I can nearly see you on the other side of this screen. Perhaps you are angry at the title of this. Perhaps you are curious what I may mean by calling Jesus Christ a myth. Perhaps you come with no preconceived notions and merely happened upon this out of dutiful passive scrolling.
Either way, I’m glad you’re here.
I want to start this Jesus business by tell you a brief story. Or maybe it’s a personal anecdote. Who even knows, but I would like to share with you.
For the last two and a half years I have worn a necklace with the scared heart of Jesus on it. I found the pendant on the necklace when my grandmother passed away and as family members rummaged through her belongings, hoping to find hidden treasure (many in search of a little pocket change, as relatives often get greedy for post-mortem) and all I wanted was this small pendant I once saw my grandmother wearing. It is roughly the size of a quarter and on the back side has an engraving of the virgin Mary with a long head covering and on the front an impression of Jesus with open arms and an open chest revealing the sacred heart.
When I saw it, I slipped it into my pocket and quickly exited the room. My grandmother had passed the night before, and we were all taking time to talk about her personality and the way that she made us feel. To be frank, I’ve always thought she was a rather calloused woman, who enjoyed telling me how much I was doing wrong as a kid.
But her love of Catholic imagery was always so fascinating to me, even as a child.
So, I snuck the sacred heart into my pocket and told no one until right now when I’m trying to tell as many people as possible.
... and if you’re out there reading, family, sorry... I just wanted it, ok?
I have always loved what the sacred heart symbolizes.
It is directed at the love of Jesus toward humanity.
The heart bears a couple distinct marks, including the heart itself, a cross, a flame, blood flowing from a pierced portion and the crown of thorns. The imagery is guttural and vivid, and yet the heart itself always looks so soft and is glowing in light.
The symbol that sits around my neck has Jesus pulling his chest open to reveal the heart.
But I’m not particularly here to talk about the symbol or how beautiful the necklace I own is (even though because it’s made of silver it doesn’t depict Jesus as a white man, thank God, but we’ll talk about that some other time). I am here to talk about the significance of the sacred heart in recognizing the power of Jesus Christ as a myth.
I would love to take a moment to clarify... Just because I say Jesus is a myth does not mean that I am saying Jesus was not real.
I just don’t think it’s important to say that Jesus was a real human man.
I have been noticing lately how many cross necklaces there are in the world, and while I think the cross is important to the narrative of the scriptures and to understanding Jesus, I think wearing a cross around your neck or getting it tattooed on your arm is kind of a bullshit way of proclaiming something about your dedication to an instrument of torture.
Yes, the story says Jesus died on a cross, but why are we glorifying that death device?
I think the reason we love the cross has to do with the fact that it connects us to the parts of Jesus that are distinctly human. We feel we can relate to Jesus, because at some point we’re all going to die.
YES. You will die. Even you, sitting there with your phone glued to your nose never considering the life of others around you. You will die, and you have no idea when.
So the cross becomes a symbol we can tote around and tell people that we are “close” to Jesus, or god, or whatever we try to say by wearing or showing off our crosses. The point is, the Jesus that you want is more like you than like god. Which is a bit of a problem.
I don’t want my deity to be like me. I want my deity to be BIGGER and UNKNOWN and MYSTERIOUS. I don’t want to be able to understand the full breadth of what I choose to acknowledge as god, I want it to be vastly beyond me. I want it to shock and awe me. I want it to take me for a spin and show me the whole world upside down.
Which is why I think the sacred heart is the key to understanding Jesus as a myth.
Here’s a question: have you seen Jesus’ physical heart?
My guess is not (also, if you have seen the literal heart of Jesus, please message me privately because I have a lot of questions for you). I bet, though, that if I told you the qualities of Jesus’ heart that most Catholics cling to are the compassion and long-suffering love toward humanity you would be able to conceptualize those things inside the heart of Jesus. You would be able to know that the tales about the heart, and the symbols associated with it would turn you toward looking at the people around you in your own life and treating them with love and compassion. The tales about the sacred heart are so vividly important to how you live your life RIGHT NOW!
You see... The sacred heart turns us toward life ! The cross turns us toward death.
The myths surrounding Jesus turn us toward life ! The physical attributes of Jesus turn us toward death.
One of my good Catholic friends wrote me a prayer that she thinks is important to understanding the sacred heart of Jesus. It’s called “Prayer to the Sacred Heart During Suffering,” and here’s what she wrote:
Oh sacred heart
Of Jesus for who
The love of me.
Did gently carry
My cross to calvary,
Grant me to suffer
And to LIVE with thee. amen.
[capitalization added for emphasis]
The sacred heart calls us to live; to be fully consumed by the life around us. To seek out the Jesus in front of us, and to suffer alongside others. The sacred heart allows us to move into the mystery and myth of the god creature and imagine the spaces that god would live in right now. The sacred heart allows us to not worry ourselves with pithy details of a life full of rules and regulation, but to press into the humanity of the moment. To be aware of our own life and the lives around us and to seek compassion and long-suffering love. It is the mark of one who has not only blindly accepted the story of Jesus, but considers the implications it has on navigating the life in front of us.
I know this seems harsh, and I’m not looking to critique anyone for wearing their “faith” with such openness. At the end of the day though, Jesus never wore a cross necklace. Jesus died on one. So perhaps taking the words of Jesus about life are vastly more important than idolizing the physical life of Jesus.
In John’s account of what Jesus said, he hears Jesus say this metaphor about life:
“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down their life for the sheep.”
It seems appropriate to me that the 13th century Sufi mystic, Rumi, said a similar thing about compassion in the way that mythic speech always seems to go: metaphors. He writes:
“In compassion and grace, be like the sun...
In concealing other's faults, be like the night...
In generosity and helping others, be like a river...
In anger and fury, be like dead...
In modesty and humility, be like the earth...
In tolerance, be like the sea...
Either appear as you are, or be as you appear.”
Perhaps the words here surrounding compassion and life lead us toward something bigger. Perhaps the lines between the myth and the real are too close to distinguish. Perhaps what we consider when we approach Jesus should be on the table for discussion.
So, what will it be? Cross or heart? Death or life? Literal or mystic?
The openness to the mysterious interpretation of the heart of Jesus extending out to us and from us to others places us in the beautiful recognition and interaction of the self being a part of god-on-earth. I imagine this is what Jesus wants, sitting right next to you laughing silly alongside your heart and sipping in your presence as your heart melds with god’s heart, that this sacred heart would become your own in the great mystery of our unknowing.