By A L Katz
One of our goals here at The Faitheism Project is to foster respectful conversation by creating an honest, truthful context in which to discuss spirituality. That’s spirituality divorced from organized religion’s artifice & mythmaking.
The point isn’t to judge Christianity. That serves no purpose. But it’s instructive to ask “How did Christianity succeed so extraordinarily?” We can also ask “considering as Christianity was based heavily on Judaism, how was it that Christianity took off and spread while Judaism didn’t?” What did Christianity do that Judaism didn’t?
The historian Yuval Harari has a great theory in his excellent book Sapiens. Judaism didn’t spread because it didn’t want to. If the theory is you’re “born a Jew” then there’s no way to “become” one so why bother converting people? Jews saw themselves (because they’d mythologized themselves this way) as Yahweh’s “Chosen People” (“Yahweh” being the deity’s name; “God” is Yahweh’s job description just as Joshua Ben Joseph was more like Jesus’s birth name while “Jesus” (derived from the Hebrew Y’shua — “to deliver; to rescue”) and “Christ” ( derived from the Hebrew for “The Anointed One”) were his “after life” job descriptions).
This atheist is willing to accept that a person like Jesus existed. Paul — Christianity’s inventor — was reacting to something very specific when he sent his letters to the nascent Christian communities across Asia Minor. While the church has no use for a literal, historical Jesus (think about that — why would Actual Jesus matter less than Invented Jesus?), biblical scholar Robert Funk believed it was important to discern Real Jesus from the inconsistent, amorphous Jesus described in the various scriptures. To do that, he formed The Jesus Seminar.
This collection of 150 actual scholars — rigorous and disciplined academics and academically-inclined lay people — coaxed from the texts a Hellenisitic, Jewish teacher preaching a very Jewish message (Do Unto Others) with a radical twist: you don’t need a corrupt temple or its corrupt priests preaching on a certain day in order to communicate with Yahweh. You can speak to him directly any time you like.
That was it. That was as much of a historical Jesus as The Jesus Seminar could find. On the one hand, it’s a simple but profound articulation of a beautiful sentiment — don’t want other people disrespecting you, treating you like shit or outright murdering you? Don’t do it to them. Why, even a humble atheist can pull that off. All of Jesus’s teachings flow from “Do Unto Others” (for instance — “Suffer the little children unto me” or “The meek shall inherit the earth”).
He says literally NOTHING about being a messiah or a deity or coming back from the dead or anything even remotely like it. All Jesus is selling is “Do Unto Others”. So, where did all that other stuff come from if it didn’t come from Jesus. Hello, Paul (the former Saul Of Tarsus).
Paul is absolutely an historical figure. We have stuff he wrote. We have contemporaneous witnesses to his existence who wrote about Paul contemporaneously. Boy, does that help paint a picture of what really happened. Paul, we know, never met Jesus. He never heard Jesus preach. He never sat with Jesus and heard Jesus say anything like “Oh, and by the way? I’m the literal Son o’ God.”
We also know that Paul, big fan of Jesus though he was, was not the only fan of Jesus. Jesus’s family were fans of Jesus and just like Paul, they too wanted to spread Jesus’s message. Except their message was Jesus’s literal “this is what he said” message. Paul’s was an “I didn’t hear Jesus say this but this is what I would have liked for him to have said” message.
See the difference?
Keeping with their tradition — of not proseletyzing — Jesus’s family (apparently) did not take Jesus’s “Do Unto Others” message outside of their own Jewish community. In short order, that Jewish community would be scattered or wiped out. We can assume that’s what happened to Jesus’s original message — the simple, Jewish “Do Unto Others”. In its place we got the version of Jesus — and Jesus’s message — that Paul wanted to sell.
Now, keep in mind. Originally, Paul crafts his version of Jesus to sell to other Jews. In order to “qualify” Jesus as a potential messiah, Jesus has to meet certain pre-ordained criteria. The messiah must be blood-related to the House of David. He has to be born in Bethlehem. These things weren’t true of Real Jesus. Paul’s attempts to rectify these problems by rewriting Jesus’s history don’t score any points among Jews who know better.
But gentiles — those not Jewish and not steeped in all the Jewish stories — don’t have the same problem. Having no background in the Jewish stories and no loyalty to them, they don’t care if Paul changes details — even on the fly. Paul sees a much more receptive audience in them — outside the Jewish community. So, that’s where Paul concentrates his energies going forward. He begins to speak only to non-Jews.
And then Paul hits his master stroke — the concept that allows Christianity to accomplish what Judaism would never have imagined in the first place: “Believe The Idea I’m Selling You And You, Too, Can Beat Death And Live Forever”. There’s nothing “Do Unto Others” about it. This is “Believe in MY Version Of Jesus & You Too Can Live Forever”.
If you’re not overly committed to a faith already but you’re one of those people who needs to be committed to one? That must sound damned appealing. You don’t have to physically “do” anything other than think — or even just pretend to think even. Who’d know the difference? If you merely say out loud “Yeah, I believe this stuff!” then you, too, can “live forever”. Well, that’s “live forever” in a place you’ll have to take our word exists. Also you’ll have to take our word for it that heaven’s every bit as heavenly as we say despite the fact that we’ve never seen it or visited it and have never talked to anyone who has.
How many hands can you shovel bullshit with at one time?
This atheist considers himself a big fan of Jesus. Christianity? Not so much. They took a great message and turned it into nose paste. The problem is, “Believe ‘this’ and live forever” just ain’t true.
On the other hand, “Do Unto Others”? It’s so true in its essence that it transcends truth. Jesus — Real Jesus — concerned himself mostly with the here-and-now. Get that right and a good life is yours. No idea what he thought about a good “after life” — he didn’t say. “Believe ‘this’ and live forever”?
We’ll need to see receipts first. As one of our sister sites likes to put it: “Back it up or it’s bullshit”.