Sketches on Atheism

The Rather Simple Question No Christian Can Answer

delusionThere are many ways to litigate the general nonsense presented by religions, especially that species of religion expressed in the Abrahamic faiths. The most tempting is—naturally—in contesting the outlandish claims of supernaturalism, but what is the most tempting is not necessarily the most potent.

Simple history—actual physical reality—is by far the best method to demonstrate a falsehood. Through the exhaustive efforts of biblical archaeologists and scholars we know today that the Jewish origin narrative contained in the Pentateuch is nothing but a geopolitical work of fiction—inventive myth—conceived of in the 7th and 6th centuries BCE, and written to place Judah at the centre of the Jewish world so as to capitalise on a weakened Mamlekhet (Kingdom) Yisra’el after its sacking in 722 BCE. This is a fact, and so overwhelming is the evidence that the majority of Jewish rabbis today openly concede that their origin tale is fiction, and have adapted accordingly.

Another use of history is to contrast what is known against any claim made by a religion, and in Christianity we have quite a bold claim: that a 1st century CE rabbi (for whom no physical description even exists) was in fact a God made flesh. Now, by extension, a God made flesh, a God who walked and talked and did things, should have said or done something new or original. This simply stands to reason.

It’s astonishingly straightforward, yet time after time after time I have asked Christian apologists (who’re not at all shy in proclaiming that Jesus was the greatest character in all of human history) to answer this simple question:

 Can you name a single genuinely new or original (or even marginally useful*) thing Jesus said or did?

Originality: the quality or state of being original

Original: present or existing from the beginning; first or earliest

Not one apologist has ever succeeded in providing an answer… an answer one would assume, given the claim made by Christians, to be the easiest thing in all of history.

Most recently, a blogger called Citizen Tom got so upset with himself in not being able to answer this patently simple question that he banned me. Another apologist, Colorstorm, simply refuses to even address the question. Recently also, Insanitybytes and Wally Fry have at least tried to answer, and for that I am grateful, but unfortunately for them they tried and failed.

And so the question remains dangling awkwardly out there in open space, teasing every Christian alive today:

Can you name a single genuinely new or original (or even marginally useful*) thing Jesus said or did?

*Edit note: by “useful” I have always meant information which reduced physical suffering, and I accept full responsibility for any confusion resulting from the use of that particular word without clarification. 

*To mark this monumental event (being banned), the always brilliant Meme has composed a song

*And continuing the nonsense, Citizen Tom has produced another diversionary post on the matter, failing, again, to actually answer the question which no Christian (it appears) can answer. 

*And further continuing the nonsense Citizen Tom has produced yet another post, yet once again, has failed to actually answer the question.

 

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491 thoughts on “The Rather Simple Question No Christian Can Answer

  1. Yikes!! – sorry – didn’t think the thing would pop up on the screen – thought you’d only get the link. Can I delete it – can you? little red faced now.

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  2. Why does Jesus need do anything new? Yes, he is God according to Christianity, but his reason for coming to Earth was not to do something ‘new and amazing’. Out of interest, have you ever read what the Christian’s call ‘The Bible’? According to that, he walked on water, he came back to life, he made others come back to life, he turned water into wine, he healed blindness, the lame, the dumb, and turned a few loaves of bread into a feast. New indeed. Maybe he could be God.

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    • Hi Jollyman

      None of those miracles were new. Dionysius, for one, did all those things like walk on water and turn water into wine. Dying and rising godmen is also far, far, far from being a new storyline… it’s actually a staple from earlier mythologies. Resurrection of the dead is also nothing new. In the Old Testament alone there are three occasions: Elijah resurrected the son of Zarephath’s widow, Elisha resurrected the son of the great Shunammite woman, and a dead man comes back to life when he touches Elisha’s bones.

      Now, I think you have answered your own query in saying Yes, he is God according to Christianity. A “god” (the creator of the universe, no less) should have said at least one thing that was genuinely new, or even marginally useful. Explaining the earth wasn’t flat (as it was believed to be at the time by Palestinians) would have been one such thing, even if it were said in passing. What really would have been impressive is if Jesus had informed his fellow Jews that Abraham and Moses were not real historical characters, and there never was an Exodus or a Conquest of Canaan, as we know today. Christians like to believe Jesus came to start a new religion, which is actually erroneous, so in the Christian mindset at least Jesus has no reason to be sympathetic to Judaism, and therefore telling his fellow Jews the truth of the Pentateuch (that it is myth) would have been natural, and, as I said, quite impressive. This fact alone would have lent some credence to the idea Christians hold that a new religion was on Jesus’ mind.

