Jesus, redeemer or reformer?

Stained glass at St John the Baptist's Anglica...

Stained glass at St John the Baptist’s Anglican Church http://www.stjohnsashfield.org.au, Ashfield, New South Wales. Illustrates Jesus’ description of himself “I am the Good Shepherd” (from the Gospel of John, chapter 10, verse 11).

We live in a world where the dangers of religious fundamentalism of all kinds surround us. Whether it be a “holy warrior” blowing himself up in market place, a madman shooting people in a temple or school, or a “Baptist” church that pickets funerals of fallen heroes and other victims of violence. Religions in and of themselves are harmless, it’s when people cross the line from rationalism into radicalism that makes them dangerous.

Centuries before Jesus lived, according to the book of Isaiah, “I, I am the Lord, and besides me there is no savior” (Isaiah 43:11). “I, I am He who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins” (Isaiah 43:25). By this account, one can conclude that our Creator keeps no record of our “sins” and that all is forgiven and that we were “saved” long before Jesus ever lived. That being the case, blood atonement whether animal, man, or God himself was not necessary. Yet the temple cult continued ritual sacrifices because they believed it to be required for atonement. The Christian Church adopted the belief that when Jesus was crucified the blood requirement was satisfied, but as the verse above states it was not even necessary. For example, Hebrews 10:5 of the New Testament in quoting Psalm 40, claims that God replaced animal sacrifices with the death of the Jesus by stating, “sacrifices and offerings You have not desired, but a body You have prepared for Me.” However, the actual text of Psalm 40:6 does not even say this; it says, “sacrifices and meal offerings You have not desired, my ears You have opened.” This refers to God’s desire that we listen to Him, as we also read in Samuel, “Samuel said, “Does God take as much pleasure in burnt offerings and sacrifices as in obeying what God says? Surely obeying is better than sacrifice, and heeding orders than the fat of rams.” (1 Samuel 15:22)

Fundamentalist Christians insist that the Bible is the inspired and “inerrant” word of God and readily accept the Jewish Scriptures (aka Old Testament) as the foundation for the New Testament. If they were to be logically consistent, it would follow that wherever the “Old” and “New” Testaments contradict each other, the New Testament must be admitted to be obviously the one which is in error. If that were adhered to, Jesus would be relegated to what he really is – a great teacher (Rabboni or Rebbe) who spoke of actions over words and sacrifices. He was martyred for his teachings and his followers’ followers then committed the apostasy of elevating him to being God.

The Jewish Scriptures DO NOT revolve around God becoming man to sacrifice himself to appease himself. That is invented mythology. Jewish Scripture outlines how to act (albeit some of these rules are arcane for our time and a bit extreme – thus the reason the Jews never sealed the canon until it was hijacked by Constantine for the church). Jewish Scripture also shows how when the people disobeyed the rules, they suffered and when they obeyed they prospered. After a while this cycle cost them the temple and the “land of milk and honey.” It could be that in order for the Messianic Age to come, that Jews should listen to what Jeremiah said: “Learn not the way of the nations, nor be dismayed at the signs of the heavens because the nations are dismayed at them, for the customs of the peoples are false.” (this is a slight paraphrasing of the opening verses of Jeremiah 10 – which also explicitly exposes the “Christmas tree” to be a pagan practice – over 2 thousand years before it became as common as it is now)

So what was Jesus’ purpose?

I believe Jesus was trying to be a reformer, not a redeemer/savior and his focus was on freeing us from religious doctrines and dogmas that had become overbearing and burdensome. Perhaps what he was teaching was that we could focus on simply “Loving one another”.

“But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it upon their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” (Jeremiah 31:33)

Here is the real New Covenant. Less outward ritual observances and more heart-driven loving kindness towards each other. The entire yoke of Torah needed to be simplified to the original summation that was contained within it.

“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 22:36-40)

Here the Teacher (Jesus) spliced together Deuteronomy 6:5 with Leviticus 19:18 to give us the summation of the Torah and the 2 rules that if all of us followed, would bring on an age where no nation raises a sword against another nation and we can all finally be at peace. This would be the fulfillment of hope and bring the Kingdom of Heaven here, on earth.

Stop talking and do something

English: A homeless man in Paris Français : Un...

