What’s the Philosophically Correct Thing for A Philosopher to Say About Jesus On His Birthday?


byzantine jesus It’s Christmas Eve and approximately 2.1 billion of the inhabitants of the planet earth will be celebrating the birth of their Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

I am not one of them.

Still, I think I should probably say something about philosophy and Christmas.

A few years ago, President George W. Bush said that his favorite philosopher is Jesus. Some reporter asked who his favorite philosopher is and he answered the question. I’m not a fan of the former president but I appreciated that he answered the question honestly.

I remember there was some to-do about what the president said.

Stuff like he shouldn’t have named a religious figure

And that Jesus wasn’t a philosopher.

Sure Jesus was.

How is “Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied” not philosophical?

You see, even though I’m an atheist (actually I’m an apatheist, but who’s being technical?) I’m not one of those atheist types who gets all furious-faced and bent out of shape any time someone mentions Jesus Christ, Christianity, or Christmas. I’m not offended when someone tells me “Merry Christmas”. I’m not all that bothered by Nativity displays in public places. And I think it’s entirely appropriate to mention that Jesus is the “reason for the season”.

That’s because he is, you know.

Despite my beliefs this is not how I spend Christmas

Despite my beliefs this is not how I spend Christmas

It’s no secret that philosophers are notoriously atheistic. There are plenty of non-believing-in-the-existence-of-an-all-powerful-creator philosophers to choose from. A.J. Ayer, Colin McGinn, Julian Baginni, Rudolf Carnap, Jean-Paul Sartre, Michel Foucault, Michael Martin, John Searle, Simone de Beauvoir, Friedrich Nietzsche, Arthur Schopenhauer, Albert Camus, J.L. Mackie, Bernard Williams, David Chalmers, Noam Chomsky, Daniel Dennett, Baron d’Holbach, Bertrand Russell, Ayn Rand, Kai Nielsen, James Rachels, George Santayana – Just to name a few.

All philosophers. All atheists.

The belief about philosophers and God goes that philosophers are all about reason and logical arguments, and that most philosophers believe that believing in a great, big God up in the sky that no one actually sees or hears isn’t exactly reasonable or logical.

Even when we name philosophers who do believe in God no one really ever mentions

All Descartes wanted to do is prove that God exists. I don’t recall him saying anything about Jesus – at least not anything about his philosophy.

I actually think Jesus is a philosopher. And a pretty good one at that.

Need I remind you, I don’t believe in God and I’m willing to admit this.

I think this is actually a picture of Barry Gibb. Maybe Harrison Ford with a beard.

I think this is actually a picture of Barry Gibb. Maybe Harrison Ford with a beard.

I know that some believers out there might take the fact that I’ve considered Jesus a philosopher at all as a sign that my sensus divinitatis is working, which, of course, means that Plantinga is right.

That is exactly what I don’t want to admit during the holidays.

But I really do think that Jesus is a pretty good philosopher.

Now wait, my atheist friends – I’m not talking about Christianity. I’m not advocating following the word of Jesus as a religion or even that anyone should praise, worship, or follow the words of Jesus at all (although if you want to, the Bible makes it pretty easy to do, since everything he said is written in red).

So what makes Jesus a philosopher, you ask?

I know this may be weird for all of you atheist philosophers out there, but if we think of what philosophers do; that philosophers think, write, and, well, philosophize about matters concerning ethics, metaphysics, and epistemology, there’s no reason (other than personal bias) to exclude Jesus from the ranks of philosophers.

And don’t say Jesus isn’t a philosopher because he didn’t write anything down.

Neither did Socrates.

If you’re still not convinced, let me give you a sample of what I’m talking about:

Jesus the ethicist:

A good person produces good deeds from a good heart, and an evil person produces evil deeds from an evil heart. Whatever is in your heart determines what you say (Luke 6:45)

Love your neighbor as yourself (Mark 12:31)

Love your enemies. Do good to those who hurt you. Pray for happiness of those who curse you. Pray for those who hurt you. (Luke 6:27-28)

Jesus the metaphysician:

With God all things are possible (Matthew 19:26)

God is a spirit… (John 4:24)

I am the way and the truth and the life. (John 16:6)

Jesus the epistemologist:

Your father knows exactly what you need even before you ask him. (Matthew 6:8)

It’s fairly obvious that Jesus was (or is it is?) a philosopher. But here’s the cool thing: if you follow Jesus, you will be rewarded with an eternity in Heaven.

Can Saul Kripke promise you that?

Jesus looks a little like Kris Kristopherson in this picture, don’t you think?

Jesus looks a little like Kris Kristopherson in this picture, don’t you think? …Or Alan Rickman…

Getting into Heaven is awesome enough to persuade anyone (unless you’re Richard Dawkins or Daniel Dennett) to give a philosophical read of Jesus a try. But when you read the philosophy of Jesus it’s really no wonder that Jesus’ philosophy, even 2500 years after his birth, is more popular than any other philosopher.

That’s probably because unlike most professional philosophers, when you read Jesus’ philosophy you can actually understand it. And it’s a cinch to follow.

That’s two things no one will never say about Immanuel Kant.

It’s no surprise that this philosopher…
sunday school jesus

is more popular than this philosopher

and this philosopher writes about Jesus.

and this philosopher writes about Jesus.

And that’s the way it should be, isn’t it?


I think only me and President Bush would agree to that.

