What My Jesus Would Do

Occasionally I am asked if I believe in Jesus. My standard answer to this is “as much as I believe in evolution,” which serves the dual purpose of both answering in the affirmative and usually annoying the person who asks the question. There is no doubt that Jesus lived; I have no doubt Jesus died, and did so with the belief he was doing so for the sins of the world. Whatever one feels about the divinity of Jesus, this is a staggering assumption of moral responsibility, in the face of which one must feel humbled. I’ve read the words of Jesus, to benefit from his wisdom and also to try to understand this most influential of men.

I also read his words to understand the actions of some of those who claim to be his followers, and who are, at the moment and alas, trying to jam a certain suspect iteration of “Christianity” down the throats of all the rest of us — “all the rest of us” being non-believers, believers in other faiths and those Christians whose understanding of the teaching of Jesus does not appear to require such militant intolerance as is being practiced by this evanescently powerful minority.

As far as I can tell, the primary source of power for this group lies not in the teachings of Jesus, since what they do has little to do with that, but the simple fact that they feel they own Jesus, and have been reasonably successful in propagating the idea that their particular perspective on his teachings is both predominant and correct, neither of which is necessarily true. Nevertheless, by implicitly and explicitly claiming ownership of Jesus, these folks have made any attack on their agenda or their practices an attack on Jesus, using Him as a flak guard for policies and practices that would, frankly, appall this shepherd of all men.

Well, of course, these people don’t own Jesus. He died for the sins of the whole world. Nor do they have a corner on the understanding of his words or his work. The Jesus I know and whose words I have read and striven to understand would not sign off on a much of the agenda of those who now parade Him around like a fetish, and in doing so have created this other Jesus, a vacuous, empty vessel for an uncharitable worldview.

But this implicitly asks a question: What would the Jesus I know do, confronted by this Fetish Jesus? Would he fight him? Argue with him? Denounce him? Engage in a mystical battle of miracles?

The answer is: None of the above, of course. The Jesus I know would do the hardest thing imaginable: He would forgive.

He would forgive this Jesus, who inspires His followers to persecute those they fear.

He would forgive this Jesus, who would demand His followers declare some people unfit to love, to care for children, to serve their nation, or to be full members of their society.

He would forgive this Jesus, who appears happy not only to let His followers be blind to the natural miracles around them — the subtle handiwork of God that took billions of years to achieve — but also to force their blindness on everyone, in His name.

He would forgive this Jesus, whose followers reflect His high opinion of His own righteousness without the appropriate reflection or doubt, and who aren’t shy about letting others know that fact.

He would forgive this Jesus the overweening pride He feels in saving His followers, and the pride His followers feel in being saved, a pride they believe sets them above all others, even though pride famously goes before the fall.

He would forgive this Jesus the idea that all of His flock must act, think, and vote a certain way at all times, without exception, or they are not one of His flock.

He would forgive this Jesus the small ways He tries, though His followers, to denigrate, isolate and diminish those who do not conform to His whims.

He would forgive this Jesus all large ways he tries, through His followers, to hurt, humiliate and destroy those who fight to keep their own point of view.

He would forgive this Jesus the fact that He has stood by while His followers have lost the view of the Kingdom of Heaven, in a drive to gain treasure in this world — even as the least among them suffered.

And finally, He would forgive this Christ the loss of His divine self that comes from allowing His name to devolve into a shibboleth for grasping opportunists, a bludgeon to cow those who are doubtful of the wisdom of His followers’ agenda, and a mask to hide unethical practices that have nothing to do with the Gospel and promises of the next world, and everything to do with mere, banal power in this one. He would forgive that this Jesus had diminished Their mutual name, the beauty of Their message, and the astonishing power of Their sacrifice, two millennia in the past, a sacrifice for all people, not just this small and frightened tribe who demands that they and only they know Jesus and what He wants.

What an act of forgiveness this would be! And what an act of forgiveness for the rest of us to attempt to emulate.

This is what I will try to do from now on. When someone confronts me with the proposition that their faith in Jesus demands intolerance, ignorance or fear, I will simply say “My Jesus forgives your Jesus these things.” And when they become indignant and retort that there is only one Jesus, I’ll probably say “you don’t say,” and let it hang there in the air a good long time. And when they come back at me with more intolerance, ignorance and fear, I’ll just remind them again that my Jesus forgives their Jesus these things.

At no point will I cede ownership of Jesus to these people, or the idea that the Jesus I know supports the intolerance, ignorance or fear they claim He does. They don’t own Jesus, and I strongly believe He doesn’t support their intolerance, ignorance or fear. And I think it’s perfectly reasonable to let these folks know this, in a way that explicitly undercuts the proposition that they hold the monopoly on understanding Jesus.

If you feel the same way, then you might consider doing the same thing. Proudly proclaim your relationship with Jesus, in whatever form that may take, and let everyone know the Jesus you know is not who they claim Him to be; He’s someone better. Reclaim Jesus for yourself. He’s not private property, His words aren’t copyrighted, and He’s not the exclusive trademark of religious conservatives. He’s yours if you want Him.

And when they get angry at you for doing it, the solution is simple: Forgive them. That’s what the Jesus I know would do.

(Like the “bumperstickers” with this entry? Here, have them — use them however you want. My gift to you.)

81 thoughts on “What My Jesus Would Do

  1. I reckon those bumper stickers will have you officially promoted to “Satan’s Tool on Earth” in the eyes of certain people, good stuff!

