The New Testament: Christianity

"There is no stronger force on earth than an idea whose time has come."

Victor Hugo (1802-1885)

At the time of the birth of Jesus there was already a significant group of the Jewish and non-Jewish population who were awaiting the Messiah promised in the Jewish scriptures with about 125 expectations. It can be argued that this messianic movement was born in the hope of liberation from the oppressive Roman Empire. Jesus was aware of these expectations.

Numerous candidates, including military heroes, and John The Baptist, were possibly considered, but Jesus was chosen as a spiritual liberator from oppression.

From the time covered by the Old Testament to the time of the Christ was a span of about one hundred and sixty years. Much of the record of that time was delineated in what is now known as the Apocrypha (meaning hidden). This, however, was not written until after the Christ's time. Supporting this idea is the finding that the writers of the New Testament could not and did not refer to any of the material in the Apocrypha. Sometime between 70 and a 100 AD, a group of rabbis and scholars holding forth in Jamnia, just south of the present day city of Tel Aviv, decided that the Apocrypha did not belong to the Old Testament. It is still retained, however, along with several other books in the Catholic Bible. We have noted the evolution of ideas in the Old Testament. We will approach the New Testament with the same viewpoint in mind. We will ask if there is more and better beyond Christ, and we shall discover that Christ left behind rather poignant ideas which have been ignored for two thousand years.

We have been conscious of an evolution of feelings from the earliest primitives, who feared any stranger as a mortal enemy, to the first stage of barbarians who plaited their desires to trade with strangers with fictive social bonding. Trade had been expanding. Then, under the Roman Empire, trade extended from one "end" of the earth to the other. Guilds and unions of brotherhoods helped at first; but, there was a need for universal brotherhood. "There is no stronger force on earth than an idea whose time has come." So it was with Christianity guided by the words and philosophy of Jesus. One might speculate on the source of the general loneliness, depression, and fear that held the people, and measure its needs by the almost instantaneous emollient effect on this sadness by the Christian philosophy.

The Christian movement was born out of the expectations and hope for liberation from the oppression that had been fostered by the cruelty of successive conquering empires throughout the Mediterranean world. The expectations of a messiah were reflected in the traditional Jewish Messiah expectations (Isaiah 42), the apocalyptic sentiments, the Platonic philosophy, Hellenistic Judaism (the Logos), and even some parts of the Greek mystery religions. We may worship knowledge and at the same time admire the Christian philosophy. It is fitting, considering the immense good that this philosophy has done, as evidenced by history during the last two thousand years, that we should glorify the life and name of the one who was chosen as the Christ, Jesus of Nazareth.

As we recognize Christ's poignant experience, we might reevaluate our own as we review the divisiveness of Christian sects. We might wonder if somehow we might accommodate differences of mental attitudes without separating our feelings. Why should thoughts of evolution, and such things as modern medical concepts, come between Christians? And, to the detractors that maintain that religion has been the cause of many wars, we can only stress that these wars were the pursuit of their barbaric participants and in no way reflect the words or philosophy of Jesus.

Divisiveness is totally aside from love and short of understanding.
We should neither forget nor necessarily separate ourselves from what has gone before
as we conceive of a philosophy beyond Christ's.

The New Testament is viewed as the "New Covenant" while the Old Testament is the "Old Covenant". This explains some of the variations in the relationship between God and humanity as it evolved from the Old Testament to the New Testament. The New Testament was assembled in 325 AD in Constantinople when Christianity became the official Roman religion with 27 books. The New Testament Books are not in the chronological order in which they were written. They are instead arranged in a more narrative order: first, The Gospels, telling the life of Jesus and his teachings; then, The Acts, detailing the work of those who followed The Christ in propagating the Christian faith after Christ's resurrection; followed by the Epistles, teaching the meaning and implications of the faith in letters of advice, instruction, admonition, and exhortation to local groups of Christians throughout the Mediterranean world (15 attributed to Paul, and seven by three other authors); and finally, The Revelation prophesying future events in an apocalyptic description of the intervention of God in history. Actually, the earliest texts to be written are considered to be the Epistles written in Greek. By reason of this, Greek was the language of the Christian movement. It was James, brother of Jesus, and Peter, a disciple, that carried on the Jewish Christian movement in Jerusalem.

