Why I am not a Christian
As I was flipping through the radio stations while driving home, last night, I stopped on a local Catholic broadcast. It was right around 7:00pm, which meant that Catholic Answers was being aired– a program dedicated to apologetics and engaging the questions that people, both within and without, may have about Catholicism. Last night’s episode was specifically asking for non-Christians to call in and share the reasons they have, if any, for not being Christian. I was extremely tempted to call in, myself, but I had other plans which took precedence, unfortunately. So, instead of engaging with the apologists on Catholic Answers, I will have to content myself with laying out my reasoning, here.
In 1927, the very famous 20th Century philosopher and logician, Bertrand Russell, presented a lecture to the National Secular Society in South London which was entitled, “Why I Am Not A Christian,” a lecture which would later become widely reproduced and wildly famous. In the essay, Lord Russell lays out nearly a dozen different topics to explain why he did not adhere to the faith so widely practiced throughout the West. My own list is quite a bit shorter than Russell’s– in fact it consists solely of a single topic:
“…if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain.” 1 Corinthians 15:14 (NRSV)
The Resurrection of Jesus Christ is the most central tenet in Christianity. While there are a few splinter sects of that faith which do place lesser importance on the Resurrection, it is far and away the most important doctrine in the eyes of the overwhelmingly vast majority of Christians– be they Orthodox, Catholic, or Protestant. Jesus died, and then rose from the dead, in order to forgive the sins of all Mankind. In his first letter to the church at Corinth, the apostle Paul explicitly states that the death and resurrection of Jesus are of “prime importance” (Gk. ἐν πρώτοις, 1 Cor 15:3). When I was a little boy, one of the ever-present focuses of my Sunday School classes was to make sure that we children knew that “Jesus died and rose for me.” Jesus’ resurrection from the dead demonstrates both his power over this fallen world, and his grace to all those willing to love and follow him.
I am not a Christian because I do not believe that Jesus of Nazareth rose from the dead.
Having grown up in a very fundamentalist Christian household, I was taught various reasons to believe the Biblical account of the Resurrection, from a very early age. First and foremost, I was taught that the Bible was the Word of God, and since God cannot lie, the Bible must therefore be correct in its presentation. However, I was also taught that the gospel accounts were written by eyewitnesses– men who saw Jesus die, and then saw his resurrected body. Finally, I was taught that there were thousands of non-Christian records regarding the ordeal, including Roman records documenting Jesus’ execution and the search for his body after his tomb was found empty. Ironically, it was my study of apologetics– defense of the faith– which led me to realize that much of what I had been taught consisted of lies and misinformation.
Allow me to deal with those points in the reverse order of how I mentioned them. First, I had been told that there existed thousands of extra-Biblical accounts of the life of Jesus, from that period, many of which came from non-Christians. I was specifically taught that, the Romans being exceptional record-keepers, these accounts included things like birth and death records for Jesus, documentation of his execution, discussion of the search for his body, et cetera. Unfortunately, none of these things actually exist. This is a very common lie– especially amongst Evangelical Christians– which has survived for decades by being repeated by well-meaning people who simply accept it without skepticism. After all, they had heard it from another Christian (often even an elder or a pastor) and it would be inconceivable, to them, for a Christian to lie about Jesus. The truth of the matter, however, is that no Roman records from Jesus’ life exist, at all, and the first extant non-Christian mention of Jesus is not found until around sixty years after his death, in Josephus’ Antiquities of the Jews. Josephus is followed, in the early second century, by incredibly brief (less than a paragraph, each) references to Jesus in the works of Roman authors Tacitus and Suetonius. There are exactly three non-Christian writings which clearly mention Jesus of Nazareth from within 100 years of Jesus’ death. Not several thousand, mind you; just three.
