Analyzing Christianity

Part of a series about My Faith Journey.

Differences between Mormonism and Mainstream Christianity

Having discarded Mormonism, I decided I would need to investigate mainstream Christianity. I really liked the idea of Jesus, so I thought, "Okay, I'm not a Mormon anymore, maybe I can just be a Christian." To that end, I began investigating the teachings of the greater Christian world  and see how they fit into my (erstwhile) Mormon worldview. I encountered a number of differences.

Views on Jesus' Sacrifice / Grace

The biggest difference I discovered was this: In mainline Christianity, Jesus pays the debt. You don't have to beat yourself up for falling short of perfection. All you need to do is do your best and Jesus will make up for your deficiencies. It's a freeing doctrine.

In Mormonism, Jesus refinances the debt. When you accept Mormon Jesus, you conscript yourself to a life of servitude and monetary payment ("we are saved by grace after all we can do", "faith without works is dead", "magnify your calling", "lengthen your stride", "endure to the end", etc.). The worst part is, nothing you do will ever be good enough. You'll never feel confident that you're going to attain the best afterlife that Mormonism has to offer, because the requirements are so ridiculously high. It's an enslaving doctrine.

Mormonism interprets Jesus' saying of "Come follow me" as "Welcome to the treadmill".

Conditional Love

Related to the previous: Christianity uses the unconditional love model, Mormonism uses the conditional love model. Here are some supporting scriptures:

D&C 130:20-21 "And when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated."

Mosiah 2:20-24 (paraphrasing because it's really long) If you keep commandments, you get blessed; you are indebted to God.

Making matters more complicated, members are taught the conditional love model, which follows the formula "if you do X, then God will do Y", but they are told that this is "unconditional love". (Hint: something I learned in my computer programming classes is that if you see the word 'if', that's a conditional statement.) The two models are conflated early on in the teaching of LDS youth so that cognitive dissonance doesn't make them think about the differences.

On my mission I met a guy who was raised Baptist. I remember one time we were explaining the how the Spirit will "withdraw" if you sin. He disagreed. He said that even if you were in the darkest depths of sin, Jesus would still be there to help you. At the time, I couldn't wrap my mind around what he was saying, but I get it now: he was taught the unconditional love model in his religion, and I was taught the conditional love model in mine.

On some occasions, LDS leaders will come right out and call it "conditional love",

"While divine love can be called perfect, infinite, enduring, and universal, it cannot correctly be characterized as unconditional. The word does not appear in the scriptures. On the other hand, many verses affirm that the higher levels of love the Father and the Son feel for each of us—and certain divine blessings stemming from that love—are conditional." -- Elder Russell M. Nelson, The Ensign, February, 2003

Mixed-faith Relationships

It is worth noting that this "conditional love" model is not lost on members, who mimic it themselves. When one spouse loses their faith, the other spouse will often divorce them. Their love for their spouse was conditional on their belief in Mormonism. (They are also acting out the implied doctrine of "families can be together forever -- unless".) We see this same thing when believing parents disavow non-believing children and kick them out of their homes.

In the greater Christian world. people abide by this scripture in 1 Corinthians 7:12-13:

12 But to the rest speak I, not the Lord: If any brother hath a wife that believeth not, and she be pleased to dwell with him, let him not put her away.

13 And the woman which hath an husband that believeth not, and if he be pleased to dwell with her, let her not leave him.

I have never heard this scripture cited by any Mormon leader as an answer when one spouse loses their faith in the church. Usually, you hear "indirect directives" like "put the gospel first in your life" (implied message: ditch your unbelieving spouse).

See also this Mormon Stories podcast where a husband loses his faith and his wife threatens to divorce him. He wrote a letter to Dieter F. Uchtdorf and formally requested that he say, over the pulpit in General Conference, that a spouse should not divorce an otherwise good, devoted, partner, simply because that partner loses their faith. The reply he got did not address is request at all and simply said "come join with us".

