Against The Stream ~ INCREDIBLE

IS IT NOT AMAZING THAT, while the Christian Bible is full and overflowing with errors and discrepancies, many Christians believe it is ‘the Word of God’? This is the real miracle about Christianity: that people should believe it so blindly! What is the use of having brains?!

For example, take the family-tree of Jesus, as found in the first book of the New Testament. it is traced from Abraham, through David, to Joseph, the husband of Mary, the mother of Jesus. Christians have attached great importance to this, seeing in it the supposed fulfillment of biblical prophesy. But they hold Mary to have been a virgin and to have conceived Jesus supernaturally— that is, by means other than through the agency of a man! This is where the contradiction lies, for if Jesus really was so conceived, his genealogy should be traced back through his mother’s side, not Joseph’s! Now, which is right: that he was a descendent of Abraham and David through Joseph, or that he was born of a virgin? They can’t both be right, for they exclude each other, do they not? So here, in the very first chapter of the book that is the basis of Christianity, is a glaring inconsistency. If every word of the Bible is God’s Word— as many Christians still claim— why the many discrepancies that have been pointed out by scholars and which are visible to anyone who reads the book?

Gina Cerminara, in her wonderful book, Insights for the Age of Aquarius, said this on the topic : "Virgin births were common in ancient ‘pagan’ religions. Buddha, Zoroaster and Krishna, among others, were declared by their later followers to have been miraculously conceived and born of virgins— the idea apparently being to establish divine authority for them in this way. The same fate seems to have befallen Jesus, who again and again called himself the Son of Man. But it was to satisfy and impress ‘pagan’ converts that theologians claimed a virgin birth for him".

Now, Mary apparently had other children after or besides (they may even have been before)— Jesus, but so zealous were some Christians in holding Mary sacred, that one Pope declared her ‘eternally Virgin’. Others, in turn, appointed her ‘Mother of God’, and ‘Queen of Heaven’ (and the present Pope, John-Paul II, seems on the verge of declaring her Co-Savior with Jesus’), getting further and further away from reality! These titles were bestowed on her posthumously by cunning and fallible people, who had vested interests in doing so. The rest of the populace in Europe at that time were either illiterate and gullible, or too cowed and intimidated by the Church to say anything in protest or disagreement.

It is different now, however, in that we have the freedom and right to speak out and question things— freedom that was dearly bought for us by others. But this does not mean that we shall always have such freedom, for it can be lost, as history has repeatedly shown. We can again sink into periods such as The Dark Ages, which, unlike the few decades of Communist oppression, lasted for a thousand years, during which the Christian Church was the undisputed and tyrannical power. Such freedom as we in the West now enjoy— and which other countries are still struggling for— should not be taken lightly, but should be used in trying to understand and fortify it, so that it won’t be easily lost and we don’t slide again into cultural and spiritual darkness. Freedom is our greatest treasure and we should try to realize this while we have it, for if we lose it, we can only bewail our stupidity for not having taken better care of it. Now we have it, but …..

For several centuries, Catholic Europe suffered under ‘The Holy Inquisition’ of the Church; hundreds of thousands were horribly tortured and burnt to death and their property confiscated by the insatiable Church. The Protestant ‘Reformation’ dealt no less savagely— though on a lesser scale— with ‘unbelievers’. John Calvin, the dour founder of Calvinism, had people burnt alive for deviant ideas.

Millions have been killed and entire cultures ruthlessly eradicated by followers of the Cross in the name of their religion. Verily, the history of Christianity is written in blood! And if we are complacent and allow it, ‘religious’ madness may return to plague our poor world again on a large scale; indeed, the current rise in fundamentalism across several world religions does not bode well for peace and stability.

