Jesus said that the lawyers killed the Prophets. By this, he meant that they had corrupted the Prophets' teachings and revelations. The lawyers to which he referred were the Pharisaic lawyers, and their subject matter included not only the law of worship, but also the everyday law of contracts, injuries to others and so on. That was the only law there was at that time and place, except for that of the Roman occupiers, so it was all the law, and not only religious law. The Prophets, of course, were those who spoke for God, so what the lawyers did was tantamount to corrupting God’s word. He added that those who followed that corrupted law – the Pharisees – honoured those killers, building sepulchres for them. He continued, saying that the lawyers ignored the judgment and the love of God. He accused them of taking away the key of knowledge, of not being knowledgeable themselves, and of hindering others from becoming knowledgeable. (See Luke 11.)
In other words, in practical terms, they removed God from the laws.
The Christians have, in the same way, killed Jesus, by disregarding his main teachings in favour of others which were added on and claimed to be his. The Christians have removed God from what Jesus taught.
To illustrate how this happened, consider the United States, which was created about two and a half centuries ago. It is based on a short, simple document: the Constitution. That document has, as a prerequisite to understanding, the Declaration of Independence.
Now, go into a law library. There are millions of pages of judgments, statutes, opinions, commentaries, reviews, and more, most of which claim to derive their authority, even if indirectly, from the Constitution. The individual state constitutions, and the laws of the states, all the way down to local administrative districts, in turn, defer to the U.S. Constitution. There is a very tiny fraction of those millions of pages which are different in that they are some of the other writings of the founders, useful in that they sometimes explain what the writers themselves of the Constitution meant. Because these documents are relatively few, they can be disregarded here: what concerns us here is the millions of pages. Of course, the U.S. Constitution itself is in the law library, too: a few pages among millions. Yet what have these millions of pages, from lawyers, brought to us?
The Constitution says we get trials by jury. The lawyers and their millions of pages also say we do, except when we don’t. The Constitution says we have freedom of speech and the right to assemble and to petition for redress of grievances. The lawyers and their millions of pages say also say we do, except when we don’t. The Constitution limits the power of government, but the lawyers and the millions of pages say that those limits don’t always apply. The Constitution says a warrant is required, which must have specific preconditions, before searches and seizures, but the lawyers and their millions of pages say that isn’t true. The Constitution disagrees a lot with the lawyers and their millions of pages.
This turning the Constitution on its head, distorting its words until they are often devoid of meaning and power, has taken place in a mere two and a half centuries. The Constitutional rot which began shortly after its ratification has continued unabated, led by the lawyers who have left millions of pages along the trail to our post-Constitutional era. Well, it used to be a trail, now it’s a multi-lane highway.
There has for decades been a growing belief that Jesus, as an historical person, didn’t exist. The problem to historians is that there is no contemporaneous evidence that he did exist: everything we have is second and third hand or later repetition of what someone said or wrote. It’s hearsay, without even much circumstantial evidence. The Christian scriptures weren’t written down until long after he supposedly lived. The town of Nazareth was destroyed by the Assyrians several centuries before Jesus was supposedly born there, and wasn’t, according to archaeological evidence or any historical record, rebuilt until around 70 CE. We have libraries and museums containing abundant, contemporaneous, written records from the time, with details of everyday life, commerce, philosophy, religion, and much more – but no mention of Jesus or even of his followers until generations later. The written record is replete with internal contradictions as well as contradictions to stronger historical evidence. All of this doesn’t mean that Jesus didn’t exist, it only means that we have to take on faith that he did. And, as if that isn’t enough, since we don’t even know if he was an historical person, how do we know what he said, or would have said, when he was supposedly around?
Once a record does start to appear, generations later, we see that there were various groups which were to some extent or another followers of Jesus, or which included him in their doctrines. The Christians were a minority of these until at least the late second century CE. There is no contemporaneous, unbiased evidence that the Gospels – the first four books of the Christian New Testament – were anything but forged: written by others later, not by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, but attributed to them. (The scholars usually use a more polite word than “forged”: they describe them as pseudoepigraphical. What a nice word! Can’t you just imagine a lawyer using that word?) The various competing groups would steal from one another’s scriptures, modifying them in the process to make them more compatible with their own dogma, and would then release the amended versions as authoritative. The Christians stole from the non-Christians, and vice versa. There is justifiable doubt, even, that Paul, a.k.a. Saul of Tarsus, was a real person, either. Some of what made it into the Christian scriptures was adopted from other groups which didn’t even follow Jesus: it wasn’t in the earliest records, but was incorporated later.
