Why tackle the highly venerated Christ myth of Paul and possibly offend good Christian people? Well, the following reasons…
With his Christ myth, Paul buried the single most profound insight in all of human history. That is the real scandal of the version of Christianity that we inherited. Paul could have brought liberation to billions of people in succeeding generations if he had embraced and affirmed the central insight of Jesus that God was a non-retaliatory reality, a reality that was “no conditions love”. That “stunning new theology” presents the hope that, ultimately, we are all safe in love. There is no ultimate judgment, no threat of ultimate exclusion, and no ultimate punishment/destruction. Such hope goes to the core of human meaning and reverberates all through human consciousness, life, and society.
The stunning new theology of Jesus countered entirely one of the most destructive ideas of history- i.e. the myth that natural disaster, disease, and predatory cruelty (animal, human) were divine punishment for human sins. Jesus countered that myth with the insight that there was no punitive, destroying deity behind the natural world, no God punishing people for their failures. Instead, God was giving the good gifts of life- sun and rain for crops- to all like, inclusively and universally to both good and bad people.
On top of unbearable physical suffering, people had long felt cursed with the added burden of psychic suffering (mental, emotional) that came with the sense that there was a punitive deity behind life causing their suffering. That has long been the single most consciousness-darkening burden heaped on already unbearable physical suffering.
Paul could have liberated humanity from that excessive burden of psychic suffering by affirming the non-retaliatory theology of Jesus. Instead, he retreated to the same old threat theology of all past mythology and religion. He chose to promote the same mental and emotional slavery of all previous ‘threat theology’.
Paul affirmed the primitive myth of punitive deity behind disease/death, in his first Corinthian letter, when he told the Corinthian Christians that their illnesses and deaths are punishment from God for their sins.
Further, Paul further shaped modern consciousness and life for the worse by embracing the myth of apocalypse in his Christ myth (see, for example, Paul’s Thessalonian letters). His apocalyptic Christ has been most singularly responsible for bringing the curse of apocalyptic thinking into the modern world.
Apocalyptic mythology blinds people to the amazing progress that life has been making on all fronts, over the long term. Apocalyptic mythology feeds the nihilist alarmism that life is in decline toward something worse and that distorted worldview undermines hope and engagement of life to ensure that it continues to improve. Apocalyptic nihilism (fatalism, resignation) pushes people to embrace irrational salvation schemes that have destroyed societies and life.
Sources: James Tabor (Paul and Jesus) on Paul’s dominant influence on our modern world, and his orientation to apocalypse. Also, the apocalyptic millennial scholars on the powerful influence of apocalyptic ideas on Marxism, Nazism, and now environmental alarmism- Arthur Herman in The Idea of Decline in Western History, Richard Landes in Heaven On Earth, Arthur Mendel in Vision and Violence, and David Redles in Hitler’s Millennial Reich.
Note: Jesus’ statement on abolishing ‘eye for eye’ response to human offense, reveals that he was not apocalyptic and his God was not apocalyptic. A God that does not engage eye for eye justice will not engage the ultimate expression of eye for eye justice that is the apocalyptic destruction of the world.
Qualifier: Any challenge to beliefs that are held widely by many people and have the odour of authority and gravity that comes with long-term tradition, such challenges are naturally met with offended outrage and defensiveness. The indignant “How dare you” sniff that is reflexively given to skeptics/heretics. If it helps, let me clarify that I affirm the positive features in religious traditions- love, forgiveness, generosity, etc.
My complaint is that, in religious traditions, these great human ideals are often merged in contexts with lesser features that undermine and distort the higher ideals in such oxymoronic mixes. For example, love in Christianity is notably tribal in orientation- i.e. believers are favored while unbelievers are ultimately excluded and punished for being infidels. That is not authentic universal or unconditional love. There is no “love your enemy” at the final Christian judgment, and certainly not in the Christian hell. The attempt to merge great human ideals with religious conditions and threats only ends in ‘cognitive dissonance’- the confusion that arises from combining essentially contradicting things.