So, from this hell-bound atheist to my fellow philosophers and citizens of planet earth, I wish you a MERRY CHRISTMAS!



My list of atheist philosophers may include an agnostic or two. As I recall Sir Bertrand Russell was an agnostic, not an atheist.

Practical Philosophy

I was recently corrected on a philosophical term.

It’s no big deal or anything. It actually happens quite often.

I wrote that I am a soft determinist or “even a compatibilist”.

Someone told me the two terms mean the same thing.

I know that.

Some people don’t. Some people don’t know what a soft determinist or a compatibilst is much less care that they mean the same thing. Some people don’t know they are the same thing.

That is to say, some people don’t know that a person who is a soft determinist is also a compatibilist. Believe it or not, there are people out there who are unfamiliar with one (or even gasp both) terms.

That’s why I wrote it that way.

Not everyone is a philosopher.


Definitions aside, my current correction reminded me of the reason why, although I consider myself a philosopher, I hate philosophy.

Or rather, why I tend to avoid conversing with philosophers. Philosophers pay a lot of attention to the technical stuff.

This focusing on technicalities thing it’s annoying.

Yeah, I know. Proper philosophy requires a specific and precise lexicon to construct proper, logically-correct arguments. And all of that is great. It would be difficult to make a convincing argument for anything, much less a philosophical argument if we made a habit of playing fast and loose with language. But when you get hung up on whether someone is using the word “intuition” Kantianly correct rather than trying to listen to what the person is trying to tell you, that old Gloria Estefan song (or is it Miami Sound Machine?  No, wait I think it’s just Gloria Estefan)

Either way whether it was Gloria Estefan or Miami Sound Machine, it’s now classic adult contemporary. Can you believe that? Does that make anyone else feel old?

Just me?


Anyway, Gloria Estefan is right even in philosophy sometimes the words get in the way.

Sometimes we get so focused on words that we ignore what someone is actually saying.

I think Wittgenstein said something like this.

What Wittgenstein didn’t say, however, is that average folks should get into the business of doing philosophy. He didn’t think that philosophy should be made simple for the masses.

I should have a quote of Wittgenstein saying this but I don’t.

Apparently, that’s because I’m not only philosophically sloppy, but I’m philosophically lazy as well.

This is my favorite position for thinking philosophically. It makes it easier to take a nap... do deep philosophical contemplation

This is my favorite position for thinking philosophically. It makes it easier to take a nap… err… do deep philosophical contemplation

Sure, Wittgenstein’s sentiment sounds just fine to philosophical types who delight in their esoteric philosophical mumbo jumbo and fancy themselves the smartest guys in the room. But what Wittgenstein says about dumbing down philosophy is exactly what, I think the problem is. If you’re so busy not thinking of thinks simply, you end up with ideas that are so complex and a language obtuse and technically dense that no one, even other philosophers, have any clue what you’re talking about.

Listen: Ol’ Ludwig Wittgenstein might not have appreciated making philosophy easy to understand but there’s something to encouraging everyone, no matter how dumb or philosophically un-adept they may appear, to think philosophically.

Even if that means we occasionally muddy up the language.

This is Ludwig Wittgenstein. He looks like the kind of guy who takes his philosophy VERY (perhaps even too) seriously

This is Ludwig Wittgenstein. He looks like the kind of guy who takes his philosophy VERY (perhaps even too) seriously

The ancient Greek philosopher Antisthenes stated that philosophy shouldn’t be exclusive or overly academic or esoteric. Antisthenes argued that academic philosophy is useless and that the right kind of philosophy (dare we say the only legit philosophy) is philosophy that is taught and understood by every man.

That means all that deep philosophical technical talk, though aurally pleasant to the auditory nerves of most philosophers, often does get in the way of doing real, or at the very least useful philosophy.

Any one of these people may be a philosopher… so long as philosophers stop talking like no one else should understand them.

Any one of these people may be a philosopher… so long as philosophers stop talking like no one else should understand them.

Ok. I hear all you philosophers. You think I want to destroy everything that makes philosophy philosophy, right?

Actually I kind of do.

I assure you my point isn’t to destroy philosophy (I think Wittgenstein wanted to do that, though) or to say that anything goes and everybody should be ambiguous and vague with philosophical arguments I’m not encouraging messy argumentation.

I’m not saying that at all.

What I am saying is that if you know what someone is saying or trying to say, don’t be so quick to correct a guy if he flubs a word or two. And don’t get so hung up on terminology that you miss the point of what was said.

There is such a thing as missing the forest for the trees.

I assure you if you do nothing bad will happen. Philosophy won’t be destroyed. Philosophically bad and fallacious arguments won’t be the order of the day. All possible words won’t come to a sudden end. Immanuel Kant won’t haunt you for using the word “intuition” wrong. And Wittgenstein won’t call you out for bad metaphors.

If you know what a guy is getting at, give him a break. Let a word or two slide.

Chances are you’ll mess up a thing or two, too.

And really, it you make a habit out of doing it, makes you look like kind of a jerk.

… Still, if you find yourself wanting to go all philosophy professor on someone you might want to silently hum this little ditty to yourself.


The philosopher Harry G. Frankfurt in his book On Bullshit recalls a story about Ludwig Wittgenstein as told by Fania Pascal. Apparently Wittgenstein was no fan of hyperbole. (SEE: pgs. 24-34)