Tag Archives: spiritual

Christ Before Christianity

There is a disturbingly common misconception among a lot of folks who are quick to say “praise Jesus” or “in Jesus’ name” who think that the Son of God preached for a few years to establish a religion. Too many people who think that what is laid down as church doctrine came from the mouth of Jesus.

Frankly, there are a lot of people hostile to religion who think the same thing, though I’m gratified to find a fair number of atheists and snarky agnostics who can separate their issues with early Christian church leaders from the teachings of the Christ himself.

Jesus did not establish a religion. Jesus preached that people should turn to God and be obedient to Him. That is, obedient to the underlying spirit of His commandments, which revolve around love, and not so much for the nit-picking of the laws and they way they put people in bondage and encouraged folks to double standards.

Jesus preached against anger and hate and intolerance. He often singled out hypocrisy as one of his biggest pet peeves. Ultimately, what Jesus taught was a spiritual awakening and awareness, and not a religion. After all, he already had a religion: Judaism. He was there to fulfill God the Father’s will and not reinvent the wheel. He was actually trying to tweak that wheel so that it spun true and straight, because it was twisted, pitted, kinked, rusted and otherwise pretty messed up by the time he came around.

True, the New Testament is filled with doctrine and rules and guidelines. Those things that formed the “walls” of the early Christian church, to build upon the foundation that was Jesus and his teachings. I totally understand why the apostles and other early church leaders did that. Keeping people on the right track and preventing heresy around Jesus’ message was important. Fragmenting into cults with personal agendas was something that horrified early church leaders, and rightfully so, because that could have undone everything that they were doing to spread Jesus’ teachings and the good news of the resurrection.

That said, even the early church leaders weren’t tying to establish some rigid doctrine in many cases. Perhaps not even most cases. Many of the things in the New Testament were letters to specific churches and regions, to deal with specific issues and problems they faced. Sometimes, we take a lesson that was meant to point out how easy it is to fall away from the path, and turn it into a rule that everyone must follow…OR ELSE!

Jesus believed in rules and in proper behavior. I don’t deny that. And what he taught was important. But some of what he taught was meant to make people think, not simply to compel them to a certain action or set of rules. I mean, does anyone with any sense really think Jesus was advocating that you rip out your eyes if, for example, you just can’t stop ogling the ladies? Come on, now…

Jesus taught with metaphors and symbols through his parables. He sometimes used hyperbole to make a point. He didn’t write down a doctrine and he didn’t create a church, nor did he command a new church to be created. He set his apostles on the path to create a church of ideas and of good lessons and of reverence to God, but Jesus portrayed himself as a servant as much as a teacher, and he didn’t crave to have people bow and scrape before him. He wasn’t trying to set up himself up as an object of worship but as a gatekeeper, guide, brother, teacher and advocate. He is the messiah and the savior, but he didn’t seek to create Christianity.

He strove to create godliness.

A couple Sundays ago, our pastor preached from the gospel of Mark, if I recall right. Or maybe Matthew. I’m too lazy at the moment frankly, to scour things and remind myself which “M” gospel writer it was or which chapter and verse. But it was the story of the apostles who, after having recently failed miserably at healing and casting out of demons, came to discover that someone outside their circle was casting out demons using Jesus’ name.

They were incensed, and went to Jesus to tell him that they had told the man to stop doing that. Jesus chided them for doing so, reminding them that they man was doing good works, and that “those are not against us are for us.”

Does this sound like a man who wants us to follow a specific church, or a specific religious leader? No. Jesus wanted us to serve and love and embrace God.

Yes, this is the man who also said, “I am the way, the truth and the life, and none shall come to the Father but through me.”

But that doesn’t mean he wanted us to embrace a religion called Christianity. It simply means he knew that God was going to put him at the metaphorical gates of Heaven to determine who was ready and willing to enter.

This is why I reject the idea that only those who claim Jesus’ name officially and directly are saved. Because Jesus was happy to hear about someone who didn’t follow him casting out demons and doing healing in his name. Doing  God’s work.

Yes, I believe that truly embracing the spirit of Jesus’ teachings and recognizing him as one’s savior is an express road to salvation. It’s the short cut, though admittedly a short cut that is riddled with bumps and potholes at times. It’s a better and surer path, but not the only one.

Jesus acknowledged that some out there weren’t his followers, but they were still allies and people to be thanked for doing good. Yes, we will answer to God through Jesus. Yes, we need forgiveness for our sins.

But it isn’t just the Christians getting into heaven, my friends.

And there are a whole mess of Christians who are very much against what Jesus taught, and who will find themselves turned away in the end.

Journeying Toward God

I’m often presented with this question from people who don’t believe in a higher power, or who aren’t sure if one exists (or who it is) and people with different faith beliefs than my own:

What makes you so sure that your faith is the right one?

Now, you can substitute in there. For example, some like to ask me how I could be so arrogant. Some ask me how I could believe my way is the only way. And so on. Sometimes, it’s a honest, interested query. Sometimes, it’s a challenge being thrown at me. Sometimes, it’s just plain mean.

But, regardless, it’s a valid question and—as hard as it may be for some of you to believe—it’s a question I ponder fairly often. And, mind you, manage to ponder without necessarily having to have a crisis of faith or doubt my own belief system.

