Tuesday, October 17, 2006

The Jesus Project - Part One

This is the first in a series of posts I will be writing regarding my thoughts about the Jesus of the Gospels, covering such topics as the things he is alleged to have said, the deeds he is alleged to have done, how his personality in the Gospels is different from how he is represented in movies, art, and so forth.

For the first installment of my Jesus project, I read the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John and highlighted in green the sayings of Jesus that I consider to be meaningful moral teachings. As an atheist, I wanted to re-examine the teachings of Jesus and see whether I could find anything in his teachings that was relevant to me. Specifically, what I was looking for were things that Jesus said that if practiced in real life made one a better person and/or promoted decency and justice in society.

To my surprise, I did not find very much that I considered worth highlighting. And much of what I did deem worthy is repeated in at least one other Gospel. The version of the Bible I relied upon is the New International Version. Here is what did make the cut:

1. “Be careful not to do your acts of righteousness before men to be seen by them” and “So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets to be honored by men.” (portions of Matthew 6:1-2). Of course, I do not believe that one’s charitable works or good deeds should always be kept a secret, because by making good deeds known, the doer can serve as an example to inspire others. But we all know where Jesus is coming from here. He is talking about people who publicize their good deeds because they are really just trying to draw attention to themselves. For example, if Paris Hilton publicly donated $100,000 to an AIDS charity and then proceeded to go on a spending binge, buying a new Ferrari, expensive jewelry and other pricey and useless baubles, she would be a hypocrite.

2. “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you will judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” (Matthew 7:1-2). Former Congressman Mark Foley is probably a good current example of the wisdom of this teaching.

3. “Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand.” (Matthew 12:25). Now the context of this quotation is Jesus responding to the accusation that he is casting out demons because Satan, or Beelzebub, is giving him the authority to do so. But from a practical real life perspective, this quote is valid when people who should be united in a single purpose undermine or turn on each other. There are many examples from history wherein a person who aspires to rule a particular kingdom starts a civil war that ends up weakening the kingdom and making it vulnerable to invasion from outside powers.

4. “What goes into a man’s mouth does not make him unclean but what comes out of his mouth, that is what makes him unclean” (Matthew 15:11) and “Don’t you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man unclean. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what make a man unclean; but eating with unwashed hands does not make him unclean.” (Matthew 15:17-20).

5. In response to a man’s question about what he must do to lead a good life and get into heaven, Jesus answers “Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honor your father and mother, and love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 19:19). Now of course, I do not believe in the existence of heaven, but if everyone did as was spoken above, the world would indeed be a better place. Jesus also says in Luke 6:31 “Do unto others as you would have them do to you.” The Parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:20-37 is an example of putting this teaching into action.

6. “Watch out! Be on your guard against al kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” (Luke 12:15). Pretty much speaks for itself.

But I would also add that these teachings are not original to Jesus. In an upcoming post, I will compare the teachings of Jesus that have validity for me and compare them to the teachings of other religious leaders or philosophers who said the same things either before Jesus or afterwards by those who lived in cultures that were not aware of Christianity at the time. The purpose of the comparison is to emphasize that there are certain universal moral truths that existed in many disparate cultures and that it is these truths that are important in and of themselves, regardless of whether they were spoken by Jesus, Buddha or Confucius. At the same time, as an atheist, I should not discount the teachings of Jesus that have validity for me that also appear in the texts of other religions simply because I do not accept Jesus as some divine savior.

4 comments:

Sable Chicken said...

Tommy,

Jesus taught do not lie, If Jesus is not who he says he is, than he would be a liar.
When you are reading the Bible, there is more to Jesus then his moral teachings. The central thing to Christianity is Jesus claim of deity.
Good place to start looking for the clues to this is in.
John 1
Colossions 1
Hebrews 1

~~~~~~~
This is a link to a radio program that I have found to be a very helpful approach in getting level headed answers to hard questions concerning the Bible.

http://www.oneplace.com/Ministries/bible_answer_man/Archives.asp

~~~~~~~~~~
from
the Bible Answer book -
by
Hank Hanegraaff



Don't all religions lead to God?

Before anwsering this question, a word of warning is in order: Anyone who answers in the negative may well be ostracized for being narrow-minded and intolerant. That being said, my answer is, "No, not all religions lead to God, it is incorrect and illogical to maintain that they do."

First, when you begin to examine world religions such as Judaism, Himduism, and Buddhism, you will immediatly recognize that they directly contradict one another. For example, Moses taught that there was only one God; Krishna believed in many gods; and Buddha was agnostic. Logically, they can all be wrong but they can't all be right.

Furthermore, the road of religion leads steeply uphill, while the road of Christianity descends downward. Put another way , Religion is fallen humanity's attempt to reach up and become acceptable to god through what we do; Christianity, on the other hand, is a divine gift based on what Christ has done. He lived the perfect life that we could never live and offers us his perfection as an absolutely free gift.

Finally, Jesus taught that there was only one way to God. "I am the way and the truth and the life." said Jesus, "No one comes to the Father except through me." (John 14: 6) Moreover, Jesus validated his claim through the immutable fact of his resurrection. The opinion of all other religious leaders are equally valid in that they are equally worthless. They died and are still dead. Only Jesus had the power to lay down his life and to take it up again, Thus, his opinion is infinitely more valid than theirs.

~~~~~

"Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved."

Acts 4:12

Tommy said...

Thanks for your visit and comment Sable. But I am sure there are a whole slew of people who said it is wrong to tell a lie did in fact themselves tell lies.

In a future post, I will explain why I don't accept the divinity of Christ. But in summary, all one has to do is destroy the idea that the ancient Israelites were the chosen people of the Creator of the Universe, and upon doing so, the foundation for Christianity collapses, because Jesus is supposed to be in fulfillment of OT prophecy.

Sable Chicken said...

That sounds interesting, I might stop by and read it.

Well, Jesus IS the fulfillment of OT prophecy. Keep in mind Jesus himself refers back to the OT many times. Don't forget the book of Isaiah. It is the best-known prophetic book of the OT probably because of his emphasis on the theme of salvation and his prophecies about the coming Messiah. Because of its anticipation of the coming of Jesus Christ and His message of redemtion, Isaiah is sometimes called the 5th Gospel.
I think this was written around 740 b.c.

I hope you get to the bottom of it.

Revenant said...

I already have gotten to the bottom of it. It's all crap. Regardless of whether Jesus said some good and logical things or not, he also said some pretty ridiculous things, if he even said any of them at all.

Other writings which pre-date jesus promote human well-being in similar ways, that's just common sense, really. It doesn't take religion or an invisible sky daddy to make it obvious that murder and theft are wrong. Indeed, in spite of the milennia of sermons from all the religions, religious people murder every day.