Book Review - Jesus for the Non-Religious

My father-in-law is a former member of the clergy. He became a priest so that he could travel the world (mostly Asia) to help poor people. He did this for many years until he saw the the main goal of the church's effort was to expand the flock and the (distant) second goal was to help people.

Anyway, he still considers himself to be a Christian but he is sickened by the direction of modern religion. He knows that I am a non-theist and recommended "Jesus for the Non Religious". The book is authored by former Bishop John Selby Spong. We actually agree on a great many things when it comes to religion - he thinks that Jesus may have existed but certainly wasn't the son of god.

Anyway, I read the book. Spong's angle is that he believes that the Bible was never meant to be a historical narrative and that the early church pretty much hijacked it for their own purposes. He makes a compelling argument. Spong's belief is that when we tear down the Bible we can then start to really see who Jesus was. He is sickened by many of the things that Christianity has become.

Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Jesus-Non-Religious-John-Shelby-Spong/dp/0060...

Random review: http://joewalker.blogs.com/felixhominum/2008/01/book-review-joh.html

Some of his claims:

- There is nothing that describes a virgin birth and the early church chose to go with the incorrect translation when this fact was pointed out in the second century.
- The vast, vast majority of the miracles and supernatural claims were made in the narratives that were written by Luke some 100 years after the fact. The early narratives either did not mention or barely mentioned things like the mystical birth, resurrection (example: Lazarus) or magic. The people that lived with christ didn't observe these amazing events - how would someone 100 years later be able to detail them?
- The story of Judas and his betrayal was a late addition and not mentioned in early narratives.
- Mary and Joseph were fictional and only added later on to suit the move to the mystical birth. VERY little is said about either.
- The narratives gave vastly different accounts of who the disciples were
- A god that performs miracles is capricious
- Paul never claimed to have seen jesus. Others narratives later gave the details of an account that he inexplicably did not detail on his own
- The writings of Luke reflected a wide expansion of the supernatural claims. His writings also reflected the need to further shape the Jesus story based on the cultural changes in the decades after his death. - We have only moved forward as a species because of secular humanism

Spong takes great pains to step through the various "traditions" and explained exactly why the authors of the Bible crafted the Jesus story the way the did. For example, they had to have Jesus come from a certain tribe and a certain blood line so as to appeal to the most Jews. The timing of the various events was also created to fit various periods that were significant to the people of that era. More importantly, Spong shows how many of the New Testament narratives are really just re-telling of the Old Testament narratives with the names and places changed.

While I knew much of the history of the Bible, I don't believe that I've ever seen the timeline of the creation of the narratives layed out the way they are in this book. The original narratives describe Jesus the teacher and the whole story undergoes a huge transformation into the supernatural-packed narrative that we know today. I know I'm not doing a great job of describing this but it really was stunning (and at times, laughable) to see how the story changed.

I actually agreed with 95% of the book. Spong lost me when he tried to build Jesus back from from the ashes that he had created. His main claim is that the story is so important that the authors must have seen a need to embellish/create the way that they did. To me, this is preposterous. After all, the creators of all of the other religions that he discounts did the exact same thing. This is like exposing a 'witness' at a trial to be a complete fraud and then picking through his story to see if there is anything that could be believable. If the bathwater is that bad, sometimes baby needs to go.

I do urge anyone that is interested in this topic to pick up this book. I can't tell you how many times my jaw hit the floor while I read it. I just couldn't go along with the grand conclusion. This book also supported a belief that I have held for a long time: I have read many books on atheism, but nothing supports my disbelief like a book that tries to promote Christianity.

Link to the original review here

Views: 35

Tags: Bible, Book, Christianity, atheism, disproving, review, the

Comment by willailla on August 7, 2010 at 4:18pm
Sounds to me that Spong is doing what many Christian charlatans do. They know Biblical claims are preposterous so to sucker people into their faith they contrive a naturalistic approach...i.e. miracles are down played or given logical explanations: Jesus fed 5,000 people with two fish because the fish were from a very large specie. These charlatans try to convince you of their objectivity by saying they too have problems believing this or that. But in the end they always conclude with such a phrase as...'nevertheless I find compelling reasons to believe...' and you're right back to blind faith.
Comment by Gerald Scott on August 7, 2010 at 9:38pm
I think it's called, "The Dumbing Down of Religion".
Comment by Pesci on August 8, 2010 at 12:17am
I probably didn't do the book justice. This was one of the most honest pro-Jesus books that I've ever read. As I said in the review, I agreed with at least 95% of what was in the book. Spong said that he believes that all of the talk of miracles and supernatural events are ridiculous. He debunked the Bible like few atheists ever have. The problem was in the last couple of chapters. He concluded (and I'm paraphrasing) that the reason that the authors lied was because the story was so important. I can't fathom how he arrived at this conclusion after spending a few hundred pages savaging the story.
Comment by Johnny on August 27, 2010 at 1:00pm
Sounds pretty interesting. Looks like my local library has it on-hand, so I'm going to check it out.

You might find Bart Ehrman's The Lost Gospel of Judas Iscariot interesting too, if you've not read it. Personally I find the scholarly research into Jesus quite fascinating, and especially like putting it to use in conversation when the topic is appropriate.
Comment by Johnny on August 29, 2010 at 11:46am
Comment by wyocowboy on August 29, 2010 at 12:04pm
Other books that give a great deal of detail of the bible:
"The Jesus Mystery: Was the Original a Pagan god"
"The Laughing Jesus"
Comment by Lekatt on August 29, 2010 at 12:42pm
The value of Jesus does not lie in whether He is real or not. It is not important who He was or from where He came. His importance lies in His teachings, the path of spiritual growth He pointed out, and walked Himself. Nothing else really matters beyond "Love one another."
Comment by Pesci on August 29, 2010 at 2:23pm
I have to disagree with you Lekatt - the truthfulness of the story means everything.

Some say that they do not care about the truthfulness of the story. Some say that they would rather just focus on his alleged teachings. With all due respect, that's BS. If that were the case you could find a hundred other people who had a great message without all of the (horrific) additives. There is nothing that is attributed to this man that hadn't been said much better by any number of philosophers that predated him. Better yet, they didn't make the misguided promise that you had to follow them to find salvation. That is a poor code for living. We knew that we were supposed to love each other long before JC arrived on the scene and if they were that interested in giving us a code for living they could have done a hell of a lot better than what was turned out.
Comment by Lekatt on August 29, 2010 at 4:40pm
It is the message and not the messenger that matters. The message is not BS. So many things were attributed to Jesus that He never said. Show me where He said you must follow him to find salvation, follow Him where. Each master teacher was unique and teached a different way. Yes, there are many other good teachers, they are all important.
Comment by Michael on August 29, 2010 at 6:40pm
I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.-John 14:6. That's a famous example of "Jesus" claiming to be the path for salvation. Of course, as we have all said, there may have been nobody to actually say it. You can, of course, pick and choose which messages you take from the Gospels ("love one another" is hardly unique to them-Confucius said the Golden Rule long before any person had ever heard of Jesus). However, if you're going to do that why even go to the Bible at all? As I've just said, many thinkers have the same messages. You can get the same by any moral philosophy. We don't need a fictional character for that.

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