Jesus vs Atheists

On Facebook, elsewhere on the interwebs, as well as among my godless friends, I've noticed that the prevailing thoughts on Jesus' existence are bitterly disseminated, mostly from highly dubious sources like Zeitgeist, the Movie.

Why are atheists so vociferous about Jesus' existence? What difference does it make if there really was an apocalyptic prophet named Yeshua who preached in Judea? Why do they insist on saying he is a complete myth?

Why do they resort to the typical tactics of Christians, cherry-picking information and passing on rumors without researching?

I myself was guilty of this. It's so easy to see something online or hear someone I like say something that fits in with my worldview and just take is as gospel without thinking critically.

The consensus of leading biblical scholars today say the evidence points to a historical figure. We have as much or more information to verify Jesus' existence than we do for some of the great philosophers from Greece. I think Socrates never left any written evidence either but no one gets bent out of shape when we assume he existed, based on other inferences in teasing out his history.

But my point here is, why does it matter at all? I wrote about this last year: The Jesus Horus Link Revisted For Christmas. Who cares if Jesus existed or not? It certainly doesn't change history. The western world is still saturated with Christianity either way, even the increasingly secular countries.

Personally, I've become comfortable with the consensus that there was a man whom the myths are based on. Just because we accept his existence doesn't mean the whole New Testament is factual or that we have to give up our heathen card and become True Believers. It doesn't mean that he walked on water, was born of a virgin, or ascended into heaven, etc. So where's the threat?

I can also look at the Paul Bunyan story. If you told me there really was a man by that name, I wouldn't get upset about it. It still doesn't mean he had a giant blue ox.

I'm no biblical scholar by any means. I will leave that to the knowledgeable people who find it much more interesting than I do, just like I leave the details of what happens at CERN to the scientists there, and all the other brilliant people who can grasp what is going with particle physics, and interpret the data. I understand I don't know even a fraction of the information and nuances of either field, among many others, and that's just fine.

I can bake awesome cookies though, so I'm not completely useless! :)

Nicholas Bruzzesse and I have a Skype talk planned for the near future where we will talk about such things. He hosts the wonderful The Skeptic's Testament, which is all about "thinking skeptically about religion". In fact, he just did an episode which is about what is known of Jesus' birth story, Episode 2:11. I have only had a chance to listen to half of it but it's very interesting, as usual.

We can never know exactly what happened 2,000 years ago. That's not how history works. So let's not quibble over silliness, when what matters is how Christianity impacts our world today. If a man who preached the End Times existed all those millennia ago walked the earth is irrelevant. What matters is that people actually believed the legends and created a religion out of it - and then spawned another religion several hundred years later.

If you combine all forms of Christianity and Islam, the effect is staggering, now and throughout history since their creations. About 55% of the world is either Christian or Muslim, which is about 3.8 billion people. That is what matters. And what we do about it now is the most important of all.

So what about you? What do you think? And why does it matter if he did exist?


  1. One of the first lessons I learned blogging was never to make an assertion without adequate knowledge to back it up. I haven't done enough research on the existence or non-existence of Jesus,(I just finished reading 2 Samuel)so I'll just stay silent on the matter.

  2. That's a very valuable lesson, Andy, and I try to stick to it, although as I said, I've made mistakes.
    I guess I was also saying that sometimes we can't do enough research on our own. In my talks with Nicholas who is getting a degree in divinity, you really can't just read popular writing and be able to talk authoritatively on any given subject, although most people try to do it anyway.
    Just reading the bible and taking a few history courses in college isn't enough here. So instead of accepting what a controversial conspiracy-laced movie says, I'll defer to the experts.
    But the real point I was trying to make in this article is, even if Jesus did exist, and it looks like he did, why do atheists get so upset about it? Why can't we just say "so what?" because it's irrelevant.

  3. The difference is, as C.S. Lewis once said, "Jesus can never be just a little bit important" or something like that. If He isn't who He said He is ("If you have seen Me you have seen Creator God"), then He is the worst lying scum of all time. If He is who He said He is, then He is the most important character of all time.

  4. Thanks for your comment, Anon. I guess if you're a Christian you're right. Jesus is either the Messiah, in which case it's all true, or he's not, in which case you've been lied to.

