This is an outstanding book, with a veritable raft of highly thought-provoking ideas. It is sensitively and passionately written and, although crafted by a Professor of the New Testament, offers some candid insights into the pitfalls of modern Christianity. This is the perfect book for an independent thinker who feels drawn to Christian philosophy.
The Big Ideas:
1. Exclusivity is Destructive:
The prologue opens with this poem:
The Jesus who
Keeps saying “I am Jesus,
Look at me,
There is no substitute”
Is an impostor. Do not trust
The Christian cult of
Personality. I came
To turn you on and not
To turn you off,
To make you free and not
To tie you up.
My yoke was easy and
My burden light
Until they made
Salvation copyright, and
All in the name of Jesus.
My name was ever Jesus.
From now on
I am anonymous.
The idea that salvation is dependent on a name, Jesus Christ, is a fallacy based on the fear of acknowledging all people as the highest and most elevated expression of the divine. In truth, every person incorporates the divine within their being. The idea of salvation being hinged squarely on the singularity of Jesus Christ’s person, as controlled and monitored by the Church, is a falsehood, intended to maintain and extend Church power and control. The idea of copyright is contradictory to the free-flowing nature of creation. People who are ignored and overlooked as “the highest” are easier to control than people who know themselves to be free and dependent on nothing. Salvation, really, is predicated on nothing else but the experience of interior freedom, which is available freely to all people. The Church’s disinterest in acknowledging this, that is, all people’s individual interface with the divine as a sacred thing, is testament to a love that shrinks, rather than one that expands joyfully. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, for instance, disavows the religious or mystical experiences of individuals claiming to have touched the divine within themselves. This is expressly overridden and superseded by Christ’s way as being the only way. This is destructive as it makes people feel small and inadequate, rather than loved and acknowledged.
2. Jesus was not a Christian:
Jesus was a Jew who visited synagogues and was versed in the Old Testament. He did not do the things that modern Christians do. He did not go to church and was an anti-establishment character in many ways. He challenged and rebuked authority. He did not need to refer to or acknowledge the “word of God” in a book. Rather, he spoke from the heart. His emphasis was the ability to empathise with others and relate directly to their problems and concerns. The point that he reiterated was that people should have faith with respect to the Father building the kingdom of God within them. This process, this faith, does not depend on religious practices or institutions, and really, people need to look to their own honest voice within in precedence to looking to a book, namely the Bible. If you want to be like Jesus, connect with people directly, thoughtfully and honestly, have faith in the process of life, know that the kingdom of God –freedom- will inevitably arise within you, and exercise a healthy mistrust for institutions that seek to control or distance themselves from humane and sensitive heart-to-heart dealings with human beings.
3. Everything that is, is Holy:
“The problem with religion is that in its all too human efforts to make peace with God it cleaves human reality right down the middle. It tears apart more than it heals. Above all, it divides life into the sacred and non-sacred: these things, actions, vestments, places, words, times, and people are sacred or holy; the rest are secular or profane. Thus we have the disastrous body-soul dichotomy in religious history, a dichotomy that even today shows its results in the negative ecclesiastical understanding of sex and the body. The obsession of the Church, especially the Roman Catholic Church, with sexuality; the rules about celibacy, divorce, birth control; even the issue of women’s ordination all these are results of the split.”
The urge to make divisions of any kind between certain things being more holy than others is like trying to say that your kidney is more valuable than your liver, like trying to say that the sun is worth more than the moon, or that grass is inherently better than moss. The idea that all places, things, people and materials are all equally sacred and that all represent the divine property of the Creator, needs to be fostered in precedence of any notions that cast some things as acceptable and other people or things as unacceptable. The challenge of love and reconciliation is to be able to see all things as included, without needing to invoke the barbarism of prejudice and judgement.
4. The Obsession with Sex by Orthodox Churches is not Scriptural:
“I find it very odd that the churches -particularly the Roman Catholic Church and the most orthodox Protestant groups- have always seemed almost obsessed with sex and sexual matters when Jesus himself had so little to say on the topic. He has left us no specific wisdom on such matters as abortion, contraception, artificial insemination, or even premarital sex. Yet some Church leaders give the impression he spoke of little else.”
The Catholic Church in the Catechism describes masturbation as a disorder. This again seems to be a doctrine that emerges from fear, an institutionalised hang-up, that disavows the ability to freely enjoy the sexual pleasures that form perhaps the most incredible and scintillating area of human experience. One can only conclude that unbridled sexual self-expression represents the freedom and inhibition to which the church is directly opposed. Sex must be wrapped up in the confines of marriage and restrained within certain ordinate norms, and be for the purpose of procreation alone, in order to be condoned. As Tom Harpur notes, these concepts are the outworkings of an establishment that values control above freedom of expression. Jesus had precious little to say about this area. We are led to believe that Jesus somehow existed in a sexual vacuum. The Virgin birth is another case in point. Sexual intercourse is distanced from that entity that would supply salvation, although it is obviously impossible, as Harpur notes:
“Modern knowledge of reproduction and genetics, of course, also rules out a virgin birth. We know it takes the genetic material-with all its history-from two parents to create a new person. The orthodox doctrine requires that Jesus have no normal genetic traits of any male forbears whatever. In fact, if parthenogenesis (virgin birth) were to occur, only a female baby could result, since there would be no Y chromosome from a male sperm.”
5. The Church does a Pretty Average Job of Communicating Who Jesus Was:
“Put in its bluntest form, the fact is that the Christian Church is doing a very bad job of communicating who Jesus was and is for humanity and what it was he came to do. Most of the traditional language and dogmas about Jesus are simply incomprehensible to a generation that has seen men walking on the moon.”
The Church often perpetuates an understanding of Jesus that services ideas of personal disempowerment and ineptitude, which helps to reinforce institutional control. Individuals are not encouraged to speak for themselves, from the heart, which actually exemplifies Jesus’ approach to others. If we want to follow Jesus, we should speak for ourselves, feel dependent on no institutions or books, interact with others thoughtfully and considerately and really try to fathom where they are coming from and be secure and safe in the knowledge that the kingdom of God, the clear visage of freedom and truth, will arise of its own accord. Trust your own voice. Speak your truth in the face of expectations from without. Do not let your own personal truth be suppressed by or squandered on the regimes of power-seeking institutions.
Renfield H. Bizarre, 06.03.16