Jesus: An Unimpressive Savior

According to Christians, Jesus is the son of God. Usually, Atheists spend time challenging the evidence for Jesus’ existence, the validity of his supernatural claims, and the originality of his teachings. All of these arguments are important in order to hold Christians accountable for their assertions. But let’s remember that Jesus did not claim merely to be a teacher of great morality – he, according to the Gospels, declared himself to be the actual human manifestation of God. This is a big time statement. But rarely do we hold him accountable for such incredible claims of divinity. Yes, he is said to have performed stunning miracles that transcended the material world, but how is any rational, thinking person supposed to accept this as true? Especially when one considers that several of the supernatural aspects of the Jesus story were borrowed from previous myths, and several other mythical characters, dating to before the period in which Jesus supposedly lived, shared his fantastical traits. No reasonable person, in my view, could count these petty acts of divine intervention as evidence for Jesus’s divinity.

Furthermore, if God was to actually take on the form of a human being, wouldn’t he have more to offer than Jesus did? And wouldn’t he make sure to adequately separate himself from other mythical characters of the time, you know, just to increase his credibility as the one, true source of eternal life? Wouldn’t he attempt to take a stand against some of the social issues of his day, like slavery, sexism, and homophobia? One would think that, at the very least, he would attempt to remedy these glaring injustices and deficiencies. Yet he suspiciously excludes these things in his apparently pious and wise sermons, and in doing so, has allowed his followers to be among the most avid advocates for social inequality in the following centuries. Though some of his lessons do entail some insightful pieces of wisdom, none of them are particularly groundbreaking. A great deal of wise teachers came before Jesus, teaching similar – and oftentimes far more enlightening – moral practices; Confucius, Epicurus, and Plato, to name just a few. Possibly even more alarming is that Jesus was seemingly too busy to promote the sciences or increase literacy or encourage independent thought. Are these not reasonable expectations for the son of the creator of the universe? Disappointingly, our savior and messiah offered no such insight. Instead of emphasizing the development of one’s mind and one’s ability to think rationally, Jesus was busy praying next to fig trees, ordering others to believe in him, and flaunting his magical powers by walking on water and then transforming this vital chemical compound into an alcoholic beverage. Maybe it’s just me, but it seems as though the man who is alleged to be God himself would use his time a little bit more wisely than that. Seriously, in a world already riddled with superstition, wouldn’t God try to avoid doing things that would encourage credulity? If God was to literally become human, I would hope that he would prioritize the teaching of science, literature, and math above gloating in his unimpressive abilities to break the laws of Nature and denouncing others for the courage to be skeptical. In many ways, it is what Jesus did not say, rather than what he did say, that casts doubt upon his alleged authority.

As mentioned, several other fine moral teachers came well before Jesus. Teachers that, I might add, did not fail to equal him in wisdom. One of my favorites was the ancient Greek philosopher, Epicurus. Demonstrating the courage to challenge the status quo with his own independent ideas of truth and morality, Epicurus denied the viability of the existence of any god, assuming what we would now call a Deist position. Ahead of his time, Epicurus believed that the most fulfilling way to live life was to value the natural pleasures that appealed to the human senses, rather than relying on false constructions of universes that bore no evidence to their name. In a letter to Menoeceus, he wrote, “We must take into account as the end all that really exists and all clear evidence of sense to which we refer our opinions; for otherwise everything will be full of uncertainty and confusion.” The uncertainty and confusion – in the forms of senseless violence and proud carelessness – that Christianity has produced, is abominable, especially given the fact that living a good, moral life without religion has repeatedly been proven to be possible. Epicurus, for example, – though not believing in any intervening god – vouched wholeheartedly for justice and goodness, merely because it was conducive to the flourishing of human life. 

The evidence is clear: morality existed far before Jesus, and in equally – or more – impressive ways, as well. These philosophers and moral teachers did not claim to be God, nor did they assert that the only way to Heaven was through them. So what would cause one to actually believe that Jesus was who he said he was? In order to believe this, I don’t think it is too much to ask to expect some revolutionary or groundbreaking information or wisdom from the person claiming to be the son of God. Yet none is given. In fact, Jesus’s omissions may speak even louder than his preachings, as one would expect God, at the very least, to provide some sort of intelligent insight into how the universe works, you know, because after all, he did create it. Right? I leave that to you.

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7 responses to “Jesus: An Unimpressive Savior

  • MaryAnn McHugh

    Mark, I’m not sure you’ve read the Bible if you don’t think Jesus took a stand on social justice issues. Are you kidding me?

  • Mark McHugh

    Sexism, slavery, and homophobia were the three issues I mentioned. He didn’t tend to any of those.

