Why Jesus Is Dead To Me

I rankle at the undue reverence afforded Jesus even by many atheists and so in a post yesterday at the Richard Dawkins Foundation website lamenting the spiritual and intellectual analogue of Stockholm Syndrome that I see many liberal believers who can’t let go suffering, I explained why I want no part of the attempts to reclaim and rehabilitate Jesus:

Being a former Christian who devoted years of my life to literally worshipping this human being, proselytizing on his behalf, and dividing myself from all non-Christians emotionally on account of him, this is a serious sticking point. This is more than just a routine case of some thinker’s ideas or character being overestimated. People by the hundreds of millions, maybe billions, down through the centuries have been systematically brainwashed into worshippingthis particular person, and to sacralizing ideas, texts, institutions, and supposed representatives associated with him. When someone’s veneration extends to these extremes of power it’s a moral obligation to subject precisely that person and the institutions and ideas grown up around him to far more rigorous scrutiny than run-of-the-mill hit and miss philosophers get. The inordinate respect he receives, even by the non-worshipping atheists and extreme theological liberals, spiritually supports an outsized and falsely acquired influence, with power to be disproportionately destructive.

When the power of Jesus, the Bible, or Christian ideas and symbols is as extensive as it has been for two millennia, the negative impact of even small mistakes about facts or inadequacies in values is drastically magnified. And when hundreds of millions of people are unable to see through a centuries’ long literal deification of a particular human and the institutions associated with him, and so mentally and morally subjugate themselves to that person or institutions, it is irresponsible for those who do see through it all to go on contributing to the aura of reverence towards that figure, rather than bluntly and unequivocally disabusing people of it.

Being aggressively and systematically deceived from childhood about the character of Jesus trapped me in delusions and blatant falsehoods that took away my ability to autonomously think and feel as clearly as possible about what was true and false and good and bad in life. Asking me to carry on mouthing platitudes about how awesome Jesus is, after that, is about as offensive as  asking the escapee of a cult to never say a bad word about their former cult leader. It’s like telling them even to go on singing his praises. Sometimes literally! It’s like asking them to endorse others to vote him to stay in a position of power that he has held for centuries and which he used to ensnare you in the cult in the first place.

“So what if now you see he’s not a god, why can’t you at least admit he was awesome anyway?”

Because he claimed to be a god. Or at least “the way, the truth, and the life”, which is just as bad. And too many still worship him as God and surrender their intellects and consciences to him. So he was not awesome, is not awesome to celebrate, and probably never will be.

He is a weapon of ecclesiastical institutions. I understand the strategic impulse of liberals to want to take control of this weapon and use it for their own ends. I understand they fear that going up against nasty theocrats and other ecclesiastical authoritarians who are armed with Jesus without picking up their own Jesus to fight back with would amount to going to ethical war unarmed. But I for one would rather rely only on honesty and rationality themselves than keep the arms dealing churches in business in perpetuity.

Read more.

And a follow up post on who or what I’m really opposing when I oppose “Jesus” is here.

I also addressed overviewed the evolution of my views on liberal theology at greater length last week.

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.

  • Chris

    I understand the horrible way in which Christianity influenced you when you were young, and so I have no interest in converting you; however, as a theological liberal, I can’t help but feel misrepresented in your characterizations of me and others, both here and in your post last week. I strive to be honest in how I portray my beliefs to others, and my use of Jesus is not just a practical measure. There are actual good things I see in Jesus’ example, the many mistakes of his followers notwithstanding.

    So you’re definitely allowed and even encouraged (by me at least) to follow where truth leads you and to be honest with your convictions. I just ask that you not characterize liberals as strictly dishonest in their use of the trappings of Christianity. Some of us do so for a reason. Maybe someday we will become atheists, but trust in our honest truth-seeking which will lead us there if the truth of atheism is indeed compelling. For now, I at least continue to identify as Christian.

    • The Vicar

      Wow, the point of this post went right over your head. Daniel is addressing precisely your point. He says: Jesus isn’t really all that great of a person. The insistence of people like you that he pretend otherwise is damaging. And here you are, ignoring that and telling him he needs to acknowledge how great Jesus was.

      Do we need a religious equivalent of the word “mansplaining”? Because in your assumption that Daniel doesn’t understand what he’s talking about, and willingness to instruct him on how he should be feeling, you’re amazingly similar to a pompous man telling a female something she already knows.

