I know quite a few people who, although not Christians themselves, think highly of Jesus. They believe that he was a great teacher, moral philosopher, and humanitarian--that he was something we should all strive to be.
I used to think that way myself, but in honestly looking at some of his statements--and some of what he neglected to say--I have had to reassess.
Recently I stumbled on a piece that nicely summarizes my own uneasiness about the whole Jesus thing. I don't think Jesus is the greatest thinker or philosopher or even god-botherer who ever lived. I think that he was most likely one of the many itinerant preachers of his time (if he actually existed), mostly ignorant and delusional, who thought that god spoke to them and through them. Today we call this ... well, insanity. Part of me thinks that he must have had something going for him in order to win followers, but part of me also agrees with Tim Minchin that "just because ideas are tenacious doesn't mean that they're worthy." And although I'm not clear on the details, I do know that the doctrines of Christianity were settled by men in seats of power who had a stake in the outcome.
There are a number of sayings of Jesus--and we must always remember that these are attributed to him, but we have no way of knowing whether he actually said them--that militate against seeing him as peace-loving and compassionate, despite "turn the other cheek" and so on. As a pacifist (I'm not saying I'm a very thoroughgoing pacifist, just that my tendencies lie that way), I was always bothered by "I come not to bring peace, but a sword" and by the declaration that he had come to set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and so on. I have read interpretations that claim to make sense of this in a way that conforms to the idea of Jesus as peace-loving and compassionate, but over time I have become unable to reconcile the words in the NT texts with any such image of Jesus.
I really liked John Dominic Crossan's Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography, and it influenced my thinking for a long time. But now I have read enough to wonder if Jesus actually even existed. We don't really have outside proof of it. And I also doubt Crossan's theses about Jesus. I used to agree with Jackson Browne's song "The Rebel Jesus," but now I think Jesus was actually pretty conservative, in that he exhorted his followers to hew to Jewish law in all its intrricate prohibitions and demands. Nor did he urge his followers to rebel against the Romans; remember "render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's"?
I know that Jesus proclaimed the existence of flame and fire for those who did not believe. Well, so much for a compassionate god, right? And what about the arrogance? "If you don't believe what I'm saying, you're going to an eternal fiery pit!" Pretty hard to reconcile with an idea of a loving Jesus, although the Christians always take issue with this, because it's the unbelievers' hardened hearts that bring hell upon them ... But anyway.
I have come to agree that Jesus was, as many have maintained, a failed apocalyptic prophet, of which there were many in his time (if he existed). I'm sure that for the vast majority of people at the time who lived a hand-to-mouth existence, a man promising their eventual triumph over their oppressors and over death was pretty appealing. Followers who came after him had to account for the fact that his prophecies did not come to pass in the time frame he'd promised, but that's not historically unusual.
I haven't really enjoyed giving up the idea of Jesus as a compassionate, philosophically defensible, exemplary teacher. But I've had to own up to my doubts and to wonder how this most likely unschooled man of a couple of millenia ago came to be the keystone of such a powerful religion. I tend to think that the answers to that are pretty unsavory and have a lot to do with earthly power, corruption, and co-optation. And yeah, the whole eternal life thing.
But hey, I can live without Jesus, and contrary to what the goddy types think of nontheists, my life isn't empty or meaningless. I'd rather look the facts in the eye, thank you very much, than try to hang on to a "comforting" myth. I'm a thinking person, and I can't--and don't want to--undo that.