Despite my Jewish upbringing, I’ve always considered Jesus of Nazareth to have existed as an actual person.
This might sound obvious, but I believe that too many Christian evangelicals view him as a lucky lottery ticket, a magic charm that gets them into some mythical heaven.
To their thinking, all you have to do is go to church once a week, recite some words and Bingo, you’re “saved.” Afterward, you can act like a bigoted jerk for the rest of the week without any consequence.
Needless to say, it doesn’t work that way and most adherents of the Christian faith know it. They strive and often succeed to be decent people and live the teachings of their avatar instead of just mouthing them. Unfortunately, those who don’t are not only the loudest but the most dangerous. I’m referring specifically to the new malevolent phenomenon of “Christian” Nationalism. I put the first word in quotations because there’s nothing Christian about them. They have nothing in common with the true ministry of Jesus, and to me, more resemble the Pharisees that he warned us about. Fundamentalist religious conservatives who oppress others under the false guise of piety.
Unlike the “Christian” Right, Jesus never lusted after secular power and was the first proponent of a separation of religion and politics. His admonition to “Render unto Caesar” was a clear indication to his followers. Like Buddha, he preached the necessity of right behavior and the then-unheard of message of love, forgiveness, and tolerance. Unlike certain Republican governors, he welcomed the stranger in his midst, condemned the tribal animosities that exist to this day, and empowered women, whom I believe to have been his truest disciples.
The patriarchal fear of women and sexuality, now achieving a resurgence in the Supreme Court, has nothing to do with the teachings of Jesus. They are the result of misogynists like Paul of Tarsus and church councils hundreds of years later perpetrated by a bunch of old men terrified by their own bodies. They also conveniently edited and deleted elements of Jesus’s original gospel that threatened their hold on power. The destructive marriage of authority, domination, and Christianity continued throughout the centuries culminating on our shores in the form of “Christian” Nationalism.
Their philosophy calls for the destruction of the Constitutional guarantee of separation of Church and State and strives to define the United States as a “Christian nation,” which of course it isn’t. Still, 61 percent of Republicans polled want our nation declared as such while others conspire to amend the Constitution, most likely to achieve that end.
As flawed as they were, the Founding Fathers were well aware of the long, ugly history of religious tyranny that infected Europe and wanted no part of it in their new nation. Thomas Jefferson owned a copy of the Qur’an and as president, George Washington wrote a letter to the Jewish congregation of Newport, Rhode Island assuring them that they were equally welcome as American citizens. The Bill of Rights which mandates religious freedom was more radical at the time than we currently appreciate. It’s not surprising that some of the more extremist conservatives like Marjorie Taylor Greene and Lauren Boebert and white supremacists such as Nick Fuentes are proponents of “Christian” Nationalism. The January 6th 2021 insurrection to overthrow our democracy was perpetrated by like-minded participants.
According to past surveys, however, church attendance nationwide is down, inaccurately interpreted as Americans turning away from God.
Not so. This decline is based less on a belief in a higher power than a distrust of traditional religions that have caused so much death and destruction over the millennia and threaten to do so today.
Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Muslim, and even Buddhist extremists are more belligerent because on some deeper level, they sense that their old mentality is on its way out. More people, including the younger generations, prefer spirituality which includes a belief in some divine force but has no use for it as a divisive entity. Nor do they need a certain time or place or an intermediary to access whatever one defines as God.
As a Jew, I’m always happy when Christians act like Christians and I’ve spent more of my adult life in churches than synagogues. I would, however, advise “Christian” Nationalists that instead of pressuring their fellow non-Christian Americans to “Accept Jesus Christ into their hearts” that they instead do it first.
Because at the moment, their hearts are full of fear, intolerance, and the need to dominate others.