For sociologists, Jesus Christ and the associated Catholic Church are generally seen are regressive, conservative, and authoritarian. While the Church may certainly be all these things, Jesus Christ was, arguably, not. Detailed exegesis of Christian gospels reveals not a passive shepherd of sheeple, but a mission oriented revolutionary that is neither conservative, gentle, nor passive. In the bible, Jesus is an impassioned and committed revolutionary set on progressive social change and fundamental revision of elite power structures.
Rock and Roll Jesus
As a sociologist, I do not always feel comfortable talking about spirituality, especially when my audience is other sociologists. The reason is indifference, sometimes hostility. Sociologists usually focus on the institutional element of human spirituality and leave out any consideration of actual religious experience. We talk about churches, sects, and sometimes cults, and we are generally very critical about them. We range in opinion from suggesting that religion is an opiated delusion (Karl Marx), to it’s an ideological tool of the elites (Max Weber), to a gentler notion that it provides social solidarity and community (Durkheim). Beyond this institutional focus, we don’t take spirituality and religion very seriously at all. In fact, we expect it to die out. Auguste Comte (1798 – 1857), one of the heavy weight fathers of sociology, said societies passed through three stages, a theological stage where humans rely on supernatural explanations, a metaphysical stage where humans replace superstitions with abstract forces governing human behavior, and a final positive stage where humans replaced their superstitions with logical, positive thought. For Comte, and for many sociologists, these stages represent an evolution from a dark and primitive past to a future of bright scientific light filled rationality. The message is clear: as we evolve, religion dies away. Sociologists even formalized their expectations into secularization theory (Berger, 1968; Bruce, 2002; Chaves, 1994; Dobbelaere, 2002). Secularization theory states clearly the sociological prediction that religion and human spirituality will eventually be replaced by secular, rational, “positive,” thought.
For a long time I, a sociologist (and a critical one at that), bought the party line. I dismissed religion and spirituality as something unimportant, conservative, reactionary, delusional, and primitive. I didn’t talk about it much and when I did, it was to laugh and ridicule the people who believed. Then, one day I had what I later came to understand as a mystical experience. This mystical experience caused me to question what, as a sociologist, I had before merely assumed. I won’t go into details about the experience here, or how many sociological “friends” I lost when I started to talk about it, but it was profound, and it had a major impact. I can best convey the impact by saying that my presumptive materialism was smashed by an asteroid of higher Consciousness. After the experience, my perspective on spirituality, my perspective on life, and my research interests, did a 180 degree flip. I put aside my interest in technology and began a research program that would dive deep into the reality and nature of mystical experience. What I have found in the fifteen or so years of exploration is amazing, at least to me.
Regarding religion, I have to confirm what sociologists have long said, which is that that religion, by which I mean the elite organized institutional elements, like the Catholic Church, is merely a tool used by the elite to control the masses. I see this quite clearly in my own work (Sosteric, 2014, 2017); but, there is “something more” to human spirituality than that which is represented by traditional organized religions, or the more modern New Age corporate varieties (Carrette & King, 2008). This “something more” I call Authentic Spirituality to distinguish it from the inauthentic, elite controlled, varieties. I would say that authentic spirituality, represented by authentic mystical connection, is the authentic/intrinsic core of all human spirituality.
Recovering Catholics, staunch atheists, and sociologists of all degrees may experience symptoms of indigestion at this point. I understand that to suggest that authentic mystical connection experiences are the authentic/intrinsic core of human spirituality, and to further suggest that we should be focusing much more of our attention on these experiences, will sound outrageous to some. Unfortunately, the indigestion is only going to get worse. Nauseating as this will seem to polemicists like Dawkins, it has long been known that people who have mystical experiences tend to be healthier, happier, and better adjusted than people who do not (Maslow, 1968, 1969). Worse still, mystical experiences tend to have healing capacity (Geels, 2003). And mystical experience are not just interesting to psychologist. Consider what I call the “turn to the left” (Sosteric, 2016). To be as blunt as possible, people who have authentic mystical experiences tend to move to the political left. Put another way, authentic mystical experience is a potential cure for conservativism everywhere. As demonstrated by the case of Spanish Conquistador Las Casas (Sosteric, 2016), even elite members of society are not immune to “conversion”
So, mystical experience is sociologically interesting; but, what does this have to do with the historical figure, Jesus Christ, the name sake of this article? Allow me to explain with a little story about myself. I was raised Catholic, but I gave up Catholicism at an early age because of the hypocrisy of the people involved. As a child I was taught that you were supposed to be loving, forgiving, meek, and gentle. Jesus Christ was held up as the model for that. According to my weekly “Jesus lessons,” Jesus was a gentle man, a herder of sheep. He said “love each other,” and “forgive each other,” and “turn the other cheek.” As a child, that all sounded good to me. The problem was, even as a child I could see that parents, priests, teachers and others were not acting anything like Jesus at all. They said they were Christian, they said they were “saved,” but even a blind person could see, they were mean, violent, hateful, and homophobic. Even as a small child I could see the hypocrisy and I could not abide the contradiction. I rejected the Church as an abomination, and Jesus along with it. But then, after my own mystical experiences, and after writing an article on the “turn to the left” that can accompany mystical connection (Sosteric, 2016), I got to thinking. Maybe there was more to it than I had originally thought.
