The following is my extended presentation transcript for a workshop I gave at Skepticon 6. Enjoy!
Greetings! Welcome to Skepticon 6! Thanks for being here.
My name is Ben Schuldt. I'm a member of the St. Louis Ethical Society as well as the Skeptical Society of St. Louis. If you are fans of Dr. Richard Carrier, who will be giving a talk later this weekend, you may have come across my writings on The Richard Carrier Project. That's a wiki page devoted to responding to his critics that we've been working on for the last six years ever since near the beginning of Skepticon when we first met. I’m also a volunteer organizer helping out with the Recovering from Religion chapter that meets via the St. Louis Atheist meetup.com group.
This Skepticon workshop is about "How to Tell Your Friends Jesus was a Dick." If you are not interested in convincing all your friends, family, and co-workers that Jesus sucked at morality or why someone might think that he was quite bad at it, I suggest some of the less contentious workshops going on right now.
The main reason I like to talk about this is because a lot of non-believers seem to hold the uncritical position that Jesus didn’t teach psychologically abusive morality. “Jesus is great!” we’ll hear. “It’s just his followers that suck.” No, not actually. There’s plenty of room for both as it turns out. Apparently according to certain non-believers Jesus just said some nice sounding things on a mount one time and then quit talking. I only wish that were true. By placating Christians with appeals to moral appreciation they typically don’t even seem to care about, you are likely alienating your fellow non-believing, ex-Christians who actually suffered under the abuse of Jesus’ immoral teachings. So, something to think about as we go along here.
Also, it is generally good policy for critical thinkers to engage in moral skepticism... ...especially in light of the competing moral systems around you. What Jesus is said to have taught, given the United States’ Christian culture we have all around us, is great fodder that. It makes Christians uncomfortable if nothing else. One can beat them over the head with all the classic evils from the Old Testament as skeptics are generally accustomed to doing, but why let them retreat to Jesus as though he’s going to save them? Hopefully my presentation will serve as a reasonable primer for further investigation if you so desire.
Fair warning, I have almost an hour to tarnish Jesus’ virtuous reputation and I am going to give you a lot to work with. In fact I had to cut a bunch of stuff out of my presentation to fit in the time allotted. This will involve A: An introduction to Jesus as presented in the gospels. B: What I believe are reasonable criticisms of Jesus’ moralizing as plausible angles of attack to take note of. And C: At the end, suggested policies for engaging various kinds of people whether they are conservative or liberal Christian friends, or even secular folks who have a fond place for Jesus in their thinking.
I’ll also have my full presentation available online if you’d like to take your time and read over it more carefully. I don’t expect you to absorb it all in one sitting. So just sit back and enjoy.
The underlying issue here isn’t about name calling. It’s about moral skepticism in a significantly Christian culture. Is Jesus, the central figure of the Christian religions as presented in the Bible, a good moral teacher...as even many nonbelievers like to claim? I know you’re out there! Regardless of how fictional or trustworthy our sources are, or whatever reconstructions of a historical Jesus you may fancy, do we find good moral advice in the texts, as is, put on the lips of Jesus? This may not be the real historical Jesus I’m criticizing as that Jesus may be impossible to recover, but it is definitely the Jesus we are stuck with.
Jesus moralized like there was no tomorrow to the extreme.
The main thing I think you should know about what characterizes the majority of Jesus’ moral teachings as we have them in the gospels is that Jesus believed the world was going to end in his generation (Mark 9:1, 13:30, Matthew 10:23, 16:28, 23:36, 24:34, Luke 9:27, 21:32). He says so repeatedly in different ways and of course Christians for 2,000 years have tried to come up with many ways of getting around it. I expect that trend of cognitive dissonance to continue despite what mainstream scholarship concludes about Jesus as a failed apocalyptic prophet.
The point is when someone thinks they don’t have a lot more time on this earth, they're likely going to prescribe things differently than say Moses supposedly did in the Old Testament. One could say that Moses gave the ancient Israelites laws to live by and Jesus gave early Christians provisional advice to hold them over to the end that was just around the corner.
So Jesus tells people to sell all their stuff (Mark 10:21), encourages them to leave family and friends (Mark 10:29-30), to ignore the imposition of evil governments (Mark 12:17), to not bother getting married if you can at all help it (Matthew 19:10-12), to let people walk all over you (Matthew 5:38-42, 18:21-22), and other unsustainable things that Christians for the last 2,000 years have largely ignored, been ignorant of, or attempted to explain away. We’ll get to more of that in a little bit.
But first off…
Jesus was the enemy of the good.
Jesus explicitly tells us (in Mark 10:27, Matthew 19:26, and Luke 18:27) that his advice is impossible to live by. He says, “With man this is impossible, but with god all things are possible.” His disciples freak out about his extremist teachings and then Jesus tells them that only with the help of divine magic can you be his version of morally perfect and make it into the kingdom of heaven. Everything is possible for those that believe, according to Jesus in Mark 9:23. Note this could potentially excuse Jesus from having to teach anything remotely sensible and explains why he freely resorts to various impractical extremes throughout the gospels. Jesus doesn’t tell us merely to strive for perfection, he tells us to be perfect just like the Christian god is perfect (Matthew 5:48). He doesn’t advocate baby steps towards being a better person over time. In Matthew 17:20 Jesus tells us that even the tiniest amount of faith can move mountains! He’s definitely using metaphorical language, but he’s also definitely not talking about starting with metaphorical molehills, either.
Please note that this faith in the gospel stories serves to miraculously heal people of diseases, cure blindness and immobility, and also raise the dead. And it’s not just Jesus’ super-faith that does this. The stories routinely emphasize that it is the faith of those Jesus is healing that makes these miracles happen. So Jesus isn’t just playing around with rhetoric here to be inspiring. His faith guru talk is meant to actually be exactly as advertised in extraordinary, non-metaphorical ways. Jesus’ moral paradigm and his miracles go hand in hand and that’s an important overlap that seems to get conveniently lost on most people. Probably because what most Christians call faith in their active lives can’t actually accomplish the mountain moving miracles that fill up the gospel stories. Hence Christians must assume Jesus means something else.
It seems to me most reasonable, ethically-minded people recognize that moral perfection is impossible to achieve, unnecessary to achieve, that moral progress and success take time in baby steps, and that we shouldn’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Often times the pursuit of that final bit of perfection is a huge waist and hurts what would actually be practically better to settle for. Doesn't mean you quit trying to do better...but obviously within reason. And you’re just not going to find any sensible advice like that from Jesus. Quite the opposite.
