The Jesus debate: Man vs. myth
Does Easter celebrate a man, a savior, or a myth? Some say Jesus never existed and was a myth created by early Christians.
April 7th, 2012
08:32 PM ET

The Jesus debate: Man vs. myth

By John Blake, CNN

(CNN)– Timothy Freke was flipping through an old academic book when he came across a religious image that some would call obscene.

It was a drawing of a third-century amulet depicting a naked man nailed to a cross. The man was born of a virgin, preached about being “born again” and had risen from the dead after crucifixion, Freke says.

But the name on the amulet wasn’t Jesus. It was a pseudonym for Osiris-Dionysus, a pagan god in ancient Mediterranean culture.  Freke says the amulet was evidence of something that sounds like sacrilege – and some would say it is: that Jesus never existed. He was a myth created by first-century Jews who modeled him after other dying and resurrected pagan gods, says Freke, author of  "The Jesus Mysteries: Was the ‘Original Jesus’ a Pagan God?"

“If I said to you that there was no real Good Samaritan, I don’t think anyone would be outraged,” says Freke, one of a group of mythicists who say Jesus never existed. “It’s a teaching story. What we’re saying is that the Jesus story is an allegory. It’s a parable of the spiritual journey.”

CNN’s Belief Blog: The faith angles behind the biggest stories

On Easter Sunday, millions of Christians worldwide mark the resurrection of Jesus. Though Christians clash over many issues, almost all agree that he existed.

But there is another view of Jesus that’s been emerging, one that strikes at the heart of the Easter story. A number of authors and scholars say Jesus never existed. Such assertions could have been ignored in an earlier age.  But in the age of the Internet and self-publishing, these arguments have gained enough traction that some of the world’s leading New Testament scholars feel compelled to publicly take them on.

Most Jesus deniers are Internet kooks, says Bart D. Ehrman, a New Testament scholar who recently released a book devoted to the question called “Did Jesus Exist? The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth.”

Your comments on Jesus deniers

He says Freke and others who deny Jesus’ existence are conspiracy theorists trying to sell books.

“There are people out there who don’t think the Holocaust happened, there wasn’t a lone JFK assassin and Obama wasn’t born in the U.S.,” Ehrman says. “Among them are people who don’t think Jesus existed.”

Does it matter if Jesus existed?

Some Jesus mythicists say many New Testament scholars are intellectual snobs.

“I don’t think I’m some Internet kook or Holocaust denier,” says Robert Price, a former Baptist pastor who argues in “Deconstructing Jesus” that a historical Jesus probably didn’t exist.

“They say I’m a bitter ex-fundamentalist. It’s pathetic to see this character assassination. That’s what people resort to when they don’t have solid arguments.”

 The debate over Jesus’ existence has led to a curious role reversal. Two of the New Testament scholars who are leading the way arguing for Jesus’ existence have a reputation for attacking, not defending, traditional Christianity.

Ehrman, for example, is an agnostic who has written books that argue that virtually half  of the New Testament is forged. Another defender of Jesus’ existence is John Dominic Crossan, a New Testament scholar who has been called a heretic because his books challenge some traditional Christian teachings.

But as to the existence of Jesus, Crossan says, he’s “certain.”

He says some Jesus deniers may be people who have a problem with Christianity.

“It’s a way of responding to something you don’t like,” Crossan says. “We can’t say that Obama doesn’t exist, but we can say that he’s not an American.  If we’re talking about Obama in the future, there are people who might not only say he wasn’t American, but he didn’t even exist.”

Does it even matter if Jesus existed? Can’t people derive inspiration from his teachings whether he actually walked the Earth?

Crossan says Jesus’ existence matters in the same way that the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s existence mattered.

If King never existed, people would say his ideas are lovely, but they could never work in the real world, Crossan says.

It’s the same with an historical Jesus, Crossan writes in his latest book, “The Power of Parable: How Fiction by Jesus Became Fiction about Jesus.”

“The power of Jesus’ historical life challenges his followers by proving at least one human being could cooperate fully with God. And if one, why not others? If some, why not all?”

The evidence against Jesus’ existence

Those who argue against Jesus’ existence make some of these points:

-The uncanny parallels between pagan stories in the ancient world and the stories of Jesus.

-No credible sources outside the Bible say Jesus existed.

-The Apostle Paul never referred to a historical Jesus.

Price, author of “Deconstructing Jesus,” says the first-century Western world was full of stories of a martyred hero who is called a son of God.

“There are ancient novels from that period where the hero is condemned to the cross and even crucified, but he escapes and survives it,” Price says. “That looks like Jesus.”

Those who argue for the existence of Jesus often cite two external biblical sources: the Jewish historian Josephus who wrote about Jesus at the end of the first century and the Roman historian Tacitus, who wrote about Jesus at the start of the second century.

