What comes after Christianity?

By Thomas Sheehan

From The Fourth R
Volume 26, Issue 5
September/October 2013

Some readers might already be offended by the very title of this article: “What comes after Christianity?” seems to imply that Christianity is ending, or soon will end, or even that it should end. But let me be clear. I am making no claims about the future of Christianity on the planet. Nonetheless, even if Christianity were to last for centuries into the future, the question is still worth asking, because like any religion, Christianity is not an end in itself and will not last forever. Arguably it must and will end—at our death when it puts us in touch with what it was always about. Christianity is not self-perpetuating but, like any religion, is meant to dissolve itself into what it points to. Christianity is about Christ, and Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 3:23 that Christ is about God. So it would seem that what comes after Christianity is God. When all things have been subjected to Christ, he will be subjected to God, so that God may be all in all (1 Cor 15:28). Thus the traditional and orthodox answer to the question “What comes after Christianity?” is what theologians call the beatific vision, a direct, unmediated intuition of Christ and God.

Christianity is not self-perpetuating but, like any religion, is meant to dissolve itself into what it points to.

I would like to call that into question by addressing three topics: first Jesus, second the “resurrection,” and third God. But first I need to make some preliminary remarks about three loaded terms: Jesus, Christ, and Son of God.

Preliminaries

I propose that we call Jesus by his historical name, the Aramaic “Yeshua”—that would be “Joshua” in English. I do this to defamiliarize him, to make us think of him as a historical figure and not to confuse him with Christ. As everyone knows, it is quite common for people to take the two words “Jesus Christ” as if they constituted one proper name. But, no, “Christ” is not anyone’s proper name, least of all Yeshua’s. It is a title, like “President” or “Prime Minister,” a title that God has to bestow on someone. Christ or messiah (in Hebrew, mashiach,) refers to someone whom God has appointed to be his human representative to the Jewish people.1 Moreover, Yeshua, as the Christ, is a title that makes sense only if you believe that God so chose him. Many Jews who knew of Yeshua did not think that he was God’s anointed, and they would simply refer to him as Yeshua of Nazareth. Therefore, to properly utter the phrase “Jesus Christ” is to express an act of faith that Yeshua, in fact, was God’s anointed prime minister—something that newscasters presumably don’t intend to do when they refer to Christmas as “the birth of Christ.” The word “Christ” should be added to the name Yeshua only by those who think that God supernaturally gave him that role. And for good measure we might add that Yeshua himself probably did not think that he was the Christ, and certainly not God.

What I’m referring to here is, of course, the basic distinction underlying all contemporary New Testament research: the distinction between the Yeshua of history and the Christ of faith. The first is the human figure who walked the dusty roads of Palestine, to the degree that he can be discerned by professional historical investigation. The second is Yeshua interpreted as the Christ, which is a matter of believing that God supernaturally appointed Yeshua his prime minister on earth.

Once we make that distinction, we can begin to decide as well what “events” fall on one side or the other. For example, on the Yeshua-of-history side, we would place his birth and his death—historical events to be sure. But on the Christ-of-faith side we would put his virgin birth and his expiatory death to save humankind from sin—these are historically unprovable theological interpretations of the historical events. Likewise on the historical side we would place his preaching of the Kingdom of God, whereas on the belief side we would put his alleged institution of a new religion called Christianity. Also, on the history side we would place the fact of his crucifixion, which happened probably on April 7 of the year 30 CE, whereas on the belief side we would put the faith-conviction that he was raised from the dead three days later, on April 9. The first set is history, the second set is theologized history.

We should note that the title “Son of God” as applied to Yeshua denotes a human messiah. That’s how Paul and the first three gospels use the title. For them “Son of God” did not mean that Yeshua was ontologically divine—at least not until the end of the first century, some sixty years after he had died, when it is so used in the Gospel of John. There it means that Yeshua was the divine equal of God the Father, what Christian theology calls “the Second Person of the Trinity.” But that comes late in the first century. In the letters of Paul and the synoptic gospels, the title “Son of God” refers not to divinity but to Yeshua’s human messiahship.

1.  Yeshua

It is highly probable that about 27 or 28 CE Yeshua was baptized in the Jordan River by the prophet John and shortly afterwards came north to Galilee. Mark writes in chapter 1: “Now after John was arrested, Yeshua came into Galilee preaching good news from God.” His message was different from John the Baptizer’s. It was more focused on the present rather than on a future catastrophic apocalypse. Let us focus on the four distinct elements in Yeshua’s message as reported by Mark. I will read them first in a traditional translation and then in my own paraphrase. Here is Yeshua’s proclamation, translated into traditional language: First, a twofold offer:

No. 1. The time is fulfilled.
No. 2. The kingdom of God is at hand.

