Where You Stand
About Jesus?
Joe Bizon

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From: Positive Atheism <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To: Joe Bizon
Subject: Re: PA-via_Positive_Atheism_Index
Date: Thursday, June 03, 1999 5:18 AM

This is a good question, and just as different Christians would give you different answers on this question, different atheists would likewise give you different answers. I can only describe some of the lines of thought I have pondered and what I think is most likely and why. Centuries of censorship have rendered our knowledge of the history of that era very foggy, as opposed to histories of other eras and other historical figures. Thus, we don't really have all that much with which to compare the Gospel accounts.

While the so-called Jesus Myth angle (G. A. Wells; Arthur Drews) provides some compelling insights, I am not ready to abandon the notion of a historical Jesus. Wells points out that there are no contemporary documents that mention the existence of a man who thought he was Messiah during the reign of Pontius Pilate until after the Gospels were known to have been in circulation (very late in the first century). Drews makes an excellent case that the Jesus myth can be reconstructed entirely from mythology that was extant when Jesus is alleged to have lived.

I still prefer the "Jewish Messiah" angle over all others I have investigated. In this, Jesus thought he was the Jewish Messiah, sent to free his people from the clutches of Rome. He hoped to fulfill the prophecy in Zachariah on the Mount of Olives, but instead was arrested. In this scenario, Jesus actually sent one of his disciples to "betray" him, so he would have a large contingent of Roman soldiers upon whom to perform his miraculous feats. And it was Jesus that the crowds wanted released -- not a man named Barabbas. That Jesus thought a new political order would come soon explains why many of his teachings and morals are not appropriate if the world were to continue as it is.

The notion that the Pharisees were as evil and hypocritical as portrayed in the New Testament goes against everything we do know about them. Since the Pharisee party was the party of the people, Jesus himself was probably a Pharisee. The Pharisees always erred on the side of mercy.

Jesus was obviously not a Zealot, though many of his followers were. The Zealots did not think God was going to help with supernatural feats, and that the job must be done by men if it was to be done at all. Jesus hoped to sway them to his side, as they both sought the same goal: independence for Israel. Jesus, if he was looking to a fulfillment of Zachariah, was on the other extreme from the Zealots, though both were in the same anti-Roman camp.

It was Paul, not Peter, James, John, and Jesus, who developed the notion that Jesus was a god or a god-man, and that Jesus died to save mankind from their sins. This is a mixture of the Mythratic Mystery Religion, combined with Gnosticism -- both of which were foreign to Jesus and the Jerusalem disciples. You can see a patched-up discussion of the rift between Paul and Peter in Acts 15; Paul does not mince words in the first few chapters of Galatians, a book that is undoubtedly the authentic work of Paul. Second Peter is undoubtedly a forgery, and is the only place where "Peter" is shown to speak highly of Paul. Burying this rift was crucial to the credibility of Paul's gospel message -- that is, Paul's interpretation of the life and death of Jesus.

The Mythratic elements incorporate the dying and resurrecting god, and the believer's identity with that god through a form of faith. In this faith, the believer becomes united in the death and resurrection of the god, and thus partakes, in part, of the god's attributes. This element is seen most prominently in the modern Christian ritual of baptism and the explanation that usually accompanies it (especially as explained by the Baptists and other non-infant baptizers).

The Gnostic elements include the notion that this world is fallen and evil, and needs supernatural intervention from above in order to make it suitable for a relationship with the Holy. This need for a cleansing is emphasized more strongly in Mormonism than in most Protestant sects of Christianity, yet it is clearly seen in almost all Christian sects.

There are other Jesus scenarios that I have studied but that don't fit as well as these two scenarios. Certainly, to take the New Testament at face value makes very little sense at all. The Gospel accounts contradict each other and, in places, a Gospel account will contradict itself. All the Gospels contradict what Paul is known to have written (what is undisputedly Paul's, anyway). James and Luke are completely devoid of the doctrine of salvation by Grace through faith in Jesus (though one verse in Luke, not found in the earliest manuscripts, does suggest this).

What happened, I think, is best explained by Oscar Wilde: "Truth, in matters of religion, is simply the opinion that has survived" (The Critic as Artist, 1891). Christianity did have its good points, and by the time the Roman Empire and its culture crumbled, Christianity was ready-made to take its place. Christianity had all the elements of the Pagan mythology built into it. It also had proven itself extremely effective at inducing a very docile slave-mind into its followers. This is just what the Roman leadership needed to keep things from falling apart completely.

Unfortunately, with the censorship and persecutions that followed, Christianity lasted much longer than it ever would have lasted on its own merits. Were it not for the censorship and persecutions, Christianity would have run its course long ago, and mankind would likely have progressed much faster than it did. Galileo was persecuted in 1632 and 1633 for saying that the earth is a globe, contrary to what a natural reading of the Scripture declares. This was 140 years after Christopher Columbus sailed "around the world" to "the Indies." This is 110 years after Ferdinand Magellan circumnavigated the globe (though Magellan himself was murdered and thus did not survive the trip, his ship and crew completed the voyage in 1522.

Today, almost everything of value exists because of science. I think it better to keep a question open for contemplation, discussion and research, than to make "God" the explanation, thereby closing it to further investigation. Even if all the Blessed Virgins and the Benny Hinns of this world were performing bona fide miraculous healings, they still would not hold a candle to what medicine does every day -- and medicine is available to anyone. Because of the scientific revolution, we have about tripled our life expectancy since Martin Luther nailed his document to the door.

If the "word of knowledge" (II Cor. x11. 8) was anything at all, why do the Pope and all the Protestant preachers depend on satellite communication? I must depend on satellites because I have no "word of knowledge" with which to communicate. I can save this letter and my response onto a hard drive in a space that I cannot detect with the naked eye.

All this frees us from the slavery and poverty that was the majority mankind's lot before the industrial revolution. Freed from slavery, we have gained more resources, and can spend time with our children and our loved ones that previously was unavailable to the common man. To me, it is this the greatest benefit of science, that we now have the luxury of spending productive time with our families. Christianity did not give this to us, science did.

So, then, we have a choice: We can either teach our children that science keeps looking and never takes anything for granted, or we can teach them to take it for granted that God will solve our problems and make life better for us. Which do you think has the better historical precedent?

This is part of why I am not a Christian.

I am sorry that I drifted off from the point of your question, but I felt it necessary to make some positive points, and your question only requested the negative response as to why I don't believe the biblical accounts regarding Jesus.

Cliff Walker
"Positive Atheism" Magazine

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