But some scholars say Josephus’ passage was tampered with by later Christian authors. And Price says the two historians are not credible on Jesus.

“Josephus and Tacitus – they both thought Hercules was a true figure,” Price says. “Both of them spoke of Hercules as a figure that existed.”

Price concedes that there were plenty of mythical stories that were draped around historical figures like Caesar. But there’s plenty of secular documentation to show Caesar existed.

“Everything we read about Jesus in the gospels conforms to the mythic hero,” Price says. “There’s nothing left over that indicates that he was a real historical figure.”

Those who argue for the existence of Jesus cite another source: the testimony of the Apostle Paul and Jesus’ early disciples. Paul even writes in one New Testament passage about meeting James, the brother of Jesus.

These early disciples not only believed Jesus was real but were willing to die for him. People don’t die for myths, some biblical scholars say.

They will if the experience is powerful enough, says Richard Carrier, author of “Proving History.”

Carrier says it’s probable that Jesus never really existed and that early Christians experienced a mythic Jesus who came to them through visions and revelations.

Two of the most famous stories in the New Testament – the conversion of Paul and the stoning death of Stephen, one of the first Christian martyrs - show that people seized by religious visions are willing to die, Carrier says.

In both the Paul and Stephen stories, the writers say that they didn’t see an actual Jesus but a heavenly vision of Jesus, Carrier says.

People “can have powerful religious experiences that don’t correspond to reality,” Carrier says.

“The perfect model is Paul himself,” Carrier says. “He never met Jesus. Paul only had an encounter with this heavenly Jesus. Paul is completely converted by this religious experience, but no historical Jesus is needed for that to happen.”

As for the passage where Paul says he met James, Jesus’ brother, Carrier says:

“The problem with that is that all baptized Christians were considered brothers of the Lord.”

The evidence for Jesus’ existence

Some scholars who argue for the existence of Jesus says the New Testament mentions actual people and events that are substantiated by historical documents and archaeological discoveries.

Ehrman, author of “Did Jesus Exist?” scoffed at the notion that the ancient world was full of pagan stories about dying deities that rose again.  Where’s the proof? he asks.

Ehrman devoted an entire section of his book to critiquing Freke, the mythicist and author of “The Jesus Mysteries: Was the ‘Original Jesus’ a Pagan God?” who says there was an ancient Osiris-Dionysus figure who shares uncanny parallels to Jesus.

He says Freke can’t offer any proof that an ancient Osiris figure was born on December 25, was crucified and rose again. He says Freke is citing 20th- and 19th-century writers who tossed out the same theories.

Ehrman says that when you read ancient stories about mythological figures like Hercules and Osiris, “there’s nothing about them dying and rising again.”

“He doesn’t know much about ancient history,” Ehrman says of Freke. “He’s not a scholar. All he knows is what he’s read in other conspiracy books.”

Craig A. Evans, the author of “Jesus and His World: The Archaeological Evidence,” says the notion that Paul gave his life for a mythical Jesus is absurd.

He says the New Testament clearly shows that Paul was an early enemy of the Christian church who sought to stamp out the burgeoning Jesus movement.

“Don’t you think if you were in Paul’s shoes, you would have quickly discovered that there was no Jesus?” Evans asks.  “If there was no Jesus, then how did the movement start?”

Evans also dismissed the notion that early Christians blended or adopted pagan myths to create their own mythical Jesus. He says the first Christians were Jews who despised everything about pagan culture.

“For a lot of Jewish people, the pagan world was disgusting,” Evans says. “I can’t imagine [the Gospel writer] Matthew making up a story where he is drawing parallels between Jesus’ birth and pagan stories about Zeus having sex with some fair maiden.”

The words of Jesus also offer proof that he actually existed, Evans says.  A vivid personality practically bursts from the pages of the New Testament: He speaks in riddles, talks about camels squeezing through the eye of a needle, weeps openly and even loses his temper.

Evans says he is a man who is undeniably Jewish, a genius who understands his culture but also transcends his tradition with gem-like parables.

“Who but Jesus could tell the Parable of the Good Samaritan?” Evans says. “Where does this bolt of lightning come from? You don’t get this out of an Egyptian myth.”

Those who argue against the existence of Jesus say they aren’t trying to destroy people’s faith.

“I don’t have any desire to upset people,” says Freke. “I do have a passion for the truth. … I don’t think rational people in the 20th century can go down a road just on blind faith.”

Yet Easter was never just about rationale.

The Easter stories about the resurrection are strange: Disciples don’t recognize Jesus as they meet him on the road; he tells someone not to touch him; he  eats fish in another.

In the Gospel of Matthew, a resurrected Jesus suddenly appears to a group of disciples and gives them this cryptic message:

“Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”

And what did they see: a person, a pagan myth or a savior?

