Leaving Jesus

Jesus has always occupied a strange place in my life. When I was younger I counted myself as one of his followers, and in high school I remember accepting him as “my personal lord and savior.” When I look back on my experiences with Jesus these many years later I’m always struck by how un-personal that relationship always seemed to be. Growing up near the buckle on the Bible Belt (just outside of Nashville Tennessee) my perception of Jesus was continually governed by others. It was dictated by my church, the Christian media, and an assortment of authority figures including the husband of my school bus driver.

If a relationship is going to be “personal” it should probably be somewhat organic. Jesus never called to me, Pan and a few other Pagan gods did, and loudly. There was no intermediary looking to set me up with Cernunnos, Jesus always seems to have someone running interference for him. “Have you accepted Jesus?” “Can I talk to you about Jesus?” “Let me ask you something about Jesus . . .” The difference in all of those scenarios is that it’s never Jesus asking, it’s always a person. In Paganism, no one is preaching on behalf of a certain god. Deity finds you. It’s a completely different set up.

I still remember the day I “took Jesus into my heart.” It was a cloudy and cool Good Friday back in 1990, and the music in my car’s tape deck was Heart’s Bad Animals album. My church sponsored an annual Passion Play on that day every year so it was a day teeming with religious overtones. It was an acquaintance of mine who urged me to “accept Jesus,” and I remember doing it in the hopes of feeling something. One of the most disappointing things about Christianity for me at the time was just how unexciting the entire experience was. Church was an exercise in talking at God instead of talking to God, and there is a difference. I was hopeful that by accepting Jesus, Christianity would become more meaningful, I don’t think that it did.

I remember trying to sit down and talk to Jesus, but found it all very confusing, especially after reading the Bible. Was I talking to the guy who said: “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me,” or was I talking to the guy that many of my friends believed was out to get “welfare queens?” Jesus said a lot of rather nice stuff in the New Testament, but later books say some rather unenlightened things. Here’s a little passage from First Timothy that’s clownish in its stupidity and mean spiritedness: “Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.” I had a lot of growing up to do at 17, but even then I knew that “subjection” was probably not a very good idea.

Even with my misgivings I held on for awhile. Jesus was the socially acceptable thing to do after all, and at the time I only had a vague inkling that there were alternatives. (It’s one thing to study or learn about other religions, accepting another one is something completely different.) Besides, even though I was uncomfortable with the New Testament (and large swaths of the Old/Torah) I still liked what Jesus had to say in those four little mini-biographies written about him. Perhaps I could make it work after all.

Of course it didn’t work out, but I kept trying. Even after becoming a Pagan I looked in vain for a way to shoe-horn Jesus into my new religious life. One of the things that has made Jesus such an effective (and often bewildering) figure the last 1700 years is how adaptable he is. People force him into Tea Party boxes and others argue that he was an avatar of Krishna, if you look hard enough you might be able to find a Jesus made just for you. I started with the Jesus next to the Wicca books in the New Age section of my local bookstore. I read books like Holy Blood, Holy Grail (by Baigent, Lincoln, and Leigh) hoping to find a more knowable and human Jesus in their pages. He’s there of course, but to me it was unsatisfying as Mainline Protestant Jesus.

I turned next to the favorite Jesus of many Modern Pagans; Jesus as the “Divine God-Man” more Dionysus than Yahweh, and the latest in a series of never-ending and always related pagan dying and resurrecting gods. This is the Jesus written about in books like The Jesus Mysteries: Was the “Original Jesus” a Pagan God? and seen in movies like Zeitgeist. I’ll admit that the books and the movie are both entertaining, but the information in them doesn’t stand up in scholarly circles*. Jesus was not a pagan god of antiquity, and while his myth was most certainly influenced by the paganisms of the late Roman Empire, that wasn’t the only influence or even the over-riding one.

Mary Magdalene as the wife of Jesus was my last attempt to hold onto Jesus as some sort of divine figure. While many academics are doubtful that Jesus was married (ignore what you read in Holy Blood Holy Grail), it’s not anything that can really be proven or disproven. But so what? If Jesus was married that just makes him a guy with a wife, it doesn’t suddenly turn him into a pagan priest or a divine figure. My stupid rational mind threw that one away too. My approach to Jesus isn’t that much different than my approach to Pagan history, meaning it’s conservative, respectful, and most likely to follow the path that seems the most probable. The more miraculous something sounds, the less likely it is to be true.

One of the things many of my Christian friends don’t understand about Modern Paganism is that there is no “renouncing” of anything. I have had a few Christians ask me “when did you renounce Jesus?” with the answer being “I have never renounced Jesus.” Acceptance of the new does not necessarily result in rejection of the old. Jesus has gone from being my “lord and savior” to being a “dying and resurrecting pagan god” to being the happily married husband of Mary Magdalene. These days he’s none of those things, he’s simply a wise-man, and an apocalyptic preacher who believed that the end of the world was nigh and that people should probably be a little bit more decent to each other.