Most egregious in the Christian mix is that the profound insights/statements of Historical Jesus have been distorted and buried in the merger of Jesus with Paul’s Christ myth. Paul’s Christ embraces some of the worst features of primitive mythology- i.e. wrathful deity, exclusion of all who dare disagree, ultimate punishment and destruction, etc. (see Thessalonian and Roman letters, along with Revelation, for examples). I argue that in freeing Jesus from the Christ myth you can then bring out the rightly-celebrated humane contributions of the man.
Another qualification (to pacify those who dismiss any comment on an unconditional treatment of offenders as akin to “letting the psychopaths go free”):
Any comment on the unconditional message of Historical Jesus (“no more eye for eye, but love your enemy”) needs qualification with the recognition that in an imperfect world we are all held responsible/accountable for our behavior. There are natural and social consequences to behavior. Example: Those unable or unwilling to restrain their worst impulses will have to be restrained by others in order to protect the innocent. Nonetheless, love (despite how we feel) obligates us to employ humane, restorative approaches toward offenders. As per, for example, “Justice Not Vengeance” by Simon Wiesenthal. And any further unconditional treatment of offenders is the free-choice prerogative of victims.
The profound contradiction between Jesus and Paul’s Christ, Wendell Krossa
Disclosure: I am not a follower of Jesus. I don’t “believe in Jesus”. I was raised in an Evangelical Christian family and earlier in my life I attended and graduated from an Evangelical Bible college. But I left that Christian religion some 4-plus decades ago. I left all religion. Nonetheless, I still think that the person called “Historical Jesus” offered the single most profound insight in all history and he should be respected for that “most important contribution to the history of ideas” (James Robinson). I hold this view based on research that makes a clear separation between Historical Jesus and the Christian “Jesus Christ”, also known as Paul’s Christ myth (his “Christology”).
I affirm the approach of people like Thomas Jefferson and Leo Tolstoy who stated that there are “diamond/pearl” statements of Jesus in the New Testament but they are buried in the larger context of New testament material that they referred to as “dung… garbage”, etc.. As a polite Canadian I shudder to say anything so offensive, hence my cautious hiding behind the blunt quotes of others (I kid). Their point was that there was a lot of added material in the NT that was the product of “inferior minds”; i.e. material/statements that are attributed to Jesus but that contradict his central themes.
You have to dig out and separate the diamonds from the rest that is dung. Lasering the point a bit more: Not all things in the gospels that are attributed to Jesus are his actual deeds or words. And many other things throughout the New Testament directly contradict Jesus’ main theme/message as stated in places like Matt.5:38-48, or Luke 6:27-36. (His main theme/message? Yes, according to my version of ‘Q Wisdom Sayings Gospel’ research.)
What did the man actually say? One central thing that he offered, and I would argue that it is the cohering theme that should be the criterion with which to evaluate all else that has been attributed to him, was that there should be “no more eye for eye response to offenders (getting even, hurting back in response to initial hurt given), but instead we should love our enemies because God does”. Now spell out what that means.
It means the rejection of the most dominant themes from historical mythologies and religions: No retaliation, no judgment, no exclusion of anyone, no punishment, and no destruction of your enemies/offenders (no apocalypse, no hell). In that Jesus’ statement we are told that the humane thing is to respond to the failures and imperfections of others with no conditions love, a love that includes everyone with the same generous forgiveness and restorative treatment.
How does Jesus argue his point that God loves all the same? He illustrates it from nature: Because sun and rain are given to both good and bad people. That non-discriminating inclusiveness points to a universal love that affirms all will be safe in the end.
That unconditional treatment of all is also affirmed in the parable of the vineyard workers (Matthew 20). All get the same reward in the end. And that is offensive and scandalous to people who believe that justice should be “fair”. Good should be rewarded and bad should be punished. People should get according to what they have done. That is “justice” in this life, but not ultimately with the reality that is God. A reality that is offensive “no conditions” love (offensive to traditional and conventional notions of justice).
Much material in the rest of the NT contradicts this central unconditional theme of Jesus. Note the Jesus Seminar book “The Five Gospels: What did Jesus really say?”. That study argues that if Jesus said “Love your enemy” in Matthew 5, then he could not have damned his enemies to hell just a few chapters later in Matthew 11. Those later added statements were not made by Historical Jesus but were put in his mouth by gospel writers like the author of Matthew. Such added statements contradict entirely Jesus’ central theme of unconditional forgiveness and love for all.
