THE GODLESS GOSPEL
Was Jesus a great moral teacher?
304pp. Granta. 16.99 [pounds sterling].
Three-quarters of the world's people belong to faith traditions. Christianity is burgeoning (and diversifying) in the global South; secularity, agnosticism and atheism, meanwhile, are growing rapidly in western Europe and North America, where evidence and logic retain their intellectual and cultural hold (despite recent inroads by identity-group belief systems, "fake news" and denials of climate and coronavirus science). Yet modern western cultures have deep religious roots; Christian moral ideals, such as basic human equality, individual responsibility, altruism and solidarity--surely in need of reinforcement in the present century--evoke broad cultural respect.
Can the Christian scriptures and Jesus provide a moral beacon for a secular society? To answer that question, Julian Baggini has attempted "to extract a secular moral philosophy" from Jesus's teachings. Accordingly, he provides a redacted, synchronized and homogenized version of the four Christian gospels --"one, hybrid, godless Gospel". Unfortunately for Baggini, all such "hybrid" "gospel harmonies" have two problems in common: firstly, they work on the premiss that the gospels are exact and detailed historical accounts and that if we want a full historical picture, we should collate all the bits they collectively offer (despite being an atheist, he seems to operate from this same premiss); secondly, the harmony approach misses the fact (uncovered by...