In this post I continue with the second part of Russell's lecture, in which he attempts to show that one cannot grant superlative wisdom and superlative goodness of Christ.
Russell starts by saying: "I think that there are a good many points upon which I agree with Christ a great deal more than the professing Christians so. I do not know that I could go with Him all the way, but I could go with Him much further than most professing Christians can.". Russell provides examples of teachings of Christ that he endorses, all from the Gospel of Matthew: "But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also", "Judge not, that you be not judged", "Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you" and “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven”.
Russell readily admits that these are all very good, even excellent, principles. Yet, he points out that many Christians do not live up to them. Now, I surely agree that these maxims are not much practised, neither by Christians nor non-Christians, but that does of course nothing at all to show that Christ himself is in any sense less great or good. I take this to be a quite self-evident point.
Subsequently Russell contends that "[h]istorically it is quite doubtful whether Christ ever existed at all, and if He did we do not know anything about him". Now, this statement has become entirely outdated. During the second half of the 20th century biblical historians started to realize themselves that historical skepticism towards Jesus is in fact unwarranted. As a result many critical scholars began a new quest of the historical Jesus. And nowadays, the vast majority of biblical scholars hold that Jesus of Nazareth did in fact exist. Moreover, most contemporary critical historians agree on many aspects of Jesus' biography, such as being regarded as eschatological prophet and autonomous ethical teacher, telling original parables, many about the coming Kingdom of God, being baptized by John the Baptist, and being crucified in Jerusalem on the orders of the Roman Prefect Pontius Pilate. In fact, even the historicity of Jesus' tomb found empty after the crucifixion is now argued for . In any case, Jesus is nowadays undeniably considered as being a part of recorded history. If we today would doubt whether Jesus ever existed, we could as well start doubting the historicity of many other well-known historical figures.
In his lecture Russell further points out that Jesus cannot be that wise, since "he certainly thought that His second coming would occur [...] before the death of all the people who were living at that time". To substantiate this claim Russell cites two statements of Jesus from Matthew: "You will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes" and "Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom". Now, these statements were uttered by Jesus before the crucifixion, and thus, for all we know, Jesus speaks here about the upcoming appearances of Jesus to the disciples (and others) after the resurrection.
The last tangible argument of Russell (*) against the superlative goodness of Chris is that "Christ certainly as depicted in the Gospels did believe in everlasting punishment". Now, I agree that this argument has some force. However, in the beginning of his lecture Russell admits that the belief in eternal punishment is not essential to Christianity, for he states: "I shall not insist that a Christian must believe in hell". I entirely agree with Russell on this point, and therefore I do not take this last argument as being a real problem for Christianity at all.
Nevertheless, if God exists, and if there is an afterlife, and if some monstrous evils are infinite, then it seems to me that it is not entirely inconceivable to think that wickedly performing such evils could result in being separated from God forever after death, or in not receiving eternal life. And, more importantly, if this would be the case, it would still do nothing to show that Jesus has pleasure in this, or that Jesus does not passionately desire every single human to be saved. In short, it does nothing to disprove Jesus' goodness.
(*) Russell concludes his lecture with some further remarks, such as that religion is based primarily and mainly on fear, that people who have held to Christianity have been for the most part extremely wicked, that Christianity is the principal enemy of moral progress in the world, and so forth. I take these remarks not to be serious objections, and thus I shall not spend time to refute them.
 Historical Jesus ( http://bit.ly/5I7dtJ )