Depicting the Jesus Story-Tellers
It is the matter of the core words of Jesus supported by his core parables. Do not retaliate against evil because God does not retaliate. The other issue of punishment is that the wrong doer punishes himself. Humanity is diminished by what is anti-human. “God” is simply a term we use to embody our concept of the Highest Good. Theology should be aligned with ethics – you cannot consistently have a theology of atonement/retaliation and an ethic of non-retaliation. Our ethics will tend to be informed and influenced by our concept of “the highest good” which is personified as God.
Historians have learned not to trust so-called historical accounts of what happened if the stories or accounts were written under the inspiration of religion. Thus, for example, the story the Exodus in the OT had very little resemblance to the historical facts.
The early Christians did not hesitate to tell lies for Jesus. For instance, all those Gospel stories of Jesus constantly in disputation with the Pharisees never happened. Jesus had derived some of his most famous sayings from Hillel, the greatest Pharisee of that age who was about a generation or 25 years before Jesus. After the destruction of Judea and Jerusalem by the war with Rome that culminated in destroying the temple and burning the city in 70 CE, and with 800,000 Jews killed, we must understand that this event was like the end of that world for Judaism. Their records and a lot of the pre-70CE history was lost. There was no record anywhere of Jesus’ execution etc. There has never been found one shred of an extant record of any kind that Jesus ever existed. It was like as if that world was erased from the earth, and that Judaism had to rise from the ashes and start again. On the one hand there were a Rabbinic party who now wanted to make Judaism a religion of the Book (Torah) rather than a religion of the Temple with priests in control. Then there were the Nazarenes or the Jesus party who wanted to make Jesus the centre and the future of Judaism. It was a bitter fight, that is, a contest between the Pharisees or Rabbinics on the one hand and the Jesus party on the other. Just before the turn of the first Century the Pharisees gained control and threw the Jesus people out of the Synagogues. So the Jesus story-tellers depicted Jesus as one whose chief opponents were Pharisees. It was historical bunkum – but with that old world of Jesus wiped away or burned to ashes, with no records kept, the story tellers had free reign to tell the story of Jesus to suit themselves. Jesus was conscripted to support their religious agenda.
Jesus was frog-marched out of his home town to the edge of a cliff after he left off the Scripture which announces “the day of vengeance of our God”. That is apocalyptic stuff that Jesus was blasphemous enough to excise from Holy Scripture – it was his rejection of the apocalyptic hopes of his people plus his opposition to sacrifices that got him killed.
The late Maurice Casey, recognized widely as one of the best Jesus scholars in the world, has done a great presentation in his “From Jewish Prophet to Gentile God”. He traces the evolution of Jesus from status of Jewish prophet (the view held by the first Jesus movement which was Jewish) – to a half-way kind of house when most of NT was being written up by Paul and the Synoptics, in which the Jesus movement was mixed Jews and Gentiles. In this period the status of Jesus could be read off as an Agent of divinity (Jewish believers) to a kind of divine Agent in the case of Gentiles. In this period Paul is accused by Jewish believers of forsaking the Law of Moses (God) but not accused of forsaking Jewish monotheism (Paul never says that Jesus was God and always keeps the distinction between Christ and the Father as does the book of Revelation. In the third stage it becomes a purely Gentile movement without restraints of Jewish believers. It is in this stage that the full blown deification of Jesus takes place. Bart D. Ehrman has written something similar in How Jesus Became God: the Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee – but the late Casey has written a more accurate account of things.
Casey does an excellent comparison of Matthew and Luke. Matthew was written for a Jewish audience primarily and certainly with a Jewish believer slant. The author of Luke apparently concluded that he needed a different story to appeal to a Gentile audience – he therefore gave another and mutually exclusive view of the nativity and the resurrection. And there is much more that Luke changed in his story. So the book, From Jewish Prophet to Gentile God is a highly recommended read by a widely respected Jesus scholar. My main disagreement is that I think Jesus scholars such as Casey, Vermes –just published is his ”Authentic Gospel of Jesus” – and Ehrman all have Jesus as an end of world prophet proclaiming an about to come kingdom of God. It was only the Jesus Seminar group that got this non-apocalyptic Jesus right, but even they missed the main argument that the theme of apocalyptic is retaliation of divine violence, a theology contrary to core teaching of Jesus.
Yes, the ancients wrestled with the question of the human condition – the story of the Fall in Genesis answers such questions as Why are humans the only naked creature? Why do women have such trauma in childbirth unlike most of nature? Why are women subordinate to men? Why is the environment so harsh and unresponsive (hard work, sweat, weeds, thorns) and why are so many animals wild and dangerous, and why does a snake not have legs or wings? Above all, why do we have to suffer and die? They need some worldview and theodicy to answer these basic questions, just as we do today.
