So often I ponder the decline of Christianity, and other religions as well, which you know, if you've read many of my posts. The arc of history and myth give some clues. It seems to me we did ourselves in with screwy and nonsensical theology. Just consider this and do your own research. I may be wrong, but I'm pretty sure I'm pretty close to understanding the history. But don't just believe me. Check it out.
The first eleven hundred years of Christianity blamed the crucifixion on Satan, which gave the people someone to blame, even though a mythical archetype. This changed with Anselm of Canterbury in the eleventh century. He said God needed to be appeased and based his theory on the medieval system of knighthood and honor, and on the patriarchal world where people were afraid of the leaders and tried to appease them. God became a violent, emotional, mean, scary being wanting revenge and killed his own son to get it. A few groups said that he did it out of love, pouring himself out through Jesus.
I find all of this appalling. To me the crucifixion was an act and a symbol of Roman/human brutality. In the end it did not win. Life eternal had the last word. God, so to speak, had the last laugh.
I have read and reread the New Testament maybe hundreds of times, wearing some out, underlining, etc. beginning in my childhood. I have read hundreds and hundreds of books from all points of view. I have higher degrees. I have been a senior pastor. I'll share some of my conclusions in a minute. First a mini history.
There are no known writings concurrent with the life of Jesus, no people who actually knew him have written. We have Paul's letters beginning two decades after Jesus. Paul did not meet Jesus, but he did meet with James, the brother of Jesus who was the leader of The Way, and Peter the apostle. The Gospels were written from 70 to the end of the first century or possibly beyond by unknown authors. They were circulated as Memoirs of the Apostles. It was sometime after the year 150 they were given names in order to distinguish them. No contemporary of Jesus mentioned him, although the historian, Josephus, at the end of the first century made a brief reference, The other situation is there are no known original documents, so we have copies of copies of copies. They were written in Greek about Jewish people who mostly spoke Aramaic. You can see the cultural and language problems. There are numerous translations with varying slants, all translated from the same Greek documents (the first fragments are from the 5th century). There are countless other things to consider, but I think this is sufficient to make the point that we have sketchy information. We have a lot of speculation and dogmas and theologies based on these documents.
My conclusions at this point of my journey to the best of my understanding include (read the New Testament yourself and check these out):
- Jesus never asked to be worshipped. He asked us to follow him.
- Jesus cared for everyone, included everyone, punished no one.
- Jesus told us to worship God, to pray to God, and to know God is Love.
- Forgiveness was central to his teaching as was healing and feeding.
- He asked people to be better people here and now, not in order to buy entrance to the golden streets of a far away kingdom, but to glorify God while on earth.
- He taught about the inner kingdom, the pearl of great price, the shining light on a hill we are called to be.
- He taught about humility and not about ego - not I'm better than you, but that we are all on this earth as brothers and sisters of one Divine Father.
- He called God "our Father" - not his exclusive Father.
- He lived a human life that was attuned to God and showed us how to so live.
- And oh so much more.
- He touched my deepest places and changed my life and called me to follow him. This following has taken me many places, to many people, to many ideas. In these 82 years, layers and layers of understanding have peeled away. Ever deeper and fuller relationship has grown. My connection to the vine has grown stronger. My tolerance for nonsense theology has grown thin. Those who have defamed my Lord and distorted his teaching and his life have created the turning away not from Jesus and his teaching, but from their nutty theologies.