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Was Jesus a Conservative or a Liberal?

by Michael Shermer, Aug 17 2010

The ancient art of cherry picking passages from the Bible to support this or that argument has found new life in recent decades as conservatives claim Jesus as their political ally and in the past year with the Tea Party movement invoking Christ’s conservativism. What Would Jesus Do? (WWJD?) has morphed into Who Would Jesus Vote For? (WWJVF?) Was Jesus a conservative? I don’t think so, but the entire enterprise of politicizing historical figures with modern labels is fraught with fallacy.

Employing modern political terms such as “liberal” and “conservative” to someone who live 2,000 years ago is an absurd game to play because those terms as they are used today do not even apply to people who lived a scant few centuries ago. The original meaning of “liberal,” for example, was what we would today call a “classical liberal,” or someone who believes in laissez faire capitalism and small government. Followers of Adam Smith were liberals, but today are called classical liberals, or conservatives, because they want to conserve the political and economic principles of classical Enlightenment thought. Those who are vehemently opposed to these conservative principles are sometimes today called progressives, who want to progress beyond—instead of conserving—classical liberalism, and their type specimen is Franklin D. Roosevelt, who originally had the support of pro-laissez faire capitalists until he launched the New Deal. One of FDR’s ideological descendents was Bill Clinton, who turned out to be one of the strongest Democratic proponents of free markets in history, which makes him, what? A conservatively classical progressive liberal? You can see how odious such label making becomes even for modern figures.

Jesus was, for the most part, apolitical. There were a number of political factions in his time, yet there is no evidence that he joined or even endorsed any of them. He emphasized the “Kingdom of God” over the kingdom of man, and heaven over earth, and his central message was to love God and to love one another. When Jesus was asked, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” he replied, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:34–40). In the next chapter in Matthew (23:9–12) Jesus punctuated the point by comparing earthly fathers to the heavenly father: “And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. Neither be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Christ. The greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”

Lacking clear political leanings we have to examine the moral teachings of Jesus to see if they more closely fit the moral principles of liberals or conservatives. As I read the record, Jesus sounds like a liberal when he admonishes us to turn the other cheek and practice forgiveness, not to judge lest ye be judged, to show great compassion for the poor, and especially when he admonishes the money changers and tells his followers to give up their belongings, abandon their families, and follow his religious movement. Remember, it was Jesus who said, “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”

And let’s not forget the Beatitudes from the sermon on the mount (Matthew 5: 3-9), which do more closely echo the sentiments of liberals instead of conservatives:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”
“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.”
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.”
“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.”
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.”

Matthew 7: 1–5 is the classic statement of liberal tolerance:

Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.

Indeed, would any red-blooded, gun-totting, Hummer-driving, hard-drinking, Bible-totting conservative today saying anything like this? (Matthes 5:43-44): “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you….”

Even on the current hot-button issue driving the Tea Party train—taxes—when asked if it was proper to pay taxes, Jesus famously said (Matthew 22:21): “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s.”

Of course, I’m cherry picking passages myself here, but I found the process much more conducive to fitting Jesus into left-leaning politics than into the right. I suppose the following passage from the Messiah (Matthew 5:27-30) might be construed as Jesus’s expression of conservative values, but I’m not sure anyone in their right mind would endorse such a moral principle:

You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell.

Speaking of the 7th commandment, I found one webpage dedicated to this matter of the Messiah’s politics in which the author wrote:

At times, Jesus blended His Liberal and Conservative sides in perfect balance. One example was when He asked the woman accused of adultery, “Where are your accusers? Has no one condemned you?”, and the woman answered, “No one, Lord.” Jesus told her, “Neither do I condemn you; from now on, sin no more.” The Liberal Jesus did not condemn the woman, but the Conservative Jesus called her behavior “sin”, which she needed to stop.

So … are we to infer from this interpretation that liberals would not call adultery a sin that should be avoided, and if committed need not be stopped? All married liberals reading this column raise your hands if you think an act of adultery on the part of your spouse is acceptable. That’s what I thought. In point of fact, adultery is a sin because it deeply injures a loved one, it breaks the bonds of trust so essential to the deepest of all human relations, and it leads to the breakdown of families. And you don’t need the Bible to understand this simple fact. Adultery as a sin is an evolved characteristic of our species.

We evolved as pair-bonded primates for whom monogamy, or at least serial monogamy (a sequence of monogamous marriages), is the norm. Adultery is a violation of a monogamous relationship and there is copious scientific data (and loads of anecdotal examples) showing how destructive adulterous behavior is to a monogamous relationship. In fact, one of the reasons that serial monogamy (and not just monogamy) best describes the mating behavior of our species is that adultery typically destroys a relationship, forcing couples to split up and start over with someone new. Thus, adultery is immoral because of its destructive consequences no matter what God or the patriarchs said about it. And evolutionary theory provides a deeper reason for adultery’s immoral nature that is transcendent because it belongs to the species. If there is a God, and if He does condemn adultery as an immoral act, it is because evolution made it immoral.

This post originally appeared at TRUE/SLANT.

105 Responses to “Was Jesus a Conservative or a Liberal?”

  1. MadScientist says:

    Is Frosty the Snowman straight or queer? It makes at least as much sense as the Jesus liberal/conservative question.