    That said, whilst I admire your conviction in Jesus’ existence and good nature, I can’t help but question it. Leaps of faith aside, how do you KNOW he existed, or if he did exist, how do you KNOW he took on any burden whatsoever in his death? Where’s the evidence? Surely not the Bible, it’s hardly a reliable document… The reason religious conservatives and extremists can pick and choose passages to support their homophobia and whatnot else is because these passages actually do exist in the first place, it’s usually not even a matter of creative interpretation, the selected writings openly advocate various forms of hatred and intolerance, even in direct contradiction to other passages elsewhere. The most reasonable explanation for all the inconsistencies in the Bible of course is that personal, very HUMAN, agendas were introduced into the text by its multitude of actual writers and/or at various points throughout the chain of transcription over the last two millenia. This then introduces the vital question of how exactly you’re supposed to differentiate what IS the word of Jesus and what’s just someone ad libbing to suit themselves. You can’t even take the nature of a passage as a basis for making the determination, just because something seems loving, kind, and reasonable still doesn’t mean Jesus had anything to do with it, it may just have been someone else trying to make some marginal ammends for prior nonsense introduced to the Bible. So what am I missing here, where’s the evidence that Jesus was anything more than some poor schmoe who got turned into a popular myth? (watched Life of Brian lately? It’s a likelier chain of events if you ask me!)

  2. I don’t know about Jesus believing that he was dying for the world’s sins. To my mind, the stuff that Jesus says during his life makes a lot more sense if you filter it through an axiom: That there’s going to be a theocratic kingdom on earth, soon, with Jesus as king. I see the “he died for our sins” meme as a rationalization developed by his followers in order to cope with his death. (The theocratic kingdom is then postponed to the second coming.)

    There’s a classic work of sociology called When Prophecy Fails that traces the development of an abortive UFO cult. The authors very carefully do not discuss how their conclusions can be applied to the origins of Christianity. I recommend it to all.

  3. Unfortunately for you…

    Their Jesus could probably beat up your Jesus. (Unless he’s an exceptionally slow learner, he should have much better aim with the lightning bolts, and salt-pillarings… more practice, you see). And then, he could probably buy off the Jesus court, since he is probably the second wealthiest Jesus around (distantly, mind you, because the Jesus that Benedict XVI talks to is stupendously rich).

  4. Scott: “Their Jesus could probably beat up your Jesus.”

    Inasmuch as my Jesus is the one that suggested turning the other cheek, I have no doubt about this. However, my Jesus would forgive their Jesus that, too.

    Guy Matthews: “How do you KNOW he existed, or if he did exist, how do you KNOW he took on any burden whatsoever in his death?”

    Aside from the Bible, there’s a reasonably good historical record of Jesus living when he was supposed to have lived, so the idea that he existed (and was put to death) is non-controversial.

    You appear to be conflating two separate ideas: That Jesus lived, and that the Bible is a historically accurate document. The first of these is not predicated on the second.

  5. Christopher Hitchens had some interesting comments in an opinion piece for the Wall St. Journal yesterday. He included the following quotation from Barry Goldwater:

    “The religious factions that are growing throughout our land are not using their religious clout with wisdom. They are trying to force government leaders into following their position 100%. If you disagree with these religious groups on a particular moral issue, they complain, they threaten you with a loss of money or votes or both. . . . Just who do they think they are? And from where do they presume to claim the right to dictate their moral beliefs to me? And I am even more angry as a legislator who must endure the threats of every religious group who thinks it has some god-granted right to control my vote on every roll call in the Senate. I am warning them today: I will fight them every step of the way if they try to dictate their moral convictions to all Americans in the name of “conservatism.”

  6. A good and thoughtful post, John.

    I’ll preface this by saying that I am not a Christian, was not raised in a church, and have a few Leviticans (heh, I’m going to keep that one, and add it to my list of Useful Scalziisms with ‘cleti’) in my life.

    Two things: first, if there is any evidence at all of the historical existence of Jesus, I am unaware of it. As far as I am aware, Biblical scholars (real Biblical scholars, not Leviticans-in-disguise) acknowledge this. The Romans were pretty careful record keepers, and they say nothing of the carpenter from Galilee. That is partly why the fake James Ossuary was such a big deal, and why people who really know this stuff were pretty certain that it was a fake.

    If there’s something I don’t know about, I’d sure appreciate pointers to it.

    Second: these days, as you point out, we hear an awful lot about Leviticus and Genesis, but precious little about Luke:

    “Yet lackest thou one thing: sell all that thou hast, and distribute unto the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, follow me.”

    I wonder why such as Robertson and Falwell have not followed that very clear requirement?

  7. Aside from the Bible, there’s a reasonably good historical record of Jesus living when he was supposed to have lived, so the idea that he existed (and was put to death) is non-controversial.From Wikipedia:

    While most historians and scholars have not seriously questioned that Jesus actually lived, a number have done so — and many have found the issue undecideable by historical means alone.

    Ugh, ‘undecideable’. Must fix that. But clearly some more digging is needed. Another Wikipedia article states:

    Of the secular commentators living within memory of Jesus, at least six are claimed to have written material relating to Jesus – Pliny the Younger, Josephus, Suetonius, Philo, Lucian, and Tacitus. Lucian wrote a satire condemning Christians as easily led fools, whereas Pliny the Younger wrote the same opinion in prose.

    Research is hard! Know any good Jesusologists?

  8. Dean re: Jesus from the Encyclopedia Britannica:

    There are a few references to Jesus in 1st-century Roman and Jewish sources. Documents indicate that within a few years of Jesus’ death, Romans were aware that someone named Chrestus (a slight misspelling of Christus) had been responsible for disturbances in the Jewish community in Rome (Suetonius, The Life of the Deified Claudius 25.4). Twenty years later, according to Tacitus, Christians in Rome were prominent enough to be persecuted by Nero, and it was known that they were devoted to Christus, whom Pilate had executed (Annals 15.44).