Works and Faith

Mormons believe that good works are necessary in order to gain faith (and in turn, salvation). They often cite James 2:14-26 to support their claim:

14 What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him?

15 If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food,

16 And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit?

17 Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.

18 Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works.

19 Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble.

20 But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?

21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar?

22 Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect?

23 And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God.

24 Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.

25 Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way?

26 For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.

The Christian world thinks that Mormons have this exactly backwards. You don't need to do a lot of works in order to gain faith. Good works are a byproduct (some might say a "sign") of someone who has attained true faith.

As an aside, the Mormon view of doing works to gain faith seems more like exploiting cognitive dissonance in order to get members to "gain a testimony" by having them perform actions that will generate belief.

Views on God / Trinity

Isaiah 43:10 says:

Ye are my witnesses, saith the Lord, and my servant whom I have chosen: that ye may know and believe me, and understand that I am he: before me there was no God formed, neither shall there be after me.

Contrast that to this couplet by Lorenzo Snow: "As man is, God once was; as God is, man may be."

John 4:24 says "God is a spirit". D&C 130:22 says God has a body of flesh and bones.

Mainline Christianity believes in the Trinity (3-in-one), Mormons believe in the Godhead (3 separate beings that are "one in purpose"). I must admit, it's tough for me to wrap my mind around the idea of the Trinity. Any attempt to use an analogy (e.g. water in three different states) seems to be a heresy. The cynic in me thinks that the trinity was just an attempt to retrofit a three-person trio of Gods on top of the strict monotheism of the Old Testament and try to make it harmonize somehow.

Mormons implicitly are polytheists by believing in a strong distinction between the members of the Godhead. They are further polytheists by believing that their Heavenly Father is but one of many gods in the cosmos, and that they themselves can be gods someday.

Temple / Endowment

The Christian world has a number of problems with the Mormon temple endowment.

Nullifies the Atonement

Teaching that the endowment is necessary for our salvation nullifies the power of the atonement of Christ. Mainstream Christianity teaches that all we have to do is our best, Christ's sacrifice will make up the difference when we fall short. By requiring the endowment, the church implicitly teaches its members that Christ's atonement alone is insufficient.

Contrary to New Testament teachings

Acts 7:24 says "God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands." However, LDS temples are all described as "The House of the Lord". The passage in Acts also conflicts with with D&C 110:2 where JS & Oliver Cowdery claim to have seen the Lord in the Kirtland temple.

Contrary to Jesus' teachings in the Book of Mormon

It is also contrary to something Jesus taught in the Book of Mormon in 3 Nephi 11:38-40:

38 And again I say unto you, ye must repent, and be baptized in my name, and become as a little child, or ye can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God.

39 Verily, verily, I say unto you, that this is my doctrine, and whoso buildeth upon this buildeth upon my rock, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against them.

40 And whoso shall declare more or less than this, and establish it for my doctrine, the same cometh of evil, and is not built upon my rock; but he buildeth upon a sandy foundation, and the gates of hell stand open to receive such when the floods come and the winds beat upon them.

Jesus taught that all we need is repentance and baptism and whoso teaches more or less than this cometh of evil. The church teaches that the endowment is necessary for our salvation. This is more than repentance and baptism, therefore it cometh of evil -- according to Jesus.

Exploitative Covenants

When Jesus was asked "What are the greatest commandments?", he replied "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself." (Matt 22:36-40).

These commandments appear nowhere in the temple ceremony, despite the fact that they are the "greatest". By contrast, the culminating covenant that members are asked to make is to give all their time, talents, energy, money, and everything the Lord has blessed them with or may bless them with to the church. (If you learned that that was the final commitment members are asked to make in the church of Scientology, would that strike you as a bit culty?)

Putting a price on salvation

Mainstream Christianity teaches that salvation is a free gift that requires only sincere belief in Christ. The LDS church teaches that a temple endowment is necessary for salvation and in order to get a temple recommend, you must be a full tithe payer. Net result: in the LDS church, salvation is not free; you must pay 10% of your (life-long) income to get into heaven.

