Tuesday 25 December 2007

Jesus- What Kind of Man Was He?

He is certainly the most controversial figure the world has seen.
He is the only living human being who has been accepted by his followers, not just as a messenger of a deity, but AS the deity.

And his followers reshaped the world. They founded the most successful philosophical and social system of all time.

The overall ethics of the western world are almost entirely rooted in his teachings. We forget that, sometimes. We forget how radical every word he said was, when he first said it, because now those values are still the values of a secular culture which largely ignores his church.

They are indeed a very special set of teachings.
And the proof of the pudding, is in the eating. The cultures that took on his teachings went on to be the dominant cultures, the architects of global culture. When we look at history, it is largely the history of the victory of the Christian cultures against all others.

History is written by winners, but we should not lose sight of the fact that winners generally win for a reason. Sometimes, the right side loses, but as a general tendency, the better, stronger, more vigorous, more efficient system will win.

In other word's, the thrust of what this man said, was correct, it was a message that it benefitted the human race to hear.

Now, let's have a look at the messenger.
It's a stark claim, claiming to be the Son of God. Messianic, is used as a dirty word. Unless of course, with regard to the Messiah. Everyone else who had his rare gifts, we are wary of. And with good reason. Often their messages lead to unhappiness.

Of course, the Romans felt exactly that way about Christians. They thought Christianity was a moral scourge, it's values leading young, idealistic converts to defy Rome, to suggest that there was some higher system of values than the greater glory and prosperity of Rome. Christianity's growth was slow. I often see Constantine's decision to unfurl the cross in that crucial battle, as a kind of experiment. If it made his soldiers fight better, it proved that Christianity had won the hearts of Rome, it was the future, and it would be embraced.

But was that triumph apparent in 100AD?

Was he the Son of God?

Now, as I'm sure you're aware, I don't think the answer here is simple. I don't believe that God has a white beard, I don't believe in the hosts of angels, I don't believe a lot of the traditional interpretation.

But I DO believe that the universe, in it's entirety is itself a conscious entity. We are conscious and we have processed information for less than a century (just over a quarter in my case). The universe has been doing it for billions of years, with a definite objective in mind, accelerating the pace of energy dissipation, by creating greater complexity.

It will always take the most efficient route to do so.

I stands to reason, if entities have evolved within it's structure, capable of receiving and transmitting information (as I think we are), then sometimes, there are people who tap into the universe. Somehow, they see into it's structure, they see the underlying processes.

This happens in a gradation of levels. At a simple level, we have the Eureka moment. We have Alfred Wallace, lieing in his bunk, sick with favour, ruminating on the problem of speciation. He starts to read Thomas Malthus 'Essay on population', and suddenly, that cross-connection shines out. In human society, the weak go to the wall. They die in poverty or famine. They leave fewer children then those who flourish. Thus also, in nature, surely. The giraffe with the shorter necks, cannot reach the highest leaves, they die in time of famine. A species which divides into two groups, pursuing different lifestyles, in different habitats, will produce groups of descendants which look different. Breeding achieved by laws of supply and demand. Natural selection.

And what of Fermat? In the eighteenth century, he made a bold statement, as an aside in his notes. It was this.
You can find any number of integers that satisfy a²+b²=c².
You will find none that satisfy the same equation, when it is cubed.
He asserted, furthermore, that no such numbers COULD exist, no matter how high you went, in an infinite scale of numbers, and that he could prove it.

He made this assertion in his notes and never went any further.

Mathematicians have spent two hundred years trying to prove that statement. And they did, within the last fifteen years. Using forms of equations unknown to Fermat.
So how could he be so confident? Because whatever he saw, he was right, we know that. But we can't see how he knew. He saw something in the relationships of numbers, that we still can't.

I suspect that throughout the long years of human history, many intelligent people have had amazing, conceptually brilliant, factually correct insights which they have carried to their graves, for fear of ridicule.

Jesus wasn't one of them.

Whether he was born of a virgin, I don't know. It's an article of faith, as a Catholic, I must accept.
What I do know, is the Jesus I see in my head, the hidden Jesus that I see in the silence of the Gospels.

I see a highly intelligent person, a questioner, a thinker from an early age. The type who engages in debate as a child with the Levites in the Temple and leaves them with more questions than answers.
I see him reaching his twenties, having watched and observed.

I think he saw the power of Rome, and the futility of revolts and Masada-style self destruction.
I think he saw the corrupt collaboration of the Herodian dynasty, with their hellenized courts and their cynical manipulation of the varying factions.

He saw the bickering between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, claiming the moral highground to build power bases.
The hated tax collectors, the money lenders of the temple, the strength of heritage and resistance of his people to their exploitation and he pondered.

I think those wilderness years were a time of anguish for him. I suspect he told his followers later about how he had got through every temptation the devil had thrown at him. We read this as the forty days in the desert. But I think it was more.

I think it was ten long years of mental anguish, of thinking, of ruminating.

