Do Christians ever challenge their faith on this question?
Christians who consider themselves “critical thinkers” are able to express openly that they fully accept all scientific discoveries that are verifiable. Without a blink they will embrace the overwhelming evidence of human evolution; of an Earth that is 4.55 billions years old; and a universe dating back to the Big Bang, 13.72 billion years ago.
Such open-minded and science-friendly believers will gently deride the Creationists and Evangelical’s who still cling desperately to their “Young Earth” fantasy. The myths of Adam & Eve, Noah’s flood, and the breathtaking belief that dinosaurs and humans co-existed — just 6000 years in the past.
Yet, these same cosmic-savvy Christians will then add a rejoinder; “Yes, I fully accept all these wonderful discoveries in science but, you know, I then have that ‘something extra’ — I have Jesus . . .”
There’s a good understand of why many “modern” Christians say this. Either they’re clinging to the last vestiges of their faith, or they’re ignoring the more recent evidence of neurological science. see Why do we Believe in Gods?.
Apart from the influence of brain chemistry on “belief'”, the unavoidable fact is that their “Jesus” is historically illusive. Inescapably, there are no first-hand eye-witness accounts of his life and death. He wrote nothing — or if he did, why would his followers not treasure his words and pass them on? His alleged place of birth is a mystery — the scrupulous Israeli Antiquities Authority has no record of “Bethlehem, in Judea”, at the time in question. All the Gospels were written decades after his alleged death — and we KNOW precisely how unreliable stories are when they’re passed on by word alone. The omissions, embellishments and outright misrepresentations are incalculable.
Who was this “Son of God”, with a New Testament morality that still upheld the malicious and jealous God of the First Book? People of faith point fervently to the Sermon on the Mount as evidence of “God’s divine words”. But close analysis of the text (surely something a Christian “critical thinker” would appreciate) indicates a mostly bland, vague and often questionable series of intonements.
Christians, of all shades, are rightly criticised for failing to challenge their faith. It will be confronting for all believers to click on this website, Sermon on the Mount, and read for themselves the words attributed to Jesus. Each passage is followed by analysis and fair comment. There are no great insights and much of the advice is questionable. How can this be the “word of God”? However, a close reading also illustrates clearly how churches, over time, have manipulated much of the alleged message for their own purposes.
With no conclusive evidence for the existence of “Jesus”, free thinkers may well conjecture that “he” may not have been one person — but many different people. Perhaps this series of unrelated stories — cobbled together decades later, when Christianity became more than a cult — was used simply to conjure up a new “messiah”. History is littered with countless Gods — many of whom are no less convincing than the stories of Jesus. Creations such as Attis, Horus, and Mithras were said to have had similar attributes — born to a virgin on 25th December, attended by 3 kings; followed by 12 disciples; performing miracles; and each facing death, only to rise again in 3 days.
Much of this has symbolic links to paganism. December 22nd is the (northern) winter solstice — the sun is at its lowest point and is said “to have died for 3 days”. It is then “born again” on December 25th, moving to higher elevations and towards Spring. The “3 Kings” are prominent stars in the Northern sky, known as Orion’s Belt, and the 12 zodiac signs were said to represent the 12 disciples. A detailed interpretation of many other references are shown in the film Zeitgeist. It is not suggested that the entire film is factual but the section on religion, starting at 13′ 15″ into the movie, raises interesting questions. It looks critically at all aspects of the Christian story and is no more (or less) compelling than the somewhat obscure two-thousand-year-old narrative of a man/God called Jesus.
Why is it so difficult for 21st century Christians to analyse their blind spot? With absolutely no concept of science — and living in a brutal and oppressive period of history — why is it so surprising that people 2000 years ago would treat charismatic preachers as Gods? Since Nicolaus Copernicus, science has pushed back the boundaries of superstition and the supernatural. Whether Jesus existed or not, no one suspended the fundamental laws of the universe to walk on water, or even turn it into wine. Christians must, at some point, come to terms with the reality that their faith is built entirely on fanciful stories which are no more compelling than the mythologies of Thor, Zuis or Esus.
Atheism SA Inc. active atheist assoc., Adelaide South Australia, for atheists, agnostics and non-believers