The Grave Misunderstandings Of The Teachings Of Jesus Christ That Have Made Christianity A Laughing Stock
Look, and you won’t see it. Listen, and you won’t hear it. Use it, and you will never use it up — Lao Tzu in the 6th century BC.
Religion is one of those things that does beautiful things as much as it does horrible. The opposing beliefs, ‘rights’ and ‘wrongs,’ and misinterpretations have been, and still are the root of torrid wars, millions of deaths, the collapsing of civilisations and racial tensions — just to name a few examples. On the other hand, the sense of community, belief in afterlife, pressures to live well, and the strength of faith one gets from religion, have for centuries given people hope, a sense of belonging, reason to live, and purpose to serve and do good to others; for some, religion is everything. It is for the former that I am not a big fan of religion; it’s not that religion is the problem, but the way people go about the whole of idea of it. I never knew how to articulate well on my, neutral stance–shall we say, until I read this little gem from Leo Tolstoy.
Tolstoy is one of the greats; he is one of the most revered writers and thinkers in history. Until this book I had not read any of his work; I had only read his bio and some secondary accounts from other writers. It was obvious from this reading how intelligent and wise a man he was, and how seriously he took the topic of human nature, and philosophy as a whole. Many of the greatest thinkers — of past and present — are not really known for their religious works (with the exception of religious leaders and a rare few others), so when this book first came to my attention I was a little surprised Tolstoy was the Author. Why would Tolstoy write a religion-based book? The answer is exactly the reason I am so glad he did.
This book isn’t about bible-bashing, preaching or trying to convert readers, or about the power of God, why you should be good etc etc; this is a book about understanding the reasons for, and wisdom behind religion — namely, Christianity.
An existential crisis was the inspiration behind Tolstoy’s writing of this book: he was fed up with the mixed messages conveyed by opposing religious beliefs, and the differing dogma of the philosophers; he couldn’t make sense of religious interpretations on the meaning of life (In the book he tells you why. Hint: it’s a little to do with the tens of thousands of different transcriptions of the religious texts.), and he was not feeling any more enlightened following the philosophers. At this point he decided to return to the religion he was most familiar with, Christianity, to see if there was anything worthwhile there, anything that may possibly, just possibly, enlighten him, or give him the answer to the biggest question of them all — What is the meaning of life?
He dived deep into the heart of Christianity to find out — where it started, why there are so many interpretations, why people follow it; and where the idea of ‘God’ came from, and what it really means. Here he arrived at the gospels, and through rigorous word-for-word examination in an attempt to discover what it is they are actually saying, he had an awakening. The result of which is the book ‘The Four Gospels Harmonized and Translated’ — a comprehensive, investigative and very dense breakdown of the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.
‘The Gospel In Brief’ is the shortened version; a condensed, precise and easy-to-read (after the first couple of chapters) book that shows you the important, life-changing lessons to be found in the 4 gospels. Although it contains far less words and expounding it is no less valuable for it. This is not my opinion but the one of Tolstoy himself, who in the intro tells you there is as much to be gained from ‘The Gospel In Brief’ as from his larger work, which is a book more for academics, those who would like to know much more, and those who are still not convinced of his argument. I say argument, but it is not that; the whole book is a honest and rational breakdown of the wisdom of the gospels, and the benefits to be gained from them. To call it an argument is inaccurate, if not an injustice, but for the sake of simplicity, and a lack of vocabulary of my part, I will call it so anyway.
You may think you know the story of Jesus Christ; as a result of your upbringing, the way you were schooled, any reading experiences covering the topic of religion, and your religious beliefs, you may have a complete story in your head of Jesus Christ — who he was, what he said and did, etc, but, unless you have researched and taken serious the story of Jesus, to the extensive degree Tolstoy did, what you know is probably wrong; at the very least, your understanding is unlikely to be completely correct.
In short, the argument Tolstoy makes with this book is this: what Jesus Christ taught and stood for is almost the opposite of what is taught about his teachings today; in other words, since he walked the earth and gifted his followers with his profound wisdom and knowledge, almost every interpretation of what he said and did has been incorrect, skewed, biased and ultimately, very harmful. Tolstoy makes this point by showing you how what Jesus actually taught his disciples and those lucky to meet him, was how to make sense of life and your existence; how to understand yourself, and what true happiness is. And he did this by teaching them how to live: live simply, do good to others, be present, love each other, do no evil, and be faithful; practices which, sound very much like the wisdom of the revered Philosophers and though leaders (Socrates, Seneca, Aquinas, Lao Tzu, The Buddha, etc), and in fact of many religious teachings of today. The problem is these teachings are not presented for what they truly are/were; they are presented in the same light as all the wrong interpretations, falsifications and santa-clausifications that Tolstoy was so frustrated and bewildered by.
Whether you are religious or not, reading this book will be awakening. It is not an advocacy of religion, of Christianity, or even of Jesus Christ himself; neither is it a biased, selective or imprecise rant about the meaning of life; it is a guide, a guide that will teach you how to think, how to act, and how to live, if that is, you are interested in being happy and peaceful, doing good, and having a solid purpose in life. Not only that: because of the way Tolstoy takes you through his process — with his beautiful style, honesty and clear explanations, you will also learn how to think about all religious ideas, and how to draw from them lessons that can actually impact your life for the better; and, as a bonus, subconsciously you’ll be learning how to write like a great.