Blah : Jesus’ Teachings

This is the title of a book I have long daydreamed of researching and writing–but alas, like many dreamy bloggers, I won’t. So, instead, I will slowly do some of it here on my blog. This is the intro–I will put up an index page later.  But before you begin this post, consider responding to the poll on the right. Most of you will probably not find an answer that matches your opinion. You probably would want to add lots of caveats, corrections or other options. But please play the game and choose the closest answer to your opinion.


According to most versions of Christianity, the Jewish god, Yahweh, impregnated a 13 year-old Palestinian peasant girl in order to make a version of himself called “Jesus”. Yahweh did this because he had a mission or missions for Jesus.

The various flavors of Christianity see Jesus’ mission(s) differently but most of them fall into one of three categories:

  1. Salvation: to save people from sin and damnation
  2. Kingdom: to establish a new Kingdom: God’s kingdom
  3. Teachings: to give moral teachings

The four accepted Jesus stories (the “gospels”) are then peppered with magic and supposed prophecy fulfillment all along the way so that the reader accepts the credibility of Jesus’ missions.

Each sect of Christianity does a different mix of these three missions.  I have written elsewhere the obvious problems with his first supposed mission: Salvation.  As for his second mission, the Kingdom, it is obvious that no Kingdom has arrived even though both Jesus and his disciples expected it in their lifetimes.  So in a panic, hundreds of generations of Christians have spun various Kingdom theologies to try and correct for this obvious problem.

Though nonbelievers mostly laugh off Christian salvation and heavenly kingdom myths, the third mission gets occasional approval even from nonChristians. I have often heard non-believers kissing up to  Jesus’ apparent third mission: The Great Teacher.  Perhaps this is to be expected of believers in other great gods, gurus or teachers, but I have even heard casual atheists saying, “Well, I don’t believe Jesus was a god, but I believe Jesus was a great moral teacher.”  Mind you, blogging atheists (not the casual type), go the other extreme.  Check out the poll results.

But really?  If you look at Jesus teachings, they are a mix of nonsense, blandness, and occasional good virtuous ideas which were said by teachers and philosophers all over the planet before his time.  Jesus was not unique.  Often times his teachings were just “Blah”, outright wrong and even crazy.  Jesus was not a great teacher.  Well, at least that is my opinion.

In future posts, I hope to illustrate and support my above preposterous claim.

Question to readers:  First, please take the poll then add a comment with your caveates, objections and more. They will help me in considering future posts.



Filed under Philosophy & Religion

79 responses to “Blah : Jesus’ Teachings

  1. Sabio, I agree with pretty much everything you’ve said in your categorizing the situation (and I like the way you think) but I think you’re being too negative about it here (I say that respectfully). People evolve spiritually, and recognizing Jesus within a moral teacher motif (like Buddha or whoever), is an advanced step in a process of religious reorientation (that will continue to evolve). I don’t buy that anyone with a brain should just rip the baindaid off and become a cynical atheist.

  2. @ Xian-Evolution,
    I debated in what sort of intro to write.
    What audience should I consider.
    Just as non-Christians kiss up to Christians with the “Great Moral Teacher” meme, should I do a completely different intro aimed at Christians? As you can see, I chose not to. Each post written for this series may take different tones, we’ll see.

    Different tones affect people differently, and I am not sure a conflictive tone is always the best — depending on objectives. For instance, many an atheist will give “testimony” that Hawkins or Hitchens writings are finally what helped them wake up or cross the line.

    I agree that using Jesus as a moral model may be useful for people and indeed VERY useful. But I can still think that and feel the way I just outlined in this post and not be a “cynical” atheist. Of course that depends on how you define “cynical”. Here I am talking about the recorded teachings, I am not addressing the made-up, idealized Jesus in people’s as I tried to illustrate here.

    So this series is not meant to be sweet, reconciling, consolatory or accommodating to Christians while I explore the recorded, approved teachings that Christians claim to use to evaluate his Teachings as special and divine.

    That is only “cynical” if you live in a Christian privileged world. Is it cynical to doubt the teaching of Mohammed or Bin Laden just because people base their world on those teachings?

    I appreciate your giving me the chance to explain what you are perceiving as “negative” — in many ways, it is negative — as it should be. The title of the post was what I intended as a title of a book — the goal : to shake awake lazy, inaccurate assumptions based on millennia of privilege, not fact. But who knows, maybe I am wrong — it will be fun to explore. Thanx for the feedback, mate.

  3. He never actually said anything useful, either.

  4. But he turned water into wine! And that was after walking on it first! And cured blindness with spit and mud! And drove out demons! Then he had a rough few days for ‘our’ sins! Imagine him suffering in hell for 3 whole days with all those gays and atheists and pagans and stuff. Poor Jesus. Good thing Dad had a Laz-E-Boy ready for him at his right side to watch the rest of the show.

    His ‘words of wisdom’ remind me of that Dalai Lama dude who strings together fuzzy feeling sentences about peace and compassion while taking money from the CIA and training armed insurgents behind the scenes. “But he’s so SPEERICHUALLLL!”

    Some religions specialize in getting new disciples to do all sorts of physical labor for the group and Master. At least Jesus swept.

  5. Thanks for responding Sabio.

    To the point about Muhammad, if someone thought that Muhammad was a man wrapped in legend and myth, and therefore knew that all the nation building and penal aspects of the Quran were just stories that needent be taken literally, but this person was raised Muslim and chose to still value some of the universally moral teachings, community, and traditions (along with those of other spiritual models), I don’t see the benefits from the militant rejection of that viewpoint?

    I guess maybe I’m not sure what goal you have here in this post and in your site, are you ultimately trying to get all people to adopt a strong atheistic belief system?

  6. @ John Zande:
    Well, I doubt that on several levels. But maybe we can explore that later. But thanx for being frank. Do you care to share how you voted in the poll. I think I can guess but I don’t want to assume. So far we have 11 votes.

    @ Abel
    Yeah, I never considered the 3 day thing such a big payment. And to top it off, he was a coward in the Garden (as I write here) given (as you say) he had a big Laz-E-Boy waiting for him.

    Just as you say about the Dalai Lama, we all want heros so we go out of our way to make them and damn the facts. (see Indian film review here where I bring that up)

    Your point about Jesus as a servant is important — perhaps a valuable teaching to counter John Zande’s claim. More later.

  7. @ Xian Evo
    Thanx again for the honest doubts.

    (A) Concerning: Mohammed
    So are you saying, that if there were “progressive Muslims” like progressive Christians who took Mohammed’s stories as huge made up things to get some morals across, then I should not criticize that. We should let it go saying that it is way better than the militant views or the oppressive views ….?

    (B) Concerning: Progressive Christians (Progs)
    So, if someone still wants to identify as “Christian” even though they don’t agree with what 95% of Christians believe, you think I shouldn’t criticize and rock their boat?
    Or I should say that it is sweet and nice and just quietly accept it?

