Ten Questions for Bill O’Reilly about Jesus: Brian Bolton

By Brian Bolton

Last year, Christian fundamentalists fabricated the so-called “War on Christmas,” which they blamed on secularists and enemies of Christianity. Conservative commentator Bill O’Reilly teamed up with Jerry Falwell to incite religious extremists with untrue incidents. They asserted that “Jesus is the reason for the season.”

The Catholic League threatened to boycott stores and businesses that proclaimed “Happy Holidays” or “Season’s Greetings,” rather than the preferred “Merry Christmas.” Fundamentalist activists transformed a season of peace and goodwill into a campaign of dissension and enmity in Jesus’ name. These zealots are hellbent on inflicting their superstitions on everybody. Below are gospel facts to refute fundamentalist propaganda.

Was Jesus Born on Christmas?

The word Christmas does not appear in the bible nor is Jesus’ birthday specified. Consequently there is no injunction to celebrate his birthday. This is why many Christian churches do not celebrate Christmas, including Jehovah’s Witnesses, Worldwide Church of God, and Christian Science. The reason early Christians selected December 25 as Jesus’ birthday is because this was the traditional birth date of prominent pagan savior gods, such as Adonis, Horus, Krishna, and Mithra. Folklorists call December 25 the “birthday of the gods.” For ancient people, it became apparent three days after the winter solstice that the sun was again rising against the horizon. The annual rebirth of the source of life was a cause for rejoicing. Based on the historical events and astronomical phenomena cited in the gospel accounts, scholars have concluded that Jesus, if he existed, would have been born on April 17, 6 BCE.

Was Jesus the Lamb of God?

Christianity is premised on a truly barbaric image of torture, suffering, and death, as gruesomely portrayed in Mel Gibson’s movie, “The Passion of the Christ.” The key component is the blood sacrifice, referred to in 20 New Testament citations, such as “redemption through his blood,” “washed us from our sins in his blood,” and “redeemed with the precious blood of Christ.” Of course, this primitive idea derives from the ritual blood sacrifice of animals, which is prominent in the Hebrew Testament. What activity guarantees salvation? The sacrament called holy communion, which is really just vicarious cannibalism: Whosoever eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood hath eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day (John 6:54).

Was Jesus Obsessed with Hell?

Jesus’ major contribution to theology was his emphasis on the ubiquity of hell. No character in the bible spoke more often of hell than Jesus. His dozen direct references include: hell, hellfire, everlasting fire, everlasting punishment, and damnation. In addition, he made numerous indirect references to hell, such as condemnation, loss of the soul, absence of forgiveness, and consequences of Judgment Day. Surveys indicate that while 70% of Americans believe in the existence of hell, fewer than 10% think they might go there. This conviction contrasts sharply with Jesus’ statements that the vast majority of humankind will go to hell (Matthew 7:14; 22:13-14). Jesus provided a graphic description of hell in the story of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31). Is eternal punishment consistent with the portrayal of a loving, forgiving god?

Is Jesus the Only Way to Heaven?

When George W. Bush was governor of Texas, he said that Jesus was the only way to achieve salvation. He subsequently apologized to the Anti-Defamation League for his insensitive remark. Former televangelist Jimmy Swaggart did not waste words: “It’s Jesus or it’s hell.” Jesus himself framed the exclusivity principle directly: He who believes and is baptized will be saved, but he who does not believe will be condemned (Mark 16:16). Similar statements are found in John 14:6, Acts 4:12, and 1 Timothy 2:5. Yet, several mainline Christian denominations reject exclusivity. For example, the Catholic Church maintains that sincere believers of all religious faiths will be saved, under the doctrine of “baptism by desire.”

What was Jesus’ Sexual Orientation?

Christian fundamentalists vilify what they call the “gay lifestyle.” They do not want homosexuals to adopt or teach children, serve in the military, or occupy sensitive government positions. Before disparaging members of the gay community, the censors should examine Jesus’ life circumstances. First, he was not married, he did not father any children, and he chose only men to be his 12 apostles. Second, John is repeatedly referred to as “the disciple whom Jesus loved” and the disciple “lying on Jesus’ breast at the last supper” (e.g., John 13:25; 19:26; 21:20). Third, Judas betrayed Jesus because he was jealous of his relationship with John–he identified Jesus with a kiss (Matthew 26:49), but later admitted that Jesus was innocent and then committed suicide (Matthew 27:4-5). Fourth, Jesus’ encounter with the naked young man at Gethsemane while the disciples were sleeping might suggest an illicit relationship (Mark 14:51-52). Finally, unlike the Hebrew Testament writers and Paul, Jesus never condemned homosexuality.

What Did Jesus Really Teach?

Jerry Falwell says that “the bible is God’s infallible, inerrantly inspired word. There are no mistakes in the bible.” In contrast to mainline Protestant denominations and the Catholic Church, which believe that scripture is subject to skillful interpretation, fundamentalists maintain that the bible is literally true as recorded. Consistent with the latter view, the following commandments have been extracted from the gospel accounts of Jesus’ life and teachings:

1. You must obey Jesus’ teachings–if not, you will suffer everlasting punishment (John 14:21; 15:6; Mark 8:38).

2. You must hate your life in this world for Jesus’ sake to achieve eternal life (John 12:25; Matthew 16:24-25).

3. You must give away all your possessions for Jesus’ sake to inherit everlasting life (Mark 10:21; Luke 14:33; Matthew 6:19-21).

