The Christian Contradiction
Written by: Wendell Krossa
(Note: The following comment is related to sound historical research, namely Q Sayings research which is a subsection of general Historical Jesus research)
A significant historical misunderstanding, distortion, and consequent scandal. That refers to the Jesus/Paul contradiction noted below, and its recognizable impact on public consciousness and general human existence. Varied historians have stated that Paul has been the single greatest influence on Western consciousness and society. Some of that influence has been good. Some has been harmful. Note the difference because it is important. This contradiction between Jesus and Paul encompasses significant validating ideas that have shaped human existence for better and for worse.
Qualifier: A note on the Jesus tradition and Historical Jesus research. Ultimately it does not matter what Jesus said, or did not say. Historical Jesus research shows that we will never know his actual original teaching with finality. It is more important to get the insight on unconditional reality that is found on the Jesus side of the tradition, and pull that out of the highly conditional Christian context where it has been severely distorted by Paul’s atonement theology (i.e. the demanded payment for sin- the fulfillment of an ultimate condition). Jesus’ unconditional insight is better understood in new contexts aside from conditional religion. As he said, put the new wine in new wineskins. The diamond of unconditional has too long been buried by the overwhelmingly dominant Christ myth of Christianity. That is Thomas Jefferson’s point that the diamonds of Jesus- “his sublimely moral teaching”- were buried among the other inferior teaching of the gospel writers. He used a stronger term to describe the inferior teaching in the New Testament, but I am trying to be nice.
Further, unconditional does not need validation by a religious authority figure like Jesus. It is self-validating as the ultimate definition of authentic humanity. Therefore, I am advocating that we get the unconditional insight clear, pull it out of the Jesus tradition, and then create a better context aside from the conditional features of a religion like Christianity. Jesus points us in the right direction on unconditional. Now we need to move on further.
One more: I am not claiming below that Paul set out to intentionally deceive people. I assume that he actually believed that his Christ myth explained what Jesus was all about. But the outcome is the same- whether just serious misunderstanding or intentional deception. Paul proclaimed something that was not true. His Christ mistake has harmed people more than is commonly recognized. (See comment below on Paul’s influence on Western consciousness and society, and the psychological impact of his ideas)
Distortion and Deception (propagating belief in things that are not true)
This is about the claim to represent someone, but then distorting and burying entirely that person’s central theme. The very name Christianity expresses the basic problem. It is not Jesus-ianity. It is Christ-ianity. Its all about the Christ myth of Paul, a myth that contradicts the original message of Jesus entirely.
(I recognize that the ideas that Paul used to shape his Christology were also common in Judaism and other traditions- i.e. Messiah myths. See, for instance, Daniel Boyarin’s The Jewish Gospels. Note that Boyarin dismisses the critical issue of an original Jesus teaching and its distortion in Christianity.)
It ranks high as probably the greatest deception and scandal in the history of mythology and religion- that Christianity rejected and then buried the earliest gospel of Jesus. This is much more consequential than the discovery of the ossuary of Jesus. Or the pedophile priest scandals. Or any other scandal/deception. The distortion and burial of Jesus’ teaching within Christianity has resulted in the “spiritual abuse” of countless people over the past two millennia (see psychotherapist Zenon Lotufo’s comment at bottom of this article).
Christianity as spiritual abuse? That’s an extravagant and unsettling claim to make. But take into account the widespread influence of Christianity and the nature of its foundational ideas. To get this abuse issue fully, note, for instance, Lotufo’s comments on the harmful impacts from atonement theology (i.e. the belief in divine anger that demands suffering and death as payment for imperfection). He wrote an entire book outlining the damage to human personality from these ideas (see Cruel God, Kind God).