    Great questions, and I appreciate them. I have addressed those indirectly in other posts but have always meant to be more blunt about them.

    My answers would revolve around the following:

    (i) Many Progs don’t understand how they use Christian Privilege and how it serves them and helps form their beliefs.

    (ii) Many Progs don’t get how their continued use of the same jargon and categories reinforce Christian Privilege, Christian exclusivism and harmful Christian ideas.

    (iii) Many Progs don’t understand how oppressive some of their most cherish expressions and ideas are.

    (C) Concerning: Purpose of this Site
    It sounds like you are frustrated. Perhaps you don’t understand how strongly I feel i, ii, and iii above, or don’t intuit any of those points. Perhaps you have not felt the oppressive side of Christianity first hand like I have where my children are bullied, relationships destroyed and I was almost fired a few times (and actually fired) because of it. In short, maybe you have yet to taste the nastiness of religion up close. Or perhaps you have.

    Or, perhaps you have a temperament that could not imagine my tacks. Perhaps it is just a temperament thing. Or perhaps you can’t imagine my tacks are useful at all.

    But it does sound like your were offended. This post is meant to be offensive. The planned book was meant to be offensive. Do you think Jesus upturning the tables in the temple was trying to avoid offending people? Was he a cynic?

    (D) Concerning: Everyone adopting my beliefs
    No, absolutely not. I have absolutely no ambition for everyone to adopt me beliefs. Indeed, I think my beliefs (as perhaps you intuit correctly) would harm some people. But then I am not pushing governments to push my beliefs, asking parents to send their little children to schools to learn my beliefs, knocking on doors on people’s days off to push my beliefs on them, building schools for poor people under the stipulation that I can teach their children my beliefs. I’d never do that shit. But hell, I’d speak out against it. Would you? Or would you be afraid as being seen as cynical or pushing your strong counter beliefs and being labeled as “militant”?

  8. @ Xian Evo, I’m still trying to wrap my brain around what a “strong atheistic belief system” is or what it would look like if it existed. Can you elaborate?

  9. @Michael B, my understanding of the atheist designation is that there are “weak” atheists who are skeptical / agnostic, but don’t go out of their way to prove there can be no God. And then there are “strong” atheists, like Richard Dawkins for instance, who try to prove that there can be no God, and who hold an adversarial / cynical posture toward those who would disagree. I call the latter a “belief system” because given the evidence we have today for both views, it seems equally rediculous to try to prove to someone that there can be no metaphysical aspect to existence.

  10. Sabio, thx for the response, here’s my answers to your questions:

    (a) No, I didn’t say it was “way” better. I’m only saying once someone is that “watered down” to following a moral Jesus, it seems a bit like beating a dead horse to continue to attack it (but now I know your larger issue based on your later points below)

    (b) I think 95% is too right wing, I’m talking 99% disaagreement (or more). I’m talking about someone who really “believes” nothing, but rather appreciates the value in the community and missions, and can look back at their life and acknowledge that at a earlier point in the spiritaual path that a teaching of Jesus was helpful. And then uses their current mindset to go serve others and make sense of their own spirituality.

    (b i/ii/iii) I just don’t agree in context of the 99% progressive example, but I’m sure you have your reasons for thinking that. Part of tradition and heritage brings “privelidge” similar to how having a big (or rich) family does. It just is what it is in America today, but its all leveling out (maybe thanks to people like you). I think there are bigger fish to fry, and don’t have a mission to burn down the house, but if you do it’s fine, I just wasnt sure that was your mission.

    (c) Yes I am not as jaded as you, and didnt understand how you were trying to dis-assemble all of that. I don’t think those things apply in post-modern progressives though. I am not offended, or insulted or anything (I have very thick skin in these subjects so no worries there). I was merely commenting on why you were attacking the mildest threat of them all (i.e., the follower of the moral Jesus).

    (d) I’m not afraid, not at all. I have my own blog, using my own identity, and have caught a lot of heat for it. So yes I do speak out. I guess I just havent seen the harm in the sect of “Jesus as a moral teacher” Christians out there, and wasn’t sure why you were taking your energy to attack them when it seems there are so many “realer” targers to go after. But now I know that you have a vendetta against the entire idea, so now it makes sense.

    (New letter, E) You’ve answered my questions and I understand your position now, and I appreciate that. When you read someone’s blog it’s good to know their underlying motives, and now I know more about that.

  11. @Xian-Evo,
    (1) So am I getting you right? You are saying Atheists should level Progs alone since there are “bigger fish to fry”?

    (2) Are you saying that YOU disagree with more than 99% of Christianity doctrines (of many stripes) but find value in community and mission projects?

    (3) You may not understand me yet, but that would take some work. But I think I see that you feel that if I attack that “Jesus was a Great Moral Teacher”, you feel I am attacking Apple Pie and too many good things when there are great fish in the sea. I will write a post of “Bigger Fish to Fry” later — thanx for the phrase.

  12. Sabio, I think we’re just about there:

    (1) Not exactly, I’m saying that I see no reason for peaceful atheists to attack progressives (real progressives…not just those who say adam and eve is allegorical). And specifically to your cause, progressives may be some of the best allies that athests have in the argument agaisnt Chritian exceptionalism, fundamentalism, & privelege.

    (2) Maybe, but this thread isn’t about me.

    (3) Not exactly, I feel that attacking “Jesus was a moral teacher” seems to get into ground of just being a bully, and saying everyone must play your way or you’re taking your ball and going home (an attitude that I think is at the heart of many things wrong with our world today). And yes, to that point, there are much bigger fish to fry. Not to say you can’t attempt to fry all kinds of fish if you are indeed an evangelical atheist exceptionalist … which at the moment I think I have found is the case, in which your original attack against “Jesus was a moral teacher” makes sense and my questions are answered. I just didn’t realize that was your platform.

  13. @Xian Evo, I understand the distinction between strong and weak atheism, but I don’t understand how not believing in one thing constitutes a “belief system”. I haven’t read much of Dawkins, et al, but I don’t recall any of the New Atheists saying they are trying to prove there is no God. Do you have a quote or link from one of them that says that? Finally – and maybe this isn’t the place for this discussion – but what evidence are you referring to and what two views are you talking about?

  14. @MichaelB, my apologies but as a general rule I don’t get engaged in offshoot debates on comment threads with people I don’t know. Nothing personal, just limited cycles. (but if you want to remind me about the “two views” I mentioned I will clarify that). I’ve followed Sabio for a while and think he has a lot of good ideas and takes, but just felt like calling BS on this one.

  15. @ Xian Evo,

    OK, I think I get it.
    I think seems to be simply that you are saying that Sabio should not criticize the Jesus is a Great Moral Teacher meme because it is the favorite of progressive Christians. Progs are atheist allies. If you attack them you are a bully.

    Your “play my way or go home” analogy makes no sense — as I stated earlier. It is just another way for you to say, Sabio, stop criticizing a meme that is precious to me.