I have theories about the gods and when something or someone reaches the status of deity, but it’s not my place to say whether or not Jesus the man is now divine in some way. Lots of people pray to him and are comforted by it, that’s mostly a good thing as long as they are treating those around them with decency and respect. No matter what I did, when I prayed to him I was met only by silence. I think that means it’s best to move on.

*If you like the ideas found in things like Zeitgeist you are welcome to go on believing them, but the majority of serious Bible scholars discount them entirely. If it makes you feel better Bible scholars also discount the virgin birth and the resurrection.

About Jason Mankey

Jason Mankey has been involved with Paganism for the last twenty years, and has spent the last ten of those years as a speaker, writer, and High Priest. Jason can often be found lecturing on the Pagan Festival circuit, so you might just bump into him. When not reading and researching Pagan history he likes to crank up the Led Zeppelin, do rituals in honor of Jim Morrison (of The Doors), and sing numerous praises to Pan, Dionysus, and Aphrodite. He lives in Sunnyvale CA with his wife Ari and two hyper-kinetic cats.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnbeckett/ John Beckett

    Though my story is not identical to yours, it’s similar, particularly the lack of an ecstatic experience of Jesus. If I had had an experience of Jesus similar to my experience of Cernunnos I never would have left Christianity. The Baptists at the small church where I grew up were good at raising energy, but they didn’t have a clue as to what to do with it, much less how to facilitate a spiritual experience.

    Before my first group initiation, I had a long talk with Jesus. We came to the understanding that I would do more good as an enthusiastic Pagan than as a reluctant Christian. I promised to respect his true followers and not to confuse them with those who do evil in his name.

    Like you, I never saw the need to “renounce” Jesus. He’s simply one of many gods I occasionally honor (I’m married to a Methodist – I go to her church occasionally) but do not actively follow.

    • Natalie Reed

      Similar to your experience John, one Samhain I had a chat with my (at the time) recently departed Uncle. I asked him if Jesus was mad at me because I became a Pagan. The answer was loud and clear – “someone must honor the Mother”.

      • JaneGalt

        I like that! Rather like the messages that have come to me in meditation.

  • Nick Rowley

    This, is pretty much me, and I’m the son of a deacon. I will go read the essays linked to in this one now. :)

  • ibejedi

    “These days he’s none of those things, he’s simply a wise-man, and an apocalyptic preacher who believed that the end of the world was nigh and that people should probably be a little bit more decent to each other.”

    I <3 you for this. Probably the best thing I've read that sums up most of what I feel about Jesus on a daily basis.

    • Luke Matney

      There’s a lot more to it. People completely miss that. There’s a whole other side of the story. Y’know like how to died and how he did nothing wrong and he was revolutionary in his walk. People miss how all these things come together. He did nothing wrong which made him perfect. He was killed because he claimed divinity, not because of his teachings, although that was a major factor as well. Because he was perfect when he died, the grave couldn’t hold him. He went beyond the traditional 3-day period when someone was proclaimed officially dead. His side was pierced with a spear and gushing water came out. How do you explain the fact that he was reported by over 500 people as being seen and then ascend into heaven? Did they not happen as he said they would? The evidence is there. He could tell he was going to die and he also knew that he was going to be raised on the third day. Its all very simple. Its in front of you, but you are blind to the truth. That or you don’t want to accept it as true and you’ve turned your back on it.

      • ibejedi

        I probably stated it simply, because I really liked Jason’s phrasing. Having been raised Christian, I do have love and respect for Jesus, and perhaps a more accurate depiction of my feelings would be much like Miles Zarathustra’s above — that Jesus was the “son” of God — as much as we all are.

        We are all the children of the divine (whatever name(s) you call he/she/them by), and we all have the same potential within us all. Jesus was an amazing man, who was touched by the divine — but no more divine than you or I.

        As for the “facts” in the Bible I’m not going to debate it here — but suffice to say I would gather you and I have different views of its’ accuracy. But who is to say what real magick/miracles/whathaveyou may have happened, back in the day :)

  • Miles Zarathustra

    I guess I’m the heretic here, given that I did at one point have a profound mystical experience with Christ at least, if not Jesus. Mind you, I was never submitted to the typical mainstream “Christian” BS (notice how I put Christian in quotes), so I don’t have the foul associations so engendered.

    I always have thought of Jesus as the leader of a rebel band, inspired by the portrayal in Jesus Christ Superstar. The patron saint of hippies. And I still think that characterization is largely true, in spite of the false messaging by people seeking to rationalize silly mainstream beliefs that Jesus would never have agreed with.

    For me, it came through Edgar Cayce and other channeled works, at a time of intense personal transformation. I also had the benefit of a very enlightened Christian church (Unity of Santa Cruz) and a minister (the late Emily Sanford) who led us all into mystical experiences by virtue of her great skill and wisdom.

    (Jason, I know you think that Cayce’s prophesies not coming true in this time line disproves what he said. I disagree, but that’s another topic).

