The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

Remembering Jesus

I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ. —Gandhi

I am not a MarxistMarx

So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets—Matthew 7:12

(Something reminded me of this, so back to the top, even if I did just miss Easter. Originally published April 4, 2010.)

On this Easter Sunday, if you believe in Jesus, I tell you this: Don’t ask yourself what you think Jesus would do, because it’s clear most Christians don’t have the faintest idea. Instead, ask yourself these questions:

  1. What have I done to Jesus?
  2. What have those I support done to Jesus?

35 For I was hungry, and you gave me to eat: I was thirsty, and you gave me to drink: I was a stranger, and you took me in: 36 Naked, and you covered me: sick, and you visited me: I was in prison, and you came to me. 37 Then shall the just answer him, saying: Lord, when did we see you hungry and fed you: thirsty and gave you drink? 38 Or when did we see you a stranger and took you in? Or naked and covered you? 39 Or when did we see you sick or in prison and came to you? 40 And the king answering shall say to them: Amen I say to you, as long as you did it to one of these my least brethren, you did it to me. 41 Then he shall say to them also that shall be on his left hand: Depart from me, you cursed, into everlasting fire, which was prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me not to eat: I was thirsty and you gave me not to drink. 43 I was a stranger and you took me not in: naked and you covered me not: sick and in prison and you did not visit me. 44 Then they also shall answer him, saying: Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison and did not minister to you? 45 Then he shall answer them, saying: Amen: I say to you, as long as you did it not to one of these least, neither did you do it to me. 46 And these shall go into everlasting punishment: but the just, into life everlasting.

Have you tortured Jesus? Have you bombed Jesus? Have you laughed when someone raped Jesus? Have you killed Jesus? Have you said “those animals in jail deserve to be raped and beaten?”

What have you done to Jesus?

What have you done to Jesus!

Jesus didn’t say to kill your enemies, to annihilate them. He didn’t say to beat them. He didn’t say your life was worth more than another person’s life.

What Jesus said is “what you do unto the least of these, you do unto me.”

What Jesus said was

“But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you.”

I am not Christian.  I do not believe that Jesus was the son of God, except perhaps in the heretical sense that we are all God’s children.

But I do love Jesus. I do respect Jesus. I do think he was a good man, and a good guide.

And it saddens me when those who claim to act in his name do exactly the opposite of what Jesus would want them to do.

If you do evil, if you rape, if you murder, if you bomb, if you kill, so be it.

But do not cloak yourself in the shadow of Jesus’s crucifixion, do not claim that you are his apostles. You, my friends, are the devils who quote scripture, the foulness that uses the words of a good man to cover your evil, that you may continue to rape, murder and torture.

The true church is the heart of any person who actually follows Jesus.

And if Jesus were to return today, he would say “I am not a Christian.”


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  1. Cloud

    Jesus of the Four Gospels was either a frighteningly dichotomous messiah, or a confusing character mashup of different traditions. Yes he said those things, but he also said “Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.” And as Mark Twain said, for all his gentleness Jesus is crueler than Jehovah, because he invented or at least massively popularized the endless-torment version of Hell. And he goes around doing stuff like cursing fig trees for not having fruit, even though they’re not in season (wtf?), and also saying that whoever doesn’t believe his improbable story, when they hear it third-hand, will be damned.

    So yeah … my feelings about Jesus vary a lot with my mood. I guess I can like a more Gnostic-y version.

  2. Marsha

    Amen to that, Ian!

    My and my family’s religion is “I will treat others the same way I want to be treated”…and that is with love and kindness and compassion and fairness and justice and equality – and, you get the idea.

    I worship by looking out my window at my wonderful natural world. And I “pray” that we don’t destroy ourselves – in the name of religion.

  3. Cloud

    That said, I like this post. And it is evident that the movers and shakers, though for the most part nominally Christian, also for the most part have never given a single shit about the Sermon on the Mount in their lives. And it is sad.

  4. Ian Welsh

    Yes, I’d be a gnostic, for sure.

  5. Formerly T-Bear

    I suspect that the prophetic second coming of Christ is going to surprise all, somehow the idea that a “take two” is in the offing probably isn’t in the cards, not if the simple message presented the first time is beyond the ability to learn. A new lesson is likely in store, more likely one that cannot be ignored (or spun). May you live in interesting times.

  6. Lex


    It’s best to take everything we “know” about Jesus with a huge grain of salt and consider that the establishment of Christianity is only tangentially related to Jesus or the Christ. Not to mention that so much of the tradition was purged in order for Christianity to be accepted by Rome.