Historical Jesus, in his central message or theme, is someone entirely opposite to Christian “Jesus Christ”, Paul’s Christ myth. The New Testament is valuable for providing us with the stark contrast between these two opposite persons or opposite messages.
This contradiction is especially clear when you look at the two entirely opposite theologies of Jesus and Paul- i.e. their entirely opposite views of God. Views of God hold prominent position at the core of belief systems. All else is shaped by the way that people view their God. Deity long being humanity’s highest ideal and authority.
Jesus presented “the stunning new theology of a non-retaliatory deity” (James Robinson). He was the first person in history to do so. All the gods of previous mythologies and religions across history were presented as ultimate arbiters of retaliation in some form. Gods were final judges positioned at the end of life, in the courtrooms of after life realms. Hence, across history those punitive gods had affirmed human understanding of justice and justice systems as retributive in some sense- i.e. reward for good performance, punishment for bad performance.
Jesus overturned that central ideal of retribution, entirely. He stated there should be “no more eye for eye” justice. Instead, you should “love your enemy”. Like God does. Because God does that. The evidence for such a non-retaliatory, unconditional deity? Sun and rain (the good gifts of life) are given to both good people and bad people alike. That stunning ‘no conditions love of enemy’ means universal inclusion of everyone, limitless forgiveness, and scandalous generosity for all.
Jesus set his non-retaliatory ethic forth in the pairing of “a behavior based on a similar belief” relationship. He stated his ethic as based on a similar theology. Do this (non-retaliatory, unconditional love) because God does this (non-retaliatory, unconditional love). This is what God is like. Be like God. As he said in Luke 6, “Be merciful just as your Father is merciful”.
Paul intentionally and directly confronted and contradicted that pairing of behavior with a similar belief in Romans 12:17-20. At first glance Paul appeared to give the nod to an ethic or behavior that was similar to the non-retaliatory ethic that was advocated by Jesus. Paul said, do not retaliate against your enemy. So far, so good. That seems to affirm the “no more eye for eye” ethic that Jesus advocated. But then Paul bases his ethic or behavior on an entirely different theology- a theology of divine retaliation. That’s confusing and contradictory.
What Paul is really affirming is the essential impulse for retaliation but arguing that any action to retaliate should be held in abeyance till God does it in some ultimate manner. Paul is saying, hold your desire for vengeance in abeyance because God is going to retaliate for you in the future. God will mete out supreme vengeance. Paul quotes an Old Testament verse to affirm his retaliatory theology- “Vengeance is mine, I will repay”, says the Lord.
Paul further detailed the believer’s desire for vengeance in his Christ myth. Paul’s Christ would return to punish and destroy all those who did not believe his gospel of the Christ, all the enemies of Christianity. See, for example, his Thessalonian letters. “Lord Jesus will return in blazing fire to punish and destroy, with everlasting destruction, all who do not obey Paul’s gospel of the Christ”. Unbelievers would face ultimate eye for eye justice in an apocalypse and eternal destruction.
So Paul’s argument for Christian non-retaliation in this life is that it will ensure ultimate retaliation. Your non-retaliation will “heap burning coals of fire on the heads of your enemies”. Which is to say, your response of non-retaliation will ensure the future judgment and punishment of your enemies. That means the basic motivation is retaliatory.
Paul’s vengeful God is a stunning rejection of the new theology of Jesus and a retreat to the same old retributive gods of all history and all religion. You cannot reconcile or merge the theology of Jesus with that of Paul. They are entirely opposite theories of the basic character of deity.
This great contradiction between Jesus and Paul is at the heart of the Christian New Testament. It is the scandal at the heart of Christianity. Christianity as we have inherited it, is Paul’s religion, and is entirely opposite to the message of Hist. Jesus. The issue is retaliation vs non-retaliation. Forgiveness vs vengeance. Love vs ultimate and eternal hatred. You cannot reconcile these two opposites. That only results in the ‘cognitive dissonance’ of merging opposites.
The project here?
I would go to ultimate sources of historical human fears, to the mythological and religious themes of all threat theology, and deal with the primitive ideas that have long incited humanity’s ancient fears, as part of a strategy to counter contemporary destructive alarmism movements, both religious and “secular”.
