The Lure of the Secular Jesus

The Lure of the Secular Jesus February 21, 2019

Editor’s Note: We continue looking at former Christians’ various views of Christianity by considering the “secular Jesus” from the viewpoint of a former fundamentalist preacher.  If nothing else, this series  of posts shows that there could be as many different views among non-believers as there are among believing Christians.  To me it says something pretty mundane and not even religion related: People are different. We often change over time and we will express our changing views if we are free to do so.

=========================

By John Lombard

When discussing elements of Christianity with other non-believing clergy, I’ve heard support for the idea that even as ex-Christian leaders who have rejected our faith, it is still valid and worthwhile to teach a message based on a “secular Jesus”, where we strip away the supernatural stuff, but keep the moral teachings.

There was a time when I thought teaching the ‘secular Jesus’ (the message of love, peace, joy, etc., but without all the supernatural claptrap) was a good thing to do. But I’ve come to change my mind about that.

I am convinced that, as Christian leaders, many of us develop something of a ‘love relationship’ with Jesus. Kinda’ like falling in love with a character in a movie.  They may be entirely fictional, we may be falling in love with a fantasy, but that doesn’t change the fact that we are enamored.

And for at least some of us, when we reject our religious beliefs, we still feel a strong draw to Jesus, the man. A man who preached a message of love, and of tolerance. Who modeled a life that all of us should ascribe to. A man who was, in a very real way, the center of our lives. How then can we simply abandon him?

I’ve made these arguments myself in the past; and know of other non-believing clergy who still think that way. But I would like to present my reasons as to why I no longer think that way, and am actually quite opposed to it.

I’ve made these arguments myself in the past; and know of other non-believing clergy who still think that way. But I would like to present my reasons as to why I no longer think that way, and am actually quite opposed to it.

First, I think that all of us can agree that the Bible is notan inerrant, divinely inspired depiction of absolute truth. There may be isolated aspects that are historically accurate, or have somefoundation in history, but the vast majority is complete and utter bullshit. Never happened. So the fact that “It is in the Bible” should notlend any greater credence or relevance to any particular claim. And that is the first reason why I am opposed to ‘the secular Jesus’…because everything we ‘know’ about Jesus comes from the Bible. Our entire authorityfor our message is based on a text that we have proclaimed false. We are actually saying that the Bible doeshave authority to tell us what is right, what is wrong, what is true, what is false, etc.

On top of that, we are inevitably cherry-picking. I don’t know of anyonewho preaches the ‘secular Jesus’ who considers everything the Bible says about Jesus to be true. Every word he said, every action he took, etc. Instead, they pick those portions that fit a message of what they think the “real Jesus” is. But again…on what authority? Because the Bible says it? Or because you ‘feel’ that’s the message Jesus taught? Neither of these are even remotely valid criteria for establishing a foundation of teaching morality, love, or any kind of meaningful message.

“Oh, no” you say, “My teachings are based on research“.

Research of what?There are literally no contemporaneous writings verifying anything that Jesus said, outside of the scriptures themselves…and the stuff that came later is chock-full of contradictions. Again, anyconclusions based on such ‘research’ is essentially cherry-picking those portions that fit your own interpretation, and then declaring that as ‘truth’.

Virtually all of us were taught the dangers of eisegesis yet this is 100% pure eisegesis, that is, deciding the message that we think is ‘right’, and then choosing whatever ‘evidence’ happens to support that, and ignoring the rest.

More than that, there is absolutely no irrefutable proof that Jesus ever even existed. You may personally be convinced that a man named Jesus existed, and that he taught some variation on the message we see in the Bible, but it cannot be proven.

So, we have a message which is fundamentally based on a work of literature that all of use agree is largely fiction; we have a message that is, at best, cherry-picked; and we have a figure teaching that message whom we cannot even verify ever actually existed. Any message based on this is ultimately based on blind faith — on faith that Jesus existed; on faith that at least some of the descriptions of him in the Bible are accurate; on faith that we are able to authoritatively pick which portions of his message in the Bible are accurate, and which are not.

To me, this is not and cannot be the foundation for any kind of moral or ethical teaching.

