VOICES: Finding a more honest Christianity

“I’ve found looking back to the forgotten origins of Christianity to be more enriching. And, more honest.” (Courtesy of Michael D’Alimonte)

Jesus was a social reformer, a rebel, and — above all else — he stressed individual spirituality’

If you’re a Christian who believes you must attend church to be faithful, repent your sins to a priest and criticize the beliefs of others simply because they’re different than yours, I’m sorry to say it, but you got Christianity all wrong.

Coming from a Catholic family, I’ve noticed most Christians don’t know much about Jesus or Christian history. Jesus was a social reformer, a rebel, and — above all else — he stressed individual spirituality, not strict adherence to religious dogma.

Over the years, his progressive (and radical) teachings were transformed into a dogma.

I suspect it’s the last thing Jesus — whether you think of him as a man or divine being — would have wanted.

I blame Paul the Apostle.

Originally Saul of Tarsus, a persecutor of early Christians, Paul  is said to have had a change of heart after experiencing a vision of Christ while on the road to Damascus.

Paul probably just had an epileptic episode but, regardless of which origin story you adhere to, the gist remains the same.

Outlined in Paul’s many letters and sermons (the Pauline Epistles) these texts would go on to form a large chunk of the Bible. Aside from designating a few specific sins (homosexuality, divorce, etc.) Paul’s teachings stressed the importance of the church. Paul oriented the church as the sole pathway to  Christ.  According to Paul and many modern Christians, these are Jesus’ teachings.

But Paul never met him.

Paul even flat-out says in his own writings he never met the supposed Son of God.

That isn’t to say Paul knew nothing about Jesus. Stories about Jesus and his teachings were definitely shared before and after Paul’s ministry, but there wasn’t much else. Though it’s a little counterintuitive when flipping through the New Testament, Paul’s letters were written before the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

“Basically, Jesus was an anti-establishment religious radical. He preached acceptance, forgiveness, and introspective spirituality above all else.” (Courtesy of Creative Commons)

Paul had no access to informative accounts of Jesus’ teachings aside from fluid oral accounts. Not that the gospels are a 100 per cent accurate account of Jesus’ life, anyway.

Much like Paul, the writers of the gospels were picking and choosing from a pool of circulating stories surrounding Jesus’ life.

There are many forgotten gospels as well and I find them more engaging. Take, for example, the Gospel of Thomas.

Written as early as 50 BCE, the Gospel of Thomas offers a radically different take on the story of Jesus and, more importantly, his teachings.

In it, Jesus stresses that the Kingdom of God is not a place, in the clouds or wherever.

According to the Gospel of Thomas, the Kingdom of God is a state of mind. The Kingdom of God is ever-present for those who understand the secret message of Jesus. Here, what is most crucially important is spiritual introspection, not the spiritual institution.

Sadly, the Gospel of Thomas never made it into the New Testament. The early church leaders didn’t want it there, probably because it de-emphasized the importance of the Christian church and its leaders.

Though more honest, even the Gospel of Thomas may be based on inaccurate retellings of Jesus’ words.  

Really, the only way to get at the core of Jesus’ teachings is to look at all of them.

In all the Synoptic gospels, Jesus points out that a disciple is no lesser than his teacher. He welcomes the outcasts of society, admonishes strict religious traditions, and calls the religious establishments of his day spiritually blind.

Basically, Jesus was an anti-establishment religious radical. He preached acceptance, forgiveness, and introspective spirituality above all else.

Over time, however, with the intervention of Paul, the formation of the Christian church, and the canonization of the New Testament, Jesus’ core teachings became distorted. What was supposed to be a philosophy of spirituality became one of religious dogma.

I say it’s time Christianity (more specifically, Catholicism) went back to its roots.

I’ve found looking back to the forgotten origins of Christianity to be more enriching. And, more honest.

 

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