    • Chris

      By contrast, I feel you have misunderstood my point. I am
      not trying to argue with him to say that he should
      venerate Christ; Dan has his opinions and is welcome to them. Rather, what I am trying to say is that – even if he disagrees with me – there are reasons I still follow Christianity, and I feel he unfairly mischaracterizes me and other theological liberals by claiming that we are dishonestly clinging to a tradition we don’t really believe. This is the same sort of rationalization that
      religious conservatives use to handwave the inconvenient views of others: whatever they don’t like, they say, “You don’t really believe that; you’re just misguided/dishonest/evil/under Satan’s influence/etc.” I’m just asking for fair representation, not that
      Dan consider some as-yet-undiscovered revelation.

    • The Vicar

      And yet here you are replying to a post which does not, at any point, claim that all Christians everywhere do any particular activity, telling Mr. Fincke that he needs to respect liberal Christians, apparently merely because they are liberal Christians. If Jesus isn’t a great guy, then there is no reason to respect his followers, either. If anything, by being his followers you are contributing to the EXACT PHENONMENA MENTIONED IN THE ARTICLE. Therefore you have missed the point of this article and are a rather obtuse and obnoxious person in a passive-agressive way. (Which, in my experience, is par for the course for “liberal” Christians.)

    • Chris

      I get that I am doing what he mentions, but I obviously disagree with him that it is necessarily destructive. But I didn’t want to argue that point; I just want to be represented fairly, even if you don’t respect my views.

    • http://camelswithhammers.com/ Dan Fincke Camels With Hammers

      Chris, the term “liberal” is very vague here. I address different liberals throughout. In the last paragraph (if you click through to the actual post where liberals are the focus, as opposed to this clip which is about Jesus directly) I enumerate several different possible motives of liberals and admit sincerity is possible but that I fear that hang ups are at work too. Nowhere do I say all are deceptive. I argue that some liberals have a kind of spiritual and intellectual “Stockholm Syndrome”.

      I know several liberal believers who have admitted one degree or another of calculation, including one who copped to doing exactly what I described after reading this piece. They make a deliberate decision to work with the resources of the Christian tradition rather than against it. They defend this explicitly to me. With others it’s transparent.

      The key question is this, Chris, do you believe Jesus was the Son of God? Do you think he rose from the dead? Do you think He’s a special conveyor of spiritual truths?

      If you do, then you’re not nearly liberal enough to be the kind of person I’m thinking about.

    • Chris

      Fair enough. As for your last three questions, I’ll say this, that while I am ambivalent on the historicity of Christ’s resurrection (could go either way), the role it plays in the narrative is extremely compelling for me, at least — this to the point that I feel he exemplifies what you would expect from a God-figure. That might make me something of a moderate, but I know my take on ethics is sufficiently liberal enough to make many moderates uncomfortable. Perhaps a spectrum of conservative to liberal is not quite entirely useful.

      As for someone who accepts Christian cultural trappings yet does not believe in God, I don’t know if “liberal” is really the appropriate term. “Christian Atheist” might work, and that is a totally valid thing. I know I’ve seen at least a few examples of such people (on Reddit, mostly), though brandishing their title might be counter-productive if they have the motives you describe.

      I do want to take you up on the main thrust of your article via blog post at some point in the near future. I have wondered if religion is a safe thing, even if I believe Christianity to be true. I think we can both agree that at the very *least*, the concept of religion must undergo major invasive surgery to prevent the many evils which it naturally promotes in its current form. Such surgery would need to do more than just address contemporary problems facing religion but fundamentally alter the culture of religion to prevent its misuse in future generations. Like you, I do not think Christian Atheists will be successful at righting the wrongs of Christianity, and I share your reasoning as to why: Christianity in its popular form is inherently poisonous and will require massive reworking, not just a subtle shift to nicer interpretations of the same old traditions.

    • Fallulah

      You did miss the point. He is saying for Atheists who realize the false idol Jesus is and the institutions realized because of this false deification, need not feed into it. If you truly believe Jesus is a god and the institutions built up around his image aren’t destructive…well carry on then. The rest of us are enlightened.

    • Chris

      I got that part. It’s a minor quibble with the way he characterizes us when he says things like “I understand the strategic impulse of liberals to want to take control of this weapon and use it for their own ends. I understand they fear that going up against nasty theocrats and other ecclesiastical authoritarians who are armed with Jesus without picking up their own Jesus to fight back with would amount to going to ethical war unarmed.”

      You don’t have to respect my beliefs. I only ask for fair representation.