Then there is the claim that the gospel accounts were written by eyewitnesses. I had always been taught that Matthew and John were present for the death of Jesus, and witness to his resurrected body. Mark, I had been told, was not personally present, but had been the secretary of Peter, Jesus’ right-hand man, and would therefore present a reliable account. Luke was also not present, but since Luke claims to be passing to his reader the testimony of eyewitnesses (Luke 1:2), we can also trust him. However, when I came to learn more about the Bible, I found out that these claims were yet more misinformation that has spread, unchecked, for centuries. The gospels were actually anonymous works. Nowhere in any of the gospels do the authors identify themselves. The titles of “Matthew,” “Mark,” “Luke,” and “John” were not original to these works, but were rather ascribed to them more than one hundred years after they had been written and in circulation. We do not know, for certain, who wrote any of these books, and there are a number of very good reasons to doubt that they were written by their titular authors. For example, all four gospel writers were very well-educated, Greek-speaking men– it is exceedingly unlikely that poor, Aramaic-speaking Galilean laborers could have written them. Another doubt is cast by the fact that most scholars date the earliest of the gospels (Mark) to around 70 AD, about four decades after Jesus’ death, and the latest of the gospels (John) to around 95 AD, about six decades after the Crucifixion. This would require that the traditional authors of the books all lived to ages which were very uncommon to men of their means, geography, and time. And there are many, many more reasons– some highly technical– to doubt the traditional claim that the gospels were written by eyewitnesses (or close friends of eyewitnesses). Hundreds of scholarly volumes have been written on the subject.
Finally, while I was growing up, I had always been taught that the Bible was the inspired, inerrant Word of God, and that it told the truth in everything that it stated. The Bible, I was told, was the result of God’s inspiring a plethora of different authors all to write a single, cohesive book, for a single purpose. Again, the more I actually read and researched the Bible, the more I realized that these things were untrue. There are 66 distinct books (73 for Catholics) which compose the Bible– and some of these are not even completely cohesive in themselves, let alone with all the rest. Even most Christians recognize that there is a literary and philosophical disconnect between the books of the Old and New Testaments, but fewer realize that even the books of the New Testament, alone, are similarly disjointed. For example, according to the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew 1, we are told that Joseph’s father was Jacob, son of Matthan, son of Eleazar; however, Luke 3 tells us that Joseph’s father was Levi, son of Matthat, son of Melchi– and these are just a few of the differences in those genealogies. Both cannot be simultaneously correct and true. Another example is that, in the gospel of Mark, Jesus’ passion and crucifixion are portrayed as a solemn affair wherein Jesus does not say a single word until, with his dying breath, he screams, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” However, in Luke’s account, Jesus preaches to the women of the crowd on his way to the cross, then preaches to the outlaws being crucified alongside him, and then dies after yelling, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.”
Furthermore, the absolute truthfulness of these works is called into question when they make mention of events which, if they occurred, should have garnered exceptional notice from a great many people– not just a few Christians living many decades later. Yet, these events are reported nowhere else in history. Take, for example, when Matthew claims that Herod slaughtered all of the infants in Bethlehem (2:16-18); or that there was an Earthquake at the moment of Jesus’ death (27:51); or that a multitude of dead men came back to life and walked through Jerusalem before many eyewitnesses (27:52-53). Not even the other gospel writers make mention of any of these things, let alone anyone else from that time, Christian, Jew, or pagan. Are we really to believe that these events actually occurred, but went completely unnoticed or unmentioned by every other writer from that period?
So, now we come back to the question of the Resurrection. Our only testimony to this event comes from a few scant reports written decades after the fact by mostly anonymous men who were not likely to have been eyewitnesses. Those reports differ greatly amongst themselves, and are not corroborated by any other works from the period. I have no more evidence that the gospels were actually written under the influence of Yahweh than I have that the Book of Mormon was so inspired, or that the Hávámal records the actual words of Odin. Lies and misinformation about the evidence for the Resurrection are very commonly propagated (usually unkowingly, and with good intention) by Christians trying to bolster their own confidence in the event. I simply cannot find any good reason to believe that Jesus of Nazareth actually rose from the dead.
I am not a Christian because I agree with Paul when he proclaimed, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile…” (1 Cor 15:17). I have no reason to believe that Jesus has been raised, and therefore I have no reason to place my faith in Christianity.