Particularly when there are literally millions of other choices that are profoundly superior to the ‘secular Jesus’.

What about the story of Terry Fox, the Canadian man who, after losing a leg to cancer and being told he would likely die, embarked on a marathon to run across Canada from coast to coast, to raise money for cancer research, and who sadly died without being able to complete it.  A man who was not only inspirational as he did it, but who continues to inspire literally millions of people all around the world every year with the Terry Fox Run. (Yes, I am Canadian).

This is a man whom we are 100% certain really existed. A man whom we can confirm actually did and said the things that are claimed about him. A man whose life teaches values and messages that are universal and timeless.

I could come up with tonsof other similar examples, as I’m sure every person reading this can do. But I don’t see the need.

Why do we ex-Christians (or some of us) still want to teach a message that is built upon such a terribly weak (I’d say almost non-existent) foundation, when we can teach exactly the same messages — the same values, the same morals, the same principles — using far superior examples. There is absolutely nothing about Jesus that makes him particularly special, except for the mythology built up around him in the Bible. How then can we simultaneously reject that mythology — divine virgin birth, son of God, worker of miracles, inerrant in his teachings, sinless in his actions, etc. — and yet still proclaim that he should be a foundation for our own actions?

As far as I’m concerned, it would be just as valid to cherry-pick the values that we like in Harry Potter, and then proclaim him as an authoritative example of how to live our lives.

I will make one concession here — for those who are seeking to create a ‘bridge’, a message that Christians will find acceptable and attractive, who would reject a message that didn’t include Christ. But if that’s the case, there should be a deliberate and conscious effort to demonstrate that Jesus is actually not an authoritative or inspirational foundation upon which to model our own lives and behaviors – and that actually, there are tons of other, far superior models from whom we can draw inspiration and direction. Outside of that, I simply see no value to ex-Christians using Jesus as a model of anything.

Author’s clarification: For those who no longer believe, but are trapped in the pulpit, and preach about Jesus because they have no choice, the above is not addressed to you.

====================

Bio: John Lombard is a Humanist and ex-missionary who grew up in Ontario and has been living and working in China for more than 20 years. He currently works as a cross-cultural consultant to help foreign companies seeking to do business in China.  He is launching an exciting new business, ‘The Language of Culture“, to teach Cultural Intelligence, at languageofculture.net.

>>>> By Jeremy Gilbert – Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3354942 ; By See individual images, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=27127270

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  • Tawreos

    One reason to use Jesus instead of other examples is because we have all heard of him and are familiar with his story. Yes, there are many examples of real people that we can prove existed, but not everyone may be familiar with them. I don’t recall ever hearing about Terry Fox before today so to use him as an example you would have to explain his story. Even in your post, you had to explain who Terry Fox was, but didn’t have to explain who Jesus was. I understand not wanting to seem to give any veracity to the bible by using Jesus as an example, but using him does make it a bit easier for entry into the subject.

    • Mark in Ohio

      I’ll agree with this. Using Jesus as an example is no worse than using any other fictional or literary character as an example. You just have to pick a story that your audience is familiar with to allow your analogy to work.

    • John Lombard

      Tawreos — I’d disagree with you on two separate points. First, while it is true that most people have probably heard of Jesus in some way or another, quite a significant number are still quite ignorant of his actual stories or teachings. So if “being familiar with his story” is a criteria, I’d argue that there are probably more people actually familiar with the story of Harry Potter, than with the story of Jesus.

      And second, while Terry Fox may not be a great example for you, I’m very confident that regardless of who you are talking to, you can find a historically accurate example that person will be familiar with, and will be superior to using Jesus.

      By both standards, this argument just doesn’t work for me.

      I will add further that being ignorant of the person being used as an example should not disqualify that as an excellent example…we should actively seek to educate others about such things, rather than cater to their ignorance.

      • Tawreos

        I agree, my ignorance of Terry Fox does not disqualify him from being a good example. And educating people is always good.