If you’re still inclined to believe that the Christian New Testament mostly reflects what Jesus taught, then consider again the U.S. Constitution. Suppose that no one wrote down the Constitution. Suppose, further, that no one wrote down anything based on it until after the Civil War. The Constitution of today is not the Constitution of 1789. The Constitution of the Civil War wasn’t even the Constitution of 1789. If the U.S. Constitution has been so corrupted, despite being written, imagine how much the unwritten words and history of Jesus have been corrupted. Given that nothing had been written down of Jesus’ teachings in his own generation or in the generation following, why would we think that the Christian Scriptures of the third and fourth centuries CE would accurately reflect the teachings of Jesus?
In the same way that the laws and government of today would be unrecognizable to someone from 1789, the religion called “Christianity” would be unrecognizable to the followers of Jesus.
Probably the main tool used to change the Constitution has been to ignore it. Lawyers, when they find a law inconvenient, simple disregard it. Judges, who are almost always lawyers, do the same thing. For instance, some Federal judges say they can’t find a law that requires a warrant to issue for wiretapping: they just ignore the the Constitution. They look for justification for their decisions in those millions of pages, and can always find it if they’re diligent enough. A judge decides a case, then looks for the law to support him, the same as a lawyer working for a client has already made up his mind that his client is in the right. It’s the same tool used by most Christians when they look for justification for their beliefs: they look for the supporting evidence, and disregard the contrary evidence. You’ll still find the Constitution in the law library, it’s merely ignored.
Just as the lawyers wouldn’t argue that there wasn’t a Fourth Amendment, or whatever, the Christians won’t come out and say that Jesus was wrong when he said a rich man wouldn’t make it into heaven. Instead, they say that wealth is a blessing from God, a sign of his approval. Clearly, Jesus said that a rich man won’t make it into heaven (the camel through the eye of the needle verse, remember?), and he also said you can’t serve both God and material things, and told us that things of the earth rust and decay, but God is forever. So, since it pleases the lawyers, they ignore this, and make wealth a blessing, while liquor or inappropriate sex or whatever are sins. Somehow, I read it that Jesus said that wealth is a sin, since by sinning, we come short of the glory of God. As long as there are people starving in the world, wealth will be a sin. But most of the Christians would argue that our sins are forgiven, so wealth is acceptable, but for some reason drunkenness or rape or murder is not... Oh, I see, the issue of drunkenness isn’t before the court right now. It’s starting to sound like a legal argument, isn’t it?
So what did Jesus, if there was a Jesus, really say?
It’s still mostly there, just usually ignored, or covered over with layers of illogic and lawyer talk. Like the Constitution, it’s very short compared to the millions of pages, most of which are trash.
The two most important laws are “love God with all your heart”, and “love your neighbour as yourself”, which are alike. By example, your neighbour includes those from other countries and peoples. (The “Good Samaritan” was from Samaria, not Judaea, and he wasn’t Jewish. The Samaritans and the Judaeans were often then in conflict.)
Material things, including earthly wealth, are bad for your spiritual health. If you are wealthy, you won’t make it to heaven.
The test to get into heaven is, Did you care for the sick, the poor, the hungry, those in prison, and others in need? If not, you don’t get in. If you did, you get in. (See the parable of the sheep and the goats, Matthew 25.) There are no special bonus questions such as, Do you believe the right things? Were you baptized? Did you tithe? Did you join the right church? It’s very simple: it’s about loving your less fortunate neighbours.
The kingdom of heaven, God, is within you. It’s not out there, in some church or other institution. He’s inside. Compatible with “know yourself”, “be still, so you can hear the still, small voice, and know that I am God”, and so on.
No one is to be worshipped except God himself, and God wants to be worshipped by you loving your neighbour as yourself. We're all his creations: would you abuse, trash, kill, not care for, or otherwise damage or hurt your boss's stuff? If he gives you a gift, or lends you something, or asks you to keep something for him, do you disrespect the gift or item lent?
The truth (of the above) will make you free. By accepting the above, you liberate yourself from churches, religions, political dogma, and other philosophies.
Combining these, whenever two or more are gathered in God’s name, God is there. “In God’s name” means, “as loving neighbours loving their other neighbours” according to the above. Not an earthly, institutional church, but a church defined, moment to moment, by the spirit of anyone who chooses to be a member. God may be there at one time, but if the purpose of loving your neighbours and loving God goes away, then so does the promise of God to participate. If a few guys get together in the pub once in a while over a pint for the purpose of making sure that the widows and orphans in town are fed and clothed and housed, they’re every bit as much one of God’s churches as the people who meet once a week in the brick building with the cross, down the street.
You can be your own church: just find someone to love, someone to take care of. That’s two, so God will be there.
The rest, as the rabbi said, is commentary. There is no single, official church. Baptism, tithing, showing up once a week, drinking the wine and eating the cookies, recruiting new members for some earthly church, miracles, resurrection, redemption, forgiveness of sins, not hitting the sauce, not hitting on your neighbour’s wife or husband, and so on, are all details, and don’t mean anything unless the “judgment and love of God” are observed first (see Luke 11). And when you get to the Pearly Gates, in the end, there’s only one thing that matters anyway: Did you care for those in need?