Had to comment lol. Another great topic by the way! While the reasons stated for your non- belief are all mostly true( though I have found there is some fairly good evidence to believe Matthew did write that Gospel). “Faith” by definition, at least in part, is belief in something that can not be proven. Growing up catholic I learned many of the” reasons to believe” listed above also but with one exception, they don’t “prove” anything. I imagine “proof” will always remain non-existent. I have come to believe this is by design. I have concluded the choice to believe in the Resurrection as well as Jesus, must be made in the absence of “proof” . It is truly a matter of faith and faith alone. No science or reasoning is going to solve this one. Paul’s scripture quote seems to imply the existence of some proof because as in your case one could come to the conclusion based on the “evidence” that belief is futile. Is there more “reasons” or “evidence” that has been lost in the 2000 years since? Or in his case did he see first hand the “evidence” and ”Proof” on that road to Damascus.
Great post, Mike!
I can absolutely understand the argument from personal revelation and experience. I find that most of the faith-filled people that I know would cite such personal evidence as having far more to do with their reasons for belief than any external evidence. Paul had his Damascus road conversion, and I’ve known many people who have had similar sorts of coming-to-God moments– Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Wiccans, Norse Heathens, and others. I, myself, have had numerous experiences which I once considered “spiritual” and which I used to cite as evidence for my faith, when I was still a Christian. I fully appreciate how convincing something like that can be, for a person.
I’ve changed my mind, when it comes to my own personal revelations, but I cannot begrudge anyone else the experiences that they have had. Still, the problem with such personal experience is precisely that it is so personal. It is not very likely that the things which another person has seen or felt will be all that convincing to a skeptic without demonstrable external evidence to support it.
Paul spread Christianity throughout the Roman empire and would appear to have converted more people to Christianity than any other Apostle, this as a result of his personnel experience. I’m sure he encountered many skeptics. Perhaps his knowledge of the Torah, his understanding of what the Messiah would be and do far surpassed those who preach in modern times. External evidence would leave no doubt and make things much easier, wish I had some for you. Thanks for responding to my post I enjoy your site it is extremely thought provoking.
Did your atheism follow your de-conversion from Christianity? How long did it take for you to go from non-Christian to atheist? Was it a step-by-step process or did it all happen simultaneously?
It was fairly immediate and surprisingly painless. You can read that story, here:
As a curiosity, it seems that the vast majority of sites like yours (atheistic in some manner) nearly always have an article with this theme, i.e. “Why I am not a Christian” or something along those lines.
I was wondering why I rarely/never see “Why I’m not a Jew, Muslim, Buddhist”, and etc. I realize that some of the reason is the geographical location (US, North America) but even some of the blogs I have seen from other countries, or from people who have never ascribed to any religion, always tell why they aren’t Christians as opposed to any of the other world’s religions.
Geography certainly plays a major role. If you live in North America, South America, Europe, Africa, Oceania, or the Russian Federation, the religion which you are most likely to encounter is Christianity. If you are from any of those places, even if you were raised in a secular household, it is far more likely that you have friends, family, neighbors, co-workers, and random acquaintances who are (at least nominally) Christians than any other religion. It is the religion to which we have, by far, the most exposure in our daily lives. Since the vast majority of people around us are not Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, or what-have-you, most people are not curious as to why we are not members of those faiths. However, they ARE curious as to why we are not members of the Christian faith.
A far lesser reason is because it pays homage to Bertrand Russell, who originated the “Why I am not a Christian” manifesto back in the 1920’s.
All that said, I certainly have seen “Why I am not a…” articles written about other faiths, as well. It’s becoming increasingly common to see “Why I am not a Muslim” posts coming from Middle Eastern bloggers. I’ve seen “Why I am not Hindu” articles written by Indians. I’ve even seen “Why I am not a Scientologist” written by a young woman who grew up in the CoS.