    But that is a false dichotomy and reality, of course, is somewhere in the middle. For instance, he probably existed, went by a name like Yeshua, and was probably an apocalyptic preacher. Did he believe what he preached (in which case he's not a liar, he's just something like a paranoid schizophrenic or otherwise deluded) or did he just make it all up to lie to people? Or somewhere in between?
    Also, how much was conflated after he was gone? No one will ever know if he performed magic tricks that looked like he was healing the sick (which was known at the time and is completely plausible) or if he really thought he could heal the sick and was so charismatic that people got better from just the placebo effect, or if it's all just made up by the gospel writers, or some combination thereof.

    If you're an atheist, what I'm saying is it doesn't matter what actually happened 2,000 years ago. Of course, as we agree, if you're a christian it means everything.

  5. I see no particular reason to doubt that a Yeshua existed, even one who was some kind of preacher and started a new Jewish sect.

    "Also, how much was conflated after he was gone? No one will ever know if he performed magic tricks that looked like he was healing the sick (which was known at the time and is completely plausible) or if he really thought he could heal the sick and was so charismatic that people got better from just the placebo effect, or if it's all just made up by the gospel writers, or some combination thereof."

    Biblical scholars date the gospels based on aspects like this. Mark speaks of Jesus as essentially a human being (i.e. a prophet), and the ones based on it (Matthew and Luke, in that order) each add some more juicy details about miracles and his allegedly being a God. They also both make up different lineages to legitimately make him king of the Jews. Iirc Mark doesn't bother to make up a lineage.

  6. Right, Frenzie. I agree with you. That is how they order the gospels.

  7. I don’t think there is any good reason to think Jesus existed, and while I find it a fascinating historical puzzle, it wouldn’t change my daily life, or my view of myself and my place in the cosmos, if it turned out he did exist.

  8. Why do you say there's no good reason to think Jesus existed, Eric? I am curious because I used to think the same thing.

    And I agree, it didn't change my life at all to realize that there probably was a historical figure. I do find it interesting though, but it's more academic to me than anything else.

  9. I came from a heavy religious background. It was important for me to determine if this Jesus was god. Understanding that there is little evidence for god beyond the New Testament is very critical to making a decision that I thought was affecting my eternal soul. I could never simply brush this topic off as insignificant. And unfortunately I am not alone. I am equally angry at those who pretend we have tons of evidence for Jesus existence as I do for those who say there is no evidence.
    I can better relate to your topic if I put Mohammed or Vishnu name in place of Jesus, but that is only because of my place of birth.

  10. Neese,

    Well, for one thing, it appears that just about every bit of the gospel story is a rewrite of an earlier story, mostly from the OT, but also from the Odyssey, the Iliad, the writings of Josephus, etc. Also, the details of Jesus’ life as given by the gospels follow the mythic hero archetype pretty well. Once you take that away, what’s left for a historic Jesus?

  11. Thanks ex-minister. Your perspective makes sense. It's not insignificant when you are studying and leaving your faith, but once you're an atheist, I guess I'm just saying I don't see that it's very meaningful anymore.
    Eric, I'm not going to debate you. If you want to believe Jesus didn't exist based on those little bits of criteria that's your business. I'm not a biblical scholar (are you?) so I don't feel it's my place to argue for or against. Also, I frankly don't care either way. I just prefer to defer to the consensus of experts, not random thoughts gleaned from the web, or from propaganda.

  12. Neese,

    I’m not looking for a debate. You asked me why I believed what I did, so I gave you a very short synopsis.

    Why do you assume that my position is based on what I want? Or that my position is based on “random thoughts gleaned from the web, or from propaganda”? I don’t want Jesus to be a myth any more than I want George Washington to have worn wooden dentures.

    I’m not a biblical scholar. I’ve read books by biblical scholars on both sides of the debate, and I simply find the Jesus myth proponents to be more convincing. Obviously, not everyone does, and that’s fine.

