Last week I poked some holes in Duncan’s trilemma, the argument that Jesus was either god, a liar, or a madman. This week I’d like to explore further. Is it possible that Jesus’ supposed claim of divinity can be whittled down to only three possible motivators? I doubt it. I will be sharing an additional three theories here. I’m sure there are more, and I would greatly appreciate learning about them, so feel free to comment!
Theory #1: Jesus was a Humanist. He spoke well of hard workers, the humble, the poor, women and children. He denounced religion and the strict followers of it. He condemned the rich and haughty, the judgmental, the elitists. If Jesus were alive in my time, we might even be hanging out together. He’d text me and we’d go out for wine (no miracles necessary), and to the backdrop of some bleeding-edge local sounds, we’d hash out solutions to all the world’s problems, then Uber it home. I’d remember everything he said (something like Matthew 23 probably), jazz up the wording a bit, throw in some quirky humor, and post it on my own blog, Love over Religion. Because blogging, my friends, is hard work. Don’t hate the player.
The difference between starting a Humanist movement in 30 CE and running a Humanist blog in the 21st Century is that the Internet is like a permanent record of things. Once something’s online, there isn’t much anyone can do to get rid of it, alter it, subtract from it, or add to it. It’s there. It’s in black and white. It’s been read, shared, reposted, and commented on before you even realize you’ve got an embarrassing and blatant spelling error in it. Not that that’s ever happened to me, of course, because I closely proofread before I put things on social media to be read by thousands of strangers who aren’t familiar with my impeccable grammar. Questionable exhibit A:
In the first century CE, word of mouth was the primary source of information. Only three to 10 percent of the population could read and write.
This group comprised the very elite and the scribes, literate workers who made a career of reading and writing. To this select group was charged the responsibility of preservation of history, discernment of fact from fiction, the moral and ethical weight of transferring thoughts, experiences, and opinions to a semi-permanent state of existence, through a handmade ink onto a scroll of papyrus, parchment, or animal skins. So, we have elitists who can read and write, and scribes who were paid by those in higher ranking positions, political and religious leaders with an expressed agenda. Either way, the documentation was not likely to be objective. Imagine if Fox News was our only news channel and it controlled all of our media and all of our entertainment, and also produced every written work we were allowed to access and then sent someone from Fox news to read it to us when we did.
This elitist control over information may explain how the New Testament (Written 50-100 years after Christ’s death) contains such conflicting information. It was the Church of Rome, this chosen group of elitists with a political and religious agenda, who decided what “news” went into the “Good News.” That might explain how 40 books were omitted from the Old Testament and five from the New.
In more recent history, archeologists have unearthed many new books from the early Christian era which could have been contenders for a position in the Big B, had they been discovered sooner. We are all at least vaguely familiar with the term, “The Dead Sea Scrolls.” But powerful religious entities continue to control our “news.” Every new piece of Biblical information is treated as hearsay and not religious doctrine, especially if it conflicts in any way with the currently accepted version of the Bible. Among the books rejected, not surprisingly, was the Gospel of Judas Iscariot (the disciple that allegedly betrayed Jesus.)
It is possible that Jesus was simply a good man, trying to fight the strict religious status quo of his day. His words suggest that people are more important than religion. But where there is religion, there is power, wealth, and control. Why would the governing bodies disband religion, when they could simply create a new one? Without any physical documentation of Jesus’ original message, and without anyone to tweet about their egregious misconduct, It wouldn’t be hard for those in power to add a few words here and there and claim that Jesus himself was a God to be followed.
Theory #2: Jesus was a Pantheist. Pantheism is the view that God is not a separate creator, but exists everywhere and within everything. What scientists call “the universe,” or “nature,” Pantheists may call “God.” In the Book of John, Jesus did claim to be divinity. But he provided a curious explanation for his claim, suggesting that divinity was not only true of him, but of all humans.
“You, a mere man, claim to be God.” Jesus replied, “Is it not written in your law ‘I have said, you are gods?’” (John 10: 33-34)
“When will the Kingdom of God come?” Jesus replied, “The Kingdom of God can’t be detected by any visible signs. You won’t be able to say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘It’s over there,” because the Kingdom of God is already among you.” (Luke 17:20-21)
The idea of “the Holy Spirit” residing inside of us borders on a pantheistic view as well. The general worldview expressed in the “accepted Bible,” (apart from these few points) couldn’t be further from pantheism. But check out this description of God that Jesus provides in the Apocryphon of John (one of the books that didn’t make it into the Bible.)
The One is the Invisible Spirit.
It is not right to think of it as a God or as like God.
It is more than just God.
Nothing is above it.
Nothing rules it.
Since everything exists within it
It does not exist within anything.
Since it is not dependent on anything
It is eternal.
It is absolutely complete and so needs nothing.
It is utterly perfect
The One is without boundaries
Nothing exists outside of it to border it
The One cannot be investigated
Nothing exists apart from it to investigate it
The One cannot be measured
Nothing exists external to it to measure it
(This paints quite a different picture than the Christian version of a disciplinary father figure in the sky.)
Theory #3: Jesus was indoctrinated, bullied into religion to the point of martyrdom. He did spend his youth studying religious law. No other activity of his childhood is mentioned. No play time, rest time, visits with Grandma. He experienced a divine birth, complete with angel announcements and an astrological phenomenon, one that spurred visitation of royalty from distant lands. And that’s it. He grows up with no mention of anyone coming to visit the miracle child, much less attempting to kidnap him, learn from him, or beseech his blessing. He simply hides out in religious temples, day and night.
Outside of the Bible, there is no historical evidence for Jesus’ birth in the manger or the appearance of the iconic star, leading me to wonder if the “miracle birth” was simply a skewed religious belief of Jesus’ own parents. Maybe Jesus was fed a story, like many of us are, and was then expected to live up to it. It would be a cruel childhood, devastatingly sad, to be told that you were chosen by God to die for the sins of others. But Jesus wouldn’t have been the first to hear that. In fact, child sacrifice had a long-standing tradition. For thousands of years, tribal and pagan people “appeased the gods,” by offering the sacrifice of a first-born child. It’s not difficult to imagine Jesus modeling his entire life around this instruction, this false belief, taking it upon himself to “fulfill” the prophecies forced on him. Did he believe he was God at that point? Or was he simply regurgitating the message he was taught, relentlessly, by those who (for political, social, and spiritual reasons) desperately desired a messiah?
Would it make Jesus a madman, to voluntarily accept the role of martyr, to validate his parents’ beliefs and appease his society? Is it difficult to imagine indoctrination resulting in indirect suicide? Many Christians I have asked said they would be willing to die for Jesus. How is this any different?
Thanks so much for continuing to read and comment! I’m enjoying our weekly conversations. Starting next week, I’ll be posting the first segment of a very exciting interview I conducted with Richard Wade, who writes for The Friendly Atheist. With years of experience counseling families on matters of atheism and religion, Richard is a prolific writer who is practical, poignant, and engaging. I’m excited that he has generously agreed to share some of his wisdom here at Love over Religion. You don’t want to miss it!