I paused to watch a darting speck
That flickered in the yellow breeze
And came to taste my daisy bed
And touched with gold my lazy trees
And blessed all I had done.
And though I had to turn my head,
I watched it as it fluttered by.
And though I had to work instead,
I ached to be a butterfly
And frolic in the sun.
– Roberta Grimes, from “Butterfly” (1962, 2012)
Christianity is dying now in much the way that a serpent might die, writhing and churning as it seeks to maintain its hold on teachings that have nothing to do with Jesus. That image of Christianity as a dying serpent came to mind as I read a diatribe against what someone called “the heresy of universalism.” And what is this monstrous heresy, you might ask? What could be the worst heresy of them all? Why, it is the awful notion, so ghastly even to contemplate, that everyone might be going to heaven, even those who never have claimed the Lord Jesus Christ as their personal savior. But I can tell you now with certainty, after having spent more than fifty years studying the genuine afterlife, that universalism is no heresy at all. It is instead an absolute fact. The true God is a far greater God than any petty Christian ever has imagined, so everyone does indeed go to the self-same afterlife together, no matter what they believed in life. But tragically, it is this very sadistic pettiness of Roman Christianity that is the only thing that lies behind the whole concept of the Christian belief in a fiery hell. Someone recently wrote a tongue-in-cheek post for Patheos, the Christian blogging website, about how relieved an imagined group of mean and petty Christians are to learn that hell is real after all, so some of the people those Christians thought ought to by rights be condemned to burn in hell are indeed roasting in hell right now. But in fact, of course, there is no hell, and the concept of hell has caused so many millions tremendous emotional pain.
Christianity has never recovered from the Covid closures. And traditional Christian practice – at least in the United States – has become a partially online activity, while it seems at the same time to have entered a more rapid stage of its writhing decline. I watch all this happen, and I feel as miserable about it as if I am the cause of it all. I apologize for having left off last week’s post with a set of enigmatic ellipses. But Christianity is dying fast, and I feel as if I am its executioner. I have loved Christianity since I was a child, and ever since my childhood experience of light I had assumed that I was eventually going to become a minister. And now, as I have been working on teachingsbyjesus.com, and feeling deeply called to do it, and even feeling called to do it by Jesus, even though the purpose of the website itself is the further destruction of the Christianity that I love, I had begun to hear faint whispers in my mind from someone saying, “Christian, love me more.” For days I tried to ignore that whisper. This is just what feeling guilty does to you, I thought. I kept telling myself that actually losing your mind is a conscious choice, so I could choose not to do it. “Christian, love me more.” But could feeling so guilty make you lose your mind? Was that a real possibility? That whisper would not stop, so then I Googled the phrase and it came right up. There it was: an old hymn from my childhood. It was the perfect theme for this whole series, so Thomas and I used it as our frame-verse last week.
And then, as I was working on this post in the middle of last Tuesday night, I drifted into a catnap. And I had a vision of the pink child’s bookcase that was in my bedroom when I had my experience of light; but it was standing out at the curb with the trash, and oddly it was covered in moss. This was a vision and not a dream, since it has stayed with me ever since. When I asked my Thomas what the heck was going on, he told me that Jesus is dredging up these old memories for me. The hymn. The bookcase. He wants me to more intensely recall the Christianity of my childhood days so I can now more properly throw it all away.
What is astonishing is that even now, there are people who confidently believe that the Catholic Church carries a permanent franchise granted to it by Jesus. They say it smugly, as if just saying it with enough certainty might put more people back in those pews. Or Protestants in evangelical churches try to mix organ music with praise bands, in something they are calling the worship wars. Or then there is the megachurch theory, to overwhelm people with the smell of success. Or then, even possibly, what just might work is a return to the solidity of old-fashioned ways. Anything to put people back in those pews! But the plain fact is that the Roman Emperor Constantine’s idea for a religion that he could use as a weapon of mass control is just not working anymore, and it never is going to work again, no matter what we try.
Seventeen hundred years ago, the Romans under Constantine seized and destroyed a spiritual movement that was then three hundred years old and thriving. Had they simply left that movement alone, it might have gradually overspread the world and made the universal love that Jesus taught the lingua franca of humankind. But emperors bent on conquest have no interest in teaching the world how to love. So the Romans cut down and reshaped the Jesus movement into a religion that they thought they could use as a more effective means of control, and they destroyed all its love-based variations. For how long did the Christianity of Jesus survive? Just to give you some idea, three hundred years ago was the year 1723, and Thomas Jefferson was born in 1743, so more than the lifetime of the United States until now was the lifetime of Jesus’s spiritual movement. And in those three hundred years after Jesus’s ascension, the movement that He and His followers had begun had already grown to millions of people when Constantine co-opted it. The Roman armies massacred whole villages of those first followers of Jesus, and they hung them on crosses or fed them to lions in coliseums in the process of creating their own new religion. Because the thing about organized religions that so often makes them evil is that they cannot tolerate competing ideas. But the Jesus Movement – which is what Jesus’s movement actually seems to have been calling itself in various languages by the time it was destroyed – had tolerated a host of widely varying beliefs. There was that one belief, though, that tickled Constantine’s fancy. He loved the idea that Jesus had been crucified for our sins, and that Jesus then had risen from the dead. It was not the central teaching of the Jesus Movement, but it ended up being the primary fear-based dogma of Constantine’s new Roman Christian religion. That was something the Romans knew they really could use!