  13. Hi Eric,
    I'm sorry, I took what you said the wrong way and came across a bit harsh with my reply. I didn't really mean to, but reading over what I said, it sounds snippier than what I was feeling when I wrote it. Probably because you're spelling my name wrong, lol. :P
    It's one of those things that we'll never have the actual answer to, I guess. I have been on both sides of the topic and find compelling arguments for each, but side with the consensus since it's really over my head. :P

  14. @ Eric "Well, for one thing, it appears that just about every bit of the gospel story is a rewrite of an earlier story, mostly from the OT, but also from the Odyssey, the Iliad, the writings of Josephus, etc. "

    I have never heard of any evidence that the story of Jesus was based on anything other than the OT from your list. There is more evidence from the Egyptian gods, such as Horus. The Egyptians and Sumerians heavily influenced the Jews and that rings true in the gospels. Not so much the Greeks. However Paul was influenced by Hellenistic logic.
    Josephus was born until 3 or 4 years after Christ's death. He barely references Jesus and most scholars think it was forged in later. Lots of book burning was done in generations to come. There are many lost books, but fortunately some of been found. You can find them here The roman catholics only wanted books in the bible to agree with their notions. Male dominance and hierarchy to rule the masses and control kings. The gospel according to Mary Magdalene was one such book on the destroy list. It portray her in a position of power.

  15. Neece,

    Sorry about misspelling your name. And it was right in front of me the whole time I was typing my reply, so I don’t even have an excuse.

    Isn’t it odd that in a situation where just about everyone admits that the evidence is not definitive, and probably never will be, where you would think people would be most tolerant of differing interpretations of the evidence, people instead tend to become less tolerant of opposing views and often question the motives or honesty of the other side?


    Just a quick example, compare the beheading of John the Baptist in the NT to the murder of Agamemnon in the Odyssey. In both cases, we have a queen who leaves her husband for another man, she plots the murder of the man who threatens her. There is a feast. Agamemnon is slain and falls among the dinner plates. John’s head is presented on a platter.

    Yes, Josephus was born after Jesus’ death. However, the gospels were written after Josephus, and several scholars have pointed out areas where the gospels may have used Josephus as a source.

    For 'shits and giggles' I went to the website that I show in class from RELIGIOUS,called the "Way of the Master".

    The website quiz informed me that I was a sinner and that I was going to hell.I think it takes a lotta crust/arrogance to tell ANYONE something like that!

    I called the number and talked to a young woman who asked me if I believe the WORD OF GOD (Bible),to which I replied its a book, stories of human struggle trying to understand its maker.She asked me if I was a sinner, and also asked was I not afraid of going to hell!

    I reiterate, that takes a lot of cajones to tell the WORST person that they're going to hell;I think this life is trial enough, myself,but that's my opinion, and I don't know what happens when I die;evidently, with their false certitude, they know everything,probably even if Michelangelo's cherubs have diapers on!

    If these people only understood how their "circumnavigating" around others and sharing THEIR own (twisted) faith is so destructive and alienating!

    She SHOULD be scared;not of me, but of those nagging little thoughts that she pushes aside; the ones that whisper, 'what if Jesus didn't resurrect from the dead'?,Yes, questions like do I know? I was once a zealous Catholic, firm in announcing my convictions,trying to convert people. Some time during graduate school, I yielded to the doubts nagging within me. I found out that it didn't really matter if Jesus died or not; nor did it matter if his 'story' was just that!

    I'll give her this, she did agree when I said that God the father murdered his son! Wow! So loving a murdering God (I think that's a big no-no)is the foundation for faith, nice.

    In closing, I gave her the 'salute',directed at me and my lack of faith,"I guess I'm f**ked!"

    Oh, if you can get some other atheists (even agnostics) to call that number on the website, do! They need to hear from our side,but then silence may be the best route, as they know all things...

  17. Eric, you said, "Isn’t it odd that in a situation where just about everyone admits that the evidence is not definitive, and probably never will be, where you would think people would be most tolerant of differing interpretations of the evidence, people instead tend to become less tolerant of opposing views and often question the motives or honesty of the other side?"

    I wasn't trying to attack your honesty, and was only questioning your motives in how you were addressing me. In other words, when it came to the argument - did Jesus exist - I don't care what you believe. I'm not really invested in the argument either way and am open to new information, as long as it's sound. If the experts changed their findings, I would be happy to change my view.

