I've always found it remarkable that Americans know so little about Christianity - the religion they hold so dear. Almost half believe that Jesus will probably return to Earth within the next half century despite a woeful lack of evidence that he was ever here in the first place.
What's the difference between a religion and a cult?
About a thousand years.
Actually, that's not always true. It was only a few decades ago when L. Ron Hubbard established Scientology as an up and coming religion. Because Hubbard was a science fiction writer, it's not surprising that his story is full of space aliens and intergalactic flying machines. It caught on right away. And it only took a couple of centuries before Joseph Smith's tale gained tax-free status. He originally started slow, saying he'd run into a couple of Gods in the woods. It wasn't until he told lots of new and increasingly miraculous versions of his story that Mormonism took hold.
So while there have been many fast-track religions, Christianity is a more traditional sect and goes way back. However, it took a long time before a hodgepodge of ancient legends, savior cults, pagan rituals, and hero myths were all strung together to form what is generally accepted as the life and death narrative of Jesus Christ.
The weird thing is, there's a surprising lack of any contemporary accounts. Now just stop and be reasonable for a moment. Wouldn't you think that someone who supposedly attracted a big bunch of followers, and created some pretty significant social upheaval, would have been mentioned by all the major writers of that period? By way of contrast, Caesar Augustus is firmly tied to the history of his era. There's no question that he existed - right?
So how come historians of the period were so quiet when it came to Jesus? The God Who Wasn't There addresses this very question. Brian Flemming, a former Christian fundamentalist, has made a documentary that compares historical facts with modern beliefs and finds the latter sorely lacking. I would urge you to visit his web site at www.thegodmovie.com, get the DVD, and then prepare to be shocked and enlightened in roughly equal parts. If you enjoyed Bill Maher's Religiosity, you won't want to miss this one.
Flemming starts out by saying that you won't hear much about the early history of Christianity because...well...because there isn't any. Between the crucifixion and Mark (perhaps a century later), only Paul has anything to say about Christ Jesus - and he'd clearly never heard of a virgin mother, three wise men, a star over Bethlehem, etc. In fact, he puts the Son of God firmly in the spirit world - as in not a real person. That should get your attention. What follows should scare the wits out of you. Zealots who fly planes into buildings are not the only threat out there. Who says we're losing the fanatical extremist battle to the Muslims?
And while people are quick to ridicule those who believe the CIA planned 911 and the FBI killed JFK, they rarely think rationally about their own beliefs. Wouldn't it be infinitely better, as a way of life, to defer judgment pending evidence and to then accept that evidence only provisionally? There's no law that says you have to pick a religion.
And since similarly shaky foundations support all such chronicles, how do you know, for example, that the Catholics are closer to the truth than the Baptists? How about the Methodists versus the Latter Day Saints? And don't forget the Presbyterians, the Lutherans, the Assemblies of God, and the Church of God in Christ. Keep in mind that I've mentioned only major religions in the here and now. Even the Assemblies of God (the what of the who?) has millions of members. But just think about all the little religions in this country, all the big religions in other countries and all the different Gods that were worshiped throughout the ages.
The next time someone starts telling you about God, ask which one? I think it would be safe to say that not one in a million can tell you God's name as written in the KJ version of the Bible.