This is a restatement but it’s a restatement I feel urged to make again: the main message brought by Christ is not to be a hypocrite—or to reduce your hypocrisy to the lowest levels possible. It is often said that to be “Christ-like” is to go among the poor and to love them, to be kind to them—yet when people make this point it always feels sickly to me and unreal, just like a Victorian vicar who spent all his time with “fallen girls” in Whitechapel because Jesus went among the prostitutes. Perhaps also people think that a “Christ-like” life is to be spotless, to think no “dirty” thoughts and undertake no “evil” actions—again, it feels contrived to me (perhaps “try-hard”).
I just don’t think either position has anything to do with what Christ said and did. Let’s imagine an electrician—a modern carpenter—who is really angry about the mask mandates for Covid-19 in 2021. He turns up at some conference centre event where masks are mandatory and overturns the table where masks are handed out to participants—then he’s dragged out by security to be arrested by the police. Afterwards, when asked why he did it, he says that although he doesn’t understand the science he does know he’s seen the people who say we must wear masks without masks when they should wear them and that he can’t stand the hypocrisy—and, further, if they don’t do it rigorously perhaps “the science” isn’t true either.
To me that is Christ-like—Jesus was just a carpenter who disagreed with the religious authorities in his day; he said, in effect, “It seems to me to be against the spirit of our religion to have moneylenders in the Temple, even though this has been technically cleared by the religious authorities.” So he went in and overturned the tables. Who did he think he was? He was “just a carpenter”, he didn’t have a “PhD”—perhaps you could say he had common sense and the integrity not to put up with an obvious charade. He didn’t justify himself, he didn’t say that “technically” he was right to cause uproar in the Temple—he just said “my Father” told me to do it, just like Socrates with his daemon. “Your actions are unjustifiable!” “Yes. That’s why they have integrity.”
So how do we emerge at this sort of watery Church of England vicar figure where the fingers are steepled and we have a homily about how we must “love the poor”, “love the weak”, and so on. It doesn’t seem in accord with the meta-Christ to me. It seems to me that people have somehow deliberately misread what Jesus was about—so that he hung about with prostitutes and tax-collectors and adulterers because somehow that was “good” to do in a sympathetic way; and so we should hang out with the marginal and say to, e.g., a heroin addict, “I am praying very hard for you,” in a passive-aggressive way.
To me, Jesus hung out with prostitutes, tax collectors, and adulterers not because they were somehow “good” or needed to be “saved” but because they were what they were, whereas respectable society was filled with arse-covering frauds who kept the letter of the law but not the spirit—i.e. they were whited sepulchres. Prostitutes and tax-collectors were what they were and couldn’t hide it—and were despised (even though the people who despised them made use of them).
The point seems transparent to me: don’t condemn people for sexual immortality (e.g. stone the adulterous woman) if you’ve ever had a sexual thought or, with murder, if you’ve contemplated violence yourself—and I think most people have done both. Yet, mysteriously, somehow this is transformed—at least with the Christians I’ve always encountered—into some kind of unctuous smug superiority over “the fallen” who need to “accept Christ” and be saved (sounds rather like a power trip and not a campaign against hypocrisy to me).
You know, they go among the single mothers but they don’t approve of them—they go to read the Gospel to them, to bring them to Christ, and yet all the time I see that they think they are superior clean people. It’s why you get this awful sickly sweet sensation when you encounter most Christians—it’s the rot behind the white paint. Never hear them say, “I’m into Christianity because it makes me feel like a good superior person and you’re all bad people who are going to hell—and I like the power rush I get when I moralise you for it.” Yet I get the impression that is what they really feel deep down, behind the white paint.
It happens because most people remain hypocrites—it’s our big problem, being a highly socially cooperative species that dominates the world because it cooperates through language. Hence the temptation to spew hypocritical bullshit to keep the show on the road is immense. It’s why religious leaders—Christ, Mohammad, Buddha—inveigh against hypocrisy at length (the Buddha is parallel to Jesus because Hinduism, like Judaism, was very hidebound by complex rules when he arrived).
So with Christ’s message, “practical” people took it up and, naturally, they wanted to keep the show on the road—so it’s useful, for example, to tell the rich that “Our Lord” loved the poor to stop them getting too arrogant and to make them a bit charitable in order to promote social stability. It’s useful to have purification rituals and to tell people not to be unclean and mean—yet it doesn’t have much to do with what Christ said; in a way, it’s the opposite—it’s about how to keep up a “decent” front and then you can quote me chapter on verse on how you’re “justified” (I can’t quote Scripture to you, if that’s your game—your power trip, I have other power trips though).
