Tag Archives: Jesus

The Theist-to-Mystic Sidestep

Let’s start by defining terms. As you know, I don’t believe in fixed definitions, so obviously these are my definitions, made to help us communicate on this post:

A Theist: a person who believes is a god who is all-knowing, all-powerful, all-loving, intervening in the world and who responds to prayer.

A Mystic: a person who believes the possibility of union or communion with some god, or absolute or higher level of truth or some such thing. Mystic who believe in a god, don’t necessarily believe in the Theist’s god. (see my post “Monkey God vs. Cat God“)


When I left Christianity, I tried Reformed Judaism for a year — a stripped down Christianity. Then I started reading Christian mystics: Meister Eckhart, John of the Cross and especially Thomas Merton. But I could tell that all these mystics were trying desperately to hang on to their Jesus. So I started reading Buddhism and Taoism — as filtered through the Western forms of these. (see my post on “The Making of Buddhist Modernism“)

Both of these (my Christianity and my mysticism) were largely fed by my weird experiences in life. (see my posts on “My Supernatural/Mystical Experiences“)

But slowly I began to realize that I was trying to add an extra layer of wonder, an extra layer of meaning, an extra layer of hope to both my ordinary and my extra-ordinary experiences. I was valorizing my experience — I was creating a fantasy of deep meaning and hope. Finally, I came to rest with not taking this extra step. And with such a move, my habits of mind became more clear and both the ordinary and not-so-ordinary became more brilliant.

Theism is hard to escape and mysticism offers a much more benign ground to live in. But mysticism comes with its pitfalls of idealism and romanticism all built to support our fears. But heck, all positions come with pitfalls, don’t they.

Mystic Pitfalls:

  • feel that real meaning, real knowledge comes from union with the absolute (be that a god, the universe, Buddha-mind, The One or any such thing).
  • homogenizing, idealizing, romanticizing the world of a myriad of things
  • negating or minimizing the body, normal mind, or normal experiences
  • judging others as not having your amazing connections, perspective and insight
  • valorizing your experiences and your temperament


Please feel free to criticize or try to correct or add to my thoughts above.



Filed under Philosophy & Religion

Which Jesus Behind the Stories?

Which JesusMatt Brisancian did a fine infographic on the Easter story. At the end of his graphic, he proposes five ways of looking at the Jesus story. Of these five ways, Atheists tend to take the #4 or #5 options:  4. Growing Legend, 5. Christ Myth.

But the contrast between these views may not be as strong as some imagine. To illustrate my point, above I made an imitation and expansion of Matt’s options #4 & #5 to show a 4 a,b,c and d.  With these, I try to illustrate that depending on how much truth you feel the Jesus legend version (#4) contains, it can so easily approach the Christ Myth version (#5) in a way as to be almost indistinguishable.

I tried to capture the same idea here in my post & graphic called “The Jesus Pie” — see my own personal pie here.

Question to Readers:  Where do you tend to stand?



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Jesus and Big Fish: film talk

Jesus fishSeventy some years after Jesus supposedly died and a few stories of him had already been penned, the writer of the Gospel of John decided to tell his own tale and to make it very clear that Jesus was a god.  John tells us that his Jesus even existed before the universe was created and that Jesus himself created our universe.

Wow, what a big fish story!

As the gospel writers tell us, fish were indeed a speciality of Jesus.  All the writers share a similar story of Jesus helping his disciples catch fish, and not surprisingly, John’s story is the biggest fish story.  Whether these are two different real stories or just a shared myth is debated, but the stories are remarkably similar.

Mark 4:1-2 and Matthew 13:1-3 tell us that Jesus taught from a boat. Luke 5:1-11 uses a boat story to illustrate the calling of some disciples. And Luke adds a miraculous fish catching section to the story so as to teach his readers that Jesus wants his disciples to catch people and not just fish.

Ducio's (1300s) Miracle of the 153 Catch

Ducio’s (1300s) Miracle of the 153 Catch

John uses the fishing story differently: instead of using it as a literary tool to explain Jesus’ early-career gathering of his disciples and call to missionary work, John’s fish story has Jesus appear to his disciples after his execution. In John’s story Jesus isn’t in the disciples’ boat but yells to them from the shore, “Boys, you haven’t caught any fish yet, have you?”  Then, as in Luke’s story, Jesus directs them to throw their net over the right side of the boat and wham!, they catch so many fish (153 to be exact) that they couldn’t haul in the net due to their weight (while Luke has the net break).