    • Seth Manapio says:

      Frosty is as queer as a three dollar bill. The whole song is an allegory for queer rights. Magic, the Silk Hat… it’s all in there.

      • MadScientist says:

        Dang, I didn’t understand that back then … is that why I couldn’t sit down on Christmas Day?

    • John says:

      I always thought that the Frosty song was a drug song, what with the “snow”, “jolly, happy soul”, “corncob pipe” “button (plastic) nose”, “two eyes made out of coal” (dilated). I could go on, but my point is that perception is everything.

    • Bradley L Wisler says:

      One of our major maladies: people who rely on “perceptions” instead of “knowledge”!!!

  2. Al Morrison says:

    The question “was Jesus a conservative or a liberal” is interesting. This post was awkward and not only inconclusive, but offered no cogent argument one way or the other. We are left to draw our own conclusions throughout the essay and to follow a tangent at the end: a weakly presented argument that evolution is the basis of morality.

    It takes a much more developed, evidence based argument to make a case for the evolutionary basis of morality. I cannot say I disagree with some of the points made; however, I think this post is an instance of trying to do too much in too little time/space.

    • MadScientist says:

      It was looking good at the start when it seemed to be leading into “such a discussion is meaningless because there are no established facts from where we may proceed” but then a miracle happened and it went nowhere – it must have been god’s plan all along.

  3. Marcel says:

    More interesting statement would’ve been “Here’s final proof that Jesus actually lived, according to what we know of him”…..

    Personally I don’t think he lived at all.

    Wonder what his teen years were like. Anyone answer that ?

    • gfunkusarelius says:

      “More interesting statement would’ve been “Here’s final proof that Jesus actually lived, according to what we know of him””

      I think that is just a totally different question. The original question is very interesting on its own since people use it as a justification for their actions.

      Also consider, even if you convince people Jesus either didn’t exist or was just one of the many apocalyptic personalities of the day (not the son of God), perhaps they see the character of Jesus as very influential and a symbol of morality, in which case they would still want to argue that he was either a Liberal or Conservative.

      It’s also an interesting question because of what you can learn in researching the topic. Such as how the representation of Jesus changed in the different tellings (Gospels and other books) and, as the author said, how cherry picking can slant things significantly.

    • MadScientist says:

      According to tales of the Apocrypha which I was told as a child (unfortunately I never could find a copy of these alleged texts), Jesus’ pre-teen years were the best. He’d pull tricks like jumping out of a big tree and drifting gently to the ground and when his playmates tried they’d end up dead. Then the parents would come up to Joseph and Mary and complain that Jesus killed their kids and the little brat would say “Oh, they’re not dead, they’re just sleeping” and resurrect them.

  4. SpaceCadet says:

    Sign seen on a chuch in Tucson, Arizona:

    Asks: Who Would Jesus Deport?

  5. Trimegistus says:

    This is the stupidest thing I’ve ever seen. Trying to slot the politics of a person who lived 20 centuries ago into modern categories is idiotic and pointless.

    And the strawmen caricatures of conservatives you wave around are idiotic and offensive. Either you’re completely ignorant of modern American politics, in which case you have no business commenting on these issues, or you are being deliberately dishonest — in which case you are contemptible.

    Is this what it means to be a skeptic? A mindless Democratic Party shill, mocking conservatives because they don’t share your bigoted hate for Christian religion?

    All right, then. I’m an atheist and this post just nudged me another couple of steps toward joining a church. If being a skeptic means being a nasty, mean-spirited, petty, mindless, doctrinaire inhabitant of the liberal media bubble, then so long and fuck you.

    • Chris Howard says:

      Say what? I thought it was a mindless-stereotypical caricature of progressives and liberals, a fluff piece or the Fauxe “News” variety. Can anyone prove that the author exists… I’m an atheist, too, but you’ve made me want to go to Universalist, Univeritarian Services.

      Now please excuseme, I’m late for my anger management class.

    • Beelzebud says:

      Something tells me you’re more of a partisan than a skeptic…

    • MadScientist says:

      I used to be an atheist but …

      Oh yeah, we’ve all heard that one before; it invariably comes from Liars for Jesus. As for the politics, a pot and kettle come to mind; who’s a shill?

      • Beelzebud says:

        I’m a rational person. When I read something I disagree with from a fellow atheist, I immediately consider joining a church, in retaliation!

      • MadScientist says:

        I know what you mean; I forget what church I’m meant to be loyal to at the moment since I join 2 or 3 new ones each day.

      • Max says:

        Get thee to a nunnery.

    • A.P. Riori says:

      Sorry to take away the basis for your righteous indignation, but Michael Shermer is a Libertarian. I personally think that’s funny, because he dogmatically clings to a belief that the Free Market will do better than government intervention when, like Bigfoot, nobody has even seen a Free Market, but that’s beside the point.

      You’re projecting your suspicion that any intelligent person must be a liberal on to Shermer. Unfortunately, he’s a conservative.

      • tmac57 says:

        Michael Shermer-“I am a fiscal conservative and a social liberal.” From his ‘What I Believe-Science & the Power of Humanity’ article.

    • The Saint says:

      You know that Michael Shermer is a Libertarian, right? Now don’t you feel silly.