        When it comes to the disagreement of using Jesus as an example I think it may be more about the difference of our backgrounds. You would have a more in depth knowledge than I would. This difference might lead me to a more easily accessible example than might occur to you. It could also be down to something as different as style of communicating. I will confess that pretty much all of my public speaking or writing has always been as a student in an academic setting with time and length restrictions. Going for the easy example allows me to spend more time on my main points rather than spending the time explaining my example. I will admit that this has led to me choosing an inferior, yet easier example over the better more difficult one. I do realize that this is a personal decision that is suited to my communication style and has no bearing on how others choose to do things.

      • rationalobservations?

        A major problem for anyone seeking an historically supported and cohesive story of Jesus is that none exist.
        The stories within any of the diverse and very different versions of NT bibles are confused and contradictory, Even the only two stories of the birth of the main character are almost entirely different and no authentic and original, 1st century originated historical evidence of the existence of “Jesus” has ever been discovered.

  • See Noevo

    I don’t know of anyone who
    preaches the ‘secular Jesus’ who considers everything the
    Bible says about Jesus to be true. Every word he said, every action he took,
    etc. Instead, they pick those portions that fit a message of what they
    think the “real Jesus” is
    . But again…on what authority?

    On the cherry picker’s authority, of course.
    Which is no authority at all.

    The only reason I believe the Bible is the word of God,
    and the only reason that is intellectually satisfying, is this:

    Because the Catholic Church said so.

    • carolyntclark

      The Catholic Church, where these truths were defined, argued and hammered out by a group of holy men who had no more valid insight into the insusceptible deity than you or I have ?
      Men who were ignorant of the planets, argued over such basics as the Trinity. Were the three persons equal or was there a pecking order ?
      Delusional minds decided on consubstantiation (equal). On and on with the silly doctrines.
      Inspiration and revelation are in fact, fabrication, imagination, and maybe some hallucination.

      • Jim Jones

        > Men who were ignorant of the planets, argued over such basics as the Trinity.

        And Monophysitism, Eutychianism and the Hypostatic union.

        For giggles.

    • John Lombard

      I’m not sure whether the “because the Catholic Church said so” thing is intended sincerely, or ironically.

      But I’d just like to note…the Catholic Church’s entire authority is based on claims that the Bible’s teachings, including Jesus’, are true. You yourself hae acknowledged that any kind of such ‘teaching’ will inevitably be cherry picked, which in your own words “is no authority at all”.

      Therefore, the FOUNDATION for the RC church’s authority is absolute bullshit.

      • See Noevo

        I’m not sure whether the “because the Catholic Church said so” thing is intended sincerely, or ironically.

        It was intended sincerely.

        …the Catholic Church’s entire authority is based on claims that the Bible’s teachings, including Jesus’, are true.

        The Catholic Church does claim that the Bible’s teachings are true. However, its authority comes not from the Bible. Instead, the CC’s authority comes from a reasonable knowledge of logic, of history, and of human behavior. At least in my view.

        • Jim Jones

          And the Raping Children Cult has been the example of moral leadership for almost 2,000 years.

          Oh, wait.

          • rationalobservations?

            The oldest first Roman “Jesus” cult was founded in the 4th century so Circa 1600 years of terror, torture, persecution and child abuse.
            We both know there is no historical trace of “Jesus” or any Jesus based messianic cult from within the 1st to 3rd centuries.

            Keep up the good work, buddy.

          • Jim Jones

            Yep. Although despite the weakness of the evidence I do accept that there was ‘something’ in the 1st century. Possibly called “The Way”.

          • rationalobservations?

            There is evidence of many messiah claimants between Circa 6BCE and Circa 140CE.
            Claims that the legendary and very newsworthy “Jesus” of whom no historical trace has ever been discovered match other historical characters of the time can be countered by a “what about Simon Christ?” who did leave an abundance of evidence of his existence and short period of acclaim as “the messiah” in Rabbinical circles.
            Simon “Christ” (Simon bar Kokchba) left many different forms of evidence and the coins struck by the government of Northern Judea depicting Simon Christ under the messianic star outside of the temple remain in many museums and private collections today.

            The evidence of other historical figures remains in stark contrast to the absolute and total absence of any form of evidence of the existence and centuries later fabricated exploits of “Jesus”.