In John’s story, the disciples didn’t know who was talking to them until they caught the fish because Jesus was in his newly-resurrect, special celestial body (1 Cor 15: 35-58). But after the miracle, the ever-so-bright Simon Peter wakes up and says, “Duh, it’s our Master!”

OK, I paraphrased John’s story, but I think it is close.  But are these stories true? Did the original hearers of the stories even care if they were true? What purpose did the stories fulfill? These exegesis dilemmas are addressed differently by different types of Christians. These are questions any fish story demands.

big_fish_08Speaking of fish stories, yesterday my daughter and I watched and thoroughly enjoyed Tim Burton’s film Big Fish (2003) — based on Dan Wallace’s 1998 fantasy novel. It is a tale about a father tells his life story by weaving together huge, complicated fish stories.  These stories estranged the father from his son but though angry at his father, the son returns home when his father is dying, and realizes two important truths:

  1. Fantastic stories can contain important seeds of truth.
  2. Sometimes exaggerated stories are fun and help fill both the speaker and the excited audience with a sense of identity better than bland stories.

Though the father’s relentless fictions alienated his continually protesting son, the movie wants us to look down on the son as being cold, literal and unimaginative.  Further, the writers clearly want us to forgive the self-centered, grandiose, poor-listening father because of the beautiful things he accomplished in his life, the people he inspired and for the wonderful stories he wove which would survive him.  The son realizes that his fathers fantastic stories indeed offer him a sort of immortality.

I enjoyed the film and it made me wonder of some of the strategies of Progressive Christians to redeem the stories of their Jesus.  Instead of viewing those strategies with contempt, the Big Fish movie helped me envision them with a little more sympathy. For like most folks, I too love a great story.

I’m trust my readers see all the parallels I am trying to allude to in this poorly woven  post.


Also see: my other movie reviews here.


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Criterion of Embarrassment

Embarrassed ManLots of Christians love the “Criterion of Embarrassment” to bolster supposed evidence for the credibility of their sacred  documents. It seems (see Wiki) that this approach dates from the 1800s. The argument goes like this: if the Jesus story were fabricated, it wouldn’t have all sorts of embarrassing details like Jesus being an illiterate laborer, or Jesus being killed as a common criminal. The approach is highly limited, but like many bad arguments (consider Pascal’s wager), we hear it recycled constantly by Christians.

Even New Testament confessional Christian scholar Mark Goodacre has done a fine short podcast showing the weakness of this mistaken criterion.

Clapham, one of my Evangelical commentors, just applied the same criterion of embarrassment on his blog comment to try and add credibility to the stories in Jewish Tanakh (his “Old Testament”). Here is what Clapham said:

Sure they [the OT stories of Moses and Abraham] could have been made up – but why would you only make up those bits? Abraham generally comes across as a cowardly muppet, Moses similarly hardly covers himself with glory. If you were going to make it up surely you do it properly?

I replied with yet another criticism of the flimsy criterion of embarrassment by using a comparative religion approach and said:

In the Mahabharata [Hindu scripture written around the same time as the Tanakh], the stories of the heroes are full of their foibles, mistakes, wrong doings and more. If I remember correctly, it is the same with the Iliad and the Odyssey (Greek) — written close enough to a similar time.

So the data shows fiction is often written with imperfections and such to make the story believable, more interesting, relatable and more. Well, certainly back then. Well, unless you believe the Mahabharata and Odyssey the same way you believe the ancient Jewish stories.

Clapham generously replied:

having less knwoledge than you on those subjects I’m not going to try make a comparison, but I do take your point.

I hope he and other readers will reconsider this faulty criterion. The criterion of multiple attestations is another favorite of Evangelicals and is likewise horribly mistaken. But mistakes can be stubborn — take astrology, for instance.  Marc Goodacre has another podcast criticizing it too, btw.

I have taken this conversation to my blog because Clapham’s thread was becoming unwieldily due to nasty hierarchy. 🙂



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Jesus as an ex-Lover


Jesus is certainly fictionalized in the various stories about him that survive. See my post, “How do you view the Bible’s Jesus?” where I illustrate the variety of images non-believers and Christians have of Jesus.

One of these views is that Jesus’ story was not based on a real person but made up out of whole cloth– they are called “mythicists”. Naturally, Christians wholeheartedly reject this theory, but I am often surprised at how vehemently some ex-Christians also reject the theory.  Today I came up with a theory as to why their feelings may be so strong:

When someone breaks up with a lover, I have seen the following responses to be common:

  1. They think he/she was a complete jerk / idiot (or some other such thing).
  2. They get angry at the person who introduced him/her to the ex-lover.
  3. They get angry at that ex-lover’s friends who remain his/her friend instead of also rejecting him/her.
  4. They get very depressed and self-loathing – hating their own stupidity.
  5. They say, “Oh well, moving on.”

