I was asked in a comment recently what the “Deist View of Jesus” is? Like many questions I really can’t answer that for anyone but me. Asking what a Deist thinks of Jesus is like asking what a scientist thinks about the origin of the universe. The number of answers you get may be damn close to the number of folks you ask.
There are people that call themselves “Christan Deists”, they believe in Jesus the man and his message, see him as a profit of the creator that actually broke away from organized faith. The problem I see there is Jesus did claim to be not only the son of God in the bible but also to the door by which man gets into heaven. Now some Deists simply dismiss this, point to the lost Gospels and say, but I don’t believe that. They believe in Gnostic Christianity where Jesus is just one example and say we should ignore the things added to the canonized Gospel and simply see the message of Jesus as the way to live.
I personally feel most of such people are trying to cling to a shred of their Christian heritage because it comforts them, if so fine, there is no harm in it. I also think many are in very tight families where “church” is a big deal. They just can’t walk away, it is too hard. It results in being ostracized and frankly harassed as those you left behind try to save your soul and drag you back in. So they embrace Deism and when required to participate with family religious activities they are able to tolerate it. Most such people eventually walk away all together and become what is known as a “Christmas and Easter Catholic” in the Catholic Church. They go when the torment of family exceeds their desire to resist.
Then there are true Deists that just really embrace the morality of the Judeo Christian faith. Thomas Jefferson was one such Deist. He created the “Jefferson Bible”, which was the Gospels with all the miracles, claims of deity and such removed leaving only the basic teachings of Jesus. He did so because his claim was that basic Christian ethics were the finest example he knew of in the world. But Jefferson was not a Christian. So we have Deists that associate with Christian teachings but they are not Christians.
This isn’t really anything unusual when you think in context. For example I am a huge fan of much of the teachings of the Buddhist faith. I derive a lot of wisdom from it and read about it. It helps me frame my view of the world. I have a deep respect for Buddhists, but I am not a Buddhist and don’t believe their religion, I just value their way of viewing life. I am certainly not a vegetarian! I also love the history and lore in the Pagan faith. The duality of the God and Goddess makes sense to me more than one god that looks like well, King Neptune! I love the way Pagans understand the earth, I really love the “holy days” how they are seasonal and frankly as a guy that grows a lot of my own food, very useful. But I am not a Pagan.
I think many of us in the Deist world view most faiths this way. If there is a reason we are particularly harsh on main stream Christianity it is well, it is two reasons. The first is most of us were beaten over the head with it as we come from that background. The second is that we seldom see a Buddhist knocking on our door to tell us about “detachment” and interrupt our football game on Sunday. Nor do Pagans walk up to us say at a mall, hand us a tract telling us about a new temple and then ask to publicly pray over us. If you think the encounter at a store is a stretch, I live in the south and in the bible belt. I have had this happen three times in my life. I DO NOT appreciate it, when someone starts praying over me and following me around with raised hands in a public place.
These are the things that make us as Deists be unfair to the Christian tradition compared to our view of other faiths at times. But that doesn’t really answer the question does it? Well again different Deists have different opinions about Jesus the man we hear about in the bible. Here for example are two totally different views, both written by Deists at Deism.com presented side by side…
In the first one we have a take that yes Jesus existed and probably thought he was god. The 12 apostles were real and devoted in spite of the fact that Jesus was just a man. The resurrection is explained mostly this way. Mary Magdalene was nuts (as anyone described as having 7 demons would be by today’s standards) but the other apostles believed her because they wanted to. The reason Jesus looked different after the resurrection was because he was someone else. I personally think this is certainly possible.
In the second the take away is Jesus never even existed, there is no real historical record outside the bible and likely the whole thing was just made up. I think this is also possible but less likely so, then the above.
For instance we know for a fact Paul existed, there is record of that. Seems Peter was also real, generally people like this have to have someone to believe in or they won’t allow themselves killed for their faiths. So Peter and Paul likely were basing their beliefs on something or someone. These men and other members of this sect were motivated enough to spread the word. Authors wrote the books we call the Gospel in the names of such people and a new faith was created.
In Christian schools of thought though we get the illusion that these books were written soon after Christ died. Yet we know the earliest estimate of the Gospel of Mark, which is the oldest known gospel was written about 66-70 CE. The best guess for the year of the crucifixion as described in the bible is 29 CE. That is 37 years and all the other gospels came after that. Can we put that into some perspective for a moment.
Today it is 2014 and 37 years ago it was 1977. Let us say you are old enough that you were a young man in 77 say in your mid 20s and you had a good friend named Jessie and you and Jessie ran around together and did a lot of cool and crazy stuff. Now years later you are known to have been a friend of Jessie, he is now dead and famous and people want to know exactly what happened at some of the things you did together. If you then tried to write down say 1974-1977 as to your journeys with Jessie to the level of detail in the bible, how accurate would it be? Now this would be if you really were Jessie’s friend.
What if instead tons of stories about Jessie were being told for all those years. Things he said were written down and many things someone said he said. Now you know the name of one of his friends that is also dead and gone or perhaps went off and found a new life and just wanted to forget about those crazy old days. But you are able to write as him and the government will say you are him, you now assemble this montage of information into a story, how accurate is that? This is the origin of the new testaments of the bible folks.
And this leads to what I believe, Jesus was Robin Hood! Heck the title got you to read this long right, now we finally get to it.
Now look I am not saying Jesus robbed the rich and gave to the poor or that he came back in tights and miraculously split arrows! No I am saying the origin of the myth of Jesus is likely similar to the myth of Robin Hood. There was no one man that was Robin Hood. Old Mr. Hood is an amalgamation of several real people and a bunch of completely made up fiction that have been combined into a series of stories. This is the bible as a whole and certainly to me how we ended up with Jesus as we know him today.
There was likely a charismatic guy that Peter and the other apostles knew that got himself executed. Doing that wasn’t hard at the time. Peter and the boys likely believed in him, enough to die for him, this proves nothing magical, history is full of people that did such things. There were many such messiahs though at the time and putting something one did or said in the name of a better known name was common. I mean this is why we have the last gospel written in about 90 CE. That is 61 years after the death of Jesus. It is possible that some of the apostles made it that long but very unlikely, if they did how much do you trust the memory of a 90 year old?
So as the story grew, actions, deeds and words of many of the Jesus like figures were combined. Completely fictitious components we added to comply with “prophecy” and astrological components came in like the number 12. Yes there are 12 tribes of Israel but you do realize that there are 12 months right? Anyway in the end we have an astrological literary hybrid of the story of one man, that is likely the story of several real men and plenty of things there were simply either made up or modified gossip! Hmm, never thought of it but gospel and gossip seem quite similar as words don’t they?
Now if you want to debate me, specifically as an offended Christian, please realize I have a right to my opinion, and that is all this is. It is when I examine history in context and consider human nature and the desire of government and religion to control people the most likely explanation. I can’t prove my theory and really don’t see the point in trying. Based on what I believe as a Deist it doesn’t matter if I am wrong at all. My view of the Bible doesn’t change my choices in my life or my personal faith. So whether Jesus never existed, was a real man that was made into a God figure or is as I say a hybrid of several people along with total fiction and literary license, has no long term implications for me.
I do think it is an interesting idea to explore though. And when I do I am left with this simple opinion. Who was Jesus? Well, he was Robin Hood.