    • Fallulah

      Well I have to admit, I have NO idea what a Liberal Christian even looks like. Seems pretty disingenuous to me in all honesty but I am sure not all of them fit into a nice little box. I would say the author is speaking to the liberal xian who realizes the deification of Jesus is a farce. If you don’t believe that, then he wasn’t speaking about you.

    • Chris

      Perhaps, but that was not what I gathered from his other post wherein he listed theologians like Tillich among the liberals. I identify somewhat with such theologians, so I feel like his characterizations of liberals are as much of me as of anyone else. Maybe I’m wrong. I just don’t like having my motivations characterized unfairly. I wouldn’t do it to an atheist, and I would hope for the same in return.

    • Pofarmer

      So, what do you believe?

    • Chris

      It would be hard to sum up in a comment. You can read my own blog over at http://thediscerningchristian.wordpress.com/. Critique is more than welcome.

  • 9B9K9999

    As a former believer, I concur with Dan.The Abrahimic / Christian morality sucks smelly and bad, period. Mixing good stuff with bad stuff still don’t make it anyway OK with me. JC thoroughly deserves the booting Dan gave him. Even if he never existed.

  • InDogITrust

    Excellent point. Groovy hippy peace and love Jesus isn’t from the Bible. It’s a modern gloss trying to keep him relevant in the modern more enlightened world.
    I had a hard time letting go of Jesus after I became an atheist (when I realized that God was too much a monster to exist) because I’d been raised in a “Jesus is Love” church and how could you not love Jesus and his wonderful message of love and peace? So I basically ignored everything except the Gospels, and just read what Jesus (supposedly) said, and when I realized that the only way it makes any sense is if you give him credit for meaning it when he said “This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled,” it was all over for Jesus. It’s easy to turn the other cheek and literally give away everything you own if God is coming next week.
    I’m afraid that in the choice of Liar, Loony, or Lord, the only consistant answer is Loony, although I’m willing to cut him some slack given his historical context.

    • http://camelswithhammers.com/ Dan Fincke Camels With Hammers

      I’m afraid that in the choice of Liar, Loony, or Lord, the only consistant answer is Loony, although I’m willing to cut him some slack given his historical context.

      Or a combination of that and Legend.

    • Teegester

      Yes, Legend. That’s something the “Liar,Loony or Lord” people refuse to put into the equation.

    • Mogg

      In CS Lewis’s original piece in which he puts forward the Liar, Loony or Lord options he specifically excludes Legend on the basis that, in his professional opinion as a history and language expert, the Gospels don’t read as legends in the same way that other ancient legends do. I think his reasoning was poor, and in any case it doesn’t explain the complete lack of corroborating evidence that really should be there or knowledge that we have found since Lewis’s time, but he did address it. People tend to forget that.

    • Teegester

      Thank you! I didn’t know that. Interesting.

    • InDogITrust

      I confess, I always forget the option of “Legend.” I never doubted the existance of a historical Jesus until relatively recently, since to me the New Testament makes more sense that there is some kernel of historical fact, than if it was made up whole cloth (e.g., “this generation”), and I haven’t gotten around to reading up on the case against him.

    • JohnH2

      ” God was too much a monster to exist”

      This seems odd to me, God is a monster therefore God doesn’t exist. Whether or not God is a monster is mostly irrelevant to whether or not God exists; excluding the case where due to the non-existence of God that God can not therefore be a monster, which is debatable.

      I disagree with your parsing of the verses around ‘this generation’; though that might be true now, what with Jerusalem (possibly) no longer being trodden down by Gentiles and all.

      So now you don’t try and turn the other cheek and this somehow makes you better?

    • http://127.0.0.1 3lemenope

      This seems odd to me, God is a monster therefore God doesn’t exist. Whether or not God is a monster is mostly irrelevant to whether or not God exists; excluding the case where due to the non-existence of God that God can not therefore be a monster, which is debatable.

      It is not the generic [Insert bland deity here] god that this sort of argument takes aim at, but rather any of the several Gods described by religions actually worshiped that have putative qualities such as discernment and power and goodness and justice all in overflowing abundance. That sort of God can be shown to be in contradiction with monstrous behavior, and so if there is a deity, and it acts like a monster, it is not that God; thus, that God does not exist. After all, most of the evidential arguments against the existence of a deity are deflated by abandoning omnibenevolence as a feature of deity, but then again most people are rather uninterested in attrite genuflection to an evil (or pathologically amoral) deity.

