Why is Jesus still so popular?
I have always wondered why the Christian Religion is the most popular on Earth. There are over two billion Christians in the world. I thought at one time that it must be because Western Civilization expanded so quickly that it was able to distribute the teachings of Jesus far and wide. And so, as time went by, and the white man’s empire expanded, more and more people were eventually introduced to Christianity.
True, not all introductions were friendly, or for that matter fruitful at first. To be sure that many of the more isolated, naturalist cultures, as those found on New Guinea for example did suffer a loss of their own cultures to some extent in deference to the “White Man’s” religion. And not to belittle the sufferings of others, just because that doesn’t serve truth or justice, many of these people introduced to Christianity were in fact introduced at gun point, or as “inferiors” to be made better. This cannot be excused and is something that must in the end be atoned for, but still when we look far and wide, we see people clinging to their Christian faith. Still inclined to be Christians at some point in their lives, no matter how it is they got this religion to begin with.
We should note carefully that Europe today has become the most dangerous place for Christianity as a religion. More and more Christians are abandoning their cultural faith in deference to a more naturalist belief, or even plain Atheism. However, I truly suspect that this is not going to last long. Soon the Europeans will again fall in line, and may even manage to give the basic faith a much needed shot of evolution so that it can more readily comply with modern demands. There is a reason for thinking this, as you’ll see.
A warning is in order here…this article is not to say that the author is himself a very religious person-most of the time, but there are moments when the reason for religion becomes crystal clear! But this is personal, and you’ll see why I say this.
But in general , this religion, Christianity, has taken hold of far too many souls to be merely a fluke, or a passing fad, or merely an outdated mode of thinking. There is much more to it, and for good reason.
A bad Joke at first sight
Consider that the basic article of faith in Christianity is in some ways a hard belief system to accept for the uninitiated, or those lacking the motivation. Moreover, to someone uninitiated it would seem almost like a bad, base, perhaps hilarious joke.
As the story goes, a very poor child, named Jesus is born somewhere far removed from what is “proper” and established civilization, as for example Rome, or Alexandria, and instead is born on the outskirts of a minor Roman tributary city, and in a horse barn no less. This boy, this child of some poor peasants with little to their name, is now to be acknowledged as the true Son of God, and the “king of kings”. Born in a stable, among lowly barn animals, beasts of burden, and animals soon to be slaughtered for consumption, this little boy, helpless and poor is to be considered the most powerful being in the universe! This would be a bad Joke at best.
But the Joke gets better. His mother conceived him and was a virgin! A Virgin! Just imagine the first thought that pops into one’s head if the person is not initiated. A Virgin giving birth to a child who is the Son of God. What a Joke! At first I’m sure that many doubters, especially the lower minded among us, would think this to be a good bar joke, of the most ridiculous kind. Hardly worthy of being the world’s most popular religion.
So much for first impressions. Yet, this religion has taken hold of billions of human lives and these people give themselves wholeheartedly to this highly unnatural faith. This religion has directly and indirectly managed to form this civilization that we now live in. It is especially unlikely that Northern Europe would have calmed down enough to think clearly enough to give a new birth to the old civilization it had inherited from the Romans, and the Greeks.
Why? Why was Christianity so important? Why was it able to thrive though it is on the surface of it an almost absurd, and quite unnatural assumption of faith? Be aware, Christianity is anything but natural. It is by design meant to be Supernatural! But why? Why has it thrived among so many naturalist societies, including the Greeks, the Romans, and the modern Europeans? Why?
The Jewish Foundations of Christianity
To answer this question I think it’s best to take a look at the two competing religions coming out of the same region.
We have first the Jewish religion. Jesus was a Jew. His parents were both Jewish, thus they were initiated in the Jewish traditions. But what were those traditions?
Well we can safely say I think the Jewish religion depends heavily on the Rabi. The teacher. To be Jewish, you must know how to be Jewish. You cannot simply go around claiming to be a Jew without knowledge and initiation. This is clear if you read through the bible carefully. It was meant to be a religion of the “learned” and initiated. If you are able, that is if there is not some reason which naturally prevents you from doing so, you must study, you must learn, and you must practice the ways of God as he was revealed to you in the bible, or the “Torah” as it is called in Jewish religious practice.
But to do all this that is required to be a Jew is not all that easy. To be a Jew is hard. It’s just not that easy when you think about all those things you must learn and practice in fulfilling your faith in God. You need to attain a certain mastery and also a certain acceptance among the community. It is a religion of mystery and initiation, and personal sacrifice and attention. And it is extensive. It is not all that easy to accomplish the Jewish faith, that much seems clear. Indeed, we might conclude, not everyone might be cut out to be Jewish after all.
This must to some extent at least explain why there are so few Jews in the world. It’s just not that easy to be Jewish. There are requirements, some quite difficult, and numerous at that.
