Andrew Sullivan posted this e-mail from a reader that really resonated with me. I think he sums up how I feel about Christ (and other great religious figures as well). People ask me how an atheist can have any hope for the future, take any joy from existence, or see any point to living at all. This is how. I encourage you to read the whole thing, but here's a taste of what I'm talking about:
Humanism then does not reject Christianity, it completes it. Paul was wrong. Our faith is not foolish if Jesus is not literally and physically risen from the dead. We know our faith is true, because we know that death has not defeated him. As a humanist, I do not discard the rich legacy and richness of the Christian tradition, rather I claim to be the true heir to the Christian patrimony. Christians embrace a shallower version of Jesus. I know this because I continue to be transformed by Jesus's love and he continues to inspire my humanist faith - faith that there is yet some good in this earth, that we can all be redeemed by love, and that we should all choose life and should try to live it fully in a spirit of peace and brotherhood with all mankind. It makes no difference to me whether Jesus was born of virgin or rose bodily from his grave after three days. These are signs that the wicked demand because they do not have the heart to see the divine in Jesus and in all of us without such signs.
Fundamentally, what matters to me is people. How we treat each other, the echoes that our good deeds carry forward through the coming years, the kindness and joy we can bring into existence, all of these have meaning and consequence right here, right now, for actual humans. Jesus' greatest commandment was "Love each other as I have loved you." He didn't talk about doctrine, or ritual, or how to build the perfect church. He railed against those who turned religion into a sterile, binding form without substance, focusing his ministry instead on the actual human beings around him.
Prostitutes, lepers, tax collectors, fishermen, these are the cast of Jesus' life, and in his choice of companions I see the greatest lesson of all. It is how we treat each other that matters, not which building we walk into on Sundays. If I could sum up what Christ was all about in just two words, it would be this (which also happens to be the essence of humanism):
I think perhaps that's one reason I find myself hostile towards organized religion, because they seem to manage to forget that lesson far more often than not. They become about ritual, or words, or buildings, and not the people that make up the true body of their church. It sounds bizarre to say it this way, but in my opinion, religion fails when it becomes more about god and less about people.
I first realized this at the age of eleven or so. I had come back from Confession (for the first time in quite some while) and I was filled with joy, a true feeling of oneness with the world. And it was because the Priest had looked me in the eye and said "You're forgiven." I realized that it was because this human being, not a mysterious and ephemeral divinity but this man, had a moment of genuine contact with me that I felt so complete. It is humans that matter, it is humans that touch each other, love each other, hold each other, forgive each other, give each other a reason to get up each day and to try and carry goodness forward one more step.