All the rest is the Christians’ version of the million pages.Some end notes:
Note 1: To be fair, the Muslims and Buddhists, and Taoists and others all have the same problem with historicity. There is no contemporaneous historical record of Mohammed, nor of Lao Tse, and so on. Does it really matter? When Jesus told his parables, would it matter if they weren’t historically correct? For example, if he just invented the story of the ten talents, and there weren’t three servants and those events never happened that way, would the parable have any less meaning?
Note 2: If you apply this same analysis to most other religions and philosophies – to Islam, to Taoism, to Buddhism, and the rest – then you get more or less the same core teachings. In Islam, charity is the most important act; in Buddhism, it’s compassion, and so forth. Most of the rest is million-pages stuff. That’s what God cares about, the God inside you, not whether you take the plunge or bow toward Mecca. If you do this, seeking God-inside-you first, loving your neighbour, the rest happens automatically as a consequence. If you love God, you might be inclined to show it by bringing offerings to the shrine, by drinking the wine and eating the cookies in remembrance, by burning incense or meeting in the woods under a full moon or some other way. But all of the law is founded upon those two commandments: love God, love your neighbour. The rest is commentary.
Note 3: The Christian church was, from the beginning, uncentralized. The Eastern Orthodox tradition continues this: there is no central organization or headquarters, only the bishops of the individual sees. (There are certainly, however, differences of opinion and disputes. They agree to disagree.) Christianity wasn’t headquartered in Rome or anywhere else. Eventually, after various disputes about doctrinal and other issues, the Latin church separated from the main body, declaring the Roman bishop, known as the pope, to be head over all the other bishops. This schism became formal in 1054 CE. The Latin church, now centred in Rome, adopted practices and doctrines which eventually led to the Protestant Reformation beginning in the sixteenth century CE. No such thing happened in the Eastern church, because the Eastern church had stayed closer to the original doctrine; it was the changes made by the Roman church which engendered most of the complaints by Martin Luther. Martin Luther was merely trying to undo a thousand years of corruption. If you want to know what the earlier church was like, after around the fourth century CE, look at the Eastern church, which has stayed closer to the practices and doctrines of that time, rather than looking at Western Christianity. As already noted, it wasn’t until the third century that the Christian church became ascendant over the non-Christian followers of Jesus. (And you thought that all followers of Jesus were Christian? The victors got to write the history.)
Note 4: Merely because the Eastern church is close to the third or fourth century church doesn’t mean that what it teaches all comes from God. There was still a gap of well over a century, maybe five or six generations, where the lawyers were busy changing and amending and otherwise corrupting the original teachings with nothing written down. And the corruption continued even afterward.
Note 5: There is nothing to mean, in the previous remarks, that God would think ill of any formal, established church, merely because it was recognized officially in some way. He doesn’t care if you’re official or not, as long as you follow the law, including the first law to love God and your neighbours. Of course, Jesus also said, “Woe unto the lawyers”, because, he said, they had “hindered” those who sought God. Teaching anything that takes away, even as a distraction, from the main principles listed above, is counted as a hindrance.
Note 6: On the subject of law and lawyers, I recommend the book, Woe Unto You, Lawyers!, by Fred Rodell (1907-1980), who was a professor of law at Yale Law School. His family released the copyright, so the book is legitimately and freely available on the web. Written by an expert, it’s an exposition of how lawyers have corrupted the law. You don’t need a law education to follow it. Just as a prosecutor will sometimes want to show photos of the corpse to a jury, he, in a few places, asks you to focus on a small amount of legal writing. Those parts aren’t fun, but that’s the only way to appreciate the extent to which the judges and lawyers torture their victim. Rodell is famous for having said, “There are two things wrong with almost all legal writing. One is its style. The other is its content. That, I think, about covers the ground.” Right on!
Note 7: Loving your neighbour doesn’t count if you steal from him at the same time. You can’t pay someone less than he’s worth, or take his property by force, compensated or not, or bully him by physical force or by out-smarting him, or expose him to poisons or damage his home or land, or destroy his country with warfare, or buy off or otherwise corrupt his government, and pretend to make it better by giving him handouts or charity once in a while. When you do, you’re not giving him anything that wasn’t his in the first place. Also: just as, when you hire a killer, you’re also guilty of murder, when you vote for a killer or thief, then you’re also guilty of the crimes committed at your behest.
Note 8: The word, “church”, means a gathering of people. Later, the meaning changed over time to mean the place where they gathered, or the institution they formed. It's just people getting together, that's all. The Greek word, ἐκκλησία, or ekklesia, means the same thing. The word was used, for example, for the popular assembly which was the main institution of the Athenian democracy. The name, “Ecclesiastes”, supposed author of the Bible book of the same name, means “gatherer”; it is a translation of the Hebrew קֹהֶלֶת, or Kohelet.
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