Then a twofold response:

No. 3. Repent.
No. 4. Believe in the good news.

That translation is not only shopworn but centrally incorrect. Let me, therefore, paraphrase Mark 1:15 into more user-friendly English. First the offer.

Number 1. Rather than “the time is fulfilled” let us say: “Time’s up! The time of decision is now.” The Greek word here, kairos, refers not to just any time but to a time fraught with significance, a turning point in time, a time for decision. Yeshua admonishes: The time to decide is now. But what should we decide about?

Number 2. Instead of “the kingdom of God” let us speak of “the power of God.” In saying that the power of God is at hand, Yeshua means it is available to you now: you can, as it were, reach out and grab it. But note that the “power of God” does not mean that God was, as it were, beating on his chest, calling attention to his almightiness so as to cow his enemies. Rather, the kingdom of God—that is, the power of God—is entirely for human beings. The kingdom of God means that God is empowering us, here and now. Yeshua proclaims an existential new creation, just as the first creation empowered humankind to possess and perfect the world. So the second sentence means: “God’s empowerment is yours for the asking.”

Those two moments together constitute the offer: You must decide now whether to avail yourself of God’s empowering of your personal and social life. But then comes the expected response, the two conditions you must fulfill in order to receive this divine empowerment.

Sentence number 3 reads: “Repent”—but that is a capital mistranslation. To repent means to feel remorse and regret, to reproach yourself for what you’ve done or failed to do. However, the Greek verb that Mark uses is metanoeite, made up of two semantic elements: meta, which connotes turning completely around, and then noeō, which refers to the way you see the world, how you think and act. Metanoeite does not mean “repent of your sins” and beat your breast. Rather, it means: radically change who you are and how you live. It tells us to make a complete about-face in our lives and to start heading in a different direction. And, we know from the rest of this prophet’s preaching that such a conversion means radically changing your life into one of justice and mercy. Justice and mercy may seem like trite words, but they are the climax of Yeshua’s message, the most difficult to live out—and the only thing that finally counts.

Last, sentence number 4: Not “believe in the good news” as if you were being asked to sign a pledge to adhere to some doctrine. Rather, let’s translate it as: “Bet your life on it.” That’s the force of the Greek verb pisteuete: not to have faith in something, not to believe what has been said, but to cast in your lot existentially with a radical new way of living—trusting, without evidence, that it is the best way to live. Thus,

No. 1. Time’s up!
No. 2. God’s empowerment is yours for the asking.
No. 3. Change who you are and how you live.
No. 4. Bet your life on it.

Notice that the fourfold proclamation in Mark 1:15 does not say one word about believing in Yeshua as the Christ or God or about accepting him as your personal savior, or loving him with your whole heart. Not one word. The same goes for Yeshua’s proclamation of the kingdom of God in the Sermon on the Mount: blessed are you, the poor, the landless, the marginalized, the suffering—blessed are you, for the kingdom of God is among you (see Luke 17:21). Nothing about King Jesus at all, much less about establishing a personal relationship with him. Yeshua doesn’t even hold himself up as a model so that we might ask “What would Jesus do?” Putting Yeshua himself at the center of Yeshua’s message is Christianity, something that arose after the prophet was dead and couldn’t defend himself against it.

So, seen from Yeshua’s point of view, seen from what he apparently preached in his lifetime, Christianity is an epic mistake and a scandalous inversion of the prophet’s message. To put it in a phrase: Yeshua preached the kingdom of God whereas Christianity preached that he was the kingdom of God in person. Christianity turned the messenger into the message by claiming that Yeshua preached himself as the center of the good news. Yeshua’s proclamation of God’s kingdom was focused on ordinary people and how they might live and die. Christianity, on the other hand, is focused on an extraordinary individual and on how he lived and died. Yeshua preached a new way of life without a messiah, whereas Christianity turned Yeshua into the messiah who rules the world. In a word, turning the messenger into the message is the original sin of Christianity.

To state it more benignly, we might say that Christianity, as a faith-interpretation, is not a mistake but only one take on the message of Yeshua. Yes, this take has become the dominant and even “orthodox” interpretation of the historical Yeshua, but it is one that he himself would have rejected, insofar as he died without believing he was a Christian, much less the founder of a new religion called Christianity.