  • Noah Ketterman

    I never really understand the argument of devaluing Jesus or rejecting him outright simply because he is not what one thinks he ought to be. That is probably one of the least important things to consider when evaluating his legitimacy as the real Son of God. I have heard many people say they don’t believe in Jesus or God simply because they don’t agree with things He/They did or said. The opinion of any one person is completely irrelevant when it comes to truth. You cannot take a math test and, when asked what the square root of 9 is, answer 7 simply because you think it should be 7. It doesn’t matter what you think the answer ought to be, it only matters what actually is. The same is true for religion. There is absolute truth when it comes to religion and the legitimacy of it does not depend on what you or I or anyone else thinks it ought to be. I say that knowing that I subject my own worldview to the consequences of potentially being wrong, but I refuse to let anyone try to interject his/her personal thoughts on the mater.

    Now, I am going to take this response in a very different but equally important direction. I want to focus on your discussion of comparing Jesus to other historical figures of the time. When you did this, you contradicted one of your older posts. I dug for a while on your site (and I do mean a while, your endurance for these posts is both impressive and exhausting for me to try and keep up with) and found this link (if my embedded URL doesn’t work, go back to Mark’s September, 2012 posts and find the one entitled, “Jesus: The Man, The Myth, The Misconception”). In that post, you set up some pretty high standards for evaluating history which I want to revisit now.

    First, you required eye witness testimony when evaluating events from history (a test that Jesus passes as two of the gospel writers were direct witnesses of the things Jesus did and so was Paul who wrote the majority of the rest of the New Testament). Next, in your first response to mine, you tried to discredit the gospel writers because they were writing as late as 30 – 60 years after Jesus died. Finally, in the comments, you required greater proof for the attribution of authorship to each of the gospels. Let’s see how your contemporary of Jesus’, Epicurus, stacks up to these lofty expectations.

    Epicurus fails all three tests. Epicurus lived between 341-270 BC. There are no eye witness accounts of the life of Epicurus which is a failure of test number one. What we know about him was written centuries after he died. Two significant sources for him are Cicero (106 – 43 BC) and Lucretius (94 – 55 BC). That is a 200 year gap before we get the first corroborating source for Epicurus. Our primary source for him is Diogenes Laertius who lived and wrote in the third century AD. You criticized the gospel writers for waiting 30 years to capture the details of Jesus’ life, but it is ok to trust someone writing 600 years after Epicurus died? Epicurus fails test number two. The third test, the test of original authorship, is also one that Epicurus fails. Apparently, he wrote over 300 original works, but all we have left are three measly letters (and we cannot even be sure that he wrote one of them). I am not saying Epicurus is not a figure of history, I am saying that for you to tout him with such sketchy evidence and reject Jesus’ historicity with a mountain of it is inconsistent.

    In an effort to not make this response too long, I would like to close with a final thought that does make Jesus a distinct and meaningful Messiah. Every founder of every major religion, along with all of the founders of the atheistic worldview, died. Jesus, unlike the rest of them, didn’t stay dead. I think the most convincing evidence for this fact is that nobody has ever been able to provide the body of a dead Jesus. There were non-believers and Jewish leaders who were hell-bent on discrediting Jesus and all they had to do in order to accomplish this was produce the body. Everyone at that time would have known exactly where Jesus was buried and could have easily produced a body if there was one to produce. However, all we have from history are pathetic, alternative theories like the swoon theory and the stolen body theory which attempt to explain away the empty tomb.

  • Mark McHugh

    You say that when it comes to truth, no one person’s opinion matters. Only the truth matters. But this is true only given the assumption that there is a god who orchestrates moral truth to fit his fancy. The key word here is assumption. Science does not in any way indicate the necessity for a divine author, especially one that intervenes in something as petty as human interaction. So it requires a pure assumption, founded upon no evidence whatsoever, to assert that morality is a fixed truth and not an evolutionary mechanism, which actually has a great deal of scientific evidence to its name. Your example about math does not correlate to morality. Mathematics is inherently intertwined with the natural laws of the universe, and, based on consistent trial and error, in which we may make judgments only after years of testing and challenging, we can discover mathematical truths that we know (from years of evidence) will work. It works with 2+2 and it works with the law of gravity. Clearly, we tend to have far more confidence in something like 2+2 than a complicated scientific theory, but this is only because it can be tested so quickly, so often, and so successfully. This is quite different from merely asserting that there is a fixed standard of morality handed down by a god, because there is no evidence whatsoever of a god, nor is there any way to test his existence. And it is well known that if it’s impossible to falsify something, then you cannot assert its truthfulness in the first place. If someone were to provide evidence that 2+2 does not equal 4, then scientists would be inclined to test the theory for its viability. Yet we cannot do so with faith because it is founded upon no evidence whatsoever. I have faith that the sun will rise this morning because it has happened each and every day of my life. Yet I have no faith that a god has scripted an absolute moral truth, because never have I experienced tangible proof of that being the case.

