I’ve always understood Jesus as a teacher of universal love. Love thy neighbor, thy enemy, the world. Jesus preached the “Kingdom of Heaven on earth” as a future transformation of the world into a reign of peace, prosperity, and joy. The present world’s suffering was the work of hatred, greed, and evil.
Though I was once a solidly Pentecostal follower of Jesus, I no longer take the stories in the gospels as literal truth. However, I cannot shake my belief in love; it remains even after all my skepticism completely erases conventional faith. Perhaps my 31 years of marriage, raising my children to adulthood, and being blessed with many friends through both hard times and many joys has convinced me that loving people is the very core and meaning of life.
I do not follow Jesus as a Christian, but as one of the formative teachers who pointed me to the value of love and compassion. I might have found such a path if I’d been born into a Buddhist, Muslim, or Atheist family. Perhaps not, it is hard to step outside one’s life and really consider what other people’s lives are really like.
I’ve come to call my vision of world transformation the “Communism of Love and Freedom” basing it on those teachings of Jesus, my reading of socialist philosophy, feminist thought, and a wide-ranging curiosity about other ways of living and being.
Some people believe that the process of secularization will ultimately erase religion from human life. Others believe that the gospel of Jesus will spread worldwide and triumph. I honestly don’t know if either scenario is likely. I don’t know whether Jesus was just a beautiful myth or a literal person. I doubt very strongly that scholarly research into Christian origins will ever settle that question decisively.
The story of Jesus is the most influential story in human history. More people claim to be Christians than any other religion or non-religion. If convincing the world Jesus is just a myth were possible, what sort of world would result? Would it be a world where love would conquer hate? If so, I suspect that even Jesus would rejoice at his own irrelevance.
The truth, I suspect, is more complicated. We need stories of radical love to inspire us to keep fighting for justice, peace, and joy.