….From my “Heroes and Heroines” section
I haven’t read much Dawkins, but I love his essay “Atheists for Jesus.” One reason is — I would love for religious liberals and thoughtful atheists to make common cause for their common values! In online interactions, I would love to help bridge that imagined chasm, and Dawkins helps here to the nth!! Here’s a bit:
Atheists for Jesus
“….Of course Jesus was a theist, but that is the least interesting thing about him. He was a theist because, in his time, everybody was. Atheism was not an option, even for so radical a thinker as Jesus. What was interesting and remarkable about Jesus was not the obvious fact that he believed in the God of his Jewish religion, but that he rebelled against many aspects of Yahweh’s vengeful nastiness. At least in the teachings that are attributed to him, he publicly advocated niceness and was one of the first to do so. To those steeped in the Sharia-like cruelties of Leviticus and Deuteronomy, those brought up to fear the vindictive, Ayatollah-like God of Abraham and Isaac, a charismatic young preacher who advocated generous forgiveness must have seemed radical to the point of subversion. No wonder they nailed him….”
[Dawkins quotes Sermon on the Mount’s loving enemies etc]
“….that super niceness whose singular existence is the central paradox of my thesis. Big brains can take the driving, goal-seeking mechanisms that were originally favoured for selfish gene reasons, and divert (subvert? pervert?) them away from their Darwinian goals and into other paths.
“I am no memetic engineer, and I have very little idea how to increase the numbers of the super nice and spread their memes through the meme pool. The best I can offer is what I hope may be a catchy slogan. ‘Atheists for Jesus’ would grace a T-shirt. There is no strong reason to choose Jesus as icon, rather than some other role model from the ranks of the super nice such as Mahatma Gandhi (not the odiously self-righteous Mother Teresa, heavens no). I think we owe Jesus the honour of separating his genuinely original and radical ethics from the supernatural nonsense which he inevitably espoused as a man of his time. And perhaps the oxymoronic impact of ‘Atheists for Jesus’ might be just what is needed to kick start the meme of super niceness in a post-Christian society.
“If we play our cards right – could we lead society away from the nether regions of its Darwinian origins into kinder and more compassionate uplands of post-singularity enlightenment?
“I think a reborn Jesus would wear the T-shirt. It has become a commonplace belief that, were he to return today, he would be appalled at what is being done in his name, by Christians ranging from the Catholic Church to the fundamentalist Religious Right. Less obviously but still plausibly, in the light of modern scientific knowledge I think he would see through supernaturalist obscurantism. But of course, modesty would compel him to turn his T-shirt around: ‘Jesus for Atheists.’ ”
[Hitchens, “The Portable Atheist: Essential Readings…”]
[added June 2018]