    What evidence we do have (find and read Funk and/or Crossan, especially the latter for serious consideration of what he likely actually said and the milieu in which he lived) portrays him in two ways: the gnostic-y manner of inner enlightenment as an answer to a difficult and cruel world, and as very much a social revolutionary acting in a time of serious upheaval.

    To be sure, the Church wanting acceptance in Rome and the power that comes with it would have had zero use for either of these aspects.


  7. Lex

    Formerly T-Bear,

    We wouldn’t even notice. I think that Dostoevsky nailed the second coming scenario in “The Grand Inquisitor”.

  8. Formerly T-Bear

    @ Lex

    There goes obtaining another book to read. JOY!!!

  9. alyosha

    I’ve traveled quite a ways with this over several decades. I was an agnostic in my youth, became a born again Christian in the 80s, eventually walking away from it, and becoming much more ecumenical. I came to see, that under their skin, nearly all religions are about the same core realizations and experiences, and more importantly the direction of human and personal evolution. But you have to get past the packaging (the exoteric church).

    1) There is the religion that Jesus practiced, and then there is the religion about Jesus. Many cannot see the difference.

    2) It’s useful to separate the wrapper, the packaging, from the man. The packaging (the church and its scriptures) have evolved over 2000 years, and are largely a man-made cultural and historical creation of many layers (it’s sort of like the party game “Telephone” – tell me how the message could not possibly get garbled over two millenia?). There are many Christians who cannot make this distinction, for them it’s all of one piece, they cannot question the packaging.

    The bible, or any sufficiently complex scripture is like a rorshact test – people see in it what they want to see. Lefties like myself are fond of the scripture Ian quoted (Matthew 35). Others will focus on verses about judgment, or sex, or money. The dominant form of Christianity in America has shifted over time in its focus on Matthew 35 and our obligation to others, and more toward judgment, as the political and cultural winds in this country have shifted.

    And don’t get me started on how people project their own biases into the Koran – people either see an Islam that is extremely tolerant, or one that is extremely militant, depending on their own biases.

    Many people stay stuck (or revolted by) the packaging around Jesus their entire lives, and don’t penetrate to the core of what he and all spiritual figures were about.

  10. “I do not believe that Jesus was the son of God – But I do love Jesus. I do respect Jesus. I do think he was a good man, and a good guide.”

    That always cracks me up when I read something like this. If Jesus wasn’t exactly who He said He is then He most certainly wasn’t a good man nor a moral teacher. If Jesus wasn’t exactly who He said He is He was a liar, a fraud, a con artist.
    Jesus told people to worship Him.
    He told people to be ready to die for Him. I
    f Jesus wasn’t exactly who He said He is, He was scum.
    Yet you love Him! What a joke!

  11. TdRaicer

    Well of course he would say he wasn’t a Christian-he was Jewish after all.

  12. Ian Welsh

    I am rather partial to liberation theology. Of course, Ratzinger (aka: Benedict, aka: child rapist abetter) and John Paul II destroyed liberation theology as a movement in the Church.

    Another reason why, if there is a hell, both of them can expect to burn in it.

  13. Cloud

    Ratzinger aka: Emperor Palpatine -lookin’ guy

  14. John B.

    But there isn’t a hell, and there isn’t a heaven either. That’s the whole point. It’s all here and it’s all now and there is no point in fairy tale games about the great hereafter. People don’t always get what’s coming to them. You have to deal with that and get on with it. If we are going to make a better world and a more just environment and social contracts to live by, we have to do it our selves.

  15. jo6pac

    Thanks Ian and John B.

  16. Lex

    @ Formerly T-Bear

    You don’t have to read the whole of The Brothers Karamazov (though it’s worth it) to get “The Grand Inquisitor”

  17. tbsa

    Jesus is LOVE, the people you see in government and on teevee calling themselves christians wouldn’t know about christianity if they were knocked across the head with it by a brick wall. It is sad that a bunch of racist, mean, greedy, bigoted, people have hijacked the religion in the name of Christianity but their actions are NOT those of a Christian. They are NOT what Jesus would do or would have us do. HE expects us to love, and turn the other cheek, and forgive. I wish the media would quit aiding these haters by calling them Christians.

  18. I can rarely unequivocally agree with anything as much as I unequivocally agree with what you have said here, Ian. My Catholic mother (who is seriously investigating Deism at this point, in her 73rd year) and I had this same conversation over Easter, and I’ll be goddamned if your post doesn’t sound the same as my side of the convo!