    You are saying, Sabio, if you attack what is precious to me I am going to call you an
    “an evangelical atheist”
    “a non-peaceful atheist”
    “a bully”
    “a strong atheist”
    “a cynical atheist”

    And I am sure you have lots of other phrases for atheists that don’t think like you think they should think.

    BTW: I think Jesus was indeed a teacher of morality — his own kinds. But I don’t think he was not a categorically “Great” moral teacher. Your sensitivity to this favorite meme is causing you to distort what I am saying. Your sensitivity to the issue illustrates to me how effective and valuable this series of posts may in fact be. I hope you stick in there and show me my future errors and how I just continue to fry little wonderful helpful nice fish when I should be trying to catch sharks.

  16. @ Xian-Evon,

    Strong words when you said:

    I’ve followed Sabio for a while and think he has a lot of good ideas and takes, but just felt like calling BS on this one.

    Emphasis mine, of course — to show what I am addressing:

    If you are going to use such strong language and judgement categories, please be concrete and quote exactly what Sabio said, and why you feel it is clearly “BULLSHIT”. Remember, quote me exactly. Thanx.

  17. Sabio, your debate 101 judo-tactic of mirroring my compiled statements only works if combined they’re not true. Would you argue anything you’ve quoted me asking about you as incorrect about Sabio? If not, I’m just making accurate observations in my attempt to understand your goal (which I now know is intentionally offensive evangelical atheist). (yes, you can quote that too 🙂 And tactics like that really make you no fun to talk to (kind of like a written attempt at a sucker punch).

    As for Jesus being a “great” moral teacher, I don’t even believe that myself so you seem to to be projecting some sensitivity on me or something that is within yourself. I believe Jesus said some things that were not good, and some things that made no sense, and I belive others said he said things that were harmful and made no sense…but he also said some good things, and others said he said some good things.

  18. Sabio, my use of BS here meant “Belief System.” Its a play on acronyms I use sometimes and if you read the earlier exchange with MichaelB you may see the context. But it was too obscure of a reference and I apologize if it accidentally offended.

  19. @Xian Evo, you’re right that it’s getting off-topic and I don’t like to do that in comment threads either. You said “both views” had good evidence of the metaphysical and I didn’t know what views you meant. Xian and atheist? Not really important for this discussion. It just wasn’t clear in your comment. FWIW I’m not an apologist for Sabio, as he’s a big boy and can take care of himself, but I do think you’re misreading him here, especially if you think he’s an “offensive evangelical atheist”, at least as I understand your pejorative meaning of “evangelical” in that phrase.

  20. Too bad, Christian Evolution, I was hoping to have you quote something that showed that I was full of BS or that my Belief System was inaccurate.

    Instead, you said you agreed with me about Jesus’ supposed teachings. You seem to agree that they are largely contrived, that many are wrong and harmful and probably that some are nice and not unique moral teachings.

    It just seems you want me to be quiet about it because it will offend Progs or weaken the fabric of society or something. You’ve got me puzzled.

  21. @ Sabio, the bottom line is I just see no reason to bully people who are following a spiritual path to the point where they view Jesus as (possibly one of many) a moral teacher (if you reread my very first comment that should be consistent). You believe that your BS is better than their BS and thats what I think is wrong with your BS. Youre acting no different than “them.” Maybe we just have different taste in discourse.

    @ MichaelB, by “both views” I meant the existence god or no god. Regarding Sabio, in this thread he said he was intentionally offensive, and pushing his agenda (perj. Evangelical) so I dont see how im misreading him.

  22. @ Christian Evo,

    I think I am a bit clearer on how you are feeling about all this. And I think there are problems with how you are seeing some important things. Let me see if I can outline our agreements and disagreements.

    In summary: We agree on #1 and #2, we disagree on #3 and #4. #5 is just confused and a red herring. #6 is ironically your evangelical rhetoric.

    Hopefully you can see some of the important distinctions below.

    (1) moral teacher vs. Great moral teacher — we agree

    It is obvious that Jesus taught moral things — among many. And my emphasis was on him no being “great”. And it seems you agree with me here.

    At the bottom of my post I clearly said,

    If you look at Jesus teachings, they are a mix of nonsense, blandness, and occasional good virtuous ideas which were said by teachers and philosophers all over the planet before his time.  Jesus was not unique.  Often times his teachings were just “Blah”, outright wrong and even crazy.  Jesus was not a great teacher.  Well, at least that is my opinion.

    You said,

    I believe Jesus said some things that were not good, and some things that made no sense, and I belive others said he said things that were harmful and made no sense…but he also said some good things, and others said he said some good things.

    So we totally agree, it seems. But I think my offensiveness in the article triggered you to hear otherwise — not sure. See below.

    (2) On being Offensive — we agree here
    I was offensive — I said it before you. So we agree here. But is offense bad??

    I’m sure my opening was offensive too: about Yahweh impregnating at 13 year-old girl. My criticism of Christian knotted theology around Jesus’ supposed missions was offensive too. I touched on the key Christian issues and pointed at an undermining agenda.

    I called myself offensive before you did. As I said above, Jesus was offensive, MLK was offensive, and many people you admire were offensive. But the offended group always feels the offended is inappropriate, of course.

    (3) Offensive vs. Bully (“aggressive” ….)
    We disagree here.
    You show your cards here with the new politically proper word “Bully”!
    You called me a bully.
    Well, a bully pushes things (psychologically or physically) against their will — and usually refers to weaker people or people without ability to defend.

    Dude, this is a blog. I never do that in public unless someone gets in my face about Jesus or does one of the Christianity offensive things to me or others (like telling my kids they are going to hell, or bad mouthing nonbelievers of other sorts). So I am not bullying anyone. And by using the word, you are showing your willingness to try and win a point by slandering someone. Very poor morality — very poor.

    Being offensive writing and being an offensive person is a huge difference. People can come here voluntarily.

    (4) Liberal Christians are Good People — don’t challenge them
    We disagree here.
    I really think this is your key issue — and the rest is fluff. This post is challenging a meme — the GREAT teacher meme. If liberal Christians hold it, it applies to them, if conservatives hold it, it applies to them. Readers are voluntary. I will continue to show why this is a dangerous meme.

    But somehow, you seem to think that I should not write things that risks offending someone who is doing good things. I disagree. I have no intent of criticizing those good things. Anyway, this is the only message I am really getting from you. The others are inconsistent and confused — in my opinion. (if I typified them correctly)

    (5) “Evangelical Atheist”
    Yeah, that is fine. You are pushing your whole agenda here and on your web site. We all push our own agendas. “Evangelical” is not a dirty word in my book as far as being an activity. In fact I think it is good to push what we think is good and right, as long as we don’t do it violently (that is, coercing others). I also have no problem with pushing it if it offends.
    So we can agree that I am an “evangelical atheist”
    But I think you are very hypocritical in your use of the word as an accusation.
    And two, I think you confuse aggressive vs offensive. As I have written above.