      I usually phase it thus: “Non-existence is only the first problem with what you’re selling me…”

    • JohnH2

      ” so if there is a deity, and it acts like a monster, it is not that God; thus, that God does not exist”

      Still doesn’t actually follow without further assumptions as there could be another deity, a demiurge, a second principle, a devil, or so forth. So yeah, it wouldn’t be that God but it doesn’t follow that God doesn’t exist; this is of course assuming that one actually has records, that they are decently accurate, that one understands the perspective of an Omni-max being so as to be able to judge what from that perspective is or is not monstrous.

    • InDogITrust

      As a Christian, I was already an atheist to all other gods, so once I decided there is no “God”, I was done. There well could be an Unmoved Mover, or a Prime Being, or whatever, but by definition it is no more relevant to me than I am to it.

    • InDogITrust

      Giant man made of reassembled dead body parts comes alive and terrorizes countryside? Nope. Guy sleeps in a coffin, turns into a bat, and drinks blood to stay immortal? Nope. Man turns into a wolf at the full moon and runs around eating people? Nope. All powerful, all knowing, all loving perfect god creates everything, then destroys almost all life, makes a promise to one man that he’ll be his god, loves his Chosen People so much he punishes them when they’re bad and allows bad guys to punish them when they’re good, condones genocide, murder, rape, slavery, provides tangible evidence of his power and existence, including walking and talking with people, and then hides himself so the only way to know if he exists is to have a personal relationship with him in your head? Nope. The God of the Jewish Bible is such an egomaniac, he wouldn’t allow there to be any doubt.

      What I was meaning to say, if inartfully, is that, looking at the words attributed to Jesus of Nazareth, and giving him credit for actually meaning what he said, the only logical and reasonable conclusion is that he was proclaiming the apocalypse; he was saying, the End Is Coming and It’s Coming SOON. Jesus was pretty clear when he talked about what actions people should take, and his instructions are completely contrary to self-preservation instincts. To strictly follow Jesus’ instructions is to make oneself utterly wholly dependent solely on God for one’s very survival. The only way one can live according to Jesus’ rules is if one truly believes It’s Coming Soon and you’re going to “die” soon anyway. If I think God is returning next week, what do I care if you kill me now, especially if that means I’m assured a place in the Kingdom? But when “this generation” started passing, Christians had to either accept that Jesus was wrong or decide he didn’t really mean what he said.

      Reading comprehension test:

      You show me where I said I reject turning the other cheek and that I think I’m better for it, and I’ll explain why I think that.

    • JohnH2

      I would have thought that the gathering of Israel such that I can say the Lord liveth who is gathering His people Israel from all the lands they were driven to and it be accurate would be evidence of a non-hidden deity. I wasn’t joking about this generation possibly being currently accurate given Luke 21: 24 “Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled.” and the following verses leading to vs 32.

      If you kill me now then it doesn’t matter whether God is returning next week or in ten billion years, especially if I am assured a place in the Kingdom.

      You said it only makes sense if God is coming next week, meaning that to you it doesn’t make sense to turn your other cheek.

    • InDogITrust

      No, I said “It’s easy to turn the other cheek and literally give away everything you own if God is coming next week.”
      Try again.

      To [try to] tie what I’ve said to the point of Dan’s article:
      Jesus said a lot of nice things that can be used as guides to help create a good and just society. But that’s not what he was trying to do.Jesus was not telling people to create a good and just society. He was telling people to prepare for the coming apocalypse, which he said would come within the lifetime of the people who were alive at that time.

      Kumbaya Jesus is a creation of recent generations of Christians who have rejected the hellfire and brimstone Jesus of intervening generations.

    • JohnH2

      Try again when you quote yourself saying that “It’s easy… if”? Not sure how I am supposed to parse that differently, Modus Tollens and all.

      Jesus did reveal Himself to that generation and set up His kingdom on the earth, and Jerusalem was destroyed within that generation; the then current age did end (especially if one were jewish, or an astrologer). Likewise the next age talked about, that of Gentiles, may now be ending. Your parsing of those verses conveniently leaves out things like that.

    • InDogITrust

      “Don’t try and turn the other cheek and this somehow
      makes you better” does not necessarily follow from “It’s easy to turn the other cheek and literally give away everything you own if God is coming next week.” It’s not even logical.

      If you’re having a hard time coming up with logical ideas, try: “It’s easy to turn the other cheek and literally give away everything you own if God is coming next week. But Jesus’ instructions are very hard to adhere to if you want to live any length of time, especially if you don’t want to be a destitute victim of anyone who wants to injure you or steal from you. That’s why very very very few Christians have ever strictly followed the literal instructions of Jesus.”

