Work in Progress:

Jesus Mortal



Jesus laid the foundation for Western moral relativism. His daring, prophetic vision of moral conduct is so fundamental to modern moral reasoning that it’s taken for granted. Ironically, today it’s his nominal followers who resist moral relativism.

Jesus preached to a people devoted to objectivist morals in the form of religious law. Jesus’ recurrent message was to impugn those that the objective laws lionized (Pharisees, those who prayed in public, etc.) and to support those that the objective law condemned (adulterers, Samaritans, etc.). His key teaching was the Golden Rule, “Treat others the way you want them to treat you.” This teaching is relativist rather than objectivist. It says that what is morally right is something you judge for yourself by sympathizing with others. One sees what is right by opening one’s heart to another human being, not by consulting a religious expert to interpret a legal code for you.

Jesus was heir to the Jewish prophetic tradition, which had been setting itself against the religious establishment for centuries. For instance, Ezekiel contradicted the doctrine that the LORD punished people for the sins of their forefathers. To this day, liberal Christians are more likely to quote prophets such as Amos (“Let justice roll down like waters”) while conservative Christians are more likely to quote lawgivers (“Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination”).

Since Jesus’ ethical approach is relativist, it’s been able to adapt and stay current as society has progressed. Christian moral standards now go far beyond those taught in the Bible. For example, Christians renounce slavery (the Southern Baptists having lost that debate) and endorse universal suffrage even though the Bible condones slavery and never proclaims a right to vote. The Golden Rule can be understood relative to changing times and cultures. As our culture’s sense of justice has matured, so has our ability to apply the Golden Rule. Jesus’ relativism allows his modern-day followers to champion values that are not supported objectively in the Bible.

Saying that Jesus’ moral approach is relativist doesn’t mean that it’s amoral. The caricature of moral relativism as implying that “anything goes” is a depiction of relativism taken to an extreme. Jesus’ relativism is the ordinary sort of everyday relativism, in which laws and codes are judged relative to their effects and to the needs of real people.

It only took a few hundred years for Jesus’ followers to create a religion devoted to him, replacing the religion that Jesus himself preached. Like any other major religion, Christianity has had its up sides and down sides. These days, the liberal Christians that take Jesus’ message to heart hardly stand out from the crowd. Why? Because the crowd has been so profoundly influenced by Jesus’ message. It’s not just Christian parents who ask their children “How would you like it if someone did that to you?” It’s modern, humane parents in general. The Christians that stand out from the background culture are the conservatives that reject the culture’s relativism, as well as that of their founder.


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table of contents you're already looking at it

introduction for the inquisitive reader

biographical overview who he was and wasn't


afterlife not Jesus' concern

animal sacrifice bloodless religion

apocalypse did Jesus preach hellfire?

baptism sin wash for Jesus and others

beatitudes Jesus' words and others' words

beloved disciple witness for the un-gospel

bible scripture old and new

bishop the unjesus

body focus on the physical

Buddha Jesus' close kin

charity key Christian virtue and legacy of Jesus

The Da Vinci Code secret (and false) messages

divorce women's status

dreams convenient literary device

Elijah Jewish prophet with his own second coming

equality ancient source of modern egalitarianism

exorcist Jesus and demons

failure reinterpreting Jesus as a failure

faith from trust to blind belief

father Jesus on titles of honor

Francis of Assisi the most Christlike Christian

Gandhi the 20th century's most Christly holy man

Galilee Jesus' inauspicious homeland

gentiles Jesus' inadvertent audience

god how Jesus became god

golden rule key to Jesus' success

gospels competing accounts

heaven from sky to spiritual home

hell revenge fantasy

humanism Jesus' legacy

inerrant Christian treatment of scripture

Thomas Jefferson ethics of Jesus

Jewish guilt Christian libel

John's gospel the un-gospel

John the baptist, see John the washer

John the washer Jesus' apocalyptic mentor

Judaism libeled religion of Jesus

kingdom of god what Jesus promised

Lao Tzu poet of the cosmic way

logos jesus as the word of god

C. S. Lewis famous, flawed trilemma

little drummer boy Luke beats Matthew

logos Jesus as the divine word

LORD Yahweh transitioning to the one god of all

Luke's gospel the all-around best gospel

Mark's gospel the gospel that lost its point

Mary of Magdala women, visions, and sex

massacre of the innocents bloodshed starts early

Matthew's gospel best gospel for church reading

Mormon, see Joseph Smith

Moses Jewish lawgiver

Muhammad a prophet who got it right

mystery Orpheus and transubstantiation

oppression origin of Jesus' compassion

The Passion of the Christ Luke as buzzkill

Paul revealer of the revealer

private and public public Jesus and secret Christ

relativism the secret power of the golden rule

sacrifice Jesus' death and Christian sacrament

Albert Schweitzer Jesus as a failure

sheol dark pit of death

show Jesus' deeds as put-ons

slavery abolished by Jesus' efforts

Joseph Smith flesh-and-blood Jesus

Socrates secular Jesus

son of god on close terms with the man upstairs

soul, see body

synoptics three gospels that agree

temple center of Jewish religion

trinity unifying and divisive doctrinre

vision, see dreams

Yahweh, see LORD

Zoroaster Persian dualistic holy man