  6. Chris Howard says:

    PS manogamy (according to the data) is the exception, not the norm, for “human mating practices”
    We may pair bond but that’s not the same thing as mating, with a single partner. This makes better evolutionary sense, too. Say, one male has “handsomer” or “physically stronger” “genes” to mate with him is prefered, but if you can find a better provider then pair bonding with that individual is better for the long haul. In other words, you get the best of both worlds, good genes, and a mate that is better able to care for your offspring.

    Monogamy is one of many mating practices, and statistically, as well as historically, is the minority practice. What we tend to do is view our culture of monogamy as the norm, and use the scientific data, to rationalize why we think it is the “natural” and predominate way.

    • MadScientist says:

      Hey, are you dissin’ all those monogamists like Newt Gingrich, Mel Gibson, etc?

    • Kurt says:

      Yes, and Shermer also needs to be careful in stating what precisely the research shows. Adultery may be corrosive because of the breach of trust, not because of a natural preference for sexual exclusivity. To properly test that thesis one would need two groups — married couples with the standard expectation of monogamy and married couples who were sexually open. Then over time you would compare marriage failure rates between the two groups. As far as I know, no one has ever done this with a large enough group to isolate whether the important thing is sexual exclusivity or keeping your promises. (My money is on the latter though.)

      • James says:

        I’d be a poor skeptic if I suggested that research wasn’t needed (although I’m a little surprised it hasn’t been conducted on some level somewhere – I’m just not willing to put in the time right now). My observations from my marriage and family therapy practice (including marriage prep)is that the ‘open-ness’ of open relationships usually breaks down even when all parties involved are honest (at least, as honest with their partners as they are with themselves). Admittedly, this is purely anecdotal and, more importantly, a biased sample (people is happy relationships are less likely to seek therapy), but some of the couples I saw weren’t in to address their relationship, but as I saw them over time it was quite clear that the open nature of the relationship wasn’t mutually desirable or beneficial.
        If anyone wants to follow up the research angle Rowland Miller and Daniel Perlman have a nice text, Intimate Relationships that cites a lot of primary research regarding many aspects of relationships (including trust, fidelity and multiple partners), especially in the later chapters. It’s quite an accessible read and the citations would allow the skeptical reader to follow the research.

      • Chris Howard says:

        Further, you would need to replicate the experiment in non-monogamous, semi-monogamous, and cultures where the act of “adultery” wasn’t considered such a big deal. I suspect that part of the reason that it is so damaging in the U.S. is because we make it a big deal.

      • Carl says:

        non-monogamous, semi-monogamous, and cultures where the act of “adultery” wasn’t considered such a big deal.

        There aren’t any.

      • NightHiker says:

        That YOU know of, obviously. To prove you wrong we don’t even have to go too far – We just need to look at the many polygamous societies that exist today. It seems this obvious fact didn’t occur to you, but polygamy is not monogamy…

  7. NightHiker says:

    “And evolutionary theory provides a deeper reason for adultery’s immoral nature that is transcendent because it belongs to the species.”

    Every behavior that has any implication in reproductive strategies is influenced, if not outright enabled, by natural selection. The fact adultery exists at all is due to being a high risk, high reward strategy which allowed a female to benefit from the best of two worlds – the best available companion to provide for the family and the best available source of genetic material, as long as she’s not caught, of course. And that’s not the only thing wrong with this argument – monogamy is far from a given on our species evolutionary history to begin with. Actually, if you look at cues like sexual dimorphism, among others, you will see humans are put right in between the mostly monogamous and the mostly polygamous species, which demonstrates how conflicting such topic has been to us – and why we have taken vastly different stances in regard to it throughout our history, from polygamous to monogamous societies.

    That adultery is a behavior that cannot be taken apart from evolutionary psychology is moot, but to use it as an excuse to make a fallacious argument, a logical leap from being part of evolution to being either immoral or moral is to try to fit it into someone’s already established own morality.

    Not to mention the overall idea of the post, which is completely unjustified. I’m not even getting into the very reasonable argument that a historical Jesus didn’t exist – the whole prospect of trying to cherry pick political views from source material that has been freely adulterated and manipulated by each of their authors and subsequent copiers to represent their own views (and are contradictory among themselves) is at best vacuous. This is not a critical piece, it’s a rationalization of the author’s own prejudices.

    I’m really sad to see this kind of diatribe on a blog devoted to critical thinking.

    • NightHiker says:

      P.S.: I forgot to mention the male side of the issue. Of course there is a biological imperative compelling males to procure other partners as well, be it through polygamy or the “cucoo’s way”, so to speak.

    • Chris Howard says:

      I see adultery is a moral/legal concept. Sleeping with one or more person(s) is just that. It’s the individual, as influenced by their culture, etc. that determines wether a behavior, in this case “adultery”, is “bad” or “good.”

      Biologically speaking, it’s more advantagous for all involved, but rights of property, religouse view points, cultural norms, attitudes, values and beliefs etc. all help shape the defining of sexual (and other behaviors) as acceptable, or not. Some ar completely arbitrary, and some work for the specific cultures they were designed to serve, and yet others are simply silly.

      In other words, it is often the cultural judgement, that we attach onto any given behavior that is the cause of the problem, rather than the behavior itself. Drug laws in the U.S. are a good example of a culture manufacturing a problem, by condeming a behavior it doesn’t like.
      Sex, is often the same. Science, shouldn’t be in the business of making moral judgement calls.