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Faith does not feed the homeless, it does not assist the elderly, it does not protect the weak, or comfort widows and orphans. 

Faith does not house an injured veteran, it does not counsel the depressed, it does not provide healthcare to the poor.

People with big hearts do.

People who talk less and perform random acts of kindness are not as numerous as those who like to complain about the state of things.  Some people perform acts of kindness out of the goodness of their heart and some do them for self-gratification and recognition.  Either way it is our actions and not our personal beliefs that can affect the lives of other people. 

Many of the worlds religions rest the fate of mankind on a messianic figure of some kind.  Some believe this person will be a warrior who will defeat the forces of evil by force, some believe he already came and will return to finish what he started, and some believe that there have been messianic figures in the past and that more are to come – each one adding to the work of the other.

Instead of waiting around for someone why not look at yourself?  Every single person has the power to make a difference on their own.  There are so many stories of this happening in the past.  From Hercules, Noah, and Moses to George Washington, Martin Luther King Jr. and Gandhi. 

“Be the change you want to see in the world” ~Gandhi

It was a small group of ambitious men who ended the Divine right of kings in Europe and its grip on America.  It was a small group of people who inspired thousands to rise against dictators and topple oppressive regimes.  Why are you waiting around for someone else to “save” you or the rest of the world when you can do it yourself?  Every single one of us has the power to change the world for the better.  You don’t have to start a revolution or sacrifice your life either, it can be a simple act of kindness for a complete stranger that can start a ripple effect of kindness that can span a distance greater than you can imagine. 

 “Each person must see himself as though the entire world were held in balance and any deed he may do could tip the scales.”  ~Maimonides

I am not telling anyone to renounce their religion or any doctrines they may teach.  I am merely saying that it’s time to stop preaching about ending times and the collapse of morals in society and actually do something about it.  Sitting around and acting hopeless accomplishes nothing.  In my life time I have seen the rich get richer, the poor get poorer and people in positions of power that can do something about it (Washington, the Vatican, etc) do absolutely nothing about it.

Rather than spends billions of dollars fighting an ideology, why not spend those dollars on things like feeding the homeless, assisting the elderly, protecting the weak, comforting widows and orphans?   Maybe instead of waiting for a savior we can provide housing to an injured veteran, counsel the depressed, or provide healthcare to not just the poor but, every single person who needs it.

You can call me unrealistic, you can say I’m crazy, you can even tell me this is impossible.  If you did then it would just be a useless parade of words with little to no meaning and another example of a complete lack of action.  All of us have heard the expression “actions speak louder than words” but, how many of us actually try to help others?  How many of us show our children the necessity of having a charitable heart?  How many of us spend more time “keeping up with the Jones’s” instead of “helping out the Smith’s”?

If you think you can’t make a difference.  Just watch what happens when you actually try.

© Nelson Rose, The Quest for Light

Everybody Makes Mistakes

 
Fanciful rendering of the interior of a carria...

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One of the most difficult things for many people to do is admit that they have made a mistake or that they are wrong.  I have made so many mistakes, some intentional and some unintentional, that I could fill a book with my shortcomings.  Heck, there are things I probably did wrong that I don’t even know about.  No one is perfect and no one ever has been nor likely ever will be.

Mistakes can be classified as “sins” however that word is better interpreted as “falling short”.  The innate nature of a human being to focus inward instead of outward is the cause of the majority of our mistakes.  Then there are those unintentional ones that happen randomly which, although they may seem unintentional, can be corrected with effort.  Even though perfection as a human being is not possible, it is something that we should constantly pursue.  You can not throw your hands up and say I am who I am and I can’t change who I am.  This is the furthest thing from the truth.  You can’t change others, but you can absolutely change yourself.  Is this easy? Of course not, but it is possible.

Jewish tradition has a pretty interesting system for keeping the ethics and morals of the Torah fresh on the mind.  It is the tradition of wearing the tzitzit.  These are those tassels you see Orthodox Jews wear on the corners of their pants.  If you have ever wondered why they wear them there are actually 2 reasons:  The first is that it is a commandment and the second is to act as a constant reminder to, put it blunt, behave!

Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them, that they shall make themselves fringes on the corners of their garments throughout their generations, and they shall put on the corner fringe a blue (tekhelet) thread.  ~ Numbers 15:38

Now before you freak out, I am not telling you to go to the nearest Judaica store and buy some of these, I am just trying to convey the concept that in order to correct yourself or change behaviors it may be necessary to put reminders in place to help you.  (If you are Jewish and the tzitzit sound like a good idea to you – by all means do it!  You may help someone else remember in the process.)

Some other Jewish traditions include a head covering.  This one has also been adopted by the Amish, Muslims, and Catholic clergy.  The head covering is a reminder of the importance of humility.  Have you ever noticed that the “nicest” people you know are typically very humble?  Humility and kindness go hand in hand.  The first shortcoming we all should be aware of is vanity (this is one I am very guilty of myself).  How do you cure vanity?  I wish I knew what the silver bullet was for this one, but one of the things that I have been trying to do myself is think of someone I know that I admire for their kindness, charity, and humility, or I think of the many things I have done that I can’t undo.  If I am so great they never would have happened or I would have the power to undo them.  This has to be done with a measure of positivity though as well.  Otherwise you dig yourself into a hole of worthlessness as if you are some terrible wretch that deserves to be punished.  

There is a misconception by the Christian church that the Torah was designed to “show our sins” and that because of our sins we are destined to hell.  This is written nowhere in the Torah or the Prophets.  In fact it is the exact opposite.  The Torah was designed to show us how we should live and the way we should strive to be perfect.  Yes, there are things that are dated and maybe seem to make no sense – like being forbidden to eat pork.  However, when you peel back the layers and see that this was not just a dietary restriction for the sake of healthy foods (lets face it pork is very high in sodium) it was to suppress man’s thirst for blood. 

Is it possible to follow all the rules in the Torah?  No.  Did anyone ever achieve such a level of perfection? No.  (To my Christian friends please do not take offense.  The very first command given to man was to “be fruitful and multiply”.  Jesus had no children and there is nothing in Christian scriptures that indicates any attempt was even made to fulfill this command.  He therefore fell short).    Do you have to follow all 613 rules?  Only if you are Jewish.  If you are not Jewish there are really only 7 rules to follow.  These are known as the Noahide laws and they are:

  1. Acknowledge that there is only one God who is Infinite and Supreme above all things. Do not replace that Supreme Being with finite idols, be it yourself, or other beings. This command includes such acts as prayer, study and meditation.
  2. Respect the Creator. As frustrated and angry as you may be, do not vent it by cursing your Maker.
  3. Respect human life. Every human being is an entire world. To save a life is to save that entire world. To destroy a life is to destroy an entire world. To help others live is a corollary of this principle.
  4. Respect the institution of marriage. Marriage is a most Divine act. The marriage of a man and a woman is a reflection of the oneness of God and His creation. Disloyalty in marriage is an assault on that oneness.
  5. Respect the rights and property of others. Be honest in all your business dealings. By relying on God rather than on our own conniving, we express our trust in Him as the Provider of Life.
  6. Respect God’s creatures. At first, Man was forbidden to consume meat. After the Great Flood, he was permitted – but with a warning: Do not cause unnecessary suffering to any creature.
  7. Maintain justice. Justice is God’s business, but we are given the charge to lay down necessary laws and enforce them whenever we can. When we right the wrongs of society, we are acting as partners in the act of sustaining the creation.

So what do you do when you fall short?  The good news is there isn’t some horrific place where you will suffer for an eternity because you stole a snickers bar or lied to your mom.  However, you have to acknowledge the mistake and make a conscious effort to not repeat it.  If you have done something to someone else you have to apologize and ask for forgiveness.  Whether they forgive you or not is on their merit.  For those things you do (or don’t do) that had no impact on someone else you need to recognize the mistake and strive not to repeat it.

A parting thought for reflection:

What is worse, the mistakes you have made or the opportunities for doing a good deed that you have avoided?

(Note the text for the Seven Noahide Laws is from www.chabad.org)

© Nelson Rose, The Quest for Light

From Olympus to Twitter…

The mythical Mount Olympus in northern Greece....