Curiosity piqued, I went and started reading, for the first time ever, the bible. I have to say, I was surprised by what I found. Upon exegesis, I immediately learned, according to his apostle John, that Jesus was a grass roots kind of guy. He was modest and egalitarian (John 15: 12-15), hung out with adulterers, prostitutes, sinners (Mark 2: 15), and (lowest of the low) tax collectors (Mathew: 9: 10-12). He showed respect to societies detritus by humbly washing their feet (John 13: 4-8), said we should love each other (Mathew 22: 34-40), and otherwise treated most of the people around him as equals, and with respect. Not a big, big deal, I agree. But he was other things than that. For example, more than the fact that he was a “grass roots guy,” he was arguably a feminist. He treated women as his equals (John 4: 27) and even suggested that women should not be treated as property. In one remarkable Bible scene, Sadducees (local priestly elites) asked Jesus which of seven brothers a women, who had been married to them all, would belong to “in heaven,” i.e. after they were all dead. In a statement two thousand years ahead of its time, Jesus tells them they are wrong and says you can’t treat anybody like property! “You are in error because…at the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage” (Mathew 22: 23-30)
Was Jesus really a grass-roots feminist? I think he might have been, and I think he might have been more than even that. I continued to read and as I continued, the established boundaries of my sociological imagination blew up into tattered smithereens. To make a longer story short, the New Testament, and in particular the Gospels and the Acts, paint a picture of Jesus as an anti-elite, anti-authoritarian, political revolutionary who was impatient with people’s ignorance and who got himself in serious trouble with the ruling class of his day because he was undermining their power and privilege, and threatening a socialist revolution.
He aggressively and violently kicked people out of the sacred spaces (i.e. temples) for what he considered blasphemous commercial activity (John 2:13-17).
When the elites and higher level authority figures questioned him about his activities, he told them they had no authority over him (John 5: 16-27). If that wasn’t bad enough, he made fun of the rich and powerful, calling into question their inability to connect, and comparing them, derisively, to camels and needles (Mark 10: 25). He called the “priests and lawmakers” hypocrites to their faces (Mathew 23: 1-7), made them look like fools (John 8:1-11), said “tax collectors and…prostitutes” where better than them (Mathew 21: 28-31), called them blind and guilty of sin (John 9: 38-41), and put them and their teachings to public shame! In one particularly exciting scene, the “Pharisees and teachers of the law” come to Jesus and ask why he and his disciples were “breaking the tradition of the elders” by not washing their hands before they eat (Mathew 15: 1-2). Annoyed by this, Jesus, snaps and angrily charges the Pharisees and teachers of the law as hypocrites.
“Why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition,” he asks.
“You hypocrites!’ he exclaims.
“Isaiah was right,” Jesus says with disgust, “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship in vain; their teachings are merely human rules” (Mathew 15: 8-9)
Then, in a remarkably subversive act, Jesus turns his attention away from the Pharisees and the law makers and calls the crowd to him (Mathew 15: 10)
“Listen and understand,” he says to the proles that have surround him.
“What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them” (Mathew 15: 10-13).
These people, these Pharisees and law makers, these elites, are hypocrites, he is saying.
“Be careful” (Mathew 16: 6), he warns.
“Be on Guard against … the teaching[s] of the Pharisees and Sadducees” (Mathew 16: 6).”
“They are liars and fools who don’t even deserve entrance into the Kingdom (Mathew 22: 1-10).