The motivation for good human development and acts must come from within, from ourselves, from a real understanding that by wrongdoing we punish ourselves by diminishing the greatness of who we really are – it reduces and demeans us. Perhaps this is why someone commented about a certain atheist whom he described as one of the most holy, upright men he had ever encountered. How is the notion “God is watching” different from “Big Brother is watching.” I am reminded of going into a roadside fruit stall where no one was in attendance, only an honesty box, with a statement exhibited which said, You are what you are when no one is watching. We are all too prone to be angry when we think wrong doers or cheats are getting away with it. They are not. They never do.
Jesus never wanted people to make an icon out of himself when he was here, and I must conclude he did not want this to take place after he was gone. Jesus is helpful for those who hold to him as an authority and need him for their reference point. But look at Mandela. He made no reference to religion, did not profess any, yet his impact on the world was profound. But of course we are grateful to and have respect for all the wisdom and insights passed down to us from all the sages of history. The historical research is valuable to explain that the Christian tradition was not the only interpretation of the historical Jesus. It is clear HJ was not the mythical Christ of Paul and others.
We could ask ourselves if“fear, guilt, shame, anxiety, depression and despair are the background programming, the question that seeks an answer, the thorn on which grows a rose. While testing several babies today, one of the first tests with a newborn is to test their fear response. If fear is not present then there is brain damage. It is there to serve a purpose and is hardwired into the subconscious habit area of the lower brain that human’s share with the animal kingdom. But there is a difference. The Zebra herds graze and water peacefully by a lake, carefree as though there were no fear, until they smell a lion. Panic, anxiety, fright and flight grips the herd as they outrun the lion. When the threat is out of sight and there is no more scent of lions the Zebras return peacefully to grazing without any sign of the panic so evident only minutes before. Not so with human’s, their higher brains constantly fire imagination, planning, projecting, replaying and creating new fearful imaginings. The human might have been lying on green grass in the Savanna enjoying the scenery when a lion appears, triggering the same instant fear, panic and anxiety. Even after a lucky escape, the human’s brain projects the possibility of other lions, and may decide never again to expose itself to danger like that. In fact this event may even create a post-traumatic stress syndrome. In another case scenario where there might be traumatic human interaction then guilt, shame, depression may be added to the on-going mind play. The human psyche is multi-layered with a relationship to others and self as other. Guilt, shame and depression, are genetic protection programs from generations past, often re-enforced by negative early parenting. They form the background for the critical self-judge that demands self-flagellation, payback, punishing in hell and feelings of worthlessness. If our critical judge dominates then by this judge we judge others. On the other hand if human’s can grasp who they are as superior to nature (supernatural) then the judge in our consciousness, can transform to be one of self-compassion leading to compassion for others. Self-compassion seeks out good things, achieving and activating feelings of affiliation, safeness and well-being. It also enables ambition, excitement, vitality, contentment, connectivity and comfort. The negative attributes activate inhibiting behavior of anger, anxiety and disgust.
In the end, psychological research suggests that in human self-consciousness we have a self-judge that moves between, criticizer, criticized, compassionate observer. This is a mental space in the superior brain or human consciousness that is soft, safe, comfortable and welcoming. This compassionate self can be exercised to be vigorous, tough and strong; to enter into dialogue battle with the criticizer and the criticized. Then peace is possible in your mind and body, a truce can be called in your inner war. Old habits of self-criticism don’t need to rule you forever. The wise voice of kindness, compassion too is already there in every human at birth.
The Wonder of Being Human: Countering the religious devaluation of humanity, one of the darker strands of thought in punishment mythology is the idea of human sinfulness. This myth re-enforces the need for God to punish humanity. And of course, the ancients also projected holiness onto God to further intensify the contrast with imperfect humanity and enforce the need for deity to separate from humanity and punish humanity.
Humanity has been devalued by multiple millenia of this profoundly anti-human mythology of sinfulness. In our Christian Western tradition we have been told that we ruined an original paradise, that our ancestors intentionally committed an original error, and therefore “fell” into sinfulness , and that all people now inherit an essentially sinful nature or self. In addition, we have been told that we once lived longer lives but we lost that privileged condition and now live shorter lives (e.g. Buddhist and Hebrew myth). We are also, according to human sinfulness mythology, to be finally destroyed if we do not engage some salvation scheme.
Human sinfulness has become foundational to the fraudulent myth of human separation from God (excluded, rejected, condemned). This separation mythology claims that we have broken or ruptured a formerly close relationship. We are now told that we need to reconcile with our offended deity, and heal the ruined relationship. This separation perspective further supports appeasement mythology and the belief that a blood sacrifice is required to satisfy the deity that we have offended and angered. That will bring about reconciliation. Thus, we are urged to clean up the mess that we have made of life.
