Realize a World Without Jesus

 

In the 12/26/08 edition of the Bonner County Daily Bee, an article by a local pastor, Mr. Randy Hohf, was published in the “Pastor’s Corner” section under the title, “Imagine a world without Jesus.”  In this article, Mr. Hohf inquired, “What would the world be like [if Jesus had not been born]. “  Mr. Hohf then proceeded to list the benefits that mankind has purportedly derived from Jesus’ existence.    

While a reasonable argument can be made that the Jesus of the Bible never actually existed (see “The Jesus Puzzle”) and, even if he did, that the Gospels are not accurate depictions of what he actually said and did (see “The History of the Gospels"), I will assume, for the sake of argument, that Jesus did exist and that the Bible is historically reliable with respect to Jesus’ life and teachings.  In what follows, I first present the points raised by Mr. Hohf, and then give my response.

Mr. Hohf:

How would the world view the value of human life, for example?  Just look at non-Christian countries and cultures and you will find the answer.  What of the moral values of the world?  Just consider the atheistic communist countries and you will find your answer.

My Response:

Like other Bible believers with whom I have communicated, Mr. Hohf appears to labor under the self-righteous misconception that Christians have a monopoly on morality.  I hate to break the news to him, but Jesus was not the first, by a long shot, to teach enduring moral principles.

The Code of Hammurabi is one of the oldest moral/legal codes known to historians. Hammurabi was King of Babylon about 2250 B.C. The Code of Hammurabi has been translated into 282 sections that set forth business, family, social, and political rules. The sections include penalties for false accusations, adultery, incest, assault, medical malpractice, shoddy workmanship, and negligence. (See The Code of Hammurabi, King of Babylon About 2250 B.C. by Robert Francis Harper, University Press of the Pacific, Honolulu, 2002.)

The preceding quotation was taken from the website, “The Universal Moral Code.”  As this site also relates, the so-called “golden rule” or “ethic of reciprocity” can be found in Christian, Jewish, Islamic, Buddhist, and Confucian texts, among others.  Both Buddha and Confucius lived several hundred years before the time of Jesus. 

Successful societies throughout history have developed moral codes because it has been learned through experience that societal harmony, cooperation, and productivity are difficult, if not impossible, to achieve without them.  Societies that lack proper ethical guidelines eventually become dysfunctional and cease to exist.   People cannot go around poking one another in the eye on a regular basis and expect to maintain a properly  functioning society.  Morality does not come from rules sent from on high by some god or another.  It is a product of rational thinking and human experience.   (Nonetheless, it can’t be denied that threats of retribution from imaginary gods can often be exploited by those in power to encourage the riff raff to heed their dictates.)  

What impact does religiosity really have on moral behavior?  A study entitled, “Cross-National Correlations of Quantifiable Societal Health with Popular Religiosity and Secularism in the Prosperous Democracies” published in the Journal of Religion and Society addresses that very issue.  The data show that there is an inverse correlation between theistic belief (primarily Christian belief in most of the countries studied) and virtually every aspect of moral behavior examined in the study.  Although secular democracies are by no means utopias, this study demonstrates that only the more secular, pro-evolution democracies come closest to achieving practical “cultures of life” that feature low rates of lethal crime, juvenile-adult mortality, sex related dysfunction, and even abortion. The least theistic secular developed democracies (i.e., least Christian) such as Japan, France, and Scandinavia have been most successful in this regard.  The following is taken from the conclusion of the article:

There is evidence that within the U.S. strong disparities in religious belief versus acceptance of evolution are correlated with similarly varying rates of societal dysfunction, the strongly theistic, anti-evolution south and mid-west having markedly worse homicide, mortality, STD, youth pregnancy, marital and related problems than the northeast where societal conditions, secularization, and acceptance of evolution approach European norms (Aral and Holmes; Beeghley, Doyle, 2002).

Regarding Mr. Hohf’s question, what would the “moral values of the world” be like if Jesus had not been born?   According to the facts presented in this study and in others such as those listed in the web article, "Are Atheists Immoral People?", ostensibly the world would have been better off if God had kept his mighty member in his pants, so to speak. 

