Jesus Bothers Me

Posted: February 23, 2011 in Jesus

 

I really need to find this book.

This is in response (is it really in response if nobody reads it?) to a post an old friend wrote last week. We’ve lost touch for a number of silly reasons too dumb to mention. I think one of those reasons is Jesus. You see, my friend is an atheist and though Jesus bothers me very much, my friend’s post claims that Christ never bothered him. I feel like he must be speaking in terms of his time as an atheist because when you are following him, Jesus has a tendency to make you quite uncomfortable. In fact, if he doesn’t bother you, I don’t think you’re grasping what Jesus is saying at all.

The people who wrote the gospels were all believers. That is, they believed that Jesus was something very special. In one way or another they believed Jesus was Emmanuel – God with us. Whether or not they had developed what’s called a High Christology (Jesus as second person in The Trinity, equal with God…etc) is questionable. The first century church was not at all harmonized in their beliefs about Jesus and there were debates about what it meant to be “saved” from the get go.

 

The first piece of Christian literature, Galatians, is about one of these arguments. In it Paul comes out swinging against some Jewish believers who have been recommending that the churches in Galatia (there were 4 of them) start practicing circumcision. Paul’s frustration with the legalist believers culminates in expressing his desire that those men go and cut off, not just part, but the entirety of their genitalia. Thirteen years before he wrote this letter, Paul would not only have sympathized with these men, but concluded that they had not gone far enough because they were not killing the believers. As he wrote Galatians he was defending the freedom that Christ had given him and the churches of Galatia against all challengers. Something changed this man. Jesus had bothered Paul very much.

Around 33 A.D. Pontius Pilate had Jesus of Nazareth crucified. It was a very insignificant event. More than anything else it seems that Jesus was bothering the Jews and the Jews were bothering Pilate and Pilate didn’t like to be bothered. In the grand scheme of things, Pilate’s primary reason for sentencing Jesus to death may have been so he could get back to sleep. It was another boring day for the governor of the armpit of the Roman Empire. Later that same year the disciples who had followed Jesus started preaching that he was alive. This is significant because the Jews produced messiahs by the dozens and many of them were crucified by the romans. For some reason the Jesus movement had come back to life and was quickly gaining followers amongst the Jewish population.

What strikes me is this: there are a lot of good reasons for this not to have happened. Jesus was the movement. The disciples abandoned him when he was taken away. The chief among them, Peter, when faced with the same fate, denied ever knowing Jesus. After they saw first hand what happened to Jesus, these same men proclaimed his name fearlessly until nearly all of them were tortured and killed for it.

In order to "Speak in Tongues" a dove must first poop a snake into your mouth that will tickle your brain, causing you to say very strange things.

The Jews who converted had very little reason to follow Jesus. The Book of Acts says, during Pentecost, they laughed at the disciples, who seemed to be drunk, but after hearing Peter’s words they decided to sell whatever they could so they could stay near the disciples and one another. To be Jewish in the first century under the Roman Empire was not just to be part of a religion. To give it up was to give up one’s entire cultural identity. Before long they would be forbidden to even enter the Synagog. Their entire way of knowing God was quickly cut off from them, their families shunned them and yet they clung to Jesus. Something changed these people. Jesus bothered them very much.

But none of this matters.

Because none of it is absolute proof of anything. If you want you can find compelling arguments for why none of this can possibly have been due to Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. If you look for it you will find compelling arguments that prove the bible is entirely fabricated and untrustworthy. If you look for them you will find compelling arguments that Jesus never existed or, if he did exist, he was just a man and he became Christ because that’s what people wanted him to be. You can also find compelling arguments that compellingly argue that these arguments are not all that compelling. None of this matters. But you can’t say that Jesus doesn’t bother the people making these arguments.

 

This came from a website with a banner that said "C.S. Lewis is NOT A CHRISTIAN!" I wonder if it has anything to do with the smoking...

 

C.S. Lewis once proposed something people now call “Lewis’ Trilemma.” It is an argument for Jesus as The Christ and as God with us. My friend calls it foolishness because the trilemma (derived from things Jesus said about himself and what it might mean about a person who said them) is taken from the scripture and he considers scripture unreliable. My friend contends that if Lewis had thought a little harder he would not have said something so “embarrassing.” (Note: Lewis taught mythology for a living and after reading the gospels in their original languages concluded that they lacked the halmarks of mythology. Also, his conversion to deism and then Christian Theism is known to have been a begrudging one.) Yet the embarrassment my friend piles on Professor Lewis’ head is derived from his own belief in someone else’s argument on the reliability of the Christian Gospels. It becomes a matter of “who do you trust” or, put more simply, a matter of faith. I place some faith Lewis’ intellect and credentials, but again, none of this matters. Jesus bothered Clive a whole lot.

I think Jesus still bothers my friend quite a bit. Peter Hitchens (Christian brother of the infamous Atheist Christopher Hitchens) says in his book The Rage Against God “A polemicist writes first and foremost to convince himself.” In other words, myself and others make arguments like the ones you’re reading to convince ourselves as much as others. Taken a little further it means that we argue that we are right about the things we have doubts we are right about. (We are funny creatures aren’t we?) I think I write posts like this one (on a blog nobody reads) in order to wrestle with my fears that there is nothing out there; no God; no purpose; no reason why this world has so much pain; fear that my life is about as meaningful as a turnip. If these things didn’t bother me I wouldn’t write at all. I would stay silent and peaceful in my forgone conclusions about God and have no need to write about them.

