When people believe Christianity is a myth.

Christianity is an historical religion. It’s based on a man named Jesus of Nazareth, who lived and breathed and died in the first century of our era. He proclaimed God’s kingdom and described what it’s like, informed us no one could get round him to the Father, Jn 14.6 and despite being crucified by the Romans, physically came back from the dead and sent his followers to proclaim this kingdom on his behalf.

If none of this stuff literally happened—if it’s pure mythology, a fiction based on cultural archetypes instead of true events, which reflects humanity’s fondest wishes, meant to teach greater truths and bigger ideas instead of being taken as fact—then we Christians have a huge problem. See, when we join God’s kingdom we’re kinda expected to change our entire lives based on its principles. We’re also promised Jesus is gonna come back to personally rule this kingdom. But if Christianity’s mythological, then Jesus won’t do any such thing, ’cause he’s dead.

Oh, and if he’s dead, we Christians don’t get resurrected and go to heaven either. ’Cause that’d be part of the myth too. We’ve been had, and are massively wasting our time: Not only is there no kingdom of God, but we die, stay dead, and go nowhere.

1 Corinthians 15.17-19 KWL
17 If Christ isn’t risen, your faith has no foundation.
You’re still in your sins, 18 and those who “sleep in Christ” are gone.
19 If hope in Christ only exists in this life, we’re the most pathetic of all people.

Yet believe it or don’t, there are people who identify themselves as Christian, and believe the bible is mostly, if not entirely, mythology. You’ll find them among the Unitarians, though most of them don’t bother with organized religion. You’ll find them among cultural Christians, who approve of Christianity’s trappings but don’t really believe any of it; who go to church to feel spiritual, but think we Christians are silly for literally believing any of this stuff.

History versus best wishes.

True, there are parts of the bible which clearly aren’t meant to be treated literally, like apocalypses and parables. Nor do we have to believe Song of Songs is about a real couple instead of a fictional one. Nor do we have to believe the author of Job was present to transcribe everything every guy said, ’cause the purpose of the book is to talk theodicy, not record history. Likewise the creation stories, which aren’t a scientific description of how God made stuff, but a corrective against pagan mythologies of the day, where the gods fought one another to rule a pre-existing universe.

But plenty of bible does refer to historical figures. We’re meant to believe Abraham ben Terah was a literal guy who lived four millennia ago. Meant to believe the Exodus actually happened. Meant to believe Israel was really conquered by the Assyrians and Bablyonians and Romans. Meant to believe Jesus really suffered under Pontius Pilate. That’s why that last bit is in our creeds.

If skeptics believe it’s all myth, why do they bother to dabble in any of it? Because they like Jesus. They may think he’s mythological, like Gilgamesh or Hercules, but they like his stories and morals just as much as they like Huckleberry Finn. They think what Jesus teaches in the gospels is the most brilliant stuff humanity has ever invented. Love your neighbor? Turn the other cheek? Help the needy? Go the extra mile? Primo stuff.

So they keep Jesus’s teachings. Well, not all of it: They keep the teachings they like, and ditch everything they can’t stomach, like the stuff about being the resurrection and the life, Jn 11.25-26 or warning us away from hell. Mt 25.30 Don’t scoff; plenty of us Christians do the very same thing. The difference is we hypocritically pretend otherwise, claim we believe everything Jesus taught, and don’t notice how our actions and attitudes betray us. At least the skeptics are honest about their unbelief. God can work with unbelief a whole lot more efficiently than he can with our denial.

Here’s the problem with treating the Jesus story as if it’s mythology: Jesus proclaims the kingdom as if it’s a real place. As if he really means for us to live in it; as if he really intends to rule it. The tasks he gave us—to get ready for it, and get others ready for it, ’cause God’s gonna save us from death, and let us live in his kingdom forever—must either have a payoff, or not. If they have a payoff, great!—God is good. If they have no payoff: If they’re just a giant distraction from the suffering of humanity, if all we’re doing is moving one giant pile of sand from one spot to another and back again, but God has no intention of saving us, and permits us to believe otherwise—then God’s a dirty liar, and evil.

Oh, it gets worse. You may be aware God’s empowered us Christians to perform miracles. Skeptics may have heard about miracles too… but since they don’t bother to go to church, they’re way less likely to have seen any, and more likely to attribute them to other things, or think they’re delusions. But the rest of us have done and seen many supernatural things—all of which should absolutely convince us God’s real, and gonna save us. And again, if God has no such intention, then he’s leading us astray, like a devil.

Those who believe Jesus is mythology are pretty sure God is good. But their belief clearly isn’t based on bible. It’s just wishful thinking on their part. And it certainly isn’t based on logic: Their God tricks people into believing a bunch of ridiculous crap. He ain’t good.

How would the world be if everyone believed Jesus to be myth? Well, we wouldn’t see much in the way of organized Christianity. There’d be no point.

There’d be a lot more speculation about the afterlife, ’cause Jesus never came back to confirm any theories. There’d be no kingdom of God. There’d be a lot less hope, because there’s nothing tangible to base our hopes upon. And that is a much greater loss than people realize. Hope is a great comfort, and keeps our fears at bay. With little to stifle our worries, we’d be a far more violent, superstitious society than we already are. Or a far more totalitarian one. Look at any of the ancient cultures, like the Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans, which had mythology instead of bible: I expect we’d be more like them.

Christian apologetics.

Synchroblog, April 2013.