Of course, you can imagine, the “Pharisees and the law maker” weren’t too happy about this, but Jesus doesn’t care about them or the danger’s involved, at least at this stage. And it is dangerous. Jesus is engaged in political activity, and he’s making political enemies as he goes. His apostles are aware of this. After Jesus dramatically calls out the Pharisees as hypocrites, the apostles try to warn him of the danger. “Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard [the things you said]?” they say (Mathew 15: 12). But Jesus, scoffs at their concern, derisively dismissing the Pharisees by saying “Leave them; they are blind guides. If the blind led the blind, both will fall into a pit” (Mathew 15: 14).
You can imagine, the elites of the time probably weren’t too happy with this Jesus guy. But it gets worse than that. Mathew 15-16 is not the only place where Jesus publically shames the elites. Mathew 21-23 recounts a remarkable series of events surrounding Jesus’s return to Jerusalem. When Jesus returns he is greeted as an A-list celebrity. He enters the city on the ancient Mediterranean equivalent of a modern red carpet, a carpet made from coats and branches (Mathew 21: 8). The people are calling him king and messiah (Mathew 21: 1-11) and the children are shouting “Hosanna” (Mathew 21: 15). Jesus enters the “temple courts,” is infuriated by what he sees, and suddenly and dramatically terminates all commercial activity by driving out the buyers and sellers, overturning “the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves,” and calling everybody within a thief (Mathew 21: 12-13). Once he is there, he heals without authority and teaches without accreditation (Mathew 21: 14-17). This does not go unnoticed by the local elites. The next day, “the chief priests and the elders of the people” (Mathew 21: 23) storm into the temple and demand Jesus explain himself.
“By what authority are you doing these things?” and “Who gave you this authority?” (Mathew 21: 23).
But Jesus, basically, tells them to fuck off. After asking the elites a basic spiritual question, which they cannot answer, he lays into them. He refuses to answer their questions (Mathew 21: 27), calls them blind liars and deceivers—snakes and vipers (Mathew 23: 33-34), and says they are shallow hypocrites, pretty on the outside but diseased and rotten within (Mathew 23: 23-26). He accuses them of pompous and self-aggrandizing displays (Mathew 23: 5-7), says they don’t practice what they preach (Mathew 23: 2), says that prevent people from connecting (Mathew 23: 13), and accuses them of never connected for themselves (Mathew 23: 13). He even calls them anti-Christ(consciousness) by saying they undermine people’s spirituality, and twist and corrupt whomever they touch (Mathew 23: 15). Jesus was so agitated by it all that he killed a fig tree with his mind (Mathew 21: 18-19).
In fact, he was an impatient kind of guy. He was impatient with stupidity, for example, even with his apostles. When Peter, his own discipline, asks him to explain something to him (i.e. explain what Jesus meant when he said that “what comes out of your mouth defiles you, he snaps back at him and wonders out loud “Are you still so dull?” (Mathew 15: 16), after which he “patiently” explains again.
Don’t you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them. For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what defile a person; but eating with unwashed hands does not defile them” Mathew 15: 17-20
Jesus displayed similar impatience with ignorance when he tried to teach Nicodemus, who was a member of the Israeli elite, a Pharisee, and teacher of the people. At one point, Nicodemus could not understand what Jesus was saying, at which point Jesus expresses surprise that this man could not understand even the basic truth.
“You,” scoffs Jesus, “are Israel’s teacher…and [yet you do not] understand these things?” (John 3: 8-10).
At this point I have to reiterate, reading the bible for the first time, I was surprised. I had been taught that Jesus was this passive shepherd of sheeple, gentle, forgiving, and (if the pictures where any indication) good with children; but that was clearly not true, or at least not the whole story. And it wasn’t just that Jesus was an antiauthoritarian who was impatient with stupidity, didn’t think twice about thumbing his nose at the local authority, and thought himself wiser, smarter, and better connected (to God) than the ruling elites of his time; he was, and this is the kicker, an actual dyed in the whole socialist revolutionary. In his own words, he had come to set the prisoners free, free the oppressed, and bring “good news” to poor. The “good news” was presumably the end of their poverty and oppression, for what could be better news than that to a poor person? In his own words, or as close to his own words as we have left, Jesus said…
The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind[folded], to set the oppressed free…. John 4: 18:20.