On this premise, the really important question would not be what comes after Christianity, but rather what came before Christianity—which would turn out to be the radical form of Judaism preached by Yeshua.

2.  “Resurrection”

I turn now to the second part of this essay, not the historical Yeshua, but Yeshua interpreted in faith as being the Christ. How did his profile change from prophet to messiah? When did he become the Christ, the devotional focus of Christian faith? This question takes us directly to what we call “the resurrection”—or better, to what we wrongly call “the resurrection.” Let me explain why we should always place that word in scare quotes.

Let us go back to the earliest mention of the “resurrection.” That happens around the year 50, two decades after the death of Yeshua, in the earliest Christian scripture we have, Paul’s First Letter to the Thessalonians. Except that in this earliest text Paul does not proclaim the “resurrection” of Yeshua—this is a mistranslation that came centuries later—but instead he speaks metaphorically, not historically, of God “awakening” Yeshua from the sleep of death. In 1 Thessalonians 1:10 he writes: You await “God’s Son from heaven, whom he awoke from the dead.” That’s all. Nothing about Easter Sunday morning and all the drama at the empty tomb. The Greek verb that Paul uses here is egeirō, which literally means to wake someone up from sleep. Paul does not say that God “resurrected” Yeshua on Easter Sunday (whatever that would mean), but that God metaphorically awoke Yeshua—now as the messiah—into a new life with God and that God did so supernaturally, outside of space and time.

Note that Paul is making no reference to, and no claim about, an alleged historical “event” that happened on Easter Sunday morning at a tomb outside Jerusalem. He is not referring to something that we could have caught on video or could date on a calendar—Sunday, April 9, 30 ce. Instead of all that, a simple metaphor: God “awoke him from the sleep of death,” something that did not take place in time and would not leave any empirical evidence behind—not an empty tomb, not grave clothes. The New Testament also employs another Greek metaphor to refer to the so-called “resurrection,” namely that God stood Yeshua back up on his feet after he had fallen down. The Greek verb used for this supernatural act is anistēmi. It doesn’t mean that Yeshua literally fell down on the ground and then was put back on his feet. It is a metaphor, and like “awaking Yeshua from sleep” it usually—and wrongly—gets translated into English as God raised Yeshua from the dead, or worse yet as Yeshua rose from the dead, as if he literally got up off a tomb slab under his own steam and walked out the door. To speak of a “resurrection” on Easter Sunday morning is to falsely historicize a faith-interpretation, a theological conviction about a non-empirical divine act of God toward the dead Yeshua. The “Easter mistake” consists in turning theology into history.

To speak of a “resurrection” on Easter Sunday morning is to falsely historicize a faith-interpretation, a theological conviction about a non-empirical divine act of God toward the dead Yeshua. The “Easter mistake” consists in turning theology into history.

Now, of course, in the gospels there are dramatic stories of the stone being rolled away from the tomb entrance on Sunday morning, of an angel (right out of central casting) appearing to women in the tomb, of Yeshua suddenly appearing to the disciples in the Upper Room—but these legends first show up in the last third of the century, forty to seventy years after Yeshua died. In Mark’s gospel, written around 70, Easter is quite minimal: an angel announces the awakening to three women, who tell nobody about it, and there are no appearances of Yeshua mentioned at all.2 Matthew and Luke, written more than a half-century after the death of Yeshua, go on to add many more dramatic details: physical appearances, eating of food, ascending into heaven. And John’s gospel, at the end of the century, even has the Easter Yeshua cooking breakfast for his disciples.

It is quite revealing that even though Paul visited Jerusalem and spoke with Peter and James just five or six years after Yeshua’s death, he gives not the least evidence of knowing anything about an alleged empty tomb on Easter Sunday morning or of the miraculous events that supposedly transpired later that day. No, those imaginative (if ultimately misleading) legends would be invented over the next half century. Paul, instead, sticks with the simple and metaphorical declaration that God awoke Yeshua into the new life of the Age to Come and appointed him God’s messianic prime minister. In his letter to the Philippians, Paul even cites a very early Christian hymn about the “resurrection,” which proclaims that God exalted Yeshua to messianic status right at his death on the cross—3:00 pm on Good Friday—without needing to wait for his burial, much less the intervening Saturday before Easter Sunday morning (see Phil 2:6–11).

