churches. Only fifteen years later, after Jerusalem and the Temple were destroyed, Jews were either killed, or dispersed throughout the Empire and took his message with them.
A decade later (80CE), a writer well-versed in Paul’s letters and new religion took a common pen name, Mark, and began to gather together hearsay stories about Jesus (better known by now as Paul’s “Christ”), and any scripts still available of Jesus’ words. He put them into a narrative that would quickly become well-known among the churches. By the end of the century, two more writers, Matthew and Luke, theologians in their own churches, used most of Mark’s narrative to write their own narratives. They, of course, personalized their story with suppositions of their own, some of which they also connected to their better knowledge of the Torah, Jewish history, and the Psalms.
After the turn of the century, a fourth writer/theologian, John, obviously disturbed by current deteriorating events between the Romans and the followers of the new “Christian” religion, took an entirely different slant for his narrative and did more than just hint of Jesus’ divinity (similar to Roman gods) and told of his actual existence before coming to earth as a man on a mission to save humanity from the eminent apocalypse to come. John was later exiled to a remote island in the Mediterranean Sea where he supposedly composed his vision, a Revelation of the returning Jesus/Christ as Lord and Judge of all the risen and all the humans still alive. He will then separate the faithful from the unbelieving damned. The destruction of the damned is painted as blood running as deep as a horse’s bridle. Then the faithful saved will be taken to heaven and the damned thrown into the everlasting fiery furnace of hell.
This, then, is what the theologians of Paul’s new religion had made of the human, Jesus of Nazareth, whose only message was, “Do not retaliate. Be like our Father is among us. Be kind, caring, generous, loving, and forgiving, even toward our enemies.”
Romans began to mistrust the new “Christian” religion (a mix of various ethnic groups, pagans, Jews, and converted Romans) because they were now meeting in secret and were said to be eating and drinking human flesh and blood during a festive meal. Severe persecutions of Christians began. Many were arrested and made sport of in the arena while being killed by lions or gladiators. Others were enslaved around the Empire. But the religion continued to appeal to common people who grew tired of Roman gods and emperors who claimed their own divinity. The Empire became deeply divided over the next three centuries. Early into the third century, Emperor Constantine saw an opportunity to unite the Empire by using the power of the Christian Bishops. He was able to do exactly that by claiming his own Christian belief and by encouraging the Bishops to meet in order to form a confession of unification at Nicaea in 325CE.
Since the Jews were first who refused to bow to the confession’s Christian Triune God, they also became the first to be put to the sword. In fact, Christianity spread through Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa because of the Roman sword which was held up to look like Christ’s cross. The Crusades were next to follow. They were an attempt to take back holy places in Jerusalem from the Muslims. But thousands died in the name of God and for believing the myth of God’s Savior-Son’s cross.
There is much more that followed during Europe’s history. The expansion of the Arabian Muslim religion of Muhammad. The expansion of Buddhism in India. Many other religions covered the earth. The power of the Christian Church over civil governments. The Reformation movements that made only minor changes among the many hallowed doctrines of theology. New confessions and catechisms only promoted old myths and helped to bury the Galilean’s message even deeper.
Again, bar Nasha’s message brings true comfort and relief to humanity – the real good news of the presence of an unconditionally loving and forgiving Father/God among us yearning to be discovered and imitated throughout the human race – a God who is with us to bring us through life’s challenges (learning experiences) – a God who promises to never leave us or forsake us – a God whose arms are open wide and welcoming as each of us passes through death. Here, a reading of a few simple near death experiences does more to explain what follows next than any theological mythology ever could.
But for here-and-now, be free! Pursue happiness! Love one another.