For ex-Christians who are vehement about not entertaining mythicism arguments  I wonder if part of it is because doing 1, 2, or 3 is far less painful than 4, though 5 is obviously often the best goal.

If Jesus as an ex-lover of yours, it may be too hard to admit that you totally deceived yourself and easier for you also to do 1, 2, or 3 above.

Question to readers: What do you think?

Caveat: Yes, I realize that warning others about the dangers of religion can also be good and not necessarily tied up with psychological complexities.  I’m just saying, we have complex minds.




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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.



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Lying my way into Christ

Social_CirclesChristianity was the dominant, privileged religion of my childhood family, my neighborhood, my town, my state and my country.  It’s not like I had a lot of choices.

My family was nominally, casually and culturally Christian. We dressed up and attended church on important days, celebrated religious holidays and pledged allegiance to God and Country.

I played the game until I was fourteen years old and then declared I was an atheist. My parents grounded me for a while for refusing to go to church, but six months later the whole family stopped going to church (but no recompense!). With Sundays now free, our family spent more time at the boat, camping and more. Yeah!

In Junior High School (“Middle School” to my kids), I was very shy and had no real friends. Two years later, in High School, I made two friends — my only friends.  Those new friends, both from my advanced Math class, just happened to have been Baptists from the same local church.  And as good Christian friends do, when they take hell seriously, they gently, but dutifully, tried to convert me back to Christianity — the cultural norm.

Sabio with Baptist GF

Sabio (16 yo) with that Baptist GF — Dressed for the Prom

By the time I was in High School our family spent less time together. For just like many teenagers, I preferred spending time with friends to being with parents. Besides, my parents were having their own issues by then.

To spend time together my two Baptist friends invited me to their Christian activities and I accepted. The activities were not blatantly Christian (one of their techniques) but the leaders always took time at the end of each activity to ask us to think about Christianity.  So at sixteen years old I started re-investigating Christianity. Mind you, it helped that one of those buddies’ neighbors was a cute Baptist gal who I was considered dating.

OK, I was a superficial pig, but I didn’t know it. I was not intentionally devious. Well, my mind may have been intentionally devious — my mind was deceiving “me”.  My mind convinced “me” that I was sincerely interested in the truth, and thus, in Christianity.  And sure enough that Baptist girl bought into it:  she though, just like I thought, that I was sincere — a real seeker.

salesmanNothing is more convincing than a salesman who believes his own bullshit. Indeed, the placebo effect is known to sit at about 30% but when both the patient and the practitioner of an ineffective therapy believe in the sham treatment its effectiveness can jump up to around 70%.  Thus self-deception has clear adaptive evolutionary advantages. But which came first, other-deception, or self-deception. Either way, therein lies the reason we can’t trust our own stories: our stories of our success, of our personalities or of our conversions in or out of a religion.

Self-deception occurs, time elapses and we usually forget the original settings of our change and thus the chance to see behind our self-deception slips away forever. And as we discover other benefits for believing an idea/religion and more self-deceptions pile up, we may lose our chance to admit the carnal, basic, embarrassingly simple reasons we originally adopted our ideas/religion.

Of course some of you are much more noble than me — you actually discover real truths, embrace ideas for selfless reasons–merely because they are true.  And I know you won’t like this, but I will continue wondering if you are as full of as much shit as me. I may hide my doubts of your self-story, because it would not be useful for you to know that I doubt you.  I want you to think that my questions are sincere, mutually exploring and kind.  I don’t want you to see through the deep doubt I have of your stories.  And if I didn’t convince myself (lie to myself) that I am sincerely interested in your webs of self-deceit, you’d never believe that I am sincere.  So I think I am sincere here.

The problem with Sabio that he is schizo: he steps out of his social-proper-self at awkward times, showing his inner lies. Damn — I am so unconvincing.

My conversion to Christianity — my way into Christ — was of course much more complex. (I hope to illustrate the complexity in another post).  Previously I shared when I found one of my best friends dead and heard God’s voice.  That experience obliterated the memory footsteps of my half self-lies to date the pretty girl and bond with friends.  After the death of my friend, my reasons “changed” for becoming a Christian.  I would not uncover these memory footsteps until much later, when the self-deceit was no longer useful (note: some may say “until the honesty no longer hurt”, but I think that is usually a half-lie too.)

Question to readers: Share one of the few self-lies you’ve been able to remember.  And please reassure me that you don’t think I am a superficial, manipulative bastard.