Marriage / Weddings

Christians have public weddings so that the couple can receive the support from the larger community. Mormon weddings are private and only the faithful Mormons who can pass a loyalty test (i.e. get a temple recommend) are allowed to attend; the community at large is excluded.

If two Christians get divorced, it does not affect their salvation. Being saved is an individual pursuit; it does not depend on their marriage status. If two Mormons get divorced, it instantly disqualifies both of them from attaining the highest degree of heaven, since marriage is a requirement.

"One True Church" Claim

<< this needs some breakdown / section headings / reorganization >>

Mormons claim to belong to the "one true church". For protestants, church is viewed as a secondary concern after accepting Jesus. Your choice of church is up to you; the various Christian churches are all part of the "body of Christ". Many Christians watch televangelists as a substitute or supplement for church attendance if they want a gospel message.

It's commonplace in protestant Christianity for someone to stop attending one church for any number of reasons (they didn't like the preacher, they didn't like the congregation, it wasn't close enough to home, etc.) and start attending a different church. This contrasts sharply with the LDS model of prescribed attendance at a certain ward based on geographic boundaries. Related: If an LDS person moves even 1 mile away, they might be in a different ward. A regular Christian could keep attending their previous church post-move.

Protestant churches are a-okay with people hopping between different churches (Baptist, Episcopalian, Assembly of God, what have you). By contrast, the LDS church sends missionaries out into the world with the intent of getting people to join the Mormon church and never attend any other church for the rest of their lives.

Mormons believe there was a "great apostasy" that began when Jesus' apostles were killed, the primitive church was destroyed, and truth was lost. Mainstream Christians reject this idea and do not like being considered "apostates" by an upstart church.

Many Exmormons who lose their faith become atheists. This is likely because their faith in the LDS church was more foundational than their faith in God / Jesus. A mainstream Christian could "lose faith" in a particular church / pastor / congregation, but still maintain belief in God / Jesus (and maybe find another congregation).

Outward-facing vs. Inward facing: As a Christian becomes more devout, they will "turn outward" more to help people inside their community, not just the people in their congregation. As an LDS person becomes more devout, they "turn inward" more and more: service projects are only for people in the ward; ward parties/picnics are almost exclusively attended by members; in most regards, they are taught to be "in the world but not of it".

Small but important point: Mainline Christian churches do not insist on attending every single Sunday. The Mormon church wants to see your butt on the bench every week on Sunday.

Faith and Doubt

Mainstream Christianity embraces the concept of doubt and sees it as essential to establishing an enduring faith. Consider the following quotes:

"Doubt is a profound and effective spiritual motivator. Without doubt, no truism is transcended, no new knowledge found, no expansion of the imagination possible. Doubt is unsettling to the ego, and those who are drawn to ideologies that promise the dispelling of doubt by proffering certainties will never grow." - James Hollis, Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life (Gotham Books, 2005) page 219

"Cherish your doubts, for doubt is the attendant of truth. Doubt is the key to the door of  knowledge; it is the servant of discovery. A belief which may not be questioned binds us  to error, for there is incompleteness and imperfection in every belief. Doubt is the  touchstone of truth; it is an acid which eats away the false. Let no one fear for the truth,  that doubt may consume it; for doubt is a testing of belief. The truth stands boldly and  unafraid; it is not shaken by the testing; For truth, if it be truth, arises from each testing  stronger, more secure. Those that would silence doubt are filled with fear; their houses  are built on shifting sands. But those who fear not doubt, and know its use; are founded  on rock. They shall walk in the light of growing knowledge; the work of their hands shall  endure. Therefore let us not fear doubt, but let us rejoice in its help: It is to the wise as a  staff to the blind; doubt is the attendant of truth." - Robert Weston

"Faith is a dialogue with doubt, a personal reckoning with God’s involvement in the world, and investment in our own lives.” - Theologian Douglas John Hall

"If you would be a real seeker after truth, it is necessary that at least once in your life you  doubt, as far as possible, all things." - Rene Descartes

Now, compare that to what Mormon leader Thomas Monson said about faith & doubt:

