This past weekend was Easter Weekend. It’s a time when Christians around the world celebrate the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Before I begin, let me say that I assert no moral high ground by exploring tools and ideas to develop character. I don’t intend to say that my way is the one way to be in life. It’s more about getting us to think critically and have the courage to be true to ourselves.
I was once a very devout and committed Christian. For about a 3.5 year period I would say that the Christian Faith was the central belief system that governed my life and I would have told you that I believed that the religion asserted truths that were absolute. Through circumstance, research, and deep introspection, I came to a place where not only did I not believe that Christianity was the one truth but I also don’t really believe in or think about God. (This is a whole separate topic but my challenge with God or a Higher Power is the undefinable Nature of ‘God’. To quote Jordan Peterson, “Depends on what you mean by ‘God’?” I would argue that it’s a fairly complex question.)
In the last 2-3 years since leaving the Christian faith my emotions have run the spectrum in terms of how I look at my time in the church. There are situations that I look back on with great frustration and others that I am greatly appreciative of. One of the profound things that struck me as I began to research the historical context of biblical times was the rebellious nature of Jesus in the Biblical story. This is in opposition to what I feel is often the portrayal of Jesus as a passive, meek man. If for a moment we can look at him as a character in a story (real or not) and if we can suspend the notions of him being God (for a moment). Based on my limited understanding of the historical context of new testament literature, there were some Jews of Jesus’s day who were very religious and law oriented. I want to emphasize ‘some Jews’ and that Jesus himself was a Jew, not a Christian. Today we might think of the Jews that Jesus was in opposition to at that time as fundamentalists. There seemed to be an almost blind following of certain doctrines no matter how grievous or ridiculous the implications. For instance, not healing sick people on the sabbath: Imagine having COVID19 and being told that treatment will be delayed until the Lord’s Day has passed… it’s the law. It’s this type of behavior that Jesus ran directly against.
If I had to sum it up, Jesus is advocating that we treat one another the way we would want to be treated. At least, that’s my interpretation. This sounds like a very simple idea but it’s actually very nuanced. The kind of nuance that doesn’t fit tidily into a rigid set of rules, laws, or doctrines. Think about the complexity of just knowing yourself, well. Self-Awareness is an evolving and challenging process that requires much energy. If that’s true, then knowing how to treat others is just as evolving and challenging. As much as I hated getting teased and bullied as a kid (the way I was treated), and as much as I wouldn’t want to see any kid get bullied (the way I would have told you I wanted to be treated), I can’t help being grateful for the strength/resilience that experience gave me (the beautiful irony of life). Folks, that’s complicated and simple at the same time.
In the story, Jesus challenges the powers that be, he makes updates to the laws that the Jewish Religious leaders were zealots over, he even makes claims to be the Son of God (from a non-religious sense one might interpret this as, “We each have the DNA of life’s origin in our beings and therefore have the authority to express ourselves as whatever we believe we are…”, or something like that… in my secular interpretation. Do with it what you will. Jesus seems to be for the life and flourishing of everyone. He doesn’t seem to be content at all with letting society remain as is. He’s progressive for his day and pays for that with his life. However, I often here people malign his name:
“Christians and their Jesus!”
“I don’t give a damn if Jesus Loves me…”
“If Jesus is so loving why are his people so mean…”
Be clear, this is not all people outside the church. I’ve heard comments like these in pockets in various situations, both during my time as a Christian and not. I guess I wish people could separate their experiences with modern religion from the character in the story. Guilty by association, I suppose. I’ve written before that I believe that much Christian Church severely marginalizes women and the LGBTQ community. I myself have had several traumatic experiences with religious communities. But I can’t deny that I have also found the courage to take on big risks because of faith. I have also found rich connection to other people in faith communities, in particular, at a time when I was extremely lonely. Jesus isn’t cool because he has some people representing him who don’t recognize the deep limitations and crushing nature of their doctrines. Jesus isn’t cool because people who have been hurt by churches proselytize the hypocrisy found in faith communities, even though we’re all hypocrites. Jesus isn’t cool because we don’t see the man in the story in his time. We don’t take him as an individual. We don’t humanize him. We lump him in with modern narratives that he had nothing to do with creating. We use stories about his life to validate the stories in our own lives. As opposed to looking at him at his time in history and trying to empathize with the implications of what he was doing… extrapolating the principles that might be transcendent across time.
Maybe the Romans invented him. Maybe he was/is the Son of God. Maybe he was a historical figure who was committed to a radical challenging of the religious norms of The Jewish Faith that he loved… Maybe the principle is that we should challenge strongly held beliefs when they don’t seem to recognize or make room for the full humanity of others… Maybe that’s treating other people the way you want to be treated. And yes, flipping your own paradigm is hard.
As for me, if Jesus was a real person then he was much more than ‘cool’. He was brave and revolutionary for his time.
What organizations, groups, and individuals do you find yourself immediately tuning out? How did those people come to settle on their current ideology? Do your best to humanize their journey. How does that change the way you see them?