Atheists have little use for god-talk, since much of it is based on faith and not reason. And faith is something an atheist cannot relate to. Yet history is a collection of facts and there is factual evidence that a prophet named Jesus once lived and traveled among the Jews and gentiles.
Jesus of Nazareth is somewhat of an enigma. Although he was well versed in the arts of reading and writing, he didn’t leave any written accounts of himself and his work, so we only have second hand reports by those who followed him and they aren’t always in agreement.
There are some things that stand out and appear to be genuine occurrences or genuine accounts of perceived occurrences. If we read the four gospels that depict Jesus’ life, a character begins to emerge that may have been quite unique for his time. And some of his character traits command the respect of even the most rational atheists.
Let’s forget for a moment that Jesus claimed to be the way to salvation or the son of god. Let’s ignore the quasi miracles and supposed healings and just look at the man. Much about him is impressive and he certainly had courage.
Jesus was not class conscious. Although he was treated with respect by his followers and was a learned scholar and trained craftsman, he had no prejudices about class. He dined with Pharisees, wealthy landowners, as well as prostitutes and beggars and presumably treated them with equal courtesy. He even kept company with the shunned lepers, something no self-respecting Rabbi would have done in those days.
Jesus introduced critical thinking to a society, ruled by blind adherence to rules and religious commandments. Over the years, religious leaders had implemented so many oppressive decrees that many Jews found it difficult to function without breaking the law. Jesus saw the folly of this practice and began to point out its flaws. He also emphasized the importance of love and compassion over all other traits and so won the hearts of the disadvantaged.
Jesus was respectful toward women and treated them with an uncommon kindness. In a society, which deemed women mere property, he did what he could to ease their burden. Some scholars even believe that a woman was his closest confidant. It was not until later, that Paul, the apostle who never met Jesus, issued restrictions against women and banished them to the back of the bus again.
Jesus was loyal to his friends. He lived with them and shared his food and petty cash with them and he preferred their company over that of his estranged family. He trusted, supported and encouraged them and he forgave their weaknesses.
Lastly, we know that Jesus appreciated good wine as is shown during his attendance of a friend’s wedding. Whether we want to believe that he actually turned water into wine or rather that he brought wine to the party, he did condone its consumption and probably drank with the host and the happy couple. The host even praised the quality of the wine Jesus provided, brought at a late hour when most hosts relied on the drunkenness of the guests and served only cheap wine.
These are aspects of Jesus, the man, who lived and preached for a short period of time and whose message enchanted millions. Many openly embrace the divinity of this man, others do not. Atheists certainly will not. But even someone who neither believes in nor needs the existence of a divine supreme being appreciates facts. And by the facts delivered to us in the accounts of those who knew Jesus, we find respect for the man, whose character stood out from the masses even though his face did not.
Miracles or no miracles, Jesus of Nazareth was a remarkable man who lived with integrity and died with courage. He left a legacy which transcends faith or denomination and impresses with its simplicity: Love, care, and remain humble. A message, easy to follow and an attainable goal. No faith required, no religion involved.