Some people sort of acknowledge we live in a godless reality — say John Shelby Spong, who seems a nice man — but still cling to the idea of God as a useful abstraction, and Jesus as a nice and praiseworthy though non-miraculous man.
I can’t stand those people. (Well, as regards this particular opinion, anyway.)
I don’t think Jesus nice and praiseworthy — but I could go on for entirely too long about that. I just note that if one reads the New Testament as just a tale, claiming no historical reality for it, it all of a sudden becomes something that would be very easy to improve. And that might not be such a bad idea, since reading the original, unless you whip out the old reliable many-bladed sanitizer, the supposed uniform goodness of Jesus quickly turns into a terrible and terrifying muddle with many pits of undying fire. (Sour grumbling? Well, I’m no big fan of idolizing anyone, much less those not worthy of it no matter how much they believed or suffered.)
Not that you can always separate the historical Jesus from the theological excretions of his followers, both earlier and later, that made an apocalyptic Jewish prophet into an all-powerful, all-miraculous, all-new Son of God; and that’s another reason to not choose him as an abstract idol — saying “I admire Jesus” is a dangerous thing to say since it can mean, and be taken to mean, either the hippie pacifist Jesus (“Meek and mild out, man”?), the sword-mouth apocalypse Jesus, the God-blast exorcism Jesus, the “Now appearing on your pantry door!” Super Ghost Pilgr-Image Jesus or even the sweaty repent-or-suffer “Jesus Classic”.
Or the Maxi Divine BattleStation Lord OverGod DinoRider Jesus Mk III with a detachable Holy Spirit!
Jesus, that sounds like a set of action figures!
Also, it aesthetically offends and practically troubles me that some people want to use Jesus (or God) as just a symbol for some subset of his opinions and the opinions attributed to him over the years, while there still are plenty of others who think him a really existent God (a rather, er, central part of his character) and believe the whole shebang of things attributed to him. It smacks of sentimental retention, and giving fuel to quite different fires; but maybe I should give something like an example of what I mean.
Consider this gross mummery an illustration of similar thoughts, and troubles; I’ve chosen a second figure who is also fixed as something that’s quite unlikely to be changed by a deft trick of perception —
“I really admire Stalin.”
“Dude, are you insane? Stalin was a blood tyrant, both meanings of bloody meant!”
“No, I just mean he’s a brilliant example of a poor man rising to great power on the wings of his personal charisma and strength of will, as recounted in the Impartial Biography of the Marxist J. Stalin Admiration Society of Stalingrad, 1948 — a lesson to us all! Here, have a bumper sticker. Capitalist (heart) Stalin.“
“No. And I’d dispute that depiction of his rise. And is it a lesson if he ended up a paranoid mass murderer?”
“You’re focusing on the inconsequential. To me Stalin is just an example of what personal dedication can achieve; I don’t condone the Great Purge, want to rewrite history, or anything. I’m not a Stalinist; I just find many admirable things in his deeds and words. I wholeheartedly agree he was wrong about many things, but he just personifies to me some of the best virtues of humanity: tenacity, drive, indomitability —”
“And some of the worst vices: vindictiveness, callousness, temper —”
“Now, while that might be historically true, it is beside the point. I use Stalin as an ideal.”
“Blow it out your ass! Blow it out your ass! Blow it out your ass!”