The theological Christ is supposed to stand in opposition to the historical Jesus not necessarily in that the former is fictional but in that what’s known about the former isn’t known by critical-historical methods of inquiry. Specifically, theological knowledge or belief isn’t limited by methodological naturalism. Thus, the theological Christ can be supernatural and can perform miracles, whereas the historical Jesus as such (that is, as understood by the soft-scientific methods) can’t.
I wouldn’t say that the theological Christ or the Christ of religious faith, as he’s portrayed in the gospels, is necessarily divine or equivalent to God. Christology evolved over time, so there’s of course a difference between first-century and fourth-century Christian theology. In any case, there are shades of divinity. Maybe some early Christians thought Jesus was an angel or a “spiritual messiah” rather than God. An angel would have been the same as a lower god in a polytheistic system (which the angelology of Jewish monotheism concealed). Regardless, the gospels insist that Jesus was a Son of God, so the question is what that concept means and whether it should be understood in a Jewish or a Hellenistic way, or as a synthesis of the two.
Thus, you might be setting up a false dichotomy, Graham, in saying, “If Jesus was not God incarnated, the alternative is that, if he existed, he was a man who had become a god or god-like.” All bets are off with the theological Christ, since it’s open to your imagination how to interpret supernatural matters, once you set aside naturalism.
I don’t see the need to think that a historical Jesus could have performed genuine miracles. Certainly, there’s no need to think the gospels’ miracle stories stand for memories of actual events, since they’re drawn from the Old Testament’s stories of Elijah and Elisha or they’re meant to teach the reader lessons about Jesus’s relationship with his followers.
I also doubt anyone who’s ever lived performed miracles in the sense you’re talking about (faith healing, levitating, materializing objects, and so on). Mind over matter is in some sense real (the placebo effect), but is no more miraculous than natural events. As far as I can tell, nature as a whole is perfectly miraculous since the scientific explanations at that level violate our expectations of normality.
If there were a historical Jesus, he might have been a faith-healer and a miracle-worker, but that’s hardly the same as saying he performed genuine miracles in the way that makes sense only after the scientific formulation of disenchanted natural laws. (In scientific terms there are no miracles, but from the human, intuitive perspective, everything science explains is rendered miraculous in the sense of being preposterous in its zombie-like, mindless self-creativity, absurdity, and indifferent physicality.)
The standards of skepticism in the circles Jesus would have travelled in were hardly up to par with those of modern skeptics. Clearly, Occam’s razor implies that Jesus could have come across as a miracle-worker without actually being one, not that if Jesus was regarded by ancient illiterate fishermen as a miracle-worker, he must have been capable of violating laws of nature.
See the link below for a recent article of mine on David Hume’s criticism of miracle claims. But instead of losing ourselves in the details of such claims, whether they’re ancient or modern, I think it’s more interesting to consider the merits of different types of esoteric spirituality. I’ve attempted to reconstruct one type that draws on perennial philosophy but that doesn’t fly in the face of philosophical naturalism.
Indeed, the issue is the relative divinity of human nature. The perennial view is that there’s a level of consciousness we can access which is somehow equivalent to the deepest reality that’s responsible for all material manifestations. There’s a deflationary interpretation available, mind you, which is just that nothing exists in so far as it’s conceived of by human conceptions, unless the thing is so perceived or understood, in which case we’re godlike just for being the measurer of all things, as Protagoras put it. Or you could put that Kantian point in terms of the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics (which physicists tend not to like these days).
My view of our godhood is more historical or neo-Hegelian and also existentialist and Gnostic (quasi-satanic). I substitute anti-nature or artificiality for the supernatural, which means technology or, more generally, any real intelligent influence on events is virtually miraculous compared to the mindless flow of atomic interactions and to that flow’s emergent properties. It’s not a question of violating natural laws, but of recognizing the horrors of nature and of being arrogant or perhaps heroic enough to oppose them. Conventionally, we call this “the taming of the wilderness by civilized means.” Civilization is the kingdom of gods since we are the only existent gods, compared to animals and to unthinking matter. Yahweh’s defeat of Tiamat is a garbled, mythic retelling of humanity’s subjugation of nature.
Of course, that natural godhood is tragic, since our species is likely doomed to be extinguished just like the less glorified animals. Our anti-natural powers are temporary and perhaps illusory, since as free as we think we are, we may after all be mere puppets exploited by certain monstrous natural processes (in something like a Lovecraftian sense).
But there’s a more optimistic possibility which is the transhuman one as it’s presented, for example, in much recent science fiction. This is the view that we’ll evolve into more permanent deities, empowered by science and technology, in which case we’ll be immortal creators of worlds. Now contrary to Ray Kurzweil, I don’t think there’s reason currently to be so optimistic. It’s more a matter of secular faith. But this is at least a plausible scenario that naturalizes much of what religions have talked about, in which case religious myths about gods might have been only foreshadowing a certain grand completion of our technoscientific enterprise.
I take it your view of esoteric spiritualty is more traditional, so maybe we could discuss those differences.