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.