  8. Quick thought, statistically (from a reproduction of our genes basis) isn’t it best for a man to be in a long term committed relationship but get a little on the side. Not lobbying for it, I’m entirely monogamous, but I seem to remember reading this most as a math problem than anything else.

    Also, shouldn’t you prove that Jesus said ANY of that before you assign a bunch of labels to it?

  9. jackd says:

    It seems to me there is an interesting argument to be made concerning the relative importance of certain concepts in the Gospels and how they map to modern day politics. You don’t need to grant that Jesus existed or that anything in the Bible is factual. The question is whether the views of the people who do claim to ‘believe in the the Bible’ are supported by the text. Michael Shermer does hit the central problem, which is that the things Jesus says in the Gospels mainly don’t map to modern USA political labels. But alas, the rest of his essay wanders off into the weeds.

    • John C says:

      I’m with this guy. The fact of the matter is that there are people who DO believe that Jesus existed, and they try to live their lives according to how he lived his. This is where the cherry picking comes in.

      IMO Jesus was closer to a communist than anything we have in US politics of the day.

      Most of the Miracles that Jesus “performed” were communist in nature. Healing the sick at no charge sounds an awful lot like Universal Health Care to me. Feeding the masses with a small loaf of bread sounds a lot like Bread lines from the USSR…

  10. feralboy12 says:

    What I really want to know is WWJDIHFL? (Who would Jesus draft in his fantasy league?)

  11. Carter says:

    “He emphasized the “Kingdom of God” over the kingdom of man”

    That’s not liberal.

    “Jesus sounds like a liberal when he admonishes us to turn the other cheek and practice forgiveness, not to judge lest ye be judged”

    Liberals are not tolerant, and in fact are hostile toward, and unforgiving and judgemental of those rejecting liberal orthodoxy.

    “it was Jesus who said, ‘it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.'”

    He was joking when he said that.

    “I suppose the following passage from the Messiah (Matthew 5:27-30) might be construed as Jesus’s expression of conservative values, but I’m not sure anyone in their right mind would endorse such a moral principle”

    Jesus is emphasizing the difference between the spirit and letter of the law, and is overturning the existing (“Ye have heard that it was said of them of old time”) legalistic morality.

  12. eheffa says:

    I think jackd’s comment is spot on.

    The teabaggers as a group seem to be largely composed of Bible-toting zealots keen on creating an American theocracy based on their own libertarian views. Despite their lip service to the concept of asking what Jesus would have done, they seem to have missed the fact that the only source we have (fictitious or not)would put the Jesus of the Gospels squarely into the more liberal end of the political spectrum.

    One doesn’t have to accept the historical veracity of the gospels to see the rich irony of how those most outspoken in their loyalty to this mythical god-man are the least informed as to what he is supposed to have said.


  13. John says:

    If Jesus existed and said and did all the things attributed to him, then he was an out-of-the-box thinker, moralist, philosopher and religionist, and that’s all he was. Your best point was at the beginning of this post in stating that the question of his position being liberal or conservative “is an absurd game.” By default, this makes the rest of the post go nowhere. You would have done better to make the argument that using Jesus to bolster a political position is just plain silly, and I know you would have done that very well, sir.

  14. steelsheen11b says:

    WWSDD?* is the real question to ask since it’s about as relevant as asking what a “jesus” would do. They are both made up characters.

    *What Would Scooby-Doo Do?

    • Retired Prof says:

      Made-up characters are just as good as actual ones as models of behavior.

      Other animals are pretty much confined to imitating real-life examples, as when my dogs learned to eat blackberries by watching me on our walks, or when a cat shows its offspring how to kill a mouse. Human beings extend the range of examples to imitate (or avoid) by telling stories.

      Even if both are fictional, asking what Jesus would do is more relevant than asking what Scooby-Doo would do, because more people believe that the Jesus stories provide worthy examples.

      • steelsheen11b says:

        do you have proof that more people prefer the “jesus” character over that of intelligent talking mutt that likes weed and solves mysteries?

        now if you hit me with people that like zombie movies over cartoons then I would concede that the “jesus” character is the preferred one.

      • MadScientist says:

        It’s not weed, it’s Scooby Snacks.

      • steelsheen11b says:

        Scooby snacks are the preferred munchies after Scooby and Shaggy smoke up a fat splif.

      • NightHiker says:

        “Even if both are fictional, asking what Jesus would do is more relevant than asking what Scooby-Doo would do”

        Only if someone can demonstrate that the Jesus character in the Bible shows any semblance of consistency in his actions – if you look long enough, you will find incompatible stances that make arguing in any direction equally worthless. In such light, asking what Scooby Doo would do is more relevant, considering he’s vastly more consistent as a character.

      • Shahar Lubin says:

        Also, Scooby is a rationalist skeptic and doesn’t push questionable religious agendas

  15. steelsheen11b says:

    Also i find it funny that those on the conservative side champion the idea of a “jesus” that is if the concept actually existed it would have been gay. I mean come on a childless 33 year old unmarried rabbi at the time of his death? hanging around with 12 other dudes all that wore fabulous sandals and fine linen robes? HELLLOOOOoooooo conservatives the concept would be a gay man in real life if it was real and you folks don’t cotton to well to the those types.