            No one has explained how such notable events as those claimed within NT fables escaped the notice of every Roman, Hebrew, Greek, Arab and “Barbarian” person alive in the time in which the “Jesus” fables are merely set.

          • Jim Jones

            Mind you, bar Kokchba was around 135 CE.

            More interesting is Glycon, and we have the finest evidence for him/it: a book of criticism. It’s hard to imagine someone writing such for a non-existent ‘god-man’.

            Along with the coins etc., this is plentiful evidence.

          • rationalobservations?
        • rationalobservations?

          That oldest/first 4th century founded institutionalised “Jesus” cult also says:

          “Our documentary sources of knowledge about the origins of Christianity and its earliest development are chiefly the New Testament Scriptures, the authenticity of which we must, to a great extent, take for granted.”
          (Catholic Encyclopedia, Farley ed., vol. iii, p. 712)

          The “Church” makes extraordinary admissions about its New Testament. For example, when discussing the origin of those writings,

          “the most distinguished body of academic opinion ever assembled” (Catholic Encyclopedias, Preface) admits that the Gospels “do not go back to the first century of the Christian era”

          (Catholic Encyclopedia, Farley ed., vol. vi, p. 137, pp. 655-6).

          This statement conflicts with priesthood assertions that the earliest Gospels were progressively written during the decades following the death of the Gospel Jesus Christ.

          In a remarkable aside, the Church further admits that,

          “the earliest of the extant manuscripts [of the New Testament], it is true, do not date back beyond the middle of the fourth century AD”

          (Catholic Encyclopedia, op. cit., pp. 656-7).

          There is no authentic and original, 1st century originated evidence of the existence of a man named “Jesus”. Why do you believe the mythology and legends of men that originate centuries after the time in which that mythology and those legends are merely set?
          A serious question most religionists dodge or ignore. How about you?

          • See Noevo

            You sure are enamored of this “Catholic Encyclopedia, Farley ed”. Seems to be the only thing you quote from!

            I question your sole source’s doctrinal authority,
            but more urgently, I’d like to find your source and your quotes on the internet. Please provide the hyperlink.</b

          • rationalobservations?

            You should get checked out for early onset senile dementia if you have really forgotten all the many entries that have revealed the utter, total and complete absence of authentic and original, 1st century originated actual, tangible historical evidence of the existence of “Jesus” and complete 1st century historical silence regarding all the remarkable events contained exclusively in NT myths, legends and fables?

            I reference nothing as doctrine and no authority other than my own several decades of search and research for evidence that I conclude does not exist and no one (including you) has ever offered or presented.

            I make no claims. I merely observe and remark on the absence of historical evidence regarding the content of the first 4th century fabricated NT bibles (Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Vaticanus) that are so very different from the bibles written by later generations of men that we all know today.

            I closed the entry you respond to with:
            A serious question most religionists dodge or ignore. How about you?

            The answer you offer is to ignore and attempt to dodge the question by failed diversion away from your ongoing and long history of humiliating failure….

            Next..?

        • Raging Bee

          So you’re admitting the Bible has no authority…and the Church’s authority is based on “knowledge” that’s been proven false or outdated. Got it.

    • rationalobservations?

      You write of the bible but fail to reveal which version you refer to?
      Is it the oldest 4th century prototype bible known as Codex Sinaiticus that is so very different from those in circulation today. or one of the extensively edited, amended, added to and deleted from, historically inaccurate and historically unsupported versions that have been re-re-re-re-re-written down the centuries by other teams of human authors?
      A serious question most religionists dodge or ignore. How about you?

      You assert believe only because employees of the Vatican “said so”?
      That oldest/first 4th century founded institutionalised “Jesus” cult also says:

      “Our documentary sources of knowledge about the origins of Christianity and its earliest development are chiefly the New Testament Scriptures, the authenticity of which we must, to a great extent, take for granted.”
      (Catholic Encyclopedia, Farley ed., vol. iii, p. 712)

      The “Church” makes extraordinary admissions about its New Testament. For example, when discussing the origin of those writings,

      “the most distinguished body of academic opinion ever assembled” (Catholic Encyclopedias, Preface) admits that the Gospels “do not go back to the first century of the Christian era”

      (Catholic Encyclopedia, Farley ed., vol. vi, p. 137, pp. 655-6).