    Your point that there is absolute truth when it comes to religion is a bit disconcerting to me. This is precisely why there has been, and still is, so much religious violence. The 9/11 bombers were immune to critical analysis of their beliefs because they believed it to be absolute truth. You also (as you even shockingly admit when you say “I refuse to let anyone interject his/her thoughts on the matter), are immune to rational criticism because you assume an absolute moral truth that is immune to evidence of the contrary. It is this attitude that paralyzes rational discourse, because when something is based purely on faith, there is no possible way to refute it. In this sense, you have no basis from which to criticize the suicide bombers, because they were genuinely acting out of faith and are no more unreasonable that you are on the level of rationality. Your set of morals is founded upon faith, as was theirs’. But if you establish morality as a subjective, scientific mechanism, no one is immune to criticism and everyone is able to alter their opinions if greater evidence is put forth. Sam Harris said it best in “The End of Faith”, from which I quote on my home page: “We have two options as human beings. We have a choice between conversation and war. And faith is a conversation stopper.” There is no rational way to criticize someone acting purely on faith, accept through what our sense of reason tells us is correct.

    Your point about history is well taken. However, I will stress the point that, with this Jesus character, there is far more on the line when it comes to his existence or lack thereof. I am glad you brought up the point about Epicurus, because you’re right about the precarious nature of his existence. There is a valid theory that his work is simply a compilation of ancient Greek thinkers. But this is exactly what I want to highlight. Christopher Hitchens made the same exact point about Socrates. Whether or not Epicurus existed doesn’t matter. We simply don’t know for sure and there is no problem with that. What matters to me and what matters in history is not that he existed, but the ideas and philosophies that are attributed to him. Someone, whether it was him, someone else, or multiple people, recorded those timeless ideas, and that is what is to be admired. However, the validity a figure who was actually named Epicurus and who recorded these ideas on his own, is irrelevant. Only irrelevant, might I add, because he made no claim that one must believe in his existence in order to achieve eternal life. Jesus made this groundbreaking stipulation. Therefore, if one takes him seriously, it is absolutely imperative that we know whether or not he existed. And certainly, there is not enough evidence to say either way. The bottom line is this: we all know that history is fragile. Numberless things could be, and certainly are, skewed compared to our perception of them. And all of this is fine until someone down the line claims to be God. And how inconvenient of God to send his son to an illiterate part of the Middle East where no one could read or write. If God intended to place that much weight upon the veracity of Jesus’s existence, you would have thought he might be generous enough to place him in a more educated location, such as China, as Christopher Hitchens always loved to argue.

    Your final argument, about how Jesus never died, is simply ludicrous. I could name you literally hundreds of significant historical figures whose bodies were never found. The fact that Jesus is part of this list gives no credence to the notion that he magically rose from the dead. Especially given the countless number of people who would have had the motive to destroy his body at some point. The entire Church would collapse if this happened, and given the Church’s track record of sleaziness, it would not be surprising to learn that they did so. But the main point here is that countless numbers of bodies of figures that are not recovered, even in the 21st century! Sure, people trying to discredit Christianity might have done well to recover the body, but just because they didn’t certainly does not justify the claim that he broke the laws of nature and came back to life. To take this as proof requires an absurd disregard for any standard of determining truth. And such an extraordinarily audacious claim (the resurrection) requires extraordinarily more evidence than the incredibly weak notion that his body has never turned up. Just as Jesus’s existence requires extraordinary evidence given the extraordinary claims that were made of his life, so his resurrection requires the extraordinary evidence that matches the audacity of its claim.

  • Noah Ketterman

    I never started talking about morality. That is a separate topic that will force you to defend some pretty heinous crimes done in the absence of religion (you said yourself that morals are “subjective” and that scares me to death). There are things I would have to answer to in that discussion as well, but the magnitude of atrocities that people have done in the absence of religion is far greater. It is very puzzling that you are fighting me so hard on the concept of absolute truth in the realm of. If you are throwing out that assertion, then you have wasted a lot of time and energy in researching and writing for this blog. If you think it is ridiculous for me to say that claiming there is a God is an unfair religious absolute, then it is just as credible for me to say that your claim that there isn’t one is also ridiculous. My point is that one of us is right on that fact. I agree that we can evaluate mathematic and scientific truths much easier than we can the subject of this debate, but in both realms there IS a right answer. My original point remains, absolute truths exists and neither of our opinions on the matter are relevant in determining what that is.

