Why do I insist on continuing to talk about Jesus?
Believe me; it’s not a very popular thing to do! On the one hand there are those who have “shed religion” and shed Jesus with it. For many of these folks, the mention of Jesus reminds them of everything that was wrong and even damaging about their beliefs and involvement related to the Christian religion. There are also those who may have never been Christians but crossed paths with enough of them to know that the whole Jesus-thing is something to steer clear of. Many atheists and agnostics don’t really see any point in giving a lot of credence to Jesus. After all, there’s not a very kind historical record of what has often happened in the name of Jesus. The Crusades of the Middle Ages come to mind. Westboro Baptist church is another. There is no shortage of examples of how Christian religious fundamentalism has done great harm in our world.
All of this hubbub over someone who some say never even lived and whose existence is just a myth. So there’s definitely an anti-Jesus or feeling of indifference toward Jesus that is prevalent. There are many contemporary spiritual teachers who say we need to forget about Jesus and adopt more progressive and enlightened understandings, going forward.
Then on the other hand, the typical person who holds a strong belief in Jesus, namely Christians, aren’t too fond of me talking about Jesus either. This is because what I say about Jesus doesn’t support the beliefs, mindsets and orthodoxy of the Christian religion. I ran into this pretty early in my writing career when my Christian publishing house rejected the manuscript for my third book, immediately cancelled my writing contract, and accused me of heresy. My most recent book Inner Anarchy sent Christian folk through the roof. I receive emails daily from Christians who condemn me to hell, call down God’s wrath upon my head, and liken me to David Koresh and Jim Jones.
So, talking about Jesus these days is a dangerous thing to do for lots of different reasons. So why do I continue?
There are a lot of people for whom their rejection of or ambivalence toward Jesus is because the Jesus they were exposed to came through the filter of the Christian religion. That’s unfortunate. It’s unfortunate because the Christian religion (at least the one I was once associated with) does not accurately represent the life and message of Jesus. Jesus did not start the Christian religion, and if Jesus were alive today he certainly would not be one. If Jesus came around today and lived and taught the way he did 2,000 years ago, Christian folk would be the first ones to crucify him. Jesus was not a religious person, and vehemently opposed religion and the way it separated people from God, and divided them against each other. Once speaking to a group of religious leaders, Jesus called their “God” an impostor, a liar, and a murderer—even the Devil!
The Christian religion does not own Jesus, and until a person separates the person Jesus from the religion that claims his name, the truth that Jesus bore witness to and demonstrated will not get out. This is the reason why I wrote Inner Anarchy.
Regardless of one’s religious faith there is little doubt among contemporary historians that Jesus was a real person who lived in Palestine in the First Century. Historians agree that Jesus was an itinerant teacher who traveled and taught throughout Palestine gathering followers around him through the force of his personality and the compelling nature of his message. There is general agreement that Jesus was perceived by the Roman occupiers of Palestine as a dangerous religious radical and a disturber of the peace. It didn’t help that Jesus infuriated the religious establishment for refusing to legitimize it. Consequently, he was arrested by the local authorities and summarily executed by the Romans in a public crucifixion, the standard method used by the Romans to deal with political troublemakers. There have been a few books written about this Jesus; a more recent one is, Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth by Reza Aslan.
A re-interpretation of Jesus outside the Christian religion is necessary, and in my view we owe this to Jesus and his true legacy.
There are people who have found Jesus to be significant outside the box of the Christian religion. For example, there is a very robust tradition of “Christian humanism,” emphasizing the humanity of Jesus, his social teachings and belief in universal human dignity, and his propensity to synthesize human spirituality and the material world. There has also been a “Christian anarchist” movement, most notably championed by Leo Tolstoy, that claims that anarchism is inherent in the life and teaching of Jesus. Jesus is far more radical than many would have you believe, and for good reason – it threatens the status quo and all religious and cultural institutions of authority and power.
Jesus’ primary message was about what he referred to as the “Kingdom of God” or the “Kingdom of Heaven.” When people questioned Jesus about when this Kingdom would arrive, Jesus said it already had and was within them. Jesus taught that this “Kingdom” was a real dimension and reality that we experience naturally deep within us. You don’t have to be a religious scholar or enlightened guru to access it. Jesus said instead you have to become like a child and be willing to trust and follow what bubbles up from your deep feelings. What Jesus was saying to his generation was that the Kingdom of God was not a future political kingdom to anticipate but was rather a present reality to the degree that his message was heard and acted upon by his disciples. His teaching was not to anticipate a future kingdom but rather to bring about the Kingdom of God in the present through one’s actions and commitments, and lifting those deep feelings up out of us and into the world. That “heavenly dimension” within us is the source of the power, authority, love, freedom and togetherness that can transform our current human situation.
I wrote Inner Anarchy because I believe that reconsidering Jesus and the truth he bore witness to and demonstrated can birth a new world. That truth is not a religious truth or contingent upon any religious ideology – it is universally significant and accessible to any and every human being. It’s the Christian religion that wrongly made it all about Jesus rather than his message. Jesus died but his truth is still alive in each and every one of us, waiting to be born and brought out into our world if we are willing to embrace it naturally like a child. There are 2.5+ billion Christians on our planet. I sometimes wonder how different our world would be if we stopped worshiping Jesus and started trusting and following what we all know is true and real deep inside us that Jesus told us to listen to.
For me, that message is worth sharing… even with the hate mails I receive each day and being called Jim Jones.