Friday, August 2, 2013

“Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth” The cartoon showed two bored office workers, idly gazing out the window, when one of them said, “Let’s go to California and start a new religion.” Fair or not, California has been a starting place for many religious-minded (and otherwise) folk to break out new ways to find and share the religion of their choice. More than three in four of Americans say religion is losing its influence in the United States, writes Dan Merica of CNN. It is evident that many Americans do not think this is a good thing. According to a Gallup survey 75 percent of Americans said the country would be better off if it were more religious. There may be some answers to why church attendance is slipping ever so slightly, and bored office or blue collar workers are looking for something more challenging. The last fifteen years books dealing with the history and reality of Christianity have become best sellers such as: Charles Kimball’s “When Religion Becomes Evil.” John D. Caputo’s “What Would Jesus Deconstruct?” “Water Into Wine” by Tom Harpur and Neale Donald Walsch’s three books on “Conversations with God: an uncommon dialogue.” Historian and scholar, Reza Asian, has just published a new biography of Jesus, “Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth,” Professor Asian was born in Iran and grew up in America. He accepted Jesus as his savior in his teens. The book relates the author’s spiritual journey while understanding the peasants, priests, soldiers and their daily lives of Jesus’ Palestine. This biography seeks to separate the man from deity. I found the book an interesting read. It shares the epoch-making story through the writings of men who were there before, during and after Jesus. He says he wrote the book “in order to spread the good news of the Jesus of history with the same fervor that I once applied to spreading the story of the Christ.” “Ironically,” Asian writes, “the more I learned about the life of the historical Jesus, the turbulent world in which he lived, and brutality of the Roman occupation that he defied, the more I was drawn to him.” Reading this book and a couple of Tom Harpur’s books filled in a lot of gaps in my faith, hope and understanding of religion in general. These books increased my faith because of the honesty and enlightenment they brought. Harpur is a former columnist for the Toronto Star, an Anglican priest and a Rhodes scholar. Twenty-first century believers and unbelievers are questioning about Jesus, the Son of Man, just as they were from the beginning of his ministry. The first 300 years were filled with what we might call “denominations” today. Those with the historical-literalist approach won the battle of “views” and have been with us to this day. That could be one reason people are seeing little relevance in “church going” and want more than set-in-concrete, unquestioning blind observance in their faith: traditions, rituals, rites, demands, regulations, ceremonies and even “know-it-all” sermonizers. I began with a joke about guys starting a new religion. There is no reason to start a new religion, nor a new denomination. The world has more than enough of both. There are many reasons to grow up in our faith and know what we believe and why. Church-goers will find in spiritual growth the dimension that may be lacking. --30--

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