    (6) “Bigger Fish to Fry
    Yes, you can evangelize me on which fish I should and shouldn’t fry but that seems odd since you are against evangelizing apparently? Also, as #4 shows, I am frying a meme, not whole sale trying to fry any particular sect of Christianity. Also, I listed may reasons why Progs could use a bit of challenging — which perhaps you agree with or perhaps you don’t.

    So there, long, but I think that numerates the key points. Again, it might of been just the simple fact that your brain got in attack more when I typified the Jesus story starting with Yahweh impregnating a 13-year-old to make a copy of himself. Maybe Michael was right and I should take that out so as not to fuzz people’s thinking with offense too early and thus waste too much thread time.

  23. Sabio, a number of the assumed sensitivities you project on me are not accurate (i.e., I wasn’t fazed in the least by your virgin point) but for the sake of this thread I won’t address all that.

    My ONLY point from the beginning is that I saw no reason to attack the “moral teacher” meme because it is a) pretty harmless b) well on the road to being friendly to your positions.

    But now that I know you are an “intentionally offensive evangelical atheist” it makes more sense I guess. So my questions are answered and we can move on.

    Re: bully, maybe that’s too strong of language given some of its other implications, and since I don’t know you personally.

  24. Note to thread readers:
    To date, my non-scientific poll to date shows what readers think of Jesus’ moral teachings:

    (1) PERFECT ! (it is God, after all) 2% [1 vote]
    (2) Great Human 11% [5 votes]
    (3) Generic Moral 20% [9 votes]
    (4) Mix common wisdom, blah and nonsense 46% [21 votes]
    (5) Complete Hogwash 22 % [10 votes]

    I think I should have made 3 & 4 more distinct. My suspicion is that the people in 3 & 4 highly overlap.

    So, I disagree with folks in #1, #2, #5 or about 35% of the folks reading this post. Which means I disagree with both Atheists and Christians.

    Oh yeah, and if by reading my opinions, you feel “bullied” please leave the playground and go back to your safe cafeteria. (sarcasm as per comments above).

  25. Minor note, I wouldnt suspect anyone here would feel bullied because they’re mostly in agreement already with you. After cheap tactic #2 though I think I will leave. Cya.

  26. @ Christian Evolution

    As I suspected — and as I have written several times (see #1 in the previous comment). You are still confusing an attack on “Moral Teacher” meme vs. attack on “Great Moral Teacher” meme.

    Why aren’t you seeing that?

    We can’t “move on” — no matter how many times I say it, you don’t see it.

    Since I am not attacking what you imagine I am attacking, all the rest of the bullying, unnecessary offensiveness and more may disappear.

    I can’t think of how better to get you to see the point.

    As for people agreeing with me who read this — if you had read carefully — 35% of folks DON’T agree with me.

  27. I get your “Great” point, I just don’t think its a good one. Comparing good vs. great is based on one’s interpretation of “great,” in this instance, and what the word is applying to in the teachings…we’re getting into the Bill Clinton defintion of IS here. It’s too subjective to nitpick….. even though we agree the he was not a “great” moral teacher. I think people who think he’s a great moral teacher might say so on the weight of his good teachigns while sluffing off his bad one’s, not based on a rolling average.

    And re: your survey, you lump in the “hogwash” people in the 35% so they obviously agree with you on this point (and beyond).

    And talk about insults, you nest yours into every response but I don’t bother pointing them out (i.e., if you had read carefully).

  28. Ian

    I’d want to put the line between a great moral teacher and a uniquely great moral teacher. I am genuinely impressed by a lot of the moral content of the NT. I think it is politically naive, often, and doesn’t translate well into our cultural context, but in the context of occupied second-temple era Palestine, the teachings attributed to Jesus do often impress me.

    Teachings such as “sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath”, “the meek shall inherit the kingdom”, “it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom”, “the widow who gives what little she has gives more than the rich person who gives lots”, “forgive seventy times seven times”. And so on. As I said above, I find these impressive moral sentiments, even as I am dubious about whether they’d work in practice.

    But people often get tied up on the uniqueness. Jesus can’t be a great moral teacher, because other people had said similar things before. Is that important? Can you name any moral teacher who’s moral position was demonstrably new or unique? The further back we go, the less likely we are to be able to point to predecessors, but the same is true of anything: we have fewer records. So does the fact that Jesus remixed morality also found elsewhere mean he is derivative? Well, if so, then so was Ghandi, MLK, anyone else we can say had moral teaching. It feels to me like a red herring argument.

    Another interesting angle is the question of how much of Jesus’s teaching is authentic. Of all the sayings of Jesus we have (in and beyond the NT), there’s a lot of curious clues that the ‘great’ moral passages may be dubious historically. I tend to the position that Jesus was probably better known as an exorcist and obscuritanist than a teacher. The ‘teaching’ thread comes into the gospels rather late, and formed into grand speeches. Unlike the way Jesus seems to be known for speaking in Mark, and unlike Paul’s very scant references to anything he taught. Dale Allison’s “Constructing Jesus” is a great book on this. The point is easy to over-state, though, and I’d buckle if forced to defend it strongly, because it is at best a strong intuition, but still. It makes me a bit wary of talking of Jesus as a great moral teacher.

  29. Ian

    *meek shall inherit the earth, obviously!

  30. Interestingly, I voted for “generic moral teacher.” Unfortunately, I don’t have the time to read all comments above. I don’t, however, think that statements like “He never actually said anything useful” (john zande, above) are true. Every religion has something useful to offer. Also, statistically speaking, the chance that one has lived one’s life by only uttering useless phrases is close to zero. The issue is whether the useful things outweigh the useless ones. The problem with a religion, any religion, is not just the start of it, i.e., with the person who first preaches about it, but also with the followers. If people could have some critical way of thinking, they would only pick the “good” stuff. But people, especially at the times of Jesus (is it better now?), were looking for messiahs.

  31. @ Takis
    As you can see, 20% (12) of the pollers here think Jesus’ teachings were “complete hogwash”. Jahn Zande’s comment seems to fall either in that category or close. I’ll drop him a note to ask.

    I think you are right such an exaggerated positions are obviously wrong, so I take them as clouded by emotions. I think they are as clouded as those who can’t see Jesus as anything but perfect and apple pie.

    Being clouded is our nature and strong positions abound. Take this exaggerated claim:

    If people could have some critical way of thinking, they would only pick the “good” stuff.

    I think that is naive in that all thinking is invested, clouded and problematic. I’ve never met a religious person who can do miracles or a self-proclaimed critical thinking who is not polluted with lots of mistakes.

    And as you know, any claims I hear people claiming:

    The problem with a religion, any religion,

    is that they are overextending — even if they have good emotional ‘reasons’ to over extend.