Our real enemy is Ignorance, disguised in many forms. Like Confucius and the Buddha— but unlike Christianity, which insists that Man is ‘sinful’— I believe in the basic-goodness of Man. Realistically, however, I also see that such basic-goodness is, in most cases— like diamonds in the earth— covered and concealed by a whole mass of things that are not good. It is— or should be— the purpose of religion and education to help us discover our basic-goodness as humans, not as ’Buddhists’, ‘Christians’, ‘Hindus’, ‘Muslims’, etc.

As most people who have done any research will recognize, Jesus was not the founder of Christianity. We can read his injunction to his disciples, not to go to the lands of the ‘Gentiles’ but to the "lost sheep of the House of Israel". Jesus was a reformer of the Jewish religion; it is doubtful that he intended to start a new religion.

Paul— who probably never even met Jesus— was the real founder of Christianity as a religion separate from Judaism. It was he who waived aside such Jewish requirements as ritual circumcision for males, and made Christianity a religion for Jews and Gentiles alike. It should, in fact, be called ‘Paulism’ or ‘Paulianity’ rather than Christianity. According to Paul, Christianity offers to the world no more and no less than the blood of Christ and the salvation that comes from it. If Jesus did not die on the cross (as many now suspect)), and if he was not resurrected (as there are many reasons to think), then Paul’s contention that only through the blood of Jesus can salvation be found, falls flat on its face! Jesus specifically said that salvation comes through keeping the commandments. But Paul changed all that by saying: "If Christ be not risen from the dead, then our preaching is in vain, and your faith is also vain". The poor Christians should be in a dilemma over this; who to believe: the Master of the disciple?

I am no longer a Christian, but this does not mean that I do not respect Jesus any more; it means that I see him differently than I did. No longer bound by the fetters of Christianity, I am free to look, and can honestly say that I understand Jesus now much better than I did while I considered myself a Christian. Myths about his ‘virgin-birth’ and ‘resurrection’ I now see as fabrications of his over-zealous followers; this is what happens in all religions— Buddhism not excepted— when people have too much belief and little wisdom. Such imbalance has caused incalculable disastrous consequences.

The four accounts of the life of Jesus— those of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, known as ‘the Gospels’— do not tally in many places, and indeed, often contradict each other. It is therefore not surprising that there is so much disagreement about him as a man, as a teacher, and as the ‘Son of God’. We shall probably never know much for sure about him, but is that reason for accepting the incredible accounts that have come down to us through the centuries— accounts which put more than a little strain upon the imagination? Let us look at some more points as recorded in the Gospels, although the list is almost endless:

Jesus was supposedly crucified on a Friday afternoon and his corpse taken down from the cross and placed in a tomb before sunset that day, sunset on Friday being the start of the Jewish sabbath, during which no work of any kind might be done. Now, Christians claim that Jesus lay dead in the tomb for three days and three nights. By what system of reckoning they calculate this, however, is hard to imagine, because, when some of his women-devotees went to the tomb early the following Sunday morning, they found the body of Jesus gone— though there is no mention of how long it had been gone by then. But supposing that the body had been removed— or ‘got up’, ‘stood up’, which is what the word ‘resurrected’ means— just before the women arrived, it could have been there only two nights and one full day, at most! How, therefore, can they claim a total of three days and three nights? Can’t they count?

Then, Matthew says that an angel appeared in the tomb; Mark said it was a young man. Luke said there were two men in shining garments, and John reported that there were two angels! Was the sight of angels so common in those days that they couldn’t agree on how many appeared?! And what this man/angel— or men/angels— said also differs in the four accounts, as all who can read may verify in the New Testament. When the women saw the men in the tomb, Luke (24:5) has them— the men— saying: "Why seek ye the living among the dead?", referring to Jesus. This is a very important question, and it has been overlooked because the Christians have had a myth to support and perpetuate: that Jesus died on the cross and rose again from the dead three days later. It is rather like having a set of curtains or an armchair, and constructing a house around them to suit the curtains and chair, instead of vice-versa; Christianity has been made to center around the fantastic notion of the ‘resurrection’ of Jesus, instead of around his teachings. As mentioned above, this was largely the doing of Paul, the later apostle.