Remember that faith and doubt cannot exist in the same mind at the same time, for one will dispel the other. Should doubt knock at your doorway, just say to those sceptical, disturbing, rebellious thoughts: "I propose to stay with my faith, with the faith of my people. I know that happiness and contentment are there, and I forbid you, agnostic, doubting thoughts, to destroy the house of my faith. I acknowledge that I do not understand the process of creation, but I accept the fact of it. I grant that I cannot explain the miracles of the Bible, and I do not attempt to do so, but I accept God's word. I wasn't with Joseph, but I believe him. My faith did not come through science, and I will not permit so-called science to destroy it." (First Presidency Message, "The Lighthouse of the Lord: A Message to the Youth of the Church", Ensign Magazine, February 2001)

Or more recently, what Dieter F. Uchtdorf said about doubt:

"Remember that faith and doubt cannot exist in the same mind at the same time, for one will dispel the other." - Be an Example and a Light, President Thomas S. Monson, LDS General Conference Oct 2015

"Some might ask, “But what about my doubts?”  It’s natural to have questions—the acorn of honest inquiry has often sprouted and matured into a great oak of understanding. There are few members of the Church who, at one time or another, have not wrestled with serious or sensitive questions. One of the purposes of the Church is to nurture and cultivate the seed of faith—even in the sometimes sandy soil of doubt and uncertainty. Faith is to hope for things which are not seen but which are true. Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters—my dear friends—please, first doubt your doubts before you doubt your faith. We must never allow doubt to hold us prisoner and keep us from the divine love, peace, and gifts that come through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ." - Come, Join with Us, President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, LDS General Conference Oct 2013

Spoiler alert: If your leaders can't tolerate any trace of doubt, they're not instilling "faith" in you, they're programming you.

"If a man, holding a belief which he was taught in childhood or persuaded of afterwards, keeps down and pushes away any doubts which arise about it in his mind, purposely avoids the reading of books and the company of men that call into question or discuss it, and regards as impious those questions which cannot easily be asked without disturbing it—the life of that man is one long sin against mankind." -- William K. Clifford, The Ethics of Belief

Many books / articles have been published by faithful Catholics that call attention to problems in the Catholic church and/or challenge some of its teaching/practices (list here). These are not only tolerated, they are often discussed in faithful circles. Books that challenge Mormonism would be instantly labeled as "anti-mormon" and members would be strongly discouraged from reading them.

Living Prophets

Mormonism preaches that you must "follow the prophet". Mainstream Christianity preaches that you must follow Jesus, and that there are no prophets after him.

It is also worth noting that every prophet in the LDS church eventually gets thrown under the bus by prophets that follow him. One perfect example is Brigham Young. For examples of why the current leaders of the church wish to distance themselves from him, have a look at this list of Brigham Young quotes.

A common apologist excuse is to say that "Brigham Young was a product of his time", but think about this for a moment: Jesus lived during the height Roman Empire when slavery, genocide, and subjugation of women ran rampant, but he was emphatically not a product of his environment. The messages of love and compassion he preached ran directly against the grain of the culture he was born into. His wisdom was both timeless and ahead of his time.

If Brigham Young was inspired by that same Christ, we would be marveling at how his preachings transcended the culture he was born into, and how timeless and universally-applicable his teachings were. But we don't. We're embarrassed at what he said. We try to bury his quotes, or ignore them when they surface. We make excuses for him. We say he was a "product of his time". Let that sink in.

Displaying the Cross

A very significant difference between Mormonism and Christianity is that Mormons completely refuse to display the cross in any way: on the walls of their homes or chapels, on the steeples of their meetinghouses, on necklaces, or as a gesture ("crossing oneself"). This is in direct conflict to a scripture in Matthew:

“And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me,” Jesus said, “is not worthy of me." -- Matthew 10:38

Most Christians take this scripture to heart and wear the cross as a way of showing that they are following after Jesus by "taking the cross upon them". Mormons don't. This leads many Christians to wonder how serious Mormons are about being followers of Jesus when they are unwilling to wear the foremost symbol of Christianity.

