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[Chalice] Jesus for Pagans [Chalice]

Presented November 16, 2008, by Paul Miller

One fine day, not so long ago, I was accosted by a Christian evangelist who's opening line was "Brother, do you have a personal relationship with Jesus?" I might have replied "Hell, no, brother, I have a personal relationship with the Goddess !" But, feeling non-confrontational, I stammered momentarily and said something like "Well, maybe not as personal as yours." Without missing a beat, he treated me to a 60 second dissertation on sin and salvation, and sent me on my merry way, satisfied with his contribution to my salvation. I had heard it all before. Having gotten accustomed to it, salvation by the grace of Jesus' sacrifice rolls off a pagan like water off a duck.

As a preacher's kid, of course I went to Sunday school, and the important lesson was pretty easy to accept Be good; go to Heaven. I liked that plan. If I had dropped out of Sunday school after that first lesson, I might have grown up to be a good Christian.

But then they told me that Jesus died for my sins, and the reason I get to go to heaven is because Jesus took the rap for my sins. Being a shy child who seldom asked questions in public, I didn't challenge the justice or practicality of crucifying Jesus, who was good, because other people were being bad. When I misbehaved badly, my loving mother gave me the whipping I deserved. She would not punish my well-behaved brother for my misbehavior. But I was taught this is exactly what our loving Father in Heaven did.

I eventually found Neopaganism as my spiritual path. Most Pagans believe in justice for all. One is responsible for one's own behavior. One's deeds, good or ill, return (most Pagans say times three). When our misspent lives are over, we can't just stride up to the Pearly Gates and tell Saint Peter "Yep, I was bad, but Jesus paid my dues. May I have my halo and wings now?"

Now this is not a rejection of Jesus, mind you. Pagans don't believe that we get a "get out of Hell free" card because Jesus paid our fine, but most of us think Jesus was a really nice guy, regardless of what crazy plan his Father in heaven had for him. Pagans have plenty of room at the table for another god, should a good one come knocking. Many Pagans welcome Jesus into our pantheon.

Pagan gods come in all flavors. Some are pure myth created to illustrate a spiritual concept. Some are historical people who were deified much like Catholic saints. What about Jesus?

Most scholars, even the atheist ones, agree that Jesus was a real person. He was probably born in Bethlehem, or maybe in Nazareth, around 7 - 4 B.C. during the reign of King Herod the Great, and probably not on December 25. That was the birthday of Mithras, the Persian God of Light, who was popular with Roman soldiers. The Roman emperor Aurelian declared December 25 as Dies Sol Invictus, the Day of the Invincible Sun. It is perfectly reasonable that Roman Christians would choose the same day for the official birthday of their god of light.

Jesus' mother was a young woman (probably about 14 years young) named Mary. His father, or stepfather, I don't know which, was a carpenter named Joseph. The Bible tells us that Jesus' real father was God. It is common in Pagan lore for Gods to incarnate, copulate, and reproduce with mortals, but not so common with the Jews. Joseph was remarkably understanding when his 14 year-old fiancée turned up with child.

Jesus probably grew up in Nazareth, which was a suburb of the booming city of Sepphoris. It is plausible that Joseph moved from Bethlehem with his young family to get work in Nazareth. As a craftsman, he could have made a decent living in the building trades, commuting 4 miles from Nazareth to Sepphoris. This jibes with the gospel of Matthew, but not with Luke.

We know nothing about Jesus as a young adult. All the gospels mention that Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist at the beginning of his ministry, when John and Jesus were both about 30 years old. John was a wild man full of fire and brimstone who would have made Jerry Fallwell look like Casper Milquetoast by comparison. Jesus may have been a follower of John before embarking on His own ministry when John got arrested.

King Herod Antipas, son of Herod the Great, had John's head chopped off for denouncing his marriage to Herodias. Herodias was already Herod's niece and his sister-in-law. Marrying one's niece might have been acceptable in Rome or in southern Missouri, but not by Jewish law.

Jesus was one of many Jewish religious rebels of the time. He gathered a core group of 12 disciples, making a complete coven of 13, including Jesus. He traveled around Judea, preaching and teaching, and performing miracles. This is confirmed by Rabbinic literature, which accuses Jesus of deceiving the masses through magic and false teaching, and says his disciples continued to practice evil magic in His name. Jesus got a bad rap from the monotheist establishment, just like witches throughout history.

The gospels list 35 miracles performed by Jesus: Miraculous feedings, water-walking, weather-changing, exorcisms, catching fish by the boatload, pulling money from a fish's mouth, healing everybody of everything, even raising the dead, and, of course, the most Pagan miracle of all, turning water into wine. Most of His miracles were exorcisms and healings, in direct contrast to his Father God, who is more known for smitings than healings.

Jesus ministered to his own people, the Jews, and to Pagans as well. Open your Bibles to Mark 7:24. Never mind, I'll just tell the story. It says "and from there he arose and went away to the region of Tyre and Sidon, and he entered a house and would not have anyone know it, yet he could not be hid." You see, Jesus was no ordinary preacher man. He was a rock star, and like Elvis Christ, He could not hide from his adoring fans. Word got out that "Jesus is in the building!"

"A woman whose daughter was possessed by an unclean spirit heard of Him and fell down at His feet. Now the woman was a Greek, a Syrophoenecian by birth, and she begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter." At first He wasn't about to cast a demon out of a Syrophoenecian Greek Pagan, but when she persisted, he was impressed by her faith and her daughter was healed.

Now check out Matthew 8:5. "As he entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him and saying, 'Lord, My servant is lying paralyzed at home in terrible distress.' And He said 'I will come and heal him.' But the centurion answered him 'Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof.' Note that the centurion in a Roman officer who is no doubt Pagan. "When Jesus heard him he marveled and said 'Truly I say to you. Not even in Israel have I found such faith. I tell you many will come from east and west and sit at the table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the Kingdom of Heaven, while the sons of the Kingdom will be thrown into the darkness, there men will weep and gnash their teeth.'

