Jesus Was An Atheist (Well, at Least a Non-Christian)

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I was just reading a “coming out” statement by another blogger who feels immensely liberated to say aloud:  “I am an Atheist.”  I gave him a blog-pat on the back for that.  Then, responding to his comments about “freedom from Jesus” I felt compelled to say something related to what I’ve said many times and written about in Life After Faith, Nature is Enough and elsewhere:

Jesus was never a Christian and he could never be a Christian

“Followers of Jesus” never like to hear this.  It makes believers very uncomfortable to hear that.

Even those who readily admit that Jesus was Jewish and never called himself the “First Christian” or some nonsense like that, that he was never a member of any church or religious congregation, these folks get a bit squeamish when someone like me (especially someone like me. . .a former born-again, Pentecostal, Campus Crusader, seminary trained Protestant minister, Interfaith chaplain-sort) points out the most obvious:

Jesus of Nazareth was a-religious (be serious, which Religion would he neatly fit into?).  He continually criticized and attacked religious leaders, condemned self-righteous piety and twisted scriptures so much he was called a heretic, son of the devil and a criminal worthy of death.

It’s one thing to say he was not a Christian or member of a Church. . .but folks really want us to believe that, “He would sure be welcomed into OUR Church; we’d LOVE to have him among US, his True Followers!”  Uh, well, sorry, maybe not.

Oh, I hear you.  He wasn’t so religious, he was “spiritual.”  Really?  How?  Because he prayed to his “Father”?  Hmmm.  If I prayed to my dear departed Dad, would you say I was “spiritual”?  Was JC “spiritual” because he read the Torah?  The only time we hear of him reading one passage from the Torah in a synagogue he was, according to the storyline, taken out to be murdered by the congregation!  Not a good reference for public speaking!  He was “spiritual” because he talked of “heavenly places” and otherworldly things?  Alright, let’s get real here.  We don’t know that he said anything of the sort. . .and even if he did, Why be distracted from his life and teachings centered primarily, almost exclusively, on the poor outcasts judged by the “fearfully faithful” as “lost sinners”?  

Why indeed.  Those who have built an Imaginary Jesus in their mind for centuries, who don’t want to admit that he was NOT the “founder” of this thing we call Christianity, that he cannot be “owned” by any one sectarian religious perspective or bias. . .these Imaginary Jesus Followers spend a majority of their time and energy studying and debating Theology and Bible-ology instead of doing what the Man of Nazareth did:  being with, serving and loving the outcast outsiders; touching the untouchable.  So they would “believe in him”?  I’m a doubter so I kind of doubt that was the Whole Intent of Helping!  Where would the Ethics be with that?!

Yet, many of “His Followers” say, or at least imply, that the Whole Purpose of Jesus touching the untouchable, healing the sick, teaching the crowds, hanging out with the homeless, etc, etc. . .the Whole Purpose was:  so they would BELIEVE.  I’m sorry, but these people have turned ministry into megalomania. . .What kind of Ego-Jesus have they created!   And I’d like to know, Why?

Believe me, I know the power of the distraction!  I was there.  It can be great fun to divide the world up into Believers and Nonbelievers, Children of the Light and Children of the Dark, My Faith or No Faith, My God or No God.  It can be a great (serious and sobering) endeavor to spend one’s life searching and memorizing One Book, One Sacred Scripture to live by.  Except, problem is, where is the Living By part?  “Oh, but I KNOW the Bible. . .KNOW the Creeds. . .KNOW how to Pray.”  Good for you.  But what’s that have to do with the actions and teachings of You Know Who?  The distraction from being a good human being and recognizing the goodness of other human beings, is very strong.  Why is it so strong?  Because there is a whole army of clergy. . .the Masters and Doctors of Divinity, the Preaching Professionals, the God-Experts. . .the God-Talkers (Theologians). . .the Bible Scholars. . .who make a living and hold respectable positions by telling all the rest of us Who God is, What God thinks, What the Words say and, especially, Who Jesus was and is.  I happen to know how cool being clergy can be!  But it can get pretty cold.

So, we come full circle.  Who was Jesus and why should we care?  Those who claim him for their own, as their “Lord,” may need to hear what they don’t want to hear and see what they don’t want to see. . .to face the Man and his Message, rather than the Skywalking Savior of the True Believers.  Seculars, agnostics, atheists, freethinkers might be the ones to Teach a New Jesus who is really much more like the Old Jesus.  Audacious!  Ridiculous!  Maybe.  But many of us know the story of the Man quite well.  We know what it’s like to be an Insider AND an Outsider.  We may even be in a better position to state this Outrageous Claim:

IF Jesus was here in our world today, he might just enjoy being out with us, out among the nonbelieving nonmembers of the accepted religions of our time.  Not to “save” us. . .no, to savor us, to savor good conversation and cooperation among people not trying to suck up to some imagined Superhuman Savior who needs an ego-charge.  We would surely discuss, debate and disagree about many, many things!  But perhaps we would “get” his message in a way “His Church” has rarely apprehended.  Maybe those of us who see him not as a High God but as a Good Human, would join him in his self-less work among people open to mutual education, and among those in need, on the streets, in jails, in distress wherever they be found.  His “followers” would be welcome to join in.  Just don’t Do Theology on him, or us!  We don’t have the time for that.  Too much to be done to be distracted!

Hey, maybe Jesus was one of the first Secular Chaplains! 