Communist countries are not failures because they are atheistic.   They are failures because their leaders seek to impose unworkable economic and social systems through dictatorial regimes. The communists have simply traded traditional religion for the religion of communism in which they worship a new god, Karl Marx.  All one has to do is consider the horrors of Jewish Holocaust (most Nazis were professing Christians), the Inquisition, the 30 Years War, the Crusades, witch/heretic torture and murder, etc. to see that Christians who bring up the evil communist/atheist connection are speaking with a very large beam poking out of their eye.  (Matt. 7:3)  Furthermore, some communists are not actually godless. Every Latin-language speaking country has a few Christian (Catholic) communists, some of the most famous being among Nicaragua’s Sandinistas.   For more repudiation of the claim that atheism was responsible for fascist/communist atrocities, see "Hitler, Stalin and Atheism."

Mr. Hohf

 What about the “Great Physician’s” impact on medicine?  The first (and most) hospitals were established by Christians. 

My Response:

What “Great Physician” would that be?  The one who taught the superstitious nonsense that disease and mental illness are caused by supernatural devils, spirits, and demons (e.g., Mark 1:29-34; Matt. 4:23-25 and 8:14-17; and Luke 8:1-2), some of which he could extricate by magically transferring them into the bodies of pigs (Matt. 8:28-32).  Would it be the “Great Physician” who purportedly applied magic spittle to eyes of the blind to cure their affliction.”  (Mark 8:23-25) Is this the “Great Physician” who, in one of his other incarnations, taught that the cure for leprosy involved mystical incantations and the application of bird blood? (Lev. 14:49-53)  Is Mr. Hohf talking about the “Great Physician” who referred to a Canaanite woman as a dog when she begged him to heal her daughter who was suffering from “demon-possession?”  (Matt. 15:22-28)  Or is he the one who taught that any disease could be cured if a sincere, believing Christian would simply slather himself/herself with oil and be prayed over by church officials?  (James 5:14-16)  (A number of people who have faithfully followed this dubious advice have died because they or their guardians have refused proper medical attention.) 

There is not a single firsthand eyewitness report from any non-Christian historical source to substantiate that Jesus ever miraculously healed anyone (or worked any other miracles, for that matter).  All we have are legendary folktales from the spin doctors who wrote the Jesus fables and the hearsay testimonials of early Jesus acolytes recorded by a few 1st and 2nd century historians.   As is commonly acknowledged by most historians, religious propagandists are notorious for embellishing the exploits of their gods, goddesses, and saviors to make them conform to the mold of the mythic hero archetype.  Such religion promoters are not trying to win accuracy in reporting awards.  They are trying to win converts.   As history shows, those who write religious hagiographies are blissfully unencumbered by the obligation to tell the truth.

If Mr. Hohf is referring to the United States, he is wrong on both counts when he claims the “first (and most) hospitals were established by Christians.”  As the web article, The Question of Atheist Hospitals, relates, “the oldest American hospital in existence is New York's famed Bellevue hospital, established in 1736. The hospital, initially a six-bed hospital, was not created by any religious institution but was a municipal hospital created by a secular, non-religious government.”   And as the article further reveals, the "Great Physician's" impact on medicine appears to be rather modest.  As of 1999, only 13% of all hospitals in this country were religious - totaling 18% of all hospital beds.  Furthermore, these so-called religious hospitals are really more public than religious.  The percentage of church funding for church-run hospitals amounts to a mere 0.015%.

Mr. Hohf:

What about science?  The scientific revolution was ignited by Christians who viewed the universe as ordered by divine laws.

My Response:

What about science indeed?  It would be more appropriate to say that science has prevailed in spite of Christian influences, rather than because of them.  The battle between science and religion has raged ever since Galileo had the audacity to defy the Christian Church’s dogma that the sun revolved around the Earth.  While Galileo was only put under house arrest for his “heresy”, Giordano Bruno suffered a more ignominious fate for defying the Christian authorities with his “heretical” non-Earth-centered-universe teachings.   Bruno was held for eight years in chains and routinely tortured and interrogated to try to elicit a confession.  When he refused to confess, he was sentenced to death.  And as this website tells it:

Immediately after the death sentence was handed down, Giordano Bruno’s jaw was clamped shut with an iron gag, his tongue was pierced with an iron spike and another iron spike was driven into his palate. On February 19, 1600, he was driven through the streets of Rome, stripped of his clothes and burned at the stake.

