This is the time of year, where many in our culture go to great lengths to propagate an elaborate ruse. The goal of this major deception is to convince children (generally not a difficult matter) that certain imaginary holiday figures are real and that we all need to believe in these entities though they are invisible and generally not physically detected. We also carefully explain to our kids that one of these entities in particular is monitoring virtue of all children throughout the world (unless of course you consult with any predominantly non-Christian culture, where you’ll likely be met with a “who?” or “what are you talking about?”). It never occurs to many believers that the attributes they actively work to deceive their children about are actually possessed by God… you know the God to whom we are supposed to be introducing our children.
It should not come as a surprise to any of us that many critics of the Christian faith have taken this position when thinking of the person Jesus of Nazareth – A certain imaginary personage who may or may not be based on a historical figure. People go through elaborate efforts to convince themselves and one another that Jesus is not only real but is also magical, and interested in you, and wants to be part of your life. Richard Dawkins in his book “A Devil’s Chaplain” explains that Christianity and its teachings are just another story told to children by parents preying on their naïve and innocent nature:
A beautiful child close to me, six and the apple of her father’s eye, believes that Thomas the Tank Engine really exists. She believes in Father Christmas, and when she grows up her ambition is to be a tooth fairy. She and her schoolfriends believe the solemn word of respected adults that tooth fairies and Father Christmas really exist. This little girl is of an age to believe whatever you tell her. If you tell her about witches changing princes into frogs, she will believe you. If you tell her that bad children roast forever in hell, she will have nightmares. –Richard Dawkins, (A Devil’s Chaplain)[i]
So how about it? Is Jesus just a quaint and harmless delusion? Is he just a more irritating and persistent illusion than our holiday mascots? I understand why atheists might think of Jesus in this way, but what is a bit more surprising is that many people who are in the church adopt a similar position in dealing with the person of Christ. The desire for serious historical inquiry is not thought to be even a legitimate option, and when serious thinking people propose investigation into the historical person of Christ they are met with the chastising tone some parents use with their kids when it comes to issues of sacred holiday figures “you just have to believe”. Listen to Joel Osteen break it down:
“God doesn’t ask you to figure it all out, He just asks you to believe” –Joel OsteenDoes it matter whether Jesus was a real person who did and said what we have read in the pages of scripture? Or does it only matter that you really really believe in spite of all evidence? This week we’re asking and answering the question: “Can we know with confidence that Jesus of Nazareth is an actual person of history?”
[i] Dawkins, Richard. A Devil’s Chaplain. p.151