    The EB does note that these references are “dependent on familiarity with early Christianity,” however.

    In any event, I personally am sufficiently convinced that Jesus exsted as a historical personage to take as a given in further discussion of his teaching. This does not mean I take it as a given that his nature was also at least partly divine, which is a whole other conversation.

  9. Not to be all eschatological, but what a potentially interesting take on the concept of the Antichrist. Many, many layers of irony here, that the people most focused on the “end times” are the people elevating and promoting an “unChrist,” one who is taking the place of the “true” Messiah in the hearts, lo even of the “faithful.”

    Wow that’s deep.

    Anyway, I am Catholic, John, and I really enjoyed the post. Very keen.

  10. Excellent post, john!

    It reminded me of one of my favorite t-shirts, that I love to wear when I know i’ll be around potential ‘Leviticans’.

    It’s a picture of Jesus, and underneath it, it says: “Jesus, protect me from your followers”

  11. Hey John, you ever read “Honest to Jesus,” by Funk? If you can find it, I give it the highest recommendation. Honestly, I never found the time to finish it (I’m a horribly slow reader), but loved everything I read. My favorite quote (slightly paraphrased): “The practice of “Bible Studies” are typically acts of the blind leading the blind.”

    He had a really great take on Jesus of Nazareth vs. Jesus the Christ. It takes away nothing from the Christ while describing who the historical Jesus was. Incredibly enlightening to the point that “their” ignorant/intolerant Jesus would consider it blasphemous. Check it out. I can’t recommend it enough.

  12. I have been reading the Whatever for a couple of months and have been trying to read some of the back log. I find you very interesting and agree with you many times and disagree at others.

    I found this post very well done. I like your take and will begin to make your point my own. I am Baptist and likewise agree and disagree with conservative Christians on various issues.

    I hope you and others will remember that as Jesus died for all sins, your Jesus will also forgive that crowd of their attempt to “own” Him along with their “intolerance, ignorance or fear”. This is the nature of Jesus.

    The nature of my Jesus is, as you said, not to “support” those actions but to lovingly forgive us of our faults as His free gift of grace. When we accept He came to “save the world” rather than condemn it we are liberated to accept others along with their faults and not strive to condemn that which he is trying to save.

    Thanks for an excellent post and know that while many Christians will be offended there are still others who will stand with you and your image of Christ and the power of forgiveness.

  13. Excellent post, John. For some time now, the wife and I have said to one another that Christianity has nothing to do with Christianity. Since she’s an atheist and I’m an agnostic Jew*, we don’t raise our voices too loud.

    In my little community, it’s not unusual to be pinioned by these irritating points of faith. Not “Do you believe in Jesus?” — nothing that easy to deflect — but, “How important is faith in your life?” Which, naturally, is code for, “Do you believe in Jesus?” (That shouldn’t necessarily be true, but in each case, it has been.) Such oblique questions leave me speechless.

    It’s a tough spot to be in. These questions are usually popped minutes before I’m about to take the questioner’s child in for surgery, and they really really want to believe that God controls my hands, not me. (I can understand this. On the scarier cases, I want to believe it, too.) I don’t lie, but I doubt my responses make much sense, either.

    Back to the un-Christian Christians: in case you’ve never read it, I suggest you take a look at Jeff Sharlet’s Harpers article, “Jesus Plus Nothing”, a report of his visit to Ivanwald. (If you google Jeff Sharlet Harpers, it’s the first catch.) Ivanwald is the country compound of “the Family”, a shadowy group composed of some very high-ranking politicians. The essence of their philosophy is that their faith entitles them to seize power in the world. In a particularly rich passage, Sharlet quotes the Family’s leader, Doug Coe, who lumps together Jesus, Hitler, and the Mafia in one crystalline thought. (They’ve all made covenants with their friends to gain power — that’s the connection.) It would be funny, except that Coe is so deadly earnest about it.

    Again, great post, John. You’re fighting the good fight. Damn shame you’re outnumbered.

    _________________________________________

    *Not that unusual. According to my rabbi, there have even been atheist rabbis. Figure that one out.

  14. Much as I wish liberal progressives could be more aggressive in their campaigning and politicking, I wish more enlightened christians would follow your lead in becoming a bit loud-mouthed about their beliefs.

    But then, folks on the lighter, more inclusive side of most any spectrum have a rough time…”What do we want? Tolerance! When do we want it? Now!” is hardly a rallying cry to set fire to the blood, now is it?

  15. Thank you so much for saying all of this. I have said the exact same thing — the Christians think they own Jesus, and they do not. I also belief in Jesus’ sacrifice, death and ressurection, but I do not interpret it the way Christians do, and I can’t go along with so much of what makes a Christian a Christian. I just love Jesus, and I want to be like him. I love your bumper stickers. Thank you!

  16. I was raised as an evangelical Christian, so I’ve struggled with this for years. The conclusion I’ve come to is pretty simple: Jesus is about relationships. Relationships, by their nature, are one-to-one. My relationship with the Divine (in whatever form it may take) is important, and it should have a noticeable effect in my life. My relationships with others around me are also important and by working to develop and strengthen them, I develop and strengthn my relationship with the Divine (the reverse is also true).

    The false Jesus these folks claim is not a Jesus of relationships; he is a god of institutions and ideals. As one of the former commenters said, the anti-Christ indeed.

  17. Doug made an interesting point about the puzzling existence of athiest rabbis. It seems contradictory at first, but perhaps these rabbis are simply being disarmingly honest? You know, once you reject the unlikely idea that God is an bearded old white guy in a cloud, what are you left with? A lot of questions – None of which, frankly, any of us down here will ever answer.