    • MadScientist says:

      Not to mention the Last Supper: Eat me! Drink me! Not that I’d know anything ’bout being gay.

    • JGB says:

      I thought scholars claim that Jesus was married and had children b/c to be allowed to teach in the synagogue one much be a husband and father.

      • steelsheen11b says:

        Nowhere in the instruction manual does it say that the character of Jesus was married. According to the Christians the book is paramount the book is the word so scholarly opinion does not matter.

  16. Jesus was a comic book character. I’m amazed DC comics or Marvel haven’t made a movie about him yet.

  17. I need to come back and read this more thoroughly later, but for further reading, see the essay “The Bible on the Poor, or Why God is a Liberal” by Mark Rosenfelder.

    By the way (and I say this as a non-believer), the Beatitudes are one of my favourite parts of the Christian gospel. I much prefer them over present day pop psychology, for example (you know, all that nonsense that says it’s harmful to think of ourselves as anything but wonderful).

  18. Bill Dietrich says:

    The Jesus story is a Roman myth. There was no such historical person. A read of a few books, can reveal this to anyone.

    Bible Myths and their Parallels in other Religions by T.WE. Doane
    The World’s Sixteen Crucified Saviors by Kersey Graves
    The Crucifixion of Truth by Tony Bushby
    101 Myths Of The Bible: How Ancient Scribes Invented Biblical History by Gary Greenberg
    The Christ Conspiracy: The Greatest Story Ever Sold by Acharya S
    Outgrowing the Bible by Russell Scott Brinegar
    They Lied To Us in Sunday School by Ian Ross Vayro
    Caesar’s Messiah: The Roman Conspiracy To Invent Jesus by Joseph Atwill

    The question is a mute question because we are not discussing a real historical person.

    • MadScientist says:

      Hmm. But:

      Kersey Graves: (from

      “Note: the scholarship of Kersey Graves has been questioned by numerous theists and nontheists alike; the inclusion of his The World’s Sixteen Crucified Saviors in the Secular Web’s Historical Library does not constitute endorsement by Internet Infidels, Inc. This document was included for historical purposes; readers should be extremely cautious in trusting anything in this book.”

      So that looks to me like a largely discredited item. I don’t know about the others since I can’t find decent reviews (no one challenging the sources of information), but we do need to be skeptical of *everything* out there. After all, the volumes of lunacy seem to exceed factual publications.

      • NightHiker says:

        Asharya S’ Book is interesting at first, but she’s an astrology nut with a personal agenda, and therefore not trustworthy (how can you really trust someone who argues Jesus is just a myth but believes in astrology?). I don’t know the others on the list, but Robert M. Price’s books are a good source for arguments about Jesus being a just mythological figure.

      • Bill Dietrich says:

        There is very little historical evidence for a real Jesus. We have 4 authors mentioning Jesus in the late 1st century to early 2nd century.

        Suetonius 69-122 AD
        Pliny the Younger 62-113 AD
        Josephus 37-100 AD
        Tacitus 56-120 AD

        The problem here is that these historians were writing history from 80 to 120 AD. So we have no historian writing of Jesus Christ from 30 to 80 AD. This is a serious problem. God becomes a man and comes to earth and no one is reporting on this for 50 years. Seems like a major oversight.

        Yet a bigger problem is that these are most likely frauds written by the Catholic Church in the late 3rd to early 4th century, most likely by Eusebius 264-340 AD and his followers. Of course the Gospel books are not historical books written by historians, but are religious books written by unknown religious authors and no respected Historian takes them seriously as historical books. Quite a difference.

      • MadScientist says:

        So the historically documented Liars for Jesus go back to ~264? Given that the “gospels” are very obviously written by numerous authors, with the resulting schizophrenic style, did Eusebius (if he indeed perpetrated the fraud) convincingly fake the writing style of Tacitus, Pliny Jr, Josephus and Suetonius?

  19. Robert Tobin says:

    As Jesus supported the Cheese Makers and they are private enterprise, he would be Conservative.

    “Blessed are the Cheese Makers”

  20. awC says:

    People believe the bible is a real story, have decided through their pattern recognition (delusion) that it represents current affairs.

    All Micheal was doing is demonstrating the ambiguity. What noticed is the liberal jesus passages were outward focused (preaching / teaching) the conservative examples were introspective.

    Which is the exact opposite of what we seem to observe from these two groups today in the media.

  21. TryUsingLogic says:

    Why can’t we discuss the political leanings of all mythical characters? It might tell us something about the authors that invented them. You know…Snow White could have been a liberal?….Harry Potter lives by the supernatural [good and bad] and never turns the other cheek when it comes to his evil foes and will go to any means to stop or kill them….is he a good Christian right winger?

    The words contributed to Jesus on balance, sound far more like today’s liberals but most Evangelicals embrace him like they do Creationism…..against all reason and fact!

    • NightHiker says:

      “Why can’t we discuss the political leanings of all mythical characters?”

      Because, to be precise, the Jesus in the Bible isn’t even a mythical “character” – Jesus is simply a label used by the authors to advance their own very different and incompatible agendas by appeal to authority. He is actually various characters sharing the same name and a vague origin story. If you had a story where Scooby Doo was a coward glutton dog and another where he was a quite corageous vegan you would find it weird and hard to think of both as the same character.

