The New Gospel

painting of Jesus
I believe I had a copy of this glossy image in my Bible as a child. Do you think it’s the historic Jesus?

My daughter is not aware of what she does, but she has the ability to initiate thought processes in me, and often it has to do with theology. One of the last things I heard from the 7-year-old was about how boring she thought it would be in heaven, and that she looked forward to being free again. She also said that her grandfather would be set free as well. Of course if death isn’t real to you yet, it appears that this Jesus person prevents you from talking to grandpa.

That isn’t as far out there as it may sound. I believe that heaven is a wonderful place, but the way it has been taught to me the last 30 years or so, it sounds like an incredibly boring place. A priest’s promise of eternal life in this indefinable place where the harp-playing angels sing in a choir, while we. What is it exactly we are supposed to do there for eternity? It’s like pulling a go straight to jail card in life’s monopoly, and I’m afraid you can’t pay your way out or roll double dices to get out.

The Norwegian author Ingvar Ambjørnsen blogged about his views on Jesus a while back. It was a very refreshing and liberating description he gave. It might be a bit too radical to leave the preaching to children and dubious characters like Ambjørnsen, but I do think we need to decode the gospel. The gospel we know is probably as accurate as the novel The Da Vinci Code. I wish we could go back to the historic image of Jesus, before he became the glossy one we have today. I have a feeling His image has been through more manipulation in Photoshop than the average fashion model.

So we need to decode the gospel again to fix the damage others, not least the governments have done. Much of the damage is probably caused by the fact that kings, and later politician, decided how to worship and what we should believe in. Today politicians and atheists are very provoked if priests talk politics, but the other way is acceptable. Politicians in my country control a religion they do not know anything about, or even wish to promote.

It appears that the number of Christians in Norway is rapidly decreasing. That isn’t news, but I heard something just before Christmas that illustrates this. Several newspapers wrote about a survey which showed that 18% of us do not want to be caught reading the Bible, while only 8% would be embarrassed if someone discovered them reading Fifty Shades of Grey (soft porn). Media reported that NRK (the government-owned TV channel, equivalent to PBS in the US) had no religious programs during advent. In the past many would have protested, but not a single voice was heard. The government that is supposed to speak on behalf of the Church decided to skip all mention of Jesus before Christmas. It is just one of many signals, but perhaps the strongest one, that the Norwegians are more or less an atheist people. It is not a problem that the government is becoming more secular, but when the people don’t believe in anything, I get more worried.

That trend is only going to get worse if parents continue fleeing away from religion. The don’t do as I do; do as I say approach to raising children isn’t especially effective.  If parents don’t believe in anything, their children are less likely to. As a young man I craved entertainment too, but no matter how hard the church tried to please teenagers, it didn’t have any lasting effect unless the parents were churchgoers as well. The church was a safe place to send your kids to on Friday nights, but when they didn’t find it entertaining anymore, they went elsewhere. Parents today still use the church as a babysitter, and it works even less. I am not going to say anything about my present job as a teacher, but there is enough evidence in media to conclude that in general parents are being less vigilant.

It’s probably just as well for society to leave the church to the people it matters to. It doesn’t matter to the Labour Party, so why do politicians make it their business?  Many think the church plays an important role in terms of culture. I guess that makes them think we should keep the church and also that it gives them a right to meddle. The problem is, we are not especially concerned with culture either. Most Norwegians don’t know or care about heritage. With no content and no interest in cultural heritage, do we really need a church in every hamlet? Maybe the buildings are just a distraction?

I hope we can get rid of the glossy image of Jesus others have pushed on us. Then I believe the gospels have something for people today, even when it is not pure entertainment.

Ambjørnsen described Jesus as a man in constant opposition to the priests/clergy, a man who thought that only he came close to being adequate. His disciples fell short of absolutely everything all the time. According to Ambjørnsen Jesus is often described as impatient and agitated, and Jesus asked himself how long he had to put up with his disciples. This was a bunch of paranoid men that were often rejected.

I think Jesus was often angry, frightened, tired etc. He might even have had serious psychological issues (for instance periods of depression) after this enormous strain. A part of his job was after all to tell God what it was like to be human. I am convinced that he really didn’t want this mandate God forced on him. I feel that the Church doesn’t try hard enough to communicate all the different aspects of Jesus. That wouldn’t lessen him in my eyes. On the contrary, it makes him grow.

The glossy image where Jesus is practically smiling at us from the cross does lessen him, in my opinion.

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