The Bad Habit of Overrating Jesus

The Bad Habit of Overrating Jesus December 16, 2019

Editor’s NoteWhat better time of year to be talking about this?  Easter, maybe.  But Christmas is good too, because of all the music touting the great miracle of his birth and the coming of all his great deeds.   While I love some of the music, the words are mainly laughable and horribly outdated compared to the way people talk today.  “Lord of Lords”? “And “By his Stripes we are healed”? Really?  I hope the beautiful music far outlives the high rating so many people have given Jesus since his father supposedly sent him to us.  So far, so good.   Linda LaScola/Editor

==============================

By David Madison

Go Ahead, Christians, Follow the Sermon on the Mount, I Dare You

If only the four gospels hadn’t been bound together. Of course, their authors had no idea that would happen—and how much damage it would bring to their credibility.

Mark had no idea, for example, that Matthew would come along and add three chapters of supposedly ‘moral’ teachings, known to us as the Sermon on the Mount—and Matthew plagiarized about 90% of Mark, without mentioning his theft. Matthew had no idea that Luke would trim this Sermon considerably, and change the wording and setting (in Luke it’s at a ‘level place’). John decided to just leave it out.

Everyone seems to have been playing pretty loose with the facts, and we can be highly skeptical that this sermon can be traced back to the peasant preacher from Galilee. Just how would have his words been preserved anyway? By some estimates, the illiteracy rate among the common folks at the time was about 95 percent. Nobody carried around pads of paper and pencils. Could his listeners have remembered and repeated with dead accuracy what Jesus said? And then the retelling of his words—countless time over five decades at least (until the composition of Matthew)—would have resulted in distortion and garbling. Or maybe Matthew just made it all up.

Richard Carrier has pointed out (On the Historicity of Jesus, pages 465 & 466)that the Sermon on the Mount

“…cannot have come from some illiterate Galilean. In fact, we know it originated in Greek, not Hebrew or Aramaic…these are not the words of Jesus. This famous sermon as a whole has a complex literary structure that can only have come from a writer, not an everyday speaker.”

Since we don’t know Matthew’s sources—and we have little confidence that he had access to contemporary documentation—“these are not the words of Jesus” is not too harsh. We’re reading English translated from Greek, which is supposedly based on Aramaic oral tradition—well, New Testament scholars cling to this hope, for which there is scant evidence.

Of course, defenders of Bible accuracy will resort to special pleading: these are God-inspired words, so we can trust them. But apologists really don’t want to go there. You don’t have to be a scholar to spot the defects. “God did it” amounts to blaming God for the sloppiness in the gospels. Is that really smart?

But for those who want to hang on to the Sermon on the Mount—Yes, Jesus said it, and it has to be our moral compass—let’s see where that gets us. If only there was a way to get Christians to read the Sermon with as little ‘Jesus bias’ as possible. Perhaps print the sermon on three or four sheets of paper, in modern, accurate translation that doesn’t sound ‘too Bible’—and don’t tell them it’s the Sermon on the Mount. Ask them to use a red pen to grade it, putting big Xs beside the verses that don’t make sense, and that fall short as high moral principles.

The Good and Not-So-Good 
One of the best teachings in the Sermon, Matthew 5:23-24, would probably prompt Christians to exchange nervous, guilty glances:

“So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother and then come and offer your gift.”

It would be hard to imagine a text that has been more universally ignored than this one. If we didn’t know better, we might have thought that Jesus foresaw how much Christians would despise and fight one another.

For those of us who have been in charge of worship services, Matt 6:7 resonates—and has to be given a high rating:

“When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words.”

It is a common failing of clergy that they forget the distinction between preaching and praying—and we end up with really long-winded prayers, haranguing God and worshippers alike. Preachers should tack this verse up for easy reference when they’re composing the pastoral prayers.