    But I do agree in what you said, that people get less tolerant when the evidence isn't hard and fast, and think it's worth addressing in a post. :)

  18. Hi Marianne,

    That's horrible, isn't it? It's amazing how self-righteous people get when brainwashed by religion.

    I think calling and talking to them isn't really going to help, but that might be because of my past and present experience with True Believers. I think most people who drink the koolaid aren't going to - Can't - listen to reason. They are sheeple led by their pastor/priest/imam; unthinking automatons who can't and won't question their indoctrination.

    Are there exceptions? Yes, certainly. And we should be there to help those few people who ask questions and doubt the brainwashing.

    If anyone wants to have some fun, or thrust lances at windmills, let us know how it goes if you contact this group.

    Thanks for bringing it to our attention, too! We need to at least be aware of these groups. There are so many of them spewing forth dogmatic lies and harmful bullshit.

  19. Neece-

    My best hunch believes you are right.Those who, as you put it "drink the koolaid" trust the fool that spews forth to them while he/she has the sleight hand in the pocket of the needy person;you're right, there's really no way to stop it, except to hope that they won't end up like 900 some of Jim Jones' followers.I should know better;for some of them, its part of their wacko 'belief' system that they must evangelize,even when doors slam in their faces and they try to incite with their twisted fears!The not-so-funny case of Randy Weaver with all of his rigid and strong convictions reveals someone who now proclaims atheism-interesting! A whole family (pretty much) obliterated due to religion.Something's wrong with this picture.I wish I could get Bill Maher in my classroom! At least I do show RELIGULOUS;I ask students to look at not just the looneytune preachers, but those needy,fearful,and gullible people willing to give them all!
    Whenever I hear someone say that they are "very firmly grounded in their faith", I say, 'ok',and I'm pretty sure that one day, they will face the choice of seeking answers to the challenging questions or bask in ignorance.Its much easier (secure?) to place confidence and money in a fool bigger than they.

  20. To the ex-Minister:

    I am kind of an ex-minister, former believer/Catholic,(jail minister).I guess what I think is important is not to agonize over the question if "Jesus was god", any more than it is fruitful to contemplate on the meaning of "church". There is, to the best of my knowledge (I have an MA from a notable Jesuit University, as well as forensice science studies as supplementary work).Forensic science puts a whole new spin (don't like that word,but)on the situation. First of all, there is little, if any empirical evidence for the existence of "Jesus";there may have been some person who mimicked events that people grouped together and regard as 'his' life story.There was a man (possibly Jesus) who, according to Elaine Pagels, who was an Essene.A forensic investigator I know personally has suggested that this man, after crucifixion, was taken to a cave (SO unlike others, left to rot and be seen by all)wrapped in aloe, who healed.I cannot confirm any of this, it is pure supposition,but, to get back to the main point, if there was such a man, it seems to me that all the hoo-hah of his life centered on overthrowing Jewish law and replacing it with a law of love.Because of this alleged person's humility, I don't believe (cannot prove) that he wanted elevation as a God; at the very least,he just wanted people to be decent to one another-that simple, and we can't do it!Then we have the civic unrest after the fall of Rome in 70AD,Constantine and Helena establishing Christianity as the "State" religion,setting rules,regulations and doctrine-makers-check your history, don't believe me. When eventually the Crusades came along, the cry was,"God wills it"...I don't know that "God" (remember by non-belief) had anything to do with it, or for that matter, people being more loving toward one another:it had everything to do with acquisition of property,wealth, and dominion over others. As I say, don't believe me, check it out yourself.Try not to worry about your 'soul', as long as you think about your actions and how they affect others, I suspect you'll be fine.

  21. Still, to this very day, I have never seen one shred of empirical evidence for an alleged Jesus.

    Not a bit beyond hearsay. Not even reliable leads to witnesses.

    But such a bold statement is always accompanied by appeal to authority fallacy. But the most they can even give is that they have beliefs about Jesus' existence, and nothing more because it all stems from hearsay.


    But why does it matter? I think you're asking the wrong question: What is wrong if Jesus *never* existed? Nobody is in a furor over Hercules never existing, or King Arthur, why the difference for Jesus? There isn't anybody erupting over your daring implication that Paul Bunyan wasn't real and how you couldn't believe in him with all the evidence...