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Thousands of years before the modern era there were statues and temples all across Greece and Rome that paid homage to various gods, goddesses, and even demigods. We tend to look back on those times as if they were mythological fiction but, the truth is there really was a time when many people believed Zeus was the father of mankind, the King of the Gods, and ruled the world from on top of Mount Olympus. (In Roman mythology Zeus was Jupiter and ruled from the sky). Both Zeus and Jupiter were associated with the sun and the sky. In Egyptian mythology we have the same sun deity in the sun-god Ra and in ancient Mesopotamia/Canaan people were worshiping Baal. There were gods and goddess for everything and the gods at times seduced innocent young women who would give birth to demigods like Hercules, Perseus, and so on. These demigods were often heroes who would save lives from hideous beast and save souls from the clutches of Hades, the god of the Underworld (sound familiar?). These were real beliefs and some of the temples are still standing to this very day to attest to the fact that people truly believed in these beings. It was a time when human sacrifices to the gods were commonplace and human life was not valued in any way. Daughters were sold off as sex slaves or offered up as virgin sacrifices and sons were forced to labor in the fields as if they were possessions rather than family.

Then along came a man named Abraham (Abram).

While there are many critics of Abraham, the first “Jew”, let’s look at what was accomplished by this man to whom the majority of the world is indebted to for their religions (in case you didn’t know Judaism, Christianity, and Islam all derived from Abraham). The Orthodox Jews will state that from Abraham came the mitzvah of Brit Milah (circumcision) and the divine right to the land of Israel but, a much broader view of what happened should be considered. There is much criticism and confusion surrounding the demand given to offer up Abraham’s son, Isaac, as a sacrifice. Critics of religion view it as an abhorrent and tyrannical request of a sadistic god when it was actually a demonstration of what needed to stop. Remember, this was an age when people would sacrifice their children to please the gods so when this request was made of Abraham it wasn’t as gruesome a request as we perceive it to be now. However, the sacrifice of Isaac was stopped abruptly because it was not desired. The God of Abraham wanted Abraham to value the life of his child and to not sacrifice him. It was made very clear that the sacrificing of a human being was abhorrent and it was not to be done to please God or to atone for any man – ever. This suddenly put a value on human life and was completely different then all the other religions that viewed the gods as blood thirsty and vengeful tyrants that sought to oppress and subject mankind to a divine servitude. It also is here that the concept of “a chosen people” is introduced. It is Jewish tradition that, Abraham and his descendants were chosen but, contrary to what many may think, it was not a one-way choice. Abraham made the choice to follow this one god and it was then promised that if the descendant made the same choice they would be the chosen people. This choseness has nothing to do with “salvation” either – those beliefs find their origins within the rise of the Christian and Islamic faiths. Nowhere is there ever any mention about eternal life or damnation in the Torah or in the rest of the Hebrew Scriptures. The choice was about leading holy and ethical lives or, to be more to the point, to act like we were created to act – in God’s image.

Fast forward a couple thousand years….

WAR! All across Europe Christians and Muslims were fighting for control of the holy land and for spreading their respective faiths – all the while oppressing the Jews or torturing them into conversion. Inquisitions laid waste to the diversity of Christian and Gnostic beliefs. The blood of millions was spread and for what? Holy living?

Fast forward some more…

A twisted cross, a man named Hitler… enough said on that topic.

Fast forward some more…

Mass media and technology have drastically shrunk the world we live in. It is all too easy to violate a person’s right to a private life with a simple “tweet” of fewer than 120 characters. People live in luxury a few hundred yards away from people who are starving. Morality is almost taboo when you watch some of the shows on television. We drive by ornate churches named after “saints” that are blocks away from under-funded schools and libraries. Yet we think somehow we’ve progressed when we have actually slipped back into the pre-Abrahamic mentality of materialism, self-centeredness, and immorality. We live in the age of “me” when it should be “we”.

Regardless of one’s beliefs in whether the Torah is based on historical facts or is actually divine in origin or not, it is very clear that within the text it lays out a framework of ethics that should be followed while we live our life – the only one we are really guaranteed to have. Granted some of the rituals have lost their relevance in times past but, the fundamentals of morality are undeniable. The faith-based obsessions with salvation or everlasting life in paradise do not and should not negate our obligation to live moral lives where we don’t just focus on our own interests but, on those of our neighbors as well. No reformer, redeemer, prophet, priest, or king can negate our moral obligations to each other or the necessity to lead a good life. Beliefs are great… actions are much better.

© Nelson Rose, The Quest for Light