One Brave Atheist

Jesus with coffee

A guest column in today’s Berlingske is a good reminder that when anyone in the politics or media says freedom of speech is important, but we also have to respect religion, they’re full of it.

The column is entitled “Jesus thinks whatever you want.” Its author is Anders Stjernholm, identified by Berlingske as a comedian, journalist, author, and spokesperson for the Atheist Company. He’s a good spokeperson for atheism, blending ignorance and arrogance into a seamless package.

Stjernholm is apparently angry at a new television program from Danmarks Radio (DR) called “What would Jesus have said?”

In reality, we know next to nothing about the mythological figure Jesus. A good guess is that he was born in the year four before Christ (yes, it’s a bit weird…), and we can assume that he didn’t eat pork, but beyond that the rest is guesswork.

That’s not atheism, but ignorance. For all the questions we have about Jesus, the actual existence of such a person at that particular point in history is pretty well established. Not with absolute metaphysical certitainty, obviously, but enough to make it “a bit weird” to call him a mythological figure. Unless, of course, you’re not talking about historical Jesus, but the Jesus of the Gospels. Except if that’s what you’re doing, we know plenty about him. (Conceding that in both cases, theological and historical, we know next to nothing at all about his childhood.)

Stjernholm credits someone else for making the point that “we can insert any figure (into a television program) and search for wisdom,” and suggests Winnie the Pooh, the character Maude from the Danish miniseries Matador, and Captain Picard from Star Trek as examples.

If right now you’re thinking “stupid comparison, Anders,” then consider that these three figures have a reasonably consistent and clear philosophical common thread to work from—unlike the Christian prophet.

Well, I’m busted: I was indeed thinking, “stupid comparison, Anders.”

Anyone who thinks Jesus lacks a “clear philosophical thread to work from” has obviously never picked up a Bible. Which is fine, that’s fine, there’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s no different than saying Karl Marx lacks a clear philosophical thread to work from because you’ve never read his books and have formed your impressions of his work through hearsay.

So even Islam’s Mohammed would actually be preferable, and the direction of the 24syv program “What Muslims Talk About” is also terrifyingly clear: Remember the afterlife, fear the Judgment, do as you are commanded, be ashamed, and show gratitude for your limited opportunities. In fact, what Christianity, until recently, historically also propagated as “wisdom.”

That’s not just theologically ignorant, but historically ignorant to boot. It conflates the teachings of Jesus with the doctrines of various churches and it muddles shame and humility (which are profoundly different things).

Important for the (national) church and P1’s new venture is of course that today Jesus must be perceived as a responsible and sober hippie (yes, it’s a paradoxical figure) who would certainly never ask you for submission—just a membership fee deducted via the tax ticket is enough for salvation.

Yuk yuk! Awesome, now do Mohammed.

I don’t know what the Church of Denmark or P1 are after in terms of how they want us to perceive Jesus, but I’m fairly confident that every single member of the Danish clergy would take pretty serious exception to the idea that salvation was something one could purchase. The Church of Denmark was founded in opposition to that very idea.

But perhaps one should base the program on more of the history of ideas rather than a vague Christianity, which has gradually run out of original input that is useful in the present. Values ​​such as charity, the golden rule, and respect for the family are, after all, not Christian—but universal, as an Oxford study concluded in 2019.

That’s an interesting idea for another program, but waving Christianity off as irrelevant because its values are universal is like waving off the invention of the car because people were already traveling, or dismissing agriculture because stuff was already growing. Christianity is the biggest religion in the history of the world. It’s two thousand years old and has two billion followers around the planet right now. Stjernholm may not see it—a lot of people don’t—but there’s obviously a very real relevance there for an awful lot of people.

And if we take fiction as a point of departure, should we use more of it? In other words, look at the comprehensive, criticized, and therefore refined philosophy of life that can be found in more modern fiction. But then we actually end up back with Winnie the Pooh and his naive Taoism, Maude’s sympathetic anxiety, and Picard’s stoicism. But that combination is also markedly more significant, identifiable, and useful in today’s Denmark than Jesus’ schizophrenic expressions.

That’s not ignorance so much as willful stupidity. (The ignorance displayed in the implication that Christianity is not “comprehensive or criticized,” and therefore not a “refined” philosophy, is mind-boggling. I’d suggest Stjernholm visit a library—any library, anywhere—and compare the relative sizes of their sections on Christianity, Winnie the Pooh, Star Trek TNG, and Matador.)

It took me only a moment to find that while about three-quarters of Danish adults are members of the national church, only about 17% of the Danish population considers religion important in their life.

That means that the majority of Danes are members of the Church of Denmark but don’t consider religion important in their life, which is certainly interesting.

But it also means that around a million Danes are members of the church and consider religion important in their lives.

I wonder what the numbers are like for Winnie the Pooh, Maude, and Captain Picard? How exactly does one arrive at the conclusion that they are more significant, identifiable, or useful than Jesus? Is there anyone in Denmark, anyone at all, Stjernholm inclusive, who considers any member of that weird triumvirate important in their own lives?

Stjernholm doesn’t say.

But all of that aside, I confess that I’m impressed by Berlingske’s bravery in allowing this brutal smack-down of Jesus to appear in their paper. How many of their editors will now have to go into hiding? Has PET (the Danish FBI) arranged for round-the-clock protection of Stjernholm? Are the Copenhagen police prepared for the inevitable riots? Is Mette Frederiksen prepared for the inevitable angry phonecalls from the outraged heads of Christian states? Is Denmark braced for the boycotts?

Time will tell.

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Soren Rasmussen
Soren Rasmussen
1 year ago

Ah, the unflinching look-at-me courage of kicking in the open door, of stunningly and bravely attacking the harmless, of throwing yourself without hesitation off a two-foot high cliff to land in a sea of downy pillows and wading out afterwards to hold a press conference on how heroic you are.

And then doing it all without even trying to do his homework. Truly an inspiration.