Tuesday 22 February 2011

The propoganda of religion

As this review says "The Power of Now makes frequent references to enlightened masters such as Jesus and Buddha.".

The Power of Now was the first time that I had ever heard Jesus described as an enlightened master. After being born into the Christian tradition, I rejected the principle of belief in favour of the Buddhist path of self discovery. The idea of Jesus as an enlightened individual (buddha) rather than "the son of God", was extremely interesting to me, and opened my perspective. That kind of sat in my subconscious until I read this blog, which although is rather an evangelical attack on Christianity, I find the arguments compelling. Basically the most interesting (to me) of his many points is that the Bible is a misinterpretation of what Jesus actually taught. This is due to the fact that later books of the Bible well written as much for propaganda as for historical accuracy. The propaganda rather than historical accuracy viewpoint goes a long way to explaining why there are many contradictions in the Bible, as would not be the case in a bland historical record. A beautiful illustration of the scale of these contradictions can be found here.

Contradiction aside though, to me, this propaganda insight lends a lot of credence to the idea that Jesus was an enlightened individual. There is no smoke without fire after all, and so although the "bible" can be ignored, there is probably at lot of value to be gained by reading the actual parables i.e. what Jesus said. It will be interesting to go back and read the parables from the perspective of an enlightened Master teaching, without getting distracted by all of the "son of God" nonsense. I imagine this is similar to Muhammad in the Koran, but I will admit to being ignorant on this matter. Here is a rather long extract from the blog that got me thinking this way which I will leave you to ponder (there is much more here):

"The theology of the evangelists--and specifically their Christology (the nature of Christ)--developed into more grandiose claims as Jesus' life moved further into the past. If you wish to discover this for yourself, I advise you to successively read the Gospel of Mark (almost universally agreed to be the earliest Gospel written between A.D. 65-70) and the Gospel of John (agreed to be the latest Gospel written between A.D. 90-100) in a single sitting. Ask yourself this question; are they telling the same story? In Mark's Gospel, Jesus largely speaks in parables and evasive third-person proclamations about someone called "the Son of Man." In John's Gospel, Jesus tells no parables and spends most of the time talking about himself, his godly status, and what the future will bring.
So, here is a brief lesson in the development of the concept of Jesus as God - the transition from focusing on what Jesus said to focusing on who he was. We will only look at the beginning and the end; Jesus' birth and death. Changing the birth and death of Jesus is the most direct route to altering Jesus' status from one contained within a life to one transcending it.

First the birth narratives. In Mark there is no birth narrative. Jesus' higher metaphysical standing begins when He is chosen at his baptism. This is a story that Jews would have known well. The Old Testament is replete with God adopting servants - sometimes even called "sons" - during a communicative moment in their lives. Mark did not believe Jesus' status differed greatly from God's chosen sons of the past; David, Elijah, Moses, Elisha etc. In fact, in writing for a Jewish audience, he thought it important to strongly align Jesus with the prophets of old. Mark's Christology is thoroughly earthly and - when judged against later alterations - mundane. However, this aspect of Mark is of paramount importance; the earliest Evangelist, the one least removed from Jesus' life, did not know what Christians now "know." It is simply absurd to believe that, of all the things Mark knew about Jesus and with all the time he took to compose and disseminate his gospel, Mark just didn't know that Jesus' birth was a once-in-an-eternity miraculous event. While Mark certainly plays up the figure of Jesus, he was not willing to go that far. When Mark is taken by itself--a gospel lacking a birth narrative and a resurrection narrative (the last twelve verses are almost universally agreed to be later additions), fraught with a persistent "messianic secret" in which no Apostle is able to completely understand Jesus' status, and Jesus' constant, oblique, third person references to a figure called the "son of man" (almost assuredly a reference to Daniel 7:13)--no interpretation even remotely resembling Christianity can be culled from it. Instead Mark fits squarely into well-known traditional Jewish stories of chosen prophets instructing the Jews as to God's will.

For Matthew and Luke this "Jewish Jesus" would not do. Rather than taking a modern viewpoint that the earlier source should be trusted (that is, if you care about historical accuracy which, as I've said, they clearly did not), Matthew and Luke (written c. 80-90) decide to insert important "facts" into Mark's general narrative that raise the status of Jesus to a figure whose scope extends beyond Judaism. With this in mind, doctoring what he said was not as important as doctoring who he was. Thus, they go back to his birth and tell incompatible, incredible, and clearly manufactured stories of Jesus' miraculous birth to a virgin. In doing so they both establish Jesus' higher ontological status than the prophets of old, and - by bending over backwards to place Jesus in Bethleham - they make sure that Jesus satisfies the prophecy that the Messiah was to come from the "city of David."

Looking at the differences between the Synoptics, we are also able to see the solution to the oft-mentioned "problem" of Jesus' missing years. Other than Luke's small story of a twelve-year-old Jesus teaching in the Temple, we have no other (canonical) stories of Jesus between birth and baptism. By comparing Mark with Matthew and Luke, the obvious answer presents itself; such stories didn't exist because no one cared about Jesus until he established a ministry. Jesus' "missing years" are no more bothersome than the "missing years" of the majority of Hebrew prophets.

But John would change everything and one-up all who came before him. Jesus wasn't merely "chosen," "adopted" or created from a miraculous set of circumstances. No, Jesus is something else all together. Feeling it wasn't good enough to go back to the beginning of His ministry or the beginning of His life, John decides to go back to the beginning of time (John 1:1 "In the beginning was the word...") to establish the nature of Jesus. Thus, Jesus has been raised to the ultimate heights; dizzying heights that would have confused and shocked Mark.

Likewise, the death of Jesus changes dramatically throughout the Gospels. The changes (of which there are many more than these) can be summed up in the three different accounts of the last words of Jesus: Mark 15:34 and Matthew 27:46 "My god, my god, why have you forsaken me." Luke 23:46 "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit." John 19:30 "It is finished." The development of Christianity is encapsulated in the move from the utterance of pain, ignorance, nonacceptance, and suffering seen in Mark and Matthew to the statement of acceptance, foreknowledge, and peace that is seen in John. These are incompatible interpretations of Jesus. The character in the gospels may have the same name but it is not the same man hanging on the cross.

The Gospels are guides to belief written by believers. This is a horribly unreliable way to learn accurate information. When you already believe "The Truth," distortions that you consciously engage in - that you see as promoting "The Truth" - are not seen as lies, but rather, as efficacious ways of getting "The Truth" to the hearts of readers. We don't know why the evangelists believed as they did, but in the gospels they don't give us the reasons they believe, they give us reasons to believe; an entirely different matter. But we do KNOW that the theological conception of Jesus changed as the believers grew more distant from his life. What Christians believe most fervently (i.e. Jesus being God, appearing after he died, dying for the sins of the world) are concepts that were developed later. They are concepts that did not exist in the earliest generations of Christian belief. They certainly did not exist when Jesus was alive.

Early Christians invented myths to overcome the "stumbling-block" (1 Cor. 1:23) of the cross. Paul knew that, for the Jews and Gentile Greeks, the execution of Jesus represented a major problem. The "king of the jews" was not supposed to be an executed lowly peasant. The "savior of mankind" was not a common criminal. Over time, theological concepts developed that explained this hang-up. Thus, an executed traitor was turned into a victorious Messiah."

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