    For one thing, I like that Cayce came to believe in reincarnation through his life experience, in spite of its conflict with his mainstream Christian upbringing.

    I don’t believe that Jesus was the “Only” child of God, quite the reverse. I believe we are all children of God. (if God is all-powerful, then we must be creations of God, right? Otherwise, some other entity has the power to create)

    Some orthodox Christians might tell me I’m not a real Christian, but it’s none of their business. I also find affinity with Quan-Yin and Shiva, and Owls and Coyotes, and my Japanese Maple. As Olatunji pointed out, when we honor the spirit in a tree, we are honoring the same spirit that is in all life.

    • JasonMankey

      Certainly experiences with “Christ” (the divine version of Jesus the man or whatever) can happen, I’m just talking about my own personal stuff. Jesus was also a Jewish Hippy, even Paul was pretty much what we could a socialist.

      When Jesus most certainly saw everyone (or at least his fellow Jews) as all “children of God.” The whole idea of “messiah=son of God” would have been completely alien to Jews living in the First Century CE.

      I am not a big Cayce fan, but I always respected him bucking traditional Christianity and believing in reincarnation. That’s a pretty big step for a guy from Kentucky.

      • Miles Zarathustra

        (^:

  • Lyradora

    If you get the chance, I highly recommend you pick up Reza Aslan’s “Zealot.” He makes a pretty compelling case that it was the Jerusalem community of Christians, led by Jesus’ brother James and dedicated to charity and good works, which most closely adhered to Jesus’ teachings — *not* the church started by Paul; and it is Pauline Christianity which we know today. Very interesting read.

    • JasonMankey

      The Jewish Christians (like James and his followers in Jerusalem) were most certainly the folks who adhered to the actual of message of Jesus. There’s a passage in Matthew where Jesus talks about “not abolishing the law.” Paul’s message completely contradicted that sentiment.

      • Lēoht Sceadusawol

        People ignore the parts that are inconvenient.

      • Luke Matney

        What you fail to realize is that Jesus came to fulfill it. Not to get rid of it. The law was never abolished. It was fulfilled and changed. The Bible doesn’t say you CAN’T live by the law, but it does say not to hold a Gentile to the laws that a Jew would follow. There’s a reason for that. The law was Jewish and Gentiles didn’t like Jews. This was to keep them from turning away. Was all simple and designed so that anyone could come to Christianity. I say that as a Jewish Christian.

        • JasonMankey

          You are really going to argue Christianity on a Pagan blog? Besides, Jesus was very clear in Matthew ” “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” Of course Paul changed the rules, he was preaching to Gentiles. I have trouble imagining a 20 year old man in the year 50 agreeing to a circumcision . . . . ouch!

          “Gentiles didn’t like Jews” is also a bit of a simplification. There were many Jews who lived happily in the Roman Empire away from Jerusalem and Israel. There were also many Gentiles who visited synagogues, they were known as the “God fearers,” people intrigued by monotheism but not ready or willing to embrace Jewish law.

          If you are a Jewish Christian than you realize that the Torah’s expectation of a messiah were quite different from what would become the Christian interpretation. First Century Jews were looking for a leader to throw off the yoke of the Roman Empire, not a “savior from sin.” Very different cosmologies.

    • Natalie Reed

      Lyradora – I much enjoyed this book as well, a very interesting read indeed.

    • Lēoht Sceadusawol

      Without Paul, there would not have been a massive rise in Christianity, as it would almost certainly have stayed with the Semitic peoples, and the Gentiles would have been left to other gods.

      I will let other judge whether that would have been a good, bad or indifferent thing.

  • g75401

    The world would be a happier place if xtians would be satisfied with the fact that Jesus was a beloved rabbi. Christianity is a wonderful philosophy-a religion, no. The fact that Yahweh is a war god should give all peaceful people pause. We all know where that undirected energy is going-we see the results every day.

  • blackenedphoenix

    I personally have never left Jesus. What Christians call “miracles,” witches call magick. Why is it unbelievable that Jesus could do miracles but I can do spells? That’s not rational. When I was a Christian I could not figure out how to have a personal relationship with Jesus. But as a pagan I finally figured out how. And whether or not Jesus was a historically a real person doesn’t matter. Does anyone ever demand a historical account of Odin? No, of course not. To me Jesus is as much a god as Pan, Odin, or the Horned God.

  • Anna H.

    Maybe it’s because I “get” the whole Mystery Religion thing now, having spent over a decade practicing one, but I seem to understand Jesus and the Christian Mystery really well now. That sounds arrogant and perhaps it is. It does not really resemble institutional Christianity a lot. I have had a couple of profound experiences calling upon Jesus while doing healing work for Christians.

  • SF_NotANun

    Interesting that in the last picture, Christ’s wounds are missing.

    • JasonMankey

      I don’t know if this plays into it, but that picture has to be a Mormon interpretation of Jesus. No other Jesus is ever that blonde.


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