      Uh, the argument that Jesus’ birth/life/death/resurrection established the Kingdom of God on earth is exactly the rationale that the early Christians came up with to explain why people were dying but the Kingdom as actually described by Jesus hadn’t come. Gosh, we all thought Jesus meant this, but it didn’t happen, so we must have been wrong.

    • JohnH2

      To accept your interpretation of where the idea comes from requires accepting the argument that the gospels were written after 70 AD as clearly they talk about the destruction of Jerusalem and clearly there can’t actually be prophecy (making Deuteronomy to have been written sometime after 1967 AD) therefore they must (excluding John) not be written anywhere close to when history and tradition have placed them as being written (making of necessity some early church fathers liars as well). It is a nice neat little circle.

      I flipped the implication, you are right.

    • InDogITrust

      I do accept the estimates given by expert scholars and historians of what was written when.
      But again, I don’t accept that your statement is the only, nor even a logical follow through to mine. Unless you believe everything in the Bible is true because it’s in the Bible.

  • http://www.cautionchurchahead.com/ Steve Ahlquist

    As a humanist and political actiist here in Rhode Island, seeking to effect positive political change, I often find myself aligning with liberal Christians on a variety of issues, such as LGBTQ rights, poverty, homelessness and gun control. I am also very vocal about the damage religion, and specifically here in Rhode Island, Christianity and Catholicism, does to individuals and society. This occasionally causes some friction, when liberal ministers tell me that I’ve gone too far in my criticisms, painting all of Christianity with a conservative, Calvinistic or Catholic brush.

    But the truth is, even many so-called “liberal” Christians believe that poverty can never be eliminated because Jesus once said, “the poor will always be with you” so all attempts to deal with poverty have to be couched in terms of reduction rather than elimination. And believe me, having sat on more than one “Interfaith” meeting, this is exactly the kind of discussion I have heard: endless wrangling over precise terminology so as to respect the feelings of the various faith positions represented.

    I tell people that Jesus is no more relevant than Odysseus to modern culture. In a debate with a minister on cable access television a minister told me that comparing Jesus to Thor was silly, because the stories about Thor were ridiculous. I countered, and the minister was forced to agree, that if Jesus, being God after all, wanted to carry around a giant hammer and summon lightning, he could have. Jesus is just as ridiculous as Thor, and about as useful for determining our ethics.

    We don’t need weaponized mythology. We need a system of compassionate human ethics centered on reason, optimism and action.

    • http://batman-news.com Anton

      But the truth is, even many so-called “liberal” Christians believe that poverty can never be eliminated because Jesus once said, “the poor will always be with you” so all attempts to deal with poverty have to be couched in terms of reduction rather than elimination.

      Of course they do, Steve. I’ll believe anything!

      Jesus is just as ridiculous as Thor, and about as useful for determining our ethics.

      Not that I think secular society should be using religious texts to establish public policy, but I could think of worse messages to steer society than one of forgiveness and generosity.

      I know I’m probably cherry-picking, but “Love one another” just doesn’t seem as ridiculous to me as it does to you.

    • http://127.0.0.1 3lemenope

      Their limitations inhere in where they have become religious slogans. Love is no more an unvarnished good than any other pure concept; without knowing its object or extent, it can be anywhere from healthy and life-affirming to deeply deranged and nihilistic. Forgiveness is a positive when psychologically assented, poisonous when forced by sentiment. Generosity is wise when one is in a position to give, foolish when it bankrupts a person into needing aid themselves. It reminds me of abortion rhetoric; why, “choice” and “life” are both sweet as apple pie. Who could possibly be against these things?

      So it’s not that it is possible to think of worse messages, but that worshiping the messenger stunts the ability of people to create, consider, and accept better ones, or failing that entirely at least put boundaries on the applicability of slogans to complex and messy real-world situations.

      (I’ll readily admit it would be another thing again if the reigning paradigm in intuitionistic social morality were some form of virtue ethics, where the lesson doesn’t limit behavior as a rule so much as guide a moral agent to a better practice, but it isn’t, and so people tend to be absolute idiots when it comes to reasoning about moral rules and principles. We get, in large part, the world we have, not the one we want, and have to fight to nudge it even a little to that sweeter end.)

