The Personality of JesusThe personality of Jesus is another subject Christians normally harp upon. Josh McDowell in his book Evidence That Demands a Verdict, a typical fundamentalist apologetic, quotes the nineteenth century historian Philip Schaff to support his case:
McDowell also quotes two positive assessments of Jesus' personality by two skeptics , John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) and William Lecky (1838-1903), in a transparent , and lame, attempt to convey the notion to his readers that Jesus' personality is acknowledged by all, believers and skeptics alike, to be what Philip Schaff says.
The problem with that is that it is simply untrue. There are many sayings and actions attributed to Jesus in the gospels which are morally abhorrent, by any standards. Perhaps I should give the first word to the renowned skeptic and philosopher Bertrand Russell (1872-1970):
Bertrand Russell is not the only skeptic with such a view. Some of the most famous skeptics such as Charles Bradlaugh (1833-1891), Joseph McCabe (1867-1955), and Margaret Knight (1903-??) are all of the same opinion. Given below is what Margaret Knight, herself a psychologist but with a greater understanding of biblical criticism than the group we saw earlier, has to say about the personality of Jesus:
What makes skeptics like Russell and Knight say these, are they simply rattling off preconceived opinion about Jesus, just like the fundamentalists? The answer is, no. Their conclusions are actually based on the sayings of Jesus contained in the gospels, considered in their proper context and without any preconceived opinion (such as "Jesus is God") about him.
Knight called Jesus a fanatic in the quotation above. This description is apt. Jesus, as we know, preached a kind of universal love and even extoled his followers to love their enemies:
This is all well and good. Jesus was generally tolerant towards self-confessed sinners who believed in him. We see this in Mark 2:15 where we are told that he had dinner with tax collectors and sinners at Levi's house. But this feeling of tolerance and love is not universal. Therein lies the root of Ms. Knight's criticism. Jesus was extremely intolerant of people, however good and well meaning, who did not believe in him. A fanatic is convinced he is right, anybody who does not follow or believe in him is an enemy of God, that is that. Jesus was like that. Take, for instance, this instruction he gave to his disciples on people who do not accept his "good news":
And given below is what Jesus said to the villages in Galilee who were not impressed with his teachings or his miracles:
And some Pharisees, representing the generally better educated class of the Jewish populace, were naturally skeptical of his teachings. And to this lot this was the message from Jesus:
Where was the "love your enemies" attitude in the above quotes? Surely people who are unimpressed with your teachings are not worse than your enemies. For your enemies, by definition, are people who want to do you harm, or at least, would like to see harm come to you. The people who rejected his apostles teachings may not be like that at all, and like the residents of Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum may simply have been unimpressed by his miracles and his teachings.  The reader can now see for himself how accurate Ms. Knight's observations were.
There is a further contradiction in Jesus' attitude towards his enemies, given below is a parable of Jesus where he clearly mentions what he would do to his enemies and people who do not believe in him:
The observations of the other skeptic, Charles Bradlaugh narrows in on the fundamental problem of Jesus' preaching:
In fact, it is a moot point if Jesus actually even meant his love to be universal. Take the following paradoxical passage:
The above statement, if historically accurate, is startling. For Jesus is saying that there are some people whom he does not want to understand his message because he does not wish for them forgiveness! How is this to be reconciled with universal love?
Furthermore, like most fundamentalists today, Jesus was not one to practice what he preached. Take for instance this teaching of his:
Jesus certainly did not follow this percept when he was supposed to have been stricken by one official during his interrogation by the Jews:
Note that Jesus did not offer the other cheek for the official to strike but instead he protested about the first slap!
The cursing of the fig tree (Mark 11:12-14, 11:20; Matthew 21:18-19) and the drowning of the swines (Mark 5:1-20; Matthew 8:28-32) are obviously unhistorical episodes. But if these are accepted as illustrations of what his personality was capable of, it makes the picture of Jesus even worse. The irony of the fig tree incident (from the standpoint of a believer) is well captured by Bradlaugh:
If you remember, Jesus cursed the fig tree because it had no fruit. But the fig tree could not have been expected to have fruit, for it was stated explicitly that it was not the season for figs (Mark 11:13).
In the drowning of the swines, Jesus was in the process of exorcizing a man possessed of demons. The demons asked Jesus not to cast them out of the area but into some two thousand pigs that were nearby. Jesus agreed to do so. The moment the evil spirits were cast into the pigs, they rushed headlong from the steep bank onto the lake and were drowned. Bertrand Russell's tongue-in-cheek comment about this presents the problem to Christians:
We also find evidence of racism in Jesus. On example is the passage below where Jesus equated non-Jews to dogs:
We will be discussing this episode in more detail in the next section. The thing to note here is that we now have reason to believe that Jesus was a racist.
Our, albeit brief, look at some of the sayings of Jesus reveal a very different Jesus from the one taught and presented by Christian tradition. The Jesus we discovered was a dark and disturbing figure. This Jesus was an ignorant, bigoted and fanatical Galilean peasant.
Back to the top
Back to the top