There are two sides to this claim of abuse. There is the Christian denial of something that could powerfully liberate and heal human consciousness and life- i.e. the proper knowledge of the highest expression of authentic humanity ever presented. I refer to the Jesus breakthrough on the unconditional treatment of all people. Christianity’s contrary retaliation themes have denied people the full understanding of this supremely humane ethic. And just as important, Christianity has denied people the healing impact of Jesus’ theological breakthrough- the discovery of a God that treats everyone with absolutely no conditions love. The new Jesus theology points us toward “the single most profound shift in human consciousness ever- from viewing some grand retribution or payback behind reality, to understanding that there is only an absolutely no conditions Love behind all”. See the implications of denying this wonder below.
The other side of this abuse claim is that, aside from denying people the proper presentation of history’s most liberating insight, Christianity has promoted contrary ideas that have proven harmful in all other contexts. It is no longer responsible to protect these bad ideas in religious contexts like Christianity, no matter how sacred we feel them to be.
The proper presentation and full understanding of the stunning unconditional insight of Jesus could have produced the greatest liberation movement ever- freeing human consciousness from all kinds of unnecessary threat, guilt/shame, fear, anxiety, depression and despair that arise from atonement theology. The clear presentation of the unconditional insight could have also removed a central historical validation for violence- i.e. the ideal of violent, punitive deity that has long been used to validate similar violent treatment of others (see, for example, Terror in Mumbai). We have been denied so much, to our detriment, over the past two millennia.
This Christian denial is about an original teaching and a religion that claims to represent the original teacher but has contradicted entirely his core theme. Yes, much of the content of Jesus’ original teaching has been included in the New Testament but it has been tampered with by gospel writers like Matthew. Most of the rest of the New Testament then ignores Jesus’ teaching outright and instead promotes the Christ mythology of Paul (i.e. Paul’s Christology- his personal visions of Christ). The Christ of Paul embodies an atonement myth- a supreme condition- that contradicts entirely the Jesus breakthrough on unconditional.
The basic outline of the scandal:
The closest that we can get to the original teaching of Jesus is a collection of wisdom sayings, called the Q Sayings Gospel (see, for instance, the research of James Robinson, among others). That teaching encompasses basically Matthew chapters 5 to 7, the Sermon on the Mount, and a few other passages/stories. Luke 6 covers similar material. Q research (short for Quelle, the German word for Source) is part of the larger multi-century search to discover the Historical Jesus- what he actually said and did. Historical Jesus research recognizes that the later gospel and epistle writers put a lot of additional things in the mouth of Jesus, things that contradict his original teaching. Hence, the understanding that there are notable “dissimilarities” or contradictions in the New Testament. The latest phase of this search involves the Jesus Seminar, which began around 1985. These scholars have done excellent work trying to decipher what the original Jesus actually said and did. Unfortunately, they have never made fully clear the shocking nature of the Christian denial of Jesus’ core theme, and what this means for Christianity and other belief systems.
Again, Matthew 5-7 comprises Jesus’ core teaching or message, his gospel, though Matthew has altered that teaching in various places. But within this core teaching there is a core theme that is stated in Matthew 5:38-48, which Robinson calls the “core of the core”. There, Jesus introduced something entirely new- a stunning theology of a non-retaliatory God. He said that there should be no more ‘eye for eye’ vengeance but instead we should love our enemies and we would then be the children of God, we would be like God. Because God gives the good things of life- sun and rain- to all, both good and bad. God does not exclude or discriminate but treats all the same, with unconditional generosity and love. God does not exercise payback or ‘eye for eye’ justice- i.e. reward the good and punish the bad. God treats all the same. This was something uniquely new and unprecedented in history. A God that did not retaliate, punish, or destroy but instead exhibited absolutely no conditions love toward everyone.
Here is a summarized/paraphrased statement of the Matthew 5 insight combined with parts of the same Luke 6 teaching: “You have heard that it was said, Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth. But I tell you, Do not take vengeance on an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also…You have heard that it was said, Love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I tell you: Love your enemies…do good to those that hate you, that you may be the sons of your Father in heaven (i.e. if you do that you will be like God). He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and unrighteous, he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked…Be merciful therefore just as your heavenly Father is merciful”.