Albert Schweitzer, a 20th-century theologian and missionary, suggested that there will never be one answer to that question.  He said that looking for Jesus in history is like looking down a well: You see only your own reflection.

The “real” Jesus, Schweitzer says, will remain “a stranger and an enigma,” someone who is always ahead of us.

- CNN Writer

Filed under: Art • Belief • Books • Church • Culture wars • Easter • Easter • Faith • History • Jesus • Uncategorized • Virgin Mary

soundoff (8,773 Responses)
  1. Bible Clown©

    Can I say "everyone who believes in God believes in Santa, too," or is it only the author who gets to make sweeping and obviously erroneous statements?

    April 9, 2012 at 12:02 pm |
  2. D. L. Hazen

    Is it finally the time to pose the question, "Does CNN exist?" An absurd notion one might think. CNN we know exists partly because we can read time and again, articles questioning the existence of the Lord Jesus Christ. Here is an interesting question: How often have articles been written by CNN questioning the existence of Mohammed? Hmmm! Not frequently I suspect. But the thoughtful individual knows why. Let me suggest that someone at 'CNN.religion.blogs' read Lee Strobel's short and concise book, "The Case for Christ." Write an article about that author's compelling work.

    April 9, 2012 at 12:01 pm |
    • momoya

      "The Case Against Faith" by Paul Doland makes Strobel's book look amazingly silly.. Also, check out former pastor Dan Barker..

      Christianity is bu.llsh!t, and most christians know it but it's too uncomfortable to admit.

      April 9, 2012 at 12:10 pm |
    • Faithful

      momoya – Paul D is just a writer; a man with an opinion????? Like Dawkins, who the ignorant latch on to because if they 'drop' his name into the conversation they think it makes THEM look clever!

      What these people do is nefate personal responsibility; relegate man to animal status and they can NEVER defend their disproven theories as having any merit when asked by theologists or others with moral intagrity.

      But hey! If that's what floats your boat – DON'T think for yourself. Just keep quoting other peoples feeble attempts to deny Christianity!
      Even the Pagans stole our ideas because Christianity was so popular! They didn't exist till 200 years AFTER Jesus died. Then the modern "scholars" conveniently turned the clock back to fit their agenda! Pathetic.

      April 9, 2012 at 12:48 pm |
    • momoya

      And Lee Strobel is just a man with an opinion.. Seriously, if you can't figure out that it comes down to arguments, you're already toast.. God can't be proved or disproved, so it makes more sense to remain skeptical until he is proved.. Thus, it all comes down to whoever has the better argument..

      Christians have no conclusive evidence; thus, "what can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.". Christanity?? Dismissed.

      April 9, 2012 at 12:51 pm |
    • OhPlease

      "Even the Pagans stole our ideas because Christianity was so popular! They didn't exist till 200 years AFTER Jesus died. "

      Mithra was a Persian God who was introduced to the Romans before Jesus was ever written about, Mithra was around in some form before Jesus. It's so fun to see the stupidity of Christians.

      April 9, 2012 at 12:56 pm |
  3. JE

    Billy Graham

    One of the ironies of human nature is that it often has a way of rejecting the best and accepting the worst. Why did the crowd ask for the release of Barabbas and the crucifixion of Jesus? The answer is in the biblical statement, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked.” Jesus is just as divine today and just as much alive as He was on that first Good Friday. Yet millions today don’t accept Him. His goodness is still a rebuke to our badness; His purity still shows up our impurities; His sinlessness still reveals our sinfulness; and unless we allow Him to destroy the evil within us, the evil within us still wants to destroy Him. This is the conflict of the ages.

    April 9, 2012 at 11:59 am |
    • Josef Bleaux

      "Jesus is just as divine today and just as much alive as He was on that first Good Friday" – which means never. It's just ancient mythology, nothing more. It's not real. THINK about it instead of blindly accepting old myths.

      April 9, 2012 at 12:12 pm |
    • JE

      I have thought about it. I've also had religious experiences that have made it very evident. That's why people believe: experience. God changes people.

      April 9, 2012 at 12:16 pm |
    • Faithful

      God Bless you for a superb post, my friend.

      April 9, 2012 at 12:52 pm |
  4. Rene

    @Josef Bleaux. Do you believe in the big bang theory? If so, how do you relate that to the second law of thermodynamics.

    April 9, 2012 at 11:59 am |
    • SixDegrees

      There's no conflict. Read up on the BB theory in more depth if you think there is one.

      April 9, 2012 at 12:02 pm |
    • JohnW

      Ah, the tired old "what about the second law of thermodynamics" argument. Just to keep things short, the second law of thermodynamics is specifically for a closed system. The universe is not a closed system.

      April 9, 2012 at 12:38 pm |
  5. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things. .

