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Jesus the Proto-Punk

Bestselling author Hugh Gurney argues that Christ had more in common with the first punks than you might imagine

Image amended from this one CC Vectorportal


Was Jesus a Punk? Well that depends. If by ‘Punk’ you mean a worthless person or member of a 70’s rock movement, then even the most ardent atheist wouldn’t argue he was. But if you were to define Punks as rebels who use scandalous tactics, it’s hard to argue he wasn’t one.


Now I’m not trying to convert you to any point of view; we can’t prove whether or not God exists or if Jesus was the son of God, and anyone who claims to have proof either way is lying (although Voltaire surely hit the nail on the head when he said, “If God doesn’t exist then it would be necessary to invent him”.) So let’s not be distracted by those sorts of questions.


My only agenda in this article is to open your mind, if necessary, to who Jesus really was, because he may not be who you think he is: He’s far more interesting, and likeable, than the sanitised version they teach in UK schools and perhaps you may have heard about in church.


Jesus certainly had a lot in common with the earliest Punk rockers: Often angry, both were switched on activists who understood all publicity is good publicity and thus valued shock tactics. For example, there’s a story in the Bible about how Jesus reacted to the rampant commercialism he saw in synagogues (or, in Punk terminology, how the temples of his time had “sold out”). He made his point with maximum effect:


“Jesus entered the Temple and began to drive out all the people buying and selling animals for sacrifice. He knocked over the tables of the money lenders and the chairs of those selling doves.”*


As a former Punk, I feel exactly the same way when in museums designed so that the only way out is through the gift shop: the Punk part of me wants to kick over all the display tables of art-related tat. I don’t do it, but boy would I like to. And if I was still a Punk I’d just do it. Instead, I respond by singing “Exit through the gift shop”, both as a protest and to distract myself and my kids whilst passing the baubles on sale.


So was Jesus a rebel who scandalised society? His behaviour in the Temple demonstrates it quite easily, as does the fact that he hung out with prostitutes, lepers, tax collectors and the people who needed him, not the great and good of society. So he was a Punk. QED.


As the figurehead of a major religion, Jesus’ reputation is often taken for granted: If today’s church does something then Jesus must be sitting up in Heaven nodding in approval, right? Not so. A lot of what any church does may not meet with Jesus’ approval. After all, we humans (including those who attend church) have free will and we exercise it imperfectly.


“Jesus was a rebel...” is the start of many popular sermons these days and when I was a committed atheist, it was this kind of sermon that found a chink in my armour and interrupted my dogmatic thinking about him. After all, we’ve all heard that Jesus was a nice guy and I knew that the church is as full of irritatingly nice guys as irritating do-gooders. But Jesus the rebel (AKA Punk) was suddenly a lot more interesting to me.


The Oxford Dictionary defines a rebel as “a person who rises in opposition or armed resistance against an established government or leader”. My definition is more simple: a rebel is anyone who struggles against an established order. A good hero needs a worthy villain to fight and a good rebel needs a worthy cause to rally against – a rebel without a cause is not much more than a troubled teenager or a fashion victim, hardly someone you can hero worship.


Johnny Rotten temporarily revolutionised pop music before punk was co-opted by the mainstream. I used to worship him so much I could see the funny side in the butter adverts he did a few years ago, even though that was the ultimate “sell out”.


Che Guevara revolutionised one country. I can see the attraction, but he resorted to violence; I never had a t-shirt with him on.


Nelson Mandela tried revolution with violence and failed but succeeded with truth and reconciliation. He is worthy of hero worship.


Gandhi is worthy of hero worship: He successfully rebelled against British imperialism in one of the world’s biggest countries and all without resorting to violence; it was the Brits and their botched partition which caused the majority of the bloodshed around Indian Independence.


We all know that Jesus’ supernatural archenemy was the Devil but he had an earthly adversary too. On earth he struggled with what had become of Judaism after years of distortion under Roman rule. In his day the synagogues were run by a group called the Pharisees. Judgmental and legalistic, they were his earthly foils.


In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus said: “Two men went up to the Temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people-robbers, evildoers, adulterers – or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’


Jesus continued: “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”**


Revolutionary stuff. And whatever you believe, you have to admit that, here on earth, Jesus revolutionised the marketplace for religion. Christianity was revolutionary in that you did not have to be born into it or earn points through good behaviour to join – simple faith was enough. Which is why, for Christians, there will never be proof God exists: What good is a religion built solely on faith if there is proof? With proof you no longer need faith. The only certainty is that we cannot be certain.


If a scientist says the Big Bang Theory proves there is no God ask: “Ah, but who ignited the Big Bang?” If they say: “Well, there were a series of multiple Big Bangs, we’re just the lucky Big Bang that worked out well and created life,” then ask: “Well who set off the first in the series?” It’s a game without end, cat and mouse or chicken and egg. Can you prove who baked a cake, let alone why they did it, just from eating and analysing it?


As mentioned before, Jesus not only drove the money lenders from the Temple, he hung out with the people who were considered unclean by most others in his society: prostitutes, lepers and tax collectors. He didn’t just do this for effect, although the effect was scandalous; he did it because these people needed his help most and he was contemptuous of how the Pharisees looked down on pretty much everyone else.


In Jesus’s day the Pharisees were much like today’s judgemental Christians. Do you know a modern day Pharisee, a self-appointed guardian of the faith whose righteous indignation knows no bounds? These are the type of people Jesus challenged.


One of the Bible's most important commandments is “Love your neighbour”. And yet the Pharisees didn’t trust people to obey without giving them a rulebook on how to live. Like all rules written by humans for humans the propensity for abuse is immense, which is why Jesus challenged both the rules and the rule givers.


Being human, we are all imperfect. We might like to be perfect but right now we’re all sinners and one man’s sin is no worse than another’s. You and your sins (assuming none of them are illegal) are primarily a matter for you, your conscience and God. If another Christian (or anyone else for that matter) wants to help you with the process of coming to terms with who you are then great; but when a bunch of so-called Christians (or Muslims or anyone else) starts using literal interpretations of scripture to persecute a minority, they’ve clearly forgotten – or never heard – that Jesus said, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.”***


For example, in a strict interpretation the Bible says we should never borrow or lend money with interest, and yet many Christians happily take out mortgages while campaigning against homosexuals (either in their church or anywhere and everywhere). Sounds like the Pharisees and their abusive arrogance, no? The church is not a country club with only respectable members. Instead, on a practical level, the church is – or at least should be – a great support group for society’s least respectable.


With a little perseverance – and some great Gospel music to lubricate the process – I found I was able to go to a church and, ignoring the rampant religiosity (or Churchianity as I call it), I could see the good in what was being done there for the poor and needy and a relationship with Jesus I’d never have thought possible.


Ask yourself: If Jesus came back today and went to the Gaza Strip, Syria or even your home town or city, who would he hang out with? I don’t know for sure but I’d hazard a guess he wouldn’t be hanging around at church, with the great and the good or today’s Pharisees.


If you want to find out more, read “The Jesus I never knew” by Philip Yancey. It opened my eyes and for that I’m very grateful.


* Matthew 21:12
** Luke 18:9-14
*** John 8:7

Hugh Gurney

About the Writer

Hugh is the author of Amazon bestseller The Prince of Naples: How a 12-year-old boy brought down the Mafia. He has several screenplays under his belt, is being represented by a top four LA talent agency and has worked as writer in res­i­dence at Ruined City Films. He has also run drama train­ing work­shops to reha­bil­i­tate young offend­ers; help­ing them tell their sto­ries on screen in short films. He lives just outside London with his wife and children.


For more information visit his website


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