Scientist, skeptic and neo-atheist (being the term for the pack of current atheists who are concerned that perhaps the case against religion is not being made forcefully enough) PZ Myers has a thought for Easter: "This is Easter, the day Christians everywhere set aside to celebrate the day they were hoaxed by a gang of Middle Eastern charlatans into believing a local mystic rose from the dead." [Hat Tip: John Farrell]
There's not normally a whole lot of point in pointing out this kind of thing, because these is just how PZ thinks, and there's not much anyone is going to do about it. However, the quote stuck with me and eventually I had to come up with an answer for myself as to why.
What I eventually realized is that there's a much bigger difference between the line of thinking displayed in this quote and my own than whether one believes the claim that Christ rose from the dead. There's a profound difference in how one views a significant portion of the human experience throughout history. The quote doesn't just portray Christianity as false, it portrays it as stupid: A bunch of stupid ancients were fooled by a bunch of only slightly less stupid Jewish guys into believing that some local wise guy had risen from the dead, and rubes ever since have fallen for it.
But it's not just that I don't see the origins of Christianity as moronic, but that I don't necessarily see any of history's major religions as moronic. Religion does not just represent some sort of silly, over-grown-tooth-fairy way of explaining how things got to be the way they are. Religion has, throughout human history, provided an important part of what it means to be human. And in that sense, not only should the Christian and Hebrew scriptures not be seen as idiotic, but the Koran, the Mahabharata, the Norse sagas, the poems of Homer and Hesiod, the Epic of Gilgamesh, and a host of others should not be seen as mockable by a truly humanistic person either.
Even if false, serious religious writings tell us a lot about the human endeavor. Humans have always been, so far as we can tell, religious creatures. We find traces of ritual and cult among some of the earliest archaeological traces left by out ancestors. And so even though I by no means believe that Zeus and Odin and Amon Re and Mithras and the like were who their believers thought they were -- or indeed existed at all -- it would strike me as inappropriate to openly mock belief in them. Because at the very least, even if all the answers the people have ever found through religion are wrong, the questions that inspired those answers deal with some of the most essential aspects of what it means to be human.
If you can't see that there's something profound (even if incorrect) about the Christian story, then you don't really understand much about humanity.