  19. Formerly T-Bear

    @ Lex

    Found my copy Fyodor Dostoyevsky “The Brothers Karamazov” unabridged, edition © 1957 by Manuel Komroff and yellowed at the edges (as am I). Thanks for the direction.

  20. Synoia


    And as Mark Twain said, for all his gentleness Jesus is crueler than Jehovah, because he invented or at least massively popularized the endless-torment version of Hell.

    Hell was an invention of the Church, probably a political fix agreed with Constantine, to make Christianity an instrument of the Roman State.

    Yes in the Revelations of St John the Devine, some 300 years after the crucifixion. The 4 Gospels of Christ define Christ’s message, and I do not recall the mention of hell in those Gospels.

    I’ve always regarded Revelations as the (Catholic) stick to beat the faithful to make then subservient to Constantine’s (The Emperor who co-opted Christianity) rule.

    That is: We’ve now got you temporally and spiritually.

  21. I wish the early history of Christianity was less murky. Not to mention details about the life of Jesus.

    In any event, I think most knowledgeable people would agree that a Pauline, less Jewish , and less gnostic Christianity was ascendant from the first couple of centuries.

    Regarding which: I highly recommend the movie, currently in theaters, called “Paul : Apostle of Christ”. The writing and acting are excellent, and it’s not lessened by that common bug-a-boo of many religious (Christian) films, at least of the type they showed in Sunday school, which is excessive piety. It’s set in Rome, with Paul in prison, in the final years of his life. While the historicity of Paul all but narrating the Acts of the Apostles to Luke while in prison is (AFAIK) dubious, it works very well as a narrative device.

    I also wish we hard more first and second hand accounts of Paul, plus all his letters.

    For the doubting Thomases amongst us, or more generally for seekers, I highly recommend the 2 books by Swami Omananda Puri (an Irish woman, raised in England, IIRC), who articulately, in modern English, conveys what I’ll call the living, supernatural phenomena that can occur. Some of her descriptions resonate well with similar events described in the Bible, especially the New Testament. While Puri was psychic, much of the phenomena she describes could be sensed by the common folk, of more normal sensitivities.

    E.g., in the Acts of the Apostles, it says “At times he seemed human, at other times he looked like an angel.” Puri has noted similar changes in the appearance and ‘atmosphere’ of “the Boy”, whose life and teachings were her main subject.

    Last I looked, Puri’s books were available on scribd.

  22. Frank Stain

    I think it makes more sense to see religion as the primary expression of two fundamental, but diametrically opposed, human orientations. There is, on the one hand, the humanist orientation, in which religion serves as the spiritual force driving social and moral progress, breaking down economic, cultural, and social barriers between people. This is the Jesus Ian is defending. In its positive form, this version powers movements seeking profound social change (e.g. the civil rights movement). But on the other hand, there is the authoritarian orientation, which also finds in religion the spiritual resources it needs to construct communities marked by strong hierarchies, esp. patriarchy, caste, and class. Opponents of the civil rights movement, drawing on this orientation, saw that movement’s use of religion as a depraved ‘social religion’ that missed the essence of religion, viz the individual’s submissive relationship with God. I don’t think it makes much sense to ask which of these is the ‘correct’ interpretation of religious texts. You can find the same authoritarian and humanist tendencies in every major religion. People will find the resources they need for a reactionary project of the restoration of hierarchy and patriarchal power, but other people will always find the resources they need for a humanist challenge to those projects. At the core of religion are these two major historical tendencies: the authoritarian predilection for hierarchy and order, and the humanist need to promote human flourishing.

  23. atcooper

    It’s all older comments here, but I’ve got to say Dostoyevsky is partially responsible for my own spiritual path. Him and Alan Moore and David Lynch were fathers to me.

  24. Willy

    I once wondered if heaven/hell, Jesus/God, Christian anti-materialism, science and special relativity could all be neatly tied together into a single theoretical package. Of course, it’d just be a theory which couldn’t be proven or disproven. But still I wondered.

    Then I came up with the idea that every life form might each have it’s own corresponding unseen spirit part. In a nutshell, the spiritual part, being massless, wouldn’t be constrained by the laws of spacetime as such, but would be (from our 3D limited perspective) ‘everywhere all the time’. Higher dimensionally infinite, so to speak. The badness of ‘hell’ would only happen to the intelligent forms which couldn’t handle that spiritual reality at point of death. The theory might explain the Jesus=God thing (Jesus being the earthly part of that whole, some kind of ‘personality organ’ for that whole). The theory might even explain what heaven/hell really is (hell is scripturally more often described as separateness or nothingness then it is a bunch of demons with pitchforks). The Bible would then be a spiritually inspired best-fit attempt by the various literate goat herders, Roman authors, etc.. who wrote it, to clumsily describe some kind of metaphysical reality which cannot be clearly described.

