Blasphemy and Other Things

By:  Wendell Krossa

Critical to full human liberation is the response of blasphemy . Bob Brinsmead has an essay on this (Dare to blaspheme and dare to be free) and one of the National Post columnists once did a good article on the importance and value of blasphemy.  Blasphemy is challenging dogma, authority, making fun, not taking seriously, pointing out some mythology for what it really is.  And the priesthoods, authoritarians, and others don’t like it at all.  Paul threatened severely those who refused to take seriously his new Christ myth.  His God would damn and destroy any who doubted or refused to kowtow to his new Christology, called Christianity.   And the worst of blasphemy in the Christian tradition is to dare to challenge Paul’s Christ myth.  To dare to challenge things like the blood sacrifice of Christ, the atonement theology of Paul.

But thank God for brave spirits that saw through all this damaging mythology and put it in its proper place.  Stephen Mitchell in The Gospel According to Jesus does exactly this, and blasphemously so.  He describes the Christian distortion of Jesus in the bluntest of terms and quotes notable historical personages (e.g. Jefferson and numerous others) that use equally strong language in reference to the Christian mythology (e.g. dung, slime, garbage, and so on).

Part of the value of a good dose of blasphemy is that it liberates from all the threat that backs up religious myth and authority, especially any form of divine threat.  Bob has long referred to Mitchell and I finally got around to reading him. It has been a refreshing look at his unique take on all this historical Jesus research.

Here are some quotes and summaries from Mitchell, (this first is a quote from Thomas Jefferson) “In the New Testament there is internal evidence that parts of it have proceeded from an extraordinary man, and that other parts are of the fabric of very inferior minds. It is easy to separate those parts, as to pick out diamonds from dunghills”.  Mitchell offers quite a bit from Jefferson who stated clearly that he was not opposed to the genuine precepts of Jesus but was opposed to the “corruptions of Christianity”.  He was shocked by the deletions, tampering, and alterations done by the gospel writers.

Mitchell notes that there is a voice in the authentic sayings that exhibits a large-heartedness, generosity, compassion, impartiality, and serenity, the purest morality and benevolence and this stands in stark contrast with “the bitter, badgering tone of some of the passages added by the early church”. He notes there are two very different versions of Jesus, the authentic one and the Christian one.  I will use Christ for his quotation marks referral to Christian Jesus (“Jesus”) to make the contrast easier to read in this following section, “Jesus teaches us not to judge (in the sense of not to condemn),  but to keep our hearts open to all people, the later Christ is the archetypical judge, who will float down terribly on the clouds for the world’s final rewards and condemnations.  Jesus cautions against anger and teaches the love of enemies, Christ calls his enemies children of the devil and attacks them with the utmost vituperation and contempt. Jesus talks of God as a loving Father, even to the wicked, Christ preaches a god who will cast the disobedient into everlasting flames. Jesus includes all people when he calls God your Father in heaven, Christ says ‘my father in heaven’.  Jesus teaches that all those who make peace, and all those who love their enemies are sons of God, Christ refers to himself as ‘the son of God’. Jesus isn’t interested in defining who he is, Christ talks on and on about himself (i.e. John’s gospel). Jesus teaches God’s absolute forgiveness, Christ utters the  horrifying statement that ‘whosoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness but is guilty of an eternal sin’.  The epitome of this narrow-headed, sectarian consciousness is a saying which the second-century Christian scribe put into the mouth of the resurrected Savior at the end of Mark: ‘Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever doesn’t believe will be damned’.  No wonder Jefferson said, with barely contained indignation, ‘among the sayings and discourses imputed to him by his biographers I find many passages of fine imagination, correct morality, and of the most lovely benevolence and others again of so much ignorance, so much absurdity, so much untruth, charlatanism, and imposture, as to pronounce it impossible that such contradictions should have proceeded from the same being’ “.

Mitchell then does one of the best treatments of the illegitimacy of Jesus, and points out well how horribly shameful this was in the Jewish culture of Jesus.  It was considered the most shameful of human conditions. Illegitimate people were considered the “excrement of the community”.  This would have produced overwhelming problems in a small provincial town with harsh and moralistic attitudes.  But out of such experience would have arisen a profound appreciation for grace, love, and acceptance (the Abba insights of Jesus, you are my beloved son with whom I am well pleased, something that even overwhelmed Mr. Wooten in his NDE, and he had nowhere near the experience of HJ).  The path to such understanding was probably a very human one, from “son of a whore” to son of God. And this is where Mitchell’s treatment of all this gets real good.  He argues that it would be childish to think HJ never caused suffering or made mistakes.  The gospel records are full of comment on the failure of Jesus to deal with this early childhood bitterness over his shameful illegitimacy.  As Mitchell notes, he also died quite young and had little time to resolve such issues, though it appears at his death he may have come to some resolution when he urged John to look after his mother.  His story of the woman taken in adultery shows, if authentic, that he may have found a way to forgive his mother over this shame.  That may have been a very personal reference.

Numerous passages show a quite stunningly negative attitude toward his mother and family. “His teaching about loyalty to parents is uniformly negative, and is so shockingly”.  He quite bluntly rejected his mother and brothers, and to one man who wanted to properly bury his father, Jesus responded, “let the dead  bury the dead”.  It was, says Mitchell, a slap in the face to a grieving man.  He even calls people to hate their parents.  All in the so-called service of God, or call to serve God.  Now Christianity has interpreted all this as necessary commitment, as freedom from entanglements, to properly serve God. That puts a noble slant on it all. “Bent into an appropriately pious shape”, says Mitchell.

But there is a notable contradiction here from Jesus himself.  He himself bluntly condemned anyone who claimed that they could not help their parents because whatever gift they could give to their parents was “corbin” (sp?). It was devoted to God.  He stated that for what it really was, irresponsible and cruel neglect of normal human responsibility (he reproached the Pharisees for not honouring their parents by this use of appeal to serving God).  But then all over the gospels he does exactly that, repeatedly calling for neglect and even hate of family in the service to God.

Mitchell summarizes this, “His rejection of his mother seems to me an early, inadequate response to what he must have felt as her rejection of him, her incomprehension of who he had become.  Or perhaps it goes back further, to his childhood.  Perhaps it contains an unconscious or half-conscious element of blame for the stigma of his birth, and was part of  his distancing himself from his shame and everything connected to it… (Mary’s bastard)”.

In the end Mitchell says we don’t really know, “It is possible that Jesus was able to see her with a nonjudgmental love (i.e. referring to the parable of the adulterous woman) and still, in some hidden corner of his heart, keep holding on to his rejection of his mother (the many other passages where he neglected her or refused to see her)”. But other statements show that maybe he was able to forgive. But it certainly humanizes the man and removes the mythology that Paul and others tried to bury him under, the dung, slime, garbage.

Mitchell notes how Tolstoy used language similar to Jefferson to describe the contrast between authentic HJ and Christian mythology. “When I first began to study the Gospels I found in them the spirit that animates all who are truly alive. But along with the flow of that pure, life-giving water, I perceived much mire and slime mingled with it, and this prevented me from seeing the true, more  pure water. I found that along with the lofty teaching of Jesus there were teachings bound up which are repugnant and contrary to it…I discovered among the garbage a number of infinitely precious pearls”.

And a lot more…