So our original question is getting more complicated. From what comes after Christianity we moved to what came before Christianity: a prophetic proclamation of a God-empowered way of living, without need of a messiah to anchor it. We then asked when it was that, according to the early believers, Yeshua was appointed the Christ; that is, formally speaking, when Christianity began. And the earliest answer available, given by Paul, was that Yeshua became the Christ when God supernaturally awakened him and exalted him (still as a human being) to messiahship. With this Pauline faith-interpretation of the historical Yeshua, the message of the kingdom of God begins to give way to the message of Yeshua as the head of the kingdom and the focus of Christian devotion. Yes, the imperative of justice and mercy still held sway, but now it was being done for Yeshua’s sake. Remember Matthew’s story of the last judgment (25:31–46): Whatever you did to the least of the brothers and sisters, you did to me, the king, that is, the Christ (Matt 25:40). An axial shift has taken place here. With the emphasis now focally on Yeshua as the Christ, Christianity is born. The gospel preached by Yeshua the prophet has turned into the gospel about Yeshua the Christ.

3.  God

In 1 Corinthians 3:22–23, Paul virtually defines Christianity as follows: “All things are yours, … and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s.” Paul’s Christian vision is of a great sweep of being—from the natural world to the human world (ourselves), to the human Christ, and then on to the supreme God who finally will be all in all (1 Cor 15:28). We said that, in traditional theology, what comes after Christianity is the beatific vision of God, without the four “C’s” that make up Christianity as a religion: moral code, liturgical cult, doctrinal creed, and community rules. After religion comes God.

But God is somewhat on the ropes these days, pummeled by a new breed of atheists such as Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, the late Christopher Hitchens, and even Stephen Hawking. But I submit to you that the real blows were landed well over a century ago by the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. You may be familiar with a famous parable that Nietzsche published in 1882.

The story is about a madman who walks into the central piazza of a sophisticated European town carrying a lantern in the bright morning hours and crying out “I’m looking for God! I’m looking for God!” He must be crazy: a lantern in the morning? But we might think of this madman as performing a prophetic gesture. Just as Jeremiah shatters the jar as a sign that God will crush Jerusalem (Jer 19:1–14), just as Ezekiel cuts his hair and scatters it to the wind as a sign that God will scatter his people (Ezek 5:1–14), so too the madman of this modern parable is acting prophetically.

Imagine the scene: On stage right there is a cafe where the intellectuals and the well-off of the town are seated outside, sipping their cappuccinos. At stage left, enter the madman with his lantern in hand, crying “I’m looking for God!” The narrator takes it up from there.

One of the sophisticated bystanders said: “Why are you looking for God? Did he get lost? Did he lose his way like a like child?” Peals of laughter. Another said, “Maybe God is in hiding because he’s afraid of us!” And a third: “Maybe he emigrated and abandoned us all.” And so they made fun of the madman. But he storms over to them and pierces them through with his prophetic gaze and says:

I’ll tell you where God is. We have killed him, you and I. All of us are his murderers. We have unchained this earth from the sun—and now are spinning off into space, plunging backward and forward, in all directions. We are now straying through an infinite nothingness. Don’t you feel how cold it has become? There is nothing except darkness all around us. That’s why I carry this lantern.

Listen: do you hear that noise? It’s the sound of the grave diggers burying God. Don’t you smell the odor? That is God decomposing, for he is dead and will stay dead. And we have killed him. In all history there has never been a greater deed than this. And whoever is born after us will be part of a higher history than all history up to now.

Here the madman stops speaking and looks again at his frozen listeners. Now they too are silent and stare at him in astonishment. Finally, in frustration, he shatters his lantern on the ground, and it goes out. He says:

I’ve come too early for them. Just as the light of the stars requires time to reach the earth, so too the news of this event is still wending its way to these people—this news has not yet reached the ears of humankind. This deed is still farther away from them than the most distant stars—and yet they have done it themselves.

The narrator concludes the parable:

Word has it that later that same day the madman went into several churches and there sang a Latin dirge: Requiem aeternam Deo. Each time, he was dragged out of the churches and asked what he thought he was doing. And each time he replied, “What are these churches now if not the tombs and sepulchers of God?”

I suggest that Christians should take the parable very seriously. Like any parable, it does not make a statement so much as it leaves us with a question: What if there really is no God? What if the Jewish and Christian God we know is only a literary fiction, a character in a historical novel called the Bible?

Do we ever seriously entertain the question: What if there is no God at all, no supernatural entity who created and sustains the world and us? Or to reverse it: If there is a God, a single, unique, one-only god, what is that God good for?