A typical apologetic statement used by Mormons is to say "We celebrate his life and his resurrection, not his death. That's why we don't wear the symbol of the weapon used to kill him." But that "weapon" is the most quintessential symbol of Jesus' sacrifice that lies at the heart of Christianity. By way of comparison, consider the following hypothetical statements:

How much sense to those statements make? Is there an (unofficial / unpublished) reason that has greater explanatory power? An anonymous Reditor gave this explanation:

"In Michael Reed's book "Banishing the Cross: The Emergence of a Mormon Taboo" he traces the development of LDS attitudes toward the symbol, and shows that the cross aversion in Mormon culture actually began as a means to disassociate the Church from Catholicism. Nothing more than that, a petty way to step away from Catholicism, all the other reasons that have surfaced as GA's attempt to resolve it is just one of the constant spins they have to do on history."

See also this Deseret News article: Sunstone speaker attempts to explain LDS 'aversion' to cross.

The Double-Bind

Mainstream Christianity teaches that Adam & Eve weren't content to obey God's commandment to not partake of the forbidden fruit; they wanted to become more than what God intended them to be and they were punished for it.

Mormonism introduces a double-bind into the Garden of Eden story wherein Adam & Eve were given two conflicting commandments: "multiply and replenish the earth", vs. "don't eat the fruit". They weren't able to keep both (which raises the question of why a "loving God" would present his children with a scenario that was impossible for them to succeed at.)

This "damned if you do, damned if you don't" paradox is a common pattern seen in Mormonism. An example of this is "modest is hottest": a young woman cannot be both "modest" and "hot" at the same time, yet this slogan encourages them to be both.

See: The Pattern of the Double-Bind in Mormonism.

Miscellaneous

Jesus taught "Suffer the little children to come unto me". The LDS church instituted a policy on Nov 5th of 2015 that restricts children of married gay couples from getting baptized, effectively preventing them from "coming unto Christ" (where they have defined "coming unto Christ" as "membership in the LDS church").

A pastor of a Protestant church would never have a one-on-one interview with a teenager and ask them if they masturbate, have had sex, etc. This would just be considered inappropriate and wrong, not to mention a huge breach of personal boundaries.

Mainline Christian churches are open to metaphorical interpretations of the Bible. (The Episcopalian & United Methodist churches are very liberal in terms of its theology.) The LDS church insists on literal interpretations. (Without a literal interpretation of the Tower of Babel, the Jaredite story falls apart, and with it, the Book of Mormon.)

Mainline Christian churches devote much of their tithing to help the poor & needy. The LDS church gives a pittance of its revenue to the poor.

Most Christian churches offer some kind of hospitality (light refreshments, or even lunch) after their services. The LDS church does not. (There's even one Sunday a month where nobody is supposed to eat anything.)

A very big difference: Catholics, Baptists, Episcopalians, Lutherans, Evangelicals, etc. do not have to explain / defend / justify why they are Christians. Mormons do.

Here is a list of other differences between Mormonism and Christianity.

What I Discovered

My experience researching mainstream Christianity revealed that I know very little about it. There are numerous aspects of Christian history and theology that I never learned about in over four decades of attending the LDS church. Christianity was almost as foreign to me as Judaism or Islam.

I discovered that Mormonism uses many of the same words & phrases that the Christian world uses, but has a completely different definition for those terms. This creates situations where a Mormon and a Protestant might both say "I believe in grace!" But when you ask both sides to explain what "grace" means, you find that they believe in two very different things.

I also discovered that Mormon doctrine is remarkably shallow. Christian theologists have been wrangling with deep issues like "the problem of evil" and "the problem of hell" for centuries and have come up with some insightful answers. This stands in sharp contrast to the watered-down correlated material that Mormons get spoon-fed every Sunday. They always say "milk before meat", but the meat never arrives. Another way I've heard it said: "Mormon doctrine is a mile wide and an inch deep".

