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

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Comment by Michael on August 30, 2010 at 7:20pm
Mark 2:3-12; Luke 7:48,49 - Jesus claimed to have power to directly forgive sins.
Matthew 20:28 - He came to give His life a ransom for many.
Matthew 26:28 - He shed His blood for many for remission of sins.
John 8:24 - People who do not believe in Him will die in their sins. [Luke 24:47; John 1:29,36; 12:47]
So we can see that Jesus in the Bible did claim to bring salvation many times.

He also extorted people to follow him many times. The best example is when a man said he would follow Jesus but he had to bury his father first. Jesus said: “Follow Me, let the dead bury their own dead.” Matt. 8:21-22; Luke 9:59-60

Jesus is called God numerous times, rather than simply the Son of God, which is more ambiguous:
John 1:1-3, 20:28-29, Hebrews 1:8. We could go on. Additionally there is the virgin birth.

My question is, since you agree the figure of Jesus was not God, and may not literally have existed, then why are his teachings better than others, similar or superior to his? Also, how do you choose which of "his" teachings in the Bible to follow, since portions (i.e. claiming to be divine, the savior, etc.) must be rejected?

I am not clear on which message it is you mean. "He goes on to say that what He does we all can do and even better." How do you mean exactly?
Comment by Lekatt on August 30, 2010 at 8:01pm
Well, Jesus was an enlightened master teacher, one who saw through the illusion of physical life. So He said a lot of bold things that others dared not to speak. I did not understand His teachings until after my near death experience. It was easy to see who He was and what He intended to accomplish. He did indeed accomplish His goal. There are over two billion people who claim to follow Him and many more who have read about Him. I personally use His teachings because they are so widely known. It makes it easier to teach spiritual principles. He taught about a God within us, a universal God for all people. A God we all dwell withing and God dwells within us. He used the laws and cultural of the day to spread this knowledge. He knew exactly what He was doing at all times. I have a small section on my site that will explain some of the questions you asked.

http://aleroy.com/jesus00.htm

Those who have gone to church and heard the doctrine, most of which is not in the Bible, and there is much in the Bible untouched by religious doctrine. The only way to really understand is to read the whole Bible as if you are reading it for the first time. When I did this I understood the Bible has little to do with religion. It is only the interpretation of the Bible that has produced the thousands of Christian church denominations. Nothing that Jesus taught brought about these divisions.
Comment by Michael on August 30, 2010 at 10:52pm
Well, I've read some things on your website now. I'm aware of the ideas on there. It seems you want to do good. I don't believe that your experiences are really visions of the afterlife, or the God part clearly. However it doesn't seem useful to go on. Nice chatting with you.
Comment by Lekatt on August 30, 2010 at 11:50pm
As you wish, thanks for the kind words.
Comment by Michael on August 30, 2010 at 11:52pm
That's fine, you're welcome.

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