In the above passage, Jesus claims to be a revolutionary working for the spiritual, political, and economic emancipation of the people. As we’ll see in part two of this article, these were no idle claims. The people of the time knew it, believed it, accepted it, and praised him for it. At a certain point, and as already noted, the proles were even rolling out the red carpet (Mathew 21: 8). By the end of it all he had a massive following of people ready to declare him king and savior (John 12: 12-15). In a symbolic act totally befitting the proletarian revolutionary that he was, Jesus took it all in while riding a donkey (John, 12: 14), the lowest form of pack animal there ever was.
As you can imagine, Jesus’s pro-proletariat, anti-bourgeoisie revolutionary position didn’t sit with well the ruling class of his day. Jesus was poking the belly of the beast (the authority of the elites), undermining them in front of the masses, and they didn’t like that one bit. Jesus was, in fact, a clear threat to their status quo. People were “amazed” (Mathew 22: 22) and “astonished” (Mathew 22: 33) by what he said. So amazing and astonishing was he, that even Roman Centurions (Mathew 8: 5-13) and members of the ruling elites were converting to the social and economic cause, or at least holding sympathy in their hearts.
…many even among the leaders believed in him. But because of the Pharisees they would not openly acknowledge their faith for fear they would be put out of the synagogue; for they loved human praise more than praise from God. (John 12: 42-43).
That’s remarkable, when you think about it! Pause for a moment and consider: whatever Jesus was saying was so convincing and so powerful that he was converting even the elites. You can imagine how threatening that must have been to the status quo. The fastest way to end systems of privilege is to end it in the minds of the elite themselves. If enough of the elites suddenly change their ways, the game would be over, because there would be no one left to play. If enough elites suddenly started to believe (in connection), get connected, give up their power and privilege, and end their resistance, the center would not hold and the System would quickly crumble. It sounds utopian, but as we see in part two of this article when we discuss the Acts of the Apostles, it was happening all the same.
Clearly, Jesus was a problem. He saw himself as a political and spiritual revolutionary, and others agreed. The elites of the day realized this and they didn’t take the threat lying down. They wanted to have him arrested, but couldn’t because they were “afraid of the crowd” because the people had great respect for Jesus (Mathew 21: 45-46). Even when they got over their fear and tried to have him arrested, they had trouble. Not only did they risk a riot if they tried to take him (Mathew 26: 3-5), but their own guards refused to do it! When the “chief priests and the Pharisees sent temple guards to arrest him,” they refused to bring him in because they were gobsmacked by him. “No one ever spoke the way this man does,” the guards said (John 7: 45-46), as they refused to bring him in. You can imagine how the ruling elites would have taken that. Flabbergasted at the fact that their own police would not follow orders, they cry out, “You mean he has deceived you also?”
Just because they couldn’t have him arrested didn’t mean they stopped trying to deal with him. They tried to entrap him, for example, by getting him to admit to tax evasion (Mathew 22: 15-22) and healing on the Sabbath (Mathew 12: 9-10)). They painted him as a sinner and demon, and called him Beelzebul behind his back (Mathew 12: 24). They accused him of “being his own witness” (i.e. bragging about his qualification) (John 8: 12-14), questioned his youth and inexperience (John 8: 57), shamed him for coming from the ‘hood that was Galilee, (John 7: 52), tried to get people to rat him out, and generally got themselves so riled up that at times they were ready to stone him on the spot (John 8: 59). And note, it wasn’t just Jesus who suffered their wrath. They excommunicated those who acknowledged him as Messiah (John 9: 22)
Unfortunately, despite the great effort of the elites to suppress Jesus, none of it worked. His following continued to grow and Jesus, in displays of spiritual, psychological, and pedagogical mastery, just threw it back in their faces. In one particularly electrifying incident, the elites brought an adulterous women to Jesus whom, according to the laws of the land, should be brutally stoned to death. Testing Jesus to see if he’d follow the law, they said “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” Brilliantly, disrespectfully, and with insolent disregard, Jesus put his head down, drew circles in the dirt, and ignored them. Refusing to be put off, the elites keep badgering. Finally, perhaps knowing they wouldn’t leave him alone until he said something, Jesus looks up and, with the perfunctory grace that only a master can affect, fires off an earth shacking meme that rattles the collective consciousness of this planet even down to this day. Looking up from his doodles, Christ simply says “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone”, after which he looked back down and ignored them once again (John 8: 1-9).
