Hatred is not good. Vengeance is not good. Division is not good. We approach these things as if they are a part of human nature. We are not violent. We are not greedy. We are not evil by nature. They are things that are taught to us in exactly the same way as we have learned everything in our lives, from spelling and subtraction to walking and playing the piano. Practice, repetition, and endless belief in the fact that we should do something endlessly to make sure we can do it without thinking.
That’s where the idea of tradition comes from. We say change is bad. We say modernization is bad. We fight against it not because there is something particularly good or spiritual or even enjoyable about the way things have been but we are afraid of changing in case we don’t like what it’s changed to. The older people get, the more they usually hate change. It’s not about nature. It’s about practice. If you’re older, you’ve had many years more getting used to whatever it is being however it has been. But there was a time when that was new, that was something you had to get used to. You might not remember it but it happened and you managed. It can’t have been all that bad or you wouldn’t be fighting to keep the idea that was, back then, brand new — a change.
You may be curious what I have in mind because within the context of faith, change is perhaps the only word almost as hated as evil — and in many places, although you might not be prepared to admit it, you can forgive evil but will complain about change until the end of time.
And I’m going to ask you to change something that is fundamentally wrong with modern Christian understanding of faith and of the world but that you’ve held onto for an incredibly long period of time. It’s an error of translation that has become so deeply rooted in the dogmatic adherence to the church, rather than to faith, that it is often used to symbolize the faith itself. What I’m speaking of is the trinity. I’m not going to refer to it with respect or give it the often-used title, the Holy Trinity, because not only is it a silly concept but it’s also completely at odds with the teachings of Jesus and the original text of the gospels and the epistles. And if we’re not going to believe Jesus on this one, well, perhaps we’re looking at a whole other problem with organized Christianity.
Let’s take a look at this from a basic perspective. What does the church mean when they talk about the concept of the trinity, first of all? It’s probably the most hotly-contested concepts in the past hundred years of faith-directed scholarship. God as a single entity with three parts — all of them equally God but separate and distinct. If that sounds like a confusing idea, you may not even have recognized just how brutally convoluted it becomes when self-declared intelligent people have a multi-hour discussion with the express purpose of exploring it theologically. Because you can’t. You can’t get an answer on it because there isn’t one. Look all you want but it’s not going to appear so if you want to keep looking intelligent and hold the position that the idea of the trinity is sensible, you have to confuse everyone else into misunderstanding what you’re saying — a straightforward view of it will quite clearly result in the idea being, finally, abandoned.
So where did such a concept come from? Simply, it’s an error in translation. Anyone who’s ever studied languages in school will see where this comes from. We are talking about the issue of articles — “the” compared to “a”. Now, in English, which I assume you are all somewhat able to comprehend at least, since that’s the language we’re working in at the moment, the difference is very obvious. I pick up a book — some random book makes its way into my hand and now I’m holding it. I pick up the book — a specific, single book that we have already been talking about does the same thing. It’s quite a big difference. But in most other languages, it is rather less blatant. Comparatively few languages use an indefinite article, “a”. So if you want to talk about a book, all the books, or some of the books, it really is much the same. The only change appears when you are speaking of a specific book. I know that’s a little technical and this isn’t a language lesson. But I just want you to understand that this is a huge textual difference in English, one word meaning something specific and the other meaning something general, everything of a particular type. Which is why this argument generally falls on unreceptive ears among English speakers. But try it in Ecclesiastical Latin or Biblical Greek and the difference is between specifying that you’re talking about a particular object or person, or just leaving it out altogether and speaking of all things or people.
Three possible versions exist for this in English but two of them would be identically translated in most other languages. “Jesus is the son of God”, “Jesus is a son of God”, “Jesus is son of God”. The first one implies that, although it doesn’t specify, there is only one son of God. The second and third ones pretty much guarantee that there are more. The first one is ambiguous. Perhaps he is the son of God but his brother is also the son of God, in the same way that you could say they are both the son of Mary. But that’s neither here nor there since what it actually says, in every single case, is the third one — “Jesus is son of God”. It doesn’t say it all that often, realistically, which is a little curious, since it makes it into pretty much every service I’ve ever encountered in all walks of Christian practice.
