Arch-atheists like Richard Dawkins like to look at the multitude of world religions and reject everything in them. But is there anything that the modern thinker can salvage from religion?
We first have to ask the question, are some religions better than others? Certainly the Aztecs had a very unhelpful religion, based around the requirement for mass human sacrifice in order to sustain the world. That really doesn’t have anything constructive to offer us, other than a reminder to think for ourselves and not believe everything we’re told by guys in charge.
Christianity, on the other hand, can be a rich source of wisdom if you’re prepared to consider it with an open and critical mind. Jesus said a lot of good things. He was clearly way ahead of his time. We can learn from that.
Of course, Jesus spent a lot of time talking about God and other religious stuff, and we have to just ignore those bits. Sometimes he even talked wildly about being the Son of God, and at that point it’s best just to smile politely and look away. There are also a lot of unreliable third-party accounts of virgin births, walking on water and suchlike, and we’ll have to dismiss that as superstitious nonsense or perhaps some kind of propaganda.
In short, we have to treat the New Testament as we would any other collection of 2,000 year-old documents. In seeking wisdom we have to consider the reported words of Jesus on their own merits, and not accept anything at face value. If we do that, we might find some useful lessons for the modern era.
But to organise your whole life around it would be a mistake. The New Testament is only one piece of the jigsaw we need to understand life and to live it better. Jesus isn’t the only person in history who has attempted to offer useful guidance on how to live a good life, although he surely deserves a special award for most creative use of sheep and goats in moral fables.
And as for the Old Testament? It’s a bit like watching The Jerry Springer Show, but with people gouging out eyes and committing rape and incest instead of just calling each other rude names. I suggest you leave it on the shelf.