Wow. I mean, what could the elites say to these microphone dropping words? What could the local elites and “teachers of the law” say after that? In a single perfunctory retort, Jesus masterfully exposed them as hypocrites and skillfully stripped them of their power. The elites had tried to entrap him, but he left them with nothing but their own shame; so, they turned around and walk away. And that’s not the only example where Jesus displays his spiritual/pedagogical brilliance. Another example gleaned from the Gospel of John has the Pharisees questioning a blind man whom Jesus had allegedly healed. They badger the formerly-blind man and his parents, trying to get them to say something, anything, that would incriminate Jesus, but the man simply says that Jesus “is a prophet” (John 9: 17). The Pharisees do not accept that. They question the blind man himself, suggesting that maybe he wasn’t blind after all, and that he is trying to do something fishy; but his parents confirm that he was blind (John 9: 20-21). Getting no traction, they admonish the man to “tell the truth” because they all know that Jesus “is a sinner” (John 9: 24). The blind man says, I don’t know anything about that, all I know is that “I was blind but now I see!” (John 9: 25).
Frustrated, the Pharisees angrily ask, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?”
The man replies, in a fashion that further angers the priests, “I have told you already and you did not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you want to become his disciples too?” (John 9: 27).
Upon hearing that, the Pharisees freak out. They get so angry with the blind man that they break down and hurl insults (John 9: 28). “We are disciples of Moses,” they sputter, arrogantly proclaiming their authority. “We don’t even know where he comes from,” they say, throwing shade on Christ’s lineage and genetics. But that just makes it worse, because upon hearing that the Pharisees have no clue about who Jesus is or where he comes from, the blind man says something that implies their basic stupidity: “Now that is remarkable!” he says to the Pharisees, “You don’t know where he comes from, yet he opened my eyes.”
The blind man goes on, further schooling, and scolding, the Pharisees!
“We know that God does not listen to sinners,” says the blind man to the Pharisees, “He [only] listens to the godly person who does his will” (John 9: 31).
“Nobody has ever heard of opening the eyes of a man born blind,” he says.
“If this man were not from God,” he explains to the Pharisees, probably using their own rules and words against him, “he could do nothing” (John 9: 32-33).
Well, you can imagine, upon being “schooled” by this formerly blind peasant, the Pharisees lose it. Unable to make any progress, and made to look stupid and misinformed by a disabled prole, they throw a petty tantrum.
“You were steeped in sin at birth,” sputter the Pharisees to the blind man.
“How dare you lecture us!” they angrily proclaim, as they violently throw him (John 9: 34).
As you can see, they were getting no traction at all. In fact, Jesus and his followers were making them look increasingly stupid and inane. What’s worse, in all this, Jesus was making believers fast, even outside his own Jewish grouping (John 4: 39-41). The local elites were losing ground, losing the struggle, and they knew it. At one point they exclaimed, boo hoo hoo, “…the whole world has gone after him” (John 12: 19). It was a bad scene for the elites, that is for sure.
So what happened? What did they do? Well, as we all know, they didn’t let it go. They worked on it until they succeeded in suppressing the revolution. First, they killed him. Local elites had Roman soldiers arrest him (because theirs local guard would not do it), degrade him, shame him in public, and kill him. Presumably they hoped that by degrading him in public, assassinating his character and teachings, and killing him brutally alongside common thieves, they’d stop his spread and erase his message. Unfortunately, that did not work out for them as planned. In fact, it only make things worse. As we’ll see in part two of this article series, killing Christ made him a martyr and made his revolutionary message, whatever that was, spread even faster. In the end they created an entire institution tasked specifically with the suppression of Christ’s revolutionary message. But, I’m jumping ahead. We’ll pick up the revolutionary story of Christ in part two of this article to be entitled Rock and Roll Jesus Part Two: A Martyr Star is Born.
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 Of course, I’m not the first person to say there is something fascinating and edifying in mystical experience. William James had a lot of respect for authentic religious experiences (James, 1982, p. 6), as did American psychologist Abraham Maslow (Maslow, 2012, p. 339), William State (Stace, 1960a, 1960b), even some earlier sociologists (Edward Carpenter and Edward Hermanns (1983) as well.
 Mathew 21 through 22, is one parable after another (the Parable of the Two Sons, the Parable of the Tenants, and the Parable of the Wedding Banquet) slamming and shaming the elite.
 We always have to use a grain of salt when reading things in the bible. As we’ll see in part two of this article, the Bible is a heavily edited version of a limited subset of writings and teachings about Jesus Christ.