Diaries Magazine

Jesus Dude.

Posted on the 08 April 2012 by M0derngirl @M0DDERNGIRL
Jesus Dude.
As an agnostic, I'm sometimes doubtful about what I think about God. However, I'm pretty certain about my beliefs in towards Jesus Christ. That is, I don't believe he was divine. I don't believe he was the son of God. I don't believe he was born from a virgin, or was resurrected.
As an agnostic, it's sometimes hard for me to talk positively about Jesus. I don't want to come off like a Jesus-freak, especially amongst my Jewish in-laws. I don't want to come off as religious, especially amongst my secular/agnostic/Unitarian comrades. But even for me, it's sometimes hard to get past all the Catholic stuff I have rejected, and to just consider a historical Jesus.
I read "Jesus for the Non-Religious" over two years ago (book review here) and parts of that have really stuck with me. And they're growing on me. I'm starting to come to terms with understanding, and respecting a historical view of Jesus, as a dude.
By "dude" I mean hippie. Protester. Human rights activist. Compassionate, non-violent leader. But not in a divine, sacred way. In a secular, mortal way. Like Martin Luther King Jr. Like Gandhi. Like John Lennon, and many other respect historical figures who I don't have a problem respecting for their progressive notions of morality.
Everyone has the tendency to make Jesus into what they want him to be. Some say he's black, some say he's white. Some use him to support republican motives, some use him to support liberal ideals.
Some people believe there was no historical Jesus at all, and that he's completely mythical. Sometimes I think that's partly right. But for this discussion, let's assume there was a historical Jesus. Maybe a lot of what we credit him with was mythical, but maybe there was a person at the core of the myths.
From a historical lens, here's what my readings have led me to speculate. Around the time of Jesus, the world was pretty messy (when is it not?) Around his era, there were actually a number of "messiahs" popping up all over the place. Lots of people all over Eurasia and northern Africa were having the whole messiah complex. Some had followers and little cults. Some cults lasted a few hundred years. Jesus's cult just happened to stick around, due to a number of political reasons (like being adapted by the Romans).
But before Constantine, something else really helped out Jesus's cult. It was the message he was preaching. It wasn't just "Hey everyone! I'm going to fix the world now!" or "I'm what you're waiting for!" or "Pick a card! Watch me levitate!" Although Jesus has been credited with saying some of those things, biblical scholars say that he never actually claimed to be the son of God, or the messiah, and that those were added by Paul. In fact, common theory argues that Jesus never mentioned anything about his divinity, it was later generations who falsely accused him of this stuff. In 300AD the Romans decided to "make" Jesus divine.
So if Jesus wasn't actually stating that he was the fixer of the world, or magical, or a zombie, why did people pay attention to him? Well, because his message was actually pretty neat. He did some radical shit. He talked about treating everyone equal, men and woman, black and whites, homeless, prostitutes, lepers, etc. He was all about breaking down political borders and creating harmony amongst nations, and breaking down boundaries of social classes and making more egalitarian societies.
Back in his time, ethnicity, nationality, and religion were the same thing. "Nations" were tribal clans and groups that were pretty homogeneous. Babylonians, Romans, Phoneticians, Assyrians, all had their own belief, ways of life, etc. And each group tried to push their way of life on others - except for the Jews, who weren't actively recruiting. As a Jew, Jesus might have grown up in a culture slightly more "tolerant" to letting others retain their religion and way of life.
But he wanted to push it further. All that "love they neighbor" stuff wasn't referring to the people in the next house, it was in reference to neighboring nations and clans. See, United Nations was really far off back then. Jews looked out for Jews. Romans looked out for Romans. Macedonians looked out for Macedonians. When groups weren't waring, they were typically hostile (at worst) and indifferent (at best) to one another's well being. So one of the most powerful messages that Jesus pushed, was to realize the humanity in one another, and to act compassionately towards others no matter where they are from. Even if they were your enemy.
It was a pretty novel message then, and still is today. Think about patriotic America. While USA government shows political loyalty and support to their allies, the media and popular culture tends to dehumanize any nation other than it's own. There's harsh bigotry towards the middle east, but even a mockery of most European countries (e.g., France). And it's not just an attack on the political positions of the countries, the American media tends to foster and attitude of indifference towards the common people in those places.
I find it coldly ironic that many Americans cite Jesus as the reason as to why the war on Iraq is justified, or as a reason to hate others. Because according to the historical (and extremely liberal) things I've read, it's just the opposite.
Another part of his teachings that can be re-evaluated through the historical lens is the "Kingdom of God" stuff. Jesus has been credited with talking about a time after "this one" when there will be heaven on earth, and all will be free. Religious folk connect that to heaven, and revelations and end times, and some other crazy shit. John Shelby-Sponge put forth an extremely interesting interpretation of this:
