A high school teacher from 6 years ago emailed me recently asking to answer some questions. He is attending seminary school and I was one of the 12 he chose to interview for his paper. This is what I wrote.1. What is your opinion on who is Jesus?
Perhaps the strongest evidence to support that a historical Jesus did, in fact, exist is his legacy. The Bible tells us he began preaching at age 30 (Luke 3:23) and did so for 3 years. Since he was born during the reign of Herod the Great (Matthew 2:1), who died 4 BC, it is reasonable to place Jesus’ death somewhere around the year 29 AD. There is no mention of Jesus in any writing, documentation, manuscript, artifact, or any other form of identification that was created during his time alive. Even the scriptures didn’t begin to be written until 70 years after his death.
It wasn’t until years after his death that the earliest historians such as Josephus (born 37 AD) and Tacitus (born 56 AD) made the first mention of him in a written work. Josephus said, “About this time came Jesus, a wise man, if indeed it is appropriate to call him a man. For he was a performer of paradoxical feats, a teacher of people who accept the unusual with pleasure, and he won over many of the Jews and also many Greeks. He was the Christ.” Tacitus wrote, “…called Christians [Chrestians] by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus.” Both men seem to be telling the same familiar story that the Bible tells.
Even with these testimonies and accounts from trustworthy sources, it is not justified as evidence of his historical existence. These men were not alive during Jesus’ lifetime and are therefore susceptible to hearsay as much as the rest of the population was. However, it is easy to see, then, that many people of that time widely and strongly accepted these events to have happened. Yet none of these stories and eyewitness accounts originated until after his death. The stories of his life and death existed, but that does not prove his actual existence anymore than common day folklore can be proven.
His legacy is so powerful, that even without sufficient physical evidence, I believe there once was a man named Jesus Christ that walked the Earth proclaiming to be the Messiah. I do not believe that he was supernatural or divine. My view of him is that of an ancient magician for a group of elites that wanted power and control. The people of his time were easily convinced of his incomprehensible abilities. Our stage magicians today can perform incredible feats that belittle turning water into wine. Sleight of hand, distraction, and especially the psychological preparation and development of his audience were all tools he used to gain the public’s trust and support. With this trust and support came about his legacy that has been altered and almost undeniably enhanced through the ages as it is passed from generation to generation and finally written in the Scriptures. Now, there is no higher power in the world than religion and when viewed on the largest scale, there is no other social control so successful for unifying the population for a “good cause”. The state uses fear to manipulate the masses, and the church uses guilt and hope. Together, they control the world.
Jesus was a human, born a natural birth, and crucified on a cross. His message of goodwill and salvation and assurance was readily accepted by people that so desperately wanted to hear it. In conjunction with unexplainable magic and superior insight, he was instantly revered and admired. The advancements and research gathered by society throughout the last two millennia owe me a higher degree of consciousness than the people of Jesus’ time. Every miracle performed, every sick healed, and even his resurrection can be rationalized from a worldview with plausible scenarios that don’t require supernatural explanations. Whether or not his intentions were for genuine global unity, or global domination, I cannot say. Yet I stand firm when I say that Jesus was a deceptive man, for better or for worse. The story of Jesus is used by the elite to govern the masses.2. How did you come to your way of thinking about Jesus?
As a child, I was heavily indoctrinated with the teachings of Christianity. My family attended church regularly. I went to Sunday school, learned catechisms, and went to multiple Vacation Bible Schools. I remember my family hosting many Bible studies at our house, which included the company of very religious individuals. Most dramatically, I attended private schools my entire life (excluding brief homeschooling). There was no question that I was raised in a very Christian environment and that the foundation was set for me to lead a Christian life.
Now, I am an atheist – a term that I feel that I should define. Literally, it means “without religion”. I prefer not to label myself, because I do not belong to a culture or group. I am simply without religion.