    April 9, 2012 at 11:58 am |
    • Jesus

      'You have NO proof it changes anything! A great example of prayer proven not to work is the Christians in jail because prayer didn't work and their children died. For example: Susan Grady, who relied on prayer to heal her son. Nine-year-old Aaron Grady died and Susan Grady was arrested.

      An article in the Journal of Pediatrics examined the deaths of 172 children from families who relied upon faith healing from 1975 to 1995. They concluded that four out of five ill children, who died under the care of faith healers or being left to prayer only, would most likely have survived if they had received medical care.

      The statistical studies from the nineteenth century and the three CCU studies on prayer are quite consistent with the fact that humanity is wasting a huge amount of time on a procedure that simply doesn’t work. Nonetheless, faith in prayer is so pervasive and deeply rooted, you can be sure believers will continue to devise future studies in a desperate effort to confirm their beliefs!

      April 9, 2012 at 12:07 pm |
    • Josef Bleaux

      Please don't feed this troll.

      April 9, 2012 at 12:13 pm |
    • xcrimsonxguardx

      also like i said before god loves everyone of good conscious, even if they don't believe in him, and you have no right deciding that for god. also god gave man science to help himself so he could tend to the rest of his/her creations, so plz keep your hate to yourself you have no right to do god judging. or guilt trip into believing him. wow now i know why so many turn away.

      April 9, 2012 at 12:20 pm |
  6. jdt

    Biggest myth going.....Just like Obamas, "yes we can".......No we can't......Thank You Jesus.....HA another myth

    April 9, 2012 at 11:58 am |
    • xcrimsonxguardx

      just like all political parties who have made promises including the republicans, so as i see it they are all full of it.

      April 9, 2012 at 12:22 pm |
  7. JB

    Wow...should I be surprised that CNN found another "scholar" who is trying to disprove Christianity? I wonder why we never read negative articles about other religions...or atheist for that matter. Something to think about...If Christ did not rise from the dead, then you must dissregard everything he said. But if you accept, practice, or implement even one of Christ's teachings, you must seriously consider everything else he said.

    April 9, 2012 at 11:58 am |
    • SixDegrees

      How does this article prove or disprove anything? Are the foundations of your belief feeling a little shaky?

      April 9, 2012 at 11:59 am |
    • JB

      @ sixdegrees....read what I wrote...the scholar is trying to disprove christianity...no shaking going on here.

      April 9, 2012 at 12:05 pm |
  8. Ibelieve

    You believe because you have seen....Blessed are those who believe and have not seen...

    April 9, 2012 at 11:56 am |
    • momoya

      Blessed are those who aren't completely brainwashed by their parents, their church, and their culture into believing in something with no proof, seen or unseen.

      April 9, 2012 at 12:03 pm |
  9. JIggy

    Let's talk about the BS of Moses parting the Red Sea....Christians are tired of this anti-chritic hate going on again....

    April 9, 2012 at 11:55 am |
    • karl

      The red sea in biblical terms actually refers to the Reed Sea which is known for droughts that provide land bridges... Doubtful of the mircale but given historical surveys it is likely that a land bridge was present given the season. Wether a man named Moses led jews acroos such a land bridge is up for debate...

      April 9, 2012 at 12:05 pm |
  10. Dennis

    I dare you to write an article questioning if Mohammed ever really existed.

    I double dare ya.......

    Maybe Christians should start bombing or rioting too everytime their the media spits on what they hold sacred.

    April 9, 2012 at 11:54 am |
    • ReligionIsBS

      You mean just like they have a histroy of doing? The crusades, inquisitions and witch burnings were not that long ago. Muslims have a lot of killing to do if they ever want to catch up. You guys did have a head start though.

      April 9, 2012 at 12:01 pm |
    • momoya

      I agree that CNN should do an article on Mohammed being a myth–since he and Islam clearly are..

      As to christians rioting and causing harm because people don't all line up to kiss your god's @ss, why not? You guys have done a lot worse over the past 2000 years.. Why not hurt or kill those who don't agree? That'd be great PR, wouldn't it?

      April 9, 2012 at 12:06 pm |
    • Silent

      You never looked very hard at history, did you? Do some research into the crusades, particularly into what started them.... Hint, it was FAR from what you apparently believe.

      April 9, 2012 at 12:08 pm |
    • Dave

      Compared to all those who were killed in the name of humanism – 6 million in the Holocaust, including Christians such ad eitrich Bonhoffer, millions in China, including Christian missionaries, millions under Stalin, hundreds of thousands under the Khmer Rouge, etc.

      Christians never claim to be perfect – Christians freely admit to being flawed and short of the glory of God.