  32. @ Christian Evo
    Fantastic, we are making progress.
    Indeed my claim depends strongly on the definition of “Great”.
    You are right.

    That you are willing to question that, shows you out of the extreme camp — not that I ever thought you lived there.
    And it helps us has a more rational conversation.

    Again,it seems we agree when above you said Jesus’ teachings are a mix of:
    (1) Nonsense
    (2) Rehashed shared wisdom
    (3) Harmful

    But you also made it clear you don’t believe a possible historical Jesus actually said some of the stuff written in the orthodoxy approved and edited stories (“the gospels”). I get that you hold a unique non-orthodox position.

    But, I can’t see why you’d be comfortable with the “Great” category. It makes the word “Great” have a very different meaning if all that you believe above is true.

    I already explained why I think this is not nonsense nitpicking. Hopefully future posts will make that more clear.

  33. @ Ian
    Interesting take. As your readers debated the definition of “special” that you used when you claimed that the Bible is not special without priming to believe it is, so the definition of “Great” is up for conversation here.

    In your Bible critique you claimed that the book was a mix of:
    tedious, tribal, occasionally uplifting, ludicrous, far fetched, even more tedious, and alienating.

    So, with that, it is hard to comfortably use the word “special” — especially since the claim would re-enforce that privilege-based priming.

    Similarly, I am do something like that with “The Teachings of Jesus” here, with all the same concomitant issues.

    I wasn’t saying his teachings aren’t great because they aren’t original. Indeed, it was the mixed issue at stake. So since it is NOT my argument (but a mistating of my position), it is not a “red herring”. Certainly not a red herring of the class of poisoning the well (Bill Clinton) or ad hominem (“Bully”) as used by others.

    I agree with you, there are several issues here and one includes “authentic” sayings that is crucial. But If we take “Jesus’ Teachings” as most Christians do — as all the stuff Jesus is reported to have said in the Gospels, many of us can feel pretty comfortable saying he was not a GREAT Moral teacher with that bizarre mix. If you whittle Jesus’ teachings down to a few safe, profound ones and ignore the rest (which probably most folks are actually doing in their heads), then denying “Great” may seem unfair.

    Thanx for the reference to Dale Allison’s book. My suspicion: we agree. We certainly did on the “special” issue. And it looks like your last sentence “It makes me a bit wary of talking of Jesus as a great moral teacher.” seems odd compared to your first sentence. “I’d want to put the line between a great moral teacher and a uniquely great moral teacher.” But I think that is because the situation is complex. A complexity that many Christians and Atheist don’t think about when making their categorical claims, eh?

  34. Hi Sabio, but late, but here goes… I’ll cheat a little and copy from a post I did on this very matter:

    He didn’t mention bacteria, pasteurization, or the importance of dental hygiene. He didn’t explain lightning, the tides, the sun, our position in the solar system, the galaxy, gravity, the composition of the atmosphere, or dispense the formula for sun block. He didn’t point anyone in the direction of morphine, teach a soul about the nature of asthma, epilepsy, atoms, genetics, subatomic particles, the periodic table, volcanology, the causes of headaches, muscle cramps, prenatal care, plate tectonics, architecture, evolution, or tell a single living being about the science of corrective-optics. He didn’t mention anything about better, faster, safer forms of transportation, communication technology, math, the metric system, a new swimming technique, scuba diving, blast furnaces, magnetic compasses, quartz watches, wind turbines, the wonders of reinforced concrete, ball bearings, immunization, New Zealand, the physics of flight, thermal dynamics, podiatry, water purification, desalination, stainless steel, umbrellas, telescopes, microscopes, macroeconomics, paper, washing machines, tupperware, bicycles, bras, buttons, refrigeration, or even introduce a single new spice to spruce up otherwise bland Judean recipes. He also failed to note that an average sized adult is a composite of some 7, 000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 flavoured atoms arranged on a 4.54 billion year old planet circling a middle-aged 4th or 5th generation star on its 23rd trip around the centre of a galaxy composed of about 200 billion stars in a 13.8 billion year old, 93 billion light year sized universe peppered with hundreds of billions of galaxies glued together in super clusters along expanding tendrils held in-place by the indirectly observed but otherwise still relatively mysterious dark matter.

  35. @ John Zande,
    Well, this post is not questioning if Jesus was an all-knowing god who should have told us all that. I simply asked if we have any basis to think of him as having been a Great Moral Teacher. But I see that you took it as was he a great teacher and should have taught us all that other stuff. maybe I should make to post more clear.

  36. You see, i didn’t get a notification of this comment. Makes it very hard.

    Sure, this post is about something else, but you asked me to elaborate on my original comment. You wrote: “Well, I doubt that on several levels. But maybe we can explore that later.” I figured that was why you just emailed me.

  37. john zande:
    I think you miss the point of Sabio’s question. I’m sure that Sabio agrees 100% with what you write. But, so what? He just asked what kind of teacher Jesus was.
    Anyway, while we are all on the same boat, it’s a weak argument to claim that Jesus didn’t mention communication technology, say, and so he was not divine.

    Yes, all thinking is polluted with mistakes, but when I speak of people’s ability to pick “good stuff” I’m talking about their ability to distinguish between fact and fiction. You may argue that this was very hard 2000 years ago, but it should be less hard today.

  38. Ian

    @sabio – Thanks “I wasn’t saying his teachings aren’t great because they aren’t original.” Sorry then, I inferred that from that paragraph that seemed to focus on his moral teachings being a mixture of nonsense and non-unique content.

    To clarify: Jesus meets my standard of ‘great’, with the conditions a) that we talk about the portrayal of Jesus, rather than any actual historical person’s teaching, b) I am allowed to make that judgement in his context of time and place and prevailing cultural moral norms, and c) I am clear that I think there is often a difference between great morality and practical morality. The definition is of great is personal, subjective, and applies to many others through history too (including others who were also not averse for uttering morally reprehensible things, at times — in the same way I would say Linus Pauling was a great scientist, for example, even though he was also a credulous twit).

    “A complexity that many Christians and Atheist don’t think about when making their categorical claims, eh?”

    Yes, if the categories are the end point, rather than a neat way to spark conversation, then the discussion is pointless, I think. There’s always irreducible complexity.

  39. @ John Zande
    Yeah, you have to click the box labeled “Notify me of follow-up comments via email.” in order to get follow-up emails. Did you check it?

    Concerning your first comment — when you said, “He never actually said anything useful, either.” Do you think he said nothing morally useful either?
    I get your point now.

  40. @ Takis
    My point is that “critical thinking” still doesn’t stop people from choosing fact or fiction for a great deal of stuff. I think you over-estimate “critical thinking”. Although, like you, I wish people did more of it. But likewise, I also wish people cultivated positive emotions more than they do. Lots of critical thinking without living in a brain of cultivated emotions can be very harmful, depending on the situation. I’ve seen surgeons make great decision in the operating room and horrible ones in their lives.