  • http://wateringgoodseeds.tumblr.com/ Shira Coffee

    Based on a couple of your posts, Dan, I find I have re-evaluated my own feelings about Jesus. (I cannot tell you how strange I find that.)

    The thing that gets lost in the beliefs of Christians, fundamentalist and non-, AND in the attitudes of atheists is that Jesus was an actual human being. (The folks who don’t believe in a historical Jesus at all are, in my view, raving conspiracists.)

    Weirdly enough, by seeing your unresolved feelings about Jesus, I have found myself more sympathetic to him. Not as G-d, because he never was G-d and anyway there isn’t a G-d to be. But as a pretty smart, charismatic and open-hearted Jewish guy living at a difficult time in history. He had some decent insights, and he had some notable blind spots. But Christians tend to misunderstand his insights because they want to turn everything he said and did into some kind of cosmic drama. And atheists tend to misunderstand his blind spots because… they’re still turning everything he said and did into some kind of cosmic drama.

    It’s a great pity on all sides.

    • http://camelswithhammers.com/ Dan Fincke Camels With Hammers

      And atheists tend to misunderstand his blind spots because… they’re still turning everything he said and did into some kind of cosmic drama.

      No, we’re taking seriously that as a figure he plays a massive role in the actual real world historical drama. That his deification is a mentally inhibiting and all too often destructive influence. We’re also taking seriously that you wouldn’t, as a Jew, probably be paying him any more attention than a thousand other better rabbis were it not for pressures to at least reclaim him from the Christians or at worst show the Christian hegemon you have room for him too.

    • http://wateringgoodseeds.tumblr.com/ Shira Coffee

      K, first, a small point of clarification. Jesus wasn’t in any sense a rabbi. Religiously, he was an itinerant miracle worker, a venerable role in Israelite religious life, going back at least to the “sons of prophets” of the time of Samuel. Politically, I don’t know what he was, but clearly not a rabbi. Reza Aslan says he was a Zealot, and Aslan knows more than I do about the historical Jesus. (But so does ANYONE who has studied the subject.)

      What bugs me about your reply is that you once again write off Jesus as a person and jump right into the problems with Jesus as myth. What bothers me about that is, when Jesus ceases to be a person, so do his listeners. Their historical reality, concerns and dilemmas are erased. I don’t care all that much about Jesus, though since you invited me to reread the Sermon on the Mount, I have more respect for him than I used to. But my respect for him is based entirely on the fact that I hear him speaking — with genuine concern and intelligence — to his and his listeners’ situation. I care a lot more about his listeners than about him, personally.

      Look, Dan. You’re clearly angry. But either you are angry with a real human who does not deserve your anger (because he did not have any control of the way his story and words were used), or you are angry with a myth. And if you’re going to be angry with a myth, why not just kick it old school and be mad at God? I used to find that fairly cathartic…

      Or if you insist on human targets for your anger, I can suggest some better ones. What about the Gospel writers, who repackaged a fairly ordinary Jewish mystic as a savior? Or what about Paul, who universalized Christianity? Or there’s Constantine, who turned the cross into a sword hilt and laid the groundwork for conversion by violence? Or what about the folks who drafted the Nicene Creed, paring away any possibility of a naturalistic view of Jesus? Or maybe Luther and his buddies, who ascribed magic powers to the Bible such that any chucklehead who read it would immediately understand the deepest truths of the universe?

      But on the whole, I don’t recommend anger. It’s not conducive to clear thinking or wise action.

      I hate to put it baldly, but I will do so anyway. At one time in your life, you believed in a lie. Believing in that lie, you did things you can no longer be proud of. Now it wasn’t your fault that you believed that lie, but it was your choice. And when we choose an action, we become responsible for (by which I mean not culpable, but obligated to redress) the consequences of that choice. Even the unintended consequences.

      This is a hard truth, but it’s not less true for being hard.

    • http://camelswithhammers.com/ Dan Fincke Camels With Hammers

      Shira, I’ve explained what I’m mad at. I’m not literally mad at Jesus or God. I am mad at people who in this day and age bend over backwards to accommodate religious hegemony. That’s the real target.

      I also don’t get the impression you read the actual piece at the Dawkins site where I explained why I’m not interested in salvaging the historical Jesus the way you are:

      I want people’s intellectual and emotional consciences to be freed up to read and respond to Jesus with the same kinds of critical responses they would have had had they never grown up in a culture that in the first place drilled into their heads that he was either God or, at least, had to be the most admirable moral teacher ever. Intellectual honesty and freedom of conscience mean no more undeserved inflation of Jesus’s reputation.