      April 9, 2012 at 12:22 pm |
    • momoya


      Under the guise of Manifest Destiny, the early christians of the US believed the Indians were incapable of being saved because they had no soul.. The christians infected the Native Americans with Smallpox and other horrible diseases and some estimates put the number of killed Indians at 50 million.. When Indians, young and old, would turn over on their deathbeds they would leave behind the skin of their backs and thighs and calves.. Glory to god.

      April 9, 2012 at 12:34 pm |
  11. Margie McGhee

    He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit is saying. Only God gifts belief. I feel sorry for you all. I pray that you will hear someone before you die.!

    April 9, 2012 at 11:54 am |
  12. xcrimsonxguardx

    Jesus was no god and he didn't have clue to what a trinity was, but he did do god work and he was favored by god to help us find god, but the stuff that the Evangelical extremist put in there later is prof enough how evil they are. taking away Jesus work by making him a god therefore invalidating the suffering because man has no reason to pity a god suffering, just our own which is what really happened, however they want to rewrite history so they have an excuse to start a holy war to bring about the so called Apocalypse. and god loves everyone,even if you don't believe in him, all he cares is how you conduct yourself while your here, you know good,evil. the other s who say your going to hell because you don't believe in god, do not have the authority to make that decision for god, they never did.

    April 9, 2012 at 11:53 am |
  13. jdw

    @John Blake: Please see an excellent work on this topic–The Jesus Legend: A Case for the Historical Reliability of the Synoptic Gospels by Paul R. Eddy and Greg Boyd. This books carefully assesses what is reliable history and what is legend in the Gospel portraits of Jesus. http://www.amazon.com/Jesus-Legend-The-Historical-Reliability/dp/0801031141/ref=sr_1_11?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1333986019&sr=1-11

    April 9, 2012 at 11:51 am |
  14. James

    When most people say that they pray, they mean that they are asking God for something. That sort of praying does not work because God does not micro-manage our lives.

    April 9, 2012 at 11:51 am |
    • SixDegrees

      How convenient.

      April 9, 2012 at 11:54 am |
  15. Jamie

    Thank God for the Buddha!

    April 9, 2012 at 11:48 am |
  16. Hybridhor

    There is one thing that has not changed. Christians are the most persecuted religion, more than any other religion. And Christians and Catholics are still murdered for their beliefs or even practicing their religion. And they continue to be rediculed by agnostics and athiests. This is world-wide.

    And now even the American Government are doing things to make Catholics pay for abortions. How far down do we have to go.

    An no Christian needs to justify his self. It is called Faith. I feel bad for the masses of people who are spiritually dead. I was once there too. But something amazing happened to me and I found the light again. Thank you Jesus for what you have done for me.

    April 9, 2012 at 11:47 am |
    • Rob

      Wow. What world do you live in? Christians have been RESPONSIBLE for more wars and death throughout it's history than ANY other religion. THEY are the persecutors!

      April 9, 2012 at 11:51 am |
    • SixDegrees

      It's because they deserve it. Of all the multiple religions in Rome, only one was singled out as lion fodder – christians. It was because they were loud-mouthed a ssholes who insisted that they had a monopoly on the truth and that everyone else had to abide by their rules without exception – precisely like so many evangelical theocrats today.

      The lions are too barbaric for our times, but they were a good idea, and a necessary one in order to maintain a harmonious society.

      April 9, 2012 at 11:52 am |
    • ttwp

      It just as Christ said, " If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also.

      They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the one who sent me. If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin; but now they have no excuse for their sin. Whoever hates me hates my Father as well. John Chapter 15

      April 9, 2012 at 12:02 pm |
    • your god is irreducibly complex

      "Christians are the most persecuted religion"
      LOL, I hope you don't actually believe that. But you do believe in talking snakes, so I should not be surprised I guess.

      "Christians and Catholics are still murdered for their beliefs".
      Sadly people have been killed in the name of many things. Your religion is just as guilty (if not more so) than other reasons people have used.

      "And they continue to be rediculed by agnostics and athiests".
      Atheists ridicule religion because there is no "reason" to believe in any of them. No proof, just 2,000 year old quotes and stories that make no sense, if you would actually sit back and THINK about them. And most people not only believe these ridiculous things, but base their lives on them and inject it into our government.

      "And now even the American Government are doing things to make Catholics pay for abortions".
      The government is trying to require the insurance provided by the employer, be it the church or whatever, to pay for the birth control. Just like any other business that has employees. Use the tax free status to pay for it, lol.

      "An no Christian needs to justify his self. It is called Faith".
      If this is so, then don't act like your beliefs are FACT, like most Christians do.

      "I feel bad for the masses of people who are spiritually dead".
      This is better than not thinking about your beliefs, which would be braindead.

      "But something amazing happened to me and I found the light again".
      Yeah the sun is bright outside, isn't it?

      "Thank you Jesus for what you have done for me".
      The Jesus you are referring to has been dead for 2,000 years, get over it. Unless you are referring to the guy mowing lawns in your neighborhood.

