Jesus was a man (at least I think so)

Harry Welty

Mural painted by the agnostic Harry Welty in the education room of the church where Welty has sung in the Choir for the last quarter century.  

As we approach that sacred time of year when God sends his jolly old elf St. Nicholas around the world in a single night to remind us of the Christmas miracle, I thought I would tell you what I know about the birthday boy. Wait for it: Jesus was a man. At least I think so.  

As a kid contemplating such questions under the direction of my Sunday school teacher, now the richest man in Minnesota, I wasn’t sure there really was a Jesus of Nazareth. I modeled myself after Thomas who demanded to see the wounds of crucifixion on Jesus. He got to see them. I didn’t. Could I be certain that Jesus wasn’t simply a figment of a mass indoctrination? 

What was available was two thousand years of hearsay, the earliest example of which, “the Gospel of Mark,” made no mention of Christmas.

Unlike the Romans I wasn’t so troubled by the virgin birth as I was annoyed by ministers who said dinosaurs didn’t live millions of years ago. I was always going to be a hard sell and I wouldn’t be reading the Bible any time soon. Instead after reading Jim Bishop’s book The Day Lincoln was Shot  I saw that Bishop had also authored The Day Christ Died. That was manageable.

After high school I spent a year trudging through 1,104 pages of James Michener’s novel The Source. It covered 3,000 years of the Holy land's history. Happy Palestinian and Jewish archaeologists gave us the tour.  

As for Jesus, I found myself disagreeing with him. For one thing I didn’t think it made sense for heaven to keep rich people out. I don’t actually believe in a heaven but I do like Charles Dickens vision of the greedy rich dragging their chains around in perpetuity.  

I admired a Jesus who preached a kind of equality of all before God long before Thomas Jefferson borrowed Enlightenment Ideas to say that all men were created equal. I admire Jesus the reformer who turned over the money changers’ tables where believers were tithed so that the priests to buy a Lear jet to fly to Italy and lobby Rome. 

Jesus had no faith in government. He never heard Abraham Lincoln intone “of the people, by the people, and for the people." All Jesus knew was the might of Rome which he chose to ignore as being irrelevant to God and heaven.  

Jesus also predicted the end of times without quite spelling out what it would be. That allowed followers years later to pen the apocalyptic book Revelations in which Cherubim seem to end Earth.

But really. Isn’t it more likely that the far-sighted Jesus simply saw that a day would come when Rome would run out of patience with Jewish zealots like his Disciple Judas? And that’s what happened. Thirty years after the death of Jesus Rome ruthlessly crushed a rebellion, tore down the Temple and scattered Jews across the empire just like  the Assyrians and Babylonians had centuries earlier.  

We Americans are right to be proud of our Bill of Rights and our freedom to worship as we please. But that right also allows us the option of  choosing atheism too. It was born of the European Enlightenment’s skepticism of a universal church after a century of war in the name of the prince of peace.  

Two of our greatest Presidents were skeptics. One of them, Thomas Jefferson, implanted Enlightenment thinking into our Declaration of Independence writing that God made all men equal. Thomas Jefferson was a “deist.” He believed some unnamed deity got the ball rolling but he had quibbles with the Bible. He made his own Bible by cutting out everything he didn’t like.  

Lincoln too had his doubts. Although he had read the King James Bible backwards and forward he remained an agnostic. In fact Abe so enjoyed lampooning religious hucksters that his friends begged him to stop lest it derail his political future. Its good that he heeded their advice or he would never have been there to save the Union.  

With Jefferson and Lincoln as my guides I find myself in good company. I do believe in Jesus. I don’t trust everything that has been said about him but I’ve always figured a billion Christians weren’t created from nothing. Someone was a seed pearl.  

Even though he is  just a man to me. I’d go so far as to say the worship of his finest thoughts is worthy. Although not a professed Christian I have remained active in a Presbyterian church like the one where I was baptized 72 years ago – at least I suspect I was baptized. Presbyterians don’t give babies a choice.   Thinking of the Christmas Season I’ve stripped a lot of snarky commentary out of this thin reminiscence.

But I will add that having the Party of Lincoln become the party of the Second Amendment and Donald Trump who thinks he could get elected even if he shot someone on Fifth Avenue offers me no Christmas cheer. Anyone for eggnog?

Welty vents his spleen at