Yes, Christianity certainly has encouraged thinking outside the biblical box, hasn’t it?  About the only thing Christianity ignited from the scientific standpoint were the fires for burning “heretics” and fear in the hearts of any scientist who contemplated defying the ecclesiastical authorities.  And the battle endures to this day as Christian creationists continue to wage war on the theory of evolution, mainstream geology, cosmology, and any other scientific enterprise that does not conform to their archaic worldview.  Fortunately, the Guardians of Biblical Dogma are no longer in a position of power to imprison, torture, and murder scientists who refute their sacred texts (not that some of them would not be inclined to do so if they thought they could get away with it).  No wonder many of the early scientists gave lip service to being Christians.  Had they not done so, their careers, not to mention their lives, would have been in serious jeopardy.

Furthermore, the “divine laws” that governed Newton’s deterministic, clockwork universe have now been superseded by non-deterministic and strictly natural laws.  Einstein’s theories of relativity and quantum physics have thrown a monkey wrench in the gears of the once-finely-tuned divine machine.  We now know that the universe is far more chaotic and unpredictable than the god-regulated physics of Newton once lead us to believe.

While the Church may have initially given tacit support to the study of natural phenomena, once an investigator made a discovery that contradicted cherished dogma, the honeymoon was over.  I have previously dealt with this topic of the Christian influence on scientific progress in discussions with another Christian apologist.  Those interested in this more detailed treatment of the subject, can find it here (topic 8, about halfway down the page) and here (topic 43, about 2/3 of the way down the page).  See also, "A HISTORY OF THE WARFARE OF SCIENCE WITH THEOLOGY IN CHRISTENDOM."

Mr. Hohf:

Education?  The first universities in the West (including Harvard, Princeton, etc.) were established by Christians.

My Response:

While there are many universities in this country that were established by various religious organizations, there are more state and private universities that were not.  It is not surprising that the early universities were church sponsored.  Religious organizations had plenty of cash on hand (holding up the specter of hell to encourage tithing can be quite lucrative) ; and what better way to spread their particular ideology than to continue indoctrinating students in a university setting.

Some universities (originally American colonial colleges), such as Harvard and Princeton, were established primarily to educate the clergy.  Today, of course, their focus is much broader.   They are nonsectarian and they place no religious demands on their students whatsoever.  And, horror of horrors, their science departments teach the validity of the theory of evolution and old-Earth geology.

The University of Pennsylvania is considered by some historians to be the first true university established in this country.  Benjamin Franklin was the impetus behind the founding of this university.  Rather than an institution for educating clergy, Franklin envisioned a general education curriculum that would instead prepare students for lives of business and public service. The proposed program of study eventually became the nation's first modern liberal arts curriculum.

Another founding father, Thomas Jefferson, was instrumental in founding the University of Virginian.  Although Virginia was already home to the College of William and Mary, Jefferson had lost confidence in his alma mater, partly because of its religious biases and lack of education in the sciences.  In writing about Jefferson’s establishment of the University of Virginia, the Rev. John S. C. Abbott noted, “He [Jefferson] devoted much attention to the establishment of the University at Charlottesville.  Having no religious faith which he was willing to avow, he was not willing that any religious faith whatever should be taught in the University as part of its course on instruction.”

 

It is true some of the first colleges/universities were established by Christians.  However, many of the more prominent among them have now become primarily secular institutions.

 

Mr. Hohf:

 

Freedom, democracy and the United States?  Christ-followers.

 

My Response:

 

The first "Christ-followers" who settled in Massachusetts, the Puritans, were anything but freedom-loving and democratic when it came to religious beliefs.  Religious views other than their own were not tolerated.  Quakers who went to Mass. to preach their form of Christianity were expelled, and when they returned, they were hanged.  Dissenters, such as Roger Williams, were driven out of the colony when they questioned Puritan doctrine.  In colonial Maryland, the penalty for not believing in Christian Trinitarian doctrine was death.   In colonial Mass., the only means for resolving disputes was reliance on Bible teachings.  Since there was often disagreement among the Puritans regarding how the Bible should be interpreted (a problem that continues unabated in Christianity to this day), some factions left Mass. and founded other colonies where only their form of belief was permitted. 

 

While some colonies such as Pennsylvania and New Jersey were more accommodating as far as a diversity of religious beliefs was concerned, they were the exception rather than the rule.  It is largely because of this religious bickering in the colonies and the history of problems associated with religious authoritarians meddling in governmental affairs that the founding fathers established a secular representative-democratic form of government in which the affairs of the state and the affairs of the religious institutions were clearly separated.