      April 9, 2012 at 12:06 pm |
    • Najica

      Christians aren't persecuted in this country. PERIOD. If you want to find persecution in this country tell your friends and family you're an atheist so that you may gain some perspective on "persecution". I lost all of my friends, all of my co-workers turned on me, and my own parents have taken years to realize that being an atheist does not affect the fact that I am a considerate caring person who treats everyone with dignity and respect. you know NOTHING of persecution. the ONLY argument I will accept about christian persecution is that Christians are in-fact persecuted under Muslim law. You have no clue what persecution is.

      April 9, 2012 at 12:07 pm |
    • Reality Check

      Have you ever heard of the Crusades or Inquisition or the hundreds of years of where Christians forced others to say they believed in Christianity or die? Christians are hardly the most persecuted people; unless you consider anyone having a difference of opinion persecution.

      April 9, 2012 at 1:36 pm |
  17. Martin

    The trouble with atheism is that it isn't an affirmation of anything. You don't believe in God-so now what? I'm an agnostic because I decided long ago that life is a mystery, something we cannot understand because it's beyond our comprehension and we don't have all the information to even begin to try to understand it. I don't believe any religion that neatly ties everything up with a bow will ever–to my satisfaction– answer the fundamental questions (how? why? what came before? what comes after?) any more than a blackboard covered with equations will. Live, love, be a good person, and maybe you won't feel such a need to understand everything.

    April 9, 2012 at 11:46 am |
    • momoya

      I don't know if I'd say, "the trouble with," but no, atheism does not stand for anything.. Atheism is a refutation of a positive claim.. Atheism is not a negative claim, and when god belief is less prevalent, the word will be nearly meaningless..

      April 9, 2012 at 11:57 am |
    • LinCA


      You said, "The trouble with atheism is that it isn't an affirmation of anything."
      No trouble. It's merely a disbelief. Nothing more, nothing less. Atheism says nothing about life or the universe. All it is, is a disbelief in gods (of any stripe).

      Agnosticism and atheism are not mutually exclusive.
      Gnosticism is about knowledge. I don't know, therefor I'm agnostic.
      Theism is about belief in god(s). I don't believe, therefor I'm an atheist.

      I don't know for a fact that there no gods, but the odds they do are so ridiculously small, there is absolutely no reason to believe they do. I'm an agnostic atheist.

      You said, "You don't believe in God-so now what? I'm an agnostic because I decided long ago that life is a mystery, something we cannot understand because it's beyond our comprehension and we don't have all the information to even begin to try to understand it. I don't believe any religion that neatly ties everything up with a bow will ever–to my satisfaction– answer the fundamental questions (how? why? what came before? what comes after?) any more than a blackboard covered with equations will."
      The fact that you capitalized the word "God" leads me to believe that you are merely not certain whether christianity is the exact right interpretation. I suspect that you are a believer (in something resembling the christian god), but are agnostic about religion.

      You said, "Live, love, be a good person, and maybe you won't feel such a need to understand everything."
      You make it sound like trying to understand is somehow a bad thing. The quest for knowledge and living a good and loving life, go hand in hand. The search for knowledge is, for some, an integral part of what makes them good people.

      April 9, 2012 at 12:08 pm |
    • justageek

      "Atheism is not a negative claim" – How can you say that when Atheism is all about saying a God does not exist? I think you mean Agnostic is not negative.

      April 9, 2012 at 12:11 pm |
    • momoya


      Correct. Atheism is not a negative claim.. Atheism says that unicorns, Santa, leprechauns, and unicorns all don't exist because the claims about their existence have no evidence and are invalid claims..

      April 9, 2012 at 12:21 pm |
    • Reality Check

      You don't have to believe in a Diety to believe in lving a good and "moral" life. In fact, I think people would be better off if they were good and moral people just because they knew it was the right thing to do. If the only reason one acts as a decent human being is out fear of punnishment from some Invisabale Higher Power then that is sad affirmation of self.

      April 9, 2012 at 1:45 pm |
  18. Eric


    Ehrman is a Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies at UNC Chapel Hill.

    Freke has an undergraduate degree in philosophy and seems to support himself by writing books that attempt to debunk Christianity and working the seminar (self-help) circuit.

    To present these two people as peers is doing a real disservice to the reader.

    April 9, 2012 at 11:44 am |
    • Martin

      For a distinguished professor, Ehrman's reasoning seems pretty flawed. The burden of proof is on the the believers. Why do they believe if there's no solid evidence? Oh yeah-faith...

      April 9, 2012 at 11:49 am |
    • Eric

      Did you read the article? Ehrman is a self-described agnostic who frequently shreds the bible as the subject of his books. Presumably he draws his conclusion based on the abundance of the evidence, in his opinion.