    I'll answer the question though, because people conflate the supposed historical one with the mythical one.

    So, we are in agreement here, the mythical Jesus didn't exist. When people say Jesus didn't exist, they are generally referring to this mythical version. And this is when people pipe in, "But he did exist!"

    No, look, the existence of the basis for a fictional character does not make the fictional character nonfictional. For most purposes, nobody cares about historical Jesus. We really don't care if he existed or not. We are talking about the mythical version (mythical to us).

    But just because it doesn't matter, doesn't mean I'll just believe in the historical one until I get some solid evidence.

    The problem is further drawn when they use the supposed existence of the historical version, as evidence for the existence of the mythical version. And it's incredibly dishonest, a bait-and-switch.

    So, to summarize... Jesus is a myth, and the presence of a historical Jesus does not change that.

  22. Neece-
    A friend of mine who is a defrocked UCC minister who works with First Nations' people has a free, downloadable book, called UNREPENTANT.Its not an academic treatise on his faith, but rather how people of "faith" can commit horrible deeds, as they did in the Indian Residential Boarding Schools. Kevin states in his LOVE AND DEATH IN THE VALLEY, that the problem begins when people are told they're "God's people".He goes on to say outright that the 'God" of the Bible murdured his own son.Now getting back to those Way of the Master people,they agreed with me on that point.Murder is, to say the least, in my neighborhood, a punishable crime;for these avid Christians, I don't know what it is, but if they believe in their 10 Commandments (they're wrong there too,the alleged Jesus said in that book 'you have heard the commandment that...but I tell you, love one another),haven't they shat on themselves? I mean,in their eyes "killing" is one of the ten 'thou shalt nots', but God the murderer is ok with that?? What's wrong with this picture??
    Marianne Anonymous

  23. I'm talking too much, I know...but the fundamentalist element always says, "know Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior". How can you know ANYONE you've never met? I daresay I knew JFK better than Jesus; at least, he was alive in my lifetime, I could read about him in that time, see him on TV, hear him on the radio,and mourn with the rest of the nation when he was assassinated...and really, I still didn't know (as in personal acquaintance)him! How in the blue f**k do people trust a book that was written (1/2, BCE) and 1/2 CE, that was translated over and "eyewitnesses"?? I guess ignorance is bliss, about half of the world lives in it!!

  24. Marianne: what do you teach? And to what grade level? Bill Maher is popular, and he uses humor, which are good reasons to show him in your classroom. Have you considered Carl Sagan, Bertrand Russell and Robert G. Ingersoll? It's very easy to find gold within their writings.

    I agree, if someone says they are firmly grounded in their faith, I washed my hands of them, figuratively speaking, and hope that someday reason prevails for them. I disagree that it's a given that people will find reason as opposed to basking in ignorance their entire lives. This happens all too often, and is probably actually more likely than turning to reason.

    Regarding your penultimate comment, don't you find the cognitive dissonance of Christianity frustratingly baffling? It really boggles my mind how people can worship a god who delights in the smell of burning goat flesh, murders his favorite creation to satisfy every whim, and plans to have his son murdered to fix his mistakes. It's patently insane.

    And for your last comment, I wholeheartedly agree, you can't know an invisible man who doesn't exist. No one claims to have a personal relationship with Julius Caesar, Genghis Khan or with the Easter Bunny. At least the first two existed, but children everywhere have verifiable evidence of the Easter Bunny every spring, which is more than can be said for Jesus.

    By the way, thanks for all the comments, they are much appreciated. :-)

    GMN: I understand your position and used to feel the same way. I'm not going to argue with you as I am not a biblical scholar and do not claim to be one. The only thing I'll say on the matter is that accepting the scholarly consensus is not the same as appeal to authority. Every one of us has to accept the consensus of experts at some time or other, probably every day of our lives. None of us knows everything – except Jesus, of course (lol) – and we don't need to, as we are interdependent species.

    My whole point was that it doesn't matter in the slightest if the historical Jesus existed. And yes, I agree that the mythical Jesus never existed. You're right, the presence of a historical Jesus is a separate issue from the mythical one.