The Rejection of Pascal's Wager
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The Personality of Jesus

The personality of Jesus is another subject Christians normally harp upon. Josh McDowell in his book Evidence That Demands a Verdict, a typical fundamentalist apologetic, quotes the nineteenth century historian Philip Schaff to support his case:

the moral purity and dignity of Jesus [is] revealed in his every word and work and acknowledged by universal consent...A character so original, so uniformly consistent, so perfect, so human, and yet so high above all human greatness. [1]

McDowell also quotes two positive assessments of Jesus' personality by two skeptics [2], John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) and William Lecky (1838-1903), in a transparent , and lame, attempt to convey the notion to his readers that Jesus' personality is acknowledged by all, believers and skeptics alike, to be what Philip Schaff says.

The problem with that is that it is simply untrue. There are many sayings and actions attributed to Jesus in the gospels which are morally abhorrent, by any standards. Perhaps I should give the first word to the renowned skeptic and philosopher Bertrand Russell (1872-1970):

I want to say a few words upon a topic...and that is the question whether Christ was the best and wisest of men. It is generally taken for granted that we shall all agree that this was so. I do not myself...I cannot myself feel that either in the matter of wisdom or in the matter of virtue Christ stands quite as high as some other people known to history. I think I should put Buddha and Socrates above him in these respects. [3]

Bertrand Russell is not the only skeptic with such a view. Some of the most famous skeptics such as Charles Bradlaugh (1833-1891), Joseph McCabe (1867-1955), and Margaret Knight (1903-??) are all of the same opinion. Given below is what Margaret Knight, herself a psychologist but with a greater understanding of biblical criticism than the group we saw earlier, has to say about the personality of Jesus:

Jesus, in fact, was typical of a certain kind of fanatical young idealist: at one moment holding forth, with tears in his eyes, about the need for universal love; at the next furiously denouncing the morons, crooks and bigots who do not see eye to eye with him, It is a very natural and human behavior. Many great men of history (for example, Socrates) have met criticism with more dignity and restraint. [4]

What makes skeptics like Russell and Knight say these, are they simply rattling off preconceived opinion about Jesus, just like the fundamentalists? The answer is, no. Their conclusions are actually based on the sayings of Jesus contained in the gospels, considered in their proper context and without any preconceived opinion (such as "Jesus is God") about him.

Knight called Jesus a fanatic in the quotation above. This description is apt. Jesus, as we know, preached a kind of universal love and even extoled his followers to love their enemies:

Matthew 5:43-44
"You have heard that it is said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you."

Matthew 19:19
"Love your neighbor as yourself."

Luke 6:28
"Bless those who curse you, pray for those who ill treat you."

This is all well and good. Jesus was generally tolerant towards self-confessed sinners who believed in him. We see this in Mark 2:15 where we are told that he had dinner with tax collectors and sinners at Levi's house. But this feeling of tolerance and love is not universal. Therein lies the root of Ms. Knight's criticism. Jesus was extremely intolerant of people, however good and well meaning, who did not believe in him. A fanatic is convinced he is right, anybody who does not follow or believe in him is an enemy of God, that is that. Jesus was like that. Take, for instance, this instruction he gave to his disciples on people who do not accept his "good news":

Matthew 10:14-15 (Also Mark 6:11)
"And if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave the house or town. Truly, I say to you, it shall be more tolerable on the day of judgement for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town."

And given below is what Jesus said to the villages in Galilee who were not impressed with his teachings or his miracles:

Matthew 11:20-24
Then he began to upbraid the cities where most of his mighty works had been done, because they did not repent. "Woe, to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida....And you Capernaum,...you shall be brought down to Hades...But I tell you it shall be more tolerable on the day of judgement for the land of Sodom than for you."

And some Pharisees, representing the generally better educated class of the Jewish populace, were naturally skeptical of his teachings. And to this lot this was the message from Jesus:

Matthew 13:13-34
But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!...woe to you, blind guides...You blind fools!...You blind men!...You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell?

Where was the "love your enemies" attitude in the above quotes? Surely people who are unimpressed with your teachings are not worse than your enemies. For your enemies, by definition, are people who want to do you harm, or at least, would like to see harm come to you. The people who rejected his apostles teachings may not be like that at all, and like the residents of Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum may simply have been unimpressed by his miracles and his teachings. [5] The reader can now see for himself how accurate Ms. Knight's observations were.