      I am not saying in an ideal scenario people would throw out every word Jesus said as automatically worthless or misinterpret even those good things attributed to him in the Gospels as evil. I am saying ideally all would read with the mixture of agreement and disagreement they treat others when reading them with no prejudice. And I am saying that in the current situation, Jesus’s deification by all too many makes it too important that what is awful in him be warned against explicitly and what is good in him not be blown up and abused to prop up undue reverence for him.

    • http://wateringgoodseeds.tumblr.com/ Shira Coffee

      Nope, I am reacting to your posts here, on Camels with Hammers. Therefore, I’m reacting to the excerpt of your post at the Dawkins site which you included in the post above.

      I agree that one should oppose (not necessarily be mad at) people who perpetrate religious hegemony. Those who simply passively support it are often susceptible to education. But the hard-core culture warriors, who want to “recreate” some mythical Biblical utopia — those folks need to be stopped, because they have done and continue to do real harm to people, to institutions, and to the world we live in.

      And I agree that inflation of Jesus’ reputation (and the word inflation already suggests it is undeserved) is a bad thing. It’s a bad thing (as you probably agree) because we need reasonably universal standards of excellence when it comes to moral teachings. And it’s also a bad thing (which you seem less interested in) because it erases or distorts the historical experience of Jews in the first century. Hence my objections to your objections to the Sermon on the Mount. It’s not that the Sermon on the Mount is a sublime moral teaching. But read in its proper context, it is decent advice on how to preserve one’s inner integrity in a conquered land.

      By turning Jesus into an Imaginary Friend who is always talking to contemporary Christians (of whatever time and place), Christianity has systematically erased not only his actual historical context, but that of his listeners. Christianity has done this for perfectly understandable reasons — including, but not limited to, what I think of as “Chosen People Envy”. Christianity has always sought to suppress, supplant, and if necessary stamp out Jewish culture and thought.

      Atheists have nothing to gain by following their example.

  • Chris Harmon

    Thank you. I try and tell people why I do not believe in or *dig* Jesus.. this will help me better explain..

  • Tommykey69

    I’ve been an atheist for over 20 years after having been a believing Catholic. A few years ago, I went through the Gospels and highlighted the passages attributed to Jesus to see what he actually said that I thought was profound or meaningful. I found at best a handful of his sayings where I thought “this is something that can apply to anyone, religious or nonreligious.” I found a lot more useful passages in the Analects of Confucius.

  • http://epigene.github.io/ Augusts Bautra

    “”“So what if now you see he’s not a god, why can’t you at least admit he was awesome anyway?”

    Because he claimed to be a god. Or at least “the way, the truth, and the life”, which is just as bad.” -word

  • Dennis Smith

    As a former believer and former conservative, fundamentalist, evangelical minister, I agree.

    Liberal and “progressive” Christianity, IMO, tries to reclaim Jesus because they’re not prepared to jettison Christianity entirely. They don’t have an answer why, if there is really nothing special about Christianity or the Bible, they should single out that one tradition and build their churches and congregations around them.

    In the end though, it is an exercise of picking cherries. In order to make Jesus the person they want him to be, even as an exemplary human and “spiritual” teacher, they have to winnow the chaff and search for the wheat.

    IMO, it’s there is not need to worry about throwing the baby out with the bathwater. There’s no baby, just dirty bathwater.

  • ctcss

    Dan, your problem is apparently with your former church and how it approached the subject of religion, in this case, Christianity. The theological views and reasoning expressed by them were apparently capable of tying you (and others like you) up in knots. That’s sad, since religion is supposed to be a blessing to people who engage in it. Your story strikes me as being similar to that of a person who has finally escaped from a very bad marriage after undergoing a very messy, very painful divorce. And you seem to have been stressed so much by these experiences that your mind now seems to have been poisoned against anything good regarding Jesus and the Christian faith (i.e. that which Jesus taught to his followers). Your rather negative statements make me think that you are like someone who won’t ever get married again because you can’t bear to think of the possibility of enduring that kind of pain again. Plus, you now think that everyone else who is married or is about to get married is in the same danger you were in, so you want to talk them out of it. In essence, you’ve been robbed of the idea that going forward in the direction of religion is dangerous for everyone, just because you’ve been conditioned against it through your own efforts to escape your former life. What you’re describing sounds amazingly Pavlovian to me because you no longer seem to have a choice in how you feel.

    So my question to you is, do you really want to stay in such a mental state?

