Sunday, April 12, 2009

Jesus, Judaism, Myth, and Belief

I am not a fan of organized religion. For the most part I am not a joiner of any group and I believe that organized religion has caused much more problems that it has solved. I do believe in the teachings of Jesus and that in some important way his presence was important to the development of our world. You cannot easily dismiss someone who lived two thousand years ago and whose message and life still impacts billions of people worldwide.

Growing up Jewish, Jesus was never viewed by my Hebrew school teachers as someone we should study, admire of even look upon favorably. In many ways he was viewed as the enemy. It is a little difficult to see Jesus objectively when you are brought up with this viewpoint. It was only when I moved to Lancaster and escaped from the influences of the predominant Jewish culture in which I was raised that I was able to investigate Jesus and who he really was.

I don't know for sure whether Jesus ever lived or not. Matter of fact I went to a workshop by a religiious scholar, Timothy Freke, from Glastonbury England who with his partner Peter Gandy has written a number of well researched and clearly thought out books explaining in a very convincing way that Jesus was a mythological character and that the "Jesus Myth" has been part of many other traditions that preceded Jesus . The idea of a spiritual master being born of a virgin, baptized by another spiritual bigwig, killed by his enemies, and then resurrected is a common story existing in many other traditions.

Whether Jesus actually existed is not as important though as what he represents. First of all what began to make sense to me in my spiritual searching was that the Jewish people at the time of Jesus' supposed incarnation were off the track in their views and beliefs. They had drifted off the path of spirituality and were putting too much emphasis on the letter of the law and not enough on the spirit of the law. Their God, the God of the Old Testament was a wrathful God, not a very attractive or inspiring one. Jesus came along and tried to wake up the Jewish people to a new and more attractive view.

His main message was that it was not important to follow six hundred or more laws that for the most part were trivial in their intent. What was important was to love your neighbor, love God,( an idea that needs to be understood through deeper study and personal development) and to cast aside your old ways, your old beliefs, your old personality, and be born again into a higher, more compassionate and more loving nature. This rings true to me.

What has happened though is that like all great teachings Jesus' message has become distorted and used by power seekers for their own advantage. In the name of Jesus, there have been an incredible amount of atrocities committed. You could look them up very easily if you have the inclination. This does not in any way take away from the value of Jesus's teaching. The message of Jesus or the "Jesus Myth" is a powerful life changing one. What I have done at times is close my eyes, visualize my image of this man called Jesus, and then try to fill myself up with the love, or agape that I imagine was the essense of his being. This has helped me during difficult times.

I still consider myself Jewish. I don't believe that Jesus' teaching are the only valid ones that have been give to us. I just don't believe (as I feel Bill Maher did in his movie Religulous) that we should throw the baby out with the bath water. Just because we see a lot of wackos and hypocrites in the many Christian sects and denominations doesn't mean that there isn't something valuable that can be gained by exploring this man called Jesus.


  1. Fantastic blog Ira. Quality writing. Original, ironic perspective. So many great posts on here. I enjoy reading and have to come by more often. Of course this particular post piqued my interest. Of course I’m going to push back on it.

    This is a blog comment so I’ll be brief, but I think you dangerously oversimplify a nuanced and infinitely complex thing when you say:

    “(Judaism was) putting too much emphasis on the letter of the law and not enough on the spirit of the law. Their God, the God of the Old Testament was a wrathful God, not a very attractive or inspiring one. Jesus came along and tried to wake up the Jewish people to a new and more attractive view… (Jesus’) main message was that it was not important to follow six hundred or more laws that for the most part were trivial in their intent. What was important was to love your neighbor, love God.”

