Can one be secular and a follower of the teachings of Jesus?
Or perhaps, the better question should be, should one be secular and a following of the teachings of Jesus?
If you ask USA Today columnist Tom Krattenmaker, he will say yes. In fact, the journalist, author, and director of communications for Yale Divinity School has written a book about why he thinks you should be.
Confessions of a Secular Jesus Follower is an interesting read. You immediately feel the true sincerity of Krattenmaker’s words. He isn’t arguing that one should believe Jesus is the son of God or was miraculous in any real way, but that instead, he offers us great moral guidance that if followed could lead to a more peaceful world.
The argument placed forward in the book is compelling, if you take the good parts of Jesus’ teachings you can walk away with many moral arguments for doing good. The book as a whole does lay out a rather sound argument for why we ought to live a life this way.
Krattenmaker is clear, he does not even argue that Jesus had to exist, or that anything he said in the bible is historically accurate, but that what we know of Jesus from his passages in the bible can offer us moral guidance. So for those who don’t believe there was a historical Jesus, or want to dismiss Krattenmaker’s book because the bible isn’t true, I suggest you suspend those thoughts when reading the book.
Throughout the book, Krattenmaker looks at nonviolent social and civil rights movements and compares them to the nonviolent teachings of Jesus. Sadly, though, it does miss that society has needed violent movements in the past in order to enact real change. Had the entire black population listened to Martin Luther King Jr. and never fought back, it would be easy to argue they would never have made a massive change. Change they are still fighting for today.
Religious followers of Jesus have used his teachings to oppress others, however. In an interview with The Humanist, Krattenmaker understands why this would push people away from his view.
“For some, the term ‘Jesus’ is radioactive. They associate Jesus with expressions of Christianity that they find objectionable—often for good reason. Some people have been victimized and dehumanized by people who are supposedly operating in the name of Jesus,” he said.
Others may find that digging deeper will reveal that Jesus was simply not as moral as Krattenmaker tries to argue. It is easy to find moral teachings in the bible, especially the sermon on the mount. I have even argued that Jesus sounds more like a socialist than modern day conservatives would ever want to admit.
Yet, it is also easy to find quotes from the bible that show a not as moral man.
“Do you suppose that I came to grant peace on earth? I tell you, no, but rather division” (Luke 12:51)
Also noted in Luke is that Jesus had a chance to abolish the idea of slavery and instead only said that slave owners should not beat their slaves.
In the end, the book is a wonderful argument for how people ought to live their lives. With or without Jesus, Krattenmaker puts forth a great argument for a peaceful and loving world, and with or without Jesus the book is recommended for those looking for secular moral arguments.
Once the reader is able to suspend their pre-conceived notions of Jesus, the book makes more sense. I struggled at first because I don’t believe in a historical Jesus and know the bible is nonsense, so why take moral guidance from a man who never existed?
Well, I don’t think you should, but if you simply read Confessions of a Secular Jesus Follower and learn how Krattenmaker lives his life, even though attributed to the teachings of Jesus, you will walk away pleased and inspired to be the best person you can.