(Side note: As with all comment on unconditional, one feels obligated to qualify to doubters that common sense understands that love is responsible to restrain evil in order to protect the innocent. Unconditional is very much about the spirit in which we treat all others, despite what we might have to do to protect people and to restrain bad behavior.)
The ethic of non-retaliation (no more eye for eye, no getting even with those who harm us) had been voiced repeatedly over previous millennia in such writing as the Akkadian Father’s advice to his son, roughly around 2000 BCE. Other ancient traditions- e.g. Hinduism, Buddhism- had similar statements. But never before had anyone presented the related theology of a non-retaliating God. Jesus took theology somewhere entirely new.
James Robinson calls Jesus’ new theology “his most important contribution to the history of ideas” (Jesus According to the Earliest Witnesses, p.17). It was a vision of God that was more humane than anything ever stated before, a God that exhibited impartial love for both good and bad people. All previous deities, despite embracing new features like mercy and compassion, had also maintained the traditional harsher features of gods, such as anger, vengeance, punishment, tribal favoritism and exclusion, and destruction of enemies. Jesus’ new Q theology had none of that.
(Note: Robinson gets the closest to grasping the unconditional theme of Jesus’ theology but does not seem to get the full nature of this discovery and its profound implications for Christianity. He continues to roam around in the confusing Christian context. For example, in several places he says that doing Jesus’ words is “what counts in the day of judgment”. The unconditional treatment of all and judgment? Huh? But Robinson gets further with his grasp of Jesus’ core theme than most Jesus Seminar scholars.)
My point in this discussion…
Non-retaliation is one element in the larger theme of unconditional love- the unconditional treatment of all people. This unconditional theme, though Jesus never used exactly that term, is visible all through the teaching and behavior of Jesus. We find unconditional in his advocating for unlimited forgiveness (i.e. seventy seven times, Matthew 18: 21-22); in his advocating for non-discrimination toward all people, or the unconditional inclusion of all (i.e. he did this at meals and elsewhere- inviting “sinners” to table fellowship, without condition); and in his advocating unconditional generosity toward all (“give to whoever asks, especially enemies, and expect nothing in return”, Luke 6:35). The absolutely no conditions treatment of all people was the new kingdom of God (the new humane existence) that he spoke about.
Unconditional is also evident in the short stories that Jesus told. Note, for instance, that in the Prodigal story the father (representing God) does not demand a sacrifice to pay for the sins of the wayward son. He does not demand repentance or payback of any kind. He exhibits an unconditional welcome and celebration toward the bad son. The scandalous generosity of the father offends the older son, the good son. It offends his sense of proper morality or justice. The unconditional treatment of all is offensive to traditional religious/payback understanding of justice.
Note also the offended sense of justice in the vineyard workers as they react to the unconditional generosity of the vineyard owner (Matthew 20). The unconditional treatment of others is offensive to good, moral, and religious people that are oriented to eye for eye or “fair justice”.
The no conditions treatment of all is a “cohering theme” throughout the teaching and life of Jesus. There are more detailed outlines of this below- see, for instance, “Unconditional as the cohering theme of Historical Jesus” (formerly Unconditional in the Jesus Tradition), section 7.
Again, there were two parts to the statement of Jesus’ core theme in Matthew 5:38-48. First, there was the ethic that was then based on the exact same theological belief. That has been a critical relationship all through human history- to base behavior on beliefs. We act according to how we think. And for the first time ever Jesus got both the behavior and the belief right in that he stated them in terms of the highest understanding of authentic love- unconditional. He took our understanding of being authentically human, of the great ideal of love, to new heights with the absolutely no conditions ideal.
To enhance appreciation for what he discovered, I have stated repeatedly here that Jesus’ statement of the unconditional insight competes as humanity’s greatest discovery ever. It is the finest statement of authentically humane ethics and the ultimate definition of a supremely humane God. There is no more comparably humane insight anywhere in human thought or literature.