Here’s another gem that Christians have pretty much written off as a guide for daily living (Matt 7:1-3)—maybe some people try to keep it in mind, but, especially as Christians glare at each other across denomination divides, we can see that the Sermon on the Mount isn’t written on their hearts:

“Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. Why do you see the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye?”

Of course, we can applaud the Golden Rule as stated in 7:12,

“In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.”

But this maxim has been taught by many religious leaders before and after Jesus. Whoever created the Sermon of Mount—well, it’s no surprise that he added it.

However, there are just too many items in this Catalogue of Moralities that can be dismissed outright. They smack too much of religious fanaticism, i.e., keep your eye on the heavenly prize—at the expense of living responsibly—and Christians themselves get gut-wrenching feelings when they read these texts:
• Matthew 6:19-20:

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven…”

Christians who have pension plans know very well the risks of not storing up treasures on earth. “Store up treasures in heaven” is good copy for greeting cards, but in the real world, most Christians—those who don’t live in convents and monasteries—want to save for their futures in this life. So, please do store up treasure on earth.

• Matthew 6:25-26:
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.”

I’ve never met a Christian, not one, who takes this text seriously: Don’t worry about food because God feeds birds? Maybe they just shrug it off as pious Jesus-babble. After all, he expected the Son of Man to inaugurate the Kingdom of God before his generation passed away—and had no clue about the realities of life for centuries to come. Indeed, a case can be made—being overly generous, I think—that he was offering guidance for the short term, since the Kingdom was so near.

• Matthew 5:38-42:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.”

Humans seem to thrive on getting even, taking vengeance; religious and secular wars provide abundance evidence for that. So it is good counsel to back away from eye-for-an-eye thinking. But bad advice follows in these verses. They fail the standards of practicality and decency:

  1. Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also
  2. If anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well
  3. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile
  4. Give to everyone who begs from you
  5. Do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you

‘Turn the other cheek’ and ‘Go the extra mile’ can, of course, find qualified application, but I’ve never met Christians who think that Numbers 2, 4 & 5 are good guides for living. More impracticality from the Galilean preacher.

Come on, we’re looking for guidance that reflects what we are, who we are, as human beings. It’s no good condemning people for lustful thoughts (5:27-28)—in fact, equating lust with adultery. It’s no good equating anger with murder (5:21-22). “Sinful thoughts” is one of the tools the church has used for inducing guilt: God is not just watching you; he’s inside your mind, checking up on you.

And in Matthew 19, we find Jesus’ dreadful teaching about divorce; he equates it with adultery—except on grounds of unchastity. As portrayed in the gospels, Jesus has no clue that history was going to keep rolling along for centuries. This pronouncement about divorce has brought enormous anguish and suffering. Christians know it’s unrealistic, and they ignore it.

One of the utterly useless statements in the Sermon of the Mount is found at 5:48: “You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly father is perfect.” Hmmm…is this the same Jesus who said to a man who had called him Good Teacher, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone” (Luke 18:19). And Luke, by the way, didn’t think that “be perfect” was cool. He changed it to “be merciful, even as your father is merciful” (6:36).

Looking in the Wrong Place
Christians sometimes say,

“Without God, where would we get our morality? How would we know right from wrong?”

They seem to assume that we can just read the Bible to find out. But that doesn’t work, does it? The pious have a habit of picking and choosing which Bible rules to take seriously; it is such a mash-up of conflicting rules, open to widely varying interpretations. “How would we know right from wrong without God?” For centuries, thinkers who haven’t been looking to the sky for answers have suggested lots of ways to know right from wrong.

There are several worthwhile nuggets in the Sermon on the Mount, but keep it in perspective. The more you read it, the less persuasive it becomes. There are too many verses that beg too many questions….

Matthew 5-7 is ancient stab at guiding humans to better behavior, but, in addition to its shallow aphorisms, it is weighed down by too much religious gimmickry, e.g., the focus on heavenly reward, and the use of threat: “…and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire” (Matt. 5:22). Really, can’t we do better than that? Those who regard this sermon as a Gold Standard—and applaud Jesus for it—overrate both.