      And it doesn’t seem like he was just trying to show how impossible is to call Jesus a Liberal or a Conservative (whatever those mean), since after he admitted to be cherry picking himself he argued that it was easier to defend Jesus was a liberal.

      But that isn’t even the biggest issue – the problem is the end, when he uses very questionable science and reasoning to advance the idea that Evolution endorses the view of adultery as a “sin” no matter what the Bible says.

      • MadScientist says:

        Why shocked – because he managed to not mention Libertarian?

      • NightHiker says:

        Well, I guess intelligent people are indeed “better at rationalizing beliefs they arrived at for non-smart reasons”.

  22. meinfronds says:

    Don’t miss the best parts of Mr. Shermer’s post!!! Whether a dude named Jesus actually lived or not, we know he wasn’t god or god’s son. He was just a dude that got popular spouting his ideas (even though his ideas weren’t really original).

    What’s so fun about this is that we can use it when talking to religious folk to our advantage – whether they are liberal or conservative. I personally see several ways to mess with my JW parents who are convinved I’m wrong because I don’t believe in fairy tales.

    Sure, it’s a silly kind of post and discussion, but who said everything Mr. Shermer writes has to be super serious and deep and dull like so many discussions about other topics require? Bet he had some fun and a few smiles writing this one, and I say, “Thanks for the article! Fun!”

    Most of you make good points, but c’mon, don’t get too serious discussing fictional characters! Enjoy it!

  23. Geoff says:

    From a historical perspective (one that acknowledges Jesus’ existence), Jesus teachings fit very well within the teachings of greater Judaism of the day. Therefore, a political characterization of 1st century Judaism along with its foundational texts (Torah, prophets, Mishna, etc.) would be essential to determining Jesus’ political stance.

    As a rabbi, he wouldn’t have repudiated any foundational teachings in any of the aforementioned texts sacred to Judaism, i.e. death penalties, animal sacrifices, women’s roles, genocide and infanticide speicific to the Torah, abortion except when the mother’s life is in danger (Talmud), etc.

    By the way, the high court of the Jews of the 1st century, the Sanhedrin, didn’t have the authority granted it by Rome to exact the death penalty. Even if it did have the authority, the woman brought to Jesus would’ve needed to have undergone a fair trial with at least 2 witnesses present in order to be stoned for adultery. Therefore, Jesus didn’t repudiate the Torah law by not stoning her.

    Jesus is as politically conservative/liberal as the Torah and its interpretation by the rabbis of 1st century Judaism.

  24. chris says:

    I think the point of the article was stated clearly that applying modern political labels to a character of ancient origin is meaningless, but the ideals of the modern christian conservative seem contradictory to the teachings of their own professed religious icon. One reply author was offended, but did not give a logical reply. I would like to hear a more reasoned reply if the observation is valid or if there is another viewpoint supported by more than a threat to join a church.

  25. The Linz says:

    Michael’s blog tackles an important topic, which is the way modern members of various political factions in America attempt to use Jesus to promote their agendas. It’s clear to anyone with an understanding of the politics of getting elected and re-elected that anyone with political aspirations must pay close attention to the beliefs of their constituents. As such, the issue is not whether Jesus really existed or not, but whther you can manipulate the voters by promoting a view of Jesus that will lead them in your direction and get you, hopefully, elected.

    Given the above, I believe it is necessary to “fight fire with fire” so to speak, and confront these politicians with the inconsistencies inherent in their platforms. While making it clear that we are not Christians ourselves, we live in a society where many profess to be Christians, and so it is worthwhile to use Jesus and the Bible as a context for showing people the bankruptcy of their beliefs, in ways of course that are considerate and compassionate, as Jesus may or may not have wanted us to do, depending on what he had for breakfast that day or whether he got a good night’s sleep.

  26. Michael H. Standart says:

    It’s interesting to see any number of political movements and parties try to claim “Jesus” as their own. Even if the repudiate his creed on one hand…and some even deny his very existance…they try to lay claim to whatever respectability and authority he is percieved as having.

    The simple reality is that Yeshua Bar Yosef…whomever and whatever he was…was NOT a Republican, Democrat, Socialist, Green, Nazi, Communist, Fascist, conservative, liberal, moderate, Labour, Tory, or whatever political lable you love to love, or love to hate. In his day, any such lables would have been utterly meaningless.

    Yeshua Bar Yosef WAS a 1st Century Palestinian Jew, who was born and raised in an occupied Roman vassel state, and who was raised, taught, formed his beliefs, and came to give his own apocolyptic message in that context of political realities and religious beliefs. If you understand this much, you begin to understand him.

    If you don’t understand this, then you understand nothing.

  27. Max says:

    See, if all the Christian denominations just read the Bible, they’d all agree on the right interpretation of it. LOL

  28. A.P. Riori says:

    “today are called classical liberals, or conservatives, because they want to conserve the political and economic principles of classical Enlightenment thought. ”

    I’m sorry, but you do live in America, right? Our “Conservatives” are basically defined by their all-out war against the Enlightenment. You might want to try to redefine “conservative” in order to fit your preconception of what a conservative should be (i.e. more like Michael Shermer), but that wouldn’t be very good skepticism, just fideism to your preconceived notion of what a conservative should be or a desire to turn back the clock to an era when conservatives were respectable (like Adam Smith).

