One day, Jesus meets a rich young man. They discuss the way to inherit eternal life, somewhat at cross-purposes, and at the end of their conversation, Jesus says this: ‘Go, sell all you have, give the money to the poor, then come and follow me.’
Perhaps you are rich, young or a man. I am none of these. Nor am I a participant in the cult of Second Temple Judaism or its habits of holiness. Two thousand years divide us from the particular individual who received Jesus’s (possibly teasing) advice. Nonetheless, several billion people worldwide, calling themselves Christians, believe that this counsel is in some sense addressed to them.
The atheist philosopher Julian Baggini sets out to discover if it will work for just anyone. The experiment – a compilation of Jesus’s moral precepts, minus the miracles, religion and God – is not new, and Thomas Jefferson is duly name-checked. But the president was himself late to the party: