I've read the above phrase many times in online forums. The context of this quotation is very often a response to some tough scrutiny I have made of Christianity. For example, years ago I was discussing the reality of death and that nobody, including Christians, can escape it. Another member there reprimanded me saying I must allow Christians to believe what they wish. He finished his tirade with, you guessed it, "...and I'm an atheist!" His response to my criticism of Christianity is a bit off-base considering that I was not forcing anybody to give up their cherished beliefs. I was just telling the truth....and I'm an atheist!
Much more recently I was reading Robert Price's The Christ Myth Theory and its Problems. Price discusses the phenomenon of atheists reacting very negatively to the notion that Jesus did not exist. On page 421 he says:
He writes on page 422:Atheists, I very much suspect, want to keep a liberal Protestant or a Reform Jewish Jesus, not so much for an icon of their own as a cane to use to whip, at least to twit, orthodox Christians. "You know, your Jesus was more like us than like you."
I think Price might be right. I'd add that many atheists might find a "real" Jesus to be very useful for other reasons. Accepting a Jesus divested of his divinity and magical powers allows one to fit in with the consensus. In so doing, one's ideas about Jesus may be more readily accepted than completely rejecting his hoped-for reality. (It appears to be a case of group think.) After all, it's tough enough from a social perspective to reject the god of Christianity. To reject even the hope of a real Jesus makes acceptance that much tougher.Atheists must simply reject Jesus as they reject Jehovah, and for the same reasons. Even as the same imaginary entity. There is no Jesus left over for humanists to respect. That's "a bit of a blow" even for many who thought they were over religion...
...A second group of Atheists for whom the Christ Myth is a shocker would be those who, never having closely examined the theory, assume it is a crackpot idea like Holocaust Denial or disbelief in the moon landing. They don't want to associate the Atheist or Humanist cause with hare-brained schemes of this kind, as its apparent lack of credibility will then be seen to bleed over into Atheism per se, and Atheism's detractors will be happy to dismiss the one along with the other, though in fact they are quite different.
So what are some other reasons that atheists might want Jesus?