Consider its two parts- an ethic that Jefferson called “sublime”. And then a theological foundation that takes perception of ultimate reality to absolute new heights of the humane. And I do not know if Jesus had any clue about what he was doing with these two elements, but when he combined them, he responded in the best possible manner to the fundamental human need to base behavior on validating beliefs, ideals, or higher authorities. He responded sublimely to the human need to think about and validate what we do. And he attained the highest possible reach of the authentically humane on both features.
Some anthropologists have treated this important behavior/belief linkage. See, for instance, Clifford Geertz below.
But again, it matters not whether Jesus actually taught unconditional as I have stated it, or not. We know it today as the highest expression of authentic humanity. It is right and true in itself and needs no religious authority to validate it. And again, I would advocate pulling this insight out of the confusing Christian context (i.e. highly conditional atonement theology) in order to see it more clearly. Create a new ‘no conditions’ context for it.
The misunderstanding and consequent deception: Burying unconditional in a highly conditional theology and Christology (i.e. the teaching about the Christ).
When Paul composed the theology of Christianity a few decades after Jesus died, he outright rejected the central unconditional theme of Jesus. He created a Christ myth as a message that was entirely opposite to what Jesus had taught. His Christ myth became the heart of the new Christian religion. It was about a Savior that had to come to meet the ultimate condition ever conceived- to become a sacrifice to pay for sin in order to save us from the wrath of God (Romans 5:9), to save us from a God that would retaliate with horrific punishment and destruction of unbelievers. The myth of the Christ was about the supreme condition of a Savior sent to make a supreme payment for sin, a human blood sacrifice in order to save people from the rage of Paul’s retaliating/punishing God. I am stating these beliefs as plainly and coarsely as possible in order to make their essential nature clear. (For Paul’s statements of these ideas see the early chapters of Romans, and the wrath/retaliation theme all through Paul’s letters)
When Paul presented the Christ myth in his letters, he included almost nothing from the actual teaching of Jesus, except in one place where he apparently engaged Jesus’ teaching, but only in order to contradict its main discovery and theme.
Jesus, in his original wisdom sayings, had said nothing about traditional religious conditions or salvation conditions. And he said nothing about his coming as a Savior to become a sacrifice to pay for sin. He also said nothing about bringing the world to an end in a great apocalyptic punishment and destruction. To the contrary, he had repeatedly emphasized the themes of unconditional forgiveness, inclusion, and generosity toward all. Because that is what God does. His teaching was mainly a body of ethical statements on how to live as authentically human. How to love unconditionally.
Paul outright rejected that absolutely no conditions message, especially the new Jesus theology of a non-retaliating God. Paul then reversed back to primitive eye for eye justice, and to the entire opposite theology- that of a punishing, retaliating, and destroying God. Paul retreated into highly conditional salvation religion.
Robinson says that Jesus’ basic insight was then lost and early Christianity returned to a retaliatory God. Christianity, he says, returned to Matthew’s vengefulness. Jesus’ view of God was replaced by the reverse view of God (see Jesus According to the First Witnesses, p.134, 137). Robinson concludes that Jesus’ shocking new view of God has since been largely ignored. Buried, forgotten.
Does this give you some sense of the profound deception that has actually occurred in Christianity?
Paul states his outright rejection of Jesus’ new teaching in several places in his letters. For instance, in 1 Corinthians 1-3, he more generally opposes and dismisses the wisdom tradition of sages like Jesus (see Stephen Patterson’s The Lost Way for detail). But then in Romans 12 he appears to more directly engage and oppose the main ethical/belief breakthrough of Jesus (i.e. Matthew 5:38-48). He especially reverses its stunning new theological insight. Taking an entirely contrary position to Jesus, Paul advocates for a vengeful, retaliating God (“Vengeance is mine… I will repay”). At first glance, this appears to be quite nonsensical for a supposedly bright man, to base a non-retaliatory ethic on a retaliatory belief (i.e. you should not retaliate because God will retaliate- Romans 12:17-20).
