Wow. Atheist me is sharing a USA Today opinion piece about Jesus. That's because the only problem I have with Jesus is his connection with Christianity. Take that away, and we're left with the teachings of a regular human being.
This assumes, of course, that Jesus actually existed, and the New Testament contains at least a somewhat accurate description of what Jesus said and did -- two debatable assumptions.
Nonetheless, I like the general thrust of this opinion piece. I've added some comments on it in red.
Jesus doesn't need Christianity. His example is powerful without any religion at all.
Tom Krattenmaker, Opinion columnist
In the Christmas story being told in households and churches across the land, Jesus was born in a manger. Although romanticized in tales and hymns, the bed of hay and company of livestock do not constitute an ideal setting for birthing a baby. But Mary and Joseph had no choice. There was no room at the inn.
Will there be room at the inn for Jesus in our setting as we become more of a post-Christian society in the years and decades ahead?
We can hope so, whether we are Christian or not.
Not sure I agree, but the author does make a decent case for this.
Potent cultural forces are vying to crowd him out, of course. Chief among them is secularization, which has advanced to the point where roughly a quarter of Americans — and upwards of 40 percent of younger Americans — belong to no church or any other kind of religious organization. Many who have left organized Christianity, or were never part of it to begin with, throw out the baby (Jesus) with the bathwater.
Yay! Churchlessness is on the march! The times they are a'changing. Less religion, the better.
Along with that, New York Times columnist Ross Douthat sees paganism seeping into the vacuum left by the recession of traditional Christianity. In a recent column, Douthat, who is Catholic, notes that a kind of this-world spirituality is gaining ground as more people eschew the transcendent God of the Bible. Not atheistic, this spirituality seeks meaning and succor in nature, ritual, even in supernatural forces. Douthat predicts, gloomily, that this pagan “religion” might be on its way to becoming Christianity’s successor.
What's gloomy for Douthat sounds like cheerful news to me. I'd prefer paganism to shun supernatural forces, of course. But paganism is any form is way better than traditional Christianity.
Jesus gets no mention in Douthat’s piece. That’s telling. Because in the traditional religious formulation, as in the secular one, Jesus plays little if any role in the world other than the Christianized one that frames him as the divine son of God, the savior in whom we must believe and whose divinity we must accept, if we’re to avoid hell and reach heaven’s gate.
I'm fine with embracing hell and rejecting heaven, since there's no evidence either exists. The Big Bad Wolf can't scare us if it is a fantasy.
But is it really such an either/or? Can’t Jesus have a future beyond Christianity as we’ve known it?
He can. And should.
Law professor and blogger Bruce Ledewitz was quick to pick up on the omission of Jesus in Douthat’s column. Doubtful that paganism has much of a foothold or future, Ledewitz writes that there’s another possibility: the emergence of a “secularized” Christianity built around the values of Jesus.
The professor gets it right. Just as the person of Jesus came before Christianity, so might the figure of Jesus — philosopher, teacher, moral exemplar — outlast American Christendom. If secular people can focus on the values and teachings of Jesus without getting tripped up by the religious context — which comes naturally for some, not so easily for others — they might find a surprisingly relevant source of guidance and uplift.
OK. Like I said, I'm fine with Jesus. It's Christianity that I reject.
Here is a figure who, with his unwavering commitment to honoring the dignity and humanity of all people, has much to say to the issues that roil society today: Black Lives Matter, #MeToo, the arrival of traumatized immigrants at our border, and the despair in our bursting-at-the-scenes prisons and forgotten rural communities.
What would happen if our moral and policy evaluations were injected with the ethic of Jesus, who taught that the ultimate test of our character is how we treat those with the least power and status, those we can most easily get away with abusing and forgetting?
Jesus sounds like a progressive/Democrat/liberal -- just like me! Not an original observation, of course. Quite a few have pointed out that the Jesus loved by conservatives isn't the Jesus of the Bible. It's a made-up Jesus who hates gays, abortions, and other right-wing obsessions.
This is a figure who stands in stark contrast with the prevailing norms of a culture obsessed with the acquisition of status, wealth and consumer products. President Donald Trump promised that our “wins” would be so many under his leadership that we’d get sick of winning. No chance of that happening. Materialism’s hunger is never satisfied and its thirst is never slaked.
True. The United States is a supposedly "Christian nation" that acts in a very un-Jesus-like way.
How different would our society and lives be if we found real meaning and truth in a story that finds the protagonist racking up zero wins of the political or economic variety, but instead gets executed in the most humiliating way imaginable?
As Christians will quickly remind, the story does not end there. Resurrection anyone? But you will note that in the Bible telling, Jesus’ brief and ethereal appearances post-crucifixion continue to be other worldly. No thrones. No riches. No overturning of harsh Roman rule over Jesus’ people.
In this case as in many biblical stories, secular meaning is there for the taking, along with the religious significance. Can’t we take resurrection as a signifier that the story and values of Jesus endure and, indeed, trump the values of power and privilege?
Sure. This is a much more believable and appealing way of looking at Jesus than the whole fantastical Son of God thing.
Whether we celebrate it in churches or not, Christmas furnishes a prime opportunity to reflect on the meaning of this child whose family found no room at the inn. In his brief career, that child would go on to convey profound insights that remain as relevant today as they did 2,000 years ago: the value of philanthropic love, especially for those we find hardest to tolerate; the reality that we become truly strong only when we allow ourselves to be vulnerable; and the truth that we experience the fullness of life only when we stop living for ourselves.
Will there be room at the inn for Jesus in the years and decades to come? We really ought to make some.
Sounds good. But I doubt that most Christians will accept a secular view of Jesus anytime soon. Us atheists already do that. It just will take a while for fundamentalists to embrace our enlightened perspective on Jesus.
A member of USA TODAY’s Board of Contributors, Tom Krattenmaker is a writer specializing in religion in public life and author of "Confessions of a Secular Jesus Follower." Follow him on Twitter: @TKrattenmaker