The Mohammedan Religion
Now let us look at the other major religion in the region which is the religion of Mohamed, the messenger of Allah, who is God as perceived by the Muslims. Now this religion grew up later than either the Jewish or Christian. So to be honest it had far less time to acquire its followers. And to be sure it is quite popular. But one thing is quite clear for this religion too, it is not an easy religion to adhere to. No in this religion there is a strict understanding that Allah(God) is the supreme judge, as well as the supreme will of the Universe. And his commandments are the only commandments available. He has demands upon us all, and all must adhere to those demands. Everyone must obey his chief prophet Mohammed, and everyone must do whatever needs to be done to live up to expectations. Punishment for any lack of observance can be quite severe, and failure is really not much of an option. There are a few clauses for forgiveness, especially on ignorance of the laws of God. Thus it is expected that you will take the time to learn those commandments in detail and quickly. As in the Jewish religion where performance of duty is a fundamentally necessary attainment if you would be truly faithful to Allah, or God. But, much like the Jewish religion, once you learn, there are few excuses. You must act according to the laws of Mohamed, or things could become less than comfortable for you. There is an inherent expectation in the total consummation of your Muslim faith, and you are burdened with the conscience that makes that possible.
Of course I am not here speaking of extremists. Extremists exist in every religion so we should never assume that the troubles of the Middle East today are due to these religions. In truth they are not in my opinion. Rather the troubles we see are due to fundamental anger, and resentment, pent up for ages and now released. These acts of violence, often proclaimed to be religious acts do not speak for any of the three major religions of the West. None of the three major religions truly espouses violence. That was never their purpose.
But, that being said, it is still quite true that both the Jewish, and Mohammedan Religions are quite exacting, quite demanding on one who aspires to be Jewish, or to be Muslim.
Christianity is less demanding
And here is perhaps the real reason the Christian religion has so many followers still, despite the quite unnatural presupposition of a poor Virgin giving birth to a helpless child who is the Son of God. It is a religion that is detached. It asks only one thing :”do you believe”? There is really no necessary process to being a Christian. No prerequisites. Just a simple fundamental question of faith or leap of faith : Do you believe?
For in the Jewish religion you are expected to take care of your actions. You are expected to live as a Jew if you intend to ask God for mercy. You must develop your being so as to be worthy of the anointment. There is a certain price for being Jewish, and true enough, there is much practical necessity for these actions. You must be in some ways worthy, and capable.
Though all religion is based on the same fundamental principles of faith there are always practical and historical-experiential- implications in each. The Jewish community, as it has evolved for the past two thousand years is relatively small and scattered, often isolated, often victimized, and so its members must be taught with internal discipline; but in any case true it is, there are great demands on every individual Jewish indoctrinate and this is often of practical necessity. There must not be a vestige of the lower man in you! You must be committed wholly to the spirit. But one thing is undeniable, It’s hard to be a Jew. And unlike Christianity, the prodigal son is only welcomed once.
The same goes for the Muslim. Wherever you are, you too must face the doubts of the outsiders. Your ways, are conservative, your actions too precise, too predictable-five times a day you must kneel before Allah- usually too faithful for the surrounding populace. Too much laughter is frowned upon, too much food, too much indifference, or too much of anything is not well regarded. A Muslim has a cause, an obligation, a virtue to uphold the ways of Allah always. This is the expectation. This is the necessity. It is not easy being a Muslim.
If you should desire that Allah help you as a Muslim, you must be quite certain that you have in the past devoted yourself to him, or else promise unreservedly that in the future you will devote yourself wholeheartedly to him forever more-and do it. This you must do in public, and be publically accepting of the faith. You must sacrifice something if you desire the aid of the Supreme Being, and much of that sacrifice is to come from your perception of you own self worth. Your animal ways must be forever renounced. There are few freebees here, few exceptions. For this reason it must be hard to be a Muslim.
But then we get to the Christian religion and see that relatively speaking it is quite easy to be a Christian. Christianity, from its inception was meant to be a dispensation from the strict Jewish practice. For Christ was one of us. He was born with the animals. He was human, poor, ignorant once, fragile, and vulnerable. He was born in disrepute, and mocked for it He was the laughing stock for some, like we are often in our lives, he was the persecuted one by some, again like we ourselves are sometimes. And he was alone at times, like we are perhaps most of the time. And in the end, he was crucified, tortured, disgraced and abandoned quite like the way we are by our own people at times. And he died, like we die, always.
He faltered like we do too. He fell down and waivered like we do. He even failed outright sometimes, like we do as ordinary human beings. He knew the shortcomings, and the failures of the human spirit. He was one of us.
You see in the Christian religion it is assumed that we are indeed weak. It is assumed that we are frail from the start. It is assumed that on some days we will run from God and the ways of God. It is assumed that we are all too fragile-most of the time, and mortal in the end. We are in fact “desperate” when it comes right down to it! We are here only for a very short while, and sometimes we suffer terribly like the ” Son of God” did once. We too feel the humiliation of being merely human and part animal, as he, Jesus. did once. We too must bear witness to the horrors of the cross as we must sometimes bear it, or see one of our own humiliated by disease, and pain, and suffering, and death.