Also of course, skeptics here likely would heartily disagree with Jesus’ definition of moral perfection. Jesus says that all his teachings are summed up in two commands. The second one is much more famous: "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." But before that you're supposed to love god first with all you got. So Jesus seems to make the golden rule morally subservient to the loving god first part. So he would probably agree that when Yahweh told Abraham to murder his son Isaac, Abraham was doing the loving thing by intending to comply. So context. No cherry picking. If you think a good god shouldn’t tell humans to murder each other, then the character Jesus probably disagrees with you.
All of the ridiculous teachings Christians like to ignore represent Jesus’ actual application of the illustrious golden rule. The heart of the gospel is not just loving each other. It’s loving each other and doing so for starters in the ways that Jesus would have us love each other. There's a Jesus filter in the mix that gets us off on the wrong foot. So it makes little sense to give Jesus much credit here for preaching love if you actually disagree with a great deal of what he does with it... ...and his moral priorities in terms of potentially serving the whims of a capricious deity.
Why magic is no excuse:
If Jesus is hinging his crazy advice on magic, it seems skeptics should not be so quick to endorse it as words to live by in any event. If you don’t think the world ended in the first or second centuries, perhaps also you shouldn’t think Jesus’ provisional advice was all that impressive. Instead the word you should probably be searching for is “delusional” or perhaps "ridiculous." But you don’t have to discount divine magic to find fault with Jesus here.
It would be possible to define a reasonable ethical belief system that we could appreciate as fair, humane, and generally desirable by rational moral beings, and then say on top of that that a divine being will mystically help you achieve that particular moral lifestyle. I think most people here even with their evil liberal moral standards (as far as conservative Christians might be concerned) still find their own standards difficult to live by. However it is quite another thing to make divine magic an excuse for prescribing unnecessarily inhumane things to begin with.
For example, it is logically possible that the Christian god could give you the magical ability to get over not living a happy homosexual lifestyle if you happen to be gay. Prayer and ex-gay camp could actually work! Incidentally they don't unless you are already bisexual and monogamous. Of course the divine magic could also be applied to just helping you survive celibacy and lifelong loneliness. YOU HAVE THE POOOOOWER! But what was wrong with that gay lifestyle in the first place? Ask ancient bigots like Moses. They probably knew best.
As another example, it is possible the Christian god could give you the magical ability to not have to divorce a physically and psychologically abusive spouse who incidentally never commits adultery on you. Jesus, in the gospels of Mark and Luke doesn’t allow for any excuses for divorce and considers divorce for any reason to be a sin. In the gospel of Matthew only one exception is allowed, which is divorce over adultery, someone cheating on you. Most Protestant Christians go beyond what Jesus said and would say that it is "obvious" you are allowed to divorce for still other reasons. But Jesus doesn’t say that and seems to explicitly exclude other potentially valid reasons for divorce. Christians might say they are trying to apply the “love your neighbor as yourself” metric to infer more humane exceptions for divorce, but why not just apply more divine magic for Jesus’ apparently calloused standards? People do survive abusive marriages till death do they part. A god who hates divorce for any reason could always be there to help you do that you know. That is, if straight divorce is just as evil as homosexuality.
Please note the disciples reaction to Jesus’ teachings on divorce was that marriage must not even be worth it at all with standards like Jesus’ (Matthew 19:10). And yet so many Christians get straight married anyway...it's bizarre. If straight Christian Protestants and retconning Catholics want their get-out-of-magical-thinking-free card with more compassionate exceptions for divorce, why does their magical thinking apply to homosexuals and anyone else who deviates from the lifelong commitment of heterosexual monogamy? If it sucks for gays it can suck for straight Christians, too, with Jesus' all powerful magic on your team! But they don’t think that way do they? They think Jesus prescribes something that is good in and of itself... ...and then gives you the power to accomplish that. They should be consistent.
So magical thinking, even if divine magic is real, shouldn’t be allowed to excuse fundamentally inhumane teachings. Hinging your bad advice on magical thinking should be considered evil. Jesus explicitly hinges his advice on magical thinking to get out of the inhumane implications. Therefore Jesus’ morally extremist teachings are evil.
Prime example of Jesus’ extremism:
As one example of Jesus’ moral extremism, in Matthew 5:29 he seems to tell us to pluck out eyes, and cut off limbs if they come between you and the kingdom of heaven. Nothing matters more to Jesus than being a proverbial good sheep instead of an evil goat on Judgment Day and he tells us this repeatedly. Secular scholars it seems will only toy with the possibility Jesus means what he says here and yet they seem to come to the conclusion this rhetoric is hyperbolic. So even though religious fanaticism has had a solid tradition of self-mutilation for religious reasons throughout the ages, and despite Jesus recommending extreme and impractical morality throughout his teachings (advice that he and many of his disciples actually lived by on many points in non-metaphorical terms), and despite these teachings connecting in a straightforward way with the overriding parameters of Jesus’ heaven and hell worldview there's a hesitancy to convict of full fledged fanaticism for some strange reason. And I'm not sure that reason is a good one.
We have Christian commentators from the get-go being quick to point out that Jesus really didn’t mean it as though they maybe felt a little guilty about the obvious abusive implications. They would still have us believe of course that "the Kingdom of God is worth ANY sacrifice"... ...unless we’re talking about your hands, feet, or eyes apparently. Christians may try to tell you that the Old Testament was against self mutilation, but in actuality, the Old Testament was just against self mutilation in the service of other religions. Just ask modern Christians if the males in their religion are circumcised and they should get the idea about self mutilation being just fine in the service of their religion.
Maybe when Jesus suggested chopping off limbs he assumed you’d typically find some alternative way to stop sinning rather than cutting them off, but I’ll bet if it did come down to that he probably wouldn’t come down on the “sin accommodation side” just because something would be too inconvenient. That one rich guy that supposedly had followed all the commandments his whole life just wasn’t good enough (Mark 10:19-21). He had to sell all his stuff, too, or he just wasn’t going to make it. In Matthew 19:12 Jesus praises eunuchs for making themselves that way for the Kingdom of Heaven. Pretty sure that’s cutting off something important. And many Christians throughout the ages have taken that very seriously. So you may well actually have to cut something off or pluck something out to secure a place in Jesus’ afterlife. Not just your eyebrows to look good on a Sunday morning.
Another example of dysfunctional extremism is the theme of being a doormat.
Here we come to Jesus’ “too good” of advice. Now what do I mean by that?
In Matthew 5:38-42 Jesus says:
You have heard that it was said, "Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth." But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.
And in Matthew 18:21-22 Jesus tells us to forgive our neighbor up to 490 times...
