Christmas time is here, by golly: disapproval would be folly... -- Tom Lehrer
It's that time of the year when people celebrate Jesus in every possible way except by reflecting on his teachings. So a few words from me the atheist shouldn't be amiss.
As others have noted, Jesus was a Jewish Palestinian from the West Bank, a socialist, a pacifist, and an anti-establishment figure. The Romans crucified him; it is doubtful that today's Bushies would have treated him better.
Bertrand Russell noted years ago, in his essay "Why I am not a Christian", that he agreed with Christ "a great deal more than the professing Christians do." He cited statements like "Resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also" and advised the reader against trying that with Stanley Baldwin. I think Dick Cheney would not much appreciate being smote on the cheek either. Other excellent points that Russell cites are "Judge not lest ye be judged", ""Give to him that asketh of thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away", and "If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that which thou hast, and give to the poor." I do not expect these to form the planks of the Christian right wing's domestic or foreign policies any time soon.
These, of course, are not the reasons why Russell was not a Christian. He goes on to describe where he finds Jesus's teachings less appealing, but I won't go into that now: you can find his essay here.
In fact, I think Jesus took a bold stand against not only the Roman empire, but the orthodoxy of the Old Testament. He replaced the wrathful, vengeful, jealous God of Moses with a kinder, gentler, more loving God. Where the faithful were commanded to stone adulterers, Jesus wanted the first stone to be cast by someone free of sin. I even think it possible that some of the things Russell objected to were inserted into the gospels by Jesus's followers, who felt an inner need for the old fire-and-brimstone religion.
It is amusing that while Christian teaching, since the early Roman Catholic church, has listed the seven deadly sins as lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy and pride, the God of the Old Testament is self-proclaimedly jealous, repeatedly exhibits his wrath and pride. That's three of the seven. (I could make cases for the other four, too, I believe.)
Nobody could possibly believe, much less obey, the Bible in its entirety, regardless of what they may claim to do. But the Christian fundamentalists seem to take a perverse pleasure in adopting the oldest, most barbaric aspects, and ignoring the later, more humane teachings of Jesus.
Having opened with Tom Lehrer, I couldn't resist quoting from two other singers, describing the same Old Testament scene...
The door it opened slowly,
My father he came in,
I was nine years old.
And he stood so tall above me,
His blue eyes they were shining
And his voice was very cold.
He said, I've had a vision
And you know I'm strong and holy,
I must do what I've been told.
So he started up the mountain,
I was running, he was walking,
And his axe was made of gold...
-- Leonard Cohen
God said to Abraham, "Kill me a son"
Abe says, "Man, you must be puttin' me on"
God say, "No." Abe say, "What?"
God say, "You can do what you want Abe, but
The next time you see me comin' you better run"
Well Abe says, "Where do you want this killin' done?"
God says, "Out on Highway 61."
-- Bob Dylan