** Editor’s Question** If you were once a follower of Jesus, in what ways do you now see that he was overrated?

=======================

David Madison, a Clergy Project member, was raised in a conservative Christian home in northern Indiana. He served as a pastor in the Methodist church during his work on two graduate degrees in theology. By the time he finished his PhD in Biblical Studies (Boston University) he had become an atheist, a story he shares in the Prologue of his book, published in 2016: 10 Tough Problems in Christian Thought and Belief: a Minister-Turned-Atheist Shows Why You Should Ditch the Faith.  This essay is reposted, with permission, from the Debunking Christianity Blog.

>>>>>Photo Credits:  By Carl Heinrich Bloch – http://4.bp.blogspot.com/_Ycv0BE0wFr4/TU8WRXJmxYI/AAAAAAAAAgI/2QjVrd4bEHo/s1600/Sermon_on_the_Mount_Carl_Bloch.jpg and Carl Bloch, p. 313, ISBN 9788798746591, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=186837 ; by Andrea Reese

 


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  • Jim Jones

    > We’re reading English translated from Greek

    Books written in Greek, in Greece, by Greeks, for Greeks and totally out of whole cloth.

    The James Bond novels are based in more reality.

  • Jennny

    In your intro, Linda you said about out-dated and laughable words. I organised many Carol Services when fundy and we always prayed our socks off that the ‘message of the christchild’ would convict the many heathen who attended just at xmas or easter. Never happened of course. So, I’ve just been to my first Carols by Candlelight since deconverting 5yrs ago. My god-daughters were soloists…another ploy, involve as many children as possible to get their families along. Religion is so irrelevant to 95% of the UK, and we used to pray to be ‘relevant to this generation.’ But the words of the carols now seem ridiculous, if they are meant to be communicating such an important message. There are so many, like, ‘Hail thou Sun of Righteousness’ or ‘Born to raise the sons of earth, born to give them 2nd birth’ (surprised that ‘sons of earth; has not been altered for inclusivity). and there’s lots more of course….described often as ‘well-loved carols’….but with a message couched in language that is incomprehensible or means less than nothing to most younger people.

  • Gussie FinkNottle

    The Sermon on the Mount is just Stoicism Lite, especially the supposedly problematic maxims outlined above. That’s a notoriously difficult philosophy to follow so it’s hardly fair to blame the authors. I think Seneca (Nero) and Marcus Aurelius (Commodus) both demonstrated pretty well that telling people to behave is a fool’s errand.

  • Gussie FinkNottle

    It shouldn’t be THAT incomprehensible. Unless churches are filled with nincompoops who struggle to understand Shakespeare or Dickens. I figured in that area, at least, the UK might have the upper hand compared to America. Not so?

  • Jennny

    The so-called ‘classics’ are taught less in schools now. As a teacher of 5-7yos who specialised in programmes for those who were struggling to hack the neccessary skill of reading, maybe I’m more aware than some of clear language, IDK. We don’t have so much of a tradition here of children being fed on the KJV. An american IFB church opened in my village, and they have an AWANA group which made me face palm, my poor pupils, trying to learn to read at the level of ‘The cat sat on the mat.’and being expected to memorise long KJV verses full of ‘thees’ and ‘thous’. Why would adults bother with understanding long ancient words either? One factor in my deconversion was that my Sunday School class was only allowed to leave for our age-appropriate sessions after 20minutes of wordy, ancient liturgy. The day I left was the day the vicar chose a hymn with the line ‘consubstantial, co-eternal’ in it…and I felt that was the worst example yet of words that had no meaning to the average person in the 21stC, let alone my under-10s. And she used to pray for us to be relevant to the heathens in our parish.

  • Linda LaScola

    Of course you’re right. I didn’t think of it that way growing up. As a catholic kid, I considered Sunday mass to be a Latin lesson.

