Is Belief in Jesus Christ Irrational and Intolerant?

Now that we live in the 21st century, is it old-fashioned and outdated to believe Jesus is God and that salvation comes through Him alone? 

“Actually, both visions of Jesus are fake, because the whole Jesus myth is a lie used to milk innocent people of as much money as possible.”  

That online comment was recently made in response to my column titled “The Gnostic Christ fails, the True Christ heals.” I argued that the so-called Gnostic gospels tell us little to nothing about the real Jesus, because they “lack historical narrative, concrete details, historical figures, believable people, and details about social and religious life. The Jesus they describe has hardly any interest in the material realm.” The reason is rather simple: ancient Gnosticism — from the Greek word “gnosis,” referring to special knowledge — rejected the material realm as evil while claiming to possess elite, hidden knowledge able to provide spiritual enlightenment and, eventually, liberation from material existence. 

                                                                        
Jesus
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The comment indicates a failure to consider, even for a few moments, the abundance of evidence for the historicity of the Gospels and the fact that Jesus of Nazareth did live, travel and teach in first-century Judea and beyond. The term “Jesus myth” is one found in many books by skeptics and self-described atheists; it purposefully insinuates that belief in the existence of Jesus is irrational. It also assumes, in almost all cases, that Christians blissfully accept this “myth” without much concern at all for an objective historical record. This assumption is quite revealing, for the past couple of centuries have witnessed a steady production of books — many by believing Christians — about the “historical Jesus.” As one Scripture scholar has written, “If one takes the Incarnation — that is, the claim that the ‘Word became flesh and lived among us’ (Jn 1:14) — seriously, then one should take seriously the time when, place where, and people among whom this event occurred.” And that scholar is not Christian! Dr. Amy-Jill Levine is Jewish, yet her book “The Misunderstood Jew” (HarperSanFrancisco, 2006) takes as a given that Jesus not only existed, but uttered bold statements and made unique claims, even if she does not accept the Christian belief that Jesus is the Messiah. 

Sadly, however, many people simply resort to clichés about the irrationality and intolerance of those who believe in Jesus. Why? One reason is chronological snobbery, which C.S. Lewis identified decades ago — the unsubstantiated (and irrational!) assumption that we moderns are simply smarter than ancient simpletons. Such an assumption is modern, proud and quite foolish. After all, the Second Letter of Peter readily indicates an understanding of the difference between fancy and facts (see 1:16). It’s worth noting that Peter and the other apostles, with the exception of John, underwent martyrdom for their belief in what they had witnessed. Need it be pointed out that hucksters and con men never die willingly for self-serving lies? Second, the assault on “intolerance” is really a fear of truth. This is why, I am convinced, many people talk vaguely about “the real Jesus” who spoke of nothing but “love,” “tolerance” and “accepting one another.” It’s called avoidance. And it really does seek to avoid the startling, demanding and unsettling man described in the four Gospels. For example, an atheist once told me that Jesus never spoke about damnation or hell. Yet nearly 75 percent of New Testament references to “Gehenna,” “hades” and “torment” are from the mouth of Jesus! Evidence, then, is not the issue. The “intolerance” of belief in the claims of Jesus is really a sign of integrity, of being willing to take Jesus seriously when He claims to possess divinity, and to have power over life and death. TCA 

Carl E. Olson is the editor of Ignatius Insight (www.ignatiusinsight.com). He and his family live in Eugene, Ore.