Jesus would have been a product of his time, so naturally there are some things about him that a liberal atheist like myself would object to. But set aside his opinions on slavery or eternal hell fire, views that he probably held more due to culture than conviction. Take a look at what really made him different. It's pretty damn impressive.
Who is it that is subjected to Jesus' most scathing criticism? It's the Pharisees. Read Matthew 23. It's an absolute tirade. Woe to you scribes and Pharisees. Hypocrites. You give money to the temple and neglect justice and mercy. You travel the world to make converts and they become twice the sons of hell that you are. You are whitewash tombs, beautiful on the outside but inside full of dead men's bones. You snakes. You brood of vipers. You kill the prophets sent to you to help correct your ways. How can you possibly escape hell fire?
Here's what's amazing about this tirade. There are plenty of people in the world worth criticizing. How about pagans? How about the Roman leaders? Jesus never criticizes them. From Jesus' perspective they are awful people worthy of hell fire. Jesus says virtually nothing of either. He's repeatedly asked to weigh in on Roman matters, like the legitimacy of the Roman tax or the restriction Rome imposes on Jewish religious practice. He sidesteps it. He doesn't care. Why?
Because he understands something that Republicans today don't get. Who cares what the pagans do? Who cares what the Romans do? I am a Jew. I care what Jews do. I care what our leadership does. That is what I will focus on.
Turn on Bob Dutko today and all you hear is "Muslims are bad. Oprah is bad. Atheists are bad." And when you even try to get Bob, an American Christian, to talk about American atrocities, he says "I don't want to talk about it. That's bashing America. That's unpatriotic. What about Ahmadinejad? What about Fidel Castro?"
That's probably what the Pharisees told Jesus. "But look at the pagans!! Look at Rome!! You are anti-Israel. You are unpatriotic. You shouldn't criticize us."
That's probably what they said to Elijah or Jeremiah. "How dare you bash Israel!! That's unpatriotic. You shouldn't shine light on Israel's mistakes. You should only talk about the crimes of enemies of the state." Jesus knew that these people who stood up to the Jewish leadership at the time were the real heroes. They were hated for standing up against wicked Jewish behavior. They were killed for it. And that persecution was enabled by the prophets that flattered the king and told him he was so great. They probably told him that he was right to kill that prophet on his own authority, as Dutko praises Obama for killing US citizens on his authority.
I've seen the most committed Christians express extreme revulsion at the idea that we should follow the Golden Rule, just as Ron Paul was booed for suggesting we follow it as well. Republicans literally find Jesus' teachings repugnant and outrageous. That's because Jesus seems to have really cared about the poor and weak. He also seems to have recognized that if you really want to improve the world you should talk about what your own people are doing wrong. Those are the ones you can influence. Because this is actually effective it is demonized by totalitarians. The Soviets called dissidents "anti-Soviet" and those that take Jesus seriously in the US are called "anti-American." And we are called that by the very people that pretend to follow Jesus.