Hey Boxing, great post! Though I am not an atheist, it is very refreshing to read an atheist who actually gets it when it comes to Christian Doctrine. I travel to churches and teach laypeople on apologetics and I often find that they don’t understand what faith is. So, like you I show them I Corinthians 15:17. I try to teach people that faith is useless (like Paul said) unless there is a historical event attached to it. I am glad to see you used I Corinthians 15, because one doesn’t need the Gospels to make his case for the Resurrection. I Cor.15:3-8, is seen by scholars as an early creed, “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born. What I find interesting about the I Cor passage is that we know that I Cor was written around 50-55 ish AD. Jesus was crucified around 30-33 ish AD. If this is an early creed that was circulating through oral tradition in the first century church, and since it takes time for a saying to get put in this “form” then, we can argue that this is very early, even earlier than the gospels. Some scholars even infer that Paul’s conversion experience could possibly have occurred 1-3 years after the cross (there is argumentation for this but I don’t have time to develop it here) Furthermore, we can connect the apostle Paul to the Jerusalem apostles in Galatians 1:11-24 and Galatians 2:1-10, where Paul runs the gospel that he is preaching by them and they give him the “right hand of fellowship.” Which means that Paul is preaching the same message that they are preaching.
So, the question then becomes, “Do you believe the eyewitness accounts as recorded in this early creed?” We have to account for Paul’s radical change with regards to the church. He is seeking to persecute followers of Christ, then abruptly changes course to becoming one of them. He says the change is because of an experience that he interpreted as meeting the risen Lord. I think we must also account for the changed lives of the Apostles and Jesus’ half brother James, who was an unbeliever at his crucifixion. All of the Apostles (with the exception of John) died a martyrs death preaching that Jesus had appeared to them. Now, I know that just because they believed they saw him doesn’t mean he did, because there are martyrs in other religions. But liars do not make good martyrs. I argue that the best explanation for the change in Paul, Peter, James and others is that they actually encountered Jesus alive, and they were convinced he had risen.
There is more I could say on this, but I will save it for another time. I’ll end with this, the reason why I AM a Christian, is because I think the historical evidence FOR the resurrection of Jesus is good. It doesn’t mean that I know with 100% certainty but I think it gives me sufficient cause to trust that this is what actually happened, and IF Jesus rose from the dead, then Christianity is true, IF he did not Christianity is FALSE.
Thanks for reading and taking the time to respond, Mr. Hearron! I’ll do my best to respond to your comments, but if I’ve missed any, please let me know!
I am inclined to agree that the credal statement in 1 Cor 15 likely dates to within the first few years after Jesus’ execution. However, before we can ask the question you propose, we must first ask, “Do you believe that the creed actually records eyewitness accounts?” The fact that it is early does not necessarily mean that it actually traces back to real claims.
It is not actually clear that this is the case. Later legends record that these men were martyred, but this is not stated in the earliest accounts. I honestly do not believe that all of the Apostles except John died a martyr’s death.
If they believed that they saw him, they wouldn’t be liars. They would simply be mistaken. I have known a great many people who have very sincerely held to false beliefs. As you note, other religions have their own martyrs. Such people truly and sincerely believed in the miracles and wonders of their own faiths. I do not see why I should accord Christian martyrs any more significance than Muslim martyrs or martyrs of the Cult of Isis, or Norse Heathen martyrs. It would be inconsistent for me to believe the claims of a Christian martyr because he died for his belief, while disbelieving another martyr despite the fact they he died for his belief.
Let me ask this– and I ask honestly, not intending this as any sort of “gotcha” question. Was the historical evidence for the Resurrection the reason you became a Christian, or is your Christianity the reason you think that the historical evidence is good? Would you say that the historical evidence for similarly recounted miracles from other religions is good?
Boxing, Thanks for the time to respond to my points so now let me see if I can take a crack at your answers / questions:
I agree with you here and the key word is “necessarily.” But remember, historical investigation is different than other types of investigation because the historian like the criminal investigator cannot travel back in time to witness the events. They must make inferences and deduce what most likely happened based on the evidence. So, historians deal with “probabilities” and not “possibilities.” That the creed is early, seems interesting to me.
Josephus records the stoning of James in his Antiquities and the book of Acts 12:1-2, records the death of James, the brother of John. I haven’t studied the others as well as I should so I may do some homework and get back to you on the others 🙂
I think you misunderstand me here, I am not arguing that you should just accept the claims of any Christian martyr, but that one should take a strong look at the martyrdom of the Apostles. Muslim martyrs die for the belief that Allah appeared to Muhammed. The Muslim terrorist was not there. However, the disciples were there. Either Jesus appeared to them or he did not. I know people that would die for what they believe to be true, but I don’t know anyone who would die for a known lie. Yet, this is exactly what would have happened if Jesus did not appear to the disciples.
