05/11/2010 12:24 am ET | Updated May 26, 2011

The Anarchist Jesus of the First Gospel

My last blog entry, "The Devil in the Vatican," changed my life. Shortly after publishing it, I decided that a serious critic of the pedophilia cover-ups couldn't remain an employee of the Catholic Church. I quit my job as Music Minister at the Church of the Nativity. The homilies there were often full of simplistic, right-wing dreck anyway.

But the problem goes deeper. It's hard to forget an all-boys Catholic high school staffed with so many repressed gay men. It's hard to forget my personal experiences back in Falls Church, Virginia. I'm praying now for the courage to finally write what's in my heart. There were myriad reasons for leaving that job, and with that decision, I'm taking a break from Catholicism in general. This whole experience has only brought me closer to the real Jesus.

You see, shortly after Jesus' death, there were about 200 gospels floating around. They were like the internet of that era -- a diverse mix of histories and texts that linked Jesus to a menagerie of radicals and revolutionaries: Eqyptian magick (aka "Hermeticism"), the Gnostics, the Essennes, and the Zealots.

At the Council of Nicea, in AD 323 to 325, a big hammer fell. The Roman warrior Emperor Constantine forced Christianity to clean up its message, sanitize Jesus's biography, and turn 200-plus gospels into four. Jesus of Gnosis ("immediate knowledge") became the "Christianity" of Roman Empire. Jesus's views on gender and sexuality had to be sanitized and distorted. The Jesus of liberation became the Jesus of control.

The same year that the USA dropped nuclear bombs on Japan, God decided to break the seal on several of these "lost" Gnostic gospels. In 1945, in a cave in Nag Hammadi, Eqypt, a shepherd boy found manuscripts that had been buried there almost 1,700 years ago.

God revealed Nag Hammadi to you in this age. Trust that the Spirit of History knows you, and knows that this is the time when you and I most need this.

My favorite text from Nag Hammadi is the Gospel of Thomas. It's a collection of revolutionary sayings attributed to Jesus. Despite what the Church tells you, it can't be dismissed as the scribblings of a heretic. This is Jesus, raw and uncut.

About half of the scholars on the Gospel of Thomas say its authorship predates the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. That means this Gospel of Thomas may have been the first Gospel.
Reading it will be eerily familiar to Christians, as half of the quotations come from the "Q Document," which the other Gospels also use as a source. The other half of the quotations show an anarchist, surrealist Jesus who is no friend of Empire, social control, "soft clothes," or the rich.

At my last Mass at Nativity, I knew it was over when out came the reading of the old Gospel of John, about uncertainty of the Apostle dubbed "Doubting Thomas." But this only happens in John, nowhere else! Only in John's Gospel does Thomas speak at all: brashly urging the Apostles to go die with Jesus in Jerusalem, at one point. At the Last Supper, John depicts a thick Thomas ignorant of Christ's mission. John wrote his Gospel last, probably around 100 AD, and he had an axe to grind. The author of John was likely surrounded by rival "Thomasite" Christians and their incendiary, uncontrollable Gospel.

The Gospel of Thomas opens with a promise: "Whoever discovers the interpretation of these sayings will not taste death." At the gate, we are told that reading this is one thing, but the real work is in "interpretation."

The Gospel itself
can be read in a single sitting, the language poetic, fiery, and at times cryptic. Recently, good books have been written on Thomas, such as Elaine Pagels's Beyond Belief: The Secret Gospel of Thomas and Neil Douglas-Klotz's Hidden Gospel: Decoding the Spiritual Message of the Aramaic Jesus.

But the "interpretation" of Thomas has only begun. The 1945 discovery is historically only yesterday, and few Christians or historians have read of the Gospel of Thomas. But in the midst of a Church in crisis on issues of sexuality, power, and gender, a deeper interpretation of Thomas is called for.

Reading Thomas in 2010 brings out two major themes. Jesus warned against the intoxication of power, especially political power, and advised his followers to "renounce" it. Yep, that's "renounce," people, just like Gandhi's exhortation that we "have nothing to do with power." That means not engaging in the domination that traditional gender roles help enforce. To make this point, Jesus engages in a "meta-parable" in which clothing is a metaphor for social control and gender. A running theme of nudity and freedom pops up in this anarchic gospel.

Here's a great quotation from stanza 21:

Mary said to Jesus, "What are your disciples like?"

He said, "They are like little children living in a field that is not theirs. When the owners of the field come, they will say, 'Give us back our field.' They take off their clothes in front of them in order to give it back to them, and they return their field to them."

Notice no great respect for the religion of private property? Constantine and company must have loved that.

From stanza 22:

Jesus saw some babies nursing. He said to his disciples, "These nursing babies are like those who enter the (Father's) kingdom."

They said to him, "Then shall we enter the (Father's) kingdom as babies?"

Jesus said to them, "When you make the two into one, and when you make the inner like the outer and the outer like the inner, and the upper like the lower, and when you make male and female into a single one, so that the male will not be male nor the female be female ... then you will enter [the kingdom]."

Wow. The exact opposite of Paul's "wives, obey your husbands." Jesus instead advises a step away from the part of gender that is built by society. Why? A step away from the power dynamics of the world is a deeper curiosity about who we really are.

What are masculinity and femininity? What part is just a social construction? What part is natural? Jesus says mix it up, and make those two one. Get away from male-ness or female-ness as you were taught it. Come up to something higher. Male-ness does not mean violence. Female-ness does not mean submission.

In stanza 78, Jesus demands, "Why have you come out to the countryside? To see a reed shaken by the wind? And to see a person dressed in soft clothes, [like your] rulers and your powerful ones? They are dressed in soft clothes, and they cannot understand truth."

Later, he says, "When you strip without being ashamed, and you take your clothes and put them under your feet like little children and trample then, then [you] will see the son of the living one and you will not be afraid."

It's not nudity but a symbol of purity that I think Jesus is urging us toward. Historians tell us that another part of Jesus often overlooked is his influence by the Essennes, the Jewish cult living in the desert outside Jerusalem. They were committed to nonviolence and a Communion ritual in order to gain a deeper purity away from society. They were committed to "taking off" the cloaks of social identity.

The final stanza, stanza 114, completes the theme about radical re-thinking about gender. In it, Simon Peter (the first pope, according to the Catholic Church) makes one of the Church's first statements to subjugate women: "Simon Peter said to them, 'Make Mary leave us, for females don't deserve life.' Jesus said, 'Look, I will guide her to make her male, so that she too may become a living spirit resembling you males.'"

To the Jesus of the Gospel of Thomas, gender is a lot more fluid than any of us is willing to believe, especially now in our tough-guy militaristic society based on bluff and image.
What happens if we don't listen to this Jesus? Well, look around you. You end up with a Catholic Church that subjugates women to a second-class status. It does not allow them to enter the priesthood, has a Dark-Ages attitude about gender studies, and sticks to the darkest scriptural passages about "stoning homosexuals" for advice about the wide range of our God-given human sexuality.

To all the leaders of the Catholic Church, and to Christians everywhere, I urge you to go read
The Gospel of Thomas.
Go read the historical Jesus in his own words. Quit faking it. Practice the raw honesty you taught me. A Church of cover-up will not stand.

How do I know?

I follow the real Jesus, the raw One, the radical of the First Gospel, the Gospel of Thomas.