    Excited, I went straight to a Christian website and offered my little idea for discussion.

    I was swiftly and condescendingly rebuked by the regulars, especially the senior moderator. But I’d never once swore or said anything liberal. They simply had no interest in exploring what dreams might come, or any of the why. The one guy there who seemed interested in trying to combine science with the spiritual just for the fun of doing it, was an agnostic who claimed he was bored at work. And that was that.

    I read somewhere that back in the 20’s around 80% of scientists claimed to be Christians. Today that number is somewhere between 3 and 24 percent (depending on the source). It seems very few of them want to play with the metaphysical anymore. Meanwhile most modern Christians also appear to have abandoned metaphysical ponderings. For most I know, Jesus is the guy who gives you a better life, makes your team win, then curses the liberal. I can see the value it’s had for so many in the past (outside of all the wars, pestilence and burnings… of course).

    American Christianity is in decline. Atheists who may have once been seen as rational cultists, but quietly so, are today becoming increasingly more vocal with more compelling arguments than ever. I can’t imagine today’s youth preferring the ideas of nutty conservative evangelicals over that of the rational atheist who just wants to improve the conditions of physical life. The (seemingly) increasing Christian divergence from Jesus’ teachings doesn’t help. It’s a bit sad, but change is coming. Christianity really is under attack.

  25. I am not a Christian. A true Doubting Thomas, I am, doubting even the existence of Jesus. The Romans were meticulous record-keepers, rivaling the Sumerians, until the christians barbarians showed up and destroyed everything. Though slipping through the cracks is certainly a possibility, it is an improbability.

    As to this notion the bastard is going to come rescue us, far the more likely thousands upon thousands of cavernous spacecraft, vast slaughter-houses piloted by ravenous vaguely reptilian creatures, replete with horns and folked tail, intent not as benevolent overseers of the demise of this world and our current iteration in human evolution and our children’s evolution onto the next iteration of humanity but as ravenous reptilian creatures… you know, hungry lizards.

    We did, afterall, invite them to “Come Eat!”

  26. Hugh

    I am not a biblical scholar, but I would note that both the New and Old Testaments represent the combining of multiple narratives which do not fit comfortably or logically together in terms of our modern sensibilities. But this was not seen as a major impediment or criticism at the time of their creation and through much of their history. I would liken it to the popular perception of Thomas Jefferson. For most of our history, and even to a large extent currently, his being a master writer and defender of freedom and his being a large landholder and unregenerate slaveowner have been seen as unproblematic. That we can hold such contrary views and/or ignore such glaring contradictions should give us pause. My take on Jefferson is that he was not a modern democrat but must be understood in terms of the world in which he lived. His words continue to resonate but the worlds in which they are heard are different.

    In my opinion, the Gospels, especially the synoptic gospels of Matthew, Luke, and Mark, should be viewed both structurally as texts and in terms of their different audiences, and goals. Mark is the simplest and earliest. His audience is primarily Jewish. Matthew and Luke use Mark and another text called the Q text for most of their content. Matthew writes against the Jewish priestly caste, the scribes and Pharisees, who do not accept Jesus’ message, but largely remains within the Jewish tradition, while Luke looks outside it and addresses himself to the larger Gentile world. Then you have the Gospel of John which is the latest and has always been the most problematic for Christians. And from my admittedly uninformed viewpoint should be seen as an extension of Matthew and furthering the break with Judaism.

    It should also be remembered that the Christian canon of the New Testament (what books were included and excluded from it), while mostly in place within a hundred years of the four canonical gospels’ writing, was not finalized for another couple of centuries. So what we often take nowadays as a unitary construct, both in terms of the text, the church, and the figure of Jesus, was actually a very extended editorial process. And it took place against a backdrop of Christianity moving from a local cult to an oppressed religion to the religion of the Empire.

    Christianity like Jefferson needs to be understood within its history. The words can resonate across the centuries, that is their universality, but we need to understand they were spoken in different worlds.

  27. Synoia: “Hell was an invention of the Church, probably a political fix agreed with Constantine, to make Christianity an instrument of the Roman State.