If Jesus was not telling his disciples to be doormats and endlessly forgive our neighbors when they supposedly repent as he does in Luke 17, then why do the disciples respond, “Increase our faith!” Even the characters in the story see Jesus’ teachings as ridiculous demands.
Normally after the first few hundred times of someone “genuinely repenting” we start doubting a person’s sincerity, but Jesus tells us to forgive them if they say, “I repent.” Jesus’ advice effectively turns you into a doormat for evil people who figure out they can keep fake repenting. Jesus doesn’t seem to give us the room to distance ourselves from people who want to take advantage of us. Or, his advice turns you into someone that continually makes good people feel bad for taking advantage of your excessive generosity. Normal good people don’t want you to do them such extra favors, because then they feel indebted to you and it’s honestly kind of rude to put them in that position. Jesus seems to prevent us from reigning in these extremes with a more sensible and skeptical attitude.
The reasoning for this doormatism seems to be that relationships in this world don’t matter that much anyway since time is short and that you need to make sure you are ultra good to prepare yourself for what really matters, which is the kingdom of heaven in the next life. What would Jesus himself do? Please note that Jesus followed his own advice and was the ultimate doormat since he allowed the earthly authorities in the region to strip him naked, flog him, mock him, and literally crucify him even though supposedly he had the power to stop it any time he wanted by calling upon his army of angels. If that’s not being a doormat to increase your martyr stats, then what is?
Note: It’s likely that there is an underlying theme of attempting to “kill them with kindness” since there is still an obvious concern for the fate of your enemies mixed in. Such sentiments have a precedent in the Old Testament book of Proverbs 25:21-22 and Paul repeats this point in the New Testament letter of Romans 12:20. However as I said, mostly Jesus’ doormat advice is best suited to further up your martyrdom stats and render you quite dysfunctional in terms of this life.
Conclusion on extremism:
And still people don’t want to see anything extreme in Jesus’ teachings despite the persistent contextual reinforcement I’m pointing out…that Jesus was not trying to be practical or metaphorical. I think he meant it.
Note: And if he didn’t mean these contextually reinforced extremes, then the stories and characters themselves make little sense. You’d have to demote the gospels to mere moral mythology, or what I would call “virtue porn,” no one was expected to take too seriously. The stories would exist as some kind of moralistic hyper-reality rather than historical, biographical accounts of the actual life and teachings of Jesus, his disciples, and the people that encountered them. No one did anything extreme. No one was ever expected to do anything extreme. It was all just exaggeration...except that’s not how the gospels actually play out. Skeptics might be okay with that, but I’ll bet most Christians aren’t.
The moral problem with such extremes that Jesus relentlessly dumps on us is that it takes the focus of our morality out of the realm of being reasonable, stable people and into the realm of heaven-aimed sociopathology. Remember Jesus tells us we have to be perfect so we can’t just settle for mostly good. We have to go all the way. Raising the stakes that high is psychologically abusive. Even Jesus presumably being willing to forgive us for failing in this system doesn’t excuse the abusive system in the first place. Don’t forget you can’t even take advantage of that forgiveness and say you’ve truly repented unless you’re willing to do something unnecessarily extreme to prove it.
In Mark 10:28, in response to Jesus’ extreme moralizing, Jesus' disciple Peter responded, “we’ve given up everything to follow you!” and Jesus said they’d be rewarded well in heaven for actually doing that. One suspects that if a modern Christian were present in that conversation following the tail end of Peter and said something like, “I gave up chocolate for Lent,” Jesus would possibly not have had such a favorable response. Maybe modern Christians who conveniently don’t want to see anything extreme in these verses could expect to at best end up in the extreme nose bleed section of heaven whatever that would mean...that is if Jesus hadn’t told us that few will be saved (but we’ll get to that point later).
Note: Also note that even if Jesus was exaggerating for rhetorical effect, that doesn’t mean his actual baseline is what one might prefer it to be. People who believe crazy things also exaggerate on top of that. Beware the shades of gray in crazy-land because you're probably not looking for them.
Jesus was not that bright:
The Pharisees were Jesus’ main ideological opponents in the gospels and they accused him of casting out demons by the power of Satan. Jesus comes back at them with the idea that no demon would teach the things he does and he makes the assertion that Satan could never drive out Satan since a divided house cannot stand (Mark 3:23, Matthew 12:26, and Luke 11:17).
For a moral philosopher this is a really narrow-minded, illogical defense, since con artists often engage in what is known as the “ruse.” Would you like to make people think your perverse morality message is more legit? Well, why not ask your buddy demon to possess someone and then have your guy drive the other out to bolster the authority of your message? It’d be pretty impressive wouldn’t it? But Jesus completely ignores this possibility and we’re clearly expected to think he is clever anyway.
So surely Satan had heard of the ruse in his 4,000 some years experience screwing around with people, not to mention one might actually expect a con artist to feign ignorance of the possibility of a con. Tsk, tsk, Jesus. Perhaps also Jesus could have recognized that maybe not all bad guys are on the exact same bad guy team? Gasp!
Granted, it sounds like the Pharisees probably weren’t thinking too hard about it. Though it should always be remembered we only have the Christian versions of these supposed dialogs. And the Pharisees probably should have addressed Jesus’ teachings head on (and maybe they even did, who knows?), but that doesn’t make Jesus’ come back any more astute. Doesn’t Jesus even tell us (in Mark 13:22 and Matthew 24:24) that false prophets will perform miraculous signs and that we should ultimately judge them by their moral message? So if we judge the moral message from Jesus to be bad and yet he still obviously has magic powers, well isn’t it perfectly legitimate to speculate that perhaps Satan is driving out Satan? Or that maybe not all bad guys are on the exact same bad guy team? Gasp!
Jesus (in Matthew 12:27) even asks the Pharisees who they drive out demons by (taking for granted that they are able to do this) and given his scathing critiques of their supposed hypocrisies elsewhere in the gospels, wouldn’t that indicate that the Pharisees weren’t driving out demons by the power of the one true god? Where would they be getting that power from then? Thor?
So Jesus sticks his foot in his mouth and he’s inadvertently invited us to see if we think his moral claims are evil despite his supposed divine power. Just don’t tell modern Christians that. Or do, if you want to see them squirm out of a moral meritocracy back into the uncritical authoritarianism-land where most of them seem accustomed to being. Your choice.
Jesus’ thinking was overly simplistic.
Black and white thinking pervades Jesus’ views on salvation with the all or nothing, you’re either with me or you’re against me nonsense which is much more of a hook for a cult (or something George W. Bush says) than correct moralizing.
As we all know, only a Sith moralizes in absolutes.
Recall Jesus’ erroneous answer to the Pharisees about Satan’s house being undivided. I suggest this may be because he has too rigid of categories in his basic moral thinking patterns.
So rather than seeing the many diverse people in the world as complex individuals coming from different perspectives, filtered through many influences, cognitive biases, and honest mistakes... ...Jesus wants to take us back to nursery rhyme land where there are just "sheep" and "goats" destined for heaven or hell (example: Matthew 25:31-46). To Jesus there are people who mystically see the "light" just the way he does and anyone else is an evil person who wants to live in "darkness" to hide their sins (example: John 3:19-21). That means the most of you! I mean, we all know that anyone on the side of truth listens to Jesus, am I right? Jesus says so (John 18:37)!
Jesus' black and white thinking appeals to our brute ingroup vs. outgroup tendencies and simplistic appraisals of those we disagree with (so common on the internet), but it is not mature moralizing. It just divinely validates the actions of immature Christians who neglected to impose their own incidental maturity on Jesus’ simplistic thinking patterns.
NOTE: Please note that even people who are guilty of religiously engaging in immoral black and white thinking cannot be consistent. It’s impossible to absolutist about everything.
Jesus’ afterlife was hyper-judgmental:
Of all the voices in the entire Bible, Jesus was the most prolific advocate of eternal damnation... ...which is just the infinitely large cherry on top of all the other moral extremism he prescribes for this life. The doctrine is barely in the Old Testament (since they hadn’t borrowed the concept from another culture yet). It’s only mentioned or alluded to by others in the New Testament (except for the book of Revelation, which is also supposed to be Jesus), but Jesus was the one who continually brings it up and elaborates the most.
Contrary to what popular opinion seems to be, threatening with hellfire isn't a convention that later fire and brimstone preachers made up. As you can read (in the gospel of Matthew especially), Jesus peppers his teachings with these threats rather than selling us his moral virtues on their own merits.
So you can be anyone from the most well behaved 7 year old kid (who unrepentantly sins the smallest sin even once) ...to international war criminal Joseph Kony and without the Christian god working his salvation magic, you are headed for an eternity of torment of one sort or another, according to Jesus.
The worms never stop eating at you and the damned will be salted with a fire that will never die down (Mark 9:48-49). Judgement has come, the doors are shut (Luke 13:25), and there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth on the outside of paradise (Matthew 13:42). Whatever you did in the drop in the ocean of the beginning of eternity dictates your fate forever (Luke 16:26). No appeals, no parole, no rehabilitation, just eternal overkill on what most Christians throughout their history have wanted to pretend is justice with a capital J.
Jesus condemned most everyone (few will be saved):
So not only does Jesus believe that eternal punishment for finite earthly crimes is justified, but he even tells us that few will be saved (in Matthew 7:14), logically entailing that *most* will be damned.
Do you think most people you know deserve anything like this? It's an honest question to stop and think about. We’re not talking about just Stalin and Pol Pot here. These would statistically have to be your neighbors, family, friends, co-workers, etc. since the body count of Jesus’ hell has to come from somewhere.
Let’s say someone walks into a crowded room and declares 1/3rd of them probably deserve to go to jail for 50 years for some defect in their personality. You’d probably consider that guy a huge jerkface, right? Well what if he does the same thing and declares that over half of them deserve to be put in prison where they actually inflict some kind of torment on you for all eternity? The magnitude of jerkieface would have to go up a bit, I would think. And that’s Jesus! Christians who accept this doctrine often like to feign ignorance of who exactly will go to hell, but this doesn’t excuse their statistically relevant, moral ineptitude. Even the most charitable interpretation here makes Jesus (and Christians who think his moral opinions are freaking awesome) much more judgemental than you or I are ever going to be!
Note: Even if Jesus was envisioning something like the doctrine of annihilationism here (which I don’t believe is the best explanation of the data we have), where people are “merely” burned up to non-existence, that’s still quite Auschwitz-ie isn’t it? If Hitler wants to murder 51% of all Jews, is he suddenly off the hook for extreme evil? The only reason annihilationism sounds remotely good is because it is only in comparison to everlasting fire. However I see little reason to for Jesus to threaten us with fires that never die if we’re not going to be burning in them.
Jesus believed in a senseless Judgment Day:
In Jesus' end of the world view there’s a final Judgment of humanity rather than say, ongoing moral course correction. A looming sense of a Judgment Day might appeal to some kind of psychotic revenge fantasy. But what happens when there are no divine updates in this life, no moral report cards, no achievement unlocks, or notices of officially leveling up in a spiritually correct sense according to the one true god? What happens when everything is just dumped on you at the end by some random, unknown moral authority? Also, people die young and stupid (not to mention most humans die before they’re even born or shortly thereafter) and the old have been known to change their minds on occasion. Moderate, progressive rewards and punishments that are administered along the path of life (rather than being saved up until the very end) probably bring out the best, most stable moral behavior in most people in the long run. Assuming you’ve actually let them live that long and have that chance in the first place.
If you are not saved (which is apparently most everyone), what a cruel joke to have been so harshly tested over this short, ignorant life. It seems to me that there is too little divine moral guidance in this life (arguably none) ...juxtaposed to way too much Judgment in the next life (arguably infinite) in Jesus’ views. Jesus therefore approves of a morally senseless god who can’t seem to figure out how to reign in those two extremes for the full benefit of humanity.
And we actually happen to know Jesus' own immoral excuse for this negligence, which is explained in his parable of the weeds. In Matthew 13:24-30 Jesus explains how a farmer "wisely" ignores the weeds growing in his crops until the harvest. The farmer blames the weeds being planted there by one of his enemies. Monsanto, I’m assuming. If the farmer deals with the weeds now, it might hurt the crops, you understand. This is meant to explain why the Christian god ignores the problems of the world until the end of time. But just think of how ridiculous it would be if we ran our criminal justice system with a “Judgement Day” mentality. File all the charges you want against someone, but we’re not going to do anything about it until they’re 80. We would never dream of applying this negligence in our legal system or private lives since there’s a lot we can do to mitigate problems and make the world a better place in positive ways as we go along. And a god could certainly contribute a lot along those same lines. But Jesus attempts to pass the blame to the apparently unstoppable Satan in order to let his god almost entirely off the hook in the meantime. Okay... Omnipotent arms are suspiciously always tied behind an immaterial back...
And so Jesus’ reckoning of the final scorecard of sheep to goats on his version of Judgement Day may have made a lot of sense from the perspective of a tiny Jewish cult shaking its self-righteous fist at the entire rest of the world that it vehemently disagreed with, but probably not so much for a mature and compassionate understanding of the human condition. Honestly I don’t even think the worst person who ever lived, whoever that was, deserves eternal punishment. Ironically the only being that might deserve it would have to be a god that would actually do this to someone.