I see Jesus sitting on a rock, throwing pebbles into the undergrowth thinking 'This hate, this division, it's getting none of us anywhere.'

I see him being a little wild, the man clearly had energy and charisma, and I think there were times in his twenties, when his path took him to places where he saw first hand the poor, the downtrodden, the outcasts. I think it was here he learned not to judge people, it was here he saw the humanity of the prostitute, of the prodigal son.

And suddenly I think it clicked into place.

Love was the answer. We're all in this together. It doesn't matter if we are Jew, Roman, Samaritan, Egyptian, we are wasting energy on this.
If Jews stopped hating Romans, and Romans stopped treading down on Jews, look at what could be built together.

So how to get people stop hating?

And I think he looked, he looked at happy children playing, he looked at lovers embracing, and thought 'It's there, in us. We CAN love. It's just people don't seem to be able to see it. They cannot see that SELFLESSNESS is the ultimate SELFISHNESS. If everyone does it for everyone, we all end up better off, than if we just do it for self. It's a beautiful world, and Man is the finest thing in it.'

'Love your enemies'

And God loves you. God loves you, because you took a long time in the making. You can't be wasted, your life can't be wasted. The road that it took for you be here now was a long one. You matter. You are a part of this wonderful universe, you interconnect with it. You really do have a bit of stardust in you. Maybe he could see that, too.
But God loves you, because you are PART of him, as everything is. That's what he saw. We all have our parts to play in this great sweep of existence.

And then he went forth and sold it.
Here is where I depart in my view, from orthodox interpretations. What I described above, is the message. It needed packaging, it needing explaining to a people who liked stoning people to death and nailing them to bits of wood, for whom the deity was a vengeful God who turned people into pillars of salt.
He took their scripture, and transformed it. He boldly challenged it and superseded it.

To do so, he needed an incentive. The Kingdom of God.

But I think, myself, that the Kingdom of God really exists when all living people truly listen to what he said.

And I think he sold his message to his time. The basic principles will remain eternally true, but there are areas where I think he would deliver differently today.

I see his injunctions on marriage, etc, as aimed at creating harmony, love and unity in the world he lived in. Love, being the key.
To believe that all aspects of his teaching remain unaltered for all time, means believing that he really could see our lives today. And myself, I'm not sure I believe that.

I suspect, were he to come back today, many Conservative Christians would be shocked by his stance on many things, and would find themselves in the position of the pharisees, living by dead words, and not feeling a vibrant, living love.

The true Christ can be seen by his forgiveness of Mary Magdalen.

If there is a Heaven, I think Jesus prefers to chat to John Lennon than Mary Whitehouse. They probably joke about which of them is biggest. And John says 'Hey, it was 1966. I WAS bigger THAT year.'

A salesman? Oh, he was that. But not some cheap salesman. He did what he had to do to sell the greatest message of all time.

He even went as far as letting them nail him to the cross, to say 'I Love you. All of you. This is how special Love is. It is about living, dieing if necessary, for Mankind.'

He made the world sit up and listen. And it still listens. But too often, I think, it's hearing, without listening.

He saved us, because he showed us the Power of Love.

Merry CHRISTmas, every one of you.



Anonymous said...

Then perhaps we should also set aside a day to worship Bill Gates? Or Leonard Kleinrock? Both of which have contributed significantly to our society. Pushing civilisation forward and forever changing how we see the world and interact with each other. Things are certainly more efficient now than what they were a few hundred years ago.

I often wonder how different life would be if the christians hadn't taken over. Would it be any better? Any worse? It is a pity they were never really given the chance.

His words may have stood the test of time but Jesus was a man. Pure and simple.

Anonymous said...

Yeah Jesus was meant to have been politically a very dangerous figure re the Jews/Romans/power stuff...
Hope you're havin' a good one take care!

Anonymous said...

Merry Christmas, Crushed!

Anonymous said...

Nothing like a "lite" Christmas post to go down with a little turkey. Take a break and have a little Christmas pudding?


Anonymous said...

I was all right with this until about half way down. Then I got a little lost. Now, I am no fan of Mary Whitehouse, Crushed, but I can remember her making intellectual mincemeat of Germainer Greer in one TV interview [and I don't like to admit that, GG being an heroine of mine]. What I mean is MW was not as daft as she was generally supposed to be so I'm not sure she's a good example of someone Christ would not have wanted to talk with. John Lennon, I grant you... Surely Christianity , like the other monotheist religions, was initially a revolt against slavery? Well, I am a little lost again now, so I'll just say "Buon Natale", Crushed.

Anonymous said...

Oestrebunny- It's an interesting idea, one which has been the subject of several alternative history novels, I think. I don't know. I think it's one of those concepts, that once it is out of the bag, it is eventually going to triumph. Because it shows a fundamental understanding of human dynamics- as in, how to make them work to maximum efficiency.

A man, pure and simple. Are any men either?

Gledwood- It's all about power. He saw that. He saw a lot, really. Certainly ahead of his time, which is why it seems hard in some ways, to accept him as anything less than divine. As I say, in some sense, I think he was, but not perhaps, in the way traditional theology sees that.

