The Jesus narrative is a made-up story, originally created by a member of one of the many branches of a first century cult centred on a supernatural being experienced in visions. We call this cult member ‘Mark’. His ‘gospel’ was not written to convert anyone – I doubt any of them were – it was written as a ‘what if?’ story for fellow cult members: ‘what if our celestial saviour had lived on Earth?’ It is made up of St Paul’s teaching, Old Testament mythology, and ideas taken from pagan dying-god myths (probably in that order). It amalgamates the cult’s rules with what cultists believed about the end of the age: that their celestial saviour would very soon be coming down to Earth to save them and annihilate their enemies.
Ten or fifteen years later, another writer took Mark’s fiction and rewrote much of it for his branch of the cult. This was a group who saw themselves as still firmly within Judaism, so ‘Matthew’ toned down Paul’s teaching, eliminating a good deal of it. He heightened Jewish teaching for his co-religionists, and created a Jesus who was a manifestation of prophecy, as he saw it, from the Jewish scriptures. This construct had no time for any magic salvation-formula; like the cult who created him, he taught obedience to Jewish Law and believed that serving others was the way to eternal life.
A few years on and a third sect found Mark and Matthew’s stories weren’t entirely to their liking. They didn’t quite get Jesus right. So they took them and altered them again. Their scribe, known now as Luke, created a third Jesus. It’s possible this sect didn’t realise the original story was fiction. There’s some evidence Luke thought Jesus had really existed, 50 years or so before he remodelled him.
Later still, the creators (plural) of a fourth gospel created a Christ totally unlike the other three. This branch of the cult had ceased to believe, perhaps because it hadn’t happened when earlier believers said it would, that the saviour would be coming through the clouds at any minute to set up God’s kingdom on Earth. That part of the original idea was dropped; this Jesus is made to preach an internalised salvation, and everlasting life in heaven is beginning to be hinted at.
And that’s it. The adventures of Jesus on Earth began as a ‘what if?’ story created for existing cult members. Other branches of the cult took it and reshaped its central character so that he suited their needs and beliefs. A real Jesus was not necessary for any of this to happen. Just as it was for Paul, whether one existed or not is immaterial,. Even if he did, we can know nothing about him. The Jesuses created by each sect is a product of what they imagined their saviour to be, just like the various Christs that are worshipped today.
So, I’m saying a final goodbye to Jesus – or rather to all the Jesuses, Christs and made-up Messiahs spawned by the visions, fantasies and fan-fiction of the first century. I don’t need them, and neither do you.
This blog will be taking a new direction in the new year. Next time, though, I hope you’ll read one of my Christmas stories, as featured on the BBC.
Neil, I wonder if I can chat with you a bit. It feels as if you’ve spent a lot of time attempting to debunk the Christian faith. Are you feeling that folks are all going to be better off in their lives if they simply agree and walk away from their faith?
I think it depends. If people find themselves caught up in a toxic, abusive cult that’s causing harm in their lives, I would agree totally..
But, I know of many thoughtful and intelligent people in more mainline churches who find their faith to be very enriching. It just has brought them nothing but good things and even added motivation to make a positive difference in the world.
They’ve studied the arguments of the skeptics and still find themselves persuaded of the reality of a creator, and of the empty tomb.
Would it not be better to at least seek common ground rather than always to be on the offensive and continue to insult and to disrespect one another or their faith?
Are there not better ways to invest limited time and energy, Neil?
Hi Becky. Yes, there probably are better ways to spend my time and as I indicate in this post, I’ve reached the end of the line with Jesus and all that goes with him. The blog has been the means by which I’ve confronted the faith that consumed so much of my life. It has been, I suppose, a form of therapy, helping me come to an understanding of the cult (please don’t suppose that only extremist forms of Christianity are cults – all of it is) and recover some of my lost years.
I’m concerned ultimately with what is true and my journey here, if I can call it that, has helped me see that there is little that is true about Christianity – least of all the empty tomb and a creator God.
Do I want others to ‘walk away from their faith’? I think they and the world would be better if they did, but, although it is heartening to see Christianity in decline, I’m not naive enough to think that hordes of people are going to free themselves from religion as a result of this blog. Nor do I foresee faith(s) disappearing within my lifetime, if at all – more’s the pity.
Religion may make some of its adherents better people but it also makes many far worse. (I’ve written about this before.) It equips such people with new prejudices, or confirms ones they already have, and sets them, often aggressively and offensively, against their neighbors, just as the early Jesus cult said would happen.
Do I insult believers? I don’t think so. Criticise them, certainly, and point out the folly of indulging in a damaging fantasy. If you’re insulted by this, perhaps it’s because you recognise the validity of what I say. You hang around more than one atheist blog, Becky (Gary’s, for example); is this because you think you can coax us back into the faith, or is it because what we write resonates with your own doubts and skepticism?
Neil, thank you for your kindness in responding. We will have to agree to disagree then. We’ve had a very different experience. Pax.
Okay, Becky. I’ll go with evidence, logic and probability, while you stick with faith. All the best.
Well, for me, it’s not either-or. Of course, faith is essential, but I don’t see this as an existential leap into the dark all the while throwing reason and science out the window.
I do think following Jesus can cause division ..That’s true. Suppose someone from a racist family with connections to the KKK decides to follow Christ and practices racial justice?? That’s going to cause major division. There are people converting from Islam that have been disowned and cast out of their family. There can be a cost.
But, Neil, here’s what I really think. I know you’ll disagree, but hey, this is what I straight up believe. If we are not loving our neighbors as ourselves, we are not following Jesus. It’s doesn’t matter if the person is religious and sitting in church every week.
If people are homophobic, and preaching hatred toward gay and lesbian people, they are not following Christ. It doesn’t matter how many Bible verses they are spouting out. Someone can be a priest of the church and be deceived.
The question for me in my life has always been, not what are these other folks doing or saying, but what am I doing in my own life to follow Christ albeit imperfectly.
I’ve studied the scholarship too, and while I’m definitely not a fundamentalist Christian, I am persuaded of the reality of the empty tomb. I think there is a force bigger than us at work in the world.
Ok, I’ll give you the last word. 🙂 Best wishes and every blessing in the New Year.
Why ‘follow Christ’, Becky, when you can be a kind, decent person just as you are? There are numerous versions of Christ in the Bible in any case, and even more in today’s churches – which one do you think you’re following? Why not be yourself? It’s good enough.
I find it telling, Neil that the question you asked Becky regarding why she visits several atheist blogs, was not answered.
She behaves in this manner on every post ( I have read) she comments on.
I consider her behaviour to be disingenuous and condescending. A real piece of work.
It’s a puzzle. I can’t work out her motivation; maybe she isn’t aware of it herself. And here she is again.
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