"THE TEACHINGS OF JESUS"
WALTER L. WILLIAMS
Several decades after the death of Jesus, in a neighboring area north of Galilee, a local government official named Saul was strongly opposed to the teachings of Jesus. He was pro-Roman, and felt that Jesus’ doctrines were dangerous to the established order. Saul particularly disliked Jesus’ message emphasizing love and happiness as the end goals of life. Saul persecuted those disciples who tried to teach in his governmental district, and as a loyal servant of the Empire he tried everything he could to stamp out the growing congregations of followers of Jesus.
Though Saul tried again and again he could not prevent the spread of Jesus’ gospel. He was despairing of the effort, and feared that if he did not do something drastic, then the followers of Jesus would become strong and mount a rebellion against the Roman Empire. Finally, one day as Saul was walking on the road to Damascus, he had a brilliant insight. His idea was so astounding that it practically blinded him. He decided that, rather than trying to oppose this growing new doctrine, he would pretend to convert to accepting Jesus as his savior. Then he could work his way into a position of influence among the followers of Jesus, in order to subvert the rabbi’s teachings.
Saul announced his conversion with great fanfare, and declared himself Jesus’ disciple. The true disciples reacted against this imposter, but Saul pushed them aside as he traveled throughout the area to spread his fame as the true Apostle. Though he had never seen or heard Jesus, Saul invented a story that Jesus’ spirit had appeared to him. He even changed his name from Saul to Paul, in order to show that he had truly turned over a new leaf. Paul often invoked Jesus’ name, but he seldom mentioned Jesus’ teachings. Instead, he focused on Jesus’ suffering and sacrifice on the cross, while ignoring the message of peace love and happiness that Jesus emphasized. He rejected the concept of the followers of Jesus’ teachings, in favor of establishing a church that he could control.
The Apostle Paul not only traveled around the eastern Mediterranean area, but he also wrote a series of long letters to neighboring peoples. In these letters he plotted to subvert the message of Jesus with his own version of religion. He especially emphasized the view that people are sinful, in direct contradiction to the teachings of Jesus. He ignored Jesus’ attacks on materialism, in favor of condemning sexual non-conformists. By making people feel guilty about their natural sexual feelings, Paul predicted confidently, he would be able to ignore Jesus’ liberating message in favor of a focus on the savior’s suffering on the cross. The cross became the new symbol of Paul’s Church.
By this means the followers of Jesus were slowly manipulated into becoming “Christians”—Paul’s name for his new religion that he worked so hard to establish. Paul’s desire was for power and influence within the Roman Empire. To do that, he had to reject the Jewish heritage of Jesus. He and his followers emphasized that Jews had rejected Jesus, and he promoted a view of Jews as evil. Whereas Jesus loved his Jewish people, and only opposed the Pharisee priests who collaborated with Rome, Paul perverted this story into one where the entire Jewish race was conceived as the villain. This relieved Rome from responsibility or guilt for all the horrors they had inflicted upon the Jews and other conquered peoples in the Empire.
Paul’s desire for power was so intense that he went as a missionary to spread the Christian Church into Rome itself. He wrote letters to his Roman followers, and appealed to Roman officials to reject their policy of religious toleration of multiple religions in favor of Christianity alone. He pressed his message of intolerance so strongly that Caesar reacted against him, and began to persecute the Christians.
Though Paul’s intolerance of other religions was his undoing, his message of righteous certainty gradually took hold in Rome. His message of guilt and sin made people feel insecure, and they felt they would be saved if they merely proclaimed their faith in the name of Jesus. Paul encouraged his followers to select some of the writings of the disciples, and to subtly change the message of Jesus to reflect a more pro-Roman and anti-Jewish stance. These writings, which only partially reflected the true teachings of Jesus, became known as the New Testament of the Christian Bible. In an act of great hubris Paul declared his own writings to be the word of God, and thus added his influence into the scriptures. Paul was declared to be a Saint, a status that Jesus never recognized. The Christians quoted Paul much more than they quoted Jesus.
Paul’s subversion of the teachings of Jesus succeeded beyond his wildest dreams. Though he did not live to see it, Paul’s ideas formed the basis for the rise of the Christian Church. Three centuries after the death of Jesus, the Christian doctrines of Paul had become so influential in Rome that the Roman Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity. Constantine ordered Paul’s Bible to be made the state religion of the Roman Empire, and declared all other religions to be blasphemy. After this point, the Roman government began persecuting those who disagreed with Christianity. The persecutions reached such extremes that they made many people disaffected against the government, and the resulting internal religious conflicts helped to lead to the weakening of the Empire. Within a century, Rome itself had fallen.
The subversion of the message of Jesus was complete, as the Christian Church declared itself heir to the authority of the Roman Empire. It even took on the name of the Roman Catholic Church. Centuries of intolerance and persecution followed, as the Christians used the Bible to justify crusades, inquisitions, and massive campaigns of genocide inflicted on peoples in the far corners of the earth. In Jesus’ name, Christian conquerors and missionaries caused untold misery as these usurpers spread their established religion through imperialism and conquest. Christianity had ironically become as brutal as the Roman Empire which Jesus had reacted against. The loving message of Jesus had been drowned out by the intolerance of the Christian establishment. The fusion of Jesus’ teachings opposing power, with power itself, is the core of the corruption of the Christian Church. When Church leaders used the power of the Empire to persecute and murder others who disagreed with them, they not only betrayed the teachings of Jesus, but also embodied the very power that killed Jesus. The incredible result was that people who claimed to love God were killing each other in the name of Jesus. God retreated in horror from the world upon observing how thoroughly Jesus’ teachings had been perverted by the followers of Paul.
But still, underneath the cant and ceremony of the splendid wealth of the Roman Catholic hierarchy, the simple message of Jesus continued to shine. Those who rejected the distortions of the Bible, and Paul’s perverted teachings, continued to resonate to the loving embrace of Mary and Jesus. They began to challenge the usurpers, by turning to Mary in their hours of need, by bringing back Jesus’ message of peace, love and happiness, the doctrines from the East that inspired him, and the grace of God in bringing this Jewish rabbi to try to improve the terrible state of the world. Two thousand years later, the followers of Jesus began to focus again on the story of Mary and Jesus. It remains today the most loving story ever told.
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