    I appreciate your paragraph on history. I will agree with you that there is more on the line when it comes to Jesus, but I will also submit to you that there is more to offer in terms of corroborating sources and ancient manuscripts (see my responses in the comments of the link above). The evidence supporting the historical accuracy of Jesus significantly outweighs any other figure of his time. Originally, you touted Epicurus as a “fine moral teacher,” which means you believe he existed. I also believe he existed and have no problem doing so because when I evaluate the evidence for him I can reasonably conclude he did. The evidence certainly isn’t great by today’s standards, but when you consider what is available and compare it to what is available as a whole about his era, it fits. You just need to be consistent. If you are going to accept Epicurus’ historical existence with a sampling of evidence, you need to accept Jesus’ with a mountain of it. That doesn’t mean you have to accept the religious implications Jesus presented, only that he existed.

    I do believe Jesus died, I never said he didn’t. I did say that Jesus did not stay dead. Citing other instances of ambiguous tomb occupancy, even of the tombs of today, is irrelevant. The reason for that is that absolutely nothing at all is riding on the bodies of anybody else. What difference does it make if the tomb of JFK is really empty right now? Does it change anything about what he did or said when he was alive? No, it doesn’t. By contrast, everything that is fundamental about the Christian faith is riding on the body of Jesus. The Romans knew that and the Pharisees knew that and they couldn’t do anything about it. It is ridiculous to think that a peaceful and relatively small group of Jesus’ followers at the time could have done anything to deceive the masses. They were demoralized at the death of their leader and had no incentive whatsoever to fake his resurrection. Also, in contrast to a lot of missing bodies today, the exact location of Jesus’ body was well known as the account of it was easily recorded decades later. So, if there was a body to produce, it would have been produced.

  • Mark McHugh

    Your first paragraph surprises me given that you have read Christopher Hitchens’ book. The amount of atrocities is disproportionately on the side of the religious. Just think about all of the wars that have occurred in the name of religion. It’s quite disheartening to think about how many lives have been lost over such petty matters. You say that more lives have been lost in the “absence of religion.” I cannot argue this point either way because I just don’t know. But have you ever heard of a conflict arising over reason and rational thought? These are the precepts I try to promote in this blog, and no society in history has ever gone to war over trying to think more critically. The point is that this type of secularist thought is devoid of any dogma claiming it to be the absolute truth; therefore, no one is immune to criticism and no one is enraged when their beliefs are called into question. Additionally, the infamous atheists who have murdered in the masses, namely Stalin and Mao (Hitler was undoubtedly a Catholic and Pol Pot had ties to Buddhism), were not killing in the name of atheism, and certainly were not killing in the name of reason. Their systematic killing was based upon dogma of their own, regardless of if they identified with a particular religion or not. Hitchens’ famous challenge, that to my knowledge was never answered, was this: name a moral or ethical act that one could not do without religion. There is none. But there are plenty of evil acts that one may do in the name of religion, as has been proven over the course of history.

    In the end though, who has more violence to their name, as you pointed out, is irrelevant to the truth of the matter. But you are squarely mistaken in your characterization of my beliefs. I, along with most modern mainstream atheists, would never assert that there is no god. I do believe, however, that there is no good reason to believe there is one. Of course, I cannot prove there is no god, which is why I cannot be certain. But the lack of evidence speaks for itself. You, on the other hand, make the definitive assertion that there is a god. Therefore, the burden of proof is squarely on your shoulders, and your side has virtually all the convincing to do. You make the common accusation made by Christians that atheists actively make the claim that there is no god; but we don’t. We simply say there is not even remotely enough evidence to assert that there is one. This is an incredibly important distinction.

    You are also incorrect in your claim that one of us is right and one of us is wrong. This claim could only be true if I was making any definitive assertion of any kind. But I’m not – my very point of view is founded upon the acceptance of my ignorance and the admission that there is not enough evidence to claim that there is a god, but at the same time, there is no way to disprove something that cannot be proven in the first place.

    As far as the missing body, I think you’re splitting hairs. The simple fact that the location of his body is unknown cannot be said to prove that he rose from the dead. Far too many variables are in play, all of which correspond to the laws of the natural world, which automatically makes them more likely than the resurrection story. A lost body has far too many possible explanations, even in the case of Jesus, to confirm a claim as audacious as the resurrection. You say that my point about several empty tombs is irrelevant, but I beg to differ. There certainly is more on the line with the body of Jesus – but say there was just as much on the line for JFK (assuming his body was lost). How would the significance of recovering his body change the fact that it was not found? It wouldn’t. And it doesn’t for Jesus, either.

    As a final note, I don’t fully accept that Epicurus was a real human. He very well may have been, but like I said, it doesn’t matter to me, nor does it for the purposes of history.

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