It’s amusing that one group of skeptics deride creationists for demanding science produce an unbroken fossil record for every single transitional form of every single species in order to accept evolution, while another group demands a greater degree of historical evidence to prove the existence of Jesus than is required for any other historical figure.
The skeptic argument goes along the lines that if Christ didn’t really exist, then his whole ministry as presented in the Gospels is a hoax, and as such the whole Christian message is false.
Well, okay, but that still leaves one little problem: Even if Christ didn’t exist, even if the Gospel accounts are bogus, somebody still created one of the most morally brilliant documents ever written.
And it’s brilliant because it works. A sincere follower of Christ finds their life drastically improved on a personal level, and typically by extension on a relational and societal level as well.
We’re not talking pie-in-the-sky-bye-and-bye here but real benefits that start as soon as Christian principles are put into application. The genuine, mature Christian leads a life with a lot less anxiety for status and possessions, a calmer life with less envy and strife with one’s neighbors, a life where compassion and empathy replace a desire to retaliate. It is by its very nature a more stable, charitable, and just life, and because of this it evokes a different sort of response from one’s family, friends, and acquaintances as well has having a positive effect on society as a whole.
It only takes a handful of sincere, dedicated Christians actually following the Gospel teachings to make a glorious positive impact on their community.
So if Jesus didn’t exist…if he never taught what it was reported he taught…
…those lessons still had to come from somebody…
…and whoever that person was, they were clearly as moral a thinker as the Christ of the Gospels was.
Robert A. Heinlein is one of the all time masters of sci-fi, and arguably the master of the time paradox story.
The time paradox story is a familiar but fun trope in sci-fi. The most basic form goes something like this:
A man finds a piece of paper with secret instructions / formulas / plans on it that he’s never seen / heard of / conceived before. He applies those instructions / formulas / plans and makes a fortune and / or creates a huge benefit to society. At some point in the future the original paper becomes torn and faded so the man copies the instructions / formulas / plans onto a new but otherwise identical sheet of paper, and then either that piece of paper gets sent back in time or his much younger self travels forward in time to get it and take it back.
Paradox: Who created the original instructions / formulas / plans? Clearly not the man who found them, for they were already fully formed when he saw them for the first time.
WhereWhen then did they originate?
Substitute “Gospel” for “instructions / formulas / plans” and you see the problem as it relates to Christianity.
All right, for the sake of argument Christ did not exist: Where then did his teachings originate?
Some hoaxster trying to manipulate the masses? For what end? The very nature of the Gospel precludes a quest for fame, power, and wealth. None of the earliest church figures enjoyed much in the way of status. Who would create a bogus religion to sucker the masses that would only benefit some as yet unborn generation of leaders who might not even be related to the hoaxster, and then only if the hoax took root and flourished long after the originator died?
The argument is made that Christianity was a psychological weapon created by the Romans to help subjugate the Jewish population by getting them to believe a false story about a non-existent messiah who taught a lesson radically at odds with both their tradition and history in order to make them more submissive to Roman rule.
To which one can only respond: Really? A culture notorious for its heavy handedness, its lack of original philosophical and psychological insight, its elaborate and intricate pagan tradition would somehow figure out what made the Jewish people tick and successfully promote to that alien culture an idea equally alien to both the empire and its subjects? That’s like saying the communists championed the idea of supply side economics in order to dupe capitalism into destroying itself.
Another argument skeptics put forth is that the Gospel teachings evolved from previous Jewish theological thought without leaving a race in the extensive rabbinical writings of the time, that despite dozens-going-on-hundreds of well documented Jewish scholars and rabbis writing & arguing & debating fine points of religion no one tracked this train of thought as it sharply veered off the tracks of mainstream Jewish theology and into a wholly new religious expression.
I mean, we can see the gradual build up to the Protestant reformation in the history of the Western church, and long before Martin Luther nailed his thesis to the doors there had been others who argued (and were persecuted, and suffered, and died) for the same or similar points.
There’s no similar line of footprints leading up to Christianity. It’s suddenly…there…and while one can find links to the past, they are trivial in comparison to the radical break with that same past.
Hard proof of Christ’s existence we do not have, but we do have Occam’s Razor: Either some unknown individual or committee created the Gospel teachings out of whole cloth and in a vacuum, or else there was a first century rabbi whom we know today as Jesus Christ of Nazareth who was pretty much sui generis and who taught basically the same things as recorded in the four Gospels.
There are no other reasonable explanations…
 Seriously, Jesus is better documented than Hannibal, and nobody doubts Hannibal was real or that he led an army of elephants across the Alps.
 This still leaves the Old Testament intact, but that’s a debate for another day…
 That in and of itself would require almost God-like omniscience.
 Not to mention the fact that it didn’t work, and that the very people it was supposed to subjugate instead exploded into open rebellion requiring direct military action and a forceful political solution. That would make Christianity not only a psy-war plan that didn’t work, but one that loses its entire raison d’etre in the process, and yet somehow manages to blindly continue on to influence literally millions of people into believing it’s true!
 Oh, the irony of that phrase…
 And, yes, let it be stipulated that Christ -- be he real or fictitious -- did not overtly come to start a new religion but to cleanse and reform the Jewish faith already in existence. Nonetheless, the difference between what he reportedly taught as compared to what had been taught by others before and contemporary to his reported time is so vast a gap that those teachings could only form the basis of a new religion, not reform a hidebound one set in its ways.
 And it’s easy to understand the comfort many find in that thought: If it is a hoax or just some nice ideas cobbled together by a bunch of anonymous editors then one need feel no compelling reason to regard it seriously enough to bother changing one’s life in order to follow it. If it’s all just a pretty fiction then one can go on behaving pretty much as one damn well feels like instead of making inconvenient personal changes in order to would produce a better quality of life not only for oneself but for those in the community at large. And believing the Gospel teachings to be true and valid in no way requires one to believe in the carrot-or-stick of Heaven or hell; one can follow the teachings of Christ for no other reason than to live justly and abundantly and peacefully with one’s neighbors.
 At least to the same degree as the Buddha or Mohammed or Gandhi were sui generis in their cultures and eras.