Andrew Sullivan:

What were those doctrines? Not the supernatural claims that, fused with politics and power, gave successive generations wars, inquisitions, pogroms, reformations, and counterreformations. Jesus’ doctrines were the practical commandments, the truly radical ideas that immediately leap out in the simple stories he told and which he exemplified in everything he did. Not simply love one another, but love your enemy and forgive those who harm you; give up all material wealth; love the ineffable Being behind all things, and know that this Being is actually your truest Father, in whose image you were made. Above all: give up power over others, because power, if it is to be effective, ultimately requires the threat of violence, and violence is incompatible with the total acceptance and love of all other human beings that is at the sacred heart of Jesus’ teaching. That’s why, in his final apolitical act, Jesus never defended his innocence at trial, never resisted his crucifixion, and even turned to those nailing his hands to the wood on the cross and forgave them, and loved them.

Let’s set aside the numerous examples of violence both threatened and implied for those who refused to pay heed to this prophet, as well as the curious idea that one can truly accept and love all other human beings while raging and recoiling in disgust at practically everything that makes one actually human. Because unlike so many proponents of this Jesus-as-ur-hippie rhetoric, Sullivan is at least cognizant of the impractical zealotry from whence it came:

Jesus never spoke of homosexuality or abortion, and his only remarks on marriage were a condemnation of divorce (now commonplace among American Christians) and forgiveness for adultery. The family? He disowned his parents in public as a teen, and told his followers to abandon theirs if they wanted to follow him. Sex? He was a celibate who, along with his followers, anticipated an imminent End of the World where reproduction was completely irrelevant.

Sullivan laments the politics and power that stepped in and corrupted what had been such a pure, simple message of world-renunciation and resentful apocalyptic desire, childlike in its innocence. Of course, that worldly political structure is the only reason we’re even still talking about what should have been just another forgotten group of mystery cultists in the first place. The Church’s consolidation of power, rather than being some regrettable aberration that interfered with “true” Christianity’s natural progression toward universal acceptance, was the answer to the question of how to live in the world once it had become readily apparent that the Parousia, the entire raison d’être of Christianity, the only thing that gave it meaning and coherence, was not going to happen. Why, “misinterpreting” the message is a venerable tradition, going all the way back to, well, Constantine himself! Maybe some people are just too close to it to appreciate the wonderful irony of that.