    Super post John. I never liked the word “Athiest” and its unfortunate linkage with the *absolute* giving up of all hope. Now I can proudly call myself a *relative* athiest – inasmuch as I don’t believe in *their* God! Sincere thanks, I’m feeling all fired up now and ready for an anti “religous” crusade.

    The Irish comedian Dave Allen had a neat way of putting it: “I’m an athiest – Thank God!” Deep.

  18. “Not to be all eschatological, but what a potentially interesting take on the concept of the Antichrist. Many, many layers of irony here, that the people most focused on the “end times” are the people elevating and promoting an “unChrist,” one who is taking the place of the “true” Messiah in the hearts, lo even of the “faithful.””

    Wouldn’t it be a tremendous irony if REVELATIONS turned out to be referring to this false Christ, this image of an unforgiving, intolerant Christ usurping the place of a loving, forgiving Christ? If so, at the moment the world ends from it, I’ll be laughing at the Left Behind crowd for bringing about their own demise.

  19. Guy’s point is interesting–“Leaps of faith aside, how do you KNOW he existed, or if he did exist, how do you KNOW he took on any burden whatsoever in his death? Where’s the evidence?”

    The Intelligent Design/Creationism crowd like to say “No one was around when evolution took place, so it’s just a theory,” and ignore or pooh-pooh any evidence presented in its favor. But of course one could ask the same question of Jesus’ existence, since no one alive today was around when he supposedly walked the Earth.

  20. Based on the one dark eye in the picture of Jesus used, it looks like their Jesus DID beat up Scalzi’s Jesus.

  21. Hi John, been lurking for a while. *emerges from woodwork*

    Dude. Yeah. Really good post. You’re talking about exactly the sort of thing that bugs me about a lot of “Christians”, and why so many people want nothing to do with Christians. As someone who stives to actually be *Christ-like*, it’s a neverending struggle to convince nonChristians we’re not all biggots. We’re not all homophobic. We’re not all prideful haters.

    And yes, the bible does say things about sexual sins and so on! Whoever mentioned it says that was right! But that doesn’t give Christians an excuse to hate people. Jesus loved sinners. He loved tax collecters and lepers. If He can do that, so should we.

    But I’m telling someone who clearly already knows. :)

    Thanks for this post, John.

  22. This is quite timely, as a story is breaking today about a church in NC in which the pastor “excommunicated” all Democrats in the congregation. (I only have DU, Kos, and freeperville links to offer, which I find unreliable; I’ll offer a more reliable and complete description if I find it).

    I appreciated this post very much. I often see the same way.

    However, my Jesus would probably counsel me to be cautious in levelling accusations of bigotry, arrogance, ignorance, and conformity. Of course, my Jesus will forgive me when I fail to exercise that caution. ;)

  23. In all, this is a very good summary of what I understand the typical American to think of Christians, specifically vocal Christians. As an evangelical (dare I say fundamentalist) Christian, I too experience frustration at the foaming mouth rhetoric of some fellow Christians. As I see it, the problem does not lie in Christianity, or even in their believing to “own” Jesus (a silly statement at best), but in their passion and their locus of control. They believe it is up to them to correct any sinners (which we all are) through any means necessary. Therein lies the problem.

    You know, I can definitely agree that if I was faced with anyone who was screaming beliefs in my face, the last thing I would think is “wow, this person really loves me.” To me, this is the greatest indictment against the homo-haters, that they bash people with the truth, rather than teaching them with love (Eph 4:15, 1 Cor 16:14).

    I consider it ironic that the church which was originally distinguished from the rest of the population by virtue of their great love for each other (John 13:35) is now distinguished by their great arrogance. Maybe, as others have said, it will take change from within, but I personally lay my locus of control at God’s feet. I will do what I can to change my environment, but it is ultimately not up to me.

    Lastly, regarding the person of Jesus. He definitely taught and corrected people on theological issues, but he never searched for a fight. He was angry with the money changers in the temple, but he did not go to temple to be angry. He went to worship. Furthermore, these people were not unaware of the law; they were willingly breaking it, which calls for a form of tough love (1 Tim 5:20). Christians should always deal with the utmost tenderness with non-Christians. There is but one person Jesus, and textual criticism points to the Bible as being far and away the best resource to learn about him. We must use the Jesus as presented in the Bible to correct our views, not use our views to correct the Bible.

    Although some have taken to undermine the authority of the Bible, I have felt it best not to hijack the comments with a debate over inerrancy. Since the topic deals with Chritians who believe the inerrancy of the scriptures, it is best to correct them through the scriptures.

  24. Based on the one dark eye in the picture of Jesus used, it looks like their Jesus DID beat up Scalzi’s Jesus.

    Erin’s not wrong. That’s the best Jesus picture evah! I faced him for an hour and a half in college during a seminar on early Christianity. My prof’s view is that early Christians fully understood the dichotomy of the benevolent Jesus who feeds everyone fish and parts of his body, versus the angry Jesus who brought out the whips and the rantings in the Temple, and the two different eyes on that icon were deliberate to represent both sides.

    Yay for early Christian doublethinkers!

  25. Jim, I really hope that that’s not true. I’m hoping that the apocalypse really is near, but that all the obnoxious “christians” really will be taken up whole-bodily. Finally, I could live my life with a little peace. I don’t know if the meek will have inherited the earth, but at least a lot of the most obnoxious people won’t be in the running.

    K

  26. Nice job, John. This Episcopalian wholeheartedly endorses your take. I’m glad my congregation doesn’t indulge in the kind of intolerance that infect so many. Still, none of us perfectly meets the standard that Jesus sets for us, and it’s good to be reminded of that and strive always to do better.

