Turning Christianity into Cross-tianity

Another Jim Palmer Facebook Post

August 28, 2023


“You can’t pin Christianity on Jesus. It’s not his fault. Christianity is Paul’s burden to bear, with a little help from the earliest church councils.

In my view, Jesus and Paul would have not gotten along well, and Jesus would have been dismayed by many of the concepts that Paul devised. No other individual shaped the Jesus story adopted by the church more than Paul. Western Christianity is Pauline. Paul wrote his letters before the gospels were written, and likely influenced the synoptic gospel writers. Jesus would have been dumbfounded by the mythology and theology that got attached to his name.

One thing Paul did very successfully, and in my view very unfortunately, was lock in the idea of atonement and bloodshed as salvific. The Jewish sacrifice of the lamb became the model for the Roman execution of Jesus who became the “lamb of God,” who died to take the rap for the sins of all humankind. The earliest followers of Jesus did not go about making crucifixes. The first carved cross doesn’t appear until the 7th century. Paul was the prime architect of Christian doctrine, which turned Christianity into Cross-tianity.

However, obsession with substitutionary atonement cannot be blamed on Paul entirely. During their first millennium, Christians filled their sanctuaries with images of Christ as a living presence in a vibrant world. He appears as a shepherd, a teacher, and a healer. The world around him is ablaze with beauty. These are images of paradise—paradise in this world, permeated and blessed by the presence of God.

Studying the history of Christianity, from its first centuries to the present day, one discovers its early vision of beauty evolving into one of torture. In tracing the changes in society and theology that marked the medieval emergence of images of Christ crucified, one finds the imperial strategies embedded in theologies of redemptive violence and lays the groundwork for Christianity’s turn to holy war. It reveals how the New World, established through Christian conquest and colonization, is haunted by the loss of a spiritual understanding of paradise here and now.

I see great value and benefit to the biblical stories about the life and teachings of Jesus and the emergence and evolution of Christianity. However, in my view, it cannot be properly understood and appreciated without taking into account the factors that influenced and shaped it.

Paul’s letters in the New Testament were basically responses to questions and concerns that the earliest Christian communities posed to him, trying to sort out their beliefs and practices. You might ask, “Who died and made Paul pope?” Doesn’t matter, Paul found himself in the regrettable situation of being the expert on how to do Christianity. Keep in mind, Paul did not do this in a vacuum. He had been influenced and conditioned by his own previous religious training, and would have drawn upon these and other factors as the raw materials from which to devise his theology. All things considered, I don’t think any of us would have done any better. A lot of Paul’s insights and ways he put things together have great value in different ways, but the fact that we assume that Paul was somehow channeling God in his ideas and writings is our fault and not his.

It makes complete sense why Paul did what he did, and he should not be faulted for this. The burden is on us to apply critical thinking and a thorough investigation of the historical, cultural and personal factors that influence and shape all religion, including Christianity. A basic principle of this mindset is “consider the source,” which says that it is wise to consider all the factors that would have impacted and influenced the information and views presented by a particular source, in this case, Paul. Since Paul is the most influential figure in the conception of Christianity and Christian doctrine, it’s wise to understand Paul in this sense. One can appreciate the contribution of Paul without deifying his writings.

I find it curious that practically every creed of the Church, whether the early ecumenical creeds, the Roman Catholic creeds or the Protestant creeds are statements that outline the theological positions and doctrines of the Church, but hardly have any of the teaching of Jesus in them. A person doesn’t have to be a Paul-hater. He was doing the best he could. But one should look upon Christian theology with some skepticism given that you can’t hardly find Jesus anywhere in it. We painted Jesus white and dressed him up in Christian theology, but the brown-skinned, Middle Eastern Jew who turned religion on its head, got lost some 2,000 years ago on the dusty roads of Nazareth.

The significance of Jesus was not in his blood and his violent death. Jesus was understood to be an enlightened revolutionary, not a cosmic savior. The first Christians understood this. It wasn’t until later that the story and person of Jesus was re-framed and became official church doctrine.”

Jim Palmer, Inner Anarchy

Jim Palmer is the Founder of the Center for Non-Religious Spirituality (nonreligiousspirituality.com). He is an author, activist, speaker, spiritual director, professor, Chaplain with the American Humanist Association, and leading figure in the non-religious spirituality movement. Palmer received his Master of Divinity degree from Trinity Divinity School in Chicago, where he served as a pastor at the mega-church, Willow Creek Community Church. He was later the founding and senior pastor of Springbrook Community Church in Nashville, Tennessee. In 2000, Palmer left professional Christian ministry and began chronicling his journey of “shedding religion to find God.”

After leaving professional Christian ministry, Palmer served as Executive Director of a non-profit agency providing comprehensive and long-term intervention programs for at-risk children and their families. He also served as U.S. Director of Education for International Justice Mission (IJM), an international human rights organization in Washington, D.C. He traveled through South Asia with IJM as part of an operation to free children from forced child prostitution and child slave labor. Palmer is also known for having pioneered the Pilgrimage Project, a “church” alternative comprised of an organic network of interpersonal relationships in Nashville.

Since 2005, Palmer has been sharing his journey of “shedding religion to find God” as an author and speaker. In addition to writing books, Palmer contributes articles to various websites and journals, and writes a regular column for his statewide newspaper, the Tennessean. He is recognized for his expertise in counseling people with Religious Trauma Syndrome, and leads workshops, retreats and support groups for those breaking free from toxic religion. As a spiritual director, he guides others through the process of deconstructing and reconstructing life after religion.

Many church leavers and “nones” relate to Palmer’s journey of exploring meaning, wellbeing, happiness and spirituality outside the framework of organized religion. Palmer is the voice of the Non-Religious Spirituality Podcast, and sparked the Occupy Religion message and movement. He is currently an adjunct college professor of Ethics, Linguistics, and Comparative Religion in Nashville. In 2012, Palmer founded The Religion-Free Bible Project, an effort to create a paraphrase of the Bible, free from the religious bias that Palmer believes has been imposed on it.

Palmer actively promotes causes that have touched his life. Diagnosed as a child with Tourettes Syndrome (TS), he raises awareness about the disorder and corresponds extensively with others who suffer from TS and parents who have children with TS. As a result of Palmer’s work with International Justice Mission, he consistently speaks out about human rights issues of all natures, including forced child prostitution and child slave labor.

In addition to his travels in South Asia, Palmer has spent time in India, Africa, and Thailand. He currently lives in Nashville, Tennessee. Palmer’s personal interests include endurance sports, hiking, animals, photography, music, art, and literature.

Facebook link…

AI generated image of Jesus taking a selfie (artist unknown): https://blog.reformedjournal.com/2023/04/05/selfie-with-jesus/

Permanent link to this article: https://levantium.com/2023/11/19/turning-christianity-into-cross-tianity/

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