      April 9, 2012 at 12:00 pm |
  19. matt

    I swear CNN publishes these stories just so that the 2%(atheists) can have something to b i tch and moan about.

    April 9, 2012 at 11:43 am |
    • SixDegrees

      So far, all I've seen are believers doing the b itching and moaning.

      April 9, 2012 at 11:46 am |
    • Scott

      I wasn't aware we were the 2%. By and large, I think we are starting to outnumber those that believe in these faerie tales, and it is my sincere hope and wish that there will come a day where willfull ignorance will start to die out in favor of reason and common sense.

      April 9, 2012 at 11:51 am |
    • Faithful

      matt – You are SO right. These Atheists really think they're special! They slobber into their lattes, burbling on about how religions are so warlike and persecute and kill others for not believing,

      They don't have the common sense to read history and find out that Atheists / communists have been responsible for more killing and persecution of faiths in the last 100 years than ALL the religions since the beginning of history!

      Atheists are not all that bright. It takes intelligence to understand the basics of religion. Until they stop acting as if they KNOW when they dismiss religion as brainwashing and fairy tales, all they do is prove that they are blinded by pride and ignorance.
      How do they explain the thousands of people who convert to Christianity WITHOUT said "brainwashing?

      Streuth, even the Pagans highjacked Christianity because it was so popular. They did this 200 years AFTER Jesus died, then modern 'scholars' turned the clock back and claimed paganism pre-dated Christianity!

      April 9, 2012 at 1:06 pm |
  20. Sybaris

    We are all born atheists

    April 9, 2012 at 11:42 am |
    • justageek

      No. We're all born agnostic. Atheism is as much a cult as Theism. One says believe me because we were created by a God and the other says believe me because we came from nothing in a singularity big bang thingy. Each is equally hard to believe in and equally impossible to prove. Fun stuff to watch Theists and Atheists battle it out without either ever being a clear winner.

      April 9, 2012 at 11:50 am |
    • momoya


      You must be horribly misinformed about atheism if you believe all that stupid stuff..

      And how is not believing in Santa and believing in Santa equally hard to prove?! God believers are saying that something with certain qualities exist, so they have the "burden of proof," (they need to prove what they claim).. Atheists aren't saying that something exists, they are saying that theists have not provided any proof for their claim so there's no sense believing in it, yet.. Atheists aren't making a claim about god–they are not believing in the god others believe in because of a lack of evidence..

      April 9, 2012 at 12:01 pm |
    • justageek

      Atheists aren't making a claim about god–they are not believing in the god others believe in because of a lack of evidence" – That's my point. Atheists are just as lost as Theists because they cannot prove where we came from so it's fun to watch them poke fun at Theists for their beliefs without offering up any alternative beginning other than the big bang. Crazy fun to watch.

      April 9, 2012 at 12:09 pm |
    • Joshua

      That isn't true at all.

      We are all born ignorant and tend to get curious real quick. I think your point is that people are indoctrinated into religious traditions that they wouldn't believe unless they were. This is true also of atheism. As every culture around the world has developed some form of religion, it suggests that either there is a god and some form of understanding of him/her has been pasted down over time or we are born with some tendency to believe in the supernatural. Either way we are not born as atheists.

      April 9, 2012 at 12:10 pm |
    • momoya

      Why would atheism need to prove anything at all about "where we came from?". That's pretty stupid considering that atheism only rejects god-belief.. Atheists admit that we don't know what happens after we die or if there is any sort of purpose for human life.. It's called honesty..

      God-beleivers CLAIM to know about where we came from and what our purpose is, but they can't prove anything at all about god, so they're just making sh!t up..

      LOL!! You think atheists need to explain "alternatives" to god.. LOL!!

      April 9, 2012 at 12:14 pm |
    • momoya


      Please try to not be so stupid..

      Theism= belief in god
      Atheism= not belief in god

      Babies do not have the mental capacity to understand the term "god."
      Thus, babies do not have a belief in god.
      Thus, babies are atheist because they meet the definition perfectly–they lack a belief in god.

      April 9, 2012 at 12:16 pm |
    • justageek

      "Why would atheism need to prove anything at all about "where we came from?"." – Maybe to prove your belief is right so we can end this battle once and for all? Wouldn't you like to prove your belief to be correct?

      April 9, 2012 at 12:19 pm |
    • justageek

      @momoya – Seems to me that according to your reply to Joshua the same baby would not have the mental capacity to think there is no God since it has no reference of God to begin with so how can a baby possibly be an Atheist if it can't reject something it knows nothing of? The baby is Agnostic. Get over it.

      April 9, 2012 at 12:25 pm |
    • momoya

      @ justageek

      Seems to me that you need to work on your logic and critical reasoning skills..