Another note on the behavior/belief relationship: “People become just like the God that they believe in”, Bob Brinsmead.
Keeping it together
During periods of intense tribalism and division, how do we contribute to holding our societies, and overall civilization, together? How about some prominently successful principles from across history that have served humanity well?
1. First, nothing is more basic to human survival (peace, harmony) than developing the response of forgiving the failings and imperfections of others. How much forgiveness? A well-known sage urged, “Seventy time seven”, which is to say- limitless. Bitterness and the lust for vengeance will ruin relationships and darken life.
2. Including all as equals because they are human. Affirming the equality of all is based on the fact we all share the same human consciousness and common human spirit. The Oneness of humanity is the essential reality behind all appearances of duality and difference in life.
3. Approaching every person with love, not only as a feeling (not primarily as emotion), but as the intention to treat all humanely, even offenders, because it is the right thing to do, the human thing. This points to restorative/rehabilitative justice.
4. Respecting the freedom and self-determination of all others. Non-domination. No vertical relating (domination/submission relationships), but instead horizontal relating with all others as equals. Not meddling in other’s lives, controlling others.
Loss of personal control is horrifically damaging to human beings.
5. Affirming diversity/difference as good and healthy. Celebrating the success of others.
6. And then this insight pulled from mythologists and the personal experiences of others (e.g. Near-Death Experiences). Even in our “righteous” struggles we must remember that our “enemy” is our brother. Consider- What if before we came here to live our stories, perhaps we chose to be “actors on God’s stage” (Joseph Campbell). Some playing good guys, some volunteering to play bad guys. What if we chose to leave our Oneness to come here to help one another learn lessons like forgiveness and love, in order to experience, grow, and develop as authentically human. But in the end, we all return to the same Oneness and love that is our ultimate and true home. What if dualism, division, and opposition are temporary features of this physical realm. (see also Natalie Sudman’s ‘Application of Impossible Things’)
This does not lessen the importance of engaging righteous struggles here on Earth but just to consider that our life experiences may be temporary and may be part of something greater, some greater purpose with greater meaning.
Just suggesting other ways of viewing and understanding our human experience in this imperfect world.
Consider the following things:
1. A 2017 YouGov survey revealed most people believe the world is getting worse (Intro, ‘Ten Global Trends’ by Bailey and Tupy).
2. Declinism (the myth that life is declining toward some disastrous collapse or ending) is “the most dominant and influential theme in politics and society in the twentieth century”, Arthur Herman (The Idea of Decline in Western History).
3. Most people on earth (85% of humanity) affiliate with a religion that promotes some version of apocalypse- Christianity, Islam, Hinduism (great cycles of rise and then decline to disastrous ending), Buddhism (the human lifespan decreases across history- Mircea Eliade), etc.
4. Apocalypse dominates Hollywood story-telling. See lists of movies with the theme of apocalypse and note the increase in such films over decades. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_apocalyptic_films
5. Apocalypse dominates climate alarmism with endless setting of dates for the end-of-days (2030 is a recent prophesy for the end of the world).
Even Stephen Hawking fell for the apocalypse myth in the last two years of his life.
6. Many children today suffer from severe “eco-anxiety”, because they have been told the world is going to end and they are going to die.
7. Depression is the world’s number one illness.
Do you notice any possible correlations between the above things?
Apocalypse is the most failed myth in all history. It has a 100% historical failure rate. Note the contemporary lists of failed apocalypse predictions. Contrary to the primitive myth of apocalypse, life is on a rising trajectory of improvement toward an ever-better future. Apocalypse is an entirely false and distorted view of life.
Skeptics of the anthropogenic warming narrative (i.e. human-caused climate change) rightly try to counter climate alarmism with good evidence but also bemoan the fact that their evidence does not seem to change many minds. Resistance to an alternative narrative is partly because the larger alarmism narrative sways human emotions with ancient mythical themes that have been long deeply embedded in human worldviews and consciousness/subconscious (i.e. mythical and religious belief systems).
Insert: People who have suffered in life, as victims of crime, natural disaster, or other, are the ones to tell the rest of us what forgiveness and love really mean. Those who have suffered the worst, e.g. Holocaust survivors, Rwandan genocide survivors, family of crime victims, have the credibility to tell the rest of us what forgiveness really costs. And we do well to shut up and listen to them. Let them tell us what pain really is and how costly love and forgiveness really are. I doubt the practice of these ideals has much to do with feeling and a lot to do with intention to do the right thing, the godlike thing.
