Several people have asked me who my target audience is for Disciples, or for my previous book The Lost Religion of Jesus. When I write about Christianity and vegetarianism, who is my audience? Christians? Vegetarians? Someone else? A friend of mine writes the following question:
In order to explain that the founders [of Christianity] were vegetarian you also have to do a critical analysis which uncovers that Jesus and his followers never claimed that Jesus was god co-equal with the father. Fundamentalists do not want to listen to anything which would demote Jesus . . . non-fundamentalists and non-Christians are not particularly interested in reading anything about Jesus as vegetarian because they are just not that interested in reading about Jesus.
So what audience is left?
There are a number of people who will be interested. People who want to know about the history of the early church, about what the church was like before (or without) Paul, and about the disputes in the early church, will want to read the book. Also, anyone who is interested in religion, ethics, and vegetarianism will be interested. This is a considerable audience. Books about Jesus are still popular, witness the Reza Aslan’s recent book Zealot. A Muslim author took an unorthodox look at Jesus, and the book hit the best-seller list. Someone wants to hear about Jesus from non-orthodox sources.
The message is broader than just veganism. It also includes the need for humans to change their lifestyle radically in other ways as well. It is “simple living and veganism in a world of limits,” and the audience is those who are open to this message, and who understand that there is an ethical or spiritual dimension here as well as a factual aspect.
So it’s not true that there is no audience for Disciples. But the problem is that these people aren’t in any church, and consequently we can’t convert this interest into a viable social movement within Christianity.
When I wrote The Lost Religion of Jesus, I specifically targeted Christian and church audiences. I tried to figure out which denominations would be most receptive and wrote letters to these churches. I received invitations to speak, in fact in a couple of cases I delivered the Sunday morning sermon. I sold a bunch of books and I am sure that some of their members were influenced. Some came up afterwards and thanked me for my message and my efforts.
I wrote mostly to the more liberal churches, because The Lost Religion of Jesus was theologically liberal. Anyone who is a fundamentalist, believes in the inerrancy of scripture and the virgin birth, and so forth, is not going to be pleased with a book that questions such things. In the more liberal churches, my rejection of fundamentalism was actually a plus. The churches which seemed to be most receptive were United Church of Christ, some United Methodist churches (which vary considerably from very liberal to very conservative), Quakers, and Unitarian-Universalists. However, there does not seem to be significant ongoing interest in vegetarian or vegan diets within these churches. The “United Methodist Vegetarians & Vegans” do have a facebook page, at least. The one major exception is the UU churches — where interest in veganism appears to be evolving in spite of, rather than because of, any Christian values. UU vegetarians have a facebook page, and there is a UU Animal Ministry web site.
Some of my most enthusiastic support also came from people totally outside of the church—people who loved the book, but weren’t in any church and didn’t consider themselves Christians, or didn’t consider the church to be relevant anymore. I am happy to speak to church groups about Disciples, but it will be a long time before we see any massive shifts in church opinion. Unless I am unusually charismatic and convert the minister and the entire church, the church is not going to go vegan overnight anyway. Regrettably, in many churches new vegans will be torn by the paradox that they are now supporting a church which rejects their ideals, while the friendly local vegan or animal rights group is actually closer to their overall spiritual direction.
I have not given up on Christianity. Disciples is provoking a lot of interest. There is an audience out there; the problem is that it is not organized. Hopefully, Disciples will help provide the groundwork for a future movement which will more closely resemble the original teachings of Jesus.