  27. I’m Jewish, so I’m a little reluctant to make sweeping comments about what’s happening inside Christianity today. But not reluctant enough to actually, like, not do it.

    It seems to me that there’s a battle between those who follow the teachings of Jesus–tend to the poor, turn the other cheek, that kind of thing–with those who accept Jesus as their Savior as a way of proclaiming their piety and lining up a cushy afterlife. It’s the Good Works Christians versus the EZ-Pass Christians. The rest of us sit on the sidelines and wonder just what’s up with people who think they can proclaim someone their spiritual leader, then blithely ignore 90% of his teachings.

    I guess what sets us apart from other animals is opposable thumbs and the ability to rationalize.

    By the way, someone could point out that we have my-way-or-the-highway types in Judaism, too, and they’d be right. This is a basic people problem, not a Christianity-only problem.

  28. “This is a basic people problem, not a Christianity-only problem.”

    Agreed. However, the Christianity variant is the predominant form here in the US.

  29. By the way, someone could point out that we have my-way-or-the-highway types in Judaism, too, and they’d be right. This is a basic people problem, not a Christianity-only problem.

    As a side note, it’s my limited experience that the Jewish variety of this person leans a lot more towards the “or the highway” of the options. Which is isolationist and self-serving, but at least it’s less invasive…

  30. Um…

    you all keep calling this guy Jesus.

    That’s a Greek Title.

    Anybody know the wandering Buddhist-entertaining Jewish carpenter’s real name?

    “Joshua ben Joseph” or something like that?

    Love the bumper stickers.

  31. Good entry. It’s nice to be reminded sometimes that Jesus was worth all the fuss;

    Case in point: The Westboro Baptist Church (www.godhatesfags.com) is coming to the town I work in (and recently moved out of) to picket the town’s high school graduations in a couple weeks because one of them has a Gay-Straight Alliance that protested a teacher’s homophobic statements,, and to picket the town’s churches for being “Sodomite whorehouses” for not condemning gays in a story we ran.

    I think their Jesus is a prime target for forgiveness.

  32. Re the moneychangers

    Furthermore, these people were not unaware of the law; they were willingly breaking it,

    No they were not. The way I heard it the moneychangers were there to change money into temple coin, used to buy animals for sin sacrifice. (Leviticus has a whole bunch of rules on sin offerings). Jesus seems to have been unimpressed (at best) with sacrifices, but they were an accepted part of the law as the Jews of the time understood it.

    He definitely taught and corrected people on theological issues, but he never searched for a fight.

    He disrupted the temple economy, he openly disobeyed some of the religious laws of the time, and if I recall correctly, he encouraged others to disregard the teachings of the Pharasees. (I’ll see if I can find a reference.)

  33. John, great post… you should submit this to Sojourners Magazine. They would so publish it. I’m not affiliated with them, besides being a subscriber, but this kind of thing is right up their alley. They have a very extensive webpage if you want to get an idea of who they are.
    PS love the bumper stickers too

  34. I often wonder why the more accurate picture of God often comes from self-proclaimed athiests and agnostics. And I don’t mean the self-righteous “If you believe, you’re a superstitious moron!” types who are little better than the EZ Pass Christians described earlier.

    Is it perhaps the detachment. The idea that if there is a God, then He (for like of a decent gender-nonspecific pronoun) would be like…

    John, you’ve often said the jury’s out for you on the subject, yet you always seem to nail it anyway.

    Always wondered why a nonbeliever does better than a lot of believers.

  35. Bob wrote:

    The rest of us sit on the sidelines and wonder just what’s up with people who think they can proclaim someone their spiritual leader, then blithely ignore 90% of his teachings.

    There are some that Christians that don’t think the Bible is reliable. And there are some that haven’t read it and don’t know what it contains. How many Christians have read the bible?
    And incidentally, those who through Bible quotes around don’t necessarily know what’s in it. I’ve conversed with quite a number of Christians who despite quoting the Bible (usually Paul), were quite ignorant of what it contained. Interestingly enough, those Christians who had what I consider an intolerant theology (everyone is evil and deserves death), if they were well versed in the Bible, acted quite politely and decently, and with empathy despite their theology.

    and if I recall correctly, he encouraged others to disregard the teachings of the Pharasees. (I’ll see if I can find a reference.)

    Hrrm, I was wrong. The verse I was thinking of was Matt 23:3, which is as follows (JKV):

    All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not.

    But there’s also Matt 16:6:

    Then Jesus said unto them, Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees.

    Incidentally, in Matt 23 He goes on a tear and denounces “The scribes and the Pharisees” in no uncertain terms. Jesus denouncing the “Fetish Jesus” would be consistent with the Jesus I read in the gospels. Which isn’t to say that He wouldn’t forgive the “Fetish Jesus” as well (in keeping with Mark 11:25).

    Dean wrote:

    Second: these days, as you point out, we hear an awful lot about Leviticus and Genesis, but precious little about Luke:

    “Yet lackest thou one thing: sell all that thou hast, and distribute unto the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, follow me.”

    Matt 19:21-24 has something similar.
    Not that I’m likely to find favour with Jesus. Not only do I dont follow that commandment, I’m an atheist and as such don’t follow the first commandment to love God (Mark 12:30). And I far my part disagree with much of what he said, and much of what his follows say. But Christians and I can still consider each other neighbors. (Luke 10:29+). There is a lot that He said that is good, and there is a lot that His followers do that is good, and much more that is at least well-intentioned.

  36. I’m intrigued by your use of an icon instead of a more modern picture of Jesus. Is there a particular reason for picking this one?

