Martin LeFevre: Jesus, We Barely Knew Thee
Jesus, We Barely Knew Thee
Christians believe that Jesus "died for our sins." To my mind, that is nonsense. Jesus died because of people's sins, not for their sins, or ours.
Given the vexing accretions of Christianity, many ex-Catholics and ex-Christians have (pardon the Christmas pun) thrown the baby out with the bathwater.
Some people go so far as to say that there never was a historical Jesus. They maintain that Christianity's core tenets of Jesus' virgin birth, resurrection from the dead, and physical ascension into heaven prove that the whole story was made up to lure simple, gullible minds into a male-dominated, hierarchical, and increasingly wealthy and powerful church.
In the Middle Ages, contemplatives who dared to challenge the Church's doctrines about Jesus were often burned at the stake. But in this secular age, one only risks ridicule, or being ignored. (Though some would prefer martyrdom to both.)
Thomas Jefferson, the author of the American Declaration of Independence, is quoted in his posthumously published letters as saying: "In the New Testament there is internal evidence that parts of it have proceeded from an extraordinary man; and that other parts are of the fabric of very inferior minds. It is as easy to separate those parts, as to pick out diamonds from dunghills."
That may have been true for Jefferson, but most people either find the Bible an impenetrable thicket, or swallow the whole thing. For me, the issue is not so much the veracity of New Testament stories and sayings, but the question whether Jesus really intended to die on the cross.
In the fourth century, the coalescing (or congealing) "Holy Roman Church" decreed that Jesus was God, not man. Prior to that, there was a huge debate, with different factions arguing both sides. From then on, it was heresy to say Jesus was a man. That was the second big mistake, after the guilt-driven idea that "Jesus died for our sins."
I think most people who know the story of Jesus are stirred by it because, consciously or unconsciously, they feel that he was a real person essentially like everyone else. Some religious figures, such as the Buddha, attain such lofty spiritual heights that they no longer seem human, even if they aren't deified. But despite all the crud of Christianity, Jesus retains his humanness.
So was Jesus' mission to be crucified for humanity's sins, sacrificing himself so that everyone else could be saved, or is that the biggest hoax in history?
Historians agree that Jesus had a political strategy--to change the character of the Roman Empire by changing the character of people's hearts. That alone contradicts the mythology of his martyrdom. Jesus did not intend to fail, but I think he believed, until the night before his arrest, that his prophecy of renewal was being fulfilled.
Even as a boy I was struck by his suffering in the garden of Gethsemane. It has been documented that people under extreme stress can sweat blood. If Jesus had known all along, and accepted that he was going to die on the cross, why did he suffer so the night before his arrest?
Not because he faltered, but because he saw that things had gone terribly wrong, and there was nothing he could do. So he accepted his fate. Afterward, his disciples turned his crucifixion upside down (literally, in the case of Peter).
The failure of Jesus' mission was too much for his disciples to bear. After all, Peter denied him at the end. Rather than face their own failings, and mourn their loss, they declared that he "died for our sins," and started a religion.
- Martin LeFevre is a contemplative, and non-academic religious and political philosopher. He has been publishing in North America, Latin America, Africa, and Europe (and now New Zealand) for 20 years. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. The author welcomes comments.