  41. @ Ian,
    Fun: Interesting conditional ! (Thanx)
    (a) Portrayed vs Historical
    I see three types of Jesus’
    (i) those written about in the Gospels (several in there, of course)
    (ii) those created in people’s heads that ignore sections of the bible and may even add folk stuff (lamb hugging photos and movies).
    (iii) some possible real historical person who most scholars say is hard to nail down.
    So in this condition of yours, is “Portrayed” i & ii?

    (b)Cultural Relativity
    But he talked about stoning kids, burning in hell and ignoring Samaritans — you are saying that is all Great teachings given the times??

    (c)Personal vs. Practical Morality
    Sorry, I didn’t follow that conditional. But are you saying, he may have been reprehensible in some ways but his moral teachings were great? I don’t think that is true either. He said “leave your families”.

    Concerning your last point: widening the discussion by weakening the “Great Moral Teacher” Meme which reinforces Christian privilege does not seem a pointless discussion — again, just like you “The Bible isn’t Special” meme.

  42. Nothing that hadn’t already been said by the likes of Confucius, Laozi, Siddhartha Gautama, and multiple Greek philosophers…. Certainly nothing original. I’d challenge anyone to name something truly revolutionary, something that had never been said before.

  43. Ian

    a) I don’t have a good grasp of ii, really. It doesn’t occur to me much. I was thinking of i only.

    b) Firstly I specifically said that I didn’t think it is all great. Hance my Pauling analogy. Secondly I think you have to be careful to actually read what is written. In know ‘read it in context’ can be a synonym for ‘read it as meaning what I want it to mean’, but in this case — for example — Mark 7 – I really struggle to read this as being about Jesus wanting to make sure that children are stoned. Hell is a complex matter in the NT, but we need to be careful not to read it through the lens of Christian tradition. Though, in saying both those things, I reiterate what I wrote before: Jesus was clearly “not averse to uttering morally reprehensible things”. I’ve given examples of culturally significant moral teaching. Others I could include would be non-violence, acceptance of fate, the inversion of financial power, open access to salvation. The latter two being highly subversive.

    c) No, I mean that I often find moral exhortations to be more moving and more compelling when they lack a certain amount of practicality. For example, it is a good moral sentiment to forgive others, even seventy times seven times. But in practice, probably isn’t wise. Non violence to me is a great moral ideal, but in practice, I can think of reasons. I can imagine the impracticality disqualifies those kinds of sentiments from being ‘great moral’ anything for some people, so I wanted to be clear. If the ground-rules are such that the ‘moral teaching’ has to be practical, then I’d probably change categories.

    On your last point. I agree totally. What I find particularly egregious is the attempt to apply some of these ‘moral teachings’ to contemporary culture. Compared to his culture, I think Jesus was somewhat progressive. His reported attitude towards the samaritan woman at the well seems compassionate in contrast to other writings of the time. But compared to ours? No, he’s shamefully misogynist. The moral arc of the universe has bent a long way towards justice since then. Jesus has no place at the table of our moral discussions, in my opinion.

    I’m happy to write the kind of ‘defence’ of Jesus’s morality above to you. I agree that it would be stripped of nuance and used in politically toxic ways in most venues, however.

  44. @ John Zande,
    Good challenge. It would take a lot of homework. Jesus said lots of stuff and so did all those other folks. As Ian said earlier, original is hard. But even if not original, he still could be “Great” if all of his non-original stuff was great. I can be a great Math teacher, without teaching one iota of new stuff.
    I think all the dangerous, confused and evil teachings takes him easily out of the “Great” category.

    @ Ian,
    (a) Remember your great post on how the Story of Christmas is a mix, likewise for Jesus in peoples’ heads.

    (b & c & last paragraphs) OK, we probably agree. And you could probably teach me lots of different ways to view specific stuff.

    You put my point even stronger:

    “Jesus has no place at the table of our moral discussions, in my opinion.”
    — Ian

    But on the other hand, a really Great moral teacher may have a place at that table.

  45. Drkshadow03

    Nothing that hadn’t already been said by the likes of Confucius, Laozi, Siddhartha Gautama, and multiple Greek philosophers…. Certainly nothing original. I’d challenge anyone to name something truly revolutionary, something that had never been said before.

    Given that they all supposedly said much of the same thing, why do you suppose they all produced different religions?

  46. @ Drkshadow,
    That question should have an @ John Zande in front of it. But let me take a stab at a few possible addresses to your good question:
    (1) People can offer very similar teachings, and yet have followers who turn it into very different religions.
    (2) Teachers could just offer different mixes that other teachers and thus their mix of already stated moral teachings could be unique.

    Those are two possible ways to answer — albeit weak. But I do think Zande’s claim was too strong. The question is empirical but impossible to fully answer. But certainly we could come close to showing that many sayings of Jesus had been said before — but that is not surprising — well, unless you think Jesus was God and was suppose to shock us with his brilliance. Which I think neither you, me nor Zande think but some believers might.

  47. @Drkshadow03

    Good question. These people didn’t really build any religions, rather wisdom systems, which i wouldn’t really call a religion. Now, as far as we can see Jesus (if he existed) wasn’t actually in the religion business, either, so we can’t actually blame him for Christianity.


    It is a strong claim, and it tends to sound quite shocking on first inspection because no one says it. However, if you really look at all the teachings you won’t find anything practical or even remotely revolutionary. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not “anti-Jesus” in any way, I’m not trying to hurt anyone’s sensibilities, just calling it as it is. Every teaching presented by Jesus had been dealt with before by other people, not least of all the idea of cosmic justice (the last will be first…) as detailed in the concept of Karma.

  48. @ john zande,
    Well, we can’t take your word for it, but have to look (as you say). But I must say that the saying “Do unto others as you’d have them do unto you.” sounds incredibly “practical” to me — though not remotely revolutionary. Your comment about practical thus seemed to broaden your claim and I suspect in that form, it is false. Maybe you didn’t mean to add the claim that none of Jesus’ teachings are “practical”.

    Second, I think Jesus (all the various ones described in the gospels) was indeed in the “religion business” — he used the religion of his time to push his teachings and it fed his visions. Curious what made you say that was not the case? His followers may have changed his particular spin (being surprised by his death and all), but he certainly seemed to be playing the religious game to me.

  49. “Do unto others…” is a wonderful idea, a fine philosophy, but it was far from being new. The concept dates back to the Egyptian Middle Kingdom (c. 2040–1650 BCE) “Now this is the command: Do to the doer to cause that he do thus to you.” It also emerged in the Babylonian Code of Hammurabi (1780 BCE), as well as in the Mahabharata (8th Century BCE) “The knowing person is minded to treat all beings as himself,” in Homer’s Odyssey (6th century BCE), “I will be as careful for you as I will be for myself in the same need,” 6th century BCE Taoism, “Regard your neighbour’s gain as your own gain, and your neighbour’s loss as your own loss,” in 5th century BCE Confucianism, “Never impose on others what you would not choose for yourself,” in 4th century BCE Mohism, “For one would do for others as one would do for oneself,” and was articulated by the Greek, Pittacus (640–568 BCE), who said: “Do not do to your neighbour what you would take ill from him.”

