Defying all previous trends, I got an email from a believer a couple of days ago that actually asked a decent question. It was coherent, to the point, and not at all framed in a “gotcha” sort of way. It’s not begging the question, nor erecting straw men. It’s just an honest question from someone who appears to be an honest believer and I have to give credit where credit is due. If more people approached opposing views like this guy, we’d have so many great conversations.
While he sent me a longer email, which was kind and welcoming, his main question was,
Do you believe historically, that a person existed that called himself Jesus Christ (not that he was God, haha I know how atheism works, but a man by that name)?
I don’t think I’ve ever really tackled this question here. So, thank you for posing it. I trust you know my writing style is brutal honesty and it’s nothing personal. I truly appreciated you taking the time to reach out.
With that said, whether or not a man named Christ existed is not really something I can say yes or no to. The main reason being, I don’t give a shit. Of course, it’s also because I have not familiarized myself with the evidence for or against Christ’s existence. Perhaps one day I will do that, but to be brutally honest, it’s not likely. I just could not give less of a fuck whether or not ol’ Jeeby had a pulse one time two thousand years ago.
Let me explain, though.
I don’t care whether or not Christ existed because every decent “lesson” that is attributed to Christ can be learned elsewhere. I don’t need Jesus to have existed to know not to be a shitty person. There is absolutely nothing he can offer me that I don’t get somewhere else. There is nothing he offered back then, that hadn’t been offered by someone else before him.
There have been plenty of faceless people forgotten by our collective memories who said great things and taught great lessons. There have been selfless moms and generous dads, martyred revolutionaries and peaceful resisters, patient teachers and giving leaders who have brought us the reality we live in today – millions of men and women have collectively worked and sacrificed to bring us this life we know now, and we don’t go to church to worship them. We don’t even remember most of their names.
No, the reason we discuss Jesus, is not because he was a good man. We discuss Jesus because of the claim that he was the son of God and part of God himself.
Perhaps, if the claims of Jesus’ followers were simply that he was a great man with some great ideas that you feel are worthy of your reverence, then I could be persuaded to agree that whether or not he actually existed is important… to his followers. However, the claims are… well, just slightly more outrageous than that.
Just for tickles and kisses, let’s assume he did exist. There was a guy who lived two thousand years ago, who had a pretty big impact on the people around him. A guy who had great ideas; who was generous and loving and kind. A man who stood his ground in protection of his people and went to the cross for it. A true, selfless martyr. Let’s suppose he existed and it’s undeniable.
That still doesn’t prove he was born of a virgin, had any magical powers, was the son of God or resurrected from the dead. So the question of whether or not he existed, well, it just doesn’t matter alongside these wildly impossible claims that defy every law of nature we are bound to.
What’s more, he’s no different than millions of other people who’ve done great things and sacrificed for others.
I think it’s possible that a Jesus existed way back then. I think it’s possible some of the stories in the New Testament are inspired by this man. However, I also think it’s possible that Jesus’ story is drawn solely from parallel stories throughout mythological history, and that he didn’t exist at all. I think it’s possible he was just a tool, like L. Ron Hubbard’s Dianetics or a mind-bending Buddhist koan.
Jesus is certainly a tool, now, though. He’s a tool with which one can find comfort. A tool with which one can strive to be a better person. He’s also a tool of control, and a tool used to justify otherwise heinous actions. He’s used to withhold rights from certain people; to treat different people with disdain and contempt; to lure little boys into dark corners of their family church to be molested and terrorized. Jesus is a tool used to spread HIV/AIDS across Africa and to limit women’s access to reproductive health, choice and contraception.
Jesus is a tool of harm. Even his few decent offerings are better obtained elsewhere.
So, whether or not Jesus existed doesn’t matter to me at all. Whatever good he could have intended has been long lost in the pages of wild claims and in the innumerable instances of human rights abuses in his name. His greatest lessons were those of humanism, a supernatural-rejecting human-based philosophy that was around long before anyone uttered the name, Jesus, and will outlive the very last of his followers.
I am proud to be a humanist and to lack the need to worship in order to behave as a humanist and in that spirit, I do not care if there ever was a Jesus.