In this series:
Christianity against religion
Recently, I've had renewed interest in presenting a viewpoint I worked years and years to realize. When I was working on understanding it, I assumed that once I finished researching, I would be able to explain it to the world. But as is often the case, once I had finished, I had ventured so far from where I began, I wondered if it was even worth the time. I had, after all, changed in the process.
I'm talking about my understanding the message of Jesus as the rejection of organized religion.
This was my first truly revolutionary understanding - the insight that changed the way I thought about myself and my world. I reached it by following the lines of argument that the Church of Christ (my "birth" religion) had laid out - but unlike most others, I followed those arguments to their natural conclusions.
For now, I just want to sketch out what that looks like, and lay out a map of where I'm going with this.
God is spirit. Jesus and Paul seem to see this insight as the core realization of the New Testament, the fact that changes everything. Jesus uses it to reject temples, rituals, and other forms of worship, to disavow religious hierarchy of all kinds, and to declare all foods clean. Paul uses it to reject circumcision, to proclaim the equality of women, slaves, Jew, and gentile, and to free all of his hearers from the bonds of the Law. The idea is simple: God is spirit, thus God does not care about external divisions or observances. God is spirit, thus the only thing God cares about is our spiritual state.
No barriers to God. Building on the previous insight, Jesus' entire career can be seen as an attempt to free access to God from the constraints of religion, priesthood, and ritual. Access to God is available to everyone, everywhere.
Universal brotherhood of man. Though phrased as classic humanism, this is a core idea of the New Testament, that all humanity is equal and created in the image of God. This was Paul's first sermon to the gentile world.
Full equality of women. The bible makes four things very clear: that men and women were created to equally bear the image of God, that male dominance is a result of human brokenness, that full inclusion of women was a primary feature of the prophesied New Covenant, and that the first Christians scandalously included women as full equals in public settings.
Shadows vs Truth. As the first Christians saw it, symbolic rituals were only shadows of the reality that was truly important - one's spiritual state. Thus, every ritual was to be removed in favor of real life and relationship. Where organized religion promoted actions that had no inherent value (sacrifices, washings, etc), Christians promoted loving one's neighbor, helping the poor, and protecting the innocent.
"Church" was the rich following Jesus' instructions, and inviting the poor, the lame, the blind, the slaves, and the Jews into their homes to party. They were used to inviting each other, but by inviting those outside of their social group, they created a scandalous testament of human equality to the ancient world.
"The Lord's Supper" was the rich sharing their food with the poor, eating together as equals.
The "deacons" were those who volunteered to distribute food to the poor. The "bishops" were those who looked after the orphans and widows.
There was no Sunday morning church, no worship service, no religious rituals, no central church treasury, no hierarchy of religious leaders, no congregations, no denominations, no church names, no church signs, no preachers, no worship music. Nothing like an organized religion.
Some people think it's okay to be spiritual without organized religion. Others think that Christianity originally had no organized religion. But I think that Christianity was actually the rejection of religion altogether - the embrace of God and relationship outside of any artificial constructions.
These are some of the basics, some of the things I want to expand upon and demonstrate more fully. If you have any questions or feedback, I'd love to hear them.