Reclaiming Jesus from the Christians

October 14, 2010

Recently, my dad advised me to read Jesus & Philosophy by Don Cupitt. As a dutiful son I did, after which I suggested (with tongue slightly in cheek) that it would be a worthwhile project to try to reclaim Jesus from the Christians, who seem to have done a pretty good job of sabotaging his message and generally making a hash of things. Amused by this notion, he suggested that we should both write a 500ish word essay on the subject. This is what I came up with – probably quite a few rough edges (I put it together over several train journeys and don’t want to spend huge amounts of time editing it), and you really should read the book to get some of the background, but here it is anyway…

Despite being an atheist, it turns out that I like Jesus. I might even go so far as to claim that he’s worth following (or, to be precise, that if you want to construct a moral framework within which to live your life, you might benefit from taking his teachings into consideration). And, though we’re separated in time by a couple of millennia, it seems that Jesus and I have the same common enemy – Christians.

Unfortunately for Jesus, after living a relatively short life (which didn’t end well for him), during which he made some sensible suggestions about how on might live better amongst one’s fellow humans, he was seized upon and a vast Hollywood re-write of his life began, culminating in the obsessive cult of personality we know today as Christianity.

Fortunately for Jesus, there is a movement to rehabilitate him. It’s clear that, in addition to having been written some time after the event, the New Testament has been through numerous stages of copying in which errors (and wholesale fabrications) have crept in (see Bart Ehrman’s “Misquoting Jesus” for the details). However, from the surviving manuscripts and other bits of evidence, a group called the Jesus Seminar think they can divide the 1000+ things that Jesus is claimed to have said into 4 categories – things which are virtually certain to be authentic, things which seem likely, things which seem tenuous, and things which are almost certainly bogus. Obviously, such a project can produce no guarantees of absolute accuracy, but their research suggests strongly that Jesus was basically a secular humanist.

Jesus’ teachings are all to do with the practical matter of how we should live in this world. There’s very little “God” stuff in there, apart from references to the Kingdom of God which are probably metaphorical. All of the supernatural bullshit was added later along with material which, with our modern eye, we would recognise as practically focus-grouped PR – a man who could turn water to wine would doubtless appeal to the Roman 20-something partying demographic. Over a period of about 4 centuries, Jesus’ real message was neutered, while he was enthroned as the embodiment of Old Testament prophecy come true, and his Word (or words cheerfully attributed to him) became Law.

If Jesus were to appear today, he would be quite appalled at mutilation of his teachings trading under the brand Christianity. He’d have some harsh words about the corrosive effects of free-market capitalism, he would deplore the idiocy of the creationists and other ignorant fools, and be pretty fucking cross with people invoking his name to justify their bigotry and intolerance.

In return, many of his biggest fans (particularly in America) would denounce him as a liberal hippie. Fox News would have security escort him out of the building, and he’d probably get shot by some right-wing nut. Ironic, really.


One comment

  1. […] Politics, science, music and other foolishness « Reclaiming Jesus from the Christians Rescuing Jesus from the Christians October 19, […]

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