I am simply outlining here the Christian version of this mythology of sinfulness (fallen and corrupt humanity), which is also found in many other religious traditions. Christian sin mythology has darkened human consciousness with intensely damaging psychological impacts.
As now corrupt creatures we are told that we are continuing to ruin things to the extent that life is now in decline toward some great catastrophic ending as punishment for our sins, something that we deserve because our original parents sinned.
This fraud of human sinfulness has re-emerged contemporary ideologies such as environmental alarmism. Green alarmists continue to re-enforce our essential evil or corruptness by telling us that we are a virus on the planet, a cancer on life, or a curse. All of our successful endeavor to improve our lives and our families is regularly condemned by the anti-human alarmists as greed and selfishness. Not exactly helpful stuff on which to build healthy self-esteem.
This human sinfulness mythology has engendered immeasurable misery for people – endless guilt, shame, fear, self-loathing and self-hate, depression, and despair over our history. It is all a horrific distortion of the actual human story.
We now have a more humane and rational alternative to this pathological myth of fallen humanity. The real story of humanity is about the wonder of being human and possessing human consciousness. This scientifically-based narrative reveals that rather than beginning in some imagined perfection or innocence and then falling into sinfulness, we began in a more primitive and brutal past. That past was defined by things like much shorter life spans (20-30 years over most of human history), much higher rates of violence, along with overall miserable living conditions. We have since gradually developed and risen toward an ever-improving condition, including longer life spans. Researchers like Stephen Pinker (The Better Angels of Our Nature) and James Payne (History of Force) present sound evidence of our long term trajectory of progress, a trajectory that rises irreversibly from a more violent past and toward a more peaceful present. We have become a notably more empathic and gentle species.
This progress toward something better or more humane reveals the true nature of our consciousness, of our authentic human selves.
Somewhere in the distant past the greatest wonder in the cosmos began to emerge and develop in our species, the wonder of human or humane consciousness. Human consciousness came with basic impulses to feel compassion for others and for all for life, to include all as equals, to forgive, and to treat all with unconditional generosity. Though often embryonic in expression over history, these fundamental human impulses have grown steadily stronger over time, till today we see evidence of their widespread influence in our societies, and in civilization overall. See again Pinker, Julian Simon (Ultimate Resource), and others for detail. We are indeed more creators than destroyers (Simon) and this becomes ever more evident as history progresses. See also my comment on the actual trajectory of life (Rise or Decline?) in an essay that I did for the Global Warming Policy Foundation, available on their website under GWPF Reports, or on the topic bar above.
We now understand that the highest human ideal- what we summarize in the term love- defines our most essential nature or authentic self. Along with our core nature as love we have an unlimited creative potential. We create ever more useful technology, better medicine and health conditions, and ever more comfortable living conditions, with the result that the world average life span is now 69 years with numerous countries approaching 80 years. And our compassion and creativity (expressed in our desire for a better life) have enabled us to create immense wealth by which we are also able to improve conditions for all life forms.
Our ongoing progress toward something better is evidence, not of essential sinfulness, but of essential love and creativity at our core. There should be no guilt over our original imperfection, and our gradual progress and development toward something better.
Also, disciplines like quantum mechanics and related research tell us that our consciousness is not just a by-product of the hamburger in our heads (mind from meat) but is at the very core of reality as a creating element (the observer/observed relationship- see, for instance, Quantum by Manjit Kumar). Human consciousness may be the most fundamentally real thing, or the only “real” thing in all the cosmos. This ought to help us to value human consciousness more.
Whatever the ongoing discovery that emerges from such disciplines as physics, we know enough today to conclude that we have never fallen from a mythical better past state into some imagined worse present state. The exact opposite is true- that we have steadily risen from a worse state to our presently better condition. We can now rationally reject the sinfulness myths that were created to devalue humanity over most of history. And we can confidently conclude that we have never been separated from the greater Unconditional Love at the core of all reality. In fact, that greater reality of Unconditional Love also defines our essential nature (the human self or person) and consciousness as a similar love. You could argue that the greater Consciousness that we call God has incarnated in all humanity as human consciousness. That would indeed then make us the wonder of the cosmos.
Add to the above that no separation from our creating Source means no need for atonement, no need to get right with God, no need to appease deity, no need to engage some salvation religion, and much more. The only “salvation” that we need to engage is the ongoing improvement of life through our ever-developing compassion and creativity.
Its time to end this distorting devaluation of humanity as sinful and to recognize the wonder of our conscious selves.