I’ll have to think about that. . .


What do you think about all this?  If you’re a “follower of Jesus,” what is your response to this?  If you’re an Atheist, what are your thoughts?  As I’ve asked before, Can Jesus Be Saved (from his followers)?

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11 thoughts on “Jesus Was An Atheist (Well, at Least a Non-Christian)

  1. Thanks, Mason. I’m not saying anyone really knows who the “real Jesus” was, but distilling the “essence” of his message is open to all, theist and nontheist alike. I would say any “real” Jesus was not what we’ve been taught by the Church.

  2. Interesting thoughts, although Jesus (Yeshua) was not religious, He was a practicing Jew and lived in the Jewish culture, for me He was the first Messianic Jew (maybe??), and I am no longer Christian, but a Messianic Gentile. I like the outside thinking Chris, it challenges for sure!

    1. I’m glad you commented, Brandon. I used to belong to a “house church” led by a “messianic Jew.” Great guy. He became a good friend, but we grew apart as I studied more scriptures of the world, and got to know people of many faiths, including “real Jews.” I learned that many Jews are offended by those who claim that one particular Yeshua was The Messiah, who say only Jews who accept that are accepted by God. They are told they are “God’s People” but not God’s “real” inner circle of believers until they believe in Jesus. I think my Jewish friends have a point. I wonder how Jews you meet respond to your messianism?

      As for Jesus being a “practicing Jew” I think the religious leaders of his day might disagree. There is little or no evidence that he was a member of a synagogue, studied the Torah regularly or did other rituals that would identify him as a religious or practicing Jew. And, if he was the “promised Messiah,” he didn’t do a very good job of liberating his people! Now, after 2000 years, I don’t blame people for hoping Someone will come someday! If it’s all simply a “spiritual thing,” I think that begs the question: If this was just an inner salvation thing, why did he teach so much about caring for the poor, oppressed and victims of injustice? Why did he spend his time speaking against the Super-self-righteous? (this is why I often weigh in against the GDM–Great Distraction Machine–of Theology, Spiritual Labelling, etc).

      I remember the days, Brandon, when I no longer wanted to call myself “Christian” or “religious.” Liberating feeling! Yet, because I believed, met with other believers, studied the scriptures, prayed, etc, I really was religious–after all, those activities are pretty much the definition of Religion. I just wasn’t comfortable admitting that any more. I wanted to think I was a member of the inner-inner-inner circle of “real, true believers.”

      Thanks for your engagement!

      1. Chris, love the thought processes you have gone through and have experienced, it is truly a rich perspective.
        As far as the religious leaders of the day not seeing Jesus as a Jew, rabbi, and more particular the Messiah- you are right! If I recall it was the High Priests and Pharisees that had him crucified. However, if you follow Yeshua in Matthew-John you will see that he was a very faithful Jew and celebrated the festivals of Adonai without question, this doesn’t make him a Jew, but he was born of the line of David, so I think that qualifies him as Jewish.
        For me it is not so much about that, it is about how messy religiosity has become. I like your GDM idea, and subscribe to it to a degree, religion has become a distraction among many, whether it is faith or spirituality, soul, whatever, I do believe (and here is my belief system) that there is more than this temporal and finite reality we call life, and for me, my faith journey has led me to fall in the Messianic Gentile field. I have met Orthodox, Messianic Jews and as long as there is respect for one another, that is the key point in learning and communication. I have learned that there are to many agendas, and I need have none other than following and obeying the shema as a Gentile, not a Jew. That is hard enough!
        Love these chats and I love hearing from your view of experience, I hope it comes across that way from me as well, as I know tones are lost in this type of format and things can be misconstrued fairly easy!

  3. I appreciate the exchange too, Brandon. I wish more “spirituals and seculars” could discuss these delicate issues with courtesy and respect.

    The various labels we all use to describe what we believe or don’t believe can certainly cloud the conversations, can’t they? I like to think of myself as a Freethinker and don’t usually identify as an Atheist, though I am. Secular is ok as well. I’m always aware of the limitations and misunderstandings that arise.

    My Jewish friends would respect that you are a Christian honoring the Jewish roots of the Christian faith. They, and I, might want to correct the statement that it was the Jewish leaders who had Jesus crucified. I think you know that it was the Romans, Pilate, who tried and condemned him. Yes, at the urging of some religious leaders, but they had no authority to execute under Roman rule. We wouldn’t want to fall into the anti-Jewish strain of Christian thought that to some extent followed the Gospel of John’s denigration of “The Jews.” This has led to centuries of anti-semitic nonsense.

    I think we have to be very careful in these issues of “cross-fertilization” between faiths. When one group “borrows” a spiritual teacher (as Hindus and Buddhists sometimes do with Jesus), they ought to admit they are borrowing, and re-interpreting the figure (or the God) for their own belief system. Most World Religions of course began this way. One group splinters off and says they are “the true way” and disconnect from their spiritual “parent.”

    I agree, Yeshua was certainly Jewish, yet in the same way perhaps that I and my colleagues were Christian, when we were following the “radical rabbi” whose call was to social justice and compassion rather than a call to correct beliefs or theologies. In other words, he was a revolutionary reformer who emerged from traditional Judaism. In a sense, he probably was no particular religious faith (unless he believed in himself!).

    Anyway. . .stimulating exchange!
    Be well.

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