The "Are Mormons Christian?" Debate

This is a tiresome debate that has been going on for years. Mormons insist that they are Christians and should be accepted into the greater Christian fold. Mainstream Christians disagree. Here is what I have learned about that debate from the PoV of someone who is now "on the outside looking in".

Mormons vs. Mormonism

An important distinction to make is the difference between the members of the LDS church and the institution of the church. It is challenging (but still important) to make this distinction because the church encourages members to strongly identify with the church at the expense of their own, individual, identity.

As a whole, I think most Mormons behave in a way that exemplify Christian beliefs and standards: they're honest, raise good families, help others, and are generally good people.

The church, however, is a different matter. By "church" I mean the structure teachings, doctrines, edicts from leaders, and prescribed cultural practices. That's where we start to see problems.

In short, Mormons are Christian, Mormonism is not.

Post Script: I also think that the Mormons who behave in a Christlike manner do so, not because of the teachings they've heard at church, but in spite of them. Just speaking from my own experience.

Words Mean Things

There are many significant differences between Mormonism and Christianity. The differences are so large and so numerous that it makes mainstream Christians reluctant to accept Mormonism into the greater "body of Christ".

I heard it described this way: If a guy showed up at a Mormon church and said "I don't believe that Joseph Smith was anyone special, and I think the Book of Mormon is fiction, and I don't think the current prophet gets any special information from God -- but I'm a Mormon!" Would that fly? Would other Mormons accept a guy like that into their fold, or does the word "Mormon" actually mean something? Would the LDS church want to dilute the Mormon "brand" by accepting someone who has views that are so very contrary to mainline Mormonism?

Another comparison: Let's say someone claimed to believe that Jesus was the Son of God, but then in the next breath said, "And I believe that Jesus' father was Darth Vader." Are we really going to consider that guy a Christian? How far can we stretch / distort the definition of "Christian" until we decide that the term just doesn't fit anymore? (Worth noting: in the eyes of most Christians, the Mormon view that men can become Gods is as ridiculous as claiming that God's father was Darth Vader.)

This is the same problem that mainstream Christians have with accepting Mormons as Christian. The word "Christian" actually means something and they don't want to dilute the word (and the meaning behind it) by accepting a church that professes views which are so very contrary to mainstream Christianity. It would distort the word "Christian" beyond recognition.

Why Do Mormons Want to Be Considered Christian?

This is a serious question. When Joseph Smith received his First Vision (the 1838 account, anyway), he claims that he asked God which of all the churches he should join. He further claims that God Himself answered thusly:

I was answered that I must join none of them, for they were all wrong; and the Personage who addressed me said that all their creeds were an abomination in his sight; that those professors were all corrupt; that: “they draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, they teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof.” [JSH 1:19]

The very next verse says "He again forbade me to join with any of them." Question: Why would the modern day Mormon church want to join ranks with mainstream Christianity when God himself forbade the prophet of the restoration from joining with them? Why would the Mormon church want to be associated with sects whose creeds are an abomination in His sight? Why would the Mormon church want to have anything to do with churches that are "in apostasy"?

Brigham Young reaffirmed this view of an apostate Christianity:

"When the light came to me, I saw that all the so-called Christian world was groveling in darkness." - Journal of Discourses, v.5 p.73

Why would the modern-day church want to "grovel in darkness" with the "so-called" Christian world?

Related: Could you imagine LDS church leaders telling their members that they should cuddle up to exmormons and form a close bond with them? Exmormons are considered to be "apostates" similar to the way that mainstream Christian churches are considered to be "in apostasy". Why would the answer be "no" to one and "yes" to another?

It is worth noting that in times past, Mormons did not want to be considered Christians. Richard Packham in this presentation explains that when he was a boy in the mid-20th century, he was taught at church that when someone asks him "Are you a Christian?" he should reply "No, I'm a Mormon!" How times change.

Strange Bedfellows

Related to the previous point, if Mormons want to be considered Christians, which branch / flavor Christianity do they want to "cuddle up" to?