I am reminded here of the African mother in the Bill Moyer documentary on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa who screamed her pain at the camera after a South African police officer refused to admit personal responsibility for shooting her child in the back at a demonstration. He excused himself with, “We were just following orders”, much like the Nazis at the Nuremberg trials in post-war2 Germany.
She wailed this response, “I know God wants us to forgive but its so hard”.
Why I reject the panic over rising CO2 levels. Climate facts. Wendell Krossa
First, an affirmation to respond to the irrational claims of alarmists that humans are causing catastrophic climate change and that people skeptical of this narrative are “deniers or unbelievers”. Skeptics all agree that climate has warmed roughly 1 degree C over the past century. And CO2 has a warming influence and has probably contributed to this mild warming. Probably? Yes, among the mix of varied natural factors that influence climate we do not know the actual role of CO2. Good evidence shows that it appears to be only a “bit player” in climate change. The CO2 influence on climate is repeatedly overwhelmed by other natural factors.
Note the disconnect between CO2 and temperature in paleo-climate history. When CO2 levels were high, temperature was often low or vice versa (temperature high, CO2 low). The Vostok ice cores show that temperature rises first and then CO2 levels subsequently rise in following centuries.
The recent mild warming has occurred during an abnormally cold ice-age era on Earth and this warming has been a benefit to life. It helped bring us out of the bitter cold of the Little Ice Age of 1645-1715 and back to more beneficial conditions for life. Further warming of several degrees will also benefit life more as we are still far below the average temperatures over the past 500 million years (an average of 5 degrees C warmer than today). For over 90% of the past 500 million years, Earth has been entirely ice-free and life flourished during such times with expanded habitats.
But rising CO2 will not do much more to assist further warming because the research of climate physicists tells us that CO2 has reached “saturation” as to its warming influence (e.g. Richard Lindzen, William Happer). For example, an increase of CO2 from 400 to 800 ppm may only contribute to another 1-2 degrees of warming because the warming influence of added CO2 will decline “logarithmically”. More CO2= far less warming influence. Again, that further warming in net terms will be beneficial to life.
Further warming does not mean that tropical areas become hotter because added heat energy is distributed more to colder regions (polar areas) by convection currents in Earth’s oceans and atmosphere. Heat is also distributed to colder seasons and cooler times of day (i.e. night).
Lets end the irresponsible panic-porn over rising CO2, the food of all life that has been in historically short supply. Look at the many benefits of this amazing element in greening our world. More food for animal life, increased crop production for humanity. The apocalyptic climate change narrative has distorted entirely the true state of life.
Added note: Climate alarmists (“we are facing a climate crisis/catastrophe”) have repeatedly made claims that recent summer hot spells were “the hottest on record”. But the record they refer to is only the last few decades, or the past century or so of the modern weather record. When you place the climate vagaries of recent decades within the larger climate record of past millennia, and even further back, you see clearly that our climate change episodes are mild in comparison to the more sudden and more severe swings seen in long-term climate records (i.e. paleo-climate). Recent years are no where near “the hottest on record”.
For example, the 1930s had the hottest years of the past century and a half. And since 2016 we have been in another extended “warming pause”.
Humanity halting climate change?
There is an astonishing level of ignorance and arrogance (i.e. over-assuming and overstating the human influence on nature) in statements like this one from the ‘Weekly Roundup’ at the link below, that we can turn a CO2 knob and control climate.
“…more than half of the world’s economy is now committed to the pace of action we need to limit warming to 1.5-degree C…” Such statements assume that CO2 is the dominant influence on climate change and that our contributions to CO2 are dominant.
Two more quotes from the above link:
“The greenhouse effect of CO2 is ‘saturated’, meaning that virtually all the warming it can do, it is already doing. Thus, the claim CO2 may cause runaway greenhouse is contrary to the physics…
“(Climate physicist William) Happer suggests that the major problem in models is that they do not treat clouds correctly, water vapor increasing cloudiness and cooling overwhelms any warming from CO2.”