  37. For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. – Romans 3:23

    We are an imperfect people and as such our interpretations, our hypocrisies and our falsely premised actions are imperfect. Mankind has argued for decades about what the Bible preaches on certain issues. Issues of the law:

    If you really carry out the royal law prescribed in Scripture, You shall love your neighbor as yourself, you are doing well. But if you show favoritism, you commit sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever keeps the entire law, yet fails in one point, is guilty of breaking it all. For He who said, Do not commit adultery, also said, Do not murder. So if you do not commit adultery, but you do murder, you are a lawbreaker. Speak and act as those who will be judged by the law of freedom. – James 2:8-12

    Why is it worth arguing about? Some people exhibit only one of the traits John spoke of; and even if they are right with every other law but that one point, they are on the side of sin. The Bible is a book of teachings, it is God’s word, we will never be able to live up to God’s Word, but according to that Word, we should still strive to follow it.

    We all try, we all fail, we all are forgiven. Why is it a matter of faith?

    What should we say then? Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have obtained righteousness–namely the righteousness that comes from faith. But Israel, pursuing the law for righteousness, has not achieved the law. Why is that? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were by works. They stumbled over the stumbling stone. – Romans 9:30-32

    And thus, it is simple. To cite Occam – Entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem.

    For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16

    You might ask, ‘Well, if the simplest explanation is usually the correct one, then why not be an atheist and discount all religion?’ Is believing in nothing really the simplest explanation? To believe that the universe exists for no reason – does that really make sense? That all life has no purpose? Everything is random? But it cannot be? Nothing begins without a beginning? No end to all? No Beginning to all? Certainly not as simple as it first sounds.

    Seek and you shall find.

    James

  38. James: Huh? I’m sure you had a point in there somewhere, I’m just not sure I know what it is. Could you restate, possibly more compactly?

    Kizmet: I used the icon because it presents no copyright issues.

  39. Good Lord! (and I mean that in a completely non-blasphemous manner). That was a great post in that it hit to the heart of the problems that I, as a born-again Christian, have been having with my religion lately. It seems mainstream Christianity in the US is dominated by power-hungry blowhards who twist the Scripture in whatever way they need to further their own goals. And the millions of people who follow them are unwilling to question or doubt or even think. They are what my father refers to as “plastic Christians,” and they are the main reason I stopped going to church a few years ago. I simply could not fathom the level of simple-mindedness and their complete lack of curiosity. How can anyone call themselves a Christian and yet never even bother to ponder what that entails?

    Your post is a sort of reminder to me that not all Christians (although I can’t tell if you call yourself such) are close-minded. Every time I hear about how many books the “Left Behind” series has sold, well, I just cringe.

    Thanks for your thoughts on the subject. It really it home for me. (Although, on a side note, I still remain conflicted on the whole gay rights issue. I find homophobia distinctly un-Christian, but I still haven’t been convinced that marriage, in its historical sense, is by any means a “right.”)

  40. That’s what I get for trying to address some of the previous posts without quoting. . .

    I apologize, my comments were more directed at the other posters than you, as I agree with everything you said (with the exception of your ‘Do you believe’ answer).

    My points were:

    That no one is free of sin and thus, imperfect.

    That one sin is equal to the next.

    That Christian’s interpretations (and actions, etc) of the Bible can be flawed, because we imperfect.

    Righteousness in Christianity is not based on deeds but on faith.

    Faith is simple acceptance and belief.

    And my final words were confronting the atheistic perspective of belief/non-belief as a whole.

  41. That one sin is equal to the next.

    And that would be one of my squicks… Equal how exactly? Equally bad? Surely not.

    Some people exhibit only one of the traits John spoke of; and even if they are right with every other law but that one point, they are on the side of sin.

    So, all of us being sinners, we are all on the side of sin no? But what does that mean? Not all of us are in favour of sin as a general principle, which is what “on side” tends to mean. Everyone who is Ignorant increases the imperfection of the world (as compared to the hypothetical where they did not exist)? That’s not real credible. So what does on the side of sin mean?

    For whoever keeps the entire law, yet fails in one point, is guilty of breaking it all.

    So people can be guilty of breaking parts of the law they did not in fact break? That’s harsh. (What else would breaking it all mean other than breaking all the parts?)

  42. you all keep calling this guy Jesus.

    That’s a Greek Title.

    Actually, the bit that’s a title is “Christ”, which is Greek for “Anointed One”.

  43. It’s the Good Works Christians versus the EZ-Pass Christians. The rest of us sit on the sidelines and wonder just what’s up with people who think they can proclaim someone their spiritual leader, then blithely ignore 90% of his teachings.

    Most people look for the easy way out. I think Christianity became one of the most popular religions around because its leaders made it so simple – do everything I tell you to do and you will go to heaven when you die. So most of its followers are just that: “followers”.

    The majority of people just want to live in peace and prosper. Their religion is just an after-life insurance policy.

    Because of that, the Levitican extremists have gone mostly unchallenged and have steered many Christian churches to the right, leaving behind those that Jesus most often tended to – the poor, the infirm and the weak.

    Many churches today are not about helping those that need it – they are about gaining power through money and politics, and using that power to impose their morals on everyone else.

    But my Jesus would still forgive them…

  44. John,

    Excellent post! There is a tendency to throw the baby out with the bath water, I think — Christianity gets a bad name from various groups of Christians who act out of ignorance, fear or arrogance. Which is like democracy (a good thing) getting a bad name from the sometimes reprehensible acts of the citizens of a democracy. In other parts of the world, people might see democracy as leading to a warlike, materialistic, pornographic culture, and they say no thanks. Those of us who are inside it say its a lot more complicated than that — democracy allows us to indulge both our goodness and our badness, it seems. But trying telling that to people who think all we do is watch Dynasty and torture POWs.