I accepted Christ when I was very young, and repeatedly re-accepted him for years because I feared I had not done it correctly and I was not saved. I was told that only me and god would know for certain, and he wasn’t talking to me. This is what sparked my curiosity for answers. My journey took me through invaluable experiences of research and understanding from any source that offered it. Instead of clinging to what I wanted to be true, I allowed my logic and reason to unbiasedly decipher the discoveries I made to link information with information. I became obsessed with figuring out how the world works. Then I became aware of circular reasoning. The intricacies led to larger revelations, and yet larger until they came full circle. I’ve never dismissed a detail for the act of a god.
The God of the Gaps is a brilliant term that explains my perspective of all gods. In Norse mythology, Thor was the god of thunder. That is to say, believers literally believed him to ride through the heavens during a thunderstorm on a great chariot pulled by two magical goats. He was the creator and manifestation of lightning. Science has taught us otherwise, but the legacy and nostalgia of the mythology lives on. When you research ancient gods and goddesses, this is the defining trend of them all. What science has yet to give a satisfactory answer to, the God of the Gaps is created to fill the gap in knowledge. When science does fill the gap, god is no longer sacred and it would be foolish to believe. Jesus fills the grand role of meaning to life, and the afterlife.
Not to me. Science is my sacred affection. When it gives me an answer, it also gives new questions with it. Religion only gives dead end answers with no hope for anything new. Soon I realized the greatest dilemma an atheist has: god cannot be disproved. It is a logical fallacy to disprove the existence of anything. The scientific evidence and circular reasoning is enough for me to personally deny Jesus Christ for the anticipation of discovering what lies beyond the great God of the Gaps.
Another fundamental turning point for me was the definition of the soul. In essence, it is what uniquely identifies every person and is still considered your identity even after your physical body dies. Yet, it is intangible, and a construct of the mind similar to consciousness. Our senses, organs, and bodily systems operate in beautiful synchronous harmony and give us the perception of self, and of awareness. This action gives rise to consciousness, which I conclude is fully synonymous with the soul. It is analogous to a verb instead of a noun. So by that logic, the soul dies when the body dies. Then I will return to the universe to be recycled into new elements, molecules, and objects, as billions have done before me.
Interestingly, I am open to believe that an extra-dimensional higher power could possibly exist that we are unable to communicate with. The most fascinating thing about being an atheist is that I don’t believe that we’ve reached the end of possibility. Just one glimpse into the depths of space spins my head thinking of what waits to be discovered. That is more meaningful to me than any afterlife.3. Do you think Christian churches in general correctly portray what Jesus taught?
The Christian church covers a wide spectrum. On one end is a small church with 50 or so devout members that act as one large extended family. The opposite end contains massive cathedrals and incredible numbers of members. From my personal experiences, the bigger churches tend to stray from traditional Christian practices. It resembles more of a social gathering than a sacred place of worship.
Nowhere within the full spectrum is it common to hear a message on the many contradictions of the Bible (Google: “Bible contradictions” to see them all), or Leviticus 25:44 (“'Your male and female slaves are to come from the nations around you; from them you may buy slaves.”) Does god allow Mexican and Canadian slaves, then? Exodus 35:2 states, “For six days, work is to be done, but the seventh day shall be your holy day, a Sabbath of rest to the LORD. Whoever does any work on it must be put to death.”
Most Christians are content with attending church once a week and getting a dose of advice to better themselves. I respect that. Yet, to fully ignore blatant commands from a holy scripture because it is no longer accepted by society is outright worldly and has no credence as divine or godly. Every church, even the small ones, are susceptible to this issue. In general, churches do not correctly portray what Jesus taught. They choose what to teach and what not to teach, but never in its entirety.4. Do you think the world in general has a correct way of thinking about Jesus?
The diverse interpretations of Jesus’ teachings, commandments, and way of life lend itself to being more personal than universal. I highly doubt any two Christians could agree on everything regarding their own religions. Since the Bible contains some text that is not absolute, it is then the believer’s duty to determine its interpretation. Then it is all a matter of relativity.
