Courtney posted this quote on facebook earlier today. I’ve seen it before, but it got me thinking: why aren’t some American Christians more Christ-like? Despite being an atheist, I think I have a fairly decent understanding of the moral teachings of Jesus. Last year I compiled a new version of the Jefferson Bible in updated English, which included a lot of reading of the first four books of the New Testament in the Christian Bible, also known as the Gospels.
Each of the first four books paint a slightly (or vastly, in the case of John) different picture of a man (or God, though in some accounts he makes far fewer references to divinity) named Jesus. I’m not religious and haven’t been for a long time, but if you aren’t familiar with the story you can read it for free online. Start at the beginning of Matthew and keep going to the end of John if that’s your thing. If you are familiar with the story, you should read my re-creation of Jefferson’s work (available for free at NewJeffersonBible.com), because it paints a very rare picture of Jesus as a person.
I’d be interested to see someone take only the words of Jesus and list them in order, Matthew through John. None of the exposition, none of the descriptions, just the words attributed to Jesus in the Christian Bible. I would imagine it’s quite different from modern American Christianity in a number of fundamental ways. So, based on this, I propose a new name for the current batch of American evangelicals loudly proclaiming their own righteousness: Paulists. There are a few Catholic orders that use the same name, but in this case that’s an added bonus because many evangelicals don’t see Catholics as “real” Christians and will hopefully work harder to avoid the distinction.
Who is Paul? Well look, I’m no historian. Wikipedia has an article about the guy. The tl;dr is that Paul was originally Saul. He hated the early Christians and persecuted them fervently. He supposedly had a vision while traveling to Damascus in which a bright light appeared and he heard the voice of Jesus, who said Saul was being a bit of a prick. Jesus then made him blind (because who doesn’t love a major trauma?) and apparently sent another guy to gather up the bumbling blind Saul. When the guy appeared, Saul regained his sight and realized he was wrong, Jesus was the bee’s knees, and he changed his name to Paul and started spreading this story around to everyone who’d listen. That’s a paraphrase of the story, you can read it yourself if you want all the specifics. Acts 9:1-19.
Full stop. I’m about to get a little contentious, but it’s not as if people haven’t provided alternative narratives to established religious doctrine before. Look at how religion is used. It’s used to control people and keep them in line. Saul was already a religious guy, then this new religion comes along. The founder died and isn’t around; they say he went up to Heaven. You can bring a lot of clout to the table as far as your family and connections (Paul was a Roman citizen and had many contacts in Judaism circles, having been born into a family of Pharisees). You get in on the ground floor and get to shape the direction of this burgeoning movement. You had a vision of Jesus, after all! Who will question the things you say?
For a religion called Christianity, an awful lot of it is based on Paul. There are twenty-seven books in the New Testament. The first four deal with Jesus. Thirteen of the books–more than half of the books not directly dealing with Jesus–were purportedly written by Paul. Jesus talked about the poor, Paul talked about a woman not having authority over a man. Jesus spent time with the people at the bottom of society’s ladder, Paul wrote what is the only mention of homosexuality in the New Testament. Jesus turned over the money-changing tables in the temple and fought against the religious leaders in his day, Paul became a top leader in the nascent religion formed in the name of someone who wasn’t around to contradict his teachings. It’s clear that Christianity is a misnomer. Paulism is a much more apt name. If Paulists in this country start acting more like the person they call Jesus Christ, then maybe some day they can earn the label “Christian” back.