Dawkins: "Somebody As Intelligent As Jesus Would Have Been An Atheist"

“To the extent that a religious person believes an obvious falsehood like the world is only 6,000 years old, I’m going to have an argument with them,” Dawkins explained. “Your tea-drinking vicar who doesn’t believe that… I mean, of course those people are very different and I would have a very different kind of argument with them.”

“I wrote and article called ‘Atheists for Jesus,’ I think it was… Somebody gave me a t-shirt: ‘Atheists for Jesus.’ Well, the point was that Jesus was a great moral teacher and I was suggesting that somebody as intelligent as Jesus would have been an atheist if he had known what we know today.”

Full audio of the interview. Below is a video excerpt from the interview (the Dawkins part starts at 1:50).

Would Jesus have been an atheist? Do you think maybe he was a kind of atheist for his time in any way?

The tip of the iceberg of what I think of Jesus can be found in just a few posts on this site: Gays, Jesus, and Judging, The Evils of the Sermon on the Mount (Part 1), and What Would Jesus Not Do.

Your Thoughts?

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About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.

  • http://www.twitter.com/thedudediogenes thedudediogenes

    Dawkins claim that Jesus was so smart he would’ve been an atheist is absurd.

    Additionally, Dawkins ought to be SMART enough to know that smarts aren’t all that’s required to be an atheist. NT Wright is clearly a very intelligent person, and yet he is still a Christian, for example.

    I really don’t understand those who think Jesus was a great moral teacher, even if he wasn’t divine. The good parts of his teachings are not unique, and are far outweighed by the horrendous things he taught (assuming the gospel narratives even come close to accurately portraying Jesus’ life in the first place).

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Camels With Hammers

      I totally agree that the “great moral teacher” line is bunk if we are talking about taking what he said seriously today or if we are comparing him with more visionary teachers from his time and earlier (like every Greek and Roman philosopher from Socrates through Marcus Aurelius…).

      What I am open to considering is that there is a radical, proto-atheistic, anti-legalistic, non-conformist streak to Jesus that was just wrapped up too much in rabbinical allegiances (or at least as presented by the book of Matthew for Jewish-Christians’ propaganda against Gentile-Christians) to make the really radical break with pharisaism and with superstition that was necessary. As it was, what was good there got muddled (at least in the telling) in bogus metaphysics, delusions of grandeur, and fraudulent crowd-pleasing magic tricks.

    • kagekiri

      Yeah…Biblical Jesus was one of the first to say thinking or looking at people the wrong way was as evil and worthy of punishment as actually doing anything. Yay, he came up with thought crime! Way to increase shame and guilt-trip all of mankind even more!

      Besides that..
      -he wasn’t the first or last to claim he was God
      -he didn’t decry slavery or rape or any barbaric punishments carried out in Judaism (only stopped one stoning and no others…good for you?)
      -didn’t condemn the various sexist practices delineated in Jewish law
      -joined in the racist discrimination against Samaritans and Gentiles
      -talked about believing without evidence as superior to rational skepticism along with other teachings against reason and real truth seeking
      -claimed to be fulfilling all the Old Testament instead of actually correcting anything
      -set up his followers to be illogical self-martyring irrationalists who gloried in their own suffering and death and persecution
      -encouraged submitting to hostile invaders, terrible rulers, and enemies instead of trying to change anything positively

      If he was an atheist in some ways, I don’t think his track record would make me think that his non-belief was held for any actually rational or truth-loving reasons.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Camels With Hammers

      Great summary.

  • Pierce R. Butler

    Why does Dawkins accept without overtly questioning the very shaky claims that a historical Jesus actually existed and that (if he did) any of the stories about him contain anything like the truth?

  • Francisco Bacopa

    Religion sux. It dulls moral sensibilities and makes people degenerate.

    But at the same time I am an exemplar of religious tolerance. Yes, I am tolerant. My car’s AC compressor went out last winter. I went all summer driving out to to a gig in the Houston suburbs on the slowest freeway in Houston. I took a spare shirt and a little rubbing alcohol for the armpits to get by. A car turns to a 124 degree sweatbox on the local freeways when moving slow on the freeways.

    But hey, I tolerated it. Why did I tolerate it? I had almost no other choices. I had the money to fix it, but my employment situation was uncertain. Better to tolerate the heat than run out of money later on.

    But what if I had lots of money? No way would I tolerate that heat, I’d have that AC fixed tomorrow. I am tolerant of religious people in exactly the same way I put up with having no AC in my car. If I should have by great fortune the means to oppress religious people as readily as I would fix my car AC if I had the money, I would oppress them.

