Jesus just isn’t up to it

A brief diversion from considering why God couldn’t possibly have created the universe…

Falls

Billy Graham’s grandson, Boz Tchividjian, has been addressing the issue of child abuse in the protestant church. He concludes his considered comments with the claim that,“there was no greater defender of children than Jesus.” Presumably he bases this on the few things Jesus is made to say about children in the gospels – all two of them: ‘suffer the little children’ (Luke 18.15-17) and that stuff about ‘whoever leads a little one astray’ (Mark 9.42), which is really more about the precariousness of faith than children. And, according to Boz, this qualifies Jesus as the greatest defender of children ever. No-one has ever done anything ‘greater’ for them. Not Dr Barnardo, not Save the Children, not the NSPCC, not foster carers or ordinary mothers and fathers. Nope, Jesus is the best ever child protector. The same Jesus in whose name both Catholic and Protestant churches have systematically abused young people down the years.

I never cease to be amazed at the willingness of Christians to superimpose every conceivable virtue, and quite a few prejudices, on a long dead itinerant preacher. But this is no modern phenomenon. It began within a few years of Jesus’ death, when religious zealot Saul decided that a peculiar turn he’d had was really Jesus returned from the dead. On the back of this, Saul – newly rebranded as ‘Paul’ – invented all manner of nonsense about a man he’d never met, his entire, tortured theology bearing little relation to any individual who had ever actually lived. We know this is what happened because of the disciples’ objections to Paul’s ideas and the very different ways in which Jesus was later to be portrayed in the synoptic gospels.

Then the crank who wrote Revelation added even more to the Jesus legend; he was now an avenging warrior-king, ready to fight dragons and smite his enemies right, left and centre.

And still it goes on: Christians insist Jesus was perfect, that he did not ‘sin’ or do anything immoral, when the figure in the synoptic gospels is alternately misogynistic, xenophobic, insulting, prone to anger, supportive of slavery and megalomaniacal. Far from perfect, in fact.

Not so, say other Christians who make it up as they go along; Jesus is a great protector and defender, looking after his flock from Heaven. But in reality, his protection is non-existent, as those who implored him to divert hurricane Harvey recently discovered. (We can be sure his uselessness as an insurance policy won’t change the way any of them regard him.)

Even if Jesus isn’t perfect or a great defender, he is, according to extremist nincompoop, Kevin Swanson, a divine punisher, inflicting natural disasters as a result of people’s ’embrace of sexual perversion’. Yet at the same time, he has a special affection for the good ol’ US of A, steering Donald Trump into the presidency and pulling his strings to Make America Great Again.

Or maybe Jesus is really a financial wizard; proponents of the ‘prosperity gospel’ say so, despite Jesus’ repeated repudiation of wealth in the gospels. On the other hand, he’s a sensitive little snowflake, easily offended by anything and everything we do down here on Earth, to the extent he gets upset by what’s on the TV.

Jesus can barely bear the weight of the incredible claims made for him in the gospels (miracle worker, prophet, healer), even though this is a great deal less than the characteristics he’s had projected on him since. Jesus was not eternal, nor the ultimate sacrifice as Paul claimed; he was not God himself as later Christians determined; he was not perfect, nor the greatest defender of children ever; he was not a super-hero warrior-king, nor was he patient, meek or mild. He did not have a preference for a nation that did not exist in his time nor was he explicitly anti-gay. Despite how he’s invariably shown in devotional material produced by western Christians, he certainly wasn’t white. He wasn’t even a Christian.

All of these attributes have been added to him, long after his death, by those who need and want him to be these very things, who need a saviour in their own image. The many Christs that exist, from those invented in the first century to those worshipped today, are, every one, figments of the human imagination.

 

 

 

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Call yourself a Christian?

jc-prays

So you think you might be a Christian? Try this handy-dandy checklist to see if you’re a true follower of Jesus or just someone who’s paying lip-service. You’ll need to score big if you’re ever going to get into his exclusive club!

1) Have you relinquished all wordly goods as Jesus tells you to in Matt 19.21 & Luke 12.33?

If not, better get to it. It’s pretty important to him – he mentions it at least a dozen times in the gospels.

2) Have you forsaken your loved ones, taken to hating them even, the better to serve him and his Kingdom?

No? Than what are you thinking of? Not Luke 14. 26 & 33 that’s for sure.

3) Do you constantly go the extra mile, turn the other cheek, give to all who ask, love your enemies and forgive others repeatedly (Matthew 7.12; Luke 6.27 & 29; Matthew 6.14; Matthew 5.38 etc)? In short, are you perfect as he says you should be?

Some work to do here then, to come up to the expected standard?

4) Do you sacrificially serve others – the sick, the imprisoned, the homeless, the hungry, the naked (Matthew 25.34-46)?

Better get round to it as the only way to avoid Jesus’ blacklist.