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A True Follower of Jesus: Part 1

Tofu_JesusChristians who eschew denominational classifications or religious taxonomies, commonly use self-congratulatory appellations such as: “I am a follower of Jesus” or “I am a disciple of Jesus”.

From my experience, however, few of those Christians are following Jesus as seriously as a friend of mine once did. Actually, as I have written here, I am glad most Christians do not follow Jesus — as you will see.

Of course each Christian envisions Jesus differently, picking their own favorite passages or images for the Jesus of their imaginations. And I guess if they make him bland enough, they might actually be following some undemanding Tofu Jesus.

My friend Greg, however, did not follow a Tofu Jesus, he was following a full-blown apocalyptic Jesus. I met Greg during my hitchhike from Europe to India.  Neither of us had any money. And if I remember correctly, our paths crossed the American consulate in Turkey. Greg was a gaunt, 22 year-old blonde Floridian who met Jesus two years earlier and was taking his Jesus to heart.


Following the Jesus in his head, Greg was on his way to India to find a cave where he felt he was to store-up honey in preparation for the end times. Following Jesus’ admonition in Matt 6:26, Greg had given up almost everything he owned, rarely wore a shirt, and carried the minimum of belongings.

Greg had blonde hair down to the middle of his back feeling that God would care for him so there was no need to either cut his hair nor brush his teeth.  Well, this all went well with his hair, but Greg was also a fruititatarian which was apparently bad for his teeth. I am not sure how he got the Bible to tell him that being a fruitarian was what Jesus wanted of him, but he was diligent. So during our travels, we had to beg twice for local dentists to pull out two of his rotting, aching teeth since he could not pay for repair. Greg was amazing though — he did this with no complaints and no local anesthesia.

In Part 2 I will share a little more about Greg — the most devoted follower of Jesus I have met. I remembered this story after reading Alice’s post chronicling her exist from Christianity where she said,

“Roughly two years ago we [her husband and her] were having supper and one of my back molars just caved in. At the time I was expecting the Rapture at any second so I just put it off.”

Alice, like Greg, was really was following Jesus teachings concerning her teeth.  Well, whether it was Jesus’ spirit or some imaginary Jesus in their heads, we can’t be sure –though I have my suspicions.

Question to readers: Have you done anything stupid for the Jesus in your head?

Note: HT for snake pic and Jesus pic which I photoshopped.



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Oh God! — Film Review

 Kamal Haasan: anti-hero, director, producer in "Hey Ram"

Kamal Haasan: “Hey Ram
anti-hero, director, producer

“Hey Ram!”

This post is inspired by my last-night viewing of a fantastic 2000 Indian film called “Hey Ram“: Oh God!  The film apparently flopped in India but was acclaimed in international film circles. I loved it too, and though many of you may also enjoy it, there are reasons you may not – which I will share at the end of this post.

Hero_WorshipHero Worship

Humans are social animals with the cognitive proclivity to follow leaders. This tendency varies from individual to individual, but overall, stable populations are naturally comprised of mostly followers. For this reason, leader worship, hero idolization and saint modeling are common since they reinforce the leader-follower model.  But such a political cognitive habit comes at a cost: honesty.  Heros are exaggerated, embellished and mythologized so as to be more easily followed.  Yet eventually, the few who rebel against these hypnotic political hero movements pull back the curtain hiding the hero’s dark side or create counter myths. Here are just a few examples of heros with dark sides:

  • Rama (Hindu god)
  • Jesus (Christian god)
  • Mother Teresa (Christian saint)
  • Mahatma Gandhi (Hindu saint)

Rama: God-Hero

Rama, (also pronounced “Ram”), is considered an incarnation of the Hindu god “Vishnu”.   Literalist Hindus claim he was incarnated in 5114 BCE or even earlier, while other “scholars” vary in their estimates between 600s to 500s BCE with Rama being only a minor chief at that time. These Ram stories evolved right around the time that the Jewish Torah was creating Yahweh stories (see my diagram here). The best known story of Rama is found in the epic the Ramayana. And in my series on the Ramayana, we learn the following:

  • Studying the textual history of the Ramayana, we can see that Rama was eventually transformed into a full blown god, much like Jesus in the Christian Scriptures.
  • Just as Judas stories flipped to make him a hero, Rama stories were turned on end by rebels to make Ravana (his enemy) virtuous too. These are attempts at overthrowing orthodox use of Rama stories.
  • The Ramayana has a hidden underside showing a conflict between North (Aryan) and South (Dravidian) India just as the Christian Bible shows has a background conflict between Jewish-centered vs. Gentile-centered Christianities.

