I’ll confess right here — lifetime atheist though I am, I am also a big time fan of Jesus. I don’t for sure if a historical Jesus ever existed but someone like the character depicted in the New Testament seems to have put forward a teaching — “Do Unto Others” — drawn directly from the Jewish culture into which he was born and lived his entire life — that, today, still resonates loudly across the millennia.
In 1985, a group of actual bible scholars (people with actual academic degrees from reputable institutions of higher learning as opposed to bullshit degrees from bullshit Christian universities with bullshit standards and zero integrity) got together and formed The Jesus Seminar. Their goal — apply some serious objective analysis to the NT texts so as to coax out, as best they could, an historical Jesus.
The Seminar identified 15 or so phrases unanimously agreed upon by the canonical gospels which, the seminar felt, could have been spoken by a historical Jesus — so as to be disseminated by his followers. The Jesus who steps from the pages of the Seminar’s analysis has a simple message — Do Unto Others (which includes suffering the Little Children to come unto you) and, if you need to speak to god, go to “the father” directly. You don’t need a church to intercede on your behalf. GO DIRECTLY!”
If you recall from the stories about Jesus, he didn’t like the money changers. He didn’t like that the temple authorities allowed the money changers inside the temple’s forecourt. That, Jesus taught, debased the core message. It invalidated the temple’s authority to speak for god or to even pretend that they could intercede on their followers’ behalves.
Jesus advocates AGAINST having churches or religious “authorities”. So — how come there’s a Christian “church”? How could so gigantic a contradiction sit right in the heart of the Christian faith itself? The answer is ask Paul.
Paul (the former Saul of Tarsus) invented Christianity. The majority of the NT texts are Paul’s letters & epistles to the various gentile communities to which he was spreading his version of Jesus, Jesus’ story and Jesus’ message. Remember — Paul never met Jesus. Never spoke to him. Never heard his voice.
For a good, solid understanding of and perspective on Paul, I recommend A. N. Wilson’s excellent book Paul: The Mind Of An Apostle.
While Paul started by selling his version of Jesus to the Jews, they didn’t want it — because Paul’s version wasn’t authentic. Gentiles didn’t have any history or knowledge of Jewish customs, thought or mythology so Paul’s contorted version — virgin birth in Bethlehem, wise men presaging greatness, rising from the dead — seemed perfectly authentic. Never mind the fact that it was all invented, top to bottom. When Paul speaks of Jesus, he never stresses the messages Jesus himself stressed.
That’s because historical Jesus was of no use to Paul. So he invented a new Jesus. A Jesus that worked for him. Paul invented the Jesus that smiled upon the Catholic Church — an institution Jesus would have hated with every single atom of his being. Don’t hurt yourself laughing so hard, Protestants — your version of Jesus is just as disconnected from reality.
We won’t even talk about the Mormons (whose version of Jesus even visited North America — a place the real Jesus had no way of knowing even existed).
Ya know how, these days, we can’t figure out why Christians are so… “un-Christian”? This is why. The problem isn’t them, it’s us. All those people are being COMPLETELY Christian. What they aren’t being are “followers of Jesus”. To follow Jesus means all those devout Christians would have to denounce their “Christianity” — and all the oppressive, regressive, obsessive rules and regs that are the real appeal of their faith — and, instead, become spiritual. That ain’t happening.
To follow Jesus, one must be spiritual or have the capacity for spirituality. That’s the opposite of following a religion. Religions are crowd control. They are defined by their rules & their structures — and those structures don’t build or sustain themselves. The money has to come from somewhere which is why churches work so hard to get bodies into the pews and money from the pockets in those pews. Churches don’t really exist for the benefit of anyone’s faith, they exist for the benefit of themselves. Churches are like sharks (and relationships) — they have to keep moving or they’ll die.
If a historical Jesus could come back, he surely would not recognize the faith being touted as his creation. That’s because it isn’t his — and never was. It pains me deeply to quote Woody Allen but he got this one right. If Jesus were to come back to see what’s been done in his name, “he would never stop throwing up”.