[the following is an extract from Christopher Hitchens’ book God is Not Great: Religion Poisons Everything]
JUST AS THE SCRIPT of the Old Testament is riddled with dreams and with astrology (the sun standing still so that Joshua can complete his massacre at a site that has never been located), so the Christian bible is full of star-predictions (notably the one over Bethlehem) and witch doctors and sorcerers. Many of the sayings and deeds of Jesus are innocuous, most especially the “beatitudes” which express such fanciful wish-thinking about the meek and the peacemakers. But many are unintelligible and show a belief in magic, several are absurd and show a primitive attitude to agriculture (this extends to all mentions of plowing and sowing, and all allusions to mustard or fig trees), and many are on the face of it flat-out immoral. The analogy of humans to lilies, for instance, suggests — along with many other injunctions — that things like thrift, innovation, family life, and so forth are a sheer waste of time. (“Take no thought for the morrow.”) This is why some of the Gospels, canonical and apocryphal, report people (including his family members) saying at the time that they thought Jesus must be mad. There were also those who noticed that he was often a rather rigid Jewish sectarian: in Matthew 15:21-28 we read of his contempt for a Canaanite woman who implored his aid for an exorcism and was brusquely told that he would not waste his energy on a non-Jew. (His disciples, and the persistence of the woman, eventually persuaded him to unbend, and to cast out the non-devil.) In my opinion, an idiosyncratic story like this is another oblique reason for thinking that some such personality may at some time have lived. There were many deranged prophets roaming Palestine at the time, but this one reportedly believed himself, at least some of the time, to be god or the son of god. And that has made all the difference. Make just two assumptions: that he believed this and that he also promised his followers that he would reveal his kingdom before they came to the end of their own lives, and all but one or two of his gnomic remarks make some kind of sense. This point was never put more frankly than by C.S. Lewis (who has recently re-emerged as the most popular Christian apologist) in his Mere Christianity. He happens to be speaking about the claim of Jesus to take sins on himself:
Now, unless the speaker is God, this is really so preposterous as to be comic. We can all understand how a man forgives offenses against himself. You tread on my toes and I forgive you, you steal my money and I forgive you. But what should we make of a man, himself unrobbed and untrodden-on, who announced that he forgave you for treading on other men’s toes and stealing other men’s money? Asinine fatuity is the kindest description we should give of his conduct. Yet this is what Jesus did. He told people that their sins were forgiven, and never waited to consult all the other people whom their sins had undoubtedly injured. He unhesitatingly behaved as if He was the party chiefly concerned, the person chiefly offended in all offenses. This makes sense only if he really was the God whose laws are broken and whose love is wounded in every sin. In the mouth of any speaker who is not God, these words would imply what I can only regard as a silliness and conceit unrivalled by any other character in history.
It will be noticed that Lewis assumes on no firm evidence whatever that Jesus actually was a “character in history,” but let that pass. He deserves some credit for accepting the logic and morality of what he has just stated. To those who argue that Jesus may have been a great moral teacher without being divine (of whom the deist Thomas Jefferson incidentally claimed to be one), Lewis has this stinging riposte:
That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman and something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.
I am not choosing a straw man here: Lewis is the main chosen propaganda vehicle for Christianity in our time. And nor am I accepting his rather wild supernatural categories, such as devil and demon. Least of all do I accept his reasoning, which is so pathetic as to defy description and which takes his two false alternatives as exclusive antitheses, and then uses them to fashion a crude non sequitur (“Now it seems to me obvious that He was neither a lunatic nor a fiend: and consequently, however strange or terrifying or unlikely it may seem, I have to accept the view that He was and is God.”). However, I do credit him with honesty and with some courage. Either the Gospels are in some sense literal truth, or the whole thing is essentially a fraud and perhaps an immoral one at that. Well, it can be stated with certainty, and on their own evidence, that the Gospels are most certainly not literal truth. This means that many of the “sayings” and teachings of Jesus are hearsay upon hearsay upon hearsay, which helps explain their garbled and contradictory nature.
For further enlightenment, read the whole book:
God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything (Allen & Unwin, 2007).
This book is now out of print. But it can be purchased as a Kindle edition from Amazon.