    It’s almost impossible to separate conservatives (i.e. Classical Liberals) from the culture warriors who call themselves conservatives. In fact, it’s just as ludicrous to try to categorize Jesus as a liberal or conservative as it is to try to redefine conservative according to your own private criteria. 99.9% of today’s conservatives don’t fit this definition, therefore the definition is useless and absurd.

  29. Tom says:

    For any interested in the historical Jesus and what Jesus may or may not have said I recommend you check out the Westar Institute and the Jesus Seminar.

  30. Rozyredtoes says:

    One of man kinds accomplishments is that it can blather on endlessly and passionately about fictional events and magical beings that really are of no importance. What sign were you born under?

  31. RCSeth says:

    Great Post!
    Another pertaining question is if he’d be a PC or Mac guy?
    My instinct says he’d be drawn towards Linux instead.
    What Would Jesus Choose?

  32. Stan says:

    Don’t make up attributes of fictional characters.

  33. alphadog says:

    Hey people… don’t bash Michael’s work here. This is a blog, not an academic paper. The purpose of a blog is to throw out some ideas and get people talking about it. Gee… guess it worked, huh?

  34. Dr. Mike says:

    I find it interesting that the argument that Jesus is a fictional character is that he was not mentioned by the historians at the time, but history (in a few cases) was revised later to include him. But if this argument is valid, all people who were not mentioned by historians were ficticious; in fact, since I’ve never been mentioned by a historian, I also don’t exist, so disregard this post.

  35. Cleon Ross says:

    I wonder where Chris Howard (see his Aug. 17) went to school. It is where they teach you to put a comma between one-word subjects and the following verb. Wow. Many journalists do that, too. Bill Dietrich (Aug. 18), thanks for the book titles about the imaginary Jesus Christ; there are a few more good ones, also. Finally, I wonder how many scientific articles on evolutionary behaviour Nighthawker has written. I bet far fewer than has Dr. Shermer.

  36. Richard says:

    This is probably as good a place as any to express a few thoughts about Jesus. I like Jesus, and I am inspired by his life and words. Nonetheless, I think that Jesus may be the most over-rated human being who ever lived. Many religious people portray Jesus as a paragon of love and compassion, but he could often be very hateful, as when he rebuked the scribes and pharisees, or when he said that people who didn’t believe in his ability to cast out devils would never be forgiven by God, or when he threw a temper tantrum in the temple at Jerusalem. He seems obsessed with the notion of hell, where wicked people (i.e., his enemies) would either be burned up like so much trash or suffer for ever and ever. And his prediction that the end of the world would happen in the lifetime of his hearers must be the best-kept secret in all Christendom. My belief is that Jesus was not a divine being with idealized attributes of love and compassion, but a very human being with a personality.

    • MadScientist says:

      The end of the world thing always gets me laughing. Isaac Newton predicted the end of the world a few times. Various officials in the catholic church predicted the end of the world numerous times. For the Jehovah’s Witless the world was going to end around the start of the 20th century – or around 1914, 1922, 1926 … but I think these days they changed their tune to “Jesus has been walking among us since XXXX and he’s working to transform the world”. Numerous cults today still claim the world is about to end. It seems to me people are easily convinced the world is about to end and they get a bit too obsessed with it. So I guess some things just haven’t changed since the jesus era.

  37. Wayne says:

    If the author takes issue with a statement that liberals don’t consider adultery a sin (an unfair stereotype based on a very small fraction of the left.) Why conclude Jesus is liberal based on the assumption that conservatives are unmerciful, judgmental, greedy, warmongers (an unfair stereotype based on a very small fraction of the right.)

    I personally know many from both sides. The vast majority from both sides are good people with moral values close to those listed in the article, whether God fearing or Atheist.

  38. ed says:

    Want proof? What about the shroud of Turin? Turns out he wouldn’t be caught dead wearing it.

  39. Lorne Booth says:

    Thanks everyone. That was fun…. and even better I feel so much so much more informed….. oh…..who is this Scooby Doo character. Is there another book about him/her/it?

  40. lindsay says:

    This is like asking.. Is the cow that jumped over the moon a liberal or a conservative. Either way they are both mythical creatures that can not be taken seriously, nor do their opinions or actions matter.

  41. marvin nubwaxer says:

    religion is a mental disorder.

  42. I do not commit sin. I am not a sinner. I was not born in any sin and nobody died on any cross for me.The terms: sin, sinner, adultery and fornication do not apply to me.I do not accept the labels dished out by any ancient Middle-Eastern philosopher purported by any sandal-wearing desert guru real or mythical.If I accept that I am a sinner, I must also accept that I need a savior along with all the other burdens carried on the winds of religion and its world of myths. Life is difficult enough without having to contend with these meaningless ideologies which grew out of an era when people had nothing to do, no place to go and nothing to take them there. I thought we had outgrown and out-learned these fantasies.Things change, people learn, laws emerge, and the moment our evolution ceases we will be stuck in time just as the people who believe that prayer cures diseases,men can survive three days in the belly of a fish, men can speak and make raging storm subside, and one day a trumpet will sound and a glowing king will burst unexpected from the sky with frightful angel and flying horses.Michael is always interesting. I read everything he says and understand his perspective, but who is he preaching to?

