Tom Chivers is a journalist for the Telegraph newspaper in the UK, and an atheist. He has written recently about God and Jesus in a refreshingly honest way.
Consequences of unbelief
In a column earlier this month Chivers discussed the fear of death in a very frank manner. He contrasted a common atheist view that there was nothing to fear about death (we just go back to the non-existence we were in before we were born, so why be afraid about that?) with his own view that death was the end of something beautiful, a human life. I think there is something more personal about fear of death than what he says, something which I too once felt very keenly, but he has shown a very human response.
Respect for Jesus
Then in a Christmas Eve blog, In praise of Jesus Christ Chivers discusses how he as an atheist greatly respects Jesus. He points out that while “Christians and non-Christians disagree over whether Jesus was the son of God” historians have little doubt that “he was a real man; that many of the Gospel stories, including the key passages of baptism in the River Jordan and crucifixion, are true; and that he was a great Jewish teacher and thinker, who revolutionised moral and religious thought”.
He goes on to point out some of Jesus’ teachings that he believes were revolutionary, and valuable: “his injunction against aggression and violence …..Jesus told us to love our enemies, and to pray for those who persecute us…. Compassion for the poor and the outcast; a call for mercy, and for a love for all humanity; and an exacting call for each to give of their best” Most importantly to Chivers is this:
he created a new formulation of the Golden Rule of ethics. Whereas the most liberal of the well-known Jewish teachers in the years before him, Hillel, said “Do not do unto another person what is unwelcome to you”, a negative version of the rule, Jesus turned it on its head, saying in the Sermon on the Mount: “Always do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” It is more demanding, a positive call to action, and that is Jesus’s message: you should be striving, according to your conscience, to do the best you can, not merely meeting the minimum-standard precepts laid out by the law of the time.
So near and yet ….
I cannot help feeling great respect for Tom Chivers. He has been honest about his fears, not pretending he is too stoic to be concerned that one day he must die, but he has not allowed his fears to lead him to grasp hold of hope that he cannot believe is true. He is too honest about the historical evidence for Jesus and the worth of his teaching, not allowing his disbelief that Jesus really was divine to lead him to deny the historical evidence or denigrate Jesus.
He “gets” Jesus’ teaching like many christians seem not to, understanding that non-violence, forgiveness and mercy are more important values than the strength of force, patriotism and revenge. Therefore, I find it surprising that he cannot see Jesus’ divinity in many of his teachings which implied he spoke with the authority of God himself – such as his claims to forgive sins, speak with greater authority than the God-given Old Testament law and pronounce God’s judgment. Chivers seems ‘so near and yet so far”.
For more on the Jesus of history, see Jesus in history and Who was Jesus?.