Gloucester County Humanists Message Board › The Historical Jesus, Myth...or not?
Was Jesus a fictional character? The 'good cop/bad cop' argument
Carol Everhart Roper
Philadelphia Freethought Examiner
Recently, a high school student dressed as Jesus for his school's "Dress up as a Fictional Character" day. After his school principal asked him to remove the outfit, he did, but he also contacted the Freedom From Religion Foundation, who felt that he exhibited bravery by standing up for what he believes, and gave him a small scholarship of $1000. for his efforts.
You can read more of the story here: http://www.usatoday.c... (this will open in a new window, so this window will also remain open.)
This sort of story brings up a number of questions, some ethical, some practical.
First, of course, is that there are many people who don't consider Jesus a fictional character. There is, however, very little credible evidence for his existence, I'll list just a few of the myriad scholarly resources discussing Jesus' historicity at the end of this article.
But the big question seems to be "Was it acceptable to make a statement that you feel Jesus was fictional, or is that going too far in a high school setting, given that the majority of students there are convinced that Jesus really existed?"
Now we all know that the vast majority of Christians think it was not acceptable, so we won't bother to address those questions in this freethought article.
Interestingly there are two points of view among atheists.
One side believes that it's a freedom of speech issue, and the young man should have been free to dress as any character he wanted. The argument can go on - what if he'd dressed as Mohammed? In today's atmosphere of fatwas I believe that's not such an objective question, so let's ask - What if he'd dressed as Buddha? Or Hotei, or one of the myriad gods of the Hindu religion? What about simply a generic "god"? The school said they'd have preferred he dressed as Zeus - but that reveals quite a bias, doesn't it? Why are some gods okay to impersonate, and others not?
The other side is reflected in the second question posed in atheist circles, "Is it wise to proceed in our quest for equality by mocking the beliefs of others, or should we find non-threatening ways to get our points across?" Atheists are actually divided on this... "If we're nice, they will be more likely to accept us." vs "We've been nice and it's gotten us nowhere, so let's tell them what we really think about what they believe?" (Please note that neither point of view seeks to deny any rights of believers, and atheists are subjected to much mocking and hostility - far more than even the most strident atheists dish out in return.)
The other question is whether organizations that seek to bring atheists into the mainstream should honor someone of the 'in your face' mindset, or if they should encourage a 'positive atheism' approach rather than a 'negative theism' one.
I don't have the answers.
Always being nice hasn't gotten us very far, that's certainly true. I've been an atheist for nearly 50 years, and yet to this day I have friends and family who feel the need to ostracize and/or try to publicly humiliate me - despite the fact that I never once challenged or criticized them, or even brought up my beliefs unless asked. I've gone to their religiously celebrated life events and behaved with full respect. Despite the fact that I've persistently called for treating everyone with respect as a human with rights equal to my own, the fact that I dare write a column about freethought is sufficient for them to condemn me. If they still can't accept me after that many years, maybe the 'screw you' method would be better. It's not my nature, though.
As I said, I don't have the answers to these questions, but I think that the discussion within the atheist community is a valid and very important one. I tend to think that there's room for both sides to have their say.
What do you think?
A few of the many sources on understanding if the historical Jesus existed are: (links go to Amazon)
The Woman's Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets by Barbara G. Walker (I've mentioned this book and author many times - she's truly wonderful.)
The Jesus Puzzle: Did Christianity Begin with a Mythical Christ? Challenging the Existence of an Historical Jesus by Earl Doherty
Nailed: Ten Christian Myths That Show Jesus Never Existed at All by David Fitzgerald
Incredible Shrinking Son of Man: How Reliable Is the Gospel Tradition? by Robert M. Price
Just because we Jesus Mythicists are in the minority does not mean we are wrong. We are a Growing minority and many biblical scholars are joining us each year. The Jesus story is shrouded in ancient myths, like the stories of Osiris and Mithras.
In ancient times if you wanted to describe an "important person" you would say he was born of a virgin, under a bright star, visited by wisemen bearing gifts...spoke knowledgeably to the elders, suffered persecution, had twelve followers, died on a cross, arose after three days, ascended into the heavens, became a son of god...These are all mythical elements used by ancient storytellers to impress their audiences and hold their attention. But they are just stories.
There almost certainly was no historical Jesus. If anything, the Jesus story may be related to several desert prophets who claimed to have divine heritage and insight from above. If you went out into the desert for thirty years, perhaps you too would come back with a desire to save the world and share your special Devine insight. :]