 

While many of the founding fathers were Christians, some of the most prominent and influential movers and shakers were not.  Most historians classify John Quincy Adams, Ethan Allen, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Thomas Paine, and George Washington as deists who denied the divinity of Jesus. Half a century after the establishment of this country, clergymen still complained that no president, up to that time, had been a Christian.

    

The Constitution of the United States is the supreme law of the land.  The words Christ, Christian, God, Bible, etc. never appear anywhere in the document.  Religion is mentioned only twice in the Constitution: Once in the 1st Amendment where the free exercise of religion (any religion) is protected and the governmental endorsement of a particular religion is prohibited. And once in Article VI which says, "No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States."

The common law of the United States is derived from the English Saxons whose laws were largely influenced by the principles of Roman law.  Thomas Jefferson concluded in a letter to Thomas Cooper (2/10/1814) “…Christianity neither is, nor ever was a part of common law.” 

During George Washington’s administration, the Senate gave unanimous approval to the Treaty of Tripoli in 1797.  This treaty states, in part, “[T]he government of the United States is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion…” 

Regarding the matter of church/state separation, Alexis de Tocqueville, wrote, “All [the clergy and laity with whom he had spoken during his travels in this country] thought the main reason for the quiet sway of religion over their country was the complete separation of church and state.”

The Bible is far more supportive of the divine right of kings than it is of our representative-democratic form of government.   In the past, the Bible was often used to compel obedience to authoritarian rule.  Had the colonists faithfully followed biblical teachings, it is unlikely there would have ever been a War of Independence.  Consider the following verses from the Bible:

1 Peter 2:13-14:  "For the Lord's sake accept the authority of every human institution, whether of the emperor as supreme, or of governors, as sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to praise those who do right."

Paul wrote in Romans 13:1:  "Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God.  Therefore whoever resists authority resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment."

(If the founding fathers had let these scriptures be their guide, there would not have been an American Revolution and this country would not have gained its independence from English rule.  The colonists would have simply accepted their fate as god-ordained and resigned themselves to a future of sipping exorbitantly-taxed tea and munching crumpets.)

For a more detailed discussion of this subject, see “The Christian Nation Myth.”

Mr. Hohf:

End of slavery in the West?  Christ-followers.

My Response:

What amazes me is that Christians (like Mr. Hohf), who believe in the authority of the Bible, have the gall to pat themselves on the back for the abolishment of slavery in the West.  The Bible was the southern Christian slave owner’s best friend, and many of them quoted from it profusely to justify the abominable practice.  There is not a single passage in the Bible in which involuntary servitude is specifically condemned and a number of them where it is condoned.  (See Lev. 25:44-55; Deut. 15:12-18; Matt. 10:24; John 13:16 and 15:20; Eph. 6:5; 1 Tim. 6:1; Titus 2:9; 1 Pet. 2:18; and Philem. 10-19)  Exod. 21:7-8 advises it is acceptable to sell one’s daughter into slavery, and Exod. 21:20-21 advises it is okay to beat a slave to death (so long as he/she survives a couple of days) because a slave is the owner’s property.

"[Slavery] was established by decree of Almighty God...it is sanctioned in the Bible, in both Testaments, from Genesis to Revelation...it has existed in all ages, has been found among the people of the highest civilization, and in nations of the highest proficiency in the arts." Jefferson Davis, President, Confederate States of America

Regarding the claim that Christians were the leaders in the abolition movement, consider the following summary of events from the web article, “The Early Christians on Slavery?

The call for the abolition of black slavery came not from Christians but from atheists generally. Slavery was abolished in France in 1791, not by the church, but by the atheistic founders of the revolution. In the U.S. the early critics of slavery, Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790), George Washington (1732-1799), Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) and John Quincy Adams (1767-1848), were all either atheists or Deists. Later the abolitionist cause was taken up by such people as Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865), a Deist, Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882), a Unitarian minister turned atheist, and William Lyold Garrison (1805-1879), an atheist. In England, the battle for the abolition of slavery was fought mainly by such as Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) and John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) - atheists all.

While more liberal Christians (e.g., Quakers and Methodists) did eventually jump on the abolitionist bandwagon, they could do so only at the expense of ignoring and/or whitewashing the numerous pro-slavery passages in the Good Book.  Numerous Christian apologists have attempted to soft-pedal slavery in the Bible, to no avail.  As with the case of science, slavery was abolished, not because of the Bible, but in spite of it.