      Now, this is before we even start to delve into matters that would have truly reduced unnecessary suffering. Epilepsy, for example, was certainly not understood in the 1st Century, and epileptics were believed to be possessed by demons and were often stoned to death. This is unnecessary suffering, and Jesus could well have informed people that sufferers were not possessed, rather inflicted, and required care, not death. Would reducing suffering be too much to ask of a visiting creator of the universe?

      Now, the larger point of this exercise is however to highlight that absolutely everything Jesus said and did had been said and done before. There was nothing new in his entire ministry. Nothing. Not even a new, more accurate cosmogony.

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      • Thanks John Zande.

        I disagree with you on several points, but at least we can discuss them in a civil manner. I have been to some websites where people cannot even have a reasoned argument, so I would like to thank you for this opportunity.

        First of all, Dionysius, by which I assume you mean the god, is from a different religion. Can I or anyone prove that he, or Jesus, actually managed to change water to wine, or walk on water? With the Greeks and Thracians he was actually recognised as a legend later on, while Jesus was still a real person, with many people witnessing what he did. Converting water to wine at a wedding with a hundred people.
        Secondly, there are many faiths surrounding Jesus, multiple of which call themselves Christians, or followers of Christ. I don’t know which one you may have been focusing upon, but the faith that I follow believes that the old testament, all the bible before Jesus, was centred upon him and his coming, and the saving of both the Jews and the Gentiles; the revelation that the first books of the bible were false would not have helped them to become followers of Christ.
        Thirdly, Christ is believed by Christians as God’s son. Elisha and Elijah only resurrected people through God’s power, so Jesus may not have been doing something new, but he was God on earth, so he did similar things to what God managed through man (Elijah and Elisha).
        Finally, unnecessary suffering. Different beliefs have different opinions, but I will list a few; ultimately it does not change the important part of the gospel, that is that Jesus died to save us from what we do wrong. Some beliefs are of the opinion that it is God testing us and making us grow, perhaps you’ve noticed that you change most in times of grief. Still others believe that it is Satan tempting us, or wrecking havoc in the world as God said in the beginning. Oh. Forgot to mention. The pentateuch may indeed be inaccurate, but Christians believe that ‘all scripture is god breathed.’ new testament, phillipians. So everything in the old and new testament was inspired by God, that he worked through the writer of the pentateuch to write a reflection of history. You will find in most cultures a reference to the one part of the pentatuech that affected the whole world, the flood. Tangent, sorry. Would I like God to remove epilepsy, cancer and various other illnesses and diseases? Of course. Would that be just, and fair. Not according to the first part of genesis. We are cursed because we disobeyed God. We were given a perfect life, with the decision to do right or wrong and we chose wrong. And so God has given us this curse. So Jesus is the beginning of the end of that curse, yet his mission was not to inform us of how stupid we were, but to save us from the curse and our due punishment from that.

        Sorry I dragged on a bit. Nice blog and cool discussions. Thanks for your time.

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  3. Another astonishing question is: why did he only have 12 disciples. Imagine, the creator of the universe incarnates himself as a man. Should that not be a person who becomes some kind of superstart, with millions of followers? But just a meagre 12 and no contemporary mention in any historical source (and one should think that the creator of the universe should be able to make sure that such a document is preserved). And would this god not have had the patience to wait the 2000 years until TV and the internet are around on this planet, so that his incarnation could be imidiately be known worldwide. What are 2000 years, a blink of an eye.

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    • Twelve, because he wanted to emulate Dionysus 😉 Waiting until mass communication would have been wise, but all the communication problems could have been easily sorted by simply writing self-translating kilometre high letters in the sky, crafted from diamonds. Or better still, simply visiting every month to say “Hi!” 🙂

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  4. It’s funny to think that J didn’t do any miracles that a two-bit David Copperfield couldn’t have done. Really, he had a pretty lame CV. Now, Moses parting the Red Sea, that was impressive. Why couldn’t J have done that? He could have had everyone in the Roman Empire worshiping him within a fortnight.

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    • Agreed. Healing one leper is somewhat passe when he could have healed every leper on the planet, all at once. Now that would have been awesome. Growing meat on trees would also be pretty nice. The cows and the sheep and the goats and the chickens would have appreciated that. 😉

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  5. The useful message of Jesus is that if you truly believe in something you should go all out and not worry about success or failure. Be willing to die for it. That’s the way you truly succeed.

    Jesus also said being rich and greedy was a form of Hell. More money means more problems, and it’s therefore more pleasant to live a simpler life.

    Jesus also said violence begets violence, which is why it’s better to try to forgive people and live in peace.

    Jesus also said that marriage is a good idea and basically equated casual sex with adultery.

    There’s a lot of wisdom in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John for those whose ears are open.

    Of course, those who don’t want to listen I’m sure will be glad to burn in Hell. Jesus mentioned these people when he preached too.