Here is the Romans 12 statement combining the non-retaliation ethic with the contrary retaliation theology: “Do not repay anyone evil for evil… Do not take revenge but leave room for God’s wrath for it is written, ‘It is mine to avenge. I will repay’. Instead, treat your enemy well and in doing this you will heap burning coals on his head”.
A side note: Imagine- Paul asks us to act in a more humane manner than God does. We are not to engage the “evil” of retaliation (“Do not return evil for evil”) because God will do that evil, and to much worse degree. We are to be more humane than God. That is a nonsensical argument.
While Paul appears to at least embrace the non-retaliation ethic of Jesus, closer examination shows that he also misunderstands the very spirit of Jesus’ ethic on non-retaliation. So Paul is actually being consistent by making his ethic similar to the belief that it is based upon. Both are retaliatory in essence.
Paul urges his non-retaliation ethic as a temporary this-world stance that will ensure ultimate divine retaliation. Do not retaliate, he urges, but he then relates this to the outcome that it will “pour coals of fire” on your enemy’s head. Some scholars claim that this comment shows that we should engage non-retaliation in order to then ensure that God will retaliate. Hence, the ethic is also retaliatory in intent and outcome. It will ensure a much worse future retaliation against your enemies. Hence, Paul appears to be consistent in rejecting the spirit of the ethic of Jesus, as well as rejecting outright the core theology of Jesus.
Paul creates Christianity on this foundational myth of divine retaliation (eye for eye justice).
The theme of divine retaliation runs all through Paul’s writing. Note just for example the following statements from Paul’s first two letters written to the Thessalonians around 50 CE. “Coming wrath…the wrath of God…the Lord will punish… (they will) suffer wrath… destruction will come…he will pay back trouble… Lord Jesus revealed in blazing fire…he will punish…they will be punished with everlasting destruction…doomed to destruction…Lord Jesus will overthrow with the breath of his mouth…they will perish…”. And that is just from two short early epistles. The man was grounded in retaliation theology. So it goes throughout his letters. Urging believers to trust in a retaliatory God who will destroy their enemies when the great apocalypse and end-time judgment comes.
Paul was significantly influential in shaping the rest of early Christian thought and writing. His views dominated the Christian movement and the rest of the Christian scriptures. He set the retaliatory tone for the rest of the Christian religion.
The outcome was that his retaliatory Christianity has distorted and buried Jesus’ original gospel teaching on non-retaliation.
The other New Testament writers, under Paul’s dominating influence, also promoted Paul’s retaliation-oriented Christ myth, known as the Christian “Jesus Christ”.
Writers like Matthew (or whoever actually wrote that book) felt obligated to include the unconditional teaching of Jesus as it was too well known by the early Christian movement to ignore. But Matthew then immediately set about contradicting that non-retaliatory teaching, burying it in retaliatory and conditional comment. He starts in the Sermon on the Mount, putting all sorts of retaliatory/conditional statements in the mouth of Jesus. For instance, Matthew has Jesus stating that anyone who breaks the least of the commandments would be punished with diminished status (Matt.5:19). He then threatens that unless a person’s righteousness exceeded that of the Pharisees they would not enter the kingdom of heaven (5:20). He continues stating that expressing anger would subject people to judgment (5:22), that calling another person a fool would get people into Hell (5:22), that lustful thoughts would get people into Hell (5:30- that means all men), that people would only be forgiven on condition that they first forgave others (e.g. “If you forgive men when they sin against you, your Father will also forgive you”, Matthew 6:14), and that judging others would result in eye for eye retributive judgment (Matt.7:1). And so on throughout the sermon. Matthew’s tampered version of Jesus’ original gospel is full of retaliatory ‘eye for eye’ comment, in startling contradiction to the core theme of Jesus in Matthew 5:38-48.