Jesus gave bad sex advice.
As it turns out pretty much everything Jesus has to say about sex and relationships is bad. All five things.
Number 1. When questioned about marriage, Jesus defaults to the story of Adam and Eve as the marital archetype (Matthew 19:4). I think we can safely assume, especially in context of Mosaic law that this means he’s against things like gay marriage, polyamory, and non-marital sexual activity. It's not like the pagans were anywhere near as stingy about sex. Jesus had cultural options. He just didn't like them.
If you have to be married to have sex, that’s often extortion and often seems to screw up the incentives for young horny Christians everywhere who necessarily have to make lifelong commitments before knowing what they are getting into... Are they even qualified to do that? Ignorance may often be bliss, ...but experience and knowing what you're committing to has its fair share of virtue as well.
You'll obviously never hear anything like that from Jesus who, as we’ll see, kind of seems to wish sex didn’t exist at all.
2. In two of the gospels Jesus says divorce for any reason is wrong (Mark 10:11 and Luke 16:18). Not just unfortunate. And in only one of the gospels he adds just one exception which is divorce over adultery (Matthew 5:32 and 19:9). Even many Christians think that’s too cruel since they just conveniently assume there are more allowable reasons regardless of what the texts say. Most Christians conveniently forget that the disciples react to Jesus’ standards on divorce by saying marriage must not be worth it at all.
In all three of these gospels Jesus also says that remarriage for any reason is wrong. Anyone happily remarried out there? Is that working out much better for you? EVIL!
Number 3. Jesus advocates celibacy as the ideal as though he is talking to a mostly asexual species (Matthew 19:10-12). It’s not that there’s anything wrong with being an asexual or choosing to remain single, but if you start telling others that they should or shouldn’t be married if they can at all manage it, that’s kind of a problem. Here’s a thought, why don’t you do what you are most suited for and learn how to do that better, as long as it's not unduly harming anyone?
So the two most authoritative voices in the New Testament Jesus and Paul both push celibacy. One would think that over 50% of Christians would be using their Jesus magic to comply with this spiritual promotion. What, is that not at all what we find in our Christian churches? I think I know where a lot of that body count of hell may be coming from...
4. Jesus tells us that lust is a thoughtcrime equal to adultery (Matthew 5:28). He takes the law of Moses that is just against the sexual activity of adultery and twists the knife of justice that much further into your thought life. Did you see someone attractive today? I know I did. Ideologically speaking, Jesus would have us murdered for that since adultery is punishable by death in Mosaic law. Little harsh and demonizing where Jesus could have instead advocated a healthy sexual fantasy life that still respects the rights of others. I wonder why he didn’t do that...
Number 5. Jesus capriciously declares that all good Christian marriages are over in heaven (Mark 12:25). Consent goes where? Maybe Christians should have read the fine print before they scrolled all the way down the entire New Testament and clicked “I accept Jesus as my lord and forced divorcer.” The Christian god may well hate divorce, but more specifically he only hates it when you do it. He's just fine with doing it for you. “You two, back away from each other! Now there’s more time for worshiping me for all eternity now that you’re both in heaven.” Great guy.
I mean honestly, Jesus was responding to a “gotcha question” from the sect of Jews called the Sadducees that didn’t believe in a resurrection of the dead. According to Mosaic law a married woman who loses her husband would have to marry his brother, and if that brother dies, she’d have to marry another brother, and so on and so forth until she's married them all and then everyone is eventually dead. The incredulous Sadducees ask Jesus who she’s going to be married to in this newfangled afterlife idea. What’s Jesus’ response? “Nope.” Just keep that in mind in light of all the more reasonable responses Jesus could have given:
"She'll be married to whomever she was married to last!" The practical approach.
"She will be married to whichever one she wants!" Why not?
"She'll be married to whichever one loved her the most!" There's a Hallmark card...that Jesus would never buy.
"She'll be married to ALL of them because polyamory is awesome! The more love the better, I say!". The response that's of course way too pro-woman for any part of the Bible.
All of these options are clearly much more golden rule compatible, marriage-positive messages, but Jesus is just found gloating that no one understands the Hebrew Bible like he does.
Jesus could have even done what modern Christians seem to tend to prefer to do which is to say they “don’t know what god is going to do, but I’m sure he’ll figure it out and do what’s best for everyone.” But instead, Jesus opens his big mouth and let’s us know what an uncompassionate, narrow-minded, celibate dick he really is.
Seems to me there’s an obvious pattern here. What happens when your message is that marriage really isn’t worth it, that sexual desire is to be banished from your mind, and that sex was basically just a temporary, second class convention that will be ended at the beginning of the afterlife? Just sounds like the ravings of a purity cult, doesn’t it? If you don’t want to get married, and don’t want to have any sexual fantasies, and want that lifestyle to continue forever in the afterlife where all your thoughts are completely devoted to worshiping a god, more power to you. But Jesus’ messaging to everyone on sex and marriage is basically the equivalent of imposing his “Sex is icky, run away!” attitude on everyone else.
Jesus, on the topic of sex and relationships, could have advocated the generic moral navigation tools of harm vs. happiness, ...good communication and consent, fairness and equality in relationships to really navigate the perils of love, sex, and marriage *for all.* Jesus could have been found morally approving of a god that really understands and respects a wide variety of healthy relationship types... But instead it seems to me that Jesus and Paul were just trying to start an end of the world, celibacy cult that tolerated a particular class of married people...until the afterlife. Not exactly a compassionate, sex positive crowd.
Jesus was anti-skeptical.
Jesus was not a friend of skepticism when it comes to verifying he speaks with actual divine authority. One has to pretend there aren't many competing hearsay claims to divine moral authority in this ignorant human world to get Jesus' sensibilities to make any sense here. This is what makes the very strong theme of anti-evidence in the gospels incredibly irresponsible. You can’t have good morality without a firm grip on reality... ...and you can’t have a firm grip on reality without evidence based, critical thinking. Am I right? So, we learn in...
Mark 8:12 There's no reason to ask for evidence.
Matthew 12:39 & Luke 11:29 An evil and adulterous generation asks for evidence.
Luke 16:31 Evidence never convinced anyone.
John 20:29 Credulity is the virtue Jesus craves. He says, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
So even when characters in fantastic stories get amazing evidence, the message for posterity is still “be credulous.” Good job, Jesus.