4. You must leave your family for Jesus’ sake to achieve eternal life (Matthew 19:29; Luke 18:29-30; 21:16).

5. You must reject all violence–even actions taken in self-defense–and dedicate yourself to the cause of peace (Matthew 5:44, 48; 26:52; 5:9).

6. You must always forgive others–if not, you will suffer everlasting punishment (Matthew 6:14-15; 18:12; Luke 6:37).

7. You must help people in need–if not, you will be punished in the everlasting fire (Matthew 25:31-46).

8. You must not pray in public–say your prayers in private (Matthew 6:6).

9. You must not swear an oath–only give an affirmation of truth (Matthew 5:34-37).

10. You must mutilate yourself to avoid hell (Mark 9:43-48).

11. You must consider castration for the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 19:11-12).

12. You must handle venomous snakes and drink poison as demonstrations of faith (Mark 16:14-18).

Did Jesus Advocate Family Values?

Christian fundamentalists promote a theology of so-called “family values.” These include support for the death penalty, military intervention, gun ownership, public prayer, and unrestrained capitalism, and opposition to abortion, contraception, sex-education, animal rights, and environmental protection. But, the key construct is the “traditional family,” consisting of god-fearing father, subservient mother, and obedient children. Hence, it is fair to inquire about Jesus’ statements and personal example concerning family life. First, Jesus was conceived while his teenaged mother was betrothed to an older man (Matthew 1:18); Thomas Jefferson commented that Jesus’ parentage was obscure. Second, Jesus refused to acknowledge his mother and brothers when they came to visit him (Mark 3:31-35). Third, Jesus stated in unequivocal terms that his goal was to destroy the family unit (Matthew 10:35-37). Fourth, Jesus said that a requirement to be his disciple was to hate one’s parents, spouse, siblings, and children (Luke 14:26). Fifth, Jesus promised that those who desert their families will inherit everlasting life (Matthew 19:29). If Christians actually obeyed Jesus’ teachings, the nuclear family would be abolished.

When Will Jesus Return?

Predictions of Jesus’ imminent “second coming” are routinely announced and always prove to be false. For example, the Mission for the Coming Days predicted Jesus would return in October 1992 and human history would end in 1999. At the other extreme, the Rev. Sun Myung Moon claims that he is the true Messiah! Christian Zionists believe that Jesus will return soon to the unholy land and have urged that the Palestinian people be forcibly removed to Sudan. In all three synoptic gospels, Jesus said that he would descend from heaven in his glorious return and that some of his original disciples would live to see his second coming (Matthew 16:28; Mark 9:1; Luke 9:27). In Revelation, he stressed that he would return quickly. Interestingly, a 1999 survey of American adults found that half did not believe that Jesus would ever return to earth.

Was Jesus a Living Person?

Christian fundamentalists believe that Jesus was unique in human history. The simple fact is that every item of the gospel account is taken from the biographies of earlier savior-gods, e.g., conceived by a virgin, born on December 25, had 12 disciples, walked on water, cured diseases, raised the dead, was crucified between two thieves, was resurrected and ascended to heaven. These savior-gods include Apollonius, Buddha, Indra, Mahavira, Quexalcote, Pythagoras, Vishnu, and Zoroaster. There are numerous additional reasons to doubt the Jesus story. First, Roman and Jewish historians of the period did not even mention Jesus. Occasional brief references are interpolations. Second, purported physical evidence, such as the Shroud of Turin and the James Ossuary, have been demonstrated to be hoaxes or frauds. Third, the four canonical gospels are anonymous and contradictory compilations that are not based on eyewitness accounts. Fourth, Paul mentions only Jesus’ death and the last supper and never quotes his sayings or cites his teachings, e.g., the Sermon on the Mount. Fifth, the trial of Jesus by Pilate is entirely inconsistent with Roman law of the time and is not recorded in the Roman archives. Sixth, the elements of Jesus’ crucifixion are thoroughly unhistoric, but rather are features of traditional sacramental rituals. In conclusion, there is not a shred of evidence to support the claim that Jesus was an actual person. All evidence suggests that Jesus is a fictional character–a composite myth derived from earlier stories.

Did Jesus’ Resurrection Guarantee Eternal Life?

The standard Christian creedal statement asserts that “Jesus died on the cross for our sins so that we can inherit eternal life.” From this fundamental postulate, it is evident that Christianity is a self-centered, death-oriented theology. What human motive propels the irrational hope for “life beyond the grave”? It is the biological instinct for self-preservation transformed into egocentrism, or self-love that generates the monumental fear of death that is the foundation of Christian beliefs. The inability to face the most basic fact of life–which is the extinction, obliteration, dissolution, and eradication of human personality –energizes the Christian delusion. But Jesus clearly taught that his followers must deny themselves in this life to achieve everlasting life in the hereafter. Denial of self includes rejection of material possessions and desertion of family. Because almost all people who call themselves Christians disregard or reject Jesus’ commandments, they will fail his test on Judgment Day and suffer endlessly for their disobedience.

These ten questions and answers provide a framework for debating Christian fundamentalists on the core issues of their belief system, using historical scholarship and their own holy book to refute their claims.

Foundation Life Member Brian Bolton is a psychologist, a humanist counselor and professor emeritus at the University of Arkansas. He now lives in Texas.

Freedom From Religion Foundation