Taking the Bible literally makes no sense to moderate and liberal Christians, and one of the most urgent tenets of literalism, that Jesus will soon return to Earth to render judgment and save the righteous, seems like a fantasy. Secular society has no need for Jesus to return. It leaves each citizen to privately choose a religion, or to not choose one, and all other matters fall outside the realm of faith.
So it came as a shock to secular society when millions of people couldn't take their minds off the return of Jesus, so much so that Judgment Day colors everything else they think about--family, relationships, morals, business, politics. Speaking for myself, I came to terms with this issue in the following way: We are indeed waiting for the return of Jesus, and in this "we" I include those non-Christians who want to live in a tolerant, compassionate relationship with everyone. But if Jesus returns, there are three choices of who he will be.
The first Jesus was historical, a rabbi living in first-century Palestine whose life profoundly changed religious belief in the West. The second Jesus is the core of a religion, which has its particular dogmas, rituals, priests, churches, and scriptures. These two Jesuses are undeniably real, but the second one--the Jesus of organized religion--has been subject to human whim and change. Right now, if you are not a fundamentalist, he seems to have been hijacked in the service of intolerance, bigotry, and war. A religion that began in the name of love has reached almost its exact opposite--not for the first time, of course.
The third Jesus is not rigidly sectarian. He falls into the world tradition of spirituality. This Jesus speaks for peace and love; his morality includes all peoples; his Father is a universal deity. I was well acquainted with the third Jesus as a child in India. I could love and revere him. It never occurred to me that he would ever become an enemy. This Jesus doesn't speak of non-Christians as pagans. He raises human nature to its highest ideal, along with the saints and sages who have guided humanity for centuries.
I don't think that well-intentioned fundamentalists mean to pervert the third Jesus; I suspect they've never heard of him. He has one great disadvantage, however. You can't own him. You can't say "he's all mine and nobody else's." The third Jesus won't work if you need to justify a war, if you need evil enemies, or you want to brand "them" as godless.
Sadly, many fundamentalists need Jesus for all these purposes. So the third Jesus might not return to them, but if Christianity is to survive among moderate and liberal believers, who used to be the mainstream of the religion, won't it take the return of the third Jesus? The first one is long deceased, the second has fallen prey to politics and narrow-mindedness. What alternative is there? Loss of faith and a slide into deeper and deeper meaninglessness. that would be a terrible fate for all of us, not just the Christians.
Hmmm.....what would Jesus think of all this fuss and debate?