In this series:
what is real
I think the New Testament is obsessed with the question of what is real.
Of course, this is amply predated earlier in the scriptures. The Jewish prophets spent a lot of time and energy telling people that idols weren't real, that they were made of wood and stone.
Which, when you think about it, is kind of odd. According to normal critiques of religion, the impulse to worship a god comes from the need for some kind of comfort against the harsh realities of life. If this were the case, why would the Jewish people highlight this effect so strongly? Wouldn't they want to obscure this phenomenon?
Regardless, when you get to Jesus and the early Christians, this analysis is turned upon the system of organized religion. Jesus begins it when he talks to the Samaritan woman, and answers her question about which place of worship is best by pointing out that God is spirit, and so those who worship God have to be concerned about what is true.
In other words, the temple isn't really real. It's just a box.
Jesus takes it farther. He points out that what a person eats doesn't tell you anything about who they really are - it's what they say that reveals the truth.
With one critique, Jesus just eradicated the temple, the dietary, and the purity laws.
Paul and the rest of the early Christians continue the critique, pointing out that God doesn't live in a box, that circumcision doesn't mean anything, that ceremonial washings, and animal sacrifices, and special foods, and special days, and special times - are all irrelevant.
As the author of Hebrews puts it, they are all shadows, at their best, pointing to something else. And what they point to is the real truth, the facts of human action and psychology and relationships.
This was the obsession of the early Christians. Paul spends most of his time applying theological ideas to the intricacies of how the rich and the poor could eat together as equals. James says real religion is to care for people, and to practice real relationships.
Sharing food is real. Conversation is real. Relationships are real. What you do every day is real. The bed you sleep on at night, and your shoes, and your coat, and your interaction with the checkout person at the grocery store - these things are the substance of your life.
Everything in organized religion was just an attempt to get close to those things. And everything in organized religion today is a parody of those things: Artificial community, artificial meals, artificial conversation and artificial learning.
They're just shadows, and the reality is right in front of you.