      This statement conflicts with priesthood assertions that the earliest Gospels were progressively written during the decades following the death of the Gospel Jesus Christ.

      In a remarkable aside, the Church further admits that,

      “the earliest of the extant manuscripts [of the New Testament], it is true, do not date back beyond the middle of the fourth century AD”

      (Catholic Encyclopedia, op. cit., pp. 656-7).

      There is no authentic and original, 1st century originated evidence of the existence of a man named “Jesus”. Why do you believe the mythology and legends of men that originate centuries after the time in which that mythology and those legends are merely set?
      Another serious question most religionists dodge or ignore. How about you?

    • Raging Bee

      So…no cherrypicker has any authority to interpret the Bible, except for your favorite cherrypickers. Got it.

  • mason lane

    John, thank you for addressing this very important subject. Members of The Clergy Project will fully appreciate the clarification at the end of your article.

    I believe that those who attempt to use the mythical Jesus character for anything other than as an example of a benevolent dictator, towards devout cowering worshipers, and and a totalitarian fascist dictator in league with his Papa (the same entity per John 10:30), do a great disservice to people who have a desire to become critical thinking freethought post-theistic humans.

    For those who insist on cherry picking a few favorable “quotes” from the mythical Jesus, I think it is an insult to the listener who is ignorant about the Jesus character. Would they do the same with Mao, Hitler, Trump?

    When I discarded my absurd Evangelical Jesus beliefs, I didn’t carry over any fondness for the character. I already knew he was a ruthless schizo who planned to burn non-worshipers in a fire. I had just been making the typical apologist excuses about “God’s ways not our ways, beyond human understanding, God can do anything, it will all be explained later although it makes no moral sense now” etc. ad infinintum.

    Any teaching about the Jesus myth should start with ending the prince of peace, teacher of brotherhood etc. myth, … “Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I came to set a son against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s enemies will be the members of his household. -Jesus character, Matthew 10:34 https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/5908802165a35bd567e4815eedb4c71fdbd8254d679dbda87b558230f3d261ea.jpg

    • Matthew 10:34, or even earlier, young Jesus’ rudeness towards his parents as they found him in the Temple…

      …I still wonder how family-focused Evangelicals can reconcile their “family people” attitude with such a character.

    • ElizabetB.

      “For those who insist on cherry picking a few favorable ‘quotes’ from the mythical Jesus, I think it is an insult to the listener who is ignorant about the Jesus character. Would they do the same with Mao, Hitler, Trump?”

      Excellent question!! The OP is very interesting (thanks, John!), but it assumes the ex-traditionalist must take the bible as their source of authority, cannot use their own inner values as their guiding principles, and must anchor their web of beliefs on Jesus’ historicity — whereas I think that an ex-orthodox would not need to appeal to an authority outside their own values, and could use Jesus metaphors whether they resembled Harry Potter or Terry Fox.

      But your question as to how ethical it is to bracket out the bad stuff [tho I would differ some on which that is : ) ] is a great one. Must think about that!! Many thanks

      • ElizabetB.

        Maybe at the least, those of us still relating to traditional communities (for whatever reasons) must actively counter the bad stuff — not just decline to teach it, but explicitly reject it. ….Maybe a year or so ago a possible connection dawned on me… I was remembering how maybe in primary grades I would cry at night because “I was so bad.” I liked hearing my mother tell me, “You’re not bad, E!” but I never was really convinced. Now I wonder whether that came from the substitutionary atonement teaching in our church, which I was starting to absorb. That would be quite sad!! In the past I have worked with older adults and emphasized all the grace themes in their beliefs, and I’ve avoided working with youth groups because although my social justice values fit, much of my philosophy/theology differs from the community in general. Your question is making me think that if I stay involved, I should find ways to explicitly state some of these differences. So thanks, Mason!