    Give me my Gyges’ Ring and they are going down. I tolerate religious people. I fear religious people, but I do not respect them.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Camels With Hammers

      I am tolerant of religious people in exactly the same way I put up with having no AC in my car. If I should have by great fortune the means to oppress religious people as readily as I would fix my car AC if I had the money, I would oppress them.

      Give me my Gyges’ Ring and they are going down. I tolerate religious people. I fear religious people, but I do not respect them.

      Well that’s hateful. This makes you better than those loathsome religious people how?

      And what again does this have to do with the topic?

    • laurentweppe

      Alright: I will say that Francisco Bacopa’s rant is part of a deeply disturbing fascistic trend. And yes, I’m breaking the Godwin barrier on purpose, because I have an overarching point that needs to be made, so prepare youserlf for the Text Wall of Doom:
      Five months ago, when he was still on science blogs, Myers took offense when an australian writters freaked out about glaring similarity between the behavior and rhetoric of famous new atheists and the behavior and rhetoric of fascists.
      The problem is, Jeff Sparrow was right: one can see growing fascistic tendencies among the most active atheists, except that it is not because atheists are turning into fascists: it’s because fascists are increasingly becoming atheists.
      To explain this phenomenum, let me introduce a personnal hypothesis of mine, which I call “The Tartuffes Hypothesis“:
      According to this hypothesis of mine, leaders of far-right movements are self-aware social-domineers: their predominent ambition will be to live at the top of rigid, heavily hierarchised societies, but because they are aware that the ontologically parasitic underlying-nature of such ambition (“civilization exists to ensure that I enjoy the most pleasurable existence possible while providing the smallest amount of effort concievable” is a good summary of the logical outcome of the kind of aristocratic regimes favored by social-dominant personalities) is unacceptable for the rest of society, they will try to present themselves to the world as paragons and defenders of virtues.
      Now, since for virtually all of recorded history people have lived in societies where religion is associated with virtue, it makes sense for self-aware social-domineers (which I will call “Tartuffes” -plural- from now on) to pretend to be more religious -and therefore more virtuous- than everyone else, hence creating a justification for their ambition.
      And since the introduction of universal suffrage, which meant that one needed the support of voters to gain political authority, Tartuffes have adapted themselves by inventing fictional threats menacing society (evil jewish conspiracies, evil muslim conspiracies, evil papist conspiracies, evil masonic conspiracies, evil socialist conspiracies, evil secularist conspiracies, etc, etc, etc…) in order to depict themselves as heroic protectors of the people: a con at the core of every far-right demagogic organization in existence.
      “But what happen when societies enjoying universal suffrage become more secular?” one may ask, and my answer is that the more secular a democratic society is, the less Tartuffes need to pretend to be holier than thou, while still needing to present themselves as heroic protector of the people. Which is why far-right parties have started to pretend to be paragons of secularism in countries like France, Holland or Britain while still employing the same usual fictional theats to justify their existence and their ambitions.
      And what better way to show one’s secularist bona fide than to proclaim oneself an unapologetic basher of religion?
      The result is that a growing number of far-right nutjobs with genocidal and/or supremacist fantasies are now embracing the jargon and outward attitude of religion-bashers in order appear to be militant secularists, something that is glaring in Western Europe.
      “Ok Laurent: you’re hypothesis may explain why far-right politicians and islamophobic nutjobs are starting to repeat Dawkins and Hitchens talking points and why some rogressive individuals freak out everytime Sam Harris shows up” one may concede, “But that doesn’t have anything to do with Bacopa’s rant nor with Dawkin’s interview about Atheist-Jesus”: well, allow me to show you how my hypothesis is linked with both
      Dawkins attempt to co-opt Jesus was a rhetorical trick used at a begining of an essay: a way to catch the eye of the reader and push him to read the rest of the text: this was a clever use of a tool used by attorneys in courts and by salesmen in elevators: “Have you ever thought, your honor, members of the Jury, that the evidences presented against my client prove that he is, in fact, innocent“: oxymorons are always great to catch attention.
      But this kind of argument as been used more seriously: Everyone knows how much right-wing propagandists love to co-opt religious figures (MLK would oppose Occupy Wall Street! Jesus would be a Teabagger!), but there is a similar trend among atheists: Obama is too smart to be Christian! Ben Franklin was too smart not to be an atheist! Michelangelo was an atheist and the sistine chapel is an atheist manifesto: that’s what my Dan Brownesque über-rational sixth sense tells me! etc etc etc etc etc… This is a very bad, distrubing, and dangerous tendency: saying that “this man was too smart not to be an atheist” is a way to say that only atheist can be among the cleverest: at its core, this is an assertion akin to claiming that only white people made science and technology progress throught history: a false statement made to legitimize a supremacist stance, which leads to attitudes similar to Bacopa’s:
      Famous historical figure such and such were way too smart not to be atheists -> only atheists are smart -> atheists are ontologically superior to everyone else -> As an atheist, I should have the right to oppress the religious, because they are inferior beings.
      And that’s where Bacopa’s rant is linked to my “Tartuffes Hypothesis”: his rant is like the distilled essence of fascistic rhetoric that caused Sparrow to freak out last summer, and as I said in the begining: the core ambition of social-dominant personalities is to live at the top of heavily hierarchised rigid societies and in order to justify that, Tartuffes need to pretend that their personal worth is in a league of their own, above and beyond the rest of mankind: religious Tartuffes have used religion to pretend that they are closer to God than everyone else -and therefore morally superior-, atheists Tartuffes like Bacopa pretend that they are intellectually superior to the majority of Mankind and use their atheism as an tribal marker and a fake evidence of their self-proclaimed superiority.
      That’s why I will conclude by saying that -unless it is done merely as a figure of style- this kind of co-opting is a despicable practice which hides nothing more than the desire to be part of the ruling class of an oppressive dictatorship.