Sean- Thanks, you too!

Alexys- A break? What's one of those then?
Hey, popping over my Mum's doesn't take that long and the pubs are shut. Everyone else I know was doing the whole family thing, so it's not as if I had a full schedule today.

It really is true, I had absolutely NOTHING better to do...

Welshcakes- I've always admired Germaine Greer too. Her brand of feminism, is the type I wish had been followed, rather than the 'All men are rapists' variety.

Your last point is interesting. Nietzche's main gripe with Christianity was that it perpetuayed 'slave morality'. Contrary to popular opinion, he actually admired the person, for his energy and his, well, Messianic qualities. He believed that Jesus, along with The Buddha, Mohammed, Zoroaster (and also, Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, etc), were examples of the 'Superman', the people it is potentially in ALL mankind to be. This of course, is the bit that Hitler liked, and therefore people tend to get edgy about Nietzche as a result.

As I candidly admit, generally I find Nietzche to be pretty much spot on, and I find his criticisms of what a lot of purported Christians preach, to be pretty fair. So I follow his advice, ignore everything Paul wrote, and just read what Christ said.

Everything else is completely irrelevant.

Buon Natale, to you too, Signora X

Anonymous said...

Crushed, I read every word and I enjoyed it very much. Parts of it touched my heart. No matter how much I question and try to analylse and put into logical boxes much of what I read...I cannot mistake the feeling I get when I read, listen and talk about Jesus.
I think this was a great post, I like the way you put your words together and to me, it made sense and it mattered.

Merry Christmas to you too.

Anonymous said...

Well let me re phrase that then; men are often simple but never pure :)

Anonymous said...

People often get tangled up in details that they forget to undertand the core essence of a messege.

Everyone has an opinion on jesus, wheter you beleive he was Gods son or not, if he was a prophet or not, if he was the Messiah or not, if he existed at all or not - but no one can deny the messege he symbolized: Love...

as you said:
"Love was the answer."

that itself should be more than enough...

Merry Christmas, my friend :)

Anonymous said...

Merry Christmas to you too my deep thinking friend from far away! I think he was more of a policitcal figure in his day. I also think history has been changed to reflect his ideas and that is why we have the mythical stories that surround him. Power corrupts for sure! It can also corrupt how history is written. Look at the plight of the American Indian for one! We all want to look as good as possible to future generations!

Anonymous said...

Betty- Sometimes I think 'Christians' don't look at the message.

But the guy was the first to get the basic point; Be nice. Just be nice. Stop getting angry, persecuting people, being vindictive, nasty and self centred. It works better when you stop doing that.

His was, in my view the first message espousing the superiority of collectivism over individualism, and passive resistance over aggression.

Oestrebunny- Well, it depends on your definition of both :)

Myself, I wouldn't claim to being EITHER.

Crashie- I would agre with that, though I would say his existance is pretty much a tagible fact.
There is good grounds for accepting that three out of four gospels were written by those whose names are associated with them.

In other words, Mark DID write his Gospel, after talking to Peter. Luke borrowed it for his work on Jesus (The Acts are written first hand). John's very different Gospel is based on his own very diferent memoroies and only Matthew is the fraud.

I suspect sometimes, some things were remembered with addition. I have seen fundamentalist preachers talk of the prsence of the holy spirit and half the audience really claim to feel something.

But the message, is a good guideline for HOW we should live, towards eachother.

Poody- I don't always see him the way he is portayed in films. I think he was a pretty striking figure, full of energy, a crowd puller, a true demagogue.

The American Indians interest me in the sense that American Indian History is frozen at the point Eurpeans reached each part of America. We remember the Incas- relative Newcomers, but not the Chimu, the Moon Worshipping civilisation of North Peru that the Incas exterminated barely fifty years prior to the coming of the Spaniards.

We remember the Aztec, but not the Toltec.
The Cherokee are written off, even though they lived as luxuriantly as the Aztecs, before 90% of them perished due to the wave of smallpox that spread across the continent after Europrans first showed up.

Anonymous said...

crushed -- Nicely put. I do believe the Christ was/is God, but, being also Jesus, and fully man, he would not know everything, and would have struggled for answers as much as any of us do.

I think, in the end, whether one believes Jesus was God will be of little importance. What will matter is whether or not we got the message: Love yourself, love your neighbor; your neighbor is anyone who is not you.

Anonymous said...

Excellent most Crushed. It is interesting to think what Christ might have said had he arrived today and not when he did. But the truth of the matter is that he did not.

Yes he did preach love of fellow man and do unto others etc. All else is not nearly as important as those tenets. I think of the truly great Christians that I have met in my personal life. Three in all and almost perfect in their following of Christ's teaching. One priest, one nun and one housewife, a Baptist no less and old enough to be my mother. But the personification of love and tolerance and charity and kindness in this woman was amazing and all based on her faith and love of Christ.

You spent this day well.