Jesus Christ is not a very important religious figure.
Jesus is central in one out of 16 or five out of 43 major religions practiced in the world today. (In the first list I’m excluding “no religion,” “new religions” and “other” for my count, and in the second list I’m pointing to Christianity, Christian Science, Jehova’s Witnesses, Mormonism, and Rastafari.) By that count less than 6 – 11% of religions consider Christ important. With nods from Baha’i, Islam and Unitarianism, the figure rises to a max of 25%.
Likewise, the majority of people in the world today do not follow any branch of Christianity.
Yet the teachings of Christ loom large.
My mentor Ken reminded me of this. I travel because I hope to meet the gods. Wherever I go, I seek out local traditions, study new faiths and worship new deities. Sometimes, like with Vodou, I commit myself to these traditions for life.
Ken pointed out a massive blank spot on my spiritual-quest resumé:
“How can you have a life quest to meet the [g]ods, study different religions, and completely bypass the Bible?”
Jesus and Me
I avoid Christianity in my journey (mostly). I have reasons, but not the ones you think.
Growing up, I never had a bad church experience. I wasn’t abused, was seldom threatened with Hell, and didn’t feel constrained by my family’s beliefs. This is thanks in large part to my mom.
But I dodge Christianity. Even in my practice of Vodou, which uses Christian trappings as décor over a much older faith, I hesitated before lighting my first saint candle.
And here’s why: I’m sick of Jesus.
It’s fair to ask, “If you’re on a spiritual quest, why don’t you study the Bible?” But that’s like asking someone who wants to see the world why they don’t visit all 50 US states first. If you’re from the US, the states are boring! Of course you can find something cool and new in America, but “travel” means China, Angola, Transylvania. The same is true for spiritual journeys: you have to get away from your roots.
There’s a big ol’ pile of Christianity all around me. I haven’t celebrated Christmas in a decade, but I’ll hear so many carols this month that they’ll be stuck in my head till March. And I could recite most of the Catholic Mass by heart. Christianity is my backyard. It’s… boring.
There are deeper reasons. I object to Christianity on theological grounds. For example, I think it’s unfair to promise people an afterlife that probably doesn’t exist. And I disapprove of the exclusive focus on a single face of the divine. It seems antisocial in a world with thousands of gods.
Yet the theological stuff is secondary to the very strong reaction I have at the thought of studying or practicing Christianity: a sort of guttural more of that?
I’ve been fed Jesus for thirty years. (Literally, for 14 of those years.) Imagine going to someone who just left a Chinese buffet and saying: hey, you didn’t have the good stuff, why don’t you eat even more egg rolls? You might be offering the best egg rolls in the world, but right now your poor friend just needs a salad or a nap.
I think it’s important for spiritual seekers, especially Western seekers, to remember that there’s a vast mosaic of beautiful, vibrant religions that each have their own lessons to give. Some teach the same crucial lessons Jesus did—they offer powerful touchstones for a life of kindness, forgiveness, charity and peace. Others emphasize completely different lessons, ones that Jesus kind of left out, like how to fight for this-world change instead of embracing poverty, or how to find and pursue your individual purpose and passion in life.
As a polytheist practicing non-universal religions, it’s not odd to me that a spiritual person would pass on the Bible. It’s far more strange that anyone who’s not of Hebrew descent would bother to consult Jesus instead of their own culture’s forgotten sages.
I will eventually read the Gospels. My Christian friends who know me best all agree that I’ll really enjoy them—I actually look forward to it. But should they enjoy pride of place in a spiritual quest? I think that’s up to the questor.
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