    As an Episcopalian adult, I noticed how they changed the words of liturgy to make it more inclusive, but kept the colorful, old fashioned words to the hymns the same – a lesson in Elizabethan English

    And WOW – singing the psalms! with their ovely harmonies, but horrible language.

  • Mark Rutledge

    I don’t know any of the leaders of the mainline Christian denominations who supported my campus ministry for many years who took the NT literally or as all coming from Jesus. Literalists and fundamentalists were not taken seriously. Has anyone on this blog bothered to look seriously at the scholarly work of the Jesus Seminar founded in 1985? According to their 10-15 year historical project only 13% of the words in the new testament attributed to Jesus actually came from him. There is a lot we don’t know about him. But what we can know is very interesting. His words and deeds, then and now, were passed along in various contexts by various groups who somehow had been touched by Jesus’ primary message of love and justice. Many did not know him directly. It was all a variety of ongoing conversations.They were making it up as they went along between about 30-140 AD.. The writers didn’t care about citing sources because they didn’t think anybody in later eras were going to take it literally anyway. It was all a process of various small communities who gathered to care for each other and resist the Imperial power of Rome that forced most of the farmers and fishermen in Galilee into destitution. The Jesus communities healed each other, and lived out that resistance. They were more concerned with sharing food and taking care of each other and living out an alternative program to Roman imperial domination. How do we know this? It’s all historical reconstruction. If you cannot believe in a reconstruction you may not have anything left to believe in. Maybe that’s the point for some. Go and look deeply down some other well.

  • Gussie FinkNottle

    Oh lord, AWANAs! That takes me back. Sunday School was always torture because the teachers thought a good way to get the kids to practice reading (whole language era, post-phonics) was to have us all go around and read 1 verse from the day’s lesson. In KJV, of course. It took forever, and even the teachers themselves didn’t know all the words. “Shew” was always a head-scratcher, as was “divers.” I was like, you can tell from the context what it means; it’s obviously just a different spelling, can we please move on! No one ever listened.

  • Linda LaScola

    OK, But why continue to look so deeply down the “Jesus” well? Assuming many respected scholars agree with what you said above, why then do pastors of mainline denominations still allow, or even encourage their flock to believe that Jesus is the son of God sent to earth as our savior?

  • “who somehow had been touched by Jesus’ primary message of love and justice.” In my series of Flash Podcasts, “Things We Wish Jesus Hadn’t Said,” I’m now up to episode 25. Which is to say, his “primary message of love and justice” is not a sustainable idea. There is very little ethical teaching in Mark, the first gospel, because the primary focus for THAT Jesus was the Kingdom of God that would arrive very soon, bringing massive human suffering. Then, of course, the brick-wall text is Luke 14:26, i.e., hatred of family is required for those who want to be Jesus’ disciples. Did Jesus really say any such thing? Who knows, but that’s the script that Luke wrote for Jesus. Luke was okay with Jesus saying that. The bottom line is that there is no contemporary documentation for ANY of the words and deeds of Jesus. We have no idea what he taught. Even the 13% guess of the Jesus Seminar is just that: a guess. So to say that Jesus’ primary message was “love and justice”–well, how in the world does anyone know that?

  • Linda LaScola

    ” to say that Jesus’ primary message was ‘love and justice’–well, how in the world does anyone know that?”

    Hmmm — maybe they don’t KNOW it, but they LIKE it. Maybe after a thorough examination of Jesus’ messages, the members of the Jesus Seminar, in their wisdom and power to influence, decided on a message that the world could benefit from.

  • Linda LaScola

    You ask, “Has anyone on this blog bothered to look seriously at the scholarly work of the Jesus Seminar founded in 1985?”

    I did, before conducting the non-believing Clergy Study.

    As a layperson, I was perplexed that Christianity survived the seminar’s scrutiny. I think not being personally or professionally invested in perpetuating Christianity had a lot to do with my reaction.

