After two experiences of light in childhood, naturally I was an ardent Christian. Having married a Catholic, I was a Catholic Christian, a Catechism teacher, a Lector, and such a devoted daily reader of the Bible that I have read it cover-to-cover at least a dozen times. Each time I got to the final page of Revelation, I would read the New Testament a second time and then plunge back in with Genesis I. I was a Christian with a Capital “C.”
But during all those years, I also was reading volumes of early-twentieth-century communications from dead people. In hundreds of British and American communications, never have I found any evidence that God or another religious figure ever has judged anyone; nor have I seen the smallest hint that the death of Jesus makes an afterlife difference. Gradually, the disconnect between what Christianity insists is true and what the dead were telling me became so unbearable that I stopped altogether reading the Bible in my early fifties. I still went to Mass for my husband’s sake, but I tried not to listen. I tried to ignore the life-size, full-color bleeding Jesus who looked down sadly from the cross above the altar.
It took me further years of researching the afterlife before I developed enough conviction to be able to say these words aloud: “Christianity is wrong. Jesus does not redeem us.” I ducked, but there was no lightning bolt. At that point, I was no longer a Christian.
I feel foolish now about not having gone back sooner to reading only the Gospels. I remembered enough of what Jesus had said to know that some of it jibed with the afterlife evidence, but still I was afraid that perhaps he had said some things that were glaringly untrue. And, Christian or not, I still loved Jesus. I couldn’t bear to test him.
I think you know the rest. Jesus is not wrong! Despite two thousand years of Catholic custody, and despite having been translated from Aramaic to Greek and then from Greek into English, the words of Jesus in the Gospels are at least 95% consistent with what we began to learn from the dead only recently. Jesus knew things about God, reality, death, and the afterlife that he could not have known if he had not come to us directly from God. Little things. Big things! Dear friends, even though Christianity is wrong, Jesus is absolutely right.
I am naïve enough to hope that others who love Jesus will be heartened to find this validation, but I realize how unlikely that is. Christianity is based in fear, and Christian clergymen have a powerful tool for keeping loyal congregations. They are purveyors of the Get Out Of Hell Free (“GOOHF”) Card. In most denominations, following the teachings of Jesus turns out to be optional, doesn’t it? Just be a member of this particular church, accept Jesus as your personal savior even as late as your moment of death, and you have a free pass into heaven.
So, what does Jesus have to say about the non-Gospel Christian GOOHF Card?
“And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition?… You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you: ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.’” (Matthew 15:3-9)
“You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men… You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions.” (Mark 7:8-9)
Hmmm. And what does he say about clergymen who teach something other than what he teaches in the Gospels?
“Watch out for the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and be greeted in the marketplaces, and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. Such men will be punished most severely.” (Mark 12:38-40)
Oops! If I were a clergyman, I think the least I would do would be to ditch the flowing robes and the fancy prayers.
Over and over in the Gospels, Jesus says that he came to earth as our teacher, and he told us back then what the afterlife evidence of the past two hundred years now shows us is true: we are required to learn during our lives on earth how to love more perfectly and forgive more completely. That is why we are here. And there are no shortcuts.
“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:37-40)
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven…. Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:43-48)
What wisdom does Jesus have for Christians who believe they have their GOOHF Card in hand, so they don’t need to follow the Lord’s teachings?
“What do you think? There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work today in the vineyard.’ ‘I will not,’ he answered, but later he changed his mind and went. Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, ‘I will, sir,’ but he did not go. Which of the two did what his father wanted?… I tell you the truth, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you.” (Matthew 21:28-31)
“I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matthew 8:11-12) (The outer darkness that Jesus describes does exist, and emphatically you do not want to go there.)
In frustration at those who worship him while ignoring his teachings, Jesus says somewhat crankily, “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?” (Luke 6:46) “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31-32)
Jesus seems to have had such an aversion to religions that lately I am coming to wonder whether, rather than establishing yet one more religion with its own slate of non-Gospel, human traditions, what he really may have intended to do was to teach us that we can approach God individually, and thereby free ourselves from religions altogether.
“When you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” (Matthew 6:6)
Dear friends, no matter which denomination you choose, Christianity cannot give you a Get Out Of Hell Free Card. You cannot be “saved” on your deathbed from the folly of having wasted a lifetime’s opportunities to learn to love and forgive. So please don’t do that! Instead, please begin today to read the red letters in your Gospels, the glorious living words of Jesus. Our beloved Wayshower and Best Friend speaks to us as truly now as he spoke two thousand years ago, and his words remain the best short course in how to live the most perfect life. As Jesus says, “I shall be with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20)