From Acts we learn that Paul originally "hated" Christians and pleasured in their physical torture. However, the post-mortem Jesus appeared to Paul in a vision (on the road to Emmaus) and he became a convert (apostle). In the epistles, Paul emphasizes the death and resurrection of The Christ as the salvation from sin and death through the promise of eternal life. In Paul's eyes, Jesus was God, as was expressed in the Old Testament in several places regarding the coming Messiah. It is interesting that at no point does Jesus refer to himself as God. To Jesus, God was The Father. Paul made little mention of the life and teaching of Jesus which is one suggestion that there was already some literature in circulation relating to this.

It is ironical that it was the Greek speaking people who spread the Christian faith; for, Jesus had, at one time, expressly forbid the teaching of his ideas to any but the Jews (Matt 10:5). Jesus was fiercely devoted to Judaism, and above all, wanted first to be accepted by his own people. The twelve apostles were to go to the twelve tribes of Israel to spread the word, and were instructed not to go onto the gentiles, not even unto the Samaritans. These instructions changed eventually in post-mortem additions to include the world.

The Gospels were compiled after the Epistles were written, between 70-100 AD. Presumably they were compilations of the fragments of literature and oral stories about Jesus that were being circulated among the believers. These are the sources of the Book of Luke by his introduction.

The Book of Mark
The first biography of Jesus was attributed to Mark. In my mind, this could very well be the compilation of knowledge about Jesus possessed by all the early churches visited by Paul and Luke. This would explain why Mark is contained in Luke and Matthew. Mark accompanied Peter and Paul to Rome. Mark never saw Jesus. Mark knew Aramaic, the language of Jesus, and he thought like a Jew. He wrote the sixth commandment as: "Thou shalt not Murder" demonstrating the contextual meaning of the commandment in a more modern Greek language. Since Mark was in Rome learning from Peter, he could not very well make anything of Jesus's admonition that His Word not be given to any but the Jewish people. They already were in Rome associated with one of the most active Christian groups in the world. Mark is the shortest Book.

The Book of Matthew
Matthew personally knew Jesus. He had been a tax collector whom Jesus called from his work. His Book was apparently written for the Jews converted to Christianity. He may be the best authority of what and who Jesus was. He clearly shows Jesus as a fulfillment of prophesies in the Old Testament, and a descendant of King David, though Luke had a different geneology. The Book of Matthew contains what was probably a typical sermon, The Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5-7).

A revealing incident reported by Matthew (15:22) concerns a Canaanite woman who came to Him and begged Him to heal her daughter. At first He ignored her and said not a word to her, but her constant pleading got on the nerves of the disciples and they wanted Jesus to send her away. He finally said to her: "I am not sent but onto the lost sheep of Israel." (Matt. 16:24) As evidence of how He looked down on the Canaanites He told her: "It is not meet to take the children's bread and cast it to the dogs." She continued to beg and plead, however, suggesting that if the Canaanites were dogs, her daughter was but a little puppy. With that, Jesus finally relented and healed her daughter. Jesus had an intense pride in his heritage that some might call bigotry.

According to Matthew, it was not until after The Christ arose from the dead that He instructed the disciples to go to "all nations" and preach the Word. We might keep this in mind as we suggest a further evolution of ideas beyond Jesus. The new ideas were all poignantly suggested by Jesus himself. They may be accepted as ideas of the worldly Jesus. It has been evident through the ages of religion that man can only accept a new idea for which he is ready. If Matthew could accept a post-mortem suggestion, pray, so can we.

The Book of Luke
Luke was not a disciple of the Christ. He wrote for the gentiles converted to Christianity. He was a physician, and his name meant "White". We see the same word root in leukocyte, meaning white blood cell. He was converted to Christianity by Paul. The Book of Luke is the most narrative book, containing many background stories of the life of Jesus. It was originally in the form of a letter.

The Q source
The synoptic Gospels (Mark, Matthew, and Luke) are called such because there are many similarities. The items that are similar to Mark in all three are considered as coming from Mark. The items in Matthew and Luke which are not from Mark are thought to come from another source. These similarities are called "Q" from the German Quelle or "source". This second source (Q) consisted almost exclusively of sayings (logia) of Jesus and contained no Passion or Easter tradition and is therefore known among scholars as the logia, or sayings, source.

The Book of John
This Gospel, written in the city of Ephesus, is dated AD 90 to 96. John refers to himself as the disciple loved by Christ, and always in the company of Peter. John's Gospel is written as testimony from his own experience. He gave prominence to the element of love in the Christian character. This book is primarily concerned with the last three months of the life of Jesus.

The Dead Sea Scrolls
The Essenes were a special religious sect established about one hundred years before Christ and disappeared after the destruction of Jerusalem, AD 70. The Dead Sea Scrolls were found near their monastery on the Dead Sea. Many of their rituals, such as the "last supper", and the Lord as the "father of righteousness" were enacted by Jesus during His life. It is thought that Jesus may have been influenced by this sect.