  • Mark Rutledge

    Well I said it maybe because I like it. Actually the Jesus Seminar never said that. Maybe I like over-simplifications. It was his actions that are also worth considering. Maybe I just want to salvage something from the historical ambiguities. The story of the Jewish peasant resister and healer has some value to me still, not that I “follow” in lockstep. I just wish people would take him seriously enough to do some historical study. Wisdom teachers should have more students than followers.

    Pastors need salaries, especially at Christmas. I cannot go even to my liberal church this season, although some of the younger folks have started a pub theology discussion which I am now off to…

  • Linda LaScola

    Why can’t you go to your liberal church? I think I might know, but don’t want to guess or make assumptions.

  • mason

    The Jesus “message’ unless one aggressively culls and cherry picks it to is: https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/5908802165a35bd567e4815eedb4c71fdbd8254d679dbda87b558230f3d261ea.jpg

  • mason

    “Literalists and fundamentalists were not taken seriously.” They are so different that the liberals and fundaliteralists shouldn’t even be classified as the same religion.

  • Mark Rutledge

    i just typed a longer reply which vanished when I hit a wrong key. I’ll try again tomorrow. Just got home from a pub theology group.

  • Jennny

    The US-ian pastor here in this very community-spirited village in rural UK has been sent to lighten our darkness. I bet he sends prayer letters home about the oppression of satan he feels here. He advertised the new AWANA group on the local FB page and two commenters wrote ‘Religious indoctrination is child abuse,’ which raised a cheer from me, and like you said, memorising KJV verses is just a bad technique educationally. I also think AWANA is culturally all wrong for brits and I’m not sure how the pastor got away with something with the word workMAN in it’s title. Maybe next time he writes on FB, I’ll point out that in the 21stC, we use inclusive language everywhere here, and in the USA too I guess.

  • Jennny

    I tried the elizabethan language being incomprehensible idea on a group of new vicars. We were at a party after the ordination of one of them and so they were quite relaxed and enthusiastic about their new parish ministries. I was told, yes the language is a barrier but only at first, folk soon ‘get drawn into the mystery of it’ Which patently obviously they don’t and their congregations continue to dwindle… but the liturgy, the traditions are sacrosanct, they can’t seem to see the dissonance in this mode of thinking.

  • Linda LaScola

    Try composing it in your word processing program first, then copying it here. If it vanishes again, you’ll still have a copy.

  • Linda LaScola

    You don’t have to be a nincompoop to have trouble understanding Shakespeare of Dickens and you shouldn’t, in my opinion, be so challenged to understand what’s going on in a place (church) that is supposed to provide basic needs of life. As for getting drawn into the mystery of elizabethan language – it might work for vicars, but not so much for the parishioners.

  • Mark Rutledge

    I consider myself a member in good standing in my church, make a pledge, etc. I go to a sunday morning study class when they are doing something I like such as Richard Rohr or “Living the Questions,” etc. I just made a decision to not go to the regular sundayu morning worship services because they use too much traditional language and it’s generally kind of boring. I support their social justice work, e.g. ally to sanctuary, one of the first to support lgbt rights in Durham years ago, housing for the homeless, etc. Last night I went to one of their “pub theology” meet-ups in a beer hall, etc. I pick and choose what I do. Was your guess right?

  • Mark Rutledge

    Love and justice are simply my summary of what I think he
    said and did. His program was resistance
    to the domination by the roman empire of those peasants and farmers in lower
    galilee—a program of healing and eating with those he healed. His words and deeds were a threat to the
    romans and their collaborators—the priests and religious leaders in the temple.—that
    got him killed. That’s a historical
    reconstruction and there are others. Any
    good reconstruction needs to be based on historical jesus research and the sources
    are not what we would like. Jesus was
    illiterate and those who wrote 40-120+ years after his execution were not
    writing history as we think of it. They
    were writing often in metaphor and story and we’re dumb enough to take it literally.

