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I am a big fan of Jesus of Nazareth — at least the Jesus shown in the Gospel of Thomas.
Unfortunately, that Gospel was suppressed by the Church, even though there is evidence that it is older than the four canonical gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John).
If you care to do a bit of skeptical research you can also find plenty of evidence that the four canonical gospels are unreliable. Of course, their unreliability only shows that those books were written by flawed men. It does not prove anything about the central claim of Christianity.
I have little doubt that there was a fellow named Jesus, and that about 2000 years ago he preached a message that bewildered some, inspired others, and troubled enough people that he was killed by the authorities. I do, however, doubt that Jesus was the “Christ” that the Church depicted him to be.
Why do I doubt this? Because that depiction of Jesus doesn't make sense.
The theory we are asked to accept goes like this:
1) There was Original Sin (as in the story of Adam and Eve)
2) To “redeem” humanity from Original Sin, Jesus was sent as a sacrifice
So far this is all familiar to the average Christian. Now, though, let's look at the unspoken assumption hiding inside the theory:
3) This was the only (or best) way to redeem humanity from Original Sin
If there was an alternative to God having someone tortured to death, would it not make sense for God to use that alternative?
I realize that some people will now be thinking, “What makes sense to God doesn't have to make sense to us!” This is a specious argument, though. Saying “My god's ways are too mysterious to understand” works for any religion, no matter how ridiculous. As such, it cannot be used by people who want to discern between reasonable and unreasonable beliefs.
If, as Christianity says, God chose to torture his Son to death as a means to redeem us, it must mean that God had no choice in the matter. If he'd had a simpler, less violent, more loving choice, He would have surely done that.
Some people may now say, “But He tried an alternative with the Chosen People!” Alas, this argument is at odds with the Christian belief that God can foresee the future. The only way to maintain that belief is to say that God used the Chosen People to demonstrate that that approach could not work.
As far as I can see, then, this leaves us with only one possible conclusion to add to the theory:
4) God had no other way to redeem humanity except via human sacrifice
If that is so, then the question arises: redeem them from what?
In other words, who made the rules? Who set up reality in such a way that God would be cornered into such an unpleasant decision? In other words:
Who forced God to torture his own Son to death?
If God set up the rules of reality, He could do whatever He pleased, including forgiving humanity for Original Sin. Being omnipotent, He could simply utter the words, “I forgive you.” Problem solved. Right?
Of course, some readers will still being saying, “Wrong!” They might embark upon a convoluted argument based upon the nature of Free Will. But arguments such as those do not answer the problem raised by the question above:
If God did not have a less barbaric choice, why not?
There is a limit to how clear I can make this. Either you understand by now or you do not. And if you do understand, you may be wondering what actually happened 2000 years ago.
I was not there, obviously, but this is what I think happened:
Jesus was a preacher with a highly original message. His followers did not understand his message. So they made up stories that “proved” that their misunderstandings were the truth. In other words, they were human, and behaved the way people have behaved throughout history. As a result, the doctrines of the Christian religions have almost nothing to do with what Jesus actually said.
Is that so hard to believe?