Jesus was not a champion of critical thinking... ...he’s a champion of mysticism. You are supposed to have some kind of quasi mystical/moral confirmation that what he says is true from having read and properly interpreted the Jewish Bible... ...or believing his very words in a similar way which for us is the Christian Bible. Ultimately, we’re just left with “believe what the Bible says and if that’s not good enough, you’re evil.”
Jesus was not humanity's hero.
So the gospels portray Jesus as though he knows all along that he is the Jewish messiah that is supposed to be crucified for the sins of humanity. There are many problems with this idea and I’m only going to touch on some of them briefly here.
Jesus’ death on the cross endorses the convention of human sacrifice as though using the convention somehow does away with it. But wouldn’t doing away with it actually be what does away with it? Jesus’ death on the cross also endorses the ancient superstition that gods need the literal spilling of blood to forgive sins. But why does a deity need blood to forgive sins when rational agents may do this freely at their own will without the side of barbarism? Even Jesus' parables are filled with powerful people merely canceling debts on a compassionate whim without any blood, crucifixions, or resurrections involved. In order to make this human sacrifice on behalf of all humanity actually happen, Jesus submits to earthly authorities and therefore creates murderers who need to be forgiven for “not knowing what they do.” But it’s not exactly assisted suicide if they don’t know you are consenting. Substitutionary atonement itself, the point of human sacrifice, is moral free association and at best a contrived placebo and does nothing real about the actual moral failings of the world. The only parts of the world that still accept anything like this level of substitution are places where honor killings are legitimate. Where you can kill family members for the crimes of others and this counts somehow. Arguably this is collectivism at its worst, most morally incoherent, as it completely erases individual moral agency. And Christianity would have us stretch the concept of substitutionary atonement to the utmost and use Jesus’ death to cover absolutely every sin of everyone ever, theoretically. Finally, if in the unlikely event Jesus actually was the most perfectly innocent human being ever, two wrongs don’t make a right and we’d be asked to accept a new crime, presumably the worst ever, in a misbegotten attempt to make things right.
So you can potentially point out to people that the idea of Jesus dying for your sins is complete ethical garbage.
Jesus’ views on charity were dysfunctional.
Jesus is well known to have scorned the rich and had compassion on the poor. But let’s look at some prime examples of those two categories to see how dysfunctional his views actually are on the issue charity.
A: So, rich people first.
As I mentioned previously a man comes up to Jesus and tells him that he’s followed all of the commandments his whole life. Jesus tells him, “if you want to be perfect go sell all you have and give to the poor” (Matthew 19:21) But what exactly is this getting at? Is it aimed at helping the poor? Or is it just a misguided way to attempt to be perfect for the sake of the rewards of heaven?
If you give up all your wealth, that means you don't have money in an ongoing sense to support yourself and to *continue* to give to charity. Now someone else has to take care of you since you jerked your virtues off so hard that one time. Jesus could have suggested that since the man was so wealthy he could afford to give a great deal more than the standard 10th of his regular earnings to charity. Instead he had to give it all up in order to be perfect.
It’s not like Jesus didn’t have surprisingly good precedents to work with. Moses was quite the socialist Robin Hood in Leviticus 23:22 where it tells farmers, “When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Leave them for the poor and for the foreigner residing among you. I am the Lord your God.” That actually sounds sustainably compassionate in an ancient socio-economic context. Notice what Leviticus doesn’t say? Sell your farm and wander around preaching the gospel of Moses to be perfect. Because that would just be stupid wouldn’t it?
B: But what about Jesus’ dysfunctional views on the poor?
Jesus famously fed thousands of people with his magic powers on more than one occasion, but that's really just because they didn't pack a lunch those two particular afternoons (and apparently to illustrate for us what buffoons Jesus’ disciples were since they couldn’t remember he had magic powers the second time around, see Mark 6:30-38 and then 8:1-4). I’ve always been underwhelmed by these stories since if he’s a god, feeding a few thousand people is just a drop in the bucket of the starvation all over the planet Jesus apparently had no plans for in this life.
And this is explicitly demonstrated in Jesus’ parable with the beggar Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31) who was compensated in the afterlife because he received only bad things his whole life (no thanks to Jesus or his god). So from this we learn that apparently Jesus was okay with a god who was okay with that. But should you have to live a whole lifetime of mistreatment to earn heaven, or should maybe you just not have been neglected and mistreated in the first place? This sounds a lot like the George Lucas school of directing human history. Yeah, you could have a good story, good script, and good acting, but why not just try to fix it all in post production?
C: How did Jesus take care of his finances?
In Jesus’ delusional universe, people have no reason to worry about anything because his god supposedly takes good care of the birds of the air and flowers of the field (as he says in Matthew 6:25-34). Has Jesus seen the natural world lately? Who knew we were still living in the Garden of Eden all this time? Apparently Jesus doesn't think your advanced executive functions can do any better than what ignorant wild animals can do for themselves. Don't bother planning for retirement or even next weekend! The world could end tomorrow (Luke 12:20)! Don't ask yourself what Jesus would do with his finances. Ask yourself what a *llama* would do with its finances and invest accordingly. No offense to any llama accountants out there.
I’m sure this made lots of sense to someone who believed the power of faith should overcome all obstacles (Mark 9:23), who magically didn’t need to eat or drink for 40 days in a desert while he was being tempted by Satan (Mark 1:12-13, Matthew 4:1-11, Luke 4:1-13), and who when he needed transportation just miraculously happened to know where he could find a donkey or two to ride on (Matthew 21:1-7). But what about Lazarus? Didn’t Jesus admit that he was like not taken care of his whole life? So “the Lord will provide” except for when he reliably doesn’t.
I suppose Jesus didn’t want to contribute too much to economic inflation by magically creating money for himself all the time (other than that one time using the “what’s a fish got in its mouth?” trick in Matthew 17:27). So in Luke 8:1-3 we find that Jesus and his disciples are actually living off of the means of the women who followed them around out of gratitude for being healed of ailments and evil spirits. Clearly Jesus’ chosen lifestyle required sustainable outside funding. So maybe when Jesus told people to give to the poor, he really meant that you should give your money to him since he’d abandoned carpentry as a job and had no money? I don’t know. But in other verses Jesus dismisses the poor in favor of glorifying himself. A woman anoints Jesus with expensive perfume and Jesus rebukes his disciples for thinking it would be a higher priority to sell the perfume for a year’s wages to give to the poor (Mark 14:3-9). One wonders if Jesus was accustomed to this kind of treatment. Especially since this incident is what immediately seems to spark the now infamous disciple Judas Iscariot to betray Jesus (Mark 14:10). Was Jesus not living up to his own virtues behind the scenes or was it just an awkward misunderstanding over just one little incident? Who knows?
