The message matters more than the man.
- Early Christianity was a synthesis of Jewish and Greek ideas and rituals, though it's often presented as brand new.
- Jesus's teachings can predominantly be traced back to earlier apocalyptic Judaism.
- An important question persists: Is it the man or the message that really matters to modern Christians?
The Jesus of History versus the Christ of Faith<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="614301e8d96546a7012df19a1dc47a85"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/7VOMFjQfJ8w?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>These aren't the only contradictions, though what can you expect when four writers tackle one subject on hearsay over the course of decades?</p><p>There's also the question of narrative lineage. As Brian Muraresku writes in "The Immortality Key," the Church has gone to great lengths to make it appear as if Christianity emerged whole-cloth amid a world of pagan worship. In fact, the ruling Romans considered early Christians to be atheists due to their belief in only one God. Christians certainly held distinct beliefs, but they were also heavily influenced by their environment. </p><p>Most biblical stories have precedent. As Muraresku notes, you don't get to Jesus without Dionysus; Dionysus without El; El without Osiris; Osiris without a rich oral history that predates written language. In each case, the mythological archetype mattered most. With Christianity, an emphasis was placed on a<em> man</em>, which in some ways is also traceable to the Greeks. </p><p>As Edith Hamilton writes in her <a href="https://bookshop.org/books/mythology-timeless-tales-of-gods-and-heroes-75th-anniversary-illustrated-edition-e205cdf9-80ab-4771-96d9-90fc789dde2f/9780316438520" target="_blank">epic survey</a> on mythology, the Greek emphasis on human deities (in sculpture, painting, and story) broke from prior traditions, which dreamed up animal totems and animal-human hybrids. Christians merely took human worship to the next level, even though the roots of this practice are distinctly Greek. </p><p>As with all religions, Christianity was a cult for quite some time. Early Christian writers fused Jewish and Greek ideas during the Patristic Era to create their doctrines. Various Christologies were introduced to suit the temperament of each faithful tribe. After the Nicene Creed (325 CE) dubbed Jesus the "only-begotten Son of God," a host of competing Christian offshoots shook their head in agreement. The man finally usurped the myth, and the cult took form as a global religion. </p><p>Though Jesus is presented as revolutionary, his philosophical bent squares well with the apocalyptic prophets of Judaism, especially as presented in Second Isaiah. Jesus remixed a long-held Jewish belief in a heavenly kingdom on earth. Amos and First Isaiah feature plenty of discussion about speaking up for the poor and weak. The exploitation of the lower class had been a sin for at least seven centuries by the time Jesus took to the soapbox. If anything, Jesus was a synthesist, not a creationist, as was the writers that honored him. </p>
Credit: pronoia / Adobe Stock<p>This doesn't denigrate Jesus's role in any capacity. Instead, it grounds his humanity. Every religion is a synthesis of previous religions. As Muraresku shows, the Greek influence on Christian symbolism is too often overlooked. Understanding historical circumstances help us recognize the forces such prophets were fighting and provides context for their messages. Better to evolve a tradition than pretend it emerged from a vacuum.</p><p>As religious scholar Karen Armstrong <a href="https://bookshop.org/books/a-history-of-god-the-4-000-year-quest-of-judaism-christianity-and-islam/9780345384560" target="_blank">points out</a>, Christians seem particularly interested in the origins of their religion, certainly much more so than Buddhists, making Muraresku's research even more revealing: Why wouldn't you want to know about the pharmacological connection between Dionysus and Jesus in the early Church? If we're talking about the supposed world savior, would an honest biography really dampen our enthusiasm for the Eucharist? How much do <em>his</em> flesh and blood matter when the goal is to live his values in our time? </p><p>Christ has long been weighed down by false assumptions. German philosopher Hermann Samuel Reimarus was the first modern thinker to question myths around the historical Jesus. For example, he writes that Jesus never claimed to atone for the sins of mankind. That feature was added by St. Paul, arguably the real founder of Christianity. Reimarus <a href="https://press.uchicago.edu/ucp/books/book/chicago/C/bo3799466.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">writes</a> that Jesus isn't God, but a teacher of a "remarkable, simple, exalted and practical religion." </p><p>If we want to investigate Jesus's most pertinent messages—treat the poor and underserved with respect; question authority; refrain from hatred; love your neighbor as yourself—then the actual person is irrelevant. Many have espoused the same principles before and after Jesus. The man is second to the message, which, if you read his instructions closely, is how he'd likely want it. </p><p>If you think turning water into wine and walking on water is amazing, imagine the magic of universal basic income and healthcare for all. That's a practical and living religion we can all take part in.</p><p>--</p><p><em>Stay in touch with Derek on <a href="http://www.twitter.com/derekberes" target="_blank">Twitter</a> and <a href="https://www.facebook.com/DerekBeresdotcom" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Facebook</a>. His new book is</em> "<em><a href="https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B08KRVMP2M?pf_rd_r=MDJW43337675SZ0X00FH&pf_rd_p=edaba0ee-c2fe-4124-9f5d-b31d6b1bfbee" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy</a>."</em></p>
Do we really need an imaginary guy-in-the-sky to tell us what's right and wrong? Not anymore, says Skeptic Magazine's Michael Shermer.
Do we really need God or religion to tell us what's right and wrong? Michael Shermer, the publisher of Skeptic Magazine, says that this kind of celestial-spiritual guidance really isn't necessary. Or particularly effective. He makes a great case for being a moral realist — for example, studying past examples of war or slavery to learn morals from them — is much more effective than going back to mysticism like, say, The Bible, a fantastical book written by committee some 2,000 years ago and hardly updated since. Michael's new book is Heavens on Earth: The Scientific Search for the Afterlife, Immortality, and Utopia.
Religion as a belief system goes back hundreds of thousands of years. So why are so many of the religious peoples of today so focused on a supposed God that goes back only 5,000 years? The answer lies in how our brains work.
Religion, and the mentality it brings, have arguably shaped the human species more than any other force. We don't understand it, and perhaps never will. We are so far removed from religion's creation (pun presented but not intended) that we have instead just woven it into our daily lives and accepted it as something we can't understand. This leads to questioning, mostly about what religion actually is and what is the "right" one. But instead of asking "what" religion is (e.g. is there a big man in the sky who lives in a cloud, or egads maybe that crazy science-fiction author L. Ron Hubbard had it right after all?!), perhaps we're asking the wrong question. Children seem to be born with an innate understanding of "souls" or at the very least the semblance of self amongst something greater - posits Reza Aslan - and this knowledge that religion is based on a literal primitive instinct should allow us to understand the question of "why" religion is. If you go back far enough, Reza says, you can pretty much pinpoint various reasons as to why religion is. It's an interesting video, and one that is sure to have you thinking about the subject matter much later. Reza's latest book is God: A Human History.