So what do I think about Jesus? He bothers me so much that I can’t keep myself from trying to figure him out. The things he says debase the foundations of my self-image as a “good man.” They are indeed like a sword that threatens to cut me away from everything comfortable and send me out on a fantastic journey to fight a battle that I know can’t be won. They give me hope that this world is not just one big joke that we must try and laugh at while it tears us apart. Jesus bothers me so much that, like the ones he called, I have been compelled to walk with him awhile; to see if HE is worth believing in, regardless of the frustration and disillusionment I feel toward those who claim his name. Because if I find He’s alive…then none of this matters.

I hope Jesus always bothers me.



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Comments
  1. awfrick says:

    Thanks for interacting with my material. I’m not sure where to start, but I’ll put out some of the small fires here. I’m also not really sure who this is (sorry!), but I assure you, I left no friendship on account of religion. In fact, damn near all of my friends and family are Christians, so let’s just toss that right out. Whoever you are, I’d be happy to reconnect! Email me if you need contact info.

    First, I’ll have to insist that you not question my inner motives or cognition – if for no other reason, it makes you look foolish. It’s really just speculation, isn’t it? Completely unfounded, right? Even if it was true (me being bothered by Jesus), why choose to address my motivation rather than the merits of my argument? It all seems very ‘ad hominem’, and I think it’s a poor basis for your argument.

    That being said, no, the character of Jesus Christ does not bother me. A man who despises corrupt religion, has a genuine concern for the poor and beaten-down, and opposes violence sounds like a man that I’d love to become friends with. My issue, as I articulated in this piece, was that we cannot certainly know who Jesus was. I attribute the ‘bi-polar’ nature of his message to editing by others.

    My statement was not — “Christ changed or bothered no one”, but that any expression of certainty about Christ’s character is illusory. As any good Christian will tell you, religion requires faith about events that have no evidence. This is not an extension (or, as Kierkgaard would say, a leap of faith) that I am willing to make.

    “In fact, if he doesn’t bother you, I don’t think you’re grasping what Jesus is saying at all.”

    I’m a bit weary of dealing with this tongue-in-cheek insinuation that because of my apostasy, I never ‘grasped’ what Christianity was about, or that I never really had faith. It’s another shot at me, rather than my argument, and it’s really an expression of your frustration, not mine.

    “The Jews who converted had very little reason to follow Jesus.”

    And how do you know this? “The Book of Acts says…” Ah yes, arguing with your conclusion already in hand. Right.

    “Yet the embarrassment my friend piles on Professor Lewis’ head is derived from his own belief in someone else’s argument on the reliability of the Christian Gospels.”

    Again, flatly untrue. I draw my conclusions about religion from my own work and study.
    Please, criticize my work, I need critics to improve the quality of my writing, but again, stick to criticizing my arguments instead of shooting off your mouth about things you legitimately have no idea about. Whose ideas do I ‘believe’ in, exactly? Whose argument am I leaning on? Your criticism has absolutely no depth, and this is not a response to my argument, but an attempt to smear my character.

    Listen, I know what this is. My inbox (after I left the ministry) was flooded with emails like this. You’re frustrated, and watching a friend leave something you value so much is upsetting, challenging, and can feel threatening to your own beliefs. It’s okay.

    Are you happy with the tone of your piece? Because it seems childish and vindictive, and if you have issues with me, let’s talk about it, instead of hiding in the shadows and taking shots. Why harbor resentment and bitterness like this? I have no ill will towards people for what they choose to believe, why hold atheism against me?

    Hey, at the very least, thanks for reading, and try to stick to my argument next time, eh?

    • Nobody is bothered by Jesus’ character as you describe it. You’ve edited out all the objectionable material by a simple stroke of faith. When approaching the gospels you start with a lens that blocks anything that doesn’t fit your faith in a godless world. Thus Jesus becomes just another nice guy whom anyone could be friends with because you hop over the parts you don’t agree with or say “someone must have edited this.”

      The Trilemma is Lewis’ attempt to get you to deal with those sticky passages. You make him out to be some kind of fool and act as if he must have been much less informed/intelligent than yourself. He was just too blinded by faith to consider that Jesus might have been a patsy. I believe Lewis the evidence shows was no fool and not easily swayed. By his own admission he left behind his atheistic faith reluctantly because of an undeniable experience of the divine and after that began to piece together a logical defense of christianity.

      “As any good Christian will tell you, religion requires faith about events that have no evidence.” Seriously, what kind of “fundies” did you grow up with? Yes, I could point you in the direction of people who seem to see it this way. But nobody actually believes that statement. Even your fire and brimstone nutjob has evidence in the form of their “infallible” KJV. You chose to characterize their beliefs as illusory because you’ve decided those scriptures can’t be evidence.

      You supposedly derived this belief from your time in the ministry. Where is your degree from? How long were you a pastor? How many sermons on the gospels did you preach? How many commentaries on the greek did you author? You seem to feel that whatever education you had was enough to completely discount what other men (who make the study of scripture their life’s work) find very reliable. Maybe the thousands of educated men in our own time and throughout the ages who disagree with you are just delusional, maybe you don’t need to interact with their work at all because yours is significantly better. Or maybe you have the kind of faith that could move mountains.

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