    For one, this is basic Christian theology. Nothing new. No great insight. My mom and others make the same point to me all the time. Christianity desperately wants to believe this. It needs to believe this. Also, I think this argument is intellectually lazy and lacks integrity in many ways. It’s too simple. Its seeming profundity lies there like a trap. The universe only reveals its secrets very begrudgingly, requiring work and discipline. I know you are fond of the phrase “nothing is what it seems”. I think it could apply here. Furthermore, this argument takes absolutely no knowledge of Judaism in account and at best represents a dumbed-down interpretation of the Torah. Finally, the Roman occupation of Judea, the execution of key Jewish spiritual leaders and the threat of losing the oral tradition played a major role in all of this. We should discuss these things some time.

    And all of this is to say nothing of mysticism—a mutually favorite topic and something tragically divorced from Christianity. I think more than any kind of “Jesus myth”, Christianity is history’s best example of what happens when people become intoxicated with the idea of “messianism”. Mystically speaking, it’s the highest. And the most powerful.


  2. Hey Steve, your reply was impressive, very well written and thought out. I agree with your assessment of my intellectually laziness. I am writing this blog to express my true thoughts and feelings in the moment not to convince or impress. I do feel Christianity and the understanding of who Jesus was has a lot to offer. Anyway, thanks for comments. They motivated me.

  3. No, no, no. I didn’t mean YOUR intellectual laziness. I would never come off on you like that. Sorry if it seemed so. It’s my fault for writing in a way that allows my words to be so easily taken out of context. Moments like these are when Seth usually accuses me of sanctimony. Reading my comment and others like it, it’s easy to see why.

    You’ve always been someone I looked up to and admired. You’re probably one of the least intellectually lazy people I’ve ever known. What the hell does that even mean?

    I was talking about the intellectual laziness of the basic Christian position in your post, the one I cited. I was basically talking about Christianity.

    Of course I think Christianity has much to teach. My own experience speaks to that. 50 bazillion Jesus fans can't be wrong.

    I also cop a major resentment against Christianity that, I’m kind of sure, is independent of my obvious emotional baggage regarding it. Without getting too much into it, I find so many things wrong with its basic premise on an intellectual and spiritual level. Sometimes I just react. Knee jerk.

    Christianity tugs at the heartstrings. One feels Jesus’ love to the degree to which one is able to “open the heart” to him because he loves you and died for you on the cross. He knows what its like to feel rejected and scorned, just like you. How could you reject him? His blood is red, just like yours.

    Charismatic ministry. Its charm is emotive, lotus-like. I think we’ve spoken about this before.

    It's also the epitome of anti-intellectualism. Like all anti-intellectual movements, Christianity’s outer guise conceals a deep existential anxiety—the fact that it cannot withstand rigorous scrutiny. Think Sarah Palin.

    Reason and logic are key human faculties. I feel any true spiritual system should work in tandem with them to achieve progress, similar to the way the conscious person uses the body to facilitate the soul's development. Shouldn't healthy spiritual growth actualize some aspect of both our illogical and logical faculties rather than depend on the suppression of one? This just makes sense to me.

    I wasn’t trying to impress or convince. I was trying to agree with you that, at a glance, it’s easy to see Christianity as something more focused on love, kindness, peace, understanding and compassion. That's its charisma.

    I was also trying to say one should look at the whole picture. Christianity claims to be axiomatically derived from the Torah, yet a basic understanding of Torah and Jewish history reveals otherwise.

    At Christianity’s core are many false claims regarding its Jewish spiritual roots as well a fuzzy mysticism lacking any connection to earth spirituality or cosmic consciousness.

    What I feel is dangerous about Christianity is the way it pits intellectualism against consciousness, that the two are mutually exclusive. That reason and logic are barriers to spiritual progress and that one needs to disconnect them in order to connect with higher consciousness. I believe Christianity makes this demand upon an individual sooner or later.

    In the end, it’s all just charisma because close your eyes now, don’t you just want it so badly? Can’t you just feel it? Say, “I’m here Lord!” Say it again, this time feel it. Louder! Can I get an Amen?

    Seth says you and Phyllis come to NYC sometimes. Let me know next time you come. We’d love to have you for dinner or lunch.