What resources are there for helping teens develop a broad, secular, fully integrated understanding of life?

People raised in a religious environment may discover atheism in their teens, but it can be very hard for them to sort through everything they have been told and retain the factual while discarding the baseless.

Religion, for example Christianity, is based on some historical reality with admixtures of magical thinking and power politics and philosophical mind-games. It takes work to tease out the fact that Jesus was real, but he was a Jew, not a Christian - and then to deal with all the implications.

I first became an atheist at 17 - but it took me a couple of decades to rid myself of all magical thinking and to integrate history, science and the development of religion as a coherent world view. It is this ability to "see life steadily, and see it whole" which I feel is essential for a stable and comfortable transition from a religious to a secular life.

I am interested in connecting with all resources for helping teens (and adults) be comfortable in developing their own world view. My own contribution is a novel, The Gospel According to the Romans, that contextualizes Jesus as a fundamentalist rabbi within the ongoing resistance to the Roman occupation of Palestine. It is designed to allow those brought up in the Christian belief to see how the religion developed from its historical (non-Christian) origins - but presented as a spy story, not as a university text.

If you know of other resources out there - for dealing any religion - please let me know.

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Replies to This Discussion

Robin,  The Secular Student Alliance has started a program now for High Schools.  They have hired J.T. Eberhart to head up that effort.
What is the historical evidence for the existence of Jesus? I understood there was none. The only record we have of his supposed existence is the Bible and much of that is clearly made up as it clearly can't be true - virgin birth, miracles.
I agree with Neil. The only "historical evidence" we have for a "real" Jesus is written documents that have been under total control by the "established" religious authorities since the advent of the Christian movement. We are then reduced to the admonishment to "trust us - we wouldn't lie to you", when history has demonstrated that the "Church" has lied time after time about its "origins". One thing is becoming more certain as time and evidence indicates: the "Jesus" of the New Testament is as real as Harry Potter or Sherlock Holmes. In fact, there is more evidence for the real existence for King Arthur or Robin Hood. As time marches onward, more and more are not being fooled by the fiction of "sweet Jesus" as portrayed in the New Testament, and are becoming convinced that he is nothing other than reworked myths of ancient Greek, Roman, Egyptian, and Babylonian mythologies. When skeptics throw a bone to faithers by talking about the "historical" Jesus, it seems to me to be little more than an attempt to curry "good feelings of safety and acceptance" towards unbelievers. Conservative Christians will hate you because you refuse to believe in their savior, regardless of how "nice" you appear. I am convinced that there never was a living human person behind the myth, and I'm still waiting for the verifiable and substantiated evidence that would convince me otherwise.

Yup.  There are many Roman documents that Christians hold up as extra-Biblical evidence of Jesus, but almost every single one of them refers to things that Christians did, not Jesus himself.

The one by Flavius Josephus is the only one that directly mentions Jesus, in a historical context, but it has issues.

To me, regardless of the reliability of the Roman and Jewish non-NT references to Jesus, the big question is this: By what process, and for what reason, could this new religion come about?


It was already spreading around the Mediterranean before Paul's journeys, carried by word-of-mouth rumors of miracles, healing, preaching, crucifixion and resurrection. Something Jewish appears to have occurred in Galilee and Jerusalem, and that was the necessary foundation for Paul to build his bizarre edifice on. Yes, he used religious practices and beliefs from Mithraic and Egyptian religions and anything else that crossed his mind, but he built it *on* something - something that Jews and non-Jews had already heard about.


If you don't think so, give me a credible narrative for how it was done, and by whom, and why, and how it was so successful so rapidly.

Hell, look at Mormonism.  It was going strong, less than 100 years after its founding.  Polynesian cargo cults developed fully on a much shorter timeline than that.
But what started the Jewish rumors, before Paul came along with all his nonsense?
Apparently they had a huge infestation of messiahs for about a 100 or 200 year period, after the Jews were conquered by the Romans.  Endless material to cobble together into a single account.

Agreed there were lots of Messiahs in that period.



So why disbelieve that there was yet another failed wannabe King and Messiah called Jesus?

I like my phrasing better.  :-P

No, there is a little more evidence than that - vague, sometimes disparaging remarks in Jewish texts. A Jesus is mentioned as a healer, or a fraud, or someone who misled the Jews, by the name of Yeshua the Nazarene, or Yeshua ben Pantera, etc. There were plenty of other Jesuses in the 1st c. CE, but there are strong early Jewish traditions tying together the NT Jesus with Yeshua ben Pantera (Pantera being a Roman soldier, and the reason for Mary's "immaculate" conception). See "Jesus in the Jewish Tradition" by Morris Goldstein, Macmillan Publishing, 1950.

Some of the best evidence for the existence of Jesus does indeed come from the NT: that some of the stories in it are contradictory (different genealogies instead of one clear and believable one), or mean-spirited (Jesus cursing the fig tree), or of Jesus' failures (inability to heal in Nazareth, being chased away from Gadara).

In other words, the NT reads more like an apologist explanation for a crucified failure (the Gospels), followed by a mumbo-jumbo preacher's spiritual rants and political manipulations (Paul's letters and wresting of the movement away from the Jews).

It does NOT read like a coherent invention by a Joseph Smith or an L. Ron Hubbard.

Bart Ehrman explores the believability of stories that are self-defeating or counter-productive in his books, such as 'Misquoting Jesus' (HarperCollins, 2005).




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