There is a further contradiction in Jesus' attitude towards his enemies, given below is a parable of Jesus where he clearly mentions what he would do to his enemies and people who do not believe in him:

Luke 19:26-27
"I tell you that to everyone who has, more will be given, but as for the one who has nothing, even what he has will be taken away. But those enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them-bring them here and kill them in front of me."

The observations of the other skeptic, Charles Bradlaugh narrows in on the fundamental problem of Jesus' preaching:

It is a mockery to speak as if love could really result from the dehumanizing and isolating faith required from the disciples of Jesus. [6]

In fact, it is a moot point if Jesus actually even meant his love to be universal. Take the following paradoxical passage:

Mark 4:10-12
And...the twelve asked him concerning parables. And he said to them, "To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables; so that they may indeed see but not perceive, and may indeed hear but not understand; lest they should turn again, and be forgiven."

The above statement, if historically accurate, is startling. For Jesus is saying that there are some people whom he does not want to understand his message because he does not wish for them forgiveness! How is this to be reconciled with universal love?

Furthermore, like most fundamentalists today, Jesus was not one to practice what he preached. Take for instance this teaching of his:

Luke 6:29
"If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also."

Jesus certainly did not follow this percept when he was supposed to have been stricken by one official during his interrogation by the Jews:

John 18:22-23
When Jesus had said this, one of the officials near by struck him in the face. "Is this the way to answer the high priest?" he demanded. "If I did something wrong," Jesus replied, "Speak up about it. But if I spoke the truth, why do you hit me?"

Note that Jesus did not offer the other cheek for the official to strike but instead he protested about the first slap!

The cursing of the fig tree (Mark 11:12-14, 11:20; Matthew 21:18-19) and the drowning of the swines (Mark 5:1-20; Matthew 8:28-32) are obviously unhistorical episodes. But if these are accepted as illustrations of what his personality was capable of, it makes the picture of Jesus even worse. The irony of the fig tree incident (from the standpoint of a believer) is well captured by Bradlaugh:

Will you urge the love of Jesus as the redeeming feature of his teaching? Then read the story of the fig tree withered by the hungry Jesus. The fig tree was, if he were the all powerful God, made by him; he limited its growth and regulated its development; he prevented it from bearing figs, expected fruit when he had rendered fruit impossible, and in his "infinite love" was angry that the tree had not upon it, what it could not have. [7]

If you remember, Jesus cursed the fig tree because it had no fruit. But the fig tree could not have been expected to have fruit, for it was stated explicitly that it was not the season for figs (Mark 11:13).

In the drowning of the swines, Jesus was in the process of exorcizing a man possessed of demons. The demons asked Jesus not to cast them out of the area but into some two thousand pigs that were nearby. Jesus agreed to do so. The moment the evil spirits were cast into the pigs, they rushed headlong from the steep bank onto the lake and were drowned. Bertrand Russell's tongue-in-cheek comment about this presents the problem to Christians:

There is the instance of the Gadarene swine where it was certainly not very kind to the pigs to put the devils into them and make them rush down the hill to the sea. You must remember that he was omnipotent and he could have made the devils simply go away; but he chooses to send them into the pigs. [8]

We also find evidence of racism in Jesus. On example is the passage below where Jesus equated non-Jews to dogs:

Mark 7:26-27
The woman was a Greek ... she begged Jesus to drive the demons out of her daughter. "First let the children eat all they want," he told her, "for it is not right to take the children's bread and toss it to the dogs."

We will be discussing this episode in more detail in the next section. The thing to note here is that Jesus was probably not the universalist many Christians believe him to be. Our, albeit brief, look at some of the sayings of Jesus reveal a very different Jesus from the one taught and presented by Christian tradition.

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References

1.McDowell, Evidence that Demands a Verdict: p105-106
2.Ibid: p105
3.Rusell, Why I am not a Christian: p20-24
4.Knight, Honest to Man: p26
5.Ibid: p25
6.Bradlaugh, Humanity's Gain From Unbelief: p77
7.Ibid: p82
8.Russell, Why I am Not a Christian: p23

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