5) Do you work tirelessly and exclusively to bring about God’s Kingdom on Earth (albeit in the first century) like Jesus commands in Matthew 6.33?

Why not? Get with the programme!

6) Have you stayed single, never marrying, and certainly never getting divorced?

You haven’t? Shame on you, because you can’t into the Kingdom with a spouse and definitely not with one you’ve discarded along the way (Luke 20.34-35).

7) Have you given up judging others?

If not, you can expect to be on the receiving end of a hell of a lot of judgement in return (Matthew 7.1-2).

8) When you throw a party do you invite the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind instead of your friends (Luke 14.12-14)?

I think we know the answer to this one.

9) Are you tireless in denigrating, campaigning against and ranting about same-sex relationships and marriage?

Well, good for you though this has nothing to do with being a follower of Jesus (see 7 above).

10) Do you believe in a magical incantation that is going to preserve the essential ‘you’ in Heaven forever?

Jesus didn’t.

So how did you do? Are you someone Jesus would say, ‘Well done you good and faithful servant’ to (Matthew 25.21), or would he insist he never knew you (Matthew 7.23)? –

0-2: Pathetic, especially if the two in question are 9 & 10.

3-7: You’re neither hot nor cold. Expect to be spewed out of his mouth (Revelation 3.16).

8-10: You’re getting there, but then, you didn’t really answer truthfully, did you? Your yes didn’t mean yes (Matthew 5.37).

Never mind, you can always get back to singing songs, waving your arms about and condemning others because they have a speck in their eye (Luke 6.42). Everybody knows that’s what being a Christian is really all about.

Money, Money, Money

MoneyAfter the Kingdom-that-never-comes, what does Jesus talk about more than anything else? Love? Forgiveness? Marriage? Sin? No. While he does mention all of these, more of his teaching is to do with money and wealth. When he isn’t speaking about money specifically he’s using it as the background to a parable. Eleven of his thirty-nine parables involve it.

He had a thing about money. He resented the wealthy to such an extent he said it was unlikely they’d find a place in his new world order – the famous ‘camel through the eye of a needle’ saying of Matthew 19.24.

Come the revolution, he implied, the rich would have their wealth stripped from them (Luke 6.24-25).

He consigned the wealthy to Hell, not because they weren’t ‘saved’, but because they were rich and ignored the poor (Luke 6.19-25).

He seemed to think being poor was a virtue and that those who were, were especially favoured by God (Luke 6.20).

He preached against what he saw as the dangers of wealth and on more than one occasion (Matt 19.21 & Luke 12.33) and advised those with money and possessions that if they wanted God’s approval they’d have to give them away to the poor.

“No one can serve two masters,” he’s recorded as saying in Matthew 6.24. “Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.”

Jesus was no capitalist.

So what do Christians make of Jesus’ evident contempt for money? They certainly don’t give it all away as he said they should. Nor do they see it as an impediment to their salvation, even though Jesus was clear it is (Matt 13.22). As far as today’s Christian are concerned you can serve God and mammon, which is good news – just not Jesus’.

Most Christians in the modern west are incredibly wealthy in comparison with the rich of the first century whom Jesus castigated. Take a look too at the incomes of well known pastors and evangelists – Billy Graham is estimated to be worth $25 million, for example; Creflo Dollar $27 million (but he can still beg his flock for $60 million more to buy a new jet) and Benny Hinn $40 million (who did the same a few years ago). You can see why it’s imperative rich Christians get round Jesus’ injunctions about the evils of wealth somehow.

What is a Christian to do? What they always do when they don’t like what Jesus has to say: ignore him, or try to explain away what he actually said. So, enter the usual excuses: he was only speaking metaphorically/shouldn’t be taken literally/’really meant’ something else. And what did Jesus ‘really mean’ when he denigrated money? That it’s the love of money that’s the problem – doesn’t 1 Timothy say so? Indeed it does, but 1 Timothy was written a hundred years after Jesus. Already his message about wealth was being diluted; Jesus doesn’t make any nice distinction between possessing wealth and loving it. According to Jesus, having money is to love it (Matthew 6.21).

In that case, say those who really can’t countenance surrendering their wealth, money and/or the love of it is really only a problem when it comes between the believer and God. But to believe this necessitates overlooking Jesus’ repeated point that it always comes between the individual and God. Money, according to the radical, demanding Jesus of the synoptic gospels cannot be trifled with; it will always turn those who have it away from God, as well as from those who don’t have any (Matthew 6.21).

And that’s the problem, isn’t it. Jesus is – or was – just too radical and too demanding for those who profess belief in him. He can’t possibly mean that they should surrender their wealth and possessions for the sake of their spiritual well-being. And so they do exactly what he said they’d do: they put their money before God.

Never mind. They can always campaign against others’ so-called sin or whinge about the supposed loss of religious liberty, about which Jesus says nothing. Just so long as they don’t have to do what he says with their wealth because in an area where they have all the religious freedom in the world, they definitely don’t want to exercise it.