If you look at the political context in which Jesus was living, Rome was dominating the world. They had the world by the balls. So, when talking of the "Kingdom of God" Jesus could have been referring to a time in which the Roman Empire would loose power, and nations and people would be free to live, practice religion, and run their cities the way they wanted. Shelby-Sponge put forth a few arguments to support this theory. Although Jesus was all for multiculturalism, interfaith, and united nations type things, he wasn't too friendly with the imperial Rome ideal and all the rigid boundaries on humanity that were created by the Romans. So, "working towards the kingdom of heaven" might have actually referred to rebelling against Roman powers working towards the kingdom of peace and freedom.
But Jesus was not specifically anti-Rome. It's not like he wanted to attack or fight Rome on a physical level. He was no Maccabee. In fact, he wasn't trying to push a Jewish agenda at all. By all accounts, he seems to have been trying to push ideals of universal freedom and prosperity for all. And that meant condemning corruption and power segregation no matter where it occurred. One of the more common stories of Jesus is how he rode in Jerusalem and started condemning and criticizing Jewish leaders for corruption and usury money lending schemes.
When I take this all into consideration, my idea of the historical Jesus is not of a cocky, arrogant charlatan who attempted to create a new religion. Instead, I picture a dude who was just trying to make peace, equality, and compassion more common. When I think about the things secular liberals credit Jesus with, he sounds like a pretty cool human rights leader. Many of things he preached about are starting to become more common place. And it matches a lot of my ideology. When I think about it in that sense, a part of me wishes I could get past the "Jesus-freak" stigma and to be able to openly respect him, just like Abraham Lincoln, The Dali Lama, Martin Luther King Jr., Einstein, John Lennon, Gandhi, Obama, the Buddha, Nelson Mandela, Thich Nhat Hanh, Jack Layton, Angelina Jolie, and other dudes.
But here's the thing. Although academics and scholars are starting to paint this picture of Jesus as a liberal minded activist dude, there's other pictures of him being painted. When I think about all the evil or even trickery that has been done in his name, it really taints it all. Even the Gospels of Mark and Matthew piss me off. They were written to "sell" the Jesus stories to rabbis. Different "miracles" were invented to match Jesus up to the messiah prophecy AND to make enough readings about Jesus so one story could be read each week at synagogue. They even matched themes, so a Passover friendly story was read in the spring, a Rosh Hashanah story read in the fall.
But that's probably one of the more innocent corruptions. The evils of the medieval church are just terrible. Banning all artwork except religious artwork, making people buy their loved ones out of pugatory, conquering land in the name of Jesus, kicking people out of countries and killing them in the name of Jesus. Suppressing human sexuality, suppressing women, promoting racism, promoting war, and hate, and rich Popes. And none of that has gone away today! Supporting pedophile priests, promoting wars, fueling things like the Westboro Baptist Church, forcibly converting people around the globe with missionaries, hating gays, denying science, promoting imaginary telepathy with zombies, telling people they are born with sin, telling people they are born predetermined to Hell, it all juts makes me sick.
Especially "fundamental" Christianity, which focuses on virgin birth, resurrection, and Jesus being the son of God. How do those "facts" help people to be more moral? They don't.
Basically, the worst thing that happened to Jesus was what the Romans did to him. Not the crucifixion. The council of Nicaea in which they made him divine. If Jesus had just been consider a "dude" with some good ideas that people should think about, we'd probably have a much more humane world. We'd probably have a few books inspired by his teachings that people would read and talk about, and that'd be it. But we don't, we have Jesus-freaks who talk about him for all the religious and supernatural reasons, and we have the seculars that are too afraid to mention him at all.
Jesus Dude.
Kevin Smith was on to something in the movie Dogma when he made Jesus Dude the statue. Sure, the movie assumes there's a God, and Jesus, with angels and muses and all that mythology. And sure, the Jesus dude was depicted as a European, in clothes more common in 900AD rather than 0AD. But maybe people should just start to consider him as a dude. A human, with mortal capabilities, who lived once (was not resurrected) and who said some cool shit and had some good ideas.
I mean, from the Liberal Christian interpretations of things, he sounds like the type of dude that if he were alive today, would work for a respectable NGO and write some good books about compassion. Using that criteria, he sounds like someone who I'd read and enjoy and talk about it. But due to the whole "supernatural, son of God" thing, I can't. The religion that has sprung up around him has made me Jesus-phobic.
Truth be told, I actually wrote this post in March 2011, and am only posting it now, in April 2012. It took me 13 months to get up the courage to post it, because there is so much stigma over a secular agnostic actually saying something nice about Jesus. I didn't want to give people the impression I was converting back to the church - because that ain't happening. He's not divine, and I won't worship him, or his corrupt legacy of a world-wide religion.
But as my last 2 posts about Judaism and Passover have indicted, there was a problem within Jewish culture and being a bit vindictive towards their enemies and towards other religious and ethnic groups. 2000 years ago (and still today) there is a need to emphasize the importance of universal compassion and celebrating the humanity in all of us. The world can always use more love and understanding. So, the non-religious, secular, and historical message of Jesus that has been extracted by liberals is something that makes a lot of sense to me.

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