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Leena Isac


The Lost Religion of Jesus: Simple Living and Nonviolence in Early Christianity

By Keith Akers
Booklight / Lantern Books, New York, NY
2000, 260 pages, $20 (paper)

review by Leena Isac
Rochester Vegetarian Society

Like many ethical vegetarians, I have felt that Christianity does not "care" about values like compassion, nonviolence, and environmentalism. I explored other religions, including Buddhism, Hinduism, and Jainism, searching for one that had compassion at its core instead of dogma and rigid belief systems. So, like many, I have held onto a loose belief in God, and a deep spiritual interconnectedness between all sentient beings, feeling uncomfortable calling myself a Christian. Over time, the Christian church has not been a leader in tolerance, simple living, and nonviolence. Keith Akers believes that this is a distortion of what Jesus actually taught. Akersí new book, The Lost Religion of Jesus, uncovers a whole new definition of Christianity, a religion that he believes is completely misunderstood.

The focus of Akersí work is on the original followers of Jesus, the Jewish Christians. He shows that from the time of Jesusí life until roughly 400 years later, the Jewish followers of Jesus understood and practiced true Christianity. Due to many different events, these people and their beliefs died out, leaving only distorted versions of Jesusí teachings. Akers shows that the revelation given by Jesus was an uncompromising ethical demand, not some mythological belief system. To the Jewish Christians, it was Jesusí ethics of simple living and nonviolence, rather than a new theology, which distinguished him and his followers from other Jews. They believed that his teachings were about simple living, pacifism, and vegetarianism, and that he never intended to create a new religion separate from Judaism. Modern Christianity has misunderstood the message of Jesus. Akers writes:

When the larger gentile Christian church drove out Jewish Christianity . . . it also lost the core of Jesusí teachings. The values of simple living and nonviolence became increasingly marginalized in a church that came to accept the very materialism and violence against which Jesus had protested.

Akers argues that Jesus preached against animal sacrifice. It was his objection to killing animals in Godís name that caused him to create the scene in the temple that eventually led to his crucifixion. Akers documents the many religious writings he uses as references. He makes a convincing case that the teachings of Paul, which are largely the basis of the current Christian religion, are in error with Jesusí original message. For example, Akers points out that orthodox Christianity is preoccupied with guilt and sin, but that "original sin" had no place in the teachings of Jesus. Teachings of Jesus that were inconvenient were discarded, such as the emphasis on pacifism. Roman soldiers were baptized in the new religion, ensuring the status of the military in Christianity. This was one of the many changes in the Roman Empire made in Christianity because of its political interest in maintaining a strong, united church.

The moral teachings of Jewish Christianity, which included a firm emphasis on the necessity for a simple lifestyle and the objection to bloodshed of either animals or humans, are just as uncomfortable and awkward for us to follow today. Christianity focuses on the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and that weíre absolved of our sins if we simply "believe." Instead of urging us to adhere to an ethical lifestyle, it takes the much easier path of demanding that we profess to have certain beliefs. The Nicene Creed, for example, has not ethical content at all, but it just a succession of theological statements regarding the virgin birth, crucifixion, and resurrection. There is no mention of the need to live simply and nonviolently, and to completely change oneís life. Akers says the message of Jesus "has been eliminated. Modern Christianity has given us a Messiah without a cause."

I highly recommend this book to anyone who cares about compassion, nonviolence, and simple living and thus feels disconnected from Christianity. Akers helps us see that being a Christian means we should change our lives to be in keeping with Godís will. He points out that this would involve, among other things, environmentalism, non-consumerism, and vegetarianism. Some might argue that Akers is using scripture to further a "liberal agenda," but I would urge everyone to read this well researched book before turning away from what could be a spirituality that would truly "save" us all.

Leena Isac is a member of the Rochester Area Vegetarian Society and the owner of Leenaís Garden Specialty Baking (www.leenasgarden.com). She is the mother of eight-month-old Meena, who was born with a Vegan Revolution bumper sticker on her bum.

VegNews, November / December 2001, pages 28, 31.



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