    True, i guess he was pushing a religion. To tell you the truth, i’m just not that interested in Jesus. If he existed (which is highly questionable) he simply didn’t do or say anything that stood out as important or unique.

  50. Yes, john, I actually read your good post on this issue which you have cut and pasted here. I have been building a graphic illustration of the same point to post in the future. I get the commonality stuff, of course.

    I am glad you see that Jesus was indeed about religion.

    Typing the word “Jesus” in your blog’s search widget reveals that you write a great deal about Jesus. So jumping to the claim that “I’m not really interested in Jesus” when I challenged your claim about Jesus’ teaching not being practical isn’t too helpful.

    Hopefully you see that you are not correct in adding “not practical” as a generalization of Jesus’ teachings.

    I am not a Jesus fan either (though I use to be), but we are discussing him (or the creation of him), because his myths and the way Christians use him impact our world and we have stuff to say about that.

  51. Sabio:

    because his myths and the way Christians use him impact our world and we have stuff to say about that.

    It is precisely this that makes me be interested in religion. It does influence every single aspect of life, from politics to law to education to societal structure to…. Alas, it is amazing that a bunch of myths have been more influential in the structure of societies than actual facts, rationality, and science. It is, perhaps, what Castoriadis termed as “the imaginary”, or, rather, elaborated on it (because the term is, I think, due to Lacan.)

  52. @ Takis,
    It is inevitable that we fill our lives with fictitious stories — we all love them. Myths in that sense are great — the problem is when a story supports a bad idea and then it is sanctified (made undoubtable by threats of divine punishment). Such myths are detestable. So there are fun myths and detestable myths and we all compete on the labeling!

  53. Sabio:

    the problem is when a story supports a bad idea and then it is sanctified (made undoubtable by threats of divine punishment).

    Yes, exactly. That’s what I tried to express earlier, but you said it better.

  54. Drkshadow03

    @John Zande

    Code of Hammurabi: Which line from it do you understand to be an expression of the Golden Rule?

    The Odyssey: Which book and specific line does that verse appear?

    Pittacus: This supposedly comes from the elusive Fragment 10:3, which is where wikipedia and a variety of humanist/skeptical/atheist sites are citing, where can I find a translation of this fragment from a reputable academic source? Or at least figure out where the papyrus of this fragment is housed?

  55. From what I understand its almost a mirror of rule of Maat in the story of The Eloquent Peasant from the Egyptian Middle Kingdom and deals with the concept of Lex talionis: an eye for an eye.

    Pittacus, I have no idea, sorry.

    Homer’s line in from Calypso’s promise to Odysseus. Have no idea what book.

  56. @ Drkshadow,
    Great questions.
    Like you, I’m guessing Zande got his stuff from this wiki article: Golden Rule.
    It would take a lot of work to verify the sources on that page though there are several foot notes. You know wiki and all.

    But, Mr. Shadow, why not offer us a bit more than safe dark shadows, why don’t you share suspicions with us.

    You didn’t question the sources for the Egyptian thing, the Mahabharata source, Taoist source, Confucian source, or the Mohism source.

    So, my questions to your non-revealing comment:
    (1) Are you researching this stuff, is that why you asked?
    (2) Do you think Jesus’ teaching was Great and Unique or either of those? [I doubt it, if I understand you correctly from other encounters]
    (3) Are you just trying to discredit John’s easiness with cut and paste without giving credits?

    Of did I miss something? It would be cool if you actually shared and stepped out of the shadows — though I know Marvel Comic heros thrive in such places! 😉

  57. I used to live at the corner of Pittacus (Πιττακός) and Thales (Θαλής) streets in Athens. They were both among the Seven Sages of Greece.

  58. @ john zande,
    John, as I start, I’m not sure of Darky’s intent, but I’m guessing part of it is to ask you to be transparent with your sources. Did you get that from wiki, or are you digging through your extensive library and finding the passages?

    Likewise on your blog when you spoke of the Rabbis and scholar you discuss with — I asked for sources and you said e-mail but didn’t tell much more.

    Knowledge advances with transparency of sources so people can double check, as you know. I think that is a good point of DarkShadow. Now, just quoting Wiki is fine by me and interesting — so if Wiki is wrong, we can check — if motivated.

  59. Lucky fellow! I grew up on the corner of Orion and Sirius Streets 🙂

  60. Most evenings, I can see Orion himself right from my bedroom window. And many other Greeks heros and gods.

  61. @ john zande
    Nothing lucky or unlucky. Just a fact. As you may (or may not) know, Athens was a (almost an Albanian-speaking) village at the beginning of the 19th c. When Greece became an independent state, modern Greeks tried (and are still trying) to connect to the “glorious past.” It is this that motivated people to start using ancient Greek names. A few hundred years earlier, Greece (or, rather, Byzantium) had suppressed ancient Greek thought and knowledge and science and literature. Little-by-little, they tried to reconcile Christianity to that “glorious” past. But to no avail. It is still the case that a typical modern Greek has a split personality owing to the fact that he or she thinks that Christianity is a natural consequence of Greek civilization. So, the naming of the streets has nothing to do with that past. Nevertheless, it did provide me (and others) with the curiosity to look further into the sages and other stuff. At the time, I had no idea that the reconstructed Greek state had tried hard to reconcile the two past histories of it. The effort would have been lesser, had the Ottomans not occupied Byzantium and thus left that part of Europe also develop alongside its western cousins. The “imaginary” of the Greek society (in the sense I mentioned above) lies somewhere in the conglomeration of Byzantine and classical Greek traditions.

    But I’m diverting. My apologies for the wasted ink.

  62. Don’t apologise, this is interesting. In the end we really have to thank the Muslims for preserving Greek wisdom. If weren’t for them we’d know very little today of their true magnificence.

  63. I contacted over 60 rabbis from every movement. That is my source. Private research, and I’d encourage everyone to do it, its quite a revealing exercise.

    I picked all the Golden Rule references from multiple sources, including wiki. There’s in fact many, many more… even an African bush proverb. Dark can enquire all he likes. No skin off my back as he’s only going to see the truth, and that can never be a bad thing. Apologists typically recoil at facts, so its nice when we can slip a few in under their guarded defenses; irrational walls which protect them from reality.

  64. @ John Zande,
    Pretty amazing polling! Writing a post about your techniques and methods on that would be fascinating. Is it connected to your day job? You “About” section tells us nothing about you — again, sharing makes understanding easier.

  65. You’ve never been curious enough about anything to just write to people? This all started many weeks ago when another blogger and I realised no one has actually (as far as we knew) asked the Jews (rabbis) what they thought about the archaeological finds and fundamentalist Christian nonsense. So, I decided to ask.