    Why do I go to church?
    I’m a member of a local UCC church and make an annual pledge. When I’m in Durham 6 months out of the year I
    go there for a small educational discussion group which I sometimes lead. I also go to support their social justice
    work—they were among the first churches to support lgbt rights years ago; they support
    housing for the homeless; they support sanctuary and other programs
    for undocumented immigrants; etc. I just made a decision to not go to Sunday morning
    services because I find it kind of boring and includes traditional language which
    is a turn off in spite of its real caring community which i do like. They do work at updating language though, and
    apart from that it’s good to experience the care they have for each others’
    lives and the social justice work they do. Last night I went to a “pub theology” group in a local beer hall they sponsor which I like.
    No community is perfect.
    My wife and I just made a decision to start hanging out occasionally at
    a nearby UU church as well. So we’ll
    have divided loyalties which is OK. Her “church”
    is a group of a dozen or so women who meet every other week at our home and
    share their lives with each other and share leadership via experiential rituals
    which they design. The minister of the
    UU church is a member of that group.

    Is this what you expected? And thanks for the tip to start my messages on a word doc–it worked this time!

  • Mark Rutledge

    Love and justice are simply my summary of what I think he
    said and did. His program was resistance
    to the domination by the roman empire of those peasants and farmers in lower
    galilee—a program of healing and eating with those he healed. His words and deeds were a threat to the
    romans and their collaborators—the priests and religious leaders in the temple.—that
    got him killed. That’s a historical
    reconstruction and there are others. Any
    good reconstruction needs to be based on historical jesus research and the sources
    are not what we would like. Jesus was
    illiterate and those who wrote 40-120+ years after his execution were not
    writing history as we think of it. They
    were writing often in metaphor and story and we’re dumb enough to take it literally.

    Why do I go to church?
    I’m a member of a local UCC church and make an annual pledge. When I’m in Durham 6 months out of the year I
    go there for a small educational discussion group which I sometimes lead. I also go to support their social justice
    work—they were among the first churches to support lgbt rights years ago; they support
    housing for the homeless; they support sanctuary and other programs
    for undocumented immigrants; etc. I just made a decision to not go to Sunday morning
    services because I find it kind of boring and includes traditional language which
    is a turn off in spite of its real caring community which i do like. They do work at updating language though, and
    apart from that it’s good to experience the care they have for each others’
    lives
    and the social justice work they do. Last night I went to a “pub
    theology” group in a local beer hall they sponsor which I like.
    No community is perfect.
    My wife and I just made a decision to start hanging out occasionally at
    a nearby UU church as well. So we’ll
    have divided loyalties which is OK. Her “church”
    is a group of a dozen or so women who meet every other week at our home and
    share their lives with each other and share leadership via experiential rituals
    which they design. The minister of the
    UU church is a member of that group.

    Is this what you expected? And thanks for the tip to start my messages on a word doc–it worked this time!

  • Mark Rutledge

    Love and justice are simply my summary of what I think he
    said and did. His program was resistance
    to the domination by the roman empire of those peasants and farmers in lower
    galilee—a program of healing and eating with those he healed. His words and deeds were a threat to the
    romans and their collaborators—the priests and religious leaders in the temple.—that
    got him killed. That’s a historical
    reconstruction and there are others. Any
    good reconstruction needs to be based on historical jesus research and the sources
    are not what we would like. Jesus was
    illiterate and those who wrote 40-120+ years after his execution were not
    writing history as we think of it. They
    were writing often in metaphor and story and we’re dumb enough to take it
    literally.