    If you have a battle at all, it’s apparently with the people you came from. And also maybe, to whatever degree, with the personal demons you had to contend with on the way through and out. (I have read a large number of your posts, including the conversion ones and the story they tell does not sound like a happy one.) But the pathway you were on is not a universal pathway. For people like me, who don’t share the history you had, and were taught about Christianity rather differently than you were taught, Jesus isn’t a problem at all.

    Do I have questions about Jesus? Of course I do. Am I allowed to ask such questions of my people? Yes. Am I free to have doubts? Of course. Would I ever be threatened with hell or banishment for wanting to have my questions answered, or for leaving my religion behind? Not in the slightest. Do I have the right to make up my own mind as to whether what I have been taught is useful and accurate? My religion actually demands that I do. I was told to think, not to blindly accept.

    So I rather doubt that I will ever find any reason to become an atheist due to my religion giving me no safe haven to work things out in my head. And I really rather doubt that I will find myself on the path you have taken simply because I didn’t have to encounter the stuff that you did.

    But encountering what you did wasn’t your fault. Nor does it make you (or anyone else) morally lacking for leaving that life behind. But it may be your fault for letting that experience rule your life ever afterwards. You can stay an atheist. That’s your choice and that’s fine. But why leave the poisoned atmosphere comprising your disappointments and your divorce from that former life untouched? Why not do what you can to heal it so that you don’t have to cross the street just to (figuratively or literally) avoid encountering it? Or, even worse IMO, to feel compelled to battle ALL religion instead of just the unhelpful (and sometimes toxic) aspects of SOME religious theologies.

    Consider this. All you’re really saying (looking at a much broader canvas than just religion) is that there are many life altering actions each of us will undertake. Sometimes these actions may be forced upon us, in which case, we may need to bide our time until a way out is found. (Usually this is simply because of not having reached the age of majority.) However, whether forced or freely chosen, our mental approach regarding proposed (or imposed) actions is very important. Some actions we will probably approach seriously, like marriage and children. Others we may mistakenly approach lightly such as drinking at a party and then driving home. Or having unprotected sex with someone because the moment grabbed us. But whether lightly or seriously, there are actions that can and will have a major impact on our lives. Thus, it would behoove all of us to do more serious thinking before fully engaging in these activities. And for those things that, upon reflection, could have a very large impact, we should do all that we can to determine what is the most helpful and productive path to take.

    For myself, I consider my religious pathway to be a very helpful and productive path to take. I want to take it because I want to find out what exists down that way. I want my questions answered. And I want to learn more about what it was that Jesus taught, not out of fear for my life, but because I genuinely find it interesting. I don’t consider myself a fool for doing so, nor do I consider myself to be a prisoner of my religious teachings, nor of the social grasp of my church community. And yes, I really have thought seriously about what it is that I am doing. And without the baggage that you (and a number of people like you) have had, I do not feel that I am trying to escape something painful and dismaying as I make my way forward. I am really truly sorry that you and the others had to go through what you did.

    People’s lives can differ rather widely. But pulling back a little (or a whole lot, depending) can help to give perspective on something that, closer up, can appear as a huge obstacle. By pulling back, one might find that a small detour (rather than a 180 change in direction) might be all that is needed to safely go forward.

    You have moved on, and so have many others. But I don’t think that healing will be possible until a person realizes that one’s own bad experience is not universal. A bad marriage for one person does not mean that all other marriages and marriage partners are also bad. And a bad religious experience for one person does not mean that all other religious pathways are also bad. If one can thoughtfully choose to be non-believing and realize that such a choice is perfectly fine, they should also realize that someone else can thoughtfully choose to be believing, with that choice also being perfectly fine. We don’t have to agree with each other’s choices. In fact, it is highly unlikely that we will. We are also not likely to be in a position to judge the other person’s path since it requires actually treading that path in order to more accurately understand it. You definitely know that path you were on because you have the mileage and the scars to prove it. But it is highly unlikely you know all the other paths with that same level of detail. So unless civil or criminal law is being broken, we shouldn’t look down upon, or vilify, those that have made choices different from ours.

    We are not here to pick apart other people’s lives. Instead, we should be supporting one another’s right to pursue our different, freely chosen pathways.

    Just some thoughts.

    (And just to make sure I am understood here, I have no issues with a person’s choice of pathway, whether it be believing, not believing, or differently believing. My church teaches what, in essence, is universal salvation, so I am not here to “save” anyone.)