It’s more or less unarguable that the figure of Jesus Christ has had an enormous impact on the world, especially the Western one. Whether or not he really existed, or performed any of the miracles he claimed to, or died on the cross and rose again on the third day, Jesus has influenced Western thought and religion for 2,000 years.
I was raised in a strongly evangelical Christian setting. I went to church every Sunday, attended Sunday school, and I’ve been educated at private Christian schools from when I was four years old to the day I’m writing this post. I’ve been inundated in Christian teaching nearly every day of my life.
To be fair to my parents, I want to interject that I hold nothing against them for this, and they have always been extremely supportive of whatever view I choose to have. They just raised me in the way that they thought was best, and I really appreciate their love and commitment.
But has what I’ve always been taught about Jesus and my faith been the right view? I would never have challenged this two years ago, or even a year ago, but now I find myself asking really tough new questions. I owe this, at least in part, to a book I’m reading with members of the church I’m currently going to, called “Writing in the Sand.” The author, Thomas Moore, proposes some fascinating and difficult questions, and has given me an entirely new idea of who Jesus might be.
But first, I want to say that I don’t think that Jesus’ historicity is at all important in the debate over who he was. From the conservative Christian standpoint, Jesus’ factual existence is crucial, but I would challenge this view. Is it really important, for anyone, that Jesus did everything the Bible records? From the typical evangelical Christian perspective, the historicity of Scripture is paramount, but I would challenge this. So many problems arise for the Christian who tries to hang his faith on a literal interpretation of the Bible. And from a theological perspective, what’s more important? We could spend all the time in the world arguing about whether such-and-such event in the Bible really happened, and we would get nowhere, but if one focused on what the real message of Jesus was, all the rest is unimportant.
So what was the real message of Jesus? That’s a hotly contested issue, and one that I must admit I don’t have the most concrete answer for. But I have my ideas! Perhaps the real message of Jesus is far different than what we’ve come to expect and interpret. Maybe Jesus wasn’t trying to establish a new religion at all, but a new way of life. The very fact that there’s a Christian religion at all to me says that there’s been a deep misinterpretation of Jesus’ purpose. If one really reads the Gospels, the focus of Jesus’ life was caring for others, not making them believe or live morally pleasing lives. So much baggage has been added to who Jesus was and what he meant that his message has been twisted into a state that he would probably barely recognize.
The rebirth that Jesus meant when he said “you must be born again” was not a change of religion or belief, but a change of mindset. His message was not one that was meant only to apply to those who call themselves “Christian” or live a perfectly moral life. As Thomas Moore puts it, “Establishing the kingdom in the world doesn’t mean converting people to a belief system but creating the climate in which a spiritual vision combines with deep engagement with life.” Jesus wasn’t worried about the temporal religious designations we put on ourselves and others. He, like the Buddha, Saint Francis, Mohammed, Gandhi, Mother Theresa, Lao-Tzu, and many others, was concerned with waking us from our stupor, and making all people realize that there’s a much deeper reality to the world than most people are willing to accept.