    Why do I go to church?
    I’m a member of a local UCC church and make an annual pledge. When I’m in Durham 6 months out of the year I
    go there for a small educational discussion group which I sometimes lead. I also go to support their social justice
    work—they were among the first churches to support lgbt rights; they support
    housing for the homeless projects; they support sanctuary and other programs
    for undocumented immigrants; etc. I just made a decision to not go to Sunday morning
    services because I find it kind of boring and full of traditional language which
    is a turn off in spite of its real caring community which do like. They do work at updating language though, and
    apart from that it’s good to experience the care they have for each others’
    lives and the social justice work they do.
    My wife and I just made a decision to start hanging out occasionally at
    a nearby UU church as well. So we’ll
    have divided loyalties which is OK. Her “church”
    is a group of a dozen or more women who meet every other week at our house and
    share their lives with each other and share leadership via experiential rituals
    which they design. The minister of the
    UU church is a member of that group.

    Is this what you expected

  • Mark Rutledge

    many local pastors/mainline churches were aware of the Jsem work and even encouraged study of it in their religious education areas. Years ago I was invited by pastors and religious education leaders (at my request often) to lead workshops on it in Durham area churches and was astonished at the numbers of church folk who showed up. Often pastors told me they saw me as a lightening rod because I was not related to those churches; and they appreciated what I did because it let me introduce it and sometimes they followed up after I was gone.

  • Linda LaScola

    On Behalf of Mark Rutledge: Love and justice are simply my summary of what I think he said and did. His program was resistance to the domination by the roman empire of those peasants and farmers in lower galilee—a program of healing and eating with those he healed. His words and deeds were a threat to the romans and their collaborators—the priests and religious leaders in the temple.—that got him killed. That’s a historical reconstruction and there are others. Any good reconstruction needs to be based on historical jesus research and the sources are not what we would like. Jesus was illiterate and those who wrote 40-120+ years after his execution were not writing history as we think of it. They were writing often in metaphor and story and we’re uneducated enough to take it literally.

    Why do I go to church? I’m a member of a local UCC church and make an annual pledge. When I’m in Durham 6 months out of the year I go there for a small educational discussion group which I sometimes lead. I also go to support their social justice work—they were among the first churches to support lgbt rights; they support housing for the homeless projects; they support sanctuary and other programs for undocumented immigrants; etc. I just made a decision to not go to Sunday morning services because I find it kind of boring and full of traditional language which is a turn off in spite of its real caring community which do like. They do work at updating language though, and apart from that it’s good to experience the care they have for each others’ lives and the social justice work they do. My wife and I just made a decision to start hanging out occasionally at a nearby UU church as well. So we’ll have divided loyalties which is OK. Her “church” is a group of a dozen or more women who meet every other week at our house and share their lives with each other and share leadership via experiential rituals which they design. The minister of the UU church is a member of that group.

    Is this what you expected?

    Linda’s response pretty much

  • mason

    The idea that a murdering child rapist and perps of other vicious crimes can be “forgiven” in one of the move evil twisted things in Christianity https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/9c69d85cd3810341c3cb266c88e0c67a760eb780889dd6f50eb309837d34d2ee.jpg

  • Mark Rutledge

    Even Bart Ehrman, the radical atheist religions scholar, says that Jesus existed and goes on to say in his book Misquoting Jesus:

    “Jesus’ teachings of love, and mercy and forgiveness, I think, really
    should dominate our lives,” he says. “On the personal level, I agree
    with many of the ethical teachings of Jesus and I try to model my life
    on them, even though I don’t agree with the apocalyptic framework in
    which they were put.”

  • Jim Jones

    > While I love some of the music, the words are mainly laughable and horribly outdated.

    “How Great Thou Art” always struck me as bizarre. What god wants to hear that? Aren’t they really singing, “How great we are”?

    And the tune is a folk melody, Jesused up by English missionary Stuart K. Hine.

  • Jim Jones

    Jesus never existed. He was the Slender Man of the 1st century. I agree with Remsberg’s The Christ.

    The gospels tell us a lot about their anonymous authors, but nothing about the supposed Jesus.

  • Jim Jones

    It all seemed like a lot of wishful thinking.

  • Milo C

    I also agree with a certain subset of moral ideals that biblical writings dubiously attribute to a human called Jeshua. It doesn’t discount the other stuff, though.