What it comes down to is that I don’t believe my path is the only path. I don’t even believe that my Bible alone tells the whole story. I don’t necessarily think that all other faiths are wrong, though I do worry that many of them are off track in some way or another, or have the wrong focus (then again, I think many Christians are off track…).

God wants us to journey toward Him. God wants us to seek spiritual understanding. I also believe that God sent Jesus to be the focal point around which we should gather. The challenge is in trying to understand how Jesus fits into things and why he is the individual God set up as the ideal and as Lord. But the fact is that there really hasn’t been anyone like Jesus in religious history. I can’t think of any individual who has been held up philosophically, socially, politically, spiritually, intellectually and divinely (all at the same time) in any comparable manner. Not Siddartha Buddha, not Mohammed, not Moses, not David…no one of whom I have knowledge. And for well over 2,000 years, mind you.

That alone should make people sit up and take notice that Jesus is someone unique and special.

I have a few follow-up thoughts on this, in terms of where Christians and non-Christians are getting things wrong, as well as areas where they aren’t necessarily wrong but have misplaced priorities, but I’ll leave that for tomorrow or the next day…

Spiritual, but not religious

scroll01.jpgNo, the title of this blog post doesn’t describe me. Or, maybe it does kinda. But in any case, I hate the phrase “I’m spiritual, but I’m not religious” with a passion. I don’t truly hate much of anything in lifeand I really shy away from hating peoplebut if a phrase could be beaten, bloodied, throttled and flayed to within an inch of its life, I would be doing the honors for this monstrosity.

In a sense, the phrase could mean something positive, as in “I have very strong faith beliefs, but I don’t feel that the institutional establishments for my religion are doing their job right, so I avoid them whenever possible.” That is something I could respect, because I often feel the same way. And that’s why I say that it sort of describes me.

The trouble is, when you get down to it, 90% of the time when someone utters that phrase, though, he or she is either a non-Christian who loves almost every religion but Christianity…or is a Christian who wants to pick and choose out of the Bible what to believe, and twist the Word of God to justify all or most of his or her actions.

First, the misguided Christians. Yes, I understand that the Bible, depending on which part you are reading, was written between 2,000 and 6,000-ish years ago. And so you take exception to things that don’t seem “hip with the times.” But you don’t get to claim Jesus and say God is your father and then systematically ignore their Word. Like it or not, there are rules in life, both in terms of things spiritual and worldly, and if you aren’t going to follow the rules or at least acknowledge that you’re breaking them and feel at least a little bad about it, you shouldn’t be calling yourself a Christian. The Bible is not a damned buffet you can pick and choose from. There are places where there is room for interpretation, but some of that stuff is clear as day and no amount of twisting is going to change it.

Now, for the non-Christians who wield this phrase with wild abandon. I am amazed at how many people rail on about how intolerant Christians are and how many wars were waged in the name of Christianity and all that bullshitand then suddenly treat you like a leper if you so much as mention the name Jesusyet they listen with rapt attention about any other religion.

Even in post-9/11 America, a huge percentage of people (OK, more accurately, a huge number of people who are college educated or are moderate/liberaland yes, I’m in that demographic) would rather listen to a Muslim share his or her beliefs than give a minute of real attention to an evangelistic Christian. They want to hear from the Wiccans about their beliefs and practices. They feel honored if a Jewish friend invites them over for Passover Seder. They want to find out what Scientology is all about. They flock to self-help gurus who masquerade as Christian pastors (I’ll get to you in another blog, soon, Joel Osteenand maybe you’re just misguided rather than deceitful, but you’re wrong regardless for undercutting Jesus and the Holy Spirit in your church). They love to find their spiritual center through religious types of Yoga or chanting mantras but wouldn’t crack open a Bible unless threatened to at gunpoint. They admire Madonna for being bold enough to study Kabbalah.

The Christian is proselytizing. Everyone else is sharing.

Christianity is intolerant and narrow-minded and evil. Everyone else is supposedly one of the many legitimate paths to the divine.


I’m not saying that a lot of evangelists and other Christians aren’t assholes. Sure, we have our share of them. And even well-meaning Christians can sometimes come across too bluntly or too gratingly when they try to share the Gospel. But I have seen (and before I was born again, I had done this myself) nice people who are full of sincerity and goodwill suddenly get treated like booze-soaked transients for daring to mention Jesus or explain/defend Christianity. People instantly shut them off and shut them out. It’s amazing, and disheartening, to see how often folks who say they are supportive of tolerance and diversity do this to Christians. It makes me sickperhaps all the more so because I did it myself and I can’t go back and undo any of it or apologize to the random people I did it to. It’s an example of how the most liberal worldviews are often just as mean-spirited and oppressive as many people consider uber-conservatives to be.

Oh, and don’t get me started on the people who say, “Yes, Jesus was a good man and I follow his example, but I don’t believe he was divine. When he said he was the son of God, he meant in the way that we’re all sons and daughters of the divine personage.”

Jesus himself said he was the only way to God (and the gospels were written very close to the time of Jesus’ ministry, so that, along with other reasons I’ll get into one day, is reason enough to trust the accuracy of words attributed to Jesus). Given that he said he was the divine son of God, you can’t go taking away his divinity and saying he was a “good man,” because that makes him a liar or a lunatic.

If you make a habit of following the examples of lunatics or liars, you belong at a David Koresh Appreciation Association meeting or a Democratic or Republican political convention, respectively.