An article donated by Alton C. Thompson:
Being Like Jesus
The logical starting point here is with a recognition that the existence of extra-Biblical works about Jesus that are early (e.g., Gnostic gospels, Coptic gospels, and Ebionite gospel), there is every reason to be suspicious of the canonical gospels (Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John): They were shaped by The Church, thus likely consist of a mixture of fact and fiction, selected and shaped to serve the interests of The Church.
In, then, lacking objective knowledge about Jesus, if one wishes to “be like Jesus,” one must first make a decision as to what Jesus was like. My conclusion regarding this is to assume that the first part of James 1:27 (the only place in the Bible where “religion” is defined!)
"Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble . . . ."
expresses how Jesus thought of “religion”: Whether or not the Epistle of James was written by Jesus’s brother James, I believe that it expresses how Jesus came to think of true religion. What helps me solidify that conclusion is the fact that that definition has a sound empirical basis, as I argue in “Religion as a Natural Phenomenon”!
Using the above as my starting point, the next point that I would make is that to “be like Jesus” should be interpreted as meaning that one should perceive Jesus as one’s model. That means that trying to copy Jesus would be inappropriate:
1. Given that one differs from Jesus genetically, in life experiences, etc., it’s not possible to copy Jesus.
2. Given that the society one lives in today differs substantially from the society within which Jesus lived, trying to copy Jesus would obviously be neither possible nor appropriate.
In trying to model oneself after Jesus, it is first important to note that although it’s reasonably clear that Jesus was raised in the Jewish religion of his time, he was critical of it. This comes through “loud and clear” in the “Good Samaritan” parable attributed to him (in which the two “religious” characters—the priest and Levite—are both villains). His criticism of the Judaism of the time also “comes through” in the story attributed to him of him saving the life of the woman caught in adultery: Despite the “putting to death” command in Leviticus, Jesus rejected that command, and did so in a very clever way.
Just as Jesus determined that some aspects of the Judaism of his day should be rejected, so those of us brought up in, e.g., Christianity should recognize that we have even more reason to have problems with Christianity. Especially because Christianity doesn’t even make any pretense of continuing the religion of Jesus: Rather than being the religion of Jesus it is merely about Jesus, having a focus on beliefs and rituals. In having such an orientation, it doesn’t even qualify as a religion, per James 1:27
What modeling oneself after Jesus would involve, in my interpretation of what Jesus was “about,” is making the well-being of one’s fellow human beings central to one’s life. Here are some points to keep in mind regarding that:
- Given that one is a unique person, both in terms of genetics and life experiences, it follows that one should determine for oneself how best to realize that goal.
- One should recognize, though, that we humans, qua humans, are social animals. Thus meeting with others on a regular basis for discussion purposes can be useful for:
a. Fulfilling one’s inherent need for interacting with others on a regular basis.
b. “Bouncing” ideas off others as to how to best use one’s abilities to help others.
c. Coming to recognize that “helping” others can involve not just direct help but efforts to bring about institutional changes. The utopians have recognized this over the centuries, and I do in my A Road to Survival? paper.
As that paper of mine suggests, given that our species is now in danger of going extinct in the near-term future (as a result of global warming, this caused by our activities), we should now also think of “helping” behavior as helping our species avoid extinction!
- Church meetings today do not involve discussion (although adult classes usually do, to a degree). Rather, they involve being talked at especially (with, though, Quakers sitting
in silence, waiting for the “Spirit” to speak through one or more in attendance). Is this the basis for the assertion that “many of the concepts invented by religion have aimed to get people to conform to a system of behaviors that guarantee an intangible reward in the afterlife”?
- I suggest use of the Life Enhancement institution for discussion purposes. (See my A Life Institution.)
- One should recognize that going one’s own way takes courage. Although Jesus was crucified by the occupying Romans, I believe that it was Jewish leaders in Jerusalem at the time who — in suffering criticism at Jesus’s hands — influenced Pilate's decision to crucify him.
Let me end here on a personal note:
My parents were both raised in the Lutheran church in Mt. Morris, Wisconsin, that my great-great-grandfather Torje Tjøstolvsen Songe-Solberg had helped establish. Early in their marriage, however, they decided that Lutheranism was too “dead” for their tastes; they then got together with some other young couples to found the Assemblies of God church in nearby Wautoma. I was raised in that church, except that when I reached my teen years, my parents left that church for the Conservative Baptist church in nearby Wild Rose.
While away at college, in Oshkosh, WI (about 40 miles from our home in Mt. Morris), I avoided going to church. I did the same while attending the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, for an M.A. degree in Geography. (I met my wife—who was from Richland Center, WI -- while there.)
During the summer of 1965 I convinced my future wife to join me in Salisbury, MD, where I had obtained a teaching job; she did, and we were married on February 26, 1966. As my wife was a United Presbyterian, we were married in the Wicomico Presbyterian church there, and we both joined and attended that church.
From Salisbury, MD, we moved to Cincinnati, OH, and joined-attended a United Presbyterian church near our place of residence. This continued when we moved to Oxford, OH, and then when, in 1976, we returned to Wisconsin (the Milwaukee area). At some point, however, we became dissatisfied with the United Presbyterian church that we were attending, and tried a nearby United Methodist church. We joined, and what I especially liked about that church was the adult class; many of those who were in that group were “seekers,” and I enjoyed being in that environment!
At some point, though, we became dissatisfied with that church, and returned to the United Presbyterian church that we had attended earlier. About two years ago I stopped attending that church because my religious ideas (as expressed, e.g., in this paper) had developed to a point that I could not, in good conscience, continue attending.
Although I had, as early as 2007 (see this: Worship: An Exercise in Revisioning), begun to develop “Life Institution” ideas, not being an entrepreneurial person I’ve done nothing to implement that idea.
Original posting: 2019-OCT-30
Author: Alton C. Thompson