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    • Hi Matt

      Many sages before Jesus warned of the ills of greed, so that’s certainly not new. Buddha was an exemplary of this thought, giving up his tremendous wealth (he was a prince, of sorts) to lead the simple life.

      Peace and forgiveness is also nothing new. Lao Tzu, said it this way: I treat those who are good with goodness. And I also treat those who are not good with goodness. Thus goodness is attained

      Zhuangzi said it this way: Do good to him who has done you an injury.

      Rishabha said it this way: My Lord! Others have fallen back in showing compassion to their benefactors as you have shown compassion even to your malefactors. All this is unparalleled.

      Mahavira said it this way: Man should subvert anger by forgiveness, subdue pride by modesty, overcome hypocrisy with simplicity, and greed by contentment.

      In Hinduism its said this way: A superior being does not render evil for evil; this is a maxim one should observe; the ornament of virtuous persons is their conduct. One should never harm the wicked or the good or even criminals meriting death. A noble soul will ever exercise compassion even towards those who enjoy injuring others or those of cruel deeds when they are actually committing them–for who is without fault?

      And Siddhartha Gautama said it this way: Conquer anger by love. Conquer evil by good. Conquer the stingy by giving. Conquer the liar by truth.

      Lust and adultery were dealt with also by many, many sages long before Jesus:

      Jainism (Acarangasutra 4.15) From lust springs grief, from lust springs fear; for him who is wholly free from lust there is no grief, much less fear.

      Buddhism (Dhammapada 212-16) When all the desires that surge in the heart are renounced, the mortal becomes immortal.

      In Zoroastrianism, adultery is revealed to Zarathushtra as the greatest of sins (Vendidad 18.6162), and Lao Tze taught specifically on lust equating to adultery, saying: It is true that you commit no actual crimes; but when you meet a beautiful woman in another’s home and cannot banish her from your thoughts, you have committed adultery with her in your heart.

      So, No… I’m afraid you haven’t named anything that was new or original to Jesus. All these things you mention were said by numerous sages long before Jesus, and often said in a far better way.

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  6. Hey, John, I just stumbled upon your blog. Your question (challenge) I find interesting and will provide an answer, but let me say this at the outset:

    Respectfully, I think the question is meaningless insofar as I perceive within it (I could be off my rocker!) an attempt at pigeon-holing God. In my opinion (I sure hope you take this well and not be offended, I surely don’t intend to offend you, sir) it seems an attempt by a fallen creature to create a creator after his own image.

    Nevertheless I offer the following as a “genuinely new or original thing” that Christ has done:

    He has secured my eternal freedom…

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    • Hi Theo

      Your name wouldn’t have anything to do with the genius, Thelonious Monk, would it?

      Now, while I certainly appreciate your answer and respect what you’re trying to say, theological opinions don’t actually fit into the spirit of the question. We’re not interested here in addressing claims, rather just the things Jesus (supposedly) said or did. For example, was anything in the Sermon on the Mount new or original or genuinely useful?

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      • Hey, John, no, I use ‘Theo’ as in theology (I do highly respect the musical genius of Monk, though).

        First, as Jesus in the namesake of the faith called Christianity and some would term this faith, this way of life, as a religion, the response I gave to your question seems reasonable to me. If Jesus is a religious figure, to speak of him brings us into the realm of theology.
        While I think it may theoretically be possible to speak of Jesus outside of theology, once you ask the type of question you asked, it became an impossibility.

        Second, it is impossible because you asked about what Jesus said or did, not what he claimed to say or do. So, my response only speaks of something he actually did (and continues to do), not claims to say or do.

        Nevertheless, if you don’t wish to speak in theological terms, I certainly do respect that and will bow out if necessary.

        Peace!

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      • Hi again theo

        Yes, it would appear reasonable, but in the spirit of the question it’s far from being unique. Buddhists follow the ways of Siddhārtha Gautama, Jains follows the original teachings of Mahāvīra, and Zoroastrians follow Zoroaster. Simply heading up a religion which then acquired followers is not new.

        Supernatural claims are fine, but as they are entirely unsubstantiated we can’t really process them as factual. That said, miracles are nothing new.

        Believe me, the question is not presented to trip up or trick. It’s a straightforward analysis of the facts, as presented. The claim is Jesus was a god who came to earth, so we’re simply looking at whether or not this god actually said anything new or even marginally useful. One would, of course, think a god would say something genuinely new, original, and /or useful, right?

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      • Yes, I certainly would expect ‘a god’ to be useful, if not, why attempt to influence or direct my life! I mean, go back to wherever you came from, right? But I’m making any claims to the fathering of a religion as new, or doing supposed miracles as new either (I’ve read a lot about these claims of other founders), I’m speaking of a particular miracle, salvation. While some of the leaders you speak of may make claims of this (Nirvana, etc), I’m just speaking of what Jesus actually did.