    • Enkidum

      And your argument, such as it is, might be applicable here if Bacopa had done any kind of co-opting or anything like that. But he didn’t. So, it would seem you’re just blathering on about something that has nothing to do with anything anyone has said. Your sole link appears to be “Bacopa said stupid and despicable stuff, therefore he is linked to this trend I have identified in atheism and claimed is stupid and despicable”. That’s not an argument, that’s a series of intuitions stuck together.

      For what it’s worth, you’re right about the “too smart to be a Christian” thing being ridiculous, just as PETA’s argument that Jesus was a vegetarian is nonsense. But the linking of that to fascism? Seriously, thinking is harder than this.

    • laurentweppe

      And your argument, such as it is, might be applicable here if Bacopa had done any kind of co-opting or anything like that

      Read again, and carefully read every word I wrote instead of skimming through.
      I wrote that co-opting leads to attitudes similar to Bacopa’s. I do not know nor give a shit about why Bacopa is having oppressive urges: his attitude is already contemptible by itself, regardless of why he ended up with these urges. My point is that co-opting is one way -among several others- that eventually leads to sectarian supremacism.

      But the linking of that to fascism? Seriously, thinking is harder than this.

      Fascism is the most accomplished form of sectarian supremacism. Bacopa’s contempt toward religious people -so great that he compare them to broken appliances- as well as the reasonning lying under the co-opting of famous historical figures are both very accomplished forms of sectarian supremacism.

    • satan augustine

      Mind providing any evidence for your claim of fascistic attitudes becoming more prevalent in the atheist movement? Neither Coyne’s nor Hitchens’ article suggest fascistic thinking at all. Hypothesizing that someone might not really be religious does not equal fascism. Name some fascist “New” atheists for me please and back it up with evidence. I hope you’re not basing your hypothesis solely on the two articles you mentioned. Somehow I imagine that you’re basing it on internet comments.

  • Dunc

    This is kinda like speculating as to whether “King” Arthur would have used a Mac or a PC.

  • laurentweppe

    This is kinda like speculating as to whether “King” Arthur would have used a Mac or a PC.

    A mac: definitely a mac: Avalon means Apple

  • Rob

    Jesus’ has already tweeted he’s an atheist. The tweet was something along the lines (paraphrasing) “Of course I’m an atheist, who believes everything their dad says?”

  • Randomfactor

    What I think Jesus was, was a political activist in a Judaic framework. Can’t meet openly because of the authorities? Then meet secretly in small groups. Support your fellows, with “fellows” meaning anyone oppressed by the occupation forces. Stage political theater against the government. Repeat loudly to those who haven’t heard the message yet.

    What Jesus would be today is an OWS supporter. But atheist? Doubt it. Of course, were he alive today he wouldn’t be “Jesus,” who was an observant Pharisee.

  • freemage

    Assuming the Biblical accounts of his teachings are remotely accurate representations of a specific rabbi running around Palestine ~30 CE, I’d say that while not atheist, he’s definitely anti-authoritarian (at least, other than his own authority–but hey, he’s only human, right?). He preached a passive-resistance approach to the Roman occupation (lots of the teachings like “turn the other cheek” are completely different than their common interpretation if you look at it contextually), at the same time also telling the Pharisees to go Ph themselves.

  • satan augustine

    I’m disappointed with Dawkins on this issue. “Jesus was a great moral teacher” is a Christian meme not backed up with evidence. Dawkins only need read the New Testament to find that the morality that Jesus taught was every bit as abhorrent as his “dad”‘s Old Testament teachings. C’mon Richard! Read up on this.