Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Jesus Religion- Book Review

A 6th century mosaic of :en:Jesus at Church Sa...Image via Wikipedia
Someone on a Yahoo group I'm on told me about the book "Jesus Religion" by Louis Charles. I checked out the author (listened to a pretty long radio interview with him and befriended him on Facebook) and decided the book was worthy of a read.  I just finished reading it and I think it is a  good book.

The book examines the illogical and inconsistent teachings of what has become traditional Christianity.  Louis Charles takes us through a brief history of how we got the Bible we have, how the hell doctrine arose, how Jesus was deified by the early church fathers, etc.  For someone like myself who has been on a truth quest about these things for close to a decade now there's not much shocking here.  I found the book to be similar to several written by former fundamentalist Christians who have realized that just doesn't make sense to them anymore.  Not only does it not make sense.  But, it's actually debilitating, fearful, life-sucking religion. That doesn't mean the book isn't original or worthwhile. We each have our own story to tell and, of all the authors I've read, Louis may be the one whose story is closest to my own.

I agree with Louis on most of his points.  The Bible isn't what most Christians think it is.  The doctrine of Hell is a man-made invention (politically motivated) to keep the masses in line. The man people worship as G-d in the flesh wasn't named Jesus Christ.  His name was more like Yeshua.  And, I think He'd be shocked and disappointed to see what is being done in His name today.  But, the tone of the book, to me, was just a little over-the-top in condemning Christianity and church.  I find many people who have left what they now call the Institutional Church (IC) seem to have lost the ability to find anything good in gathering together with other seekers.  I've read several books now that I think are intended to "free" people from the shackles of religion/church. But, rather than just leaving their experience as their own experience they project it onto everyone else and pretty much say we all must leave the church.  I can't agree with that.  I think there is a place for church/community even if the IC for the most part has mucked it up.

Another point that Louis made that I struggled with is the idea that it's better to know than to believe.  I agree that believing/faith are given way, way, way too much emphasis in Christianity. In fact, the way Christianity is taught to many all that matters is what you believe.  You don't have to do anything.  You don't have to practice.  You just have to believe the right things.  And, if you don't believe the right things, you're condemned to hell.  And, I agree it's better to know than to believe.  The Buddha taught to not take any of his teachings based on his word only.  But, to try them out and see how they work in the real world.  Perhaps that is what Louis was trying to say. But, Louis says things like we're all eternal spirit and G-d resides within us and that our physical bodies are not our true selves, etc.   When he says those things, he is expressing beliefs.  None of these things have been directly experienced by him.  I agree with him, BTW.  I believe those things, too.  But, to classify those beliefs as "knowledge" and somehow superior to Christian beliefs is unfair, IMO.

Personally, I have not found it possible or necessarily to abandon Christianity (yet).  I'm operating more on along the lines of what Daniel Helminiak suggested in his book "The Transcended Christian".  To use an analogy from one of the challenges on Project Runway, I'm taking the material from my old wedding dress (Christianity) and creating a new garment from it.  But, Louis does point out two major incompatibilities with Christianity that I have a really difficult time with.  The first is the teaching of "original sin", the idea that we are born defective and alienated from G-d.  Not only that.  But, G-d wants to condemn us to eternal torment for being born the way we are.  The second is related to that.  I was taught that when are are "saved" we are covered with the blood.  Basically we're still rotten to the core.  But, G-d overlooks that since we've been "washed in the blood".

Back to the book review.  Overall, I think this is a good book.  But, the timing has to be right for it to resonate with you.  (When the student is ready the teacher will come).   Most Christians will simply not be ready for the book. Don't buy a copy and give it to your fundamentalist parents or friends unless you want to see their heads explode.  For those who have read books like Pagan Christianity?or other books that take a critical examination of the history of Christianity and the church, you might find it to be somewhat redundant.  But, if you're feeling like something is wrong with Christianity and can't quite put your finger on it, this might be the book for you to help you work through some of that.

Here's a short video from the author about the book.

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Mike aka MonolithTMA said...

Thanks for the review, Brian. I do want to read this book at some point. It's on my list.

Don said...

It's on my long, long list. I identify with Louis in many ways. I still recognize that I still harbor some anger at my church, at traditional Christianity in general, but know that is not the way it should be.

Brian said...


Of all the authors I've read, I think Louis is the one I can identify with most. His journey, in many ways, is similar to mine and yours.

I realized I had to process through the anger at my upbringing. I had dismissed it without coming to terms with it. But, I did that and I've moved beyond forgiveness to acceptance. It took experience to make me the person I am today. So, as painful as it was, I wouldn't change it.

I continue to hold out hope that there is a sangha (community) for me. I still think religion (as dirty as that word has become) can bring us together and allow us to be a greater whole than we are as individuals. Some may say that I'm a dreamer....

I doubt you'll find anything earth-shattering in the book. But, I do think you'll find it a worthwhile read.

kc bob said...

Great review Brian. You are one of the most balanced folks I know. I so appreciate that you are able to read with such discernment.

I am trying to use the words "traditional" instead of "institutional" these days because the latter seems to drip with such venom (maybe that is just me though).

I have had my own ultra-negative issues with the church but like you I don't see the value in living life with a negative orientation towards it. Everyone is different and it is unfair for me to project my views and judge those who do not agree with me as part of a corrupt system.

Anywho.. enjoyed the post.

Brian said...

Bob, I think you've known me long enough to realize I have my issues with the church (institutional, traditional- however you want to describe it). I can definitely understand why some people want nothing to do with it.

At one time I wanted to reject the label Christian because the traditional view is so far from what I am. But, I think I am still a Christian in many ways- although probably not recognizable as such to some people. I wouldn't fit in with about 99% of the churches out there. But, for my family's sake and to try to do some good in my little corner of the world, I keep plugging away at it. I'm glad to have found one that at least I can be myself in.

okiedragon said...

Did I catch one of your recent posts where you commented that you were leaning toward atheism? I know sometimes that thought even enters my mind.

I guess we all pingpong spiritually depending on moods, things that are going on in our lives and other events. I still find 90% of Christianity lacking any truth - Megachurches, TV evangelicals, Mormonism, Catholicism, Southern Baptists, Prosperity teaching - but individually there are some very fine and wonderful Christ-like people too - some aren't even aware of their basic tenets to do the right thing.

I still find organized religion too lacking. But when I get with one or two and we discuss the best of God - that is close enough for me.

Brian said...

Yes, I did say in a recent post that I seem to be on the same path as a couple of people who have moved from fundamentalism to atheism. But, I also said that I don't anticipate going there. My picture of G-d has changed radically, as has my picture of myself. But, I cannot explain why I am here or where I am going without G-d. So, I remain a theist.