You're probably reading this and wondering what could Jesus' death possibly mean to an atheist? We don't believe in God after all, much less that Jesus was God. (In that I am not alone. Neither do Jews, or Muslims, and Thomas Jefferson. It's why neither could be considered Christians.) You could be one of those Christians that think that atheist are just the rebellious scum of Satan rejecting Jesus' "free gift" because they rather spend an eternity in hell. Well, relatively free. All you do is have to exchange disbelief for belief. Is there something I am missing? You still have to give "something."
Regarding the issue of Jesus' historical existence I subscribe to the Jesus Myth Hypothesis. Like Jefferson, I reject all the supernaturalism within the Bible. Even if there is a real man behind the bible stories he was as human as you and I. At best, perhaps only 10% of the New Testament can be reliably regarded as the words from Jesus' mouth according to the widely respected New Testament scholars of the Jesus Seminar. If this is the case, the consequences to Christianity are deep indeed. Much of Christian doctrine is to be found in Paul's letters and in psedeo-letters – letters written in Paul's name but not by him. (Paul never met Jesus.) Suffice to say, all of that would have to be redacted from the Bible and Christian practice.
Leaving aside all those issues – for the sake of argument, I will accept the New Testament accounts of Jesus life. His virgin birth, his remarkable childhood, his ministry, and his crucifixion and resurrection. I will even concede for the moment that all the supernatural stories about Jesus are, in fact, historical accounts. Meaning that belief in these "events" by faith would no longer be necessary. I will suspend disbelief instead.
This doesn't mean, however, that I am unable to draw some conclusions about these events. Focusing only on the crucifixion, what can be said? Other than the resurrection, it is the defining moment of Christianity. It is when Jesus died (well, only temporarily) for human's sins. It is the "sacrifice" that Christians are so found of saying.
Perhaps, I wouldn't be an atheist any longer, but as person who strives to be moral, I would still object to the way Jesus died. If, by accounts are true, then Jesus was the most perfect and innocent being that ever lived. It is this reason, it is said, that he paid humanity's debt to God for "original sin."
Imagine for a moment that there is a criminal lurking at large. This criminal is not only a mass-murdering cannibal, but frequently steals money from the cash boxes from children's lemonade stands. This criminal, by raping, has fathered a child and since women are legally forbidden to abort such a fetus, she must have the child. The child is now five years old. The criminal is captured and as a court defense promises to be good and forgive his capture if the legal system would just punish his child by the "the epitome of cruel punishment" with drawing, quartering and hanging the child. The courts oblige. Not only that, but the criminal is honored with his name engraved onto the granite of court houses and schools and laws are enacted extolling his high virtues.
Would this be justice?
No. We would rightly punish the criminal and not the child. However, this is exactly what Christianity wants from its believers in respect to God. God is the criminal in the analogy. But instead of holding God accountable to his demands, they would rather worship and celebrate the torture death of his son. Not only that, but Christians state that not only was it necessary, but it was moral of God to demand and require this elaborate method of forgiveness. You can't tell me that the creator of the universe does not have it in his will to simply forgive?
And this is where I have to part company with Christianity.
The lesson of the crucifixion is not to love, honor and obey God, but to admonish and reject him. The Christian God demands on humanity and his methods are immoral. They are abominable. Disgusting. It is simply immoral to punish the deeds and actions of others on innocent people. It is immoral to punish the words and deeds of other people even if the other is not innocent.
And this is another reason why I could never be a Christian again, even if the Bible were true.
I am not a Christian because the essential beliefs of Christians are immoral.