My name is Ken Schei, I'm the founder and President of "Atheists for Jesus". And yes, as the name implies, I am an atheist for Jesus.
Now, I'm sure that at least some of you (perhaps it would be more accurate to say all of you) are asking: "Just what in the heck is an Atheist for Jesus?" Fair enough! I realize that this may well appear to be a contradiction of terms, so I'd best start out with an explanation of just what I mean by my use of the terms.
First of all, what I mean by the term "Atheist", is that I do not believe that any deity is probable, nor do I believe that any deity that I have ever heard of is possible. While I do not claim omniscience--and can, therefore, not absolutely rule out the existence of some sort of deity--I feel confident that my definition will identify me as an atheist to the vast majority of the populace (and thus avoid the confusion which often results from the use of term Agnostic).
Secondly, when I say that I am "for Jesus", I do not mean to imply in any way that I have converted to Christianity or that I now believe Jesus to be a god. What I do mean is that I have come to have a great deal of respect for the teachings of Jesus. My respect for Jesus is not based on the Cross, but rather on the Mount--not on His death and supposed resurrection, but on His teachings as exemplified by the Sermon on the Mount.
How did I arrive at this rather odd sounding state of affairs?
A little over twenty years ago, I started doing research about the effect that the self-appointed apostle, Paul, had had on Christianity. I must admit that in the beginning I had very little respect for Christianity as a whole. While I realized that many people have benefitted from having the religion in their lives and that many good things have been done in the name of Christianity, I was also aware of the fact that Christianity has (by certain people) been used throughout history as an excuse for some of the most brutal, heartless, and senseless atrocities known to man. The historical examples are not difficult to recall: the Crusades; the Inquisitions; the Witch-burnings; the Holocaust; and others too numerous to mention. In more recent times, I saw a growing number of Fundamentalist Christians becoming more and more prominent. All too many of these Fundamentalists seemed to feel that the worth of a Christian could be accurately measured by the number of individuals and groups that the Christian held in contempt (feminists; homosexuals; Atheists; Mormons; Catholics; and basically ANYONE who did not completely agree with their narrow brand of Christianity). As I said, I did not see much in Christianity that I considered to be worth the having.
As my work continued, however, I came across information on a group known as the Ebionites. These Ebionites claimed to be the followers of the original Apostles that had traveled with and learned directly from Jesus. They described a doctrinal battle between themselves and the self-appointed apostle Paul (who never met Jesus, but rather claimed to have had a vision while on the road to Damascus to arrest followers of Jesus). From their writings, I slowly became aware of a hidden message that differed greatly from the message that had been passed on by Paul and his followers. As I peeled back the layers of Paulist thought that have been piled on top of the teachings of Jesus for so long, I began to see a simple and beautiful kernel of truth resting back at the very earliest levels of the history of Christianity. That truth is the message taught by Jesus of Nazareth. A person has to dig deeply in order to allow this message to fight its way through the layers of misinformation and misunderstanding that religious leaders from "Saint" Paul right on to the Religious Right of today have utilized for their own benefit. But it is there for anyone with the determination to find it.
A religion that was based on this actual message of Jesus, could never have been used as an excuse for the atrocities that I have listed above. Lord Bolingbroke, an 18th century English philosopher (Thomas Jefferson studied his writings and held him in high regard), expressed it very well when he stated:
It is time to speak of the articles of faith commonly claimed by Christianity. It is this issue that has furnished all matter of strife, contention, and uncharitableness, from the apostolic age to this very day. It is this that has added another motive, and one that is stronger than any other, to animosity and hatred, to wars and massacres, and to that cruel principle which was never known until Christians introduced it into the world. That being the persecution for opinions, for opinions often of the most abstract speculation, and of the least importance to civil or religious interests. It is this, in short, whose effects have been so fatal to the peace and happiness of mankind, that nothing which the enemies of religion can say on the subject will be exaggerated beyond the truth. But still the charge they bring will be unjustly brought. These effects have not been caused by the gospel, but by the system raised upon it. Not by the revelations of God, but by the inventions of men. The gospel of Christ is one thing, the gospel of St. Paul, and of all those who have grafted after him on the same stock, is another.
(The Works of Lord Bolingbroke, Vol. III, pp. 417-418, Frank Cass & co., London, 1967)
(More quotes about Paul can be found on the "Paul" page.)
A religion based on the principles that were put forth by Jesus and his original followers would be acceptable to an extremely large number of people. It would provide people with the moral and ethical guidelines needed to attempt to lead a good life, while not requiring them to deny the scientific knowledge that humanity has gained.