This is how you get the unctuous vicar down among the tarts to “save them”—but Jesus didn’t save them and make them sexually chaste, he just accepted them without condition; and then used them to exemplify the fact that whatever they were at least they were what they were, unlike the phoneys. “I’m praying for you to overcome this period in your life.” Well, that’s not love—love is unconditional acceptance; if you’re trying to change someone, “reform” them, you don’t love them (whether it’s reform through prayer or social activism). Jesus took people as they were (i.e. he was a realist).
These people who are all about “outreach to the weak” and “acceptance of the Gospel” probably wouldn’t read my electrician as Christ-like—they’d probably see him as a bit socially disruptive and unrespectable, but he’s in keeping with the basic Christ message in my view; even if he never went to a church in his life. It’s not because he’s “just a carpenter” and “humble” people are “good”—it’s just the man who stands outside the hypocrisy can show up even clever scholars, since they are just clever hypocrites.
Where would Jesus be today? With the neo-Nazis—I have not doubt about this. Outrageous—Jesus loved the weak and marginal, he would have been with the migrants, not the bully-boys. Jesus was against hypocrisy—the biggest hypocrisy in our age comes from people who benefit from the fact that race and sex exist but deny that both exist because it’s high-status to be “a good decent human being who loves the world”.
Jesus would go to the neo-Nazis, not because he approved—not because he approved of prostitution and tax-collecting—but because that would scandalise the biggest hypocrites and Pharisees today (with PhDs and endless excuses as to why “race doesn’t exist”, “sex doesn’t exist”). The immigrants and the progressives are the whited sepulchres: the immigrant who claims to be a “victim of political persecution” when he just wants a more comfortable life in the West is a hypocrite, “the Nazi”—whether actual or just a conservative slandered as such—is not a hypocrite. The problem is the hypocrisy, lack of integrity, not what you do as such.
So why don’t people follow the meta-Christ? Because the actual teaching is too much for people to bear—to go into the wilderness, to find “my Father”, to follow his commands without deviation and against all social conventions. It’s too much—so it gets reinterpreted to keep society stable, the message is “be kind to poor people” or “unctuously patronise single mothers while you secretly feel superior to them”. You rarely hear them say: “Actually, I’m a sex-mad homicidal maniac myself, so I’m not going to judge you too harshly”—even though that’s what they are, because it’s what I am (yet it doesn’t look good, does it?—so why don’t you “play the game”, as they say).
If you want to put an evolutionary complexion on this story, you can—man is the cooperative social animal, his only “weapon” is his ability to cooperate through language (ultimately, it’s better than to have claws—we end up with the nuclear bomb and spaceships). However, to facilitate cooperation he also lies a lot—at a certain point, the lies hinder cooperation more than help it. That’s when you need a man like Jesus, Mohammad, or Buddha who has gone into the wilderness—outside the social dance—to come down and point out some obvious aspects to reality that have been concealed by this marvellous game. The action will come as a shock and will, as Nietzsche observed, be perceived to be “evil”—just as Jesus was “evil” for the Jewish religious authorities he confronted. It needs to come from the outside, from nature, because nature isn’t compromised.
Unfortunately, man just can’t help himself—so the message either degenerates or is immediately reinterpreted into something like “be kind to poor people”. That makes it safe—really, it’s not safe. It’s why Jesus says if you follow him you might have to leave your family and fight with your brothers—i.e. if you start to point out hypocrisy you will be told you are evil; and, in modernity, they will say you’re mad (it’s why schizophrenics get into trouble; it’s because they tell the truth, in an indirect way, about the games people play). To follow Jesus means that if you’re in a church and it feels wrong at a deep and inexplicable level you say so and leave—no matter what the authorities or your family say. Why? Because “a voice” told you—entirely sane (but do the psychiatrists remotely understand our minds?).
If everyone lived so, society would be in uproar—although it would stabilise in a deeper way in the long-term. Yet most people wouldn’t dare—so we get the “standard Jesus”, “good people”, and, eventually, “good respectable liberals” descended from this abbreviated Christian message. Liberals are a particular pain in the ass because they’re great at showing up Christian preachers who inveigh against homosexuality and are then found in a gas station cubicle getting a blow job but then are themselves hypocritical about race and the existence of sex differences. It’s the meta-Christ people just don’t get (and don’t want to get because the real message is much more radical than just “love the poor” or “love your neighbour”).