    Yes in the Revelations of St John the Devine, some 300 years after the crucifixion. The 4 Gospels of Christ define Christ’s message, and I do not recall the mention of hell in those Gospels.”

    Totally false. Hell runs through Jesus’ teachings in the gospels; if you “do not recall the mention of hell in those Gospels,” you need to read them again. The Revelation of John was probably written around 90 CE. Got any cites for those claims? They sound to me like standard anti-Papist boilerplate from the past century or so, written by Protestants who were every bit as nasty as the Catholics.

    Ian, you’re conveniently leaving out some things about the Jesus of the gospels. He was a hellfire and brimstone preacher, an end-times prophet like Harold Camping (and like him, his predictions were false), a faith healer in the Oral Roberts mode, an exorcist, a cultist who demanded that his followers leave their families to follow him and turn over all their wealth to him. He also promised that his followers would be able to do miracles as he did. If you can’t walk on water, heal the sick, raise the dead, make the little girls go out of their head, then you aren’t really a follower of Jesus.

  28. Ian is not a believer – he does not have to explain the entire text. The people here who are believers (or rather failed believers) wish him to do so, as if he were a reverend. it says a great deal about people who read his work.

    nt pie
    ce Ia

  29. Hugh

    I wanted to say that Matthew 7:12 sums up the core of most religions. It is also quite close to what I mean when I talk about the kind of society we want. That it is not just what any one group or individual wants but rather the kind of society that we would want others to want for us.

  30. BlizzardOfOzzz

    Willy, may I recommend a book by Owen Barfield called “Worlds Apart” (can be found online) that is some kind of an attempt, maybe not to “tie together”, but at least to “bridge the gap”. It’s written as a dialog between different specialists – a physicist, biologist, linguist, theologian.

    For me the key point is that “the laws of spacetime” (ie, physics) only ever dealt with a limited subset of the world, inorganic matter. It is very easily proved that those laws could never apply to the universe as a whole — contrast for example the 2nd law of thermodynamics, with the anti-entropy of the universe as a whole. In any case the discoveries of 20th century physics show that the assumptions of 19th century physics are self-contradictory. And yet people still want to believe …

  31. Heliopause

    The problem with your interpretation here is that Jesus purportedly said a great many other things too, including a pretty explicit endorsement of the entirety of the Law. This opens the door to just about any version of Jesus you want to have, including one who endorses a theocratic ethnostate in Palestine, abhorrent social policies, and so on. It’s why so many Christians don’t adhere to the Jesus that you think they should.

    I’m generally for a straightforward reading of the text. What that does is give us a contradictory Jesus amenable to a variety of interpretations. Not surprising, since the Bible was written by many different authors with many different agendas.

    Personally, like you I wish more Christians were followers of the Jesus you quote above, but the different strains in the text are a fact that we have to deal with.

  32. Steeleweed

    Joe Bageant’s take on the issue:

  33. highrpm

    enjoyed reading joe b’s musings and autobio snippets. i too had my terror-laden “everyone’s been taken except me” moments. brutal child abuse. besides being utter nonsense. that some created’s could speak for the creators, who to date choose to remain out-of-view. and personally unapproachable. what do you folks think of ? the author raises some ok logic addressing the idea of how the brutalness of unnecessary suffering reconciles with the concept of a benevolent deity.

  34. Linda Amick

    As a US citizen I can say that “WE are all Pharisee’s NOW.” Religions in the US now preach a “Success” gospel. “God wants you to be rich and get the things you want.” NONSENSE.

  35. Brad Prothero

    As a Christian Pastor, I fully agree that Christians should be better at being like Christ than we are. There is quite a bit of hypocrisy in the church where we pick and choose which sins are bad enough to call out and which ones to do not want to address because we do them ourselves. There is a term called sanctification that teaches that true believers will be gradually made by the Holy Spirit to be more and more like Jesus. No one reaches Jesus’ level on this side of eternity. This is not an excuse for the wrong behavior that we all do, however. We are held accountable for all that we do and there is a command in 1 Peter that reiterates the command from the OT to be holy because God is holy. While should be our goal (sadly, it is not for many Christians), that is not the basis of entering heaven. The scandalous teaching of Christianity is that a person that does horrible things can still get into heaven if they repent and turn to Jesus as Lord and Savior (e.g. Thief on the cross). BTW, the term “Christian” was meant as an insult meaning “little Christs”. So you are right, Jesus would not say he was a “Christian” because he is the full-sized Christ!

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