What If You Don’t Believe Christian Dogma Any More? January 29, 2011Posted by Mary W. Matthews in Religion & Theology.
At a new (or newish) web site called Quora, someone asked, “How do you tell your Christian friends you don’t believe any more?” My answer at Quora, which is an earlier version of what you’ll read below, can also be found here.
I realized several years ago that most Christians care far more about what the Christian Testament says ABOUT Jesus (that he was “God in a man-suit”) than what Jesus himself taught. (E.g., “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone,” Mark 10:18.) Plenty of Christians are ready to hate and sit in judgment on people they regard as moral enemies — gays, feminists, Wiccans, Muslims, liberals, abortionists, etc. — but almost no Christian gives everything he owns to the poor, loves her enemies, prays for those who persecute him (he’s more likely to do the persecuting, like the Family-controlled “Christians” of Uganda!), blesses those who curse her (viz. “Christian” Sarah Palin), or forgives “seventy times seven,” i.e., always.
I also realized that before the week of his death, Jesus persuaded THOUSANDS of followers that he was wise, a prophet on the same level as the revered Elijah and Moses — as if today a sage came along whose followers said, “She’s as wise as Jesus, the Buddha, Muhammad, Confucius, and Lao-Tzu put together.” And Jesus attracted these thousands of followers without ever once saying, “I am God in a man-suit; worship Me.” (The Roman Emperor Caligula is the one who did that!) Even without the miracles, which I don’t believe ever happened in The Real World (every single one can be traced back to the Hebrew Scriptures!), Jesus had THOUSANDS of followers who believed he was teaching them the Truth. Since there were only about 5,000,000 alive on the entire planet, this would be like a modern prophet with hundreds of millions of followers.
The word “Jesus” is a Latinization of the Greek word “Ihsos” (pronounced “YAY-soss”), which in turn is a Hellenization of the Hebrew/Aramaic name “Yeshua.” In the first-century world of Israel and Judea, a man was always “man’s name son of man’s name,” like Simon Peter “bar Jonah” (Matt. 16:17), UNLESS the father’s name was unknown, which meant that Mom was either a sex trade worker (i.e., a dirt-poor outcast) or a rape victim (probably a dirt-poor outcast). This means that the original audiences who first heard Mark 6:3 would have been shocked — who ever heard of getting spiritual wisdom from a bastard, “the sh*t of the community”? In other words, the name of the historical human being was not “Jesus Christ, Son of God”; it was “Yeshua bar Maryam.”
I remain a member of my church, contribute as much as I can, attend some services and more community-type functions. Everyone needs a faith community. When the subject comes up, which is rarely, I say that I still follow Jesus (to friends I say I follow Yeshua bar Maryam); I just no longer follow Paul of Tarsus. If what Paul teaches modern Christians about “Jesus Christ” is true and right, that gives us even MORE reason to prefer Yeshua’s teachings to Paul’s. And if what Paul teaches us is mistaken and irrelevant, why worry about it in the first place? I don’t care whether Jesus was really “God in a man-suit.” Almost exactly 2,000 years later we have no way of knowing for a fact what happened during and after the last week of Jesus’s life — but if Jesus’s alleged divinity were important TO JESUS, don’t you think he would have made it central to his ministry?
So far, no one has chastised me for being a heretic or an apostate. My guess is that most Christians wouldn’t understand the distinction I’m making; the ones who would understand would agree with me; and the ones who have made up their minds to the point their ideas are set in granite wouldn’t listen to me in the first place: I’m a mere lowly second-rate subhuman whose role in life is to “graciously submit” to my male owner. Um, husband.
If you are a Christian who is starting to doubt central points of your denomination’s dogma — for example, why God would have created homosexuals to be evil from cradle onward, but declared ALL of humanity “very good” — obtain a copy of the Jesus Seminar’s The Five Gospels, and center your spiritual life on the red and pink sayings — words the scholars are sure or pretty sure Jesus actually spoke, rather than having some gospel writer put the words in his mouth. (Like, the entire Fourth Gospel.) And don’t get into any arguments about whether “God” wrote the Bible in 1611 in King James English, whether the Bible is the same sort of “nothing but the facts” history book that first gained acceptance around 350 years ago, or whether ancient writings from the Stone, Bronze, and Iron Ages were written specifically to cater to the prejudices of 21st century conservatives. Some folks have minds like iron traps that have rusted shut.
Forgive those who might chastise you for being a heretic or an apostate when all you are doing is following your conscience. They know not what they do — which is to judge you as they do NOT want to be judged (Matthew 7:1).
But you might quote St. Francis to them. In modern English, he said, “It is useless to go somewhere to tell people about Jesus’s message if you do not LIVE Jesus’s message.” And congratulate your “Christian” critics on how perfect they are, given how good they are at throwing the first stone.