Yet, there is an opening. There is a loophole to the unrelenting natural order of things. Death is everywhere, corruption everywhere.
But if only you can believe that all those naturally insurmountable limits can be overcome through some almost insane miracle, then you are a Christian. If only you can believe.
In some sense we can say that one reason for so many people still believing in Christ is that he indeed is perceived as the redeemer of the insufferable limitations of being a Mortal Rational Animal. In the Christian faith, Jesus, the Christ child is the one ordained by God, his father, to take everyone who asks him, in to his safe keeping, no matter badly an individual has failed in life’s poor game, and give that hopeless soul another chance. Even another life! It is believed by all Christians, against all odds, that he, Jesus, the Christ child, was resurrected, born again into a new universe of infinite possibilities. This is alluring to someone truly desperate. And desperation is an almost constant mode of human psychological existence, no matter who might claim what. We are desperate, always desperate to live.
Yet, still this is not the main reason for Christianity’s popularity I think.
No the main reason is this, in the other two religions, and even in the Buddhist, and Hindu religions, you have to work hard to attain favor, whereas if you believe in Christ, even once in your lifetime, be it the very last moment, he will forgive you. He has your back, always, and he fully understands what it is to be human, just like you, desperate and alone as you face the unrelenting march of time. And there is a promise, that somehow, some way, you will live again. And all those who have gone before time and accepted him as their savior will also live-again. Another chance in what appears to be an unforgiving world. And if you can believe that, your desperation is mitigated, somewhat at least.
God is automatic
So you see, in Christianity, it’s as if God is on automatic. No matter if you fall asleep at the wheel, no matter if you stumble, no matter even if you suffer the worst. Christ will always have your back. He will always be there to lift you up again. Even in Death which is of course, the ultimate failure, and ultimate humiliation of human life. Yet even here, Jesus can make amends because He is one of us, and yet he is also God! All it takes, is a leap of faith. A feeling. Perhaps not something that is all too difficult to accept, when one is truly desperate. And desperation is never too far from human existence. In real practice, Christianity is almost like a psychological insurance policy of sorts, and many a faithful have admitted this. But then again in this last sense, all religions are the same.
Given the grim realities of human life, quite a few will take that leap of faith at one point, or other. The more attainable and simple that leap of faith, the easier it is to take it.
This is the real reason so many believe in Christ, and why this religion has survived and prospered for so long. And in the end, everyone is human, everyone faulty, everyone subject to the never ending uncertainty, and “angst” of the existential being. Christianity is quite popular now, and will likely remain popular for a very long time to come.
The Christian religious recipe is simple and effective: you are free to live, free to die, free to be again…if you can believe in yourself again, as a human child of God. This, no matter what the pulpits might say, is the real reason Christianity has survived and prospered for so very long.
God is available twenty four seven, all you have to do is look inside-and believe! No reservations necessary.
Post Script: We should understand that all religious “leaps of faith” are at their existential inception acts of desperation. They are not factual, since the facts are not very promising. Time stops for no one, and no matter how we try, sooner or later the reality will barge in on us, one way or other, until one day we are facing our ultimate destiny, and the ultimate limitation of every living thing. Our only chance is if somehow, even cruel Chronos, might just be one of us, and by chance might have some sympathy on our frail state-and if not he, then perhaps his son.
All religion is an act of human desperation. A gamble of sorts. It is not rational by nature. Indeed it is not usually natural. The monotheistic religions are especially unnatural. They are a kind of human “defiance” of nature, at least at their inception. In the case of the Buddhist you seem to get a rather “metaphysical” religion even at inception. But of course there were precedents in India; And it requires the death of the human ego, not an easy thing to kill.
All religions develop their “metaphysical” doctrines eventually, again of necessity. As religion is organized by some church or body, there is a necessity to impart to it a certain order, a certain doctrine, a certain conformity, custom, ritual and language. Religious order becomes a fully fledged “society”. And through this organization it spreads as others are given that option to leap into an eternal world, in solemn bond with those that have before taken that same chance. The more, the merrier, and the less the doubt.
But this outward organization is never the real essence of Religion. The essence is always individual human desperation. A human existential leap of faith when no other natural alternative exists for the individual human being. Perhaps this is why, from the very beginnings of religion in history, the primary spiritual motives were always anthropomorphic, and still are.
In the end though, the majority of well established religions assume that the fundamental principle of all the world is Hylozoist. That is to say the Universe is alive!
Just like us.
Post post script
Faith and fact are two different existential human realities, and they must forever remain that way. I belittle neither faith, nor fact here. I believe that they represent a duality of human existence and that this duality can never be undone. We are everywhere limited by facts, save but one place: in our own spirit and in our own heart, and this is where we live, most of the time.
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