The Gospel of Thomas
This is composed of 114 "sayings" attributed to Jesus and written down by his disciple, Thomas. The sayings were all preceded by "Jesus said" and have no reference to the story of his life. This Gospel was held by the "Coptic" sect in Egypt, and was discovered in 1945. Some of these sayings coincide with the established Gospels, as written in the Bible, while others are new. After the crucifixion, Thomas went on to the east coast of India and founded a church there.

Jesus was born into a religious family. Jesus was a prodigy (Luke 3:41-50) able to discuss the scriptures with the Rabbis in the Temple. His younger brother, James, much later became a major figure in the Christian-Jewish Church, and His cousin, and childhood friend John, was to become John The Baptist. There are some missing years of Jesus's life in the Gospels from the ages of 12 through 30. There are some suggestions (not in the Gospels) that these years might have been spent with Jesus's wealthy uncle, Joseph of Arimathea, near what is now Glasgow, England, where it is well established that Joseph made a fortune mining tin, and founded a Christian Church there after the crucifixtion. Jesus returned to Judea when he was 30. He had a grass roots appeal, and kept company with all kinds of people. He was not used to following Jewish customs and was described as a "glutton", due to his disregard for lent, who ate and drank wine heartily (Mark 2:16-23). Jesus never relinquished the importance of dining with those who were important to him.

John the Baptist was Jesus's first promoter. John's message was simple. He yelled "repent" at his audience and invited his "sinners" to be immersed in the river Jordan to start a new life. John had helpers who assisted the large crowds who came to assuage their guilt down to the waters of the river. Jesus was in one of these audiences. People had been considering John to possibly be The Christ. But, recognizing his cousin's genius, he pointed to Jesus. John began to baptize in the name of Jesus, and soon Jesus began his ministry baptizing people in the Jordan River wilderness upstream from John (John 3:22). Here Jesus became familiar with the needs of the people and began to formulate his teachings. He learned to multiply his efforts by teaching disciples to assist Him in his ministry and continue baptizing. This left Jesus free to take his ideas on the road (John 4:1-3). John elevated not only the ceremony of baptism which became a standard in both Judaism and Christianity, but also the idea that Jesus was the Messiah.

Jesus started with twelve disciples but gathered many more and began a program of preparation and instruction (Matt 10). He taught these men the basics of "healing" and "casting out demons" which was the primary draw for Jesus. At one time, He had 70 disciples touring the countryside in pairs, telling of the miracles of Jesus, expressing the hope of the messianic followers who would house and feed them on their journey, and then attend Jesus's appearances (Luke 8 to 12) till he drew crowds of thousands. Jesus's ministry was the "bread of life" (John 6:27-30) and the "fish" were His disciples. His supporters included the wife of Herod's financial officer, curiously. Jesus knew his audience was in Judaism, for this was the fertile ground of his philosophy (Matt 10:5,6), so he kept his ministry to the Jewish countryside. His ministry was also supported by women (Luke 8:1-3). Unlike Paul, Jesus had no prejudice for their place in society.

Jesus was a reluctant Messiah. In the beginning, when called by John the Baptist, Jesus asked, "what do you want?". Even though when asked in his last days if He were the Messiah, He acquiesced "yes" (Matt 27:11), He also instructed his disciples not to call him the "Messiah" (Matt 16:20). Jesus scoffed at the idea of being the Prince of Peace (Matt 10:34). Jesus refuted that the "Messiah" would be in the "line of King David" (Matt 22:42-45). God was said to have named Jesus His Son (Matt 3:17), and Jesus referred to God as the "Father"; but, in Jesus's eyes, God was everyone's Father (Mat 23:9,10). Jesus referred to Himself, over, and over, again as the "Son of Man". This was the term the Lord used to refer to Ezekiel. Perhaps Jesus emulated Ezekiel in some way.

Christianity evolved from a large comprehensive, and, for the most part understandable collection of religious literature, The Old Testament. The earlier Jewish religion had been reserved for capable and learned people who could read and conduct a learned argument. Judaism was a religion of the laws of Moses. In the Gospels, the metaphoric rival of Jesus is the Pharisees who represent the overbearing burden of Judaic laws which had become impossible for the normal person to follow. These laws were intricate and, in some instances, contradictory information. This led to much discussion of permutations of meaning. Judaism had become a religion for the elite of Israel.