Regardless, contrary to Jesus economics, there does appear to be a hardy middle ground between "too much anxiety" and "indefinite couch-surfing" that most self identifying Christians in practice have to actually honor. Yes you shouldn’t let worry ruin your whole life, but a reasonable bit of worrying is a good thing. It means we’re thinking about solutions. We can’t all be wandering faith healers for hire after all.
Conclusion on charity:
There are many dysfunctional components to Jesus’ views on charity. The rich are unnecessarily demonized. The poor are unnecessarily taken for granted and treated as mere random targets of charity just to increase your own perfection stats. Jesus thinks everything will fall into your lap as long as you have faith and when it doesn’t, well his god fixes that in post production. No sustainable, helpful advice is given even though there are many things someone could say that would count as being responsible and charitable with your resources. So I find it disingenuous to only see a simplistic “charity good” message here even if that's what most Christians seem to have taken from it throughout history. It’s mostly irresponsible faith guru talk that most Christians practically ignore.
Jesus was not against the death penalty.
Contrary to popular belief.
There’s a classic story in the gospel of John, as many of you may be aware, of the woman caught in adultery. She’s dragged out into the street and is about to be executed, but Jesus steps in, lays a guilt trip on everyone, and prevents the execution. "He who is without sin can cast the first stone." And no one does. It’s as though Jesus was blowing off the punishments of Mosaic law. However, this story is not actually native to the gospel of John as any modern Bible will tell you in the footnotes. But it's still there anyway, because, you know, reasons.
Not so well known is another story that actually appears to be native to the gospel of Matthew. Jesus is actually found to criticize the Pharisees for ignoring the bit of Mosaic law about stoning your children for cursing their parents. The Pharisees were apparently trying to replace that law with the their own seemingly milder traditions that do not appear to involve execution (Matthew 15:3-6). Jesus doesn’t reprimand Moses for the capital punishment on minors bit or capital punishment in general, but instead insists that we shouldn’t be replacing all that awesome Mosaic barbarism with our newfangled human ideas.
Maybe you are okay with capital punishment for some crimes, ...but you’re probably not on board with the execution of children for being especially belligerent. So not only is Jesus just fine with stoning people to death, but he’s caught trying to turn the clock back rather than forward as most people suppose.
[NOTE: The formatting of the following section got too screwed up copying over to fix quickly enough this morning, so I did a quick fix.]
Jesus was a dick in the normal sense of the insult.
Not just his morality.
Jesus was continually rude to his family simply to make egotistical points. When his mother asks him to magically transform the water into wine at a wedding party because they ran out Jesus is insulted and reminds her that he has an important heavenly mission (John 2:1-5). Well you were at that party, too Jesus. Your mission can wait five minutes.
And Jesus pulls this kind of thing more than once. When his mother and brothers are looking for him he makes a point to ideologically disown them in favor of his spiritual agenda. “Your family is here Jesus!” “Who is my family? Those that do God’s will are my family.” Um, did you have to disown your family to make your points, Jesus? Apparently. (Mark 3:31-35, Matthew 12:46-50, Luke 8:19-21)
And he does the same thing to his disciples in John 4:32 when they ask him about eating lunch one day. “I have food to eat that you know nothing of!” Whoa, Jesus! Alright, we get it. You’re so important. There’s more than enough hours in the day to both eat normal food and preach your spiritual message.
And I think everyone has to admit that it’s a bit silly that Jesus cursed that fig tree for not bearing fruit out of season when he was actually hungry. As though inanimate objects deserve vengeance for doing exactly what your god created them to do. (Matthew 21:18-22).
And on another occasion he calls Peter Satan (in Mark 8:33, Matthew 16:23), because Peter just doesn’t get it, you know?
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg of all the name calling Jesus levels at the Pharisees. It seems flame wars on the internet really are what Jesus would do. In Matthew 23 and Luke 11:37-54 he calls them hypocrites lots of times. He calls them children of hell, blind guides, blind fools, blind men, and generally blind, blind blind, blind, blind. He calls them dirty dishes, white-washed tombs, and unmarked tombs that people walk over unknowingly. He called them snakes and refers to them as a brood of vipers. He also tells them they are wicked and vicarious murderers. My personal favorite insult from Jesus is “gnat-straining camel swallower.” I think that one is awesome.
In one incident Jesus heals someone that was born blind. When questioned about what caused the blindness, Jesus tells us that it wasn’t the man’s sin or the parents’ sin as the disciples supposed, but instead, Yahweh just wanted an opportunity to show off (John 9:1-3). Now if you think that’s a good explanation from Jesus, you’re a dick. One might also point out that the disciples are huge dicks for thinking that their god might curse you with blindness for something you must have done in the womb. Don’t kick your mom too hard, you belligerent fetus! **BLINDNESS!**
Why is it that in our earliest gospels of Mark and Matthew, Jesus cries out on the cross, “My god, my god, why have you forsaken me?” Did it just dawn on Jesus that as god he’d been a huge dick to himself? I’m sorry, I had to. But seriously...
Jesus endorsed terrorism and the evils of the Old Testament including genocide.
Jesus seems to approve of the entire Old Testament, that thing most Christians like to implausibly disown and that thing atheists and skeptics of Christianity often love to hate.
Let's take a look (in Matthew 5:17-18):
[Jesus says:] Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.
Jesus may not directly moralize about things like the slavery, sexism, and homophobia of Mosaic law, but you’ll never find him intending to say an ill word about the Old Testament. With the exception of implausibly trivializing Old Testament ritualistic laws that his god seemed much stricter about, ...you’ll find Jesus glorifying the Old Testament, teaching from it, riffing on it, lamenting that Moses had to be too soft, twisting the knife of extremism even further than Moses explicitly stated, ...and of course, trying to fulfill Old Testament prophecies (both somewhat intended and completely contrived). Far from being a replacement warm fuzzy from that old grouchy god from the Jewish Bible, we are expected to think of the Old Testament as saying to the Jesus character, “You complete me.”
Just as one example of a specific Old Testament endorsement (other than the capital punishment on minors for back talk that I’ve already mentioned), ...in Matthew 24:37-41 Jesus considers a terror-filled end of the world morally justified, ...relates it positively to the worldwide genocide of Noah's flood (thus condoning genocide), ...and therefore condones terrorism as a supposedly morally appropriate response to the moral failings of this world. This is pretty explicit in Luke 21:25-27.
