Was Jesus a Rationalist Who Tried Largely Unsuccessfully to Use Metaphor to Free the People of His Time from Dogma?
People who believe that Jesus himself was a myth tend to base their argument on two things :
1. The unbelievable nature of the only written records we have of his life with their supernatural trappings and inconsistencies.
2. The absence of any references to him in contemporary histories.
But why should the life of an itinerant preacher who spent most of his time in the sticks, caused some minor disruption in a temple in Jerusalem and said some impolite things to some rabbis and was then crucified (something which happened to an awful not of troublemakers at that time) make it into the history books? The only reason we would expect to find him there is if he actually was a miracle worker who went around raising the dead and walking on water. That would be news. But we don't believe that. Clearly those stories were the product of the mythologising process when stories are passed on orally by individuals who want to convince their audience of how wonderful this individual seemed to be. Someone says, "We only had water to drink at the wedding, but Jesus was such a great guy to hang around with that we might have been drinking wine." A guy says, "Jesus brought me out of that depression. I came alive again. Before that I was a dead man." It isn't hard to imagine how the myths began. And by the time the stories were being written down the authors had a vested interest in persuading their audience so they told some deliberate lies, for instance two of the gospel authors made up stories to place Jesus' birth in Bethlehem, to link up with an Old Testament prophecy, when his birth place was almost certainly Nazareth.
The real question, if he did exist as an individual, is why one of many itinerant preachers became so mythologised. If he didn't perform the magic tricks he was reputed to have performed, what was it which excited those with whom he came in contact? The answer, I think, lies in his words. We have to allow for the fact that he was talking in parables and metaphors and using other forms of poetic language, but he was talking about the deep psychological sickness of the human race and offering a cure. Religion was a symptom of that historic sickness which had its origins long before the dawn of civilisation. Jesus was born into the Jewish religion, which believes that there is a supernatural being which stands in judgement of all humans. It seems to me that Jesus, like a good psychiatrist, engaged with his patients, using their delusion as the path out of that delusion. If nature and love between humans were what they knew of their God, then he emphasised those things, and used them as an argument against the concept that there was a supernatural God who might condemn them. Nature didn't condemn them. The sun shines on the evil as well as the good. And they needn't condemn each other. Such judgement and lack of forgiveness were the main source of their suffering. What he called "sin" is what we would call "neurosis", it is and was the natural self-interest of the suffering individual. He must have been very good at relieving that suffering in many of those with whom he came in contact. This must have seemed miraculous. But how to explain the miracle without acknowledging that the whole of the human race is suffering from a psychological sickness? Well, if we are all healthy then he must have been superhuman. The idea that he was simply a healthy human being and we are all psychological cripples just wasn't very appealing. Hence the miracles and the belief that he was divine. And various other biases would have come into play. Because many of us are afraid of sex he had to become sexless, even though the sexually repressive philosophy promoted in the laws of the Old Testament and in the writings of Jesus' main cheerleader Paul are not to be found in the words attributed to him. His comment about men who look lustfully at women committing adultery with them in their hearts can be seen more as a plea for honesty and against hypocrisy, i.e. why punish people for doing what we all want to do anyway?
Recently I've started writing a series of essays in which I, as a person who doesn't believe in the supernatural, give my own interpretations for some of the things Jesus is quoted as saying. For me it doesn't really matter whether or not he existed. What matters for me is the inspiration I get from the words. I could be writing a commentary on a fictional novel, or an ink blot for that matter. If something helps me to excavate something of value from myself, then it has value for me regardless of its source. My approach is nothing new. I'm just following the example of one of my heroes, Wilhelm Reich, who put forward much the same kinds of ideas in his 1953 book The Murder of Christ : The Emotional Plague of Mankind.
"Dogma is a defence against the brain’s capacity for free thought based on the fear that such thought might lead to a scary place."
Joe Blow - How to Be Free