Thank you for this question, and I take it as an honest question (and a fair one mind you). This is a question that I have wrestled with over the years. I was reared in a Christian home but being a Christian because my parents are / were is not a good reason to become one myself. My parents encouraged me to question, think, doubt, read (not just Christian authors). I became a Christian before I studied the resurrection, but on my quest for truth, I looked hard at the evidence and the objections raised against it, and I think I can honestly say that it was sufficient to convince me. I do hope that I am honest enough, to change my mind if evidence to the contrary is brought forth. I want to believe what is true, not what is convenient. I hope that makes sense.
To your 2nd question, I am open to the evidence for miraculous events in other religions. I think they should be studied on a case-by-case basis and weighed accordingly.
Hope that answers some of your issues. Now a question for you, If it could be shown to your satisfaction that Christianity is true, would you become a Christian?
I completely agree, on both counts! I find it incredibly interesting that the creed is likely so early, and I similarly agree that historians deal in that which is most probable. For what it’s worth, I believe that it is entirely likely that the tradition of the Resurrection began with people who honestly and sincerely believed that they had witnessed the Resurrected Jesus. I think it goes too far to say, with certainty, that any specific person was amongst these early claimants, but I don’t think it’s too great a stretch to believe that the Twelve may be among them.
I agree that it is reasonable to think that James, brother of John, may have been martyred, but I’m not convinced that the reference to James brother of Jesus in Josephus’ Antiquities is actually a reference to the Biblical James. Though I will note that I hold to the minority position, here, this is one of the rare places where I actually agree with Richard Carrier, and I believe that the “who was called Christ” phrase was interpolated into the passage.
Again, even if all of the disciples were martyred, no one is claiming that they died “for a known lie.” I believe that the earliest claimants to having witnessed the Resurrected Jesus were absolutely sincere in that belief. They truly believed that they had seen the risen Jesus, whether they actually had or not.
Thank you very much for your answer! And you and I surely find ourselves in complete agreement, on this point.
I absolutely would.
Interesting article. I was raised as a Watchtower peddler and after many, many years started questioning my religion. For a while I still believed in Christ and thought I was on my way to finding “true” Christianity. After some time I realized the character of Jesus makes no sense, pretty much like Yahweh. I think if you just judge the Christian belief system by its values, ideas and doctrines (leaving out questions of historicity and scholarship), it fails. The supposed morality often is the opposite. While many say he is loving, Jesus uses threats and emotional blackmail to get others to follow him and to obey. That alone should turn people away, there’s nothing “divine” or heroic about it. Even if the bible were inerrant and the word of God, then that God would be a dubious character, not worthy of respect. I find it tragic how strongly fear is used as mechanism and motivator in Christianity. Recovering from that is not always easy.
Mo, if you believe the 12 followed Jesus out of fear, you must be reading a different Bible. If you believe 3-5,000 people a day converted because of fear, again different Bible. If Hell exists, which it does, and one warns you of it, that is not fear or blackmail, that is love… only someone who hates you would let you stumble upon that fate blindly.
Aside from that however, people followed Jesus because he LOVED, he healed, he ministered to their needs. Speaking truth is the furthest thing from emotional blackmail.
When Jesus says “go and sin no more” that is an instruction for life. Not a threat.
People who see this as a threat, probably want to go on living the life they want, with zero accountability. Where is the morality in that? And whose morality would it be?
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Greetings! So is it fair then to say, if you were convinced that Jesus rose from the dead, you would give your life to the risen Christ? If that answer is yes, my next question: what would it take to convince you that Jesus rose from the dead?
Thanks for taking the time to read and respond!
If I became convinced of the full truth of Christianity, of which Jesus’ Resurrection is just one part, I would certainly become a Christian again.
That’s a very good question. Honestly, I’m not really sure. Presumably, you mean to ask what it would take to convince me that the second person of the Triune God was raised from the dead by the first person of the Triune God. If that’s the case, then in order of priority, I’d need to be convinced of at least the following things:
1. That deity exists.
2. That the extant deity is personal.
3. That the extant deity is three persons.
4. That one of those three persons had incarnated as a poor, Jewish preacher in the backwaters of the Roman Empire some time around the reign of Tiberius.