      • mason lane

        Thomas Jefferson bracketed out the bad and just plain stupid magic nonsense, and it didn’t leave much. That even Thomas would try to salvage something morally helpful from the scam speaks as to how difficult it is to get free from culturally induced absurdities. In defense of Thomas, he didn’t have all the information about the myth we have today. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/how-thomas-jefferson-created-his-own-bible-5659505/

      • John Lombard

        ElizabetB. — Not quite sure what you mean by, “it assumes the ex-traditionalist must take the bible as their source of
        authority, cannot use their own inner values as their guiding principles, and must anchor their web of beliefs on Jesus’ historicity”

        I’m actually saying the exact OPPOSITE — that the ex-traditionalist should not and DOES NOT need to take the Bible as their source of authority…that they SHOULD use their own inner values as their guiding principles…and that it is entirely WRONG to anchor their web of beliefs on Jesus’ historicity. I am arguing that there are numerous FAR superior options.

        • ElizabetB.

          I’m trying to say that someone can be part of a “secular Jesus” community and still do all these things — 1) NOT take the Bible as their source of authority 2) DO use their own inner values as their guiding principles 3) NOT anchor their web of beliefs on Jesus’ historicity. I would say these describe many liberal Christians.

          My impression was that you posit that whoever is in a Jesus community is ipso facto relying on the historicity of Jesus and the authority of the bible, whereas many are using their own principles as their guide as to how/what to pick&choose (to the chagrin of fundamentalists observing!), and are comfortable with stories of a Jesus character being a-historical. ….It sounds like you’re saying you just think other characters would be more worthy,… Apologies if I misunderstood!!

          • John Lombard

            EliabetB. — Honestly, I’m not sure what article you read, since my entire article was giving clear examples of how people could AVOID doing that, and criticizing those leaders who did so.

          • ElizabetB.

            I am puzzled… I thought you were saying that if one uses Jesus in teaching, it can only be done by resting it on biblical authority and Jesus’ historicity. Since I don’t do either, that wouldn’t dissuade me from using some of the Jesus tradition. But Mason’s comparison of using the Jesus character with Mao, Trump, etc, makes me think about having to deal with the whole tradition about Jesus, the horrific as well as the liberating. I can’t just ignore the threats of hell, etc.

            I surely do appreciate your taking the time to help me figure out how I’m missing the boat!!!!! Many thanks!!

  • There are definitely tons of historical characters we can relate to in a way we will never to Jesus.

    Moreover, another problem with “stripping away the supernatural stuff” is that a lot of Jesus’ message wouldn’t make sense without it: Jesus taught we have to sacrifoce everything (and everyone!) in our lives to get into a supposed Kingdom of Heaven – and getting there it might mean you have to forsake anything, including your own life!

    You might have to let yourself be killed to avoid killing, even if it means aborting a lump of cells to undergo life-saving therapies.

    You might have to let yourself be killed to avoid denouncing your belief, no matter how nonsensical they might be.

    You might have to let yourself be abused in any possible way to avoid resorting to violence, no matter how little and called for.

    Which is fundamentally at odds with a Humanist/Atheist worldview.

  • There’s good advice in the Bible, some of it put in the mouth of Jesus, sure. But not one piece of that stuff is original or unique. Not one.

    Instead of holding up fictional characters (I include Biblical characters in that category), we should hold up humanity. We are the ones who have invented morality. We are the ones who improve each other’s lives. There’s no need to appeal to the so-called words of Christ. Those aren’t his words. The anonymous authors of scripture merely put them in their character’s mouth.

    • Yes, true. See Council of Nicea 312CE if in doubt (Common Era — date est.)

  • LeekSoup

    I’ve noticed a tendency for some Christians to use Jesus interchangeably with Aslan. This used to annoy me, back when I was in the bubble, but now I just see it as undermining the credibility of any claims that are made about Jesus. If people who follow him don’t distinguish between Jesus and a character from children’s fiction, that says a lot.

    • Geoff Benson

      The trouble with the Aslan analogy is that CS Lewis specifically created him as a Jesus equivalent. Always there looking out for you, sacrificed to atone for the misdeed of another, came back to life, etc. Lewis, of course, was an out and out apologist, darling of apologists to this day, but he was actually very illogical (ironic, in that he claimed the opposite). So, and I speak here from personal memory, kids reading the book would initially be hooked by it, then they’d recognise the flaws in the logic, and they’d certainly quickly spot the huge plot inconsistencies, especially between the seven books of Narnia, but even within each book itself, all intended to facilitate a Christian message.

