Firstly, there is the Jesus of History. I’ve had to acknowledge the fact that he had a view of the world which is different from mine, including beliefs I don’t share. For example, being a Jew, he believed in circumcision, in observing the sabbath day, (even if not in the inflexible, box-ticking way of others), and in worshipping in the Temple, complete with its sacrificial ritual slaughter of countless birds and animals. He believed in a world inhabited by angels and demons, and currently in thrall to evil spirits who could possess people, leading to their physical, mental and moral detriment. I can’t buy into that.
He believed that this present world order was about to come to a violent and bloody end, in a cataclysmic divine intervention, with the defeat of the Roman Empire and the restoration of Israel as the earthly Kingdom of God with himself as its ruler. He believed in the resurrection of all of the dead, followed by a judgement admitting some to that Kingdom, and consigning others, at best to destruction, or at worst to endless punishment. In the light of the imminent end of the present world order, his teachings had what may well be regarded as an unrealistic and impractical dimension. They would leave us poverty-stricken, weak and defenceless to the even greater advantage of the rich, powerful and dominating.
On the other hand, in his teachings there is empathy with, and support for, the poor, the under privileged, the dispossessed, the disadvantaged and all who are impotent against a system which favours the interests and advancement of the few, at the expense of the many. He puts an emphasis on the priority of compassion and love, over the rigid application of law, and over the rules of ritual ‘impurity’ that make people unclean, and untouchable. Jesus touches the ritually ‘impure’ such as the ‘lepers’, and has an ‘open table’ approach, welcoming whoever wants to sit and talk. Such included the despised ‘tax collectors’ regarded as cheats and collaborators with the ruling authorities, and the ‘sinners’ who were not so much prostitutes as any people who were less than punctilious in fulfilling the expected religious requirements. He teaches us to be inclusive, rather than exclusive.
Secondly, there is the Jesus of Myth. I don’t believe that Jesus was God in human flesh. I don’t think that when he talked to God, he was speaking to himself nor, on the cross, that he was asking himself why he’d forsaken himself. The doctrine of the ‘Trinity’, which took centuries to makes its appearance, is a far-fetched ‘answer’ to a self-created, non-existent problem. If understood in mythical terms, however, the image of the God-Human reminds us of the powers we have as human beings. Our minds have developed to the degree at which we have the ability to put an end to ourselves and our planet, or to create a world which is the best it can be for all who live in it. The challenge is to choose and achieve the latter.
I don’t think Jesus was raised from the dead. What people ‘see’ is a subjective mental experience, susceptible to wishful thinking. I don’t feel a need for Jesus to have been resurrected, since I don’t myself expect to be resurrected and, not being a believer in the horror story of hell, have no fear of death as such. Jesus ‘lives’ when the stories about him are read, understood in the context of his own day, and reinterpreted in the light of ours. Many aspects of the way he lived, and what he taught, are of ongoing relevance and continuing value.
I don’t think of Jesus as a saviour from sin. The idea that human beings are ‘originally’ and totally ‘sinful’, is one of the most forgettable of ideas, despite the efforts of Paul and Augustine. The ‘original’ human beings ate from the tree of the “knowledge of good and evil”. There are some human beings who are very bad, and some who are very good. The rest of us are a mixture of both. Our need is not to look outside of ourselves, but to look inside, and to eschew the bad and reinforce the good, to the best of our ability. As Jordan Peterson has said, we need to live ‘as if’ there is a God. That, for me, is the message of the Jesus of myth.
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