The Dark Side of other Heros

Jesus has his dark sides, but that will have to wait for future posts. Jesus’ follower, the supposed saint Mother Teresa also had her dark sides exposed by many folks — see the Wiki article.  And finally, the film I saw last night touched on the dark side of the Hindu saint Mahatma Gandhi.

In the movie “Hey Ram” we get a hint of the downside of Gandhi’s political policies.  You can find many websites discussing his other shortcomings. Gandhi was assassinated by a fellow Hindu from a group who felt Gandhi’s policies sold out to Muslims and actually resulted in the slaughter of Hindus.  In Hey Ram, the anti-hero joins that movement and is assigned to kill Gandhi to stop the slaughter of Hindus.  We get to feel the villain’s perspective in this film.

Don’t get me wrong, like many of you, I have long held Gandhi as a hero in my brain — mine works like everyone else’s.  But I also love seeing controversy that shakes my normalcy and this film helped.  Yet in the end, Gandhi is elated back into sainthood — you will have to read other books if you want to deeply change your image of Gandhi — this film will only offer you temporary doubt.

Obstacles to “Hey Rama”

Though I found this film fantastic, here are reasons you may not enjoy it:

  • It is 3 hours 20 minutes long
  • It is subtitles: the film is bilingual: Tamil & Hindi
  • Much is missed if you aren’t familiar with:
    • India’s partition history
    • India’s religious history
    • The mythological quality of Mahatma Gandhi
    • The myth of Gandhi’s supposed last words: “Hey Ram”
  • Some is missed if you aren’t familiar with:
    • North-South India difference
    • The Story of the Ramayana
    • The mythological quality of Gandhi
    • Bollywood culture

“Hey Ram” was very controversial in India, pissing off almost every group’s favorite sensibility — all the more reason to watch this if you have any interest in India.

Is Background needed?

I wrote here that the Bible is not fantastic literature, and Ian recently wrote that the Bible is not particularly useful.  These sort of posts stir all sorts of feelings and endless debates, of course. I think that even without Bible knowledge, Western Literature still has much to offer.  Heck, even without all the background I tell you above, “Hey Ram” can still reveal many deep principles and feelings.  So take a chance, give if a view if you have the time.

The world is huge, I watch lots of foreign films from countries whose history I am clueless about and still enjoy them.  I think you could still enjoy “Hey Ram” without any of the info above.

Questions for readers: Did this post teach you anything new or entice you to click a link or watch the movie?   Share your thoughts!



Filed under Philosophy & Religion

Versions of Jesus

JesusFaceGrowing up, I thought there was only one story of Jesus, just like there was only one story of Abraham Lincoln or Martin Luther King Jr. Of course, at that time, I did not know that the Jesus stories were constructed in a very different way from Lincoln and King.

Not only do the stories of Jesus vary, but the way people visualize Jesus are also different. Think about Jesus in your head — do you get an image? To the right is the well-know BBC reconstruction of a possible generic 1st Century Jewish face which may capture a possible real Jesus’ face closer than all the other Jesus images familiar in the West.  I’ll explore more of that later.

But my point is that the Jesus in people’s head is a mix of fictitious images and fictitious stories (well, certainly fictitious to some degree).  And today I am just sharing the diagram illustrating the three main origins of Jesus stories: Christian, Pagan and Atheist.

Versions of Jesus

My diagrams terms are as follows:

  1. Xians“: People who call themselves “Christians” often are surprised to find out how many different versions their fellow Christians have spun.
  2. Pagans“: Religious folks who are non-Christians have several different ways to explain Jesus. Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism all have their own stories.
  3. Atheists“: People who decisively don’t believe in any gods, also have several different contradictory stories of who Jesus was.
  4. Apathists“: Most Christians are “casual” Christians and could careless about doctrines, no little of the Bible and don’t really worry too much about stories about Jesus. A person who doesn’t believe in God and is apathetic about the issue may call themselves an Agnostics. And many believers in other religions (“Pagans” in this diagram) may care less about Jesus, just as most Christians could care less about the details of Amida. All these apathists.

Blog thread conversations about Jesus get confused easily because of the conflicting view people have of Jesus. I think both Christians and non-Christians sometimes don’t remember that there is a such a huge variety of stories.  This diagram, then, is just a reminder.

Questions to Readers:

  • Tell us, in 2-3 sentences, the version of Jesus you find most persuasive at this time.
  • Name a few versions of Jesus from within your own group (Pagans, Atheists or Christians) which conflict with your view.



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