How This Debate Actually Serves the Church's Purpose

I don't think the leaders of the Mormon church actually want to be accepted by mainstream Christianity. Quite the contrary, they want this debate to persist. They want members to feel badly that they aren't accepted by their Christian brothers and sisters.

Why do they want this? Because it feeds into the "us vs. them" narrative that the church tries to instill in its members. It reinforces the persecution complex that the church tries to inculcate. It unites church members by making them feel like they're "picked on". It helps to create a greater sense of group identity and "otherizes" the rest of the Christian world. It's a method of thought reform / group control that the church has used for years and it's very effective at keeping members in the fold.

Origins of Christianity

I originally believed that Christianity was formed out of nothing; that it existed, fully-formed, from the very beginning of the world. After some study, I learned that Christian beliefs were an amalgam of religions / mythologies / philosophies that had been developed earlier and were found throughout the Roman empire.

Numerous countries throughout the Roman Empire had mythologies included figures who are similar to Jesus:

See also this Wikipedia page on Dying-and-rising gods.

More information about how the Christ myth connects to other world religions can be found in this Wikipedia article and in this video. Funny thing, when I was a believer, I could always readily accept the connections between, say Egyptian mythology and Greek mythology because I accepted that those were man-made stories. But I stopped just short of asking "What if Greek mythology also influenced Christian mythology?" That's because I always believed that the stories about Christ were real, historical, events, not myths. Now that I was in a post-faith / skeptical mindset, I was able to see how all mythologies have built on each other and were remixes of what had come before, Christianity included.

How Christianity Has Evolved

I learned that various teachings & doctrines of Christianity have changed and morphed over time.

This video sums up a lot of the doubts regarding Christianity. One of the biggest things that leapt out at me from this was learning that the concept of the Trinity evolved over time. Originally it was just "God" and then when Jesus entered the scene, they had to make room for two gods, so they had a "Binity" of sorts for awhile. Much later, the Holy Ghost entered the scene and they had to make room for him (it?). (Though there is still a fair amount of disagreement among Christian sects as to what role the Holy Ghost plays.) Aside: This evolution of the trinity is actually very similar to Joseph Smith's evolving view of the Godhead.

Later on, Christians were accused of being polytheists, because they were believing in multiple gods. Well, that just wouldn't do; they viewed polytheism as a pagan / heathen belief, so they had to come up with a "three-in-one" concept to convince everyone (including themselves) that they were still monotheists. Hence, the "Trinity" was born.

For those who are critically-minded, here is a list of problems with Christianity.

Was Jesus Real?

When I was in the throes of my faith crisis, I was eager to investigate Mormonism and deconstruct / analyze what I had (and hadn't) been taught, but I was reluctant to investigate the veracity of Jesus. I had heard that many exmos eventually find their way to atheism. I had also heard that many (nevermo) Christians have faith crises as well. All of this made me nervous about what I might find. I really like(d) the idea of Jesus and I didn't want to see him destroyed.

However, I knew that if I was going to be intellectually honest during my faith journey, I would need to investigate Christianity as well. I discovered that there are numerous problems with the gospel accounts in the New Testament (no first-hand accounts, evolving narrative, embellished / exaggerated claims, disagreements / conflicts between the gospel accounts, historicity issues, etc.). This was a real letdown for me.

This article presents some of the major problems for trusting the historicity of the New Testament.

In this video a historian explains how Jesus may have been more of a legend that evolved over time, rather than a real, historical, figure.

These episodes of the Reasonable Doubts podcast take a critical view of the gospels and explains in detail how the various accounts don't actually harmonize and evinces a fictional narrative, rather than a historical one.

 

This video features Bart Ehrman explaining some of the problems with the gospel narratives, and historical discrepancies and inaccuracies.

Bart Ehrman & Robert Price Debate - Did Jesus Exist

This episode of the Naked Mormonism podcast features an interview with David Fitzgerald who discusses the Christ Myth theory.

This documentary makes the case that Jesus was an invention of educated Romans who wanted to turn Jews from their own traditions / leadership structures and steer them toward being devoted to Rome.

