What kept nagging at me — after the rush of religion and feeling like I had found a church and a faith I could work into my own belief system — was the ultimate question of the Divinity of Jesus.
I want to be very clear: A man named Jesus — or Yeshua, or Immanuel — lived. He was a Jew, likely with an affinity for the Essenes* (through his cousin John the Baptist**), who preached a gospel of social justice***. He was seen more as a political irritant and agitator than an important religious figure during his lifetime, and he was ultimately found guilty and executed by the state.
[* There are some scholars who doubt the existence of the Essenes entirely, believing they were actually renegade Zadokides — sons of a Jewish priest named Zadok. I’m agnostic on this.]
[** It’s unclear what the relationship was between Mary, the mother of Jesus, and Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist. A blood relationship of some kind is hinted at; however, ideas of family and allegiances were sorted and settled in ways that are not common to us. Cousin seems to fit; but it just as easily could not.]
[*** He’s not consistent about social justice all the way through — or, his biographers and recounters, at least, were not consistent. Jesus, after his death and with no way to counter or correct, became the necessary catalyst for a variety of faith understandings that continue up through today.]
How can a religion that tries to emphasize love and caring be based on the violent death of a single man? Why does our religion require that violence? Why did ::God:: require that violence? I have not yet been able to reconcile these ideas in a way that makes Christianity loving and welcoming. “Please come to our murder cult! We wear the object our savior was killed on; you can get one bedazzled if you want.”
As with all religions, there are schisms, and Judaism is no different. By the time of Jesus, there was a desperation for the Messiah to come as a warrior and right all the wrongs committed against God’s chosen people. Followers of Jesus, especially those writing some years after his execution, used Jewish writings to point out how Jesus himself was the Messiah.
(This proved to be hard to sell to the Jews of the time, who had their own myths and accounts of what the messiah would be and do, and Jesus fulfilled none of those things.)
And this is, I think, a key point to keep in mind: The Jewish Bible and the Christian Bible are two ::entirely:: separate collection of documents — but in a curious way. Judaism has no interest in, or need of, Christianity. It stands on its own*. The Christian Bible is reliant on the Jewish Bible because it is what underpins and proves the Divinity of Jesus as the Christ. For those curious about or fascinated with the evolution of religious belief, the Book of Mormon shares the same reliance on the Jewish Bible that Christianity does. It also needs the Christian Bible, too. These are appeals to authority. Neither holy book needs the Book of Mormon.
[* That’s actually a bit of an oversell: Judaism comes out of the crucible of other ANE (Ancient Near East) cultures and religions. In some ways, the Tanakh — the Jewish Scriptures — is attempting to correct the beliefs of the other cultures around it.]
So, the more I thought about Christianity — and especially the way it has evolved (or, less charitably, metastasized*) — I began to really put my whole heart into working out what, exactly, Jesus’s role is in salvation.
[* When Europeans began stealing land from Native Americans, they brought with them their most holy dictum: The earth was made for man to subdue. So the wilderness of North America symbolized the chaos out of which God brought order and goodness. Christianity was used extensively to justify and encourage slavery. And it is used now to attack more than it is used to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. #NotAllChristians]
I remain a theist. I continue to believe that what we are all participating in is some sort of Great Divine Mystery, one that we’ll either never solve, or we’ll solve, but not in our current existence. I don’t believe there is a place where people are punished for whatever we want to believe sin is. I also don’t believe in some limitless field of perfect with streets of gold and everyone somehow living eternity in perfection*.
[* Reading the Bible through a lens of poverty, the ridiculousness of heaven starts to make more sense. Streets paved in gold; everyone wearing a crown; jewels everywhere: heaven is filled with the things denied to you in this life.]
But I believe we do go on. I just don’t know how. Or what it looks like. And I will either die, and know the answer; or I’ll die, and stop asking.
Jesus said extraordinary things about caring for the poor and the “least among us.” But I do not believe he was the Son of God. I’m more squishy about some of the miracles — a good miracle is a good miracle — but I absolutely do not believe his arrest, torture, and execution by the state was the mechanism of salvation. I think it was just the murder of a man who caused too many problems.
So where I find myself now is uninterested in Christianity, but very much a believer in God. I think Christianity is an attempt — I think ALL religions and philosophies are an attempt — to explain various experiences of the Divine. I just don’t know what form God takes, and I don’t pretend to understand God’s likes and dislikes. I think God is simply delighted by everything. “Do it again,” G.K. Chesterton imagines God saying.
(“It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them.”)
I’m less worried about how to label myself. That seems a waste of time. But I don’t think I can, with good conscience, say I am a Christian any longer.