Note:  One should not be fooled by euphemistic use of the term “servant” in the KJV Bible when referring to slaves.  The Greek word that is being translated in this case is doulos.   The primary definition of doulos is "slave."  The word is used over 100 times in the NT and carries the idea of slavery in the sense of a person being owned by a master.

See also, "Slavery in the Bible" and "Christianity and History."

Mr. Hohf:

The list could go on.

My Response:

Yes, I suppose Mr. Hohf could go on rattling off questionable benefits that civilization has supposedly derived from the birth of Jesus – but to what purpose?

Mr. Hohf:

Jesus taught his followers to love their enemies and do good to them (Matthew 5:38-48), to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick or those in prison, invite a stranger in (Matthew 25:34-40).

My Response:

While the unselfish acts Mr. Hohf lists are praiseworthy, as discussed above, such teachings are not unique to Christianity.  Since Mr. Hohf called attention to some verses in Matt. 5, let’s take a closer look at some of the purportedly divinely-inspired moral guidelines offered in this chapter.  For example:

Verse 22 says that calling someone a “fool” puts the accuser in danger of “hell fire.”  That seems a rather severe form of punishment for such a rather innocuous retort.  Some people are fools and deserve to be identified as such.  In fact, according to the Bible, Jesus even calls some of his critics fools and a variety of other more derogatory names. (Matt. 23:13-37)  Is Jesus, therefore, in danger of hell fire?

Verses 29 and 30 say that one should pluck out his/her eye or cut off his/her hand if these body parts offend him/her.   Again, this seems a bit of overkill by contemporary standards, does it not?  (Apologists argue that these verses are just metaphorical.  Unfortunately, some True Believers take them literally and dutifully remove said parts when they are offended by them - most notably eyes that persist in viewing pornography and hands that repeatedly engage in masturbatory practices.) 

Verse 32 says that a man who divorces his wife for any reason except for fornication (on her part) causes her to commit adultery (if she marries again?).  And any man who marries such a woman also commits adultery.   Matt. 19:9 says that a man who divorces his wife except for fornication (on her part) and then marries any woman commits adultery.  And, of course, we learn from Lev. 20:10 that the penalty for committing adultery is death.  Are Christians really advocating the death penalty for such “crimes?”  Or is this another one of the many bothersome rules that they ignore? 

To add to the confusion, Mark 10:11-12 say that, if either a man or a woman divorces for any reason and then remarries, he /she commits adultery, and Luke 16:18 stipulates the same just for the man while again warning that marrying a divorced woman causes a man to commit adultery.    

The only consistent teaching in all this is that, if a divorced woman marries any man, she commits adultery, and any man who marries her also commits adultery.  This is consistent with the biblical theme that non-virginal women are tainted, used goods and are unfit for marriage.  For example, in the Old Testament, we learn that if a husband claims his newly-married wife is not a virgin (and she is unable to produce bloody bridal bed sheets, i.e., “the tokens of virginity”), she must be stoned to death.  (Deut. 22:20-21)  Oh, can’t you just feel the Christian love and compassion resonating from such passages?

Verses 33-37 boil down to a prohibition against swearing oaths to God.  So, are those individuals who swear that they will tell the truth or fulfill their duties by placing their hand on a Bible and saying “so help me God” in trouble with Jesus? 

Verse 39 instructs that we are not to resist evil.  However, as all but the most naïve peaceniks understand, failing to resist evil does nothing but perpetuate it.  Should we not have waged war against Hitler’s Germany during WWII?  Should we just roll over, play dead, and “turn the other cheek” any time we are confronted with acts of evil such as the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center?  This has got to be all evildoers’ (wife batterers, rapists, sadists, genocidal maniacs, terrorists, etc.) favorite passage in the whole Bible.  

Verse 40 advises that if someone sues us in court and is awarded our shirt, we should throw in our coat as well.  Well, why stop with a coat.  Why not give away your whole wardrobe and win major points with the man upstairs?  In fact, why wait to be sued?  According to the Bible, all rich people (including well-healed televangelists presumably) should sell everything they have right now and give all the proceeds to the poor.  (Luke 18:18-25)  I wouldn’t advise anyone to hold their breath waiting for upper-crust Christ-followers to follow that advice.