But what does this actually mean? Well, it means something very frightening for people who don’t believe in the sanctity of equality for all people. It also means something far more revolutionary, something that would justify the people of Jesus’ day being frightened of him. There’s pretty much nothing else in his teachings that’s all that scary. Yes, he wanted people to have a personal relationship with God but he wasn’t the first Jewish scholar to point that out and certainly wasn’t the last. And that was really only frightening for some of the leaders and even then, he didn’t say ignore the spiritual leadership, just that you have to speak to God directly. So it wasn’t revolutionary, wasn’t an incitement to massive structural change.
Being God’s child, though, that’s not just a revolution, that’s the one and only revolution the world ever needed to see and that was going to scare anyone with a position of power. Because power was all about proximity to God. Leaders appointed by divine right and even leaders within the church being there because of their understanding of the teachings as written in scripture. So if you are a child of God, do you really need to listen to other people? If your parents have the ultimate power in a situation, you don’t need intercession. You don’t need guidance. You can just talk to them directly and that’s the only authority you need.
You see what I mean. This was the end to oppression, the end to slavery, the end to financial competition, the end to all competition, for that matter. If we are all children of God, we are all equal and must not be oppressed any more than we would allow it to happen between our own children.
If you’re beginning to see how this could cause quite a problem for Jesus, that’s exactly the point. He was saying something that was dangerous to everyone in power and not always for the same reason. The Romans had reason to be scared because empire was by definition unequal and they were on top with everything to lose. The Jewish leaders had reason to be scared because they weren’t going to have power anymore if people truly shifted to following these teachings. Sure, they would still be able to help with spiritual matters and their role as priests and teachers wouldn’t change but they wouldn’t be able to turn spiritual understanding into cultural and political supremacy and inequality anymore. And men were scared because equality meant that ownership of women would be impossible — you can’t own your equal, only property. And the rich would be scared because equality means everyone’s holdings tend toward the mean, the average, and that means they’d have less. So the powerful would be less powerful and the rich would be less rich and the greedy would be less satisfied. But the oppressed would be free, the owned would be liberated, and the poor would finally have enough, the voiceless would have the means to talk, and women would now speak in the temples and meet men as partners rather than as, as it was in the law, livestock.
So it was overlooked. And it wasn’t an error. There really were discussions — “can we get away with this?” and so forth. Of course the answer was yes. The common people would believe whatever they were told to believe because they couldn’t read the original texts and, as a huge bonus, the people who had the power had a vested interest in keeping things the way they were. So the idea of Jesus being the son of God instead of him speaking quite intentionally of himself and all of us being the children of God, deserving of forgiveness and happiness, as long as we accept that we are not alone in that, it was an idea that got buried.
What now, though? We live in a society where women are free, where slavery has been abolished, you say. Not quite. Two thousand years of church-mandated inequality and hierarchical, patriarchal training doesn’t get eliminated like that. In fact, it doesn’t seem to have even been attempted in most ways.
Every study done of men in the past two decades, and there have been thousands of them, has found that men see themselves as better, stronger, more important, smarter, and more deserving than women. That white people see themselves as better than other races. That people see hierarchy as just and natural and the best way to live, even if they are on the bottom. And that submission and subservience are qualities they value in others but not in themselves.
And we wonder why people are being killed, starving, oppressed? We shouldn’t wonder.
No, it’s not the fault of the church that this is happening. At least, it’s not only the fault of the church. Subjugation was around long before Jesus. But he gave us a weapon to conquer it and for two millennia we haven’t taken up that weapon. We’ve pretended it doesn’t exist and ignored it and in spite of being told to treat every human as family, as equal, regardless of sex or age or faith or race or language or place of birth. We spend our lives giving thanks for the words of Jesus. We call ourselves people of faith.
The basis of Jesus’ teachings was revolutionary equality, of being equal in the eyes of God, of being equal to him. That’s the other implication of the statement. Not that he’s greater than everyone else but that everyone is as good as he is, in the eyes of God, and that we should simply get on with acting like God’s children and stop fighting among ourselves and treating our siblings with disrespect and hatred.
You may not have known this until today and that’s perfectly fine. It’s not your fault that this horrendous crime of intentional misrepresentation was committed against you. You were trained and taught through thousands of repetitions that you should feel ashamed of being less than Jesus but be comfortable with human delegations of power. But it’s simply, unequivocally, irreversibly, and painfully wrong.
Jesus told us we were equal, all of us. He wasn’t the only one, of course, but he put it in words for us so that we would believe and understand and stop acting like we’re better, or worse, than everyone else.
So you have a choice at this point. You can ignore what Jesus said or you can listen and believe his words. It’s up to you. Thank you.