Jesus, the man
Jesus was a living man. He was Jewish, and in his early life he was, like his father, a carpenter. As a young man, he witnessed the oppression of his people under the heel of the Romans who had conquered Israel 63 years before his birth, as well as the hypocrisies and injustices imposed by Herod the Great who had been installed by the Romans as the “King of the Jews” approximately 37 years before Jesus’s birth. It is believed that Jesus joined the Essenes. Although not much is known about the Essenes, they are believed to have been a monastic community which was founded to practice and teach a fundamentalist form of Judaism based on the Torah and other apocryphal texts which were written by ancient Jewish prophets, and not included in the Torah. It is possible that Jesus began his ministry as a wandering Rabbi preaching doctrine he learned from the Essenes.
Everything we know about the life of Jesus is contained in the four canonical gospels which were written between 30 and 80 years after his death and form the basis of the New Testament. None of the gospels were written by eyewitnesses, and all are the end-products of long oral and written transmission. Because of the nature of oral tradition and the fervency of the beliefs of the earliest Christians, it is impossible to know just how much of what we read in the gospels is true and how much is hyperbole based on the natural tendency of the earliest Christians to enlarge upon the stories told by their fathers.
Jesus, the Son of God
However this fact makes very little difference because most Christians today believe in the absolute truth of the gospels and the divinity of Jesus He represents all of God’s qualities. He humanized the Jewish traditions of his day which, even then, were saturated with local politics. He preached the SPIRITUAL aspects of Judaism and was against the materialistic aspects which were very prevalent in the Jewish temple of his day.
To Christians, He IS God in a more understandable and human form. Since the earliest days of the earliest Christian church, Jesus’s name was synonymous with God! To most Christians today, Jesus is the personification of God. He represents everything that Satan (the devil) is NOT. He represents the light of God opposing the devil’s darkness. He preached “righteousness” which can be freely translated to mean right versus wrong. Biblical “righteousness” forms the basis of western common law and the customs which (until recently) formed the basis of Western civilization.
The evolution of the modern Christian faith
In the current (modern) interpretation of the New Testament, the struggle between Good and Evil is personified in the beings known as Jesus Christ and Satan. Modern biblical Christianity, like the later versions of Zoroastrianism, (but unlike Judaism and the earliest forms of Christianity), introduces a devil and thus defines evil as a metaphysical substance that can infuse both humans and spiritual beings.
This is principally because the various authors of the New Testament borrowed from the book of Enoch and a number of other apocryphal Jewish writings which were not included in the original Jewish Torah and which told a story of the war in heaven between God and “the dragon”. The dragon’s intention was to devour the Child of the Celestial Woman. (In the New Testament, the child is widely interpreted as Jesus, God’s son, and the woman is interpreted as the land of Israel.) Later Generations came to see the dragon as the fallen angel Lucifer who became known by the Old Testament name Satan.
Instead of seeing God as the author of both good and evil, modern Christianity divides these qualities between God and the fallen Lucifer. Christians now see a god who rules in heaven and strives to elevate man by eliminating material values, and a devil who rules in Hell and uses material values to bring about man’s downfall.
This wasn’t always the case. It certainly wasn’t in the early history of the Christian faith. St. Augustine (354—430 C.E.), one of the earliest and most influential church fathers, wrote extensively on evil, and came to the conclusion that evil is simply the result of man’s human nature. He (like Zoroaster) regarded evil as a corruption of goodness caused by humanity’s abuse of free will, and neither God nor the devil is responsible for the evil in the world. He believed that evil does not even exist in and of itself. For St. Augustine the duality is only between competing spiritual qualities involving the use and misuse of free will.
The early Catholic Church agreed with St. Augustine in denying the existence of evil, and deemphasizing Satan, however during the late sixth century, Pope Gregory the Great (540 -604) reversed this policy and codified evil in the doctrine of the “seven deadly sins”. After Gregory, the Devil became an iconic, and malignant figure prominent in art and carved into the façade of every church. Satan immediately became extremely popular because he represented material good… sex, money and power… all of the things ordinary people secretly covet.
Thus, the concept of evil quickly assumed material proportions in the minds of the common folk. After Gregory, it was widely assumed that the devil or any number of his minions could adopt human form and walk among us unnoticed. This belief fed into the generalized ignorance and poverty of the day and accounts for many of the atrocities committed by both the church hierarchy and the general population during the long period we today call the dark ages. To the common folk, the devil became a god of evil, and they attributed to him power nearly rivaling that of God. Keep in mind that this is an entirely natural progression in nearly every religion as it “progresses” from its pristine spiritual state into its more politically aware maturity.
This “materialization” of evil in the mind of the people had an enduring effect on the moral character of Western Civilization. Now, anyone, spirit or mortal, could contain, or be composed entirely of evil. One of mankind’s most natural tendencies is to concentrate evil into a material substance personified in the body of the Devil, and that is the reason that Pope Gregory the Great was the most popular pope of his age. In the world of “bread and circuses”, evil is the most satisfying show on earth. Unfortunately, it remains that way today.
The Catholic Church underwent an awakening after the protestant reformation discarding its medieval beliefs concerning the nature of evil. Today the church hierarchy regards the devil as an intelligent spiritual being and tries to discourage the belief that he is a competing god. Those people affected by evil are regarded as ignorant and misguided in the eyes of the church. The devil and his minions are not made of, or even filled with evil, but are simply angels devoid of God’s light. As you will come to understand in the next section, this is NOT a distinction without a difference.
The church hierarchy still considers the devil and his demonic angels as real spiritual beings devoid of goodness who can physically affect our material world. Thus they keep a secret coterie of exorcists on hand to do battle with the physical manifestations of evil. The numbers of this secret fraternity of priests has vastly expanded in recent years, and they are constantly busy.
Notwithstanding the church’s attempt to downplay the devil, the vast majority of ordinary Christians, Catholic and Protestant alike, still think of evil as a material substance which can infect anyone or anything. The church still does little to discourage these beliefs, because a number of its core sacraments amount to little more than elaborate waste removal rituals. This includes some of the most ancient church rites such as Baptism and the Sacrament of Penance.
In Catholic teaching, baptism cleanses the soul of “original sin”, and the Sacrament of Penance is the method by which individual men and women may confess sins committed after baptism and have them absolved by a priest. Both of these rituals imply that evil can be removed en masse like a load of dry sand, leaving the penitent free of sin without further effort.