So the Romans killed the Jesus Movement, but they did keep the figurehead of Jesus. Then Constantine presided over the First Nicaean Council in the year 325. It was the first in a series of seven Roman Christian Councils, and there they set about creating the Roman version of Christianity that is practiced worldwide today. In the Bible that the Councilors put together, we do have preserved the core of the teachings of Jesus, and a record of the start of the Jesus Movement. But the dogmas of Roman Christianity have nothing to do with what Jesus taught. I have asked a few Christians that I know well enough to actually ask them why Christians don’t, you know, actually read and follow the Gospel teachings of Jesus. Some of them protest that of course they do. Some admit that they don’t, but say perhaps they should. Although none of them think this is much of a problem. But, good grief! When the core of the Roman Christian religion is that Jesus died as a sacrifice to God for our sins, and Jesus tells us right in the Gospel of John that God never judges us for our sins so no sacrifice is needed, then I would say that is a pretty big problem!
Christianity as it stands now is built on a lie. And it is a gigantic lie. Jesus died for our sins, and unless you claim Him as your personal Savior, you are going to hell? Wow, that lie is epic. And you can sell a lie for only so long before people catch on and your lie falls apart. The Christian Bible, too, is an important book, but it is not the inerrant word of God. Sad to say, that is another big lie. So the Christianity that the Roman Emperor Constantine designed as a fear-based weapon to control the masses of his day is being practiced now by more than two billion people, nearly all of whom think that they are following Jesus. But none of these people has much idea of what their beloved Jesus actually taught.
After Jesus has endured seventeen hundred years of this treatment, I find it hard to even imagine the level of His personal frustration. I don’t know how He patiently manages it, but Jesus transforms Himself into church-Jesus repeatedly, something like every hour on the hour if there were hours where He is now, so as not to disappoint all the newly-transitioned people who keep coming to Him to receive His post-death blessing. He helps people on earth, He constantly answers prayers, He is always deep in service. Just a couple of nights ago, Thomas and I met with Jesus briefly, and something in the order of things had broken down so much that I remember that meeting. Which never is supposed to happen, unless there is some reason for me to remember a meeting with Jesus. And He was indeed Jesus. Omigod. I was feeling His overwhelmingly powerful and gorgeously silken personal energy. But He looked like a mix of church-Jesus and Mediterranean Jesus, with olive skin but lighter, longer, and almost-straight hair. He seemed a bit flustered, and He was speaking so rapidly to Thomas that I couldn’t register what He was saying. If Jesus is being so driven to distraction now that He can no longer manage smoothly transitioning back and forth between His astral bodies, then we really are in the midst of a crisis.
My dear friends, I wrote the first half of our frame-verse when I was sixteen years old. I found it among my mother’s papers after her death, and I actually remember writing that first half, sitting at a picnic table in my family’s backyard on a hot summer day. When I found it, I thought that poem needed a second half, so fifty years later I gave it one. And now modern Christianity, too, is ready for its second half. But so much more importantly, Jesus deserves the right to bring to completion what so long ago He so well began. Jesus’s own true Christianity looks nothing like our present Roman Christianity. And His Jesus doesn’t even look like our Jesus! When I first personally met Jesus last April, and I asked Him why He chooses to look as He chooses to look now, He said just that everyone looked that way back then. Well, of course they did. To tell you the truth, I am used to it now, but nine months ago His Mediterranean look was a shock.
And now, my beloveds, it is long past time for each of us to choose! Will we choose Jesus as He wants to look now, with His Bible which contains just His four Gospels and His love-based teachings that can transform the world? Or on the other hand, will we choose to remain with the Roman Emperor Constantine’s fear-based Christianity, and his thicker Bible that the First Nicaean Councilors assembled at Constantine’s command? It must be one or the other. So, whose Christianity will you choose?
Now fifty years have come and gone
Between that butterfly and me.
I’ve done what I set out to do,
But still my fondest memory
Is what I wouldn’t try.
I’ve had enough of cheap success
And superficial days and hours.
Now what I want is gentleness,
The joy of decorating flowers
And trembling in the sky.
– Roberta Grimes, from “Butterfly” (1962, 2012)