In the last week's rainy day Sunday post I outlined what caused me to split from the formalized church, or ?organized religion?. This week I'm going to tackle my religious thoughts. Last week I included a footer noting that my thoughts were controversial, I think that warning should go at the start of this article. To Christians who believe in what they believe in without having ever questioned any of it, parts of this post will probably border on blasphemy.
Now that you've been forewarned, let us continue...
As was mentioned in my previous post, I was raised in the Christian church. Methodist to be exact. My younger years were informed by weekly Sunday school attendance, and participation in church youth groups and Bible studies. To make complete my prototypical ?Christian? upbringing, I was even home schooled for the majority of my primary education ? using the ABeka school curriculum. If you're not aware of ABeka, you need only visit the local private Christian school to find it. Their American history books reveal the influence of backlash culture in their writing. The fall of the stock market in '29? Caused by farmers and their self-interested desire for paper money. The Klu Klux Klan? A social group dedicated to the preservation of Anglo-American culture that was unfortunately briefly acquiesced, by radicals who deviated from its original and intended purposes. Science? A field full of fools who had turned their back on the rational teaching of the Bible in favor of circular arguments such as the practice of archaeologists where bones and materials are dated by the layer of earth in which they were found and the layer of dirt is aged by the artifacts that are found in it (they seriously spent a full page ?debunking? that topic!) ... You get the picture.
It was no fault of my parents, they were using what was available to them. Thankfully, they encouraged discussion about what was being covered and acknowledged that the source of the material should be taken into consideration. ABeka's backlash inspired history and science books actually inspired a backlash of its own. I became a liberal, in the original sense of the word. I questioned what I was being told, whether it was from a history book, the nightly news, or the pulpit.
This questioning got me curious in other religions. If Christianity was supposed to be the way, what about all of the other religions? Had they got some part of it right, were they all damned to hell, or were they all getting to the same mountain top by a different route? After some amateur investigation, I determined that at their core nearly every religion or philosophy has the very same message ? we're all in this together and should be our brother's keeper. To me, this is the epitome of ?love your neighbor as yourself.? These revelations all came at a very volatile time in my spiritual life ? the witch burnings I mentioned in last week's article. As I started to look at my Bible, I started to realize that every definitive answer ? every black and white ?truth? ? wasn't presented by Jesus in the gospels, rather they were presented later by Paul, or those writing under Paul's name.
Homosexuality is a sin? Look no further than Paul. A woman's place? Jesus seemed to include them, but Paul took care of that. The divinity of Christ? Jesus said ?you say I am?, Paul swore that was a yes. I started to see a pattern emerge. Paul and those writing as him had perverted Christianity. He took a philosophy, a way of life ? love your neighbor as yourself ? and turned it into a religion. Acts documents an argument between Paul and Peter. Ironically, Paul came down on the side of disregarding the old traditions and allowing anyone to become a Christian. Those writing in his name later would append this view to fit their view of who should be excluded. The widespread acceptance as gospel truth what came after the Gospels started me questioning even more...
Then I discovered the gnostic gospels, in particular the Gospel of Thomas. There is one passage that drove the final nail into the coffin of organized Christianity. I will paraphrase it here:
The disciples asked, ?Teacher, where should we look for the Kingdom of Heaven??
Jesus replied, ?Some say look to the heavens, but I say not for if the Kingdom of Heaven was in the heavens, surely the birds would get there before you. Some say it is below us, but I say not for if the Kingdom of Heaven was below us, surely the fish would get there before you. I say look inside, for the Kingdom of Heaven resides in each of us.?
A light went on ? the connection between Christ and Buddha was made for me. There wasn't a heaven with 50 virgins or 50 planets or streets paved with gold as so many religions had proclaimed. Those were tools to delay gratification from this life to a future one. In a society where hardships abound and sacrifice is necessary, this serves its purpose. In today's society, however, it does nothing but repress. The Kingdom of Heaven that is discussed in the New Testament is not the second coming of Jerusalem. It is not some airy existence after our mortal bodies pass from this realm. It is a way of life... It is a personal calmness, a quiet self-assuredness... it is inner peace. By loving your neighbor as you love yourself, you are committing yourself to a life that will be full. By truly coming to the world with the wonder of a child as Jesus said, or with a non-knowing as a Zen master said, you can live a life that is full beyond comprehension. This was the essence of the Biblical teachings of the New Testament ? as they spoke to me.
So how is this blasphemous? Well, I never stop with one question. I'm like that commercial a few years ago for a technology question; I never stop asking why. After I felt I had answered the question of why some gospels had been discarded and other texts included, I started wondering what had happened to the man figure of Jesus. Was it true that he was God incarnate? If so, why? If he became human, but still posed his deity abilities, what was the purpose? Why?
Enter an author... Jonathan ? and ?I'm... the Legend of the Son of Man?. As one of about 8 people, I went to a performance at a church of an abbreviated version of ?I'm...?. I was hooked. He had grappled with the same questions I was and it turned into a book. He wrote of the man Jesus and the life that isn't chronicled in the gospels. The events that happened between his birth and the time the gospel writers taken an interest in him. Of course, it is all fictional, but it moved me to another conclusion. Jesus was a man.
Through his life, his unselfish, caring, compassionate life, he became the son of God. He wasn't a deity. He had been fashioned into one as Christianity became Romanized. The Romans weren't interested in a life of quiet complacency. They had their mythical gods who slew wild beasts and conquered the forces of nature. Why should they be swayed by a homely Joe Smith, or Jesus. He was just like any of the thousands of dissidents ? today he would be called an insurgent Rabbi ? that had been executed in Jerusalem. Why was he any different? The salesman in Paul took over and Jesus took on the mythical proportions he still largely enjoys today.
If you haven't figured out by now, my life advances by one discovery or realization leading to another question, which in turn leads to another discovery or realization, ad nauseam. If Jesus was a man, and through his life he had become a ?son of God? - wasn't it possible for us each to achieve this same status? If the Kingdom of Heaven was truly within each of us, isn't it possible that we can all aspire to, and possibly reach that same level? The answer came to me as a resounding yes. Maybe we don't sacrifice ourselves at the alter, but there is a little Jesus, Buddha, and Mohammed in each of us and with the right cultivation, I believe we can each encourage their growth.
Now, before you go leaving a comment, I'm not trying to say that I'm Jesus. I am saying that I feel he, at his root, was no different than me or you or anyone else. He just realized his true nature better than some of us. Is he a deity worthy of worship? Is the Buddha? I don't think either are. They both have set great examples to learn from and have provided excellent works to study and understand and follow... philosophically, but a deification of them sets them apart from us and encourages us to think that they exist on some unattainable plane, thus excusing our lax attitude toward our own spiritual health.
So, there you have it. I believe that Paul, and his accredited works hijacked Christianity; that Jesus was a man like each of us; and that at some level we can all attain that oneness with a higher being ? call him (or her) God, Allah, the Grand Architect, Zeus, Mother Earth, the Force, or any other name that you might come up with. I think the burden ? or privilege ? is on us. We can't rely on a perfect Sunday church attendance, an across the board 10% tithe, or any other single thing ? other than our striving for perfection. Thus I have come full circle. One of the teachings of John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist church, was that man should constantly be striving toward perfection. Actually sounds very Buddhist to me. At some point, we may attain that. Though if we are ever asked if we are the son of man and our answer is yes, our vanity will have cost us that perfection. Although, if we can with a clear heart answer, ?that is what you say I am?, then we might be closer than we realize.