Note: How then do we explain the darker side of humanity? Some have offered the insight that we have inherited base drives in a core animal brain, drives to fear, hate, retaliate, punish, and destroy, among others. But these drives do not define our essential human self. Researchers like Jeffrey Schwartz (You Are Not Your Brain) argue for distinguishing between these darker elements and our authentic self which is something much better. Theological types like Albert Nolan and Karen Armstrong offer that our essential self is love. The NDE movement also offers numerous accounts of people discovering that our essential person is love, just as the Ultimate Reality is Love (our real self being inseparable from Ultimate Love).
Further note on the holiness distortion: A Mind that creates all and sustains all in existence is obviously present in every atom of the material reality that it creates and sustains. It is not put off by the decay and death of life. It does not “separate” itself from the less pleasant aspects of physical reality and life. And yes, religious people will respond that the separation is about moral issues (i.e. sin). The historical Jesus responded to this consistently with unconditional treatment of all (unconditional inclusion, forgiveness, generosity), for both good and bad.
Robert D. Brinsmead
I remind you what someone has well said, “In order for good men to do evil, that takes religion.”
At the heart of the three Abrahamic faiths – Judaisim, Christianity, Islam- – there is a theology of violence. Moses ordered Israel to murder anybody who taught a different kind of faith. Joshua ordered the genocide of the early Israelite neighbours. Going back to the basic Abrahamic faith, God was supposed to have ordered Abraham to kill his son as a test whether he would put his God first, and Abraham was willing to obey those voices in his head. If any old guy tried to do that today, we would put him in a padded cell. But in the three Abrahamic religions cited above, Abraham’s willingness to kill his son for God is held up as the great example of fidelity to the faith. Why, if a man would be willing to kill his only son in a show of devotion to God, how much more willing would he be to kill a thousand Philistines, a thousand heretics or a thousand infidels out of devotion to God. Attar, who led the 9/11 terrorist attack on NY, was not a murderously dangerous young man… until he bought a prayer mat to worship some figure who was the projection of his own repressed violence.
Luther was caught up in this delusion too, because he said at one time that a sin against faith is worse than a sin against love. His belligerence toward his religious opponents, especially the Jews, shows how he got it all so wrong. Because this dedication to an idea of the supreme Good takes priority over everything else, since it becomes the Ultimate Concern, then the needs of people will inevitably be sacrificed to it. Calvin did this when he had Servetus burned at the stake for denying the Trinity. How could he have done this if he understood, as Paul Sheehan put it, “God has disappeared into humanity and can be found nowhere else?”
Once even the best of people go down this road that says God will damn all those who do not believe this or practice that, the door is wide open for the wrong attitude toward people who don’t believe it or don’t do it. When advocates of a religion, any religion (and the conviction that it is the only true religion makes it worse) declare that God will punish the non-believers or non-practitioners (as the case has been in Judaism, Christianity and Islam) it is humanly and psychologically inevitable that the advocates will think worse of such people. Instead of loving them they end up despising and hating them. These dogmatic religious statements made about God’s condemnation of non-believers don’t tell us anything about the mind of God, but they do tells us heaps about the minds of the ones who presume to speak for God in this way . They are only expressing their inner disdain, judgment, resentment and rage against the differing others.
It was one thing for the first Christians to find a truth which they felt to be the pearl of great price. But once they held to it in such a way that they started condemning and damning everyone else who did not believe it or departed in any respects from their understanding of it, they were on that slippery slope of religious intolerance ending in violence. As the early Christians split up into factions, each with a different interpretation of the saving Gospel or a different interpretation of Christology, faction fought against faction with astonishing fury. The party in Jerusalem who were zealous for the Law (a religious icon) took a vow that would not eat until they killed Paul. So bitter was the arguments about the person of Christ in the city of Rome, that the warring factions were expelled from Rome by the decree of the Emperor. In the midst of the Christology disputes in the fourth century, the historian Ammianus declared, “No wild beasts are such enemies to mankind as are Christians in their deadly hatred of one another.”
We would naturally inquire, did they pay no heed to the teaching of Jesus about loving one another – to say nothing of loving one’s enemies? They must have thought about this, of course, just as every Jew, every Christian and every Muslim who killed people for their faith must have given some thought to the second great commandment, Love thy neighbour. Don’t you think Saul of Tarsus thought about the second commandment or Calvin thought about it too when they were involving themselves in destroying human lives?
It is impossible to maintain an ethic of non-violence while clinging to a theology of violence. In the final analysis, the theology will always inform and determine the nature of the ethics . For example, to hold that God condemns all those who don’t believe our Gospel (as Paul and most early Christians said repeatedly) is holding to a theology of violence . Given the right “soil”, a theology of violence is seed that will bear a harvest of violence against humanity.