Western society has developed a cult-like culture for Jesus. Believers brand themselves with crosses, bracelets, car decals, and more. The most phenomenal branding occurs in their minds. They believe that the highest power in the universe is at their disposal and therefore their way of life changes at the most rudimentary levels. Every thought and decision is made with god in mind subconsciously or otherwise. The desire for understanding is lost in favor of “his will be done”. This mentality attributes to the success of religion, but has no merit for its authenticity. Believers will defend their positions admirably, but it is nearly futile to argue mine as an atheist. My circle of reason does not mesh with a believer’s circle of reason. The lure of meaning, answers, and infinite life (even if just the possibility) is enough to spawn supportive thoughts and theories for their own sake. Extreme faith has to be taken to accept Christianity and to deny science. Many gladly take the risk in hopes of the reward.
Generally, the teachings of Christianity reflect those of good moral behavior, which is absolutely necessary for our survival. It is because our species began socially advancing in the Paleolithic Era and forming groups, communities, and nations that we are what we are. These early ancestors did not do this because they were instructed to; they did it out of necessity for survival and advancement. So it is no surprise that many commandments are widely agreed on, even by me. In order to judge a viewpoint as “correct”, we need an infallible source to compare it against. There is no such thing for Christians because there is much still up for debate. However, I will say that mostly Christians are advocators of promoting good, positive, and beneficial changes in the world, starting with their own lives first.5. What would you consider the main teachings of Jesus to be? Do you follow them? Why or why not?
Love for yourself, love for others, and love for god sum up the teachings of Jesus. The concept of sin was created to bind them all together. To go against his teachings, you have sinned and will be held accountable for. That is the system of judgment for believers but has no relevance to an atheist. From an outsider’s perspective, it is still clear what the Earthly consequences of abandoning these teachings would be, the difference is that I do not believe my every action will be tallied and scored for a final judgment. Good moral behavior does not require a belief in god. I love life, and I live love.6. Would the world be a better place if everyone followed the teachings of Jesus? Why or why not?
With the eradication of religion altogether we would see incredible progress towards solving the mysteries we currently face. The Dark Ages is a prime example of religion interfering with our advancement as a species. As people devote their lives and attention to god, the importance of understanding the universe we live in reduces proportionally. To the believer, all the answers they need already exist. In reality, there are more unanswered questions than answers.
In a world with a population of 6.7 billion and growing, 2.1 billion are Christian (31%). A survey published in the 2005 Encyclopedia Britannica stated that 2.3% of the world's population consists of individuals who profess "atheism, skepticism, disbelief, or irreligion, including the militantly antireligious." Yet it is those freethinkers that radically alter our reality and our future for the simple reason that they are not restricted from imagining the possibility of different perspectives. Disposing of religion frees an atheist from its bindings and allows unprejudiced knowledge rather than defending a theory of faith.
Christianity is a relatively peaceful religion when compared to others and promotes beneficial fellowship of its followers. Believers attempt to convert others to its ways by very morally acceptable methods and with respectable incentive. On the surface it sets a standard than even an atheist can appreciate and strive for.
Upon deeper inspection, it is rapidly becoming outdated as we evolve further into the future. The Mosaic Law is antiquated and to apply it to modern day would require expansive assumptions and personal interpretations. However, some laws are even so blatant that it would be easier to ignore them than defend their place in modern law. Deuteronomy 21:18-21 states:
18 If someone has a stubborn and rebellious son who does not obey his father and mother and will not listen to them when they discipline him, 19 his father and mother shall take hold of him and bring him to the elders at the gate of his town. 20 They shall say to the elders, “This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious. He will not obey us. He is a glutton and a drunkard.” 21 Then all the men of his town are to stone him to death. You must purge the evil from among you. All Israel will hear of it and be afraid.
To partition the law into era-appropriate divisions pays homage to their principles as a moral standard, but the evolution of the commandments themselves recognizes that it is outdated. We no longer need to “bless someone” after a sneeze, either. Morality, love, respect, discipline, and unity are instilled in us without the need for religion. Christianity influenced earlier, primitive societies to follow these guidelines but it is no longer necessary for it to be the rationale behind the acts.
It is, in my opinion, time for us to abandon the belief in Jesus while continuing to follow his fundamental teachings. Once we do, more importance to our current and only life will be emphasized instead of an afterlife. This mindshift has privileged me to discover knowledge and understanding of things incomprehensible to believers because it directly opposes their beliefs. If religion is abolished, we may just find the enlightenment we seek.