The Problem with the Atonement

<< this needs to be fleshed out more >>

In order to accept the concept of the atonement, you have to buy into two, awful, premises:

1. You are broken inside.

2. Because of that, someone has to get hurt.

And I'm supposed to believe that this is the reasoning of a "loving" God? It seems far more likely to me that the atonement doctrine is intended to manipulate people by capitalizing on the fact that everyone makes mistakes and making people feel either a) afraid that they'll be punished for their sins, or b) guilty for breaking a commandment / placing that burden on Jesus.

So, How Do I Feel About Jesus Now?

The following is my attempt to "reconstruct" Jesus into something that I can believe in, or at least be okay with.

Jesus as a Symbol of Humanism

I've heard it said that Buddhism was the first attempt at psychology. Most religions consist of a set of practices and supernatural beliefs, but not so with Buddhism. Instead, Buddhism focuses more on perceptions, cognitions, and aligning one's expectations with reality. It fits the definition of psychology much more closely than the traditional definition of religion.

Perhaps, in a similar fashion, Christianity is the first attempt at Humanism. Famous stories & parables from the life of Jesus include: The Good Samaritan, mercy shown to the woman taken in adultery, healing the sick, and sacrificing oneself to save others. These are all very Humanistic qualities. Perhaps it is a wink and a nod to us that Jesus is depicted not as a spirit, not as an animalistic god, not as something alien and otherworldly, but as a human, someone we can relate to and connect with. The depiction of Jesus as a human also encourages us to find those Christlike ideals inside ourselves, and manifest them outwardly.

The story of Jesus emerged at the height of the Roman Empire when life was cheap and man-made suffering abounded: torture, starvation, massacres, and slavery were commonplace. The people desperately needed a hero who embodied all of the Humanistic ideals they couldn't find in the Roman Empire: someone who cared for the poor & needy, someone who comforted widows, someone who loved children, someone who spoke out against the corrupt leaders of the day. Jesus was the hero the people needed. Funny thing, we still need a hero like that today...

Jesus as a Moral Compass

I think Jesus is useful as an archetype for ideal human behavior. "What would Jesus do?" is an excellent question for people to ask themselves when they're in a moral quandary. An atheist could probably give the "right" answer to the WWJD question, which tells me that morality can be found inside of each of us (and is a result of how we've evolved to be a cooperative species). If the WWJD question helps people to get in touch with their own, internal, moral compass, so much the better.

How to Become Immortal

Even if Jesus was a fictional character that does not imply that he has no value. Personally, most of the figures that I look up to are fictional: Mr. Spock, Frodo Baggins, Harry Potter, and Luke Skywalker, to name a few. People will still be talking about these fictional characters long after I'm dead and gone. If you're made of flesh, you'll die and be forgotten eventually. If you want to be immortal, you have to be made of paper and ink.

Significantly, the Gospel of John begins by saying "In the beginning was the word and the word was with God and the word was God... and the word was made flesh." Perhaps this is a wink and a nod to the reader that Jesus started as a fictional character, but became a "real" ideal in the minds of many. The "word" truly was made "flesh". Jesus was made of paper and ink, and as a result, he became immortal.

Conclusion

I think a man named Jesus probably did exist 2000+ years ago, but he was likely just a man who was made into a legend. Jesus compares with King Arthur in that regard: both were ordinary, men, but following their deaths, the stories about them spread and morphed until the real, historical, figure was distorted. That said, the legendary figure is doubtless more interesting -- and probably has more value to us -- than the historical figure.

Whether Jesus did or didn't exist (either as a divine being or a regular person) is less important than what he stands for. The concept of Jesus is more significant than the historical Jesus. People needs examples to look to.

Earlier I said I was reluctant to let go of the idea of Jesus. What I discovered is that I can become disillusioned of the fanciful narratives and exaggerated claims regarding Jesus, but I don't have to let go of the idea of Jesus. That idea has value.

I feel absolutely no need or desire to make disparaging remarks about Jesus or belittle his followers. That kind of behavior is rude and obnoxious -- and not something Jesus would do. ;-)