In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. John 1:1
To an atheist like me, who was unfortunately not granted the gift of faith, the Gospels read more like philosophical texts than religious testaments of God's existence and descent among us.
I read the Gospels in the same way I read Plato, Aristotle, or Kant, and the ethical system they expound is the most sublime I have yet found. I very much agree with Pasolini when, introducing his controversial and Church-censored "La Ricotta", in a desperate and ultimately vain attempt to excuse himself from any accusation of "contempt of religion" (blasphemy), he prefaced his masterpiece with the following words:
Non è difficile prevedere per questo mio racconto dei giudizi interessati, ambigui, scandalizzati. Ebbene, io voglio qui dichiarare che, comunque si prenda “La ricotta”, la Storia della Passione – che indirettamente “La ricotta” rievoca – è per me la più grande che sia mai accaduta, e i Testi che la raccontano i più sublimi che siano mai stati scritti. It is not difficult to foresee interested, ambiguous, scandalized judgments for this tale of mine. Well, I want to declare here that, however you take "La ricotta", the Story of the Passion - which indirectly "La ricotta" evokes - is for me the greatest that has ever happened, and the Texts that tell it are the most sublime ever written.
Being an atheist, I reject any metaphysical implication present in the Gospels, but I wholly embrace their moral teaching. In essence, the message of the Gospels is radical anarcho-pacifism, i.e. the idea that any kind of (earthly) authority on men and women is illegitimate, and the only way to social change is through non-violent resistance. The real revolution is for the heart of Man. This principle was presented beautifully in Tolstoy's The Kingdom of God Is Within You (a quote from Luke 17:21), a key text of the Christian anarchist movement.
The radical message of the Gospel has been twisted beyond recognition by the official "Christian" Churches, that are in truth anything but. All institutionalized religions are inevitably systems of power and oppression and by their very nature run opposite to the Good News. Jesus preached about equality, acceptance, frugality, love (for everyone, especially your enemies), compassion. There is none of that in the Churches that call themselves Christian. Quite the opposite.
Nor was Jesus a dreamy-eyed idealists preaching non-violent submission to the oppressors. This also is a widespread misreading of the Gospels.
Think not that I have come to bring peace on earth: I came not to bring peace, but a sword. Matthew 10:34
The message of Jesus is uncompromising, and will likely bring strife and conflict rather than peace, because it is extremely threatening to systems of power and domination. These will meet the non-violent Christian resistance movement with the sword, to try to suppress it. Hence, "take up your cross and follow me" (Matthew 16:24).
So, what do I make of the opening statement in the Gospel according to John? Dismissing the theological exegesis of Jesus as God incarnate, one of the three aspects of the Trinity, I am left with a very human interpretation. Unlike other philosophers who preached their ethical system without having to practice it, Jesus concretized his teachings in the world. His words are not sterile, because he turned them into tangible, visible action and so made them alive, impossible to forget. He is, quite literally, the "word made flesh", and he payed the ultimate price for it. His words ring true because he died for them.
The "preferential option for the poor" that is one of the cornerstones of the Gospels is today completely forgotten by pretty much everyone, but especially those segments of the population who call themselves Christian, in one of history's saddest ironic twists.
In this day and age, there is nothing as revolutionary and subversive, not the writings of Marx nor Proudhon's or any of their followers', as the Sermon on the Mount.
Blessed are the poor, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God. Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
"So the last shall be first, and the first last."