    I’m grateful that strains of Christianity are booming in some places, particularly Africa and Latin America, as people still see the transformative power of Jesus as the forgiving and peace-giving Son of God. Hopefully non-Western Christians can restore the faith’s good reputation.

    Rick

  45. I like “Plastic Christians.”

    Romans were aware that someone named Chrestus (a slight misspelling of Christus) had been responsible for disturbances in the Jewish community in Rome

    As Daniel notes, Christ is a Greek title, not a name; Suetonius’s note isn’t much of a non-New Testament proof that this guy Jesus was a real person and is pretty much as advertised in the Bible.

    Now, I don’t think that in any way precludes John’s discussion about Jesus. Whether or not there was an actual, historical guy named Yeshua ben Yoseph, there is certainly Jesus the meme, and that’s real in its own way.

  46. As to whether “your” Jesus would forgive “their” Jesus…Ultimately, perhaps. But the New Testament record has Jesus being awfully hard on the Pharisees, whom he saw as religious leaders who had misused and misdirected their power. I’m not sure Jesus really WOULD forgive all the crap that the religious right is dishing out… Lisa :-]

  47. “I’m not sure Jesus really WOULD forgive all the crap that the religious right is dishing out.”

    He would. Which is not to say he wouldn’t or counldn’t have pungent things to say prior to the forgiving.

  48. John … This is an excellent piece. And my feelings, exactly. I don’t understand how anyone who professes to be a follower, would be driven to condemn, rather than to love, their fellow man. It makes no sense to me.

  49. The very notions that the religious right in this country having been screaming the last few years are the very same reasons I stopped attending church a few years ago. I was coming out of church feeling worse then when I went in. I turned my back on the irrational intolerance and hate that a very human man was preaching from the pulpit. Fortunately, God doesn’t move, he is still where he always was, and the conservative right doesn’t own him…imagine their surprise one day when all this judgement they dish out is truly explained to them. I have compassion for them because, “they know not what they do.”

  50. I showed this entry to my mom, who is a devout Christian. She loved it, and had me save a copy so she could print it out and share with her friends.

  51. Carly, there are many churches that actually follow Jesus’s teachings, rather than use them as a kind of wrapper for reactionary social conservativism. Don’t let them push the lie that they have the lock on God.

    (Not to say that you should go to church ifn’ you don’t want to, of course, only that there are liberal churches, welcoming churches, and so on.)

  52. Very thoughtful commentary, John. Non-Christian though I am, I nonetheless heartily agree. Perhaps we are beginning to see the tide turn, albeit slightly. Have you perchance seen the television spots for the United Church of Christ (I think it’s they)? The ads show an unnamed church blocking the door to “nontraditional” sorts, and then the voice over intones, “Jesus didn’t turn people away. Neither do we.” Not at all bad.

  53. John,

    Thanks for this line: “As far as I can tell, the primary source of power for this group lies not in the teachings of Jesus, since what they do has little to do with that, but the simple fact that they feel they own Jesus:”

    Too many Christians have become enamored with power and have forgotten to act like Christians. There’s not much civility in our public discourse these days, and if Christians, who are supposed to be peacemakers and bring salt and light, not hate, into our culture, then heaven help us all.

    Many of them are afraid, because they see the world they once knew crumbling around them. They see family breakdown, failing schools, corporate scandals, a redefinition of marriage (and whether you agree with gay marriage or not, it certainly is a seismic shift in a societal building block), rampant greed and sexual extravagance, and a culture that seems to have lost it’s moral compass, and are freaking out. And when they raise their voices in protest, they feel attacked, labelled as homophobes, prudes, and theocrats who are forcing their religion down people’s throats. I’m not excusing their behavior, just saying that they are frightened and frightened people are easily deceived by preachers and politicians out to build a kingdom for themselves.

    Thanks for pointing us back to the words and example of Jesus.

  54. For a man that maybe did not exist and did not do much of anything if he did, Jesus is a very talked about person and of course proving one’s faith is in my opinion very subjective so faith is faith and needs to be taken personally from one’s experience.
    If you consider that mathematicians cannot prove that 1 + 1 equals 2 and yet can build gigantic structures (like bridges and the like) based on that theory proves (I think) that there is more to God through Jesus than anyone can ever explain to everyone’s satisfaction.
    May I also comment on the forgiving. It is essential but it also needs action because if in whatever way, one’s understanding of Jesus promotes intolerance and fear, then others need protection and care.

  55. Tempting

    From John Scalzi, some real Jesus bumper stickers. Unrelated note: How come *.blogspot.com goes down so freakin’ often? Doesn’t Google own them now, frchrissake?…

  56. Excellent post John. I like your responses to those who would try to pigeon-hole you, as well as the bumper-stickers..This one’s a keeper!!

  57. “The Christianity variant is the predominant form here in the US.”

    Actually I think it’s predominant almost everywhere. We face it, over here, in a ‘third-world’ country. All the time.