The question of the ‘angel(s)’ is very clear: "Why seek ye the living among the dead?" Living? Jesus was supposed to be dead! "Yes", say the Christians, "He was dead, but he rose again, don’t you see?" Brushing aside such objections, which are not worth much, might it be that he didn’t really die on the cross, but only appeared to be dead? In those days there were no stethoscopes or ECG machines, and there is no record of anyone taking his pulse or checking for vital life-signs when they took him down from the cross. They only stated he was dead and were anxious to bury him before the sabbath began. Now, supposing that those of his disciples who took him down realized he was still alive; would they, overjoyed, have shouted: "He’s alive! He’s still alive!"? Certainly not! They would have been most careful to conceal the fact from anyone who might have reported it to the authorities.

Let us pursue this hypothesis: John has Mary alone see the ‘angels’, who ask her: "Why are you weeping?" (20:13). She answered: "They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have put him". Then she turned and saw Jesus standing there, but took him for a gardener and didn’t recognize him. Jesus spoke to her: "Woman, why are you weeping?" Whom do you seek?" Still unaware it was Jesus— who knew who he was speaking to, of course— she replied: "Sir, if you have removed him, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away". Then Jesus— who must have been enjoying his little joke with her— spoke her name— "Mary"— probably in a special way, so that only then did she realize it was he. "Master!", she exclaimed, and would have embraced him, but he forbade her to touch him, no doubt feeling sore and sensitive after his ordeal. The point here is why did Mary, who had been so close to Jesus after he ‘converted’ her, not recognize him, but took him for a gardener; she didn’t even recognize his voice until he spoke her name! How could this be? Was Jesus disguised as a gardener, perhaps, so that no-one would know him? This is a possibility, and maybe even a probability. But why should he be disguised? Might he not have been afraid that if the Jews who had had him crucified discovered that he was still alive, they would really ‘finish him off’? But why, if he were ‘resurrected’ from the dead, should he fear death? He should have been beyond death. Jesus was alive, as you and I are alive! He had not died! He later met his disciples on several occasions, and had them touch him, to prove that he was flesh-and-blood, and not a spirit or ghost; he had them put their fingers in his wounds. If he had really been resurrected, would he have carried his wounds with him? What if he had lost a limb: would his resurrected body have been missing a limb? These wounds belonged to his earthly body, and the presence of them signified that he had not died and left this life, but was alive! He even asked for food and ate, to prove it!

Now, why do I, who am not a Christian, spend so much time writing about such things? Why don’t I concern myself with my own religion? Well, first of all, my religion is Life, and since Christianity, Christians, Jesus and his teachings are part of Life, how can I cut myself off from them? We are connected, whether we like it or not. And Christianity has played such a big role in the history of the world— and continues to— that it would be irresponsible of me to see things in the way that I do and keep quiet. But, although I must accept it as one of the world’s major religions, it doesn’t mean that I must accept it as being truly representative of Jesus and his teachings, any more than I must accept Buddhism as truly representing the Buddha and His Teachings. I believe in freedom, and feel that everyone is entitled to their own opinions; if Christians feel entitled to peddle their religion from door-to-door as they do, surely I am entitled to my opinion about Jesus of Nazareth, particularly when the accounts of him are so hazy and obscure. I will take from his teachings what I think is good and useful to me and try to apply it in my life; what is important to me is what he taught, not the myths that have accumulated around him, like barnacles on a ship.

In this way, Jesus of Nazareth— or Jesus bar Joseph (son of Joseph, to use the Jewish form of address; and Jesus was a Jew)— is still alive to me!

If Christians do not like what I have written, let them do as much research into the Buddha and His Teachings as I have done into Jesus and his, instead of condemning without knowing anything, as they have so often done. Come now, I challenge you! I am not saying mine is better than yours, but inviting you to open your minds.

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