In Matthew 5-7, Jesus goes so far as to reevaluate the written Laws of Moses, the very foundation of Judaism. The sin of murder became murderous thoughts; Adultery became adulterous thoughts; Divorce for anything but fornication became forbidden; An eye for and eye became, "do not resist violence"; and, one was encouraged to love their enemy and pray for those who mistreat you; He encouraged people to settle their own differences instead of going to a judge; Religion was to be a private affair; and, for the most part, "don't worry, be happy", the Lord will provide. Jesus had a simple message to replace all the complexity of Judaism:

First was the "Golden Rule":

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

Up until the time of Jesus, ethics were long lists of things people should not do. Jesus simplified these long lists into a simple positive message that encouraged people to Do unto others as you would have them Do unto you (if you were in their shoes) (Matthew 7:12). Were everyone to follow this we would have a flexible, vibrant, successful society "on earth as it is in heaven".

Second was the Love Commandments:
St. Paul, perhaps, put it most simply when he said that Jesus substituted love for laws. It was certainly much simpler to substitute two simple commandments of Jesus for the complex laws of Moses. The two commandments of Jesus involved love:

1) Love God, and,
2) Love others as thy self.
These are sometimes referred to as the "Love Commandments". Jesus also instructed:
3)"Love each other as I have loved you"

Jesus claimed it is only through the love and acceptance of himself that one could realize eternal life in the Kingdom of God at the end of the world. "The truth shall set you free". The message of Love and Compassion has been apparently best received when couched in the Words of the Son of God, who was simultaneously God Himself, and who died and was resurrected for the salvation of humanity. This concept of the Christian movement was represented by Paul's Epistles. Paul saw his mission to be as important as The Christ's and traveled the known world marveling at this phenomenon. As long as Christianity held the central theme of Love and Compassion and forgiveness, what does it matter why people are Christian; or, for that matter, exactly what form of Christian they are? And It has taken many forms. Some forms have even lost the central theme.

Jesus taught that God was in each person and they simply only had to let God come out to be in Grace. The love commandments are also found in the Pentateuch: "Love thy neighbor as thy self" (Lev. 19:18) and "Love God" (Deut. 6:5), where they were incidental to other teachings. Jesus made them primary in his teachings. Christianity was a religion for the common untutored person. Jesus, as described in the Gospels, underlined the spiritual quality of his "Love Commandments" by remaining celibate. Jesus taught that every person already had all the necessary qualities within himself. It only had to be brought out. Along with reverence for a deity, "The Father", and promoting humility, there was a reverence for people which gave increased validity to a social people. His simple philosophy helped each individual to identify with all the people, and taught that God's kingdom was greater than oneself, and to dedicate oneself to the Love of God and people. Jesus also promised everlasting life after death (Matt. 10:20). He taught that the soul could survive the destruction of the body (John 5:29). This was the messianic liberation.

In one sense, Christianity represents an evolutionary about face compared to the Jewish religion in which a latent reverence for learning with its necessary built in capability for learning was socially selected. Among the Jews, religion was for the literate with a special capability of insight. Jewish women doted on educated rabbis for their daughters to marry. Recently, while discussing genealogy with a friend, he proudly related that he descended from two generations of rabbis. In contrast, Jesus evolved a religion in which all could participate whether they were especially capable or not. With this turn about, the evolutionary selection of smarter people among Christians was mitigated. However, Christianity filled a large gap in the necessary expression of reverence by the common people. While one evolutionary vector was mitigated, another was enhanced.

Most all forceful movements in the history of the world exploit the natural emotional needs of the crowd. Christianity exploited "love" in the New Testament, and the "guilt" in the Old Testament, promising forgiveness for the proper atonement. It still exploits the old dilemma: the unknown sin, and that sin we all have committed and forgotten. There is also the sin of not having done enough. The original sin was the denial of the ultimate faith in God by taking knowledge onto oneself, the apple from the tree of knowledge. Jesus promised a "forgiveness of sins" through him. His disciples interpreted his crucifixion as his own atonement to God for the forgiveness of all sins.

In the Old Testament, it is noted, the essential factor of guilt is surceased by altruism, giving sacrifice of self. Jesus sacrificed himself, it has been interpreted, so that humanity could be free of the original sin. In a sense man was finally absolved of grasping knowledge for himself to be in control of his own destiny. Forgiveness, kindliness, compassion, and even compassion for one's enemies gave a new grace to Christians such as had never been known before. For those who followed after the crucifixion of Jesus, the religion was highlighted by a terrible, painful tragedy: The crucifixion of a young man. The necessary sacrifice for dedication is always exemplified in the extreme dedication and sacrifice of the Savior. The new religion was not just passively open to any who wanted to join. In contrast to the closed religion of Judas, the new religion was required to be proselytized by new converts. They broadcast to all the world of the Jews that Jehovah (Greek for Yahweh) was not only for the elite and educated, but was also most especially for the humble and poor.