  58. My name is Yoseph. So you can imagine I’ve found some interesting things related to the usage of my name. My favorite would anger everyone here….possibly. Yoseph is an ancient arabic name(of egyptian descent)for “religious advisor” or “holy man”. So, was this a name Jesus would use to drum-up followers? Was it a pride issue? In a time when you took the name of your profession as handed down from your family, was jesus ever really a carpenter? Was Joseph a holyman too? If so, is it possible that Jesus had followers from birth due to his “holy man” father. Then, where does Mary’s virginity enter in to it. Though Yoseph is a common jewish name today, it’s egypyian roots would’ve been clearly known at the time of Mary. Would it be possible that Mary would marry an egyptian? It was common to cast out unwed mothers in Mary’s time. Not too much wonder in there being no room at the inn. -yoseph

    i38dd@hotmail.com

  59. hey everybody, the whole jesus concept i totally agree with in todays world many christians and people of other faiths use jesus as an excuse as well as god as an excuse for the worlds problems and for the mistakes we make, bottom line were all human and supposed to make mistakes but we just need to take responsibility for our actions and not blame religious figures, and I think that people digging for a way to proove christianity wrong have something wrong with themselves I mean why is it such a big deal if over 1 billion people believer in one man as there savior, I don’t understand what the fear is of jesus in todays world, so many people are afraid to hear the name jesus in public, he simply died to save you of your sins, I don’t understand whats so scary about that?

  60. thank you for this. I’ve copied some to my blog (attributed to yourself, of course) so that I don’t feel dirty linking them :)

  61. The Mantra of JesusandGeorge.com

    January 31st 2006, Los Angeles, CA – If you know Jesus then you know he is pissed that George keeps referring to him as his “boy.” Jesus is hip, cool, and down with the people hence Jesus is forced to rock the “I am with stupid” shirt while chilling with Bush.

    JesusandGeorge.com is all about making sure that everyone knows that no one person or one political party owns or can claim Jesus as his or her own; Jesus is for all of us. JesusandGeorge.com is challenging the religious right and Republican Party to give Jesus back to the people. JesusandGeorge.com is also challenging everyone to voice their displeasure, raise their voices and get Jesus back where he belongs – back with “all” the people.

    JesusandGeorge.com gives you the ultimate tool allowing you to align your views and your values in the simplest, yet most powerful way: a high-end custom made t-shirt.

    You can also check us out at http://www.JesusandGeorge.com

  62. I accidentally came upon your website. I am a Christian and I believe that Jesus was God in the form of man to show the world that He is the Ruler, loves us unconditionally, and we are created in his image. Christ died on the cross for you and me and he raised from the dead 2 days later and the Bible predicted this over 400 times before it happened. It is always very interesting to me that people tell what Jesus is like and what He is about yet they probably have not read what He said and have read very little of the Bible if any part of it. READ the Bible! You will change your way of thinking. Jesus says that he will come back not in a peaceful way but as a warrior.
    I will pray for you.

  63. Lori:

    “READ the Bible! You will change your way of thinking.”

    I like how many Christians assume I come to my position on Jesus from ignorance. In fact, I’ve read the Bible several times, none of which leads me to believe Jesus is bigoted, homophobic, ignorant, arrogant, greedy, petty or hateful; therefore changing my way of thinking on Jesus is not required. But thanks.

  64. I thouroughly enjoyed this website. I am also extremely perplexed at the ones who claim to own Jesus while promoting the exact opposite of what he teaches. It frustrates me to no end. God Bless you in what you’re doing.
    PEACE
    Tim Reid

  65. I enjoy your site and the comments on it.
    I am a recovering fundamentalist. I admit my problem.
    Nobody did, or wanted to, believe the Bible and Jesus more than I wanted to, and I did, at one time. Hey it is a very compelling message. Jesus is God’s son and he is Love, and died for us because he loved us so much. However when real life hit me square between the eyes, and things did not happen as the Bible clearly says, (like prayer), I started to really read this thing. (See I was a fundamentalist, but had not really read all of it). I had read some of it, but ignored a lot of it, as well. I found a lot of troubling stuff in there. It hurt, I will not deny that. I did not want to give up my beliefs. I thought it was all real, but have found out it is not. I found that the Bible is not about love at all. Oh some of it trys to be, but most of it is not.
    Upon further examination this book surely cannot be from God. Even from the beginning and the stories of Genesis. There is no way it was all created in 6 days, and is a young earth. Light from the stars takes hundreds of thousands of years to reach us. Fossil layers with different species of animals are found way below other fossil layer with totally different animal species. Then the rest of the Old Testament presents a worldview, which is OK with Polygamy, Bigamy, Incest, Slavery, and women as property.
    Next, Jesus did not leave us with any writings either. In fact the new church did not have any writings until about 70years after his death, and did not have a New Testament until 300 years after his death. The people writing what we call the New Testament did not even realize that what they wrote would someday be considered scripture. Heck if you look at how we got the Bible and especially the New Testament, it is a history as full of legalism, condemnation, heretics, ecumenical declarations, speculation, and Phariseeism, pretty much as our churches are today.

    Take the message of love from the quotations attributed to Jesus, and forget all the other junk, even the Bible. If nothing else, that is a good message. My Jesus did not even write the Bible, he just says to love one another.

    If man continues on his current path of enlightenment, then his religion may begin to actually show signs of common human decency. Mark Twain

  66. Great bumper stickers.

    It was wonderful finding your website.

    “Their” Jesus is so opposite to “my” Jesus that I suspect theirs of being the antiChrist.

    What’s in a name anyway? Couldn’t some people be fooled into worshipping Satan and calling him Jesus?

    Or maybe Mammon? Mammon’s the god of wealth that my Jesus said you couldn’t serve at the same time that you serve God. Hmmm. Doesn’t the Republican Party exist for the service of Mammon?

    Yet, I hear some Republicans say that they are followers of Jesus. Makes you wonder if the End Times aren’t upon us, when my Jesus will come and send those who rejected the hungry, the prisoners and the strangers to Hell. (Matthew 25)
    My Jesus couldn’t have been any clearer about what he expected of us. How come they just don’t get it?

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