For the past several months on this blog, I have written religious threads that challenge the orthodox ‘message’ presented in most Christian churches in the U.S. Recent scholarship in the search for the historical Jesus has provided the world with challenges to the orthodox messages presented in the Gospels and the letters of the early church. Those gospels and letters provide the basis of traditional Christian beliefs. For many mainstream Christians, some of the stories in the so-called Old Testament are overt fantasies; Noah’s ark and Jonah in the belly of the fish easily come to mind. Yet, few of these same Christians find much fantasy in the Gospel stories. Rather, as Jesus is considered Divine and therefore capable of performing superhuman deeds, stories of the water into wine, feeding 5000, walking on water, raising the dead and himself from the dead are taken as truths to most Christians.
I would imagine that most Christians don’t give a damn about exploring their ‘faith’ more deeply because, after all, it is mere faith. The good nuns or Sunday school teachers are proud of their teaching. Most of those teachers didn’t know any better and, consequently, neither do their pupils. Excusable ignorance. Yet this is the 21st century, not the 5th. Imagine a CEO of some large corporation sitting in church on Sunday morning hearing but not listening to the sermon being preached. His mind wanders back to the innovation report that was given him on Friday- a document that insists that the corporation needs to beef up its R&D department to keep pace with its competition. If he were he paying attention to the sermon, he would hear much the same as a stage coach manufacturer in the 18th century would have heard in his pew. Or a cannon ball maker in the 14th century. Or a shield maker in the 4th century.
Sadly, little has changed in the past 1700 years since the edicts of the Council of Nicea. In fact, that CEO in church would, later in the service, mouth the words that the Roman general Constantine approved. Words which were carefully crafted to denounce the various heresies that floated around in the 4th century CE. He doesn’t know that, but he mumbles them mindlessly anyhow. Heresies of early Christian groups which the church squelched and history has long forgotten. He doesn’t care; it’s ritual and perhaps even reassuring in an odd way. What about that brand new word recently inserted in the Catholic version of the Nicene Creed, the word consubstantial? Elegantly difficult and thereby undoubtedly a holy improvement.
Would he, would they, want to know anything beyond their 8th grade religion class or is all of that quite enough to ‘know?’ For a great majority of Christians today the answer is no. Enough already. They are fine with where they left off. Their faith will save them, so-to-speak. As did the passengers on the Titanic. Surely, though, there is no risk of death in holding religious beliefs. True enough as long as these beliefs do not impinge on the rights of others in society. Or legislation. As Sen. Paul of Kentucky recently spoke of the 1st Amendment, we all recall the edict therein that one is both free of and from religious persecution.
I digress. The question in the title of this post remains: What if they knew? What if they knew the key findings of scholars of the historical Jesus? Men and women of the Jesus Seminar, for instance. Or authors like John Shelby Spong, John Dominic Crossan, Marcus Borg, Robin Meyers, Don Cupitt and Karen Armstrong who seek to remove the old varnish and lift layers of politics and theology from the Gospel accounts. If today’s Christians read the slimmed-down versions of the Gospels and other canonically accepted books and letters in the New Testament- versions that have been stripped of layers of add-ons- would they be happy or angry? Would it embolden their faith or emasculate it?
Of course, it is a moot question at the present time because the vast majority of Christians sitting in the pews don’t know what they don’t know. It has been secreted from them. Many of the new scholars are or were once clerics in the church and learned in divinity school about the gilded Gospels yet they never had the courage to share this knowledge with the faithful. ‘They couldn’t handle it’ quipped one author. ‘It would be heresy’ said another. Thus, the faithful remain just that: filled with faith that the stuff they learned is true.
Here are a few ‘heretical’ items that the Jesus Seminar and other scholars of the historic Jesus have presented:
1. the authors of the Gospels are unknown and they were not the disciples who walked with Jesus;
2. the language of Jesus and his followers was Aramaic while the gospels were first written in Greek and none are original, only copies of copies;
3. Mark wrote the first gospel 40 years after the death of Jesus; Matthew and Luke copied his ten years later and they added more; John’s gospel was written nearly 30 years after Mark;
4. the Gospel of Thomas may have been penned earlier than Mark, even though it was rejected in the canon of the church; many of the authentic sayings of Jesus appear in that gospel.
5. the gospels are not a biography of the adult life of Jesus;
6. the nativity scenario never happened, it is absent in Mark, John and Paul;
7. the resurrection is doubted by most scholars of the seminar; Mark did not pen it either;
8. anything in the gospel before John the Baptist is fantasy;
9. Jesus only stated 3 beatitudes.
10. there was a last supper, but not the Last Supper; there were no words of consecration.
Well, that is enough to digest for now. So, what about these 10 statements? Are they too much for the average American Christian to accept?