5. That another of those three persons decided to raise Jesus from the dead.
Convincing me of those things would do quite a bit towards convincing me of the truth of Christianity.
Help me understand, if the article is titled “Why I am Not a Christian” and ends with “I have no reason to believe that Jesus has been raised, and therefore I have no reason to place my faith in Christianity.”
It seems it would logically follow that if you DID in fact believe in the resurrection then you would be a Christian, not sure what you mean by the full truth of Christianity. Certainly you don’t need a belief in the Virgin Birth to follow Christ, as an example.
Onto your required proof of the resurrection, your list is quite interesting and not at all where my mind went. I was thinking more in the realm of scientific, historical and archaeological fields of endeavor to provide proper evidence. Surely the possibility exists that such evidence could be uncovered that would lead one to believe in such an event?
Or perhaps because the resurrection is necessarily super natural there can be no natural evidence in support of it? At least to a degree that would change your worldview.
I think I just found the topic for my podcast tomorrow… I always like to wait until the last minute LOL
Well, even if I believed that deity exists, if I did not believe Jesus rose from the dead, I would not be a Christian. Even if I was convinced that the deity was Triune, but I did not believe that Jesus rose from the dead, I would not be a Christian.
I think we can agree that believing Jesus rose from the dead is a necessary condition for Christianity.
However, I think we can also agree that it is not sufficient in and of itself. After all, if I believed that Jesus rose from the dead, but I did not believe that he was divine, I’m sure you would agree that I would not be a Christian. Hence, my list.
I’m not sure how it could. How could there be scientific evidence to support the claim that Jesus rose from the dead? What archaeological evidence could there be for such a claim?
I stopped by to check you out after your kind comment on my blog (thanks, by the way). Should I leave a response, it’s always prudent to get an idea of whom I’m speaking to. Your above post pretty much tells me all I needed to know 😉
But there is something that I really do appreciate about what you wrote: You really do get it. No joke. So many Christians (and non-Christians), including a host of cults that masquerade as Christian, fail to understand what you, a professing atheist, has clearly stated: the resurrection of Jesus is the hinge on which the door to eternal life swings.
Sure, it saddens me that you’ve come to the conclusions you have, but at least you’ve been insightful and honest enough to look Jesus straight in the eye and answer what you really think about the question He asked in Matthew 16:13 and Mark 8:27 (Who do men say that I am?).
As a mathematician, I’m sure you’ll get it when I hope all you are figuring adds up. If you’ve figured right, we’ll all be no poorer in the end. But if you haven’t, well, you know what a Christian would say.
By the way, you were much more readable than Mr. Russell 🙂
So very late to this party, but what the Gehenna. It’s still a good post.
Impressed with the way you handled the fundies and you even gained some sympathy from Baker who is generally more prickly to atheists than a porcupine. Other times he is just a prick..
But as ”nice” as they are, I hope you realize you are a dirty rotten sinner and still going to Hell.
Thanks for taking the time to read and reply! And it’s never too late to comment on any of my posts. That’s why they are there!
What do you think transpired after Jesus death that gave rise to the belief and claims that Christ rose again?
What’s the best explanation you can come up with for it, if am actual resurrection isn’t It?
I think that at least some of Jesus’ followers and closest disciples had experiences which, in their state of grief, sincerely convinced them that Jesus had been resurrected.
What about Paul?
By the time Paul converted, claims about Jesus’ resurrection and belief in those claims had already arisen. Paul certainly did quite a bit to popularize those beliefs after they had arisen, to be certain, but I wouldn’t cite him as a reason for those beliefs, in the first place.
But why did Paul convert? It wasn’t due to being in a state of grief.
Certainly not the same state of grief as the followers of Jesus’ ministry, if any sort of grief could be posited. But I think Paul sincerely believed that he had a strange, miraculous experience which was the catalyst for his conversion. Again, though, that’s not really relevant to how belief in the resurrection originally arose. Paul would have been fully aware that people believed Jesus had been resurrected prior to his conversion.