Matthew in later chapters then goes nuclear with threats of divine retaliation and Hell, repeatedly warning people that they will be cast into outer darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, among other threats (see for example Matthew 10:15, 10:20, 11:21-22, 13:42, 18:9, 18:35, 22:13, 23:33, 25:30, and other verses). He even claims that some sins will never be forgiven (12:31). Matthew is just following Paul’s lead on a retaliating God with threats of divine anger and punishment. He contradicts entirely the clear statement of Jesus that God did not retaliate against anyone, not even the bad. So it goes with much of the New Testament, ending in that orgy of grotesque Christ-fueled retaliation of Revelation.
Consequent to this harsh teaching, billions of people have never been clearly told the full wonder and the liberating implications of the absolutely no conditions news that Jesus taught. They have been denied the profoundly liberating news that there is only an absolutely no conditions love behind all. They have never been clearly told that there never was an angry God threatening punishment and damnation in Hell. There never was a Fall into sin and separation from God (i.e. ruptured relationship). There never was an exclusion from paradise. There is no need for some sacrifice to pay for sin, for some plan of salvation. There is no need for faith in some Savior. There is no need to be saved from anything. There is no division of humanity into the special saved children of God (true believers) and damned outsiders (unbelievers). There will be no apocalypse or judgment or hell. There is no need for mediating religion and priesthoods. We are free indeed and we are all safe in unconditional love. We always have been. Unconditional means absolutely no conditions. None at all.
But instead of liberating humanity into an authentically unconditional understanding and existence, Christianity has re-enforced the old threatening, retaliation view of reality and existence. This religion has subsequently shaped our justice systems, our ethics, and our overall societies (again, see comments by Tabor, Boyce, the Mennonites, and others below). As writers like Zenon Lotufo state (Cruel God, Kind God), this harshly inhumane teaching has retarded many people in subhuman states of development. It has darkened and enslaved human consciousness and the human spirit for two millennia.
Despite these nasty influences and outcomes, many Christians have learned to focus on the more humane themes in the Bible and ignore the larger context of retaliation. They are to be applauded for this. But the larger background context continues to undermine, weaken, distort, and bury the better Christian ideals like love. Unconditional love has no relationship at all to atonement conditions. Jefferson was right that the diamonds are buried. The only reasonable conclusion then? Pull the diamonds out and clean them off properly. Or to use another statement from Jesus- the new wine needs new wineskins.
This deception/scandal has been ignored and downplayed for two millennia now. It needs to be exposed widely. It is one of history’s greatest frauds and scams. Yet it lies there plainly visible in the New Testament. Why have so many missed it? I would suggest because of the cognitive dissonance that Christianity has promoted, the great contradictions that people are pushed to hold in their minds. Christian believers are told that all of the ideas in the Bible are sacred ideas- ideas given by God in holy books (i.e. the fallacy of Biblicism). So they are not to be questioned or challenged. They are all from God. So submit, believe, and obey.
That unquestioning subservience has to end. But I understand the fear that a fundamental challenge and reform project will evoke in Christian believers and leadership. If you embrace the original teaching of Jesus, if you take it seriously, it then represents the greatest threat to the Christian religion, ever. If people start to take his unconditional theme seriously then that will spell the end of all conditional religion. It spells the end of Christian conditional atonement, the foundational belief of Christianity. My suggestion to alleviate concern- rather than fear the unconditional core theme of Jesus, and its implications, get a good grip on unconditional itself and appreciate the liberation that it brings. Look at the positive outcomes. It also fully humanizes Jesus. Something the Christ myth could never do.