        I realize this is not scientific and there is no objective, per se, identifiable way for someone outside of myself (or the faith) to know this, but it still doesn’t change the validity of what has occurred by the hand of Christ. And again, I apologize for stressing the point, but your original question isn’t asking about claims, or proofs, or any such thing ; )

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      • I’m just speaking of what Jesus actually did.

        No, you’re claiming something causal with absolutely no means to verify it. What you should say to get around this inconvenient fact is that you attribute, or you assume, or you assign this cause only by the means of believing it to be the case. And this does very much bring into question the validity of your claim as you presented it. In other words, it’s not a valid claim in that its validity is entirely dependent on you (and your belief in it) and not some external agency you call ‘Jesus’. Your belief is not evidence for anything unique Jesus said or did.

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  7. Thanks for your comments,TILDEB, but I think my answer is inconvenient because my response can’t seem to be addressed in any organized, or reasonably explored way. It’s as if the responses I’m given are simply dismissive and the supposed affinity of Christ to other would be sages is what is leaned upon; surely you are not suggesting any of the other religionists/philosophers/sages are objective or scientific, are you? Actually I shouldn’t have to provide any proof, necessarily, to anything I’ve said for at least four reasons: 1. Please, take a good look at what John initially requested. He asked nothing of proofs, evidence, or any such thing. I actually think John should come back and say, “OK, you answered what I didn’t think you could answer. I meant to restrict the question to claims of Jesus and meant not to include his supposed actions or words. I’m seeking proof of what was original about him.” Again, I am simply responding to John’s question as asked. 2. Why anyone would think a discussion of God should be absent of theology is asking too much. I mean, if you were a husband and father and someone asked you to speak of your family why would you intentionally exclude mentioning your wife? She would be an integral part of the family. To ignore her is, well, hopefully you get the point. 3. To speak so definitively as you have when you said, “It’s validity is entirely dependent on you (and your belief in it) and not some external agency you call ‘Jesus,'” has got to be way too presumptuous. It is, in fact, dependent upon God, the first cause! For by your words you indicate having no knowledge of what it is I’m speaking of. So, whether the information and knowledge I have is subjective or objective, you can’t fully speak on it in any expert way. You do not have the experience thereof. And lastly, since we are speaking of a religious/faith topic it inherently does not fall within the realm of scientific thought. As such, to make any attempt at making it what it was not designed to be is to distort things and confuse those that may be reading this.
    Everything in life is not explained by one way of looking at things. If you were to suggest, for example, that Christianity does not explain everything, I would agree with you! I am not so foolish as to suggest that the mechanism of the combustion engine is explained by an understanding of the incarnation. But it seems both you and John would have us believe that science and proofs and evidences of whatever source are THE answer. I respectfully disagree on this point. There is far too much blurring of the lines in this world, guys; it may be simpler to find a simple one answer thing to ALL things, many seem to be seeking it, but it won’t be found (or at least hasn’t made an appearance yet). Life is far too complex for that.
    There is a place, a relevant place, for both religion and science in our society guys. So, the only way you could ever have proof would be to have it; that is, you would have to have Christ to know that He is real…otherwise, every conversation outside the illumination of His presence is an exercise in futility.

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    • Hi Theo

      I know this was addressed to Tildeb, and I’m sure he’ll answer you when he can, but if i may answer just one point before then.

      I actually think John should come back and say, “OK, you answered what I didn’t think you could answer.

      I’d be happy to give anyone a thumbs up if they could actually identify something new, original or genuinely useful Jesus said or did. Simply saying “Jesus saved me” isn’t something that fits that bill, I’m sorry. We’re trying to deal only with the tangible facts of the story. I gave you the example of the Sermon on the Mount. Was that new or original?

      And to tell you the truth, I think we have identified one thing. Jesus turned a fish into an ATM machine, and for the life of me I can’t find that trick done anywhere else. Now, while we’re not really litigating the supernatural claims, they are just stories after all, this does sort of qualify on the grounds of novelty… albeit fiction.

      So, can you think of anything Jesus said or did which was truly and honestly new, original, or genuinely useful?

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    • You missed the point I raised.

      Have you ever seen the movie (or read the book, of course) ? It’s about a six foot high invisible rabbit. What you’ve done is taken John’s question (can you identify something new, original or genuinely useful Jesus said or did?) and switched its meaning from Jesus – a supposedly historical figure who supposedly said and did important things – to yourself and your belief. Your belief is something YOU did. It is not something Jesus did. Here’s the Harvey part: attributing your belief to the divine character of Jesus is like attributing Elwood P. Dowd’s actions to Harvey the Invisible Rabbit rather than to his belief in Harvey. There is an important difference of objects, you see… a difference that seems to be eluding you. You’re not answering the question about Jesus; you are switching the object and then claiming the question answered. It’s not.

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