Two thousand years ago in a far away land, a man lived who had an impact greater than that of any other human. According to one recent survey, the majority of Australians consider Jesus Christ to be the most significant figure in history.
The survey was part of research conducted by McCrindle Research on behalf of All About Life Campaign. Based on the completed surveys of 1004 Australians selected from Pure Profile’s research-only panel, it looked at a number of issues concerning faith in Australia.
When asked who they considered to be the most influential person in history, 54 per cent of Australians – both religious and non-religious – ranked Jesus at number one. The next three highest-rated individuals were Albert Einstein (at 16 per cent), Charles Darwin (9 per cent), and Buddha (6 per cent).
Australia may be a mainly secular nation, but this survey result is a telling indication of the remarkable influence and impact of one man from Galilee. And believers will suspect that in another two thousand years from now, Jesus will still top the polls.
One short article, anonymously written (but sometimes attributed to James Allen Francis) nicely summarises this remarkable influence. Here is how “One Solitary Life” puts it:
“Here is a man who was born in an obscure village, the child of a peasant woman. He grew up in another village. He worked in a carpenter shop until He was thirty. Then for three years He was an itinerant preacher. He never owned a home. He never wrote a book. He never held an office. He never had a family. He never went to college. He never put His foot inside a big city. He never traveled two hundred miles from the place He was born. He never did one of the things that usually accompany greatness. He had no credentials but Himself.
“While still a young man, the tide of popular opinion turned against him. His friends ran away. One of them denied Him. He was turned over to His enemies. He went through the mockery of a trial. He was nailed upon a cross between two thieves. While He was dying His executioners gambled for the only piece of property He had on earth – His coat. When He was dead, He was laid in a borrowed grave through the pity of a friend. Nineteen long centuries have come and gone, and today He is a centerpiece of the human race and leader of the column of progress.
“I am far within the mark when I say that all the armies that ever marched, all the navies that were ever built; all the parliaments that ever sat and all the kings that ever reigned, put together, have not affected the life of man upon this earth as powerfully as has that one solitary life.”
Of course other poll findings were much more mixed, reflecting the very diverse makeup of the Australian population. For example, 63 per cent of those Australians polled did not believe Jesus would return to earth one day. Given that this percentage is almost identical to those who described themselves as Christians in the last Australian census, this is a curious finding.
The New Testament of course speaks about the second coming of Christ on numerous occasions. Therefore this finding may reflect the more or less deistic approach to faith that many have. That is, God exists, and he made the world, but he is not very much concerned about it, or involved with it now. He may just be a bit of an absentee landlord.
Yet on another question, we also get some surprising results. Consider the issue of prayer. In this poll we discover that 57 per cent of Australians pray at various times during their lives with over a third (36 per cent) praying to God. This raises the obvious question: to whom – or what – are the others praying?
Indeed, this question certainly arises when we consider another poll result: just over a third of all Australians feel moved to pray when they are thankful for something good that has happened to them (34 per cent). But again, if there is no God to give thanks to, just who or what is receiving the thanks? Atheists, it seems, certainly have no one to give thanks to.
Other results were also interesting. It seems that some 83 per cent of respondents believe that Jesus was a real figure from history. However, of these folk, only 43 per cent believed that Jesus had miraculous powers and was the son of God.
Again, this is more in line with theological liberalism than biblical Christianity. To believe in a non-miraculous Jesus is to turn him into a nice guy, a good teacher, or an ethical figure with high ideals. But that is certainly not how the New Testament portrays Jesus. As C.S. Lewis so famously said,
“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: ‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.’ That is one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of thing Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”
So it seems that Australians have a very confused picture of who Jesus is and what he did. The easy solution to this would be to simply read the four Gospels and see what Jesus in fact claimed about himself, what activities he undertook, and what impact he has on those around him.
While the Bible may be one of the world’s bestselling books, it is evidently one of the least read, or least understood. Biblical illiteracy is certainly a big problem in the West. But despite such ignorance, it is quite interesting to note that Jesus still holds a very high place in the minds of many, even if it is a rather distorted picture of who he is.