In Jesus, I see an historically pivotal mythological character in a story that may have some historical elements. Like any great and grand myth it touches deep within the human psyche and invites finite humans to enlarge their view of reality. However, the three-story universe is lost to us in the scientific age, so we don’t really need a bridge out of hell into heaven to escape this mortal realm.
Also, we have become global neighbors to Muslims, Buddhists, indigenous folk religions, as well as science and secularism with which to forge a worldwide social order that can transcend the archaic while elevating and incorporating those classical creations that still express human aspirations.
Jesus remains for me a compelling prophet of love and justice for the suffering and oppressed and I embrace the fusion of Marxism and Christianity known as Liberation Theology, though not any attempts to keep blood ransom theology, metaphysical dualism, or religious chauvinism that claims there is only “one path” for all humanity to find their highest destiny. Jesus takes place next to Karl Marx, feminist spirituality, inclusive religion, and ecological imperatives – among other resources – in my quest for a transformative life-path.
The substitutionary atonement interpretation of the death of Jesus was adopted as the official myth of the dying Roman Empire. Alternative views about Jesus were violently repressed. This myth served the interests of the ruling classes, but it was never true in any sense. If people believe that a perfect god will torment them eternally for breaking stone-age laws, then they’ll be more docile subjects.
I don’t know the “truth”about Jesus’s death, he may be completely mythical, or not. I was raised to fear hell and only overcame it as I realized that the ruling class was creating hell on earth through oppression and exploitation. Liberation theology rethinks the story of Jesus from the point of view of the oppressed and finds that the story of Jesus tells the poor that they shall inherit the earth, the last shall be first. Jesus is one of the victims and enemies of the empire itself, not its necessary sacrifice myth.