Got that? Jesus said Pagans go to Heaven, too.

Okay, one more story. You remember the Good Samaritan, but do you know what was so good about him? In the eyes of Jews, there was nothing good about Samaritans. Samaritans and Jews hated each other. An updated version of the story might be "the Good Iman from the Taliban". As Jesus traveled about, preaching and teaching, he was followed by hecklers; scribes and Pharisees who asked pointed questions, hoping to trip Him up. Jesus was talking about loving thy neighbor as thyself, and a scribe inquired "And who is thy neighbor?" Jesus answered by telling this story:

A man was going from Jerusalem to Jericho, when thieves beat him, robbed him and left him for dead by the road. A priest and a priest's assistant saw him and passed him by, citing Jewish law against touching blood as their excuse. Then a Samaritan came by. Seeing the victim, he gave first aid and hauled him off to an inn, where he paid for the victim's lodging and care. Then Jesus asked the scribe "Who was the real neighbor?" The scribe said "The one who showed mercy." And Jesus said "Go and do likewise."

The common moral to these 3 stories is that Jesus cares not about your heritage or your religion. He cares about the goodness of your heart and your deeds.

Jesus became so popular that he became a threat to the old-school Jewish priests, as well as to the Roman government. He rebelled against corruption in the Jewish church, not against the Pagans. What really got him in big trouble may have been the claim that He was King of the Jews, and the Son of God, though it is not recorded that He made that claim Himself. This would have been a threat to the emperor's divine authority. The emperor was officially considered to be a God. (Kind of like our current emperor Caesar W. seems to think, but I best not go there.)

Pontius Pilate, the Roman Governor of Judea, sentenced Jesus was to death by crucifixion. Crucifixion was the usual penalty for rebellion against Rome, and the Romans crucified thousands of rebels.

The Jesus movement, which was then called "The Way" in cities like Damascus, was carried on by His apostles. I just want to briefly mention 2 of them.

Steven was sentenced to stoning by the Jewish council, the Sanhedrin, for blasphemy. One of his blasphemies was that God does not live in houses made by human hands, that is, not in the Temple. Sounds like a Pagan idea to me. Christians and Jews like to put their God in a box. Pagans find God outdoors in the temple built by God. "When they heard these things they were cut to the heart and they gnashed on him with their teeth" (Sometimes I wonder if the apostles were dental technicians, infatuated with the gnashing of teeth) "They cast him out of the city and stoned him, and the witnesses laid down their cloaks at a young man's feet, whose name was Saul."

Saul was an obsessive Jewish witch hunter, I mean Christian hunter, until one fine day on the road to Damascus, he fell off his donkey, bonked his head, saw stars, and woke up Christian. Having seen the light, he changed his name to Paul, and became an obsessive Christian evangelist.

While touring Pagan temples in Athens, he came across an altar to "an Unknown God". Paul proclaimed this to be the God of the Christians, "who does not live in shrines made by human hands". The Apostle Paul put his God in the Athenian Pagan pantheon. I'm not sure he meant it exactly that way, but if he did, I agree.

Jesus is a welcome addition to my pantheon. Whether the story of Jesus is literally true, or a myth created to teach us, He can serve as a source of inspiration and salvation for us all.

The mythical Jesus was a half-breed, part god and part mortal human, born on the day of the Invincible Sun. He was a magic worker and healer. He preached love and forgiveness for everyone, not just for one's friends and brethren. To me, Jesus is the God of Brotherly Love, and serves as a balance to His Father, Yaveh, the desert war god. Yaveh may be a god of justice, but his record is not one of love, mercy, and forgiveness. Neopagans believe in polarity and balance. Yaveh is a god of war. Jesus is the Prince of Peace. Yaveh is a god of justice and punishment. Jesus is the god of mercy and forgiveness. Yaveh is kind of like the Neopagan God, and Jesus is more like the Neopagan Goddess. Of course, no one in ancient Judea would have listened to a woman, so Jesus had to be a man for practical reasons.

I'm still not so sure about the sacrifice thing. I don't believe it was right or necessary to sacrifice Jesus on the cross. Jesus often said he wanted mercy, not sacrifice, so I suspect He would agree with me. I also question whether faith in Jesus is necessary or sufficient for salvation.

Remember the Christian evangelist I met on that fine day not so long ago? One fine day I met him again, and we continued our discussion. I told him if Jesus wants to save my soul, that's right nice of him, but I am accountable for my own sins. Surely one can't lie, cheat, kill, and steal, and then go to Heaven just by claiming faith in Jesus.

"Are you married?" he asked me.

"Yes" I said.

"Are you going home to your wife tonight, or are you going out cheating?" he asked.

"I'm going home to my wife, of course."

"Why? Because you have to?" he asked.

"No" I said "because I want to"

"Exactly!" he said "If you have the spirit of Jesus in your heart, you do the right thing because you want to, not because you have to."

Then the light bulb came on in my head. Salvation comes through the perfection of one's self. This means doing good, not for hope of reward, or fear of hell, but because one wants to. Good works done willingly is a virtue common to Neopaganism and Christianity. Whether the spirit of goodness comes from Jesus or from the Pagan Goddess is mythological detail.

I would get in trouble for saying that in a Baptist church, and they might say I am no Christian. Okay, then I'm a Jesusonian Pagan, and I welcome Jesus into my sacred circle any time.

©2008 Paul Miller

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article:
Miller, Paul. 2008. Jesus for Pagans, /talks/20081116.shtml (accessed July 9, 2020).

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