And at least recognize, without bias, what any superficial understanding of unconditional really means. Conditional religions like Christianity cannot properly present the unconditional discovery of Historical Jesus. To try and merge unconditional with conditional atonement, as Christianity does, only confuses things. It weakens unconditional. Jesus and Christ cannot be merged as they are entire opposites. They represent unconditional reality versus highly conditional reality. Absolutely contradictory. And while it is true that there are the ideals of love, mercy, forgiveness and more in the Christian teaching, it is what you maintain in the larger context (i.e. divine wrath, vengeance, punishment) that defines and distorts these other ideals. The result of trying to merge opposites in the same system of belief, as Lotufo notes, is cognitive dissonance (contradiction) and the obstruction of healthy personality development. Note his discussion of the cognitive dissonance in the lives of John Stott and J.I. Packer, two Evangelical theologians.
Brief summary of the development of early Christian thinking…
Jesus taught his new theology somewhere between CE 27-36. Paul wrote his first letters to the Thessalonians around the 50s CE. Mark wrote around the 70s CE. Matthew wrote around 80s CE. An aside: Robinson notes the 70 CE event- the Second Temple destruction- that may have turned early Christians away from Jesus’ non-retaliatory theology and back to a retaliating God. But Paul had already been teaching a retaliatory deity before this (again, around 50 CE in Thessalonians). John wrote around 90s CE. Luke/Acts was written early in the second century.
Further comment on the claim of ‘spiritual abuse’ by Christian teaching: Psychotherapist Zenon Lotufo (Cruel God, Kind God) details the harmful consequences from “Cruel God” religion (i.e. angry deity threatening punishment for human imperfection, and demanding blood sacrifice). Aside from producing fanaticism and violence, violent deity religion also produces psychological outcomes like “fear that infantilizes, guilt and anxiety, shame, feeling of rejection and condemnation, depression, and impoverished personalities… the inhibition of the full development of personality” (p.1-5). He argues that the God of atonement and hell-fire threat does “not surpass the least evolved moral levels” (p.101). Such a God hinders the full development of personality and spiritual life. This ‘violent God’ religion leads to “paralysis of moral development in stages typical of young children… the greatest damage done by doctrines that include the ‘plan of salvation’ lies in producing …atrophy of the personality… similar to what happens to those who undergo surgical lobotomies” (p.138). And more. Lotufo rightly notes that the atonement belief is the heart of the problem- an angry God demanding violent punishment and payment. That belief is the foundation of Paul’s Christian religion.
He adds that these Christian ideas permeate Western culture (p.5).
Follow-up note: Isn’t it somewhat callous to challenge a religion that has provided hope for billions of people over two millennia? To “attack” beliefs that provide people the comfort of salvation, beliefs that many consider to be the supreme expression of divine love and compassion? Christians embrace their salvation religion as an expression of love and grace from God. So again, how can anyone be so callous to challenge such love and hope? Well no. That is not the point of what is being done here. My argument is that Christian hope has too long been based on an entirely fraudulent foundation. It is therefore a seriously deformed hope and it leads to “retardation of people in subhuman stages of development” (the psychological description- again, see Lotufo comment on spiritual abuse).
The “comfort” that Christians derive from their tradition stems from that fact that they have first been traumatized by such things as the belief that there is some threat of divine wrath that must be appeased with blood sacrifice, in order for people to be “saved”. Add the horrific myth that they need to be saved from Hell. Of course, a salvation plan that promises to rescue from such threat will provide hope and comfort. But the foundational beliefs are all wrong in the first place. And you must confront this issue- What do such perverse ideas do to human consciousness, emotion, and life?
The question is legitimate: What kind of hope is based on a foundation of traumatizing ideas, fraudulent ideas such as angry deity and Hell? Such ideas do not promote healthy human development but are actually damaging to human personality.
Christian hope is wrongly grounded in a fraudulent and harmful mythology. There has never been an angry God threatening to exclude, punish and destroy people, and demanding payment for human imperfection. There has never been any need to be saved from anything. And the related conditions, such as the requirement to believe and follow the Christian religion correctly, those conditions have left many uncertain if they really are among the saved. Have they met all the conditions properly and fully?