    I’m in the media… part of the problem, part of the solution.

  66. I’m not sure if we should thank the Muslims or, rather, the Arabs and the Persians. Islam was just an imposed religion, the cherry (a sour one, to be sure) in the pie, so-to-speak.

    Having said bad things about the Byzantines, let us not forget those Byzantine scholars who, a few hundred years after Constantine declared was towards Greek thought, tried to revive some of it. An example is Photius (Φώτιος), a Patriarch of Constantinople. Thanks to him we have Euclid’s Elements. See here. Also, let us not forget Manuel Chrysoloras,Georgios Gemistos (Plethon), Basilios Bessarion, Johannes Argyropoulos, and others, who, around the time that Byzantium had become weak (roughly 14th and early 15th c.) and just before it fell, they were those scholars who talked about philosophy, humanism, letters, mathematics, the arts, etc. and spread their knowledge in the west, in the Italian peninsula. One of the mentors of Leonardo da Vinci is supposed to be Basilios Bessarion. The aforementioned names grew from within Byzantium, from that theocratic empire which has suppressed Greek thought and classical tradition, only to replace it with a tradition which grew from Judaism, namely, Christianity. Unfortunately, Byzantium had become too weak, perhaps because it was such an old empire, but also because of the multiple invasions ranging from Russians to the Turks who finally gave the it the last blow. These is why the scholars I mentioned moved westwards. Were they not Byzantines? Sure, they were. And should we not attribute some of the lights of Renaissance to them? I think we should.

    History cannot be changed. One can hypothesize that the path towards the development of modern science would have been quicker had Byzantium left to change naturally rather than through invasion. But it’s only a hypothesis, albeit a plausible one.

    Back to Islam, however, it is true that many Greek works (some of the mathematical texts of Diophantus, for example) survive only in Arabic (and not in Greek.) I would like very much to know if we can call the scholarly period around the time of the library of Baghdad, a Muslim Renaissance or an Arabic Renaissance. (Alas, as we know, it didn’t survive.)

  67. Errata
    1. declared was towards -> declared waR towards
    2. These is why -> THIS is why

  68. Oh so true. Veered off on an unhealthy path.

  69. @ John

    “You’ve never been curious enough about anything to just write to people?”

    Nope. I am a dull fellow. Not curious about much. Scared of people and don’t know how to write. I live in a half-way house and just poll the guys in my dorm room when I need important info.

  70. Drkshadow03

    @ Sabio

    (1) and (3) I quickly researched Pittacus Golden Rule this morning and wasn’t getting anywhere at least only using Google. I hadn’t notice the Golden Rule iterated in Calypso’s speech when I first read The Odyssey some years back. So I was just curious. The lines in question are from Book V, lines 208 – 210.

    I’m not researching the topic in any long term sense. I just saw new ideas that I had never heard before. It’s always good when that happens.

    (2) I don’t think Jesus was unique in regards to the Golden Rule. Likewise, he was one of many Messiah figures, but clearly some of his ideas or his followers ideas, if you prefer, stuck and struck a chord. So I would place him in the Great Teacher category.

  71. Drkshadow03


    Concerning how similar ideas can turn into different religions

    (1) If we granted John’s strong assertion of Jesus’ non-existence, this reveals what I see as the problem with option # 1. How do we separate the people’s original ideas and the followers who transform them into something else? If Jesus never existed, then there is no “real” separation of followers from the person’s teachings.

    (2) I suspect this possibility works better. Reading a lot of literature has taught me often there aren’t tons of truly original ideas, but rather unique twists on old ideas and unusual combinations of old ideas (like two olds idea that have been around forever, but have never been combined before).

    @ John Zande

    What do you see as the difference between a wisdom system and a religion? If people don’t build religions, then who does? I suspect you mean something like Sabio’s option # 1. The various sages were just coming up with ideas in response to ethical/social/religious problems of their times, not looking to make a whole new religion, and then their followers took those ideas and transformed them into a new religion. But we’ve only looked into the Golden Rule. This doesn’t really address why is Buddhism different from Christianity, different from Judaism, different from Islam? If they really were espousing many of the same ideas, then how could they be so different? Were their wisdom systems the same?

  72. Hi Dark, thanks for the line/book number… Appreciated.

    May I ask, which ideas (of Jesus) “clearly stuck and struck a chord”?

  73. Buddhism, for example, has no godhead, so there isn’t a focal point of devotion. What is promoted is more the right relation to life. If you look at the thoughts of Confucius, Laozi, Siddhartha Gautama (to name just three) you’ll see they are wisdom’s for living. One of my personal favourites: “If you set out for revenge, dig two graves.” Aesop’s was great at this, too.

  74. @ John Zande,
    Actually, Buddhism-on-the-ground in Asia is highly superstitious with lots of praying for divine intervention, albeit Buddhisatvas– but as divine as anything Western religions imagine. Likewise Confucianism and Taoism are mixed with lots of magic and superstition and prayers for luck and all that stuff.

    Westerners idealize these Eastern Religions incorrectly. But this should not be surprising: Because people are people and religious specialists form in every land, superstitions and fear-filled practices fill each religion. And Westerners who valued studying these foreign faiths put pressure for the sanitized and scrubbed up versions that Westerners love to imagine.

  75. @ Dark,
    Thanx, that helped.
    Like John, though, I am curious to hear what ideas of Jesus “clearly stuck and struck a chord” such that you are willing to ignore all his foolishness and dangerous ideas and therefore lump him into the “Great Moral Teacher” group. Maybe your “Great Moral Teacher” group is huge though — heck, maybe your Kindergarden teacher is even in there! 😉

  76. Drkshadow03

    I want to point out that when I wrote, “clearly some of his ideas or his followers ideas . . . stuck and struck a chord” I meant in general. They struck a chord with Christians rather than with me specifically. I wanted to also note that I did use the phraseology, “his followers” in there as well so we don’t end up quibbling over whether this is Jesus’ idea versus his followers’ ideas. The general idea of everyone being born with sins and that Jesus sacrificed his own life to cleanse them of their sins is clearly a powerful idea.

    As far as what I find strikes a chord. You’re not a fan of some of the ideas in the sermon on the mount?

  77. Understood. I think the messages like “the first will be last” was very powerful for the Jewish diaspora after the war. That type of promise would have been deeply pervasive to refugees.

  78. @ Drk,
    Your earlier quote was,

    but clearly some of his ideas or his followers ideas, if you prefer, stuck and struck a chord. So I would place him in the Great Teacher category.

    Later you tell us:

    I meant in general. They struck a chord with Christians rather than with me specifically.

    So, are you putting him in the “Great Teacher category” from the believers perspective? Because we know believers feel this. Or for yourself. Because in that first quote you said, “So …” Maybe you mistyped.

    See my comment at 4:01 just above, for my question on my YOU would put him in the Great Teacher category.

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