      Essentially I’m saying that pearls of wisdom in literature (and the bible is actually a scant source) can be truly inspiring (how about the film ‘twelve angry men’ or the book ‘To kill a mockingbird’?), but it comes from finding it for yourself. Lewis forces it down your throat and it ends up being rejected where reason prevails.

  • Andy

    Indeed, thanks for the disclaimer at the end!!

    I’m trying to place myself in the shoes of the ‘liberal pastor’ that you are addressing. Perhaps the rejoinder would be that it isn’t Jesus that is the founder or basis of their belief, but some of his ideas. Ask how to distinguish the good ones from those that are obviously bad, one might answer that it’s the same with any favored teacher or exemplar of morals. If one looks into ‘closets’, one can find some equally outrageous facts about Gandhi, or Lao Tzu, or . . . .

    Ideas and ideals that are consistent with secular humanism are precious, wherever, or in whomever they are found, even if they are placed on the lips of fictional character.

    Yes, it is true that we have no fool-proof evidence for even the existence of Jesus. Bruno Bauer, the famous left-wing Hegelian, believed Jesus’ very life was invented as a means of conveying worthy ideas (words placed in his mouth).

    Thanks John for an excellent piece.

    • mason lane

      Here’s one of “His” worthy ideas: 🙂 “Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I came to set a son against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s enemies will be the members of his household. -Jesus character, Matthew 10:34

      • There’s the other verse too (no recollection of the book and number) where he (Jesus) “says” that to properly follow him you must not only abandon your family but hate them as well.

      • Jim Jones

        Matthew 25:35-40

        The standard I hold all ‘Christians’ to.

    • John Lombard

      Andy, thanks for your comments! I’d like to add a slight clarification.

      I myself use some things from the Bible to illustrate points…such as the idea of criticizing the sliver in someone else’s eye, to illustrate hypocrisy. The thing is, such an example, even if coming from the Bible, does not derive any authority from the Bible…it is simply a good illustration of a universal principle.

      I have no problem with this.

      What I have problems with is when atheists still use Jesus as ANY kind of foundation for moral/ethical teaching…where that teaching is based on the idea that it is ‘right’ or ‘good’ BECAUSE JESUS SAID IT. Or even assumes that Jesus actually SAID such a thing.

      • Andy

        That makes sense, John.
        Thanks!

      • Jim Jones

        Or assume that Jesus is not as fictional as Slender Man.

        But be aware that sometimes we do it to self styled Christians to prick their bubbles.

        Ex: Google (centurion pais) to an anti-gay bigot.

  • We shouldn’t learn persistence from Captain Ahab, because it is fiction?

  • I agree that it is not probably possible to ever know for a fact whether or not a Jewish prophet in the about 30 C.E. said to show benevolence to one’s enemies, to help those of other–even hostile–human groups (the Good Samaritan), etc.
    HOWEVER, whether it was Yeshua, or Tom, Ari, or Harry, some one said such morally true passages.

    It seems that Kurt Vonnegut, Gandhi, Thich Nhat Hanh, Bayard Rustin, Martin Luther King Jr., the abolitionists, one of the co-founders of Amnesty International, etc. got it right when they lived an ethical life based in some of
    the Jesus-character verses.

    I am an ex-Christian but one who thinks we can all learn from various alleged individuals’ moral truths of history (Jesus, the Buddha, Socrates. etc) without necessarily knowing exactly the historical facts.

    But then I am a retired literature teacher who also thinks we humans can learn from all sorts of stories.

    • Jim Jones

      Like that of Nils Bohlin, for example.

      • Thanks for posting this. Until I read his story, I hadn’t known about the inventor of the three-point seat belt.

        • Jim Jones

          “The man who saved a million lives”.

          Suck it, Jesus.

  • Jim Jones

    > I could come up with tons of other similar examples, as I’m sure every person reading this can do.

    Jonas Salk. Fred Rogers. Nicholas Winton.

    • EnlightenmentLiberal

      Norman Borlaug.