Recently I listened to the 7 disc audio book, The Gospel of Jesus, read by Garrison Keillor. It’s a great way to get the whole story in a fairly succinct telling. It’s not nearly as repetitive as the Bible, though I’m sure Bible scholars would argue that this is a messy and at times misleading interpretation of its contents. That’s OK… I’m not a Bible scholar, and I’m pretty confident it captures the gist of things.
Listening to this reminded me of being in grade school, when my parents used to make me attend a Christian church. The story never really jived with me. And listening to it as an adult who hasn’t thought much about Christianity in a long time, it’s weird to me that this is the basis of religion for the vast majority of Americans.
Having read Buddhist scripture and books for so long, a few things about The Gospels struck me as particularly foreign. Here are some of them:
The need to believe. It seems like half of what Jesus says is about how people should believe in him. It’s hugely important to Jesus that people believe he is the son of God. This content provides no insight or teaching value whatsoever, and really seems to get in the way of what I’d consider his teachings. I guess I was just surprised how much the very fact of believing is stressed here as the foundation of the teaching. In many ways, Christianity really is at its core about believing Jesus was the son of God. If you were the son of God, would that really be so important to you compared to, say, people being at peace with themselves and each other? The latter is definitely part of the message, but it sure feels secondary to believing.
The miracles. He performs all sorts of miracles to make people believe in him. But then when the shit is really hitting the fan, he doesn’t. If he really wanted to make people believe with miracles, all he had to do was something really spectacular in the middle of Jerusalem. All he really does in town is heal people. This goes back to the idea that people should have to believe, and that’s what is important. But if that’s the case, why perform miracles at all? The motive for and inconsistency of the miracles doesn’t make sense to me.
Down with the rich. I was surprised at how literal and extreme the hating on rich people is. Jesus really lays it on them. Personally, I prefer the Buddhist slant on this idea, that wealth causes suffering (clinging, worry and inevitable loss) as a reason not to hoard wealth. Hating on rich people comes across as dualistic (there wouldn’t be poor people without them) and perhaps a little petty. Why exactly is it bad to be wealthy, in and of itself? You can argue that if nobody was wealthy, everybody would be well off, but I’m not sure that’s necessarily true – ask an economist. Being a wealthy person who uses their wealth to help people feels like a more realistic and beneficial model to me.
The context of the Jewish scripture. I hadn’t realized how much this story consisted of an accounting of all the little old-testament scripture predictions that Jesus was fulfilling. Weird stuff like the fact that he was poked in the side while on the cross. Again, it’s the whole believing thing, striving for legitimacy among the people who are damning him.
Down with the scribes and pharisees. Jesus spends an inordinate amount of time hating on the scribes and pharisees. These folks represent the establishment of the Jewish religion at that time. I can see why he does this – they’re total hypocrites and, just as it was then, its easy to find corresponding roles in the modern Christian establishment. But after a while it just feels like political maneuvering, and it adds up with all the rest to make the teachings of Jesus about peace and neighborly love that you always hear about amount to a very very small percentage of what the man is recorded to have said by the Bible. Woe indeed.
I hope this post doesn’t offend anyone. I’m not a Christian but also don’t have any beef with Christians. I comment on this as a relative outsider trying to understand and come to terms with it, not someone just negatively judging it to get a rise out of anyone.