The infinitely better news comes from the unconditional insight of Jesus. That is a much better foundation on which to base authentic hope- that God has always and only been absolutely no conditions love. That provides real security and safety. Unconditional states unequivocally that all are safe. There is no discrimination or exclusion of anyone. That alone generates authentic hope and comfort. Keep this in mind as you read the challenge here to the Christian God and religion.
So to the Christian argument that I should look at the love and hope in their Salvationism, I respond that it begs the question of what kind of love would kill and torture people in Hell? What kind of hope wishes for the destruction of its enemies in Hell (i.e. the Christian hope as expressed in books like Revelation).
I would urge Christian believers: Do not miss the best thing in your tradition- the core unconditional theme of historical Jesus. Recognize how that theme has been distorted by Paul’s Christ myth. And start taking your Jesus seriously (i.e. his original gospel of wisdom sayings). You cannot understand and communicate the wonder of his unconditional theme through conditional ideas and myths such as atonement theology. You only distort and bury unconditional through such concepts. The result is beyond oxymoronic. And you then deny people true liberation, real hope and love, and authentic “salvation”.
This explains my advocating that you take the supremely humane insight of Jesus (Matthew 5:38-48, and related material) out of the New Testament and leave the rest. The rest cannot be salvaged. I have read too many books that get lost in arguing what is valid or not in the Jesus tradition. What might have been added to some original teaching. And the endless debates over which interpretation is right, or not. Endless haggling over words and phrases, jots and tittles. At times it all seems such a waste of time and effort. And it so often misses the main point- is the content humane or not? Is the content promoting the best of human ideals like unconditional?
Remember the old maxim- Do not miss the forest for the trees. Don’t miss the supreme insight and get lost in endless detail that does nothing to enhance human understanding of the most important human insight ever. Like Thomas Jefferson, it seems better to get your scissors and cut out what is best and then throw the rest away. Quit wasting time parsing, defending, and promoting material that is recognizably subhuman or outright inhuman in many cases (according to basic standards of common human rights today).
Take the Matthew 5:38-48 section and spend your life meditating on that. There is no better guide to thinking and acting in the most humane manner possible. That takes human understanding of ultimate reality (God) and human existence to the absolute heights of the authentically humane.
Another: I get the defensive Christian response to the Jesus’ ideal of the unconditional treatment of enemies. Christians argue, to the contrary, that God is holy and therefore “must punish all sin”. But no, love does not have to punish wrong. It can just forgive. Exactly as Jesus advocated (the claimed founder of Christianity). And remember 1 Corinthians 13, the love chapter. That hymn states that love keeps no record of wrongs. It just forgives and forgets all wrongs. Most spouses and parents get this unconditional love and exercise it toward their imperfect spouses and children. Do you think that a God that is Love cannot get such unconditional love? See “Countering the Holiness Distortion in Christianity” further below.
Finally: While initially offensive for the religious mind to even consider, the Jesus/Paul contradiction illustrates the struggle of humanity to leave animal existence (our origin with its dominant features of small band or tribal relating, domination and exclusion of enemies, retaliation and the destruction of outsiders). It illustrates our struggle to become fully human. Unfortunately, our history has too often also exhibited intense opposition to becoming fully human. Religious traditions like Christianity have used the myths of the sacred to validate the animal and to keep it alive, to protect and preserve the animal under the canopy of the sacred. For detail on how people have embedded animal-like features in sacred ideals see, for example, Alex Garcia’s “Alpha God”. This may be upsetting for religious minds to contemplate, but evidence supports the existence of this animal/sacred relationship in religions like Christianity. That relationship has deformed human consciousness and hindered the proper development of human society. Yes, I know… Ouch. But Lotufo, Ellens, and others affirm this conclusion.
Note: My paraphrase of a well-known statement by Jesus- “You will know the truth about unconditional and this truth will set you free”.