Jesus myth hypothesis
Most of the film is a presentation of the argument for the Jesus myth hypothesis. Flemming and those he interviews in the film make these claims:
- The history of Christianity, especially the doctrine of the earliest Christians, is consistent with Jesus having been a mythical character, with historical details only added on later.
- The Epistles of Paul, which were written before the Gospels, show no awareness on the part of the author that Jesus was supposed to have been a human being who recently lived. Paul mentions only the crucifixion, the resurrection and the ascension and presents them as having occurred in a mythic realm rather than an earthly one.
- The death-resurrection-ascension sequence was common in previous mythologies and religions, making it more likely that the Jesus character was inspired by his similar forebears than that he actually lived on Earth.
- Other details of the Jesus biography offered in the Gospels also have precedent in previous mythologies and religions, especially Judaism. For example, the “Massacre of the Innocents” scene appears to be directly inspired by a nearly identical story in Exodus.
Other criticisms of Christianity
Besides defending the Jesus myth hypothesis, the film criticizes some other aspects of Christianity:
- Flemming argues that moderate Christianity makes even less sense than a fundamentalist interpretation of Christian doctrine, asserting that the Bible contains many messages incompatible with toleration of non-Christians, who reject Jesus as the Savior of Christian doctrine and must therefore be regarded by Christians as damned.
- Flemming sees God’s demand that people believe in him or be damned as essentially mind control. He interprets Mark 3:29 and similar passages as damning anyone who doubts the existence of the Holy Spirit. He is appalled by the notion that Jesus will forgive murder, theft, and any other sin but not this type of disbelief.
- Because Jesus knows people’s innermost thoughts, and that therefore one must police one’s thoughts to avoid any doubt, Flemming summarizes this idea with the statement that the greatest sin in fundamentalist Christianity is “to think.”
- Flemming asserts that Christians have historically been obsessed with blood sacrifice, and illustrates this viewpoint by pointing out that Mel Gibson‘s 2004 film The Passion of the Christ, which contains very few scenes that do not feature graphic violence or suffering, was more financially successful than any previous film about Jesus.
- The film references poll results indicating that 44% of Americans believe, to some degree, that Jesus will come back to Earth in their lifetime, and that this sort of thinking is not conducive to long-term governmental policies.