The method of conversion was modeled after Jesus when He called the four fishermen, first Simon and Andrew, who dropped their nets and followed him immediately, and a little farther down the beach he called James and John, sons of Zebedee, and they left their father in the boat with his hirelings. This command: "Leave whatever you are doing and whomsoever you are with, and follow the teachings of Jesus and you shall have everlasting life in Heaven," was the gist of what they said to those who would listen to them. One has to wonder as to the answer to the puzzle of why this religion, so gentle and loving, in a land of many, widely diverse religions, was hated so much within the short three years of the ministry of Jesus? Part of the answer was the fact that some converts left job, parents, wife, and children never to return. Sons, daughters, mothers, fathers, other relatives, servants and slaves, all sorts disappeared from families; and, if they were seen again, they appeared down right hostile. Occasionally, converts destroyed their heritage by selling all their possessions and giving all to the poor. This enraged the heirs of such families. It also frightened any others whom Christianity did not touch.

Families responded to their first shock with fury as they found many neighbors in the same fix. They were ready to take advantage of any opportunity to destroy Jesus and His entire following. Jesus, himself, was aware of all this unexpected development. Emissaries came to Him and implored Him to remember the commandment: Honor thy father and thy mother. Jesus put them off. He was appalled, and had only a vicious rationalization for them, and I quote from Matthew 10:34 "Think not that I have come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. For I am come to set man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a man's foes shall be they of his own household. He that loveth father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he that taketh not his cross and followeth Me is not worthy of Me. He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for My sake shall find it."

Jesus was infuriated with the hypocrisy that surrounded the complex laws and ritualistic behavior of His time. He was angered by the money exchangers in the Synagogue. He criticized The Pharisees relentlessly. Jesus called them "snakes" (Matt 23:33) as had John The Baptist (Luke 3:7). Stronger indictments followed, especially in John 8:37-44, where Jesus accused them of belonging to a "Father" who is a lying, murdering, devil.

Jesus's mother knew of all this and begged Him to stop for she feared for His life. One of the times she went to plead with Him. She sent a man to tell him that His mother and brethren stood outside, desiring to speak with Him privately. But He answered and said onto the man: "Who is my mother? And, who are my brethren?" And, He stretched forth His hand toward His disciples, and said: "Behold my mother and my brethren. For whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in Heaven, the same is my brother and sister, and mother." (Matt. 12:46, Mark 3:31, Luke 8:19). The fact that all three of the synoptics mentioned this, reveals the universality and seriousness of the problem in their minds. They all knew of the possible consequences of that type of unexpected problem, and they all had to rely on The Christ for the validation of their goals in spite of what they saw. Most of us, today, have heard of cults that have "brain washed" their converts to the extent that they have abandoned their families. We have read in the newspapers how distraught the families were, and to what extents they would go to get their young people to return home again. This was the problem and concern of the first Christian movement.

In the day of Jesus, the families left behind were murderously resentful. The Pharisees were fearful of the growing popularity of Jesus and His unbridled denigration of their religious control. When Jesus went to Jerusalem to take part in the Passover, he was framed as a person who was a threat to the Roman State by claiming to be "King". He was presented to the Roman authorities as a political revolutionist. Pontius Pilate saw through it. He referred the case back to the Jewish authorities, the Pharisees, hoping, that they would rectify the injustice, but they returned to Pilate with the same charge. Pilate then "washed his hands", in ritual, to release himself of the responsibility of The Christ's fate. At this point, the small group of Jews present at this event said, "Let his blood be on us and on our children!" (Matt 27:25). It is astounding to think that, even though there were millions of Jews in the world at that time, some would point to this statement, made by a few, as the origin of anti-Semitism casting hatred toward all Jews on earth.

The Christ was crucified by the Roman authorities on behalf of these Jews who would have stoned him to death. The Romans had developed this tortuous method of execution to a fine point. They had found that if they built a little seat on the shank of the cross, the victim suffered longer by resting on the seat. There is also considerable evidence that the nails were put through the arms between the two large bones. It seems that the hands are not strong enough to hold a man nailed to a cross. Eventually weakness and the weight of the victim's body hanging from the extended arms would cause suffocation. His death was guaranteed by a stab in his right side which lacerated his liver, a wound that was always fatal. If the executioner timed it right, Jesus was already dead and the wound did not bleed. It was not a compassionate coup de grace but the final act of a professional executioner to guarantee his work. It was the final touch that assured his job to be well done. There would be no hope of resuscitation after Jesus was taken down from the cross.