Perhaps you do not accept Nietzsche’s cultural analysis. If not, you have ample evidence on your side. Perhaps you’ll say: the death of God? Maybe in Europe, but not here in the United States, this exceptionally religious country where, according to a recent Pew Forum Survey, 92% of Americans believe in God or in a universal spirit.3

Likewise, over half of Americans pray at least once a day. Over 50% of Americans believe that angels and demons are active in this world. Twenty percent of Americans speak in tongues (9% on a weekly basis). So much for Nietzsche the prophet!

Moreover, the Pew survey shows that among Americans, the more one prays the more one tends to be on the right wing of the political spectrum. Of Christians who pray daily, 56% declare themselves to be politically conservative. (At least Karl Marx got that prediction right.)

But let’s be honest. The question of God is a human question, traceable to human beings alone. That’s obviously the case if we consider the long history of our universe. Scientists say our universe is 13.7 billion years old, and 99.9% of those years passed before even the idea of God emerged. The earliest possible meaningful marks made by the species homo, go back only 1.4 million years and were possibly made by homo erectus, who may have been able to imagine gods who rule over nature and who determine human life.

The question of God is a human question, traceable to human beings alone.

Homo sapiens—our tribe—appeared only a brief 200,000 years ago and maybe here a more robust notion of gods arose. The earliest undisputed human burial dates back 130,000 years. However, it is only in the last 4000 years that we have any written myths about the gods and demigods—think of the Sumerian myth of Gilgamesh. And it is apparently less than 3000 years since Judaism came up with the idea of one God only: monotheism.

So the question of gods arrives very late in the universe and seems to be only a human question. The notion begins with us and cannot be separated from us. And if a meteor were to hit Planet Earth and destroy all human life, the idea of God would likely vanish forever. No human beings, no idea of God. In a very real sense the question of God is the question of humanity. And with Nietzsche we may wonder what kind of human being is possible after the death of God.

The Greek philosopher Xenophanes, who wrote around 530 bce, opined (Fragment 15) that if animals had hands and could create works of art the way we do, horses would draw pictures of gods like horses, oxen would draw them like oxen, and so on. Each species would make their gods in the image and likeness of themselves.

In the nineteenth century the philosopher Ludwig Feuerbach had another take on that. Human beings, he said, take their very best qualities, like love and knowledge, then imagine those qualities in their perfect state (all-loving, all-knowing), and project them vertically onto an imaginary supernatural being who is perfectly what we ourselves are only imperfectly. The purpose of life, Feuerbach said, is to reverse the process and reintegrate those qualities into ourselves, who then strive to develop them horizontally, as it were, in the course of one’s life and the history of the species. The goal is to turn theology into anthropology.

In light of the above, I want to end by putting to you a question that deeply bothers me: How can I square a belief in an all-loving, all-powerful, personal God with the fact that I am going to die in the next few years? Because God or no God, I am going to die. Before my body is finally reduced to ashes, my consciousness is going to slowly fade to zero. My organs will gradually begin to shut down as life diminishes. I’ll stop recognizing people, even my most beloved ones. The center of consciousness that I call “me” will gradually slip away into a dreamless sleep. Finally the candle will be blown out, and after a fading trail of smoke—nothing.

Now, I can imagine that I will reawaken in another field of consciousness where there will be an “I” who remembers me. Yes, I can imagine it, even if it may not seem very likely. We see, we feel, we love and think—and there is a world out there that corresponds to all that, and we call it “reality.” But when we can no longer see, feel, love, and think, there will be no reality corresponding to that. None at all.

This could become a very depressing thought: Is this all there is? Do I live these fifty or seventy or ninety years only to end up as nothing? And the nothingness that awaits me up ahead is in fact already with me, now. From the moment I was born I was old enough to die. Isn’t that nothingness already slowing reducing me from within? (These are thoughts we rarely hear in church, especially given the upbeat Christianity we are used to these days.)

However: Enter the notion of God—whew!—that last bulwark against death and absolute nothingness. God as the guarantor of immortality, of eternal consciousness, knowledge, and love.

But is that what Yeshua preached? There was not one word in Mark’s kerygma about immortality. We are not even sure what Yeshua thought about death. Did he believe in a resurrection of the body, so that we might live forever on a re-created earth under God’s rule? I certainly don’t know, and I don’t think scripture scholars know either. And even if Yeshua did believe there would be immortality, there is no guarantee that he was right. Why trust a relatively ignorant first-century peasant on anything so metaphysical as immortality?

