I was sort of shocked after reading through the red letters (the actual words of Jesus in the Bible) that Jesus never said anything about actually starting a religion! His message was above and beyond religion, which is, after all, merely men’s attempt to organize transcendence.
Religion versus the Spiritual
But then Mohammed didn’t leave instructions for starting a religion and neither did Buddha. Once again, followers started organizing institutions as soon as the men died. Followers also immediately began arguing, writing rules, and persecuting each other for not keeping their set of rules. I wholeheartedly agree with critics of religion, while insisting that religions don’t necessarily have a whole lot to do with God.
Humans and Transcendence
Humans are spiritual creatures. According to Donald E. Brown, author of Human Universals, a belief in the supernatural, or the transcendent, is universally present in all times and cultures. The transcendent may take the form of Nature, or the Universe, or Art, Truth, the Brotherhood of Man, or even Science. According to cognitive researcher George Lakoff, people’s God concepts (what is sacred, or of ultimate value) come in four flavors: God as Father/Shepherd/Judge, God as Infinite Qualities, God as Source of all that is good, God as the Physical World/Universe. Lakoff says, “Plenty of people who don’t believe the first two metaphors, and see themselves as atheist, believe the last two…it’s not clear what an atheist is.”
Jesus Didn’t Come to Start a Religion
Humans are also religious creatures. They create rituals and try to organize and codify their beliefs. An agnostic environmentalist, for example, ritually recycles and sacrifices by riding his bike everywhere because of his beliefs. It is the same impulse that moves a Christian to read their Bible and go to church on Sunday. But if Jesus didn’t come to start a religion, why did he come? He said he came to seek and save what had been lost, he came for sinners, for the sick. Those who were righteous and self-satisfied need not apply. He was accused of being a drunk and a glutton because he went to dinner with his friends instead of moping around starving himself like they thought a religious leader should. Let’s face it, he hung out with whores and even worse-with tax collectors and made no apologies for it. He publicly called out the clerics for hypocrisy. No way the power brokers could let him live then and I’m pretty sure the power brokers, both political and religious, would not let him live now.
The Jesus Movement
For three hundred years, members of the Jesus movement lived simply and apparently joyfully, as a network of persecuted, communal pacifists, according to linguist and political activist Noam Chomsky. Three hundred years. What happened? In 312 AD the Roman Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity, ordered his soldiers to march through a river and called them baptized believers, and thus politically hijacked Christianity.
Holy Roman Empire
Christianity was subsequently organized with all the skill and hierarchal structure that had served the Roman Empire so well. Some argue that it served Christianity well too, making it rich and powerful and helping it to spread all over the Empire. That would be acceptable if that had any relation to what Jesus intended, but it actually seems to be the very opposite. It was a Religion that grew and spread and slaughtered heretics and crowned kings and conducted holy wars-an oxymoron if ever there was one. The Jesus movement never died, though, it continued underground, and supplied the heretics for the burnings.
Religious Right: Virgin Timber
In America, a similar hijacking has taken place. Politicians in the most powerful Empire at this point in history, the U.S., have cornered the loyalty of the religious right, a very powerful group labeled by a GOP political operative in the late 1970s as the “largest stand of virgin timber in the political landscape.” The Christian left and Christian moderates clearly see that supporting wars and pouring derision on the poor is NOT what Jesus would do, but they are not as loud, nor as angry, nor as fearful as the religious right.
Meanwhile, the unsung members of the Jesus movement go about their lives, trying to love one another, trying even to love the religious right-and trying to simply do all the good they can, just as they have done for two thousand years.