Presenting the apostles as holy

I don’t usually write of theological matters, because I’m not a theologian. Of course, my philosophy rejects such expertise in the first place, because as far as I’m concerned, theologians tend to embrace what they’ve been taught, and that doesn’t include doubts. It’s the same formula for all expertise based on education, and this is one of the great differences between modernity and the postmodern mind. Experience is elevated above book‐learning to pomos, and this is upsetting to the status quo. I’ve written of this many times, so bear with me as we examine something important about Christianity.

Russian painter, Simon Ushakov, painted his “Last Supper” in 1685. Ushakov was an Orthodox Christian, the primary Christian practice in Eastern European countries and elsewhere. The painting is significant, because it depicts Christ and the Disciples with halos, which was the custom when trying to present these historical figures as holy. The use of such icons is common in Orthodox history, similar to the icons of Buddhism. Only Judas is depicted sans halo.

There are two real problems with this. One, in proclaiming these disciples as “holy,” the church bends the historical narrative for its own benefit, which was to create a dependency on the church for access to God or anyone holy. If we can be convinced that the only way to gain our own halo is to live a “Christian” life in accordance with church teachings, then the hierarchy of the church is not only intact, but it has a permanent place in the lives of the community.

Two — and this is perhaps the biggest difficulty presented with this “holy disciples” narrative — it simply isn’t accurate. These were not holy men; they were just like you and me. Their clumsiness as humans is lost in the recognition of their holiness, and this alters the meaning of important texts that would greatly help each of us on our own journeys through life. The growing of Christianity’s brand, therefore, was based on a fallacy, for in order to receive the good news, we must be convinced that we are unable to become what the disciples became. We need to be kept in our place to assure order, but that all changes, if the disciples were just ordinary people. In fact, to conclude their holiness even in the early church is to lose track of the gospel in a hodgepodge of mixed messages.

The just shall live by faith, unless and except when it comes to everyday living. Then, it’s all about our behavior, and grace gets kicked aside in the need to maintain the institutions we’ve built. That is best accomplished if those 12 men were kept aside as ideals for us to chase. But that was never really the case when Jesus was teaching them, assuming one’s belief in the Bible as a teaching document.

In Luke, chapter 17, for example, the disciples asked Jesus, “Lord, increase our faith.” If these were holy men, they would have no reason to make this request. Their motive would have been to help Jesus in spreading the word through performing the same signs and wonders that He did. But, they were not sanctified and separate from others in their thoughts or their behavior. Therefore, Jesus detects the self‐centered motive in asking for more faith. They’re profoundly impressed with the guy and want to share in His power. They’ve heard him talk about this “faith” thing and don’t understand. So their question really is, “Lord, increase our faith so that we can do the same cool things that you do (and gain an advantage over our fellow man).”

The parable of the mustard seed follows, in which Jesus describes the faith of a mustard seed for them (it simply does what it’s supposed to do) and challenges them with a statement that, if they were to act similarly, they could move mountains or toss trees into the ocean.

Then, however, he shifts to another parable — the unprofitable servant. He essentially tells them not to expect any personal reward for doing what we’re supposed to do — like uprooting trees — because we are nobodies compared with the Creator. So, Jesus saw through their request, and this story has become fully bastardized through this idea that these men were holy simply because they followed Jesus in the beginning of His ministry. Many translations, for example, reference the size of the mustard seed as depicting just a wee bit of faith, which is a bit like being a wee bit pregnant. In for a penny; in for a pound. The decision to think and act for the benefit of others is contrary to our nature, and Jesus certainly knew that. He was fully man and fully God, according to the book, but isn’t it amazing how rarely we speak of his humanity and the internal conflicts He must have known? We need to think about it, however, because the book — especially the New Testament — takes on new meaning and significance if we can understand that the only holy man at the time of the disciples was Jesus himself.

The story of Jesus being tested in the wilderness is a great example of the humanity of Jesus. You know the story: Jesus was dealing with the torture and death what awaited him in Jerusalem. He was suffering internal agony over the conflict. If we’re to examine only His godly nature, we think that he was actually confronted by a devilish character who tempted him to avoid crucifixion by bowing down to the devil’s wishes. This makes for chilly — almost Tolkienesque — imagery, but it’s much more likely that these ideas — the stone, the leap, the rebellion — were birthed in His own head by his own ego, for that is the realm of man wherein temptation resides. This makes the story much more relatable to all of us, for who hasn’t heard the voice of his own ego?

It’s too risky. I might get hurt.
It’s really not my ministry.
Surely, I can take just one drink, right?
Nobody will see me in the adult video store.
I’m not worthy of getting a raise.
I’m special and good.
I’m special and bad.
My intentions are good.
It’s too hot/cold to keep my commitment.
He’ll never miss that $20 I owe.

So Jesus is hungry. Bang, he entertains the thought of changing a rock into a loaf of bread. The lesson doesn’t change whatsoever, but the scenario becomes much more relatable, because we’re no longer forcing ourselves into a magical illusion in the name of holiness.

The Protestant rebellion against Rome was based on the belief that “the just shall live by faith” and that grace, not works, was the path to righteousness in God’s eyes, thanks to the sacrifice of Jesus. The reasoning was simple. The law of Moses could not be kept, so God, through His unmerited favor, intervened with one final sacrifice for all of humanity. The problem for Rome, of course, was that such a stance gutted the hierarchy in place with the church. Controlling the behavior of citizens on behalf of the haves of the culture became its “business” model. Its value proposition was it stood as God’s intermediary with His people, and God only worked through its priests, cardinals, and bishops. The church sold its blessings to the highest bidders and became the absolute governor of human behavior by promising the “right” pathway to heaven.

And if people can be persuaded to accept their lot in life as God’s plan — and that their reward for this comes in the afterlife — then the masses can be controlled on behalf of the rulers of the culture. This is what we cherished for hundreds of years.

Protestantism stood a chance at replacing the power of Rome, but corruption reared its ugly head in the name of Protestant evangelism. Destroying entire civilizations in the name of God became morally acceptable, as long as it meant growing Christianity worldwide. In establishing the faith as a dynasty, it was important for the church to picture “holy” humans with halos to justify its unique separation from the filth of humanity.

And, as long as we covet our own halos, we’re susceptible to manipulation by the alleged grantor of halos, namely the church.

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