Moreover, if we want an immortal soul or self-consciousness, we needn’t believe in Yeshua or his God for that. We can have it through philosophy without divine revelation and faith, most notably through the Greek philosopher Plato. He held that our human consciousness is temporarily trapped within the body and that when the body dies off, our consciousness will ultimately be freed for its real life in the spiritual hereafter, a notion that Christianity slowly took over and turned into the beatific vision of God.

No, Yeshua did not have a lot to say about a future afterlife. Instead he called us to a present-day challenge: a life dedicated entirely to justice and love. And he invited us to bet our lives on it, without evidence or proof. He promised no reward and, I would say, rightly so, because he didn’t know, any more than you and I do, whether there is some reward beyond the doing of the deed. He lived a life that we can imagine was in accord with what he preached, and he paid for that by being murdered, unfortunately by mistake. He proclaimed God’s empowerment of just and loving lives under the rubric “the kingdom of God.” But this title was misread by the nervous Roman authorities as a political revolution against their kingdom. Yeshua’s message was a revolution, but not the specifically political kind that Rome feared. He died not because Adam and Eve had originally offended God, who in turn demanded blood vengeance, and not because of a pre-ordained divine plan to save the world. He died because of an accident of history: Pontius Pilate misunderstood his message and had him tortured to death.

And now, what survives the dead Yeshua is not himself but his words, his interpretation of the meaning of life. When we cut through all the later theological red tape and get to the core, Yeshua was not about the Christ, not even about God in heaven—because his God was entirely about human beings on earth, enacting justice and mercy—that alone defined his God. And as we might say, God is doing just fine, thank you, and does not need any attention or worship from us. (And prayers of petition are beside the point because God made up his mind long ago.) Rather, we are the ones who are not doing so well, we are the ones in need of attention. And by “we” I refer not just to you and me but also and above all to the other 95% of the world that doesn’t live in wealthy North America.

I wonder if Yeshua would really care, would really make a fuss, if someone enacted justice and mercy for reasons other than the kingdom of God—say, a Marxist, who does it to end economic and social oppression, or an atheist, who does it for purely humanistic motives. And if Yeshua did care and made a fuss about it, if he improbably insisted that one do justice and mercy only for his own motives, grounded in Second Temple Judaism, he would be wrong and in that respect, at least, not worth listening to. Or if he insisted that the ultimate reason why we should be living that way is that God orders it from on high, he’d also be wrong, for it is our very humanity, and nothing outside ourselves, that most immediately commands us to live for justice and mercy.

And if Yeshua were to tell us that the real reason for walking the walk is so that we will some day walk right into a heaven beyond this world and after this life, he would be wrong. Or if he insisted that in doing justice unto the brothers and sisters we were actually doing it unto him and that that’s why it is right and worthy, pay no heed.

The final reason why we listen to Yeshua is because we first listen to ourselves, our authentic best selves. We are to do it because it is the right thing to do, not to win some afterlife reward and not for some higher motive than the good of others. Because in matters as deeply human as this, the reward of a well-lived life is ... a well-lived life.

The final reason why we listen to Yeshua is because we first listen to ourselves, our authentic best selves. ... Because in matters as deeply human as this, the reward of a well-lived life is ... a well-lived life.

What comes after Christianity? The theologians tell us: God does. But what kind of God? For that we ask: What came before Christianity? And it was not Yeshua but Yeshua’s word. He tells us that what comes before Christianity is a God who gently but firmly pushes us away from himself in the direction of each other.

The second-century Church father Irenaeus wrote in Latin “Gloria dei homo vivens,” that is, the glory of God—everything that religion claims to be about—is human beings living humanly and humanely.

If you believe in God, fine: that God pushes you away from himself and on to each other. If you don’t believe in God, no matter. The task remains the same.

Sheehan Tom 2015Thomas Sheehan is Professor, Department of Religious Studies, at Stanford University, and the author of many books including Making Sense of Heidegger (2014), Becoming Heidegger (rev. 2011), and The First Coming (1986). Sheehan's interests in biblical history and exegesis include first-century Christianity and early Jewish and Christian apocalyptic.

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Endnotes

1. Mashiach means “anointed.” “Messiah” is the English transliteration of mashiach. “Christ” is the Greek translation of mashiach.

2. Mark’s gospel originally ended at 16:8, when the women flee the tomb in fear and tell no one anything. The rest of Mark 16, which tells of an appearance of the risen Jesus, is a later addition to the gospel.

3. Jacqueline L. Salmon, “Most Americans Believe in Higher Power, Poll Finds.” Washington Post, June 24, 2008.