As Mr. Hohf so succinctly put it, “the list could go on.”  But it should be clear from these few examples that there are certain teachings in the Bible that are nonsensical, sexist, counterproductive, and, in some cases, downright dangerous.  They may have made some sense in the 1st century when Christ-followers were wrongly convinced the world was on the verge of coming to an end, but they make little sense now.   Fortunately, most Christians now blithely ignore them.

Mr. Hohf:

Throughout history millions of Christ-followers have devoted their lives to helping others and doing good.  Jesus has rescued millions from self-destructive lifestyles, pulling men and women from the gutters of the world and changing them into godly, loving, and selfless individuals who make for good citizens.

My Response:

Compassionate and responsible people of all religious persuasions have served their fellow man and lived honorable lives throughout history.  But a person does not have to be a Christian or proponent of any religion to be a caring and contributing member of society.  Bill Gates ("The specific elements of Christianity are not something I'm a huge believer in.") and Warren Buffet (an agnostic) have each individually made the largest charity donations in American history. Robert Wilson, a retired fund manager and staunch atheist is giving over $22 million to charity.

A number of charitable groups are secularist in nature. Some examples include: The American Red Cross (founded by freethinker/deist, Clara Barton), the United Nations Children's Fund, Doctor's Without Borders, Oxfam International, the Nature Conservancy, and the Secular Humanist Aid and Relief Effort.

Jesus “rescues” people only in the same sense that Buddha, Krishna, Osiris, Dionysus, and the myriad of other gods and goddesses invented throughout history have rescued people.   (In case Mr. Hohf missed the news, Jesus has been dead for almost 2,000 years.)  Some people are dependent on imaginary “crutches” to help them walk the straight and narrow.  The emotional support afforded by a variety of religious beliefs can provide these “crutches” for people in need of a spiritual placebo to cure them of their dysfunctional tendencies.  A belief, false though it may be, that there is an omnipotent and omniscient supernatural God Father or Mother who is deeply concerned about one’s personal wellbeing can, in some individuals, engender an otherwise absent sense of purpose and self-worth.  (The Christian belief that this god will reward good behavior with eternal life in paradise and punish transgressions with a one-way ticket to the land of everlasting fire and brimstone can have even more dramatic effects on those who buy the storyline.)  Be that as it may, something does not have to exist in reality in order for it to influence personal attitudes and behaviors in spiritually-oriented individuals.  A strong belief in the unbelievable is all it takes in many instances.  An Islamic paradise complete with willing virgins does not have to actually exist in order for the fantasy to motivate some believers to fly airplanes into tall buildings and strap bombs to their bodies.

It should also be mentioned, that not all alcohol and drug rehabilitation programs are religious in nature.  For example, organizations such as SMART, The Secular Organization For Sobriety, LifeRing, and Rational Recovery offer purely secular approaches to dealing with these problems for nonbelievers who prefer to rely on their own initiative and inner strengths rather than a so-called “higher power.”  Although the comparative success rates of the various recovery programs are difficult to assess, the secular programs appear to be at least as effective at pulling people out of the gutter as those that pretend to invoke the power of supernatural entities.

Mr. Hohf:

Most importantly, if Jesus had never been born we would be lost in our sins (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:17-18).  Without Christ, life would be both hopeless and meaningless.

My Response:

If God does not want sin in the world, why did he purposely create evil?  (Isa. 45:7)  Can there be sin in a world that is devoid of evil?  For my assessment of the Bible’s version of the mythic savior fable, see “Salvation – A Dilemma of Biblical Proportions.

Mr. Hohf may depend on the folktales of Bronze Age desert nomads and the fantasies of 1st century religious propagandists to find hope and meaning in life, but millions of others do not.  I have a number of non-Christian acquaintances who have an abundance of hope and self-determined purpose. They are some of the most generous, enthusiastic, and positive-thinking people I have ever met.  Speaking for myself, I am immensely hopeful that things will improve in this country now that the minions of the Religious Reich will no longer be wielding power in highest seats of government.  (Written 12/20/08) I do not need a make-believe god or his purported holy books to give me meaning in life.  Such things as love of family and friends; appreciation of the arts and music; gardening; communing with Mother Nature; studying the wonders of science; and volunteering to help those less fortunate than myself create more than enough meaning and purpose in my life.  If life had any more meaning for me, I am not sure I could find time to experience it all.