      Theism = belief in god
      Atheims = no belief in god

      Does a baby have a belief in god? No.. The baby lacks a belief in god and has no belief in god; thus, the baby is an atheist since the baby does not believe in god.

      Atheism doesn't have anything to do with why we are here or how the universe got here.. You god-believers claim to know, but you can't prove it.. You assert your claim without evidence, so the atheist rejects your claim without evidence.. Atheists are just fine saying "I don't know.". And we don't have to pretend to know what we don't just because you want us to go around and lie like you do about the origin and purpose of the universe..

      As I've already said: Try to be a little less stupid.

      April 9, 2012 at 12:31 pm |
    • just sayin

      We are all born direct from the throne of God, every baby a gift of God with full knowledge of the heavenly Father. We are given in life the opportunity to choose God in love and so return to God and the heavenly realm for eternity. All babies are born with a knowledge of God that very few realize throughout their lifetimes. God bless

      April 9, 2012 at 12:36 pm |
    • momoya

      Well done, Just sayin!! Another claim with zero evidence.. Like all your other claims!! Yay!

      April 9, 2012 at 12:37 pm |
    • justageek

      "Atheists are just fine saying "I don't know" – Really? Then why did you just say Atheism is about not believing? How can you say both not believing and not knowing in the same response? Either you belive, do not believe or don't know. If you don't know then you are Agnostic. Simple as that. Please do a little research. It'll do you good to have a real understanding of each.

      April 9, 2012 at 12:39 pm |
    • LinCA


      You said, "Seems to me that according to your reply to Joshua the same baby would not have the mental capacity to think there is no God since it has no reference of God to begin with so how can a baby possibly be an Atheist if it can't reject something it knows nothing of?"
      Anyone is atheistic about gods they are unaware of. Even every believer is atheistic about all gods they are unaware of, and those they are aware of but don't believe in. Often, from a theistic standpoint, the only difference between an atheist and a fundamentalist believer is the belief in one god. Until someone is aware of gods, he or she is atheistic about them.

      A baby, because of the lack of awareness, is atheistic.

      You said, "The baby is Agnostic."
      True, but there are different root causes for being agnostic. A baby is agnostic because of a complete absence of knowledge, not because of a lack of convincing evidence.

      April 9, 2012 at 12:40 pm |
    • momoya

      Yes, atheists are just fine saying "I don't know.". We feel absolutely no compulsion to come up with a bunch of untestable and unproven bullsh!t to make ourselves feel better about what we don't know and the fact that we all die..

      Atheism isn't about "not knowing," it's about not believing.. You do understand the difference between the two?? I hope??

      Gnosticism is about KNOWLEDGE of spiritual things, so an agnostic does not claim to have spiritual KNOWLEDGE.. You can be a god believer AND be agnostic..

      Theism is about BELIEF in god.. If you lack a god belief, you are an atheist.. You are atheist to thousands of gods except you believe in one.

      By all means, do some research on this stuff and educate yourself if you want to be taken seriously on these topics.

      April 9, 2012 at 12:45 pm |
    • justageek

      "A baby, because of the lack of awareness, is atheistic." – No. Being Atheist is as much a choice as being a Theist. An Atheist chooses not to believe. How can a baby make that choice if it knows nothing as a reference?

      April 9, 2012 at 12:51 pm |
    • momoya


      Since atheism is a lack of belief, it doesn't require a choice.. A baby lacks clothes when it is born; thus, it is born naked.. A baby lacks belief in god when it is born (obviously, since it does not have the mental capacity); thus, it is atheist..

      Things aren't the way you say that they are just because it's your opinion.. Seriously, do some research on these subjects so you don't come off like a complete fool on top of being an azzhole.. You've got the azzhole thing down, so you don't need to work on anything, there; you need to look up the terms you're using to make any sense to anyone

      April 9, 2012 at 12:54 pm |
    • LinCA


      You said, "Being Atheist is as much a choice as being a Theist. An Atheist chooses not to believe."
      Not necessarily. Atheism, in it's most common form, is simply a disbelief in gods. It doesn't make a claim about any god in particular. It is merely an absence of belief. It is an absence of belief in all gods, including the ones that the atheist has no knowledge of.

      While most adult atheists are atheists because the have evaluated the case for gods and found them severely lacking, doesn't mean that only those that actively reject gods are atheists. Those that aren't aware of gods, also don't believe in them, and are therefor atheists.

      Just because you wish to force atheists into the mold of a religion, doesn't make that a valid position. Just as there are theists that, after they've been fully indoctrinated, simply never question the beliefs they hold, there are atheists that don't question why they don't believe. Babies fall into the latter category.

      You said, "How can a baby make that choice if it knows nothing as a reference?"
      Like I said, it isn't always a choice.

      Until they are indoctrinated, children are atheists.

      April 9, 2012 at 1:09 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.