A wealthy man named Joseph of Arimathea (noted in all four Gospels) acquired The Christ's body through the authority of Pilate and wrapped the body in clean linen, laying it in his own sepulcher hewn into limestone. The Jewish religious authorities first begged Pilate for a guard over the tomb, but he refused. They then put a Temple Guard by the tomb. On the third day the tomb was emptied. It is doubtful that any Jew at that time did not believe that agents from the outraged segment of their society took The Christ's body and disposed of it, hoping to deal a fatal blow to the society of Christians. We have been concerned with this practice in the previous chapter. As the Jewish authorities had feared, it backfired. It was for this very reason that they had put the Temple Guard at the mouth of the tomb in the first place. We may judge from the scriptures, however, that the guards were susceptible to bribes. The rabbis bribed them to say that the disciples came and got him for the purpose of validating his resurrection.

A very significant aside is that the grave robbers left behind the shroud in which The Christ had been wrapped. This shroud, preserved in Turin, Italy, has been assumed for centuries to be The Christ's. It has a photograph like imprint which clearly reveals a man with the stigma of a person crucified, including, in this case, the wounds of a crown of thorns. This type of wound was singular to The Christ, for he was accused of being the pretender to the "King of the Jews". If the shroud were laid over the head one would expect the cloth to fall over the face, and down the sides of his head and over the ears. Then, when this is flattened out there should be a wide face with ears extended out. Instead, there is a perfect frontal image as would be created in a portrait.

The Shroud of Turin, Italy

This shroud has been subjected to sophisticated scientific study with varied findings. The dust in the shroud is limestone with trace elements of strontium and iron coinciding in quantity with the trace elements of the dust in the tombs in Jerusalem. The coins that were placed on The Christ's eyes to keep them closed marked the linen and have been identified as being of the denomination and species of those days. Even so, there is evidence that the shroud is not old enough. In the Book of John, it is stated that the body was wrapped in "strips of linen" by Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea instead of a single piece. Strips of linen were traditional and perhaps John assumed this to be the fact since he admittedly wasn't there. The synoptics refer to an nontraditional single shroud, like the one in Turin.

I have stood in awe of a picture of the Madonna and Child painted on a wall of a catacomb of Rome. It was painted a mere forty years after his death. I have also stood in awe of the bones of Peter discovered under the Basilica of Rome. However, nothing could be more impressive of the reality of Jesus than the struggle of his life as described in the Gospels.

By forty years after the crucifixion, when the first biography of Jesus was written, a supernatural rationalization was well established. The hearsay of resurrection was common to many sects then as it is today. Numerous "godly men and women who died came back to life" upon the expiration of Jesus (Matt 27:52-53). Muhammed was resurrected. The Muslims worship his last footstep on earth as he stepped off to Heaven. Zoroaster (the Messiah of Persia) was resurrected. Even today the sudden death of a family member will sometimes be eased by post-mortem appearances. Forty years was ample time for such expressions as: "His spirit is still with us. Christ lives on; and, Christ is in Heaven" to be rectified. His resurrection may have been a conventional motif rather than a historical account.

The Impact of the Crucifixion
The resurrection also has been the basis of much debate that may have clouded the salutary aspects of the ministry of Jesus. There are other unfortunate results of the ministry of Jesus which are more due to the intricacy of the collective minds of human society than any responsibility on The Christ's part. The waves of martyrdom that followed in the wake of His life could be discussed. The reasoning runs as follows, I remember it puzzled and impressed me as a child: Jesus was the son of God, and theoretically could have avoided execution on the strength of his supernatural powers. It follows that he chose to sacrifice himself for a rather esoteric point: the redemption of mankind. This rather severe requirement, in my case, cast a doubt on the compassion of God! Even so, it was the expectation outlined in Isaiah 53 that called for the sacrifice of the "Lamb" (the Christ) (who) "bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors". It is hoped that a more matter of fact understanding of what really happened might negate unnecessary martyrdoms and suicides from the followers of the Christ's philosophy of love.

This "sacrifice" had a huge impact on the emotions of the Christians. On the negative side it has given rationalization to thousands of martyrdoms and/or suicides since: those who would die for Him. There was the promise that those who died for Him would be worthy of Him, and have everlasting life. This, with the Ten Commandments, did much to motivate the crusades. Yet, on the positive side, this idea of "sacrifice for our sins" has done much to ameliorate the burden of unnecessary guilt and depression for millions.

