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.
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