So Jesus was not exactly a pacifist despite his quite reasonable warnings over what happens when you live for violence (Matthew 26:52). It seems Jesus endorsed the genocides of the Old Testament, he told his disciples to bring swords on their missions (Luke 22:36-38), and he personally flirted with violence during his earthly ministry by making a whip and using it to clear out the money changers from the temple (John 2:15). But mostly he was just a patient maniac who intended to return with an army of angels to terrorize and eternally torture most of the human race (Matthew 24:29-31, 25:31-33, 25:41, 25:46). All the evil atheist regimes of the 20th century combined could never top the immoral delusions of early Christianity that persist in our culture to this day.
So please, do not give Jesus undue credit. You try sucking this hard at morality and you’re likely going to have some trouble. Eternal damnation for most of the population? How could you top that in douchebaggery? Two eternities?
The founders of world religions do not necessarily teach profound things. It’s a success fallacy to assume otherwise. Joseph Smith? Five million followers. In just 200 years. Muhammad? 1.5 billion followers. 1300 years. Jesus? A 3rd of the world’s population. 2,000 year head start. This is not a moral meritocracy. It’s incidence.
All the major monotheistic religions are founded on the principle of one human being being willing to murder another human being for the whim of a psychopathic god The only thing Christianities and Islams disagree on is which son of Abraham was supposed to be mercilessly stabbed and set on fire as a burnt offering. Speaks so highly of humanity, doesn’t it
Big Religion is not necessarily where humanity’s best ideas got pooled together. You’re thinking of Star Trek.
So how to pitch this to friends?
So...my presentation here should not be misinterpreted as a call to active anti-evangelism. But when the topic comes up, feel free to be blasphemous in service of the truth.
Hopefully I’ve given you lots of ideas for good angles of approach for criticizing Jesus’ teachings. Of course, be skeptical and don’t take my word for it, but investigate for yourself. Here’s my advice for approaching people:
Nine times out of ten, don’t be a dick. Sometimes tactical dickery probably has some merit, but most often it doesn’t. And people just overuse it. Be a diplomat to your family, friends, and co-workers. You have to actually live with them and as I’m sure you’ve noticed most ordinary people don’t like contentious conversations about politics, religion, philosophy, etc.
Wait for the conversation to come to you. If you have a chip on your shoulder, they’ll be less likely to listen. But if they open the door, tell them what you honestly think. They’re adults. They should be able to handle big-kid ideas. We live in a world full of disagreeing people. Someone has to be wrong about something important. And it might just be Christians.
I find that a good solid response to people in pretty much any kind of encounter comes in three parts. A: Empathize with where people are coming from, B: make one concise straight forward relevant argument, and C: open it up to conversation. There’s no reason for “gotcha questions.” Unless you want to empathetically frame it that way, “I know this is kind of a gotcha question, but I’m honestly wondering what you think about x?” Pretty much anything might work if you do it right.
If you’ve established a rapport, ask them if there’s anything they struggle with. Christians often seem to have all sorts of weird ways of interpreting Jesus. They’d probably blow off 90% of what I’ve said and will lovingly find even the most unlikely interpretation of a teaching to save face for Jesus. But something hurtful that Jesus teaches probably sticks, because you just can’t explain all the crazy away. Find out what it is and tell them what you think about it.
Learn to separate anti-supernatural issues (that are of course legitimate in their own right) from issues of moral value and choose your battles wisely. I didn’t have to doubt the existence of a god, buy into naturalistic explanations for the origin of the universe, or claim that moral values aren’t real in order to take down Jesus. That stuff helps, too, but they are technically separate issues. And people seem to be most interested in religion because of the moral values. So this parameter helps to keep the issue more simple and focused on what people most care about.
Rather than going down the rabbit hole of defending every part of a metaphysical naturalist’s moral theory, I recommend the shortcut of just holding Jesus to his own standard. This also simplifies the debate and keeps it on topic. There are plenty of very straightforward instances where Jesus violates the golden rule. Say, “I don’t think that when Jesus says x, that fits with loving my neighbor.” They may scream and moan as though someone should have to solve every other problem in philosophy and metaphysics before being able to point out a moral evil on the lips of Jesus, but it’s pretty easy to understand that Jesus should be preaching love consistently.
If they opt for divine authority and criticize you for judging a god, tell them that whatever god put you in this position in the first place. And you have no choice but to attempt to sort through claims of divine hearsay. Otherwise Allah’s ways are infinitely above our ways, too. Liberal Jesus’ ways are infinitely above our ways. Every supposed divine authority can be exempt from critical thinking, too. Which religion gets the get out of jail free card? All of them? We have to think critically about morality and do our best to get it right. It's irresponsible to let Jesus off the hook.
If Christians put up their firewalls, remind them these are real issues they have to grapple with and understand. A: They’re supposed to be selling us their gospel as though it is actually a morally superior message, and not making infinitely plastic excuses for its apparently principled failings. B: Christians have to know what to tell their Christian children when they ask questions, C: they have to know what to tell new converts to help them understand exactly what they are getting into, D: they have to know what to tell struggling Christians who genuinely want to believe but have the very same doubts that outsiders have, E: they have to know what to tell their congregations in Bible Studies in order to prepare them to confront a whole world of people who disagree with them (I mean jerks like me are going to be endlessly ridiculing them), F: they have to understand the principles and concepts behind the moral commands to apply them in other contexts because not every moral issue is covered in the Bible, G: they have to know how to convince the Christians of different varieties that their heresies are incorrect understandings of their faith, and H: Christians probably might want to know for themselves what they heck they believe and why so that when push comes to shove, they have something to tell themselves. Uncritical appeals to an arbitrary divine authority don't plausibly cover that. It's a horrible copout for advertising their gospel by saying "Yeah it all looks evil, but just accept it anyway."
For your liberal Christian friends, ask them which parts of Jesus’ teachings they do accept, because honestly who knows what that might be ahead of time? They can be a really vague crowd. And then criticize those parts if there are legitimate criticisms. Obviously. And remind them that its still immoral for liberal Jesus to not exactly endorse what he’s recorded as saying and that getting it wrong for quite understandable reasons has been the rule throughout Christian history. That’s pretty negligent from a divine providential understanding.
For your secular friends...just let them have it. They should have a lot less on the line even if they still reserve a special place of outsider reverence for Jesus. If Christians aren’t supposed to cherry pick Jesus why are they? Jesus was a failed apocalyptic prophet who prescribed tons of faith based, extremist advice primarily designed to cut you off from the world and stick you in a purity cult. He was a patient maniac who intended to return, terrorize most of the planet, and torture them for all of eternity. Not exactly a role model.
If in doubt, just find me online and send them to me. I’ll probably be happy to badmouth Jesus for you.