For two thousand years after the crucifixion of Jesus, infinitesimal differences of interpretation separated the world into factions of "True Believers", each incited to attack the throats of the "Infidels" who lived in their neighbor's house by the most inciting articles of war ever written: The Ten Commandments. Mobs and armies flowed back and forth across the face of Europe and into the Holy Land as crusades.

If the Christ should return, He'd be mad as Hell, and the world would REVOLT!

If we leave the story there, having torn away the mystery and magic which hang like shrouds over the dead body of history, I am afraid we would miss the growing living part, the important part of the story. I have always felt that the miracles have misdirected; have turned us away from the true nature of the story. It is the same if we face an audience in which many people are taking flash pictures. The flashes seem to distract from the feeling and true picture of the people there.

It might be said that if a belief in heaven and hell is required to enforce the message of love and compassion for most people, so be it; for, through identification with these people, there grows a responsibility of stewardship that is taken seriously with love. The non-theist need not be an anti-theist, and should regard denigration of religion and God with repugnance. All the evils associated with the Christian movement, for instance, have been committed by the barbaric participants and were never promoted by the words or philosophy of Jesus Christ. One might may go to church every Sunday or just a few times a year, and enjoy the ritual and social bonding. One should support charity. One should revere and love the Bible as a book written by hundreds of men with the best intentions. One should be pleased that this literature has been considered so holy that it has been translated with the utmost care to be virtually unaltered through the centuries so that we might have an accurate record of the evolution of ideas between it's covers.

But on the question of God, the non-theist is usually silent, agnostic, or spoken only to his friends and family. It is to these non-theists that I am speaking. With all that I have said so far, and with the well being of your family and community and your stewardship at stake, one would not want to be ostracized as a hypocrite. But, just as Jesus has reinterpreted the Laws of Moses for greater understanding (Matt 5), so must we, once again, reinterpret the concept of God for better understanding.

God is, and has always been, Nature and/or Reality. As our ancestors evolved from an illiterate primate, they could not understand this. Since we "create", something "created" us. Originally all entities in Nature were seen as separate, so the concept of god started as many spirits, then came polytheism, monotheism and so forth. Concepts of spirits and Gods, at one time realistic, have always represented the forces we now see as one unified God, or Nature. For our new definition of God, we present a new symbol: G*D.

Life was created in Nature, by Nature, so G*D is still the Creator. As mammals we understand nurturing as a sign of love; so, because we have been nurtured through evolution into our existence, "evolution", itself is proof of G*D's love for you and me. Just the fact that love exists in us, and we are a part of Nature, is proof that love is from G*D. But the non-theist recognizes the struggle to fight the evil, against life, in Nature as well.

Even though we are a part of Nature [G*D] and are thus divine, we are at the mercy of G*D's Laws. We should recognize that sin is not punishment by God, but is behavior that has life threatening consequences due to Natural Laws such as infection, and social, family, or personal psychological damage; and, especially, damage to growing children. The Realist considers all "sin" in the light of knowledge.

Now, as Christians, we can dedicate ourselves to G*D, be humble before G*D's awesome majesty, and identify with G*D the Creator. All blessings do flow from G*D. We can gather the "lost souls" and offer them "salvation" through the Love and Compassion in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Many things are understood by the theist AND the Realist in this light. So, whether you Praise G*D Jesus Christ or just share the rejoicing and Love of Jesus Christ in your heart with your family and the world, there is common ground.

To observe the life of Jesus without "magic", we can see that the "miracles" of his life have been inserted to cement the idea that He was the Messiah and the fulfillment of the expectations set forth centuries before. Healing, for instance, was a skill that made Jesus famous in his time. The psychology of this phenomenon has been demonstrated by modern day faith healers. All participants have something to gain in this activity. Casting out demons was practiced by many (Acts 19:13-16) including all 70 disciples in the name of Jesus. Resurrections have been reported in other religions. The Bible itself reports numerous resurrections (Matt 27:52,53). Walking on water and commanding the weather were both expectations set forth in the Old Testament. If Jesus could have walked on water, why would He ever have used a boat when delivering his sermons from the water (Lk5:1-3)?

Before the advent of Christianity, each group was self-centered on their own selfish interests. It was not felt that people should go to the rescue of some stranger. Instead, people were expected to take advantage of a victim's diminished strength to attain more influence and power. Acts for the benefit of the masses were based on self-grandizement. No one ever fought an enemy just to end by rehabilitating their enemy, relinquishing control, and leaving the enemy on their own again as was done with Japan and Germany after World War II.