As discussed above, a belief system does not have to be based on reality in order for "true believers" to derive a sense of purpose and self-worth from it.  All they have to do is earnestly believe that it represents the truth.  Scientology, concocted from scratch in the 1950's by the science fiction writer, L. Ron Hubbard, offers an example of this ego-boosting "placebo effect."  Just visit the Scientology website, click on "Beliefs and Practices," and then on "Meet a Scientologist" and you will find a number of testimonials form scientologists who claim that their "religion" has given them purpose, hope, and confidence; made them happier and more compassionate; decreased stress in their lives; and increased their capabilities.  This demonstrates it is not the truth of a belief system that accounts for its transformative powers.  Instead, it is the mere faith that the belief system is true (whether it is or not) that often gives zealous adherents the emotional wherewithal to deal with the vicissitudes of life and to live up to their potential.

Christians with whom I have corresponded often bring up this baseless argument that, if you don’t believe in Jesus, you must be wallowing in misery and self-doubt and lead a purposeless existence.   Does this stem from the fact that their contact with non-Christians is limited?  Does it derive from the fact that they believe all that self-aggrandizing promotional literature they write about themselves?  Or does it result from an attempt to compensate for their own gnawing uncertainties about the veracity of the ancient manuscripts on which their sense of hope and purposefulness so desperately depends?  I suspect it may be a combination of all three.

Mr. Hohf:

John Lennon’s famous song “Imagine” suggests that the world would be a better place without religion.  Perhaps so, but a world without Jesus Christ would be too horrible to imagine.

My Response:

It is reasonable to assume that a bona fide Messiah (one who possesses supernatural powers) would have found it advantageous to introduce himself (assuming he is a male) to a relatively large and diverse audience when he made his debut.  That being the case, he would be expected to make numerous (simultaneous?) appearances at various well-populated geographic locations to reach as large an audience as possible.  By contrast, Jesus' exploits are said to have been confined primarily to a relatively obscure region of the Middle East.  Christianity originated in a rather sparsely-populated geographical region and was initially promoted by a relatively small cadre of zealous proponents - both factors that are consistent with the hypothesis that it was a purely human invention.

It is reasonable to assume that a belief system inspired and promoted by a bona fide Messiah would give rise to a Holy Book of impeccable consistency and clarity.  Instead, the Christian Bible is a mishmash of pious folktales that is replete with internal inconsistencies, contradictions, and ambiguities. (See "A List of Biblical Contradictions" and "Bible Inconsistencies: Bible Contradictions?")  Since it is unlikely a bona fide Messiah would permit his teachings to be recorded and presented in such a confounding manner, this is a strong evidence for the strictly human origin of the Bible.

It is reasonable to assume that a bona fide Messiah would show up in person from time to time to help spread the word (perhaps deliver a sermon or two), provide necessary updates on his divine plan, and address any difficulties his worshipers might be having interpreting his holy writ.  Instead, the Christian religion is spread by strictly natural means, i.e., by word of mouth and a confusing collection of religious folktales.  The Messiah is nowhere to be seen.

It is reasonable to assume that, if there were one "TRUE" religion clearly based on the teachings of a bona fide Messiah, most people would see the wisdom of adopting that religion, even though they had been raised in a family/culture with a different religion.  Instead, people almost always follow the one "TRUE" religion that predominates in their own family/culture.

It is reasonable to assume that a bona fide Messiah would make personal appearances on a regular basis, if only to remind people that he exists.  Instead, Christianity (and most religions, for that matter) rely on faith rather than tangible evidence to maintain belief in their elusive deities.

There is nothing in the initial development, spread, and continued practice of the Christian religion that suggests a divine Messiah (Jesus Christ or anyone else) has ever had anything to do with it.  All indications are that, if a real person was involved at all, he was a 100% human, 1st-century, itinerant rabbi who was crucified for treason against the Romans and whose followers refused to acknowledge the fact he had died.  No imagination is required to envision a world in which a divine Messiah has never existed.  All one has to do is realize the world as it actually exists and has always existed - totally devoid of any tangible, objective, and verifiable evidence that such a preternatural savior god ever lived.

What is too horrible to imagine is the existence of a God who would create a universe in which most of humankind will be confined for eternity to a continuously burning hell hole.  It is even more horrifying that so many people choose to worship such an imaginary psychopath.   For more examples of God/Jesus/Holy Spirit-sanctioned atrocities depicted in the Good Book, see "The Dark Bible Atrocities (only a few)".