    • Chris Howard says:

      AMEN, brother!!!!!!

    • MadScientist says:

      Whales aren’t even fish – which is why that Jonah story definitely ain’t so. Apparently even god couldn’t tell a mammal from a fish, although biblical literalists would say we’ve obviously got our animal classifications wrong.

      • If a dude can collect two of each animal species and take them on a cruise ship, then we can forgive one little error in animal classification.

      • Shahar Lubin says:

        Whale is translated from the old Hebrew – “Leviathan”. Probably Tuna.

        Still a bunch of non sense.

      • Jackweline says:

        The original word used for the ‘whale’ or ‘fish’ was neither ‘whale’ nor ‘fish’. The animal classification system you refer to was created thousands of years later.

        Why would anyone with even half a brain think that either reflects on the other? The biblical literalists are stupid to say that the animal classification system is wrong, you are equally as stupid Madscientist to suggest that this indicates God couldn’t tell a mammal from a fish. With a helping of, come-on, they’re biblical literalists, of course they’re stupid, what’s your excuse?

  43. Rozyredtoes says:

    Mr Tatum, you are blathering about idiots and moronic thinking. I am surrounded by bible thumping folks who are wasting their life waiting for life after death. I can assure you that nothing you say will convince them that you should not be burned at the stake. When I hear the word Jesus my mind immediately reflects to Billy Sol Estes or Bernie Madoff. At least those two did not claim to be the son of god just a son of a bitch.

  44. Eagledancer says:

    Dear MadScientist—
    It seems as if you must actually know what it’s like to live in Arizona. Nice to know not all of my neighbors are crazy :)

  45. David Bortin says:

    As pointed out, liberal/conservative is too relative to the times, the issues, the location, and the audience, to have any applicability to Jesus. But more to the point, most if not all of the quotations considered are not from Jesus, but from a variety of different authors inventing and cherry-picking myths to serve their own purposes, decades after the crucifixion. It would be slightly less meaningless to ask if Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, etc. were conservative or liberal. A more interesting question about Jesus, if he existed at all, is his theology. Personally, I think he must have been an atheist, like me. If he believed in the Old Testament God of his time, he would never have had the nerve to encourage the spread of all those lies that he told about God, or that were told in Jesus’ name and with his knowledge. God was the “hook” Jesus used to spread his teachings and/or his fame.

  46. Actually, “monogamy” is not what evolution selected for in us, but rather “mostly monogamy with subtle cheating.” A significant percentage of pregnancies in “monogamous” humans, as well as in “monogamous”animals, are the result of spousal cheating.

    See the book “Sperm Wars” for a great deal of information on that. “Dr. Robin Baker, who has studied sperm and cervical mucus in much greater detail than anyone would’ve thought necessary, has come to some startling conclusions: that less than 1 percent of sperm is actually designed to fertilize an egg (the rest are there to block other men’s sperm), and that 4 to 10 percent of all children born to married couples are in fact the offspring of other men, usually of higher socioeconomic status, with whom the mother had a short-term relationship. ” Even the shape of the male glans penis evolved to sweep out any other mens’ sperm that might already be in there. Fascinating stuff.

  47. james Mellema says:

    I never realized mythical persons had political leanings. I think the whole idea of a liberal or conservative Jesus is meaningless. Given the allegorical nature of the Bible and the questionable scholarship of the authors who wrote the new testament I would submit the question is subject to an infinite number of interpretations.

  48. anti_supernaturalist says:

    Jesus/Christ, revenge as recycled fable & recycled myth

    • Before there were any xians, or members of Jesus cults within judaism — hellenistic jewish writers constructed texts which were intentionally what we would call freedom-fighter (or rebel) propaganda. The Book of Daniel with its three resisters of royal oppression — and Judith, always depicted cutting off the head of enemy general, Holofernes, are complete fiction.

    Putting a human face on an ideology is nothing new. We’ve heard of Daniel in the lions’ den and Judith with her sword dripping blood— without being aware of the ancient purposes of their creators. Like Judith the Jesus persona belongs on the level of a revenge character of cultural fable.

    • Calling the Jesus figure a mythological being already gives the later divinized persona too much weight. The divinized Christ could not arise within judaism and remain canonical. Certainly not the loquacious, mangled Logos, divine principle stolen from Stoicism, which appears in mythic hype (the gospel) attributed to “John.”

    Jesus transubstantiated as the Christ persona, a concoction brewed up by Saul/Paul of Tarsus, belongs to hellenistic savior god mythology, perhaps an anti-Isis. But with a radical jewish twist. Csomic revenge motif was stolen from first Enoch, a hellenistic jewish apocalyptic jeremiad of 1st Century BCE, known to early Jesus cult members.

    • Jesus was a propaganda persona, a constructed “martyr” who was able to “get up and move” out of a fable context. His persona, his role became open to vast mythic reinterpretation. The west still experiences cultural distortion and devastation from the death impulse which created the ‘Christ of faith’.

    the anti_supernaturalist

  49. Gordon says:

    It looks like you meant to write “gun toting”. Totting is not a word, but perhaps could be used to refer to eating tater tots.

  50. I reposted this on facebook because I agree with just about every word…and I’m a Christian.