Compassion of one large group for another was born with Christianity. It was a large step in the evolution of society which permitted larger groups of varied personalities to cooperate peaceably. Without the new brotherhood of man the development of intercontinental commerce would not have been so feasible. It was the birth of the compassionate mind that has amalgamated societies and polymerized groups into functioning units with wider clearer vision. With wider clearer vision has come the first glimmer of understanding. This step requires study, learning, insight, and Science.

We have discussed Christianity which came from a man called Jesus of Nazareth. This man had an insight into the psychology of social relationships which was to galvanize the history of the western world for the next two thousand years. One could say further that the world was neither ready nor could not accept anything beyond what The Christ had said for this same length of time. To teach anything beyond what the Christ had said would have in no way been understood. It was not until 1940 that the way was opened for a new insight in which a new direction to a philosophy could be appreciated.


The next step

Humanity is beginning to see its own limitations. We are beginning to see the shores of our world bordering on the seas of merciless, unsustaining, and void infinities. We now can measure the room into which we crowd.

Compassion and Love is ours, now. The time of Understanding is at hand. Understanding is fearsome for it requires work, study, exploration, delving, deriving laws of Nature and rules of decorum. Understanding is deriving paths, placing fences within our walls, and confining our activities.

Little wonder that there is revulsion to Understanding, for it requires work and acceptance of confinement. We are entering an age where our opinions are forever suspect. Our noblest ideals are challenged. Our generosity is questioned as to whether we have anything to give away. A person with saintly compassion must discern if he knows enough; whether he should stay or run; call someone who understands and step aside when the person with Understanding arrives. There is a sage saying among doctors: "If all you can give your patient is compassion, call a consultant!"

It no longer is sufficient to hold up a crucifix and face down a devil. Faith, though necessary, is not enough. Now there is Science. Faith with Science requires new effort in which our own capabilities might be measured. Our efforts will be graded. We hear we may be measured as imbeciles, or that we may fall short of genius, or that our lack of understanding may be held culpable. The way of "understanding" is hard; not open to everyone. It requires determination and discretion; capabilities that are not "given" to everyone. "Understanding" is undemocratic: It is a determinative of an elite society.

With Understanding we can go forward to new freedoms. Oppression by ruling classes could grow faint. We would no longer need to be meek and submissive to selfish interests. Finally, a new democracy could evolve without large impotent police forces. There is a living, evolving society. Compassion is not obsolete. It is a step before understanding. We should have Compassion and Understanding.

Knowledge is first essential for Understanding. Understanding is complete when there is control. We have had Understanding in physics. We have controlled some aspects of electricity, utilized heat, applied leverage, understood strength of materials. We have had Understanding in chemistry in that we have learned to control many elements. "Understanding", in its most important aspect, is in respect to human problems.

Before 1940 we had very little medical control, but we had some surgical control. Before that we had some orthopedic control over fractures. We had some control of public health with sanitation. We have more than controlled smallpox; we have eliminated it. We may control tuberculosis and infantile paralysis if we can identify and control all the endemic animal sources. Understanding and control of syphilis has been within our grasp for hundreds of years, but its final elimination must await a new type of human. Stewards very seldom contract syphilis or any venereal disease.

When all is said and done, the important things about Christianity is that we should be kind to one another and that we are brothers under the skin. DNA tells us we are all cousins, out of Africa. Christians made a huge step in the direction of a better human society. They signaled an end to tribal and barbaric hordes and pointed to a unified human species. That is important and that is what we should remember as we proceed to improve on our own philosophy without thought of magic. We can look forward to control through understanding.

It is also possible to learn from the mistakes that Jesus made. We have already started to eliminate bigotry. Jesus knew nothing about germs and didn't wash his hands before eating. His detractors pointed out this ill-practice in Matt 15:2 as an example of His disregard for tradition. We may now magnify G*D as the Creator by recognizing that G*D centered in the human family is the acme of the creative process.

Love of family where creativity peaks is primary.

In conclusion the philosophy of Jesus encompassed a new emphasis in his time. His philosophy was for the unlearned masses, and that was a huge step from the past. His new primary emphasis was on the Love Commandments: Love G*D and love thy Jewish neighbor. He promoted love and compassion for the masses.

The question is:

Is there something beyond Christianity as Jesus taught it?
We have already taken one great step: Christianity for the gentiles.

Copyright©Alden Bacuzmo

Chapter 21. Family Tradition

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