You say, “By His grace, through the teachings of Jesus Christ and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, we respond by believing in Him and striving to put our lives right by following what Jesus taught us to do.”

There’s no such “striving” that has any relevance or merit in the exoteric (literalistic, childlike) form of Christianity you’re preaching. According to Paul, it’s the risen Jesus within the Christian that bestows the faith that accepts God’s grace (Rom.8:10, 2 Cor.4:6-7, Gal.2:20, Eph.3:17, Col.1:27). “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast” (Eph.2:8-9).

When you emphasize Jesus’s ethical teachings, you’re talking about the Gospel portraits of Jesus, but the relevance of the historical Jesus to Christianity died with the Jerusalem church that ended with the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE. After that, Paul’s mission to the gentiles became paramount as a way of sustaining the Christian myth, and the gentiles were more interested in the theology than in the Jewish emphasis on moral works. Thus, Paul evidently simplified Christianity by ignoring the historical Jesus and his message. For Paul, the risen Jesus replaced the historical Jesus, just as Christianity should overshadow Judaism.

According to the thrust of Christianity, Christians don’t have to worry about following Jesus’s teachings. They just have to believe that Jesus died for their sins so that by God’s grace, everything will turn out alright no matter what Christians do, as long as their faith is strong. Their altruism is irrelevant, because Paul’s simplified message historically trumped the gospels’ more complicated one.

Putting Paul’s letters together with the Gospels, as the New Testament does, we get the impression that Jesus’s teachings weren’t meant to be a practical guide, since the radicalism of those teachings was based on the assumption that the world was about to end and that there’s a supernatural reality that makes the natural universe look like an illusion and a trifle by comparison. So course we shouldn’t seek to gain the illusory world only to lose our eternal soul.

The world never ended as prophesied, so Jesus’s radicalism had to take a backseat if Christianity was going to make it over the long haul. Paul’s tamed version of Gnosticism came to the rescue. We don’t have to be radicals like Jesus, because faith matters more than works. If everyone were as radical as Jesus, the Church could hardly have survived as an earthly institution. Christianity had to become a political, secularized force, which it became via its allegiance with the Roman Empire, beginning in the fourth century. So Paul trumped Jesus, but so did the Catholic Church hierarchy which dictated how the New Testament should be interpreted, which issued its creeds so that the laity needn’t strain itself, and which punished heretics.

The ancient Greeks and Romans applied their humanistic philosophy just as hypocritically as did the European Founders of America. Nevertheless, ancient pagan philosophy provided the justifications for Enlightenment liberalism that was translated into the American and French revolutions. Those Enlightenment thinkers could hardly have appealed to the preposterous and falsified theology in the New Testament as the basis for their egalitarianism. They appealed to the “Creator” who gives us our rights, but that’s a pale, deistic imitation of the Christian deity. As liberalism developed with social contract theory, Mill’s utilitarianism, game theory, evolutionary psychology, and so on, the appeal to God as the reason to respect human nature has become an empty ceremony at best.

Knowledge condemns. Art redeems. I learned that as an artistic writer who did a doctorate in philosophy. We should try to see the dark comedy in all things.

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