Friday, May 14, 2010

Is Jesus God? pt. 3/4

This is my third day tackling the logical fallacies, deceptions, and things that make you say, "Huh?" in Paul E. Little's article "Beyond Blind Faith" (which is supposed to give us good solid reasons and evidence for Jesus being God.)

On the first day, all Mr. Little brought to the table was the fact that the Jesus story went viral and Bible verses where Jesus claimed to be the son of god, able to heal, and able to forgive sins. I pointed out why these had no impact on the validity of the truth claims being made (and why Jesus has no more evidence for his divinity than Charles Manson.) On the second day, we dealt with the Liar, Lunatic, Lord, or Legend apologetics. Mr. Little could only claim that Jesus was the Truth (his capital T) but he didn't offer any compelling evidence as to why we should think that. Let's see what's in store for us today, shall we?

The Life of Jesus - How He Proved His Deity

His Unique Moral Character

His moral character coincided with His claims. Many asylum inmates claim to be celebrities or deities. But their claims are belied by their characters. Not so with Christ. He is unique -- as unique as God.
First of all, I find it odd to say it is someone's "character" which reveals them not to be, say, Abraham Lincoln. It's also important to point out that not every delusion person is in an institution. I could make an obvious remark about religious people, but even refraining from that easy target, many people believe in ghosts, communication with the dead, homeopathy, so-called "9-11 Truth", a faked lunar landing, vast rightwing/leftwing conspiracies, government cover-up of UFOs, etc. Again, it isn't "character" we use to judge the validity of their claims - it is evidence. Can you actually divine water, or are you just a bit gullible?

Jesus Christ was sinless. The caliber of His life was such that He was able to challenge His enemies with the question, "Can any of you prove Me guilty of sin?" He was met by silence, even though He addressed those who would have liked to point out a flaw in His character.
Well, now this directly contradicts what Mr. Little was saying in Part 1, where he discussed Jesus' trial, and the Jewish elders accusing him of blasphemy. Jesus was only "sinless" if we excuse each of his transgressions, the largest of which I would imagine would be this blasphemy. But let's see if there are any other sins we can say Jesus committed in the Bible. Well, he certainly didn't honor his mother. Check out John 2:3-4 and Matthew 12:46-49. Jesus definitely taught that you should abandon your own family and instead consider your fellow believers to be your new family (like most cult leaders.) Jesus also worked on the Sabbath, which is another of the ten commandments. He's batting at 80% as it stands, even without counting his blasphemy as taking the Lord's name in vain. How was Jesus sinless again?
We read of the temptations of Jesus, but we never hear of a confession of sin on His part. He never asked for forgiveness, though He told His followers to do so.
Yeah, and my grandmother has never recanted her faith healing beliefs, or owned up to her responsibility in Harrison Johnson's death, but that doesn't mean she is innocent.
This lack of any sense of moral failure on Jesus' part is astonishing in view of the fact that it is completely contrary to the experience of the saints and mystics in all ages. The closer men and women draw to God, the more overwhelmed they are with their own failure, corruption, and shortcomings. The closer one is to a shining light, the more he realizes his need of a bath. This is true also, in the moral realm, for ordinary mortals.
Couple of points here. First off, there are some people who do not experience emotions the same way that most of us do. There are sociopaths, and while I'm not claiming Jesus was a sociopath, it could certainly be a possibility he felt no guilt about breaking laws because he was a hypocrite. I mean, hypocrites are incredibly common and demigods aren't, so just going with the odds here, it's not looking too good for Jesus' divinity. It seems like only someone who already believed could come to the conclusion, based on evidence alone, that Jesus was more likely to be a god than mentally off balance.

Second point I'd like to make is how crappy being close to God sounds from Mr. Little's description. You'll feel dirtier and dirtier, be overwhelmed by your own failure and shortcomings, and basically feel like crap? Oh wait, that was kinda true. My life as an atheist is so much happier than my life as a Christian. The constant sense of nagging guilt and incurable shame just didn't give me the "comfort" people claim religion provides.
It is also striking that John, Paul, and Peter, all of whom were trained from earliest childhood to believe in the universality of sin, all spoke of the sinlessness of Christ: "He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in His mouth."

Pilate, no friend of Jesus, said, "What evil has He done?" He implicitly recognized Christ's innocence. And the Roman centurion who witnessed the death of Christ said, "Surely He was the Son of God."
Okay, this is where I have to explain why the Bible isn't evidence for the Bible. So far, I've let the apologist use Scripture as evidence without complaint; I've just used Scripture that contradicts his point to show where I disagree. But the contradictory, open-to-interpretation nature of the Bible is not its only weakness. Its construction is.

The Bible was written by men, not god. The Bible was scribbled down over hundreds of years, changed, rewritten, transcribed, voted on, canonized, rewritten, transcribed, and changed again. There is no reason to suppose the Bible is the word of God(s).

I challenge anybody to find anywhere where God says "Build this book. This is going to be my Word." - Tracie Harris
His Ability to Control Nature
Christ demonstrated a power over natural forces which could belong only to God, the Author of these forces.

He stilled a raging storm of wind and waves on the Sea of Galilee. In doing this He provoked from those in the boat the awestruck question, "Who is this? Even the wind and waves obey Him!" He turned water into wine, fed 5,000 people from five loaves and two fish, gave a grieving widow back her only son by raising him from the dead, and brought to life the dead daughter of a shattered father. To an old friend He said, "Lazarus, come forth!" and dramatically raised him from the dead. It is most significant that His enemies did not deny this miracle. Rather, they tried to kill Him. "If we let Him go on like this," they said, "everyone will believe in Him."
Ladies and gentlemen, may I present to you, Derren Brown. He can walk across broken glass without harm, beat 9 chess masters and grand masters at once, and control a mall full of shoppers with the sound of his voice. (I also recommend "The Heist" where he gets law-abiding citizens to attempt a bank robbery.) Sorry, but Derren Brown is way cooler than Jesus (and a much better dresser, I must say.)

If you must have your water turned into wine, Penn and Teller have got that one down, too. And is it really so extraordinary for Jesus to turn water into wine, when a billion Catholics believe their priests can turn wine into blood? (And if you think all those Catholics are wrong, what makes you think the anonymous authors of the Bible got it right?)
Cured the Sick
Jesus demonstrated the Creator's power over sickness and disease. He made the lame to walk, the dumb to speak, and the blind to see. Some of His healings were of congenital problems not susceptible to psychosomatic cure. The most outstanding was that of the blind man whose case is recorded in John 9. Though the man couldn't answer his speculative questioners, his experience was enough to convince him. "One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!" he declared. He was astounded that his friends didn't recognize this Healer as the Son of God. "Nobody has ever heard of opening the eyes of a man born blind," he said. To him the evidence was obvious.
Ha! Nice that he included the bit about psychosomatic cures. This takes care of my first complaint. The second of course is the assumed accuracy that he gives the Bible. Apologists aren't really writing for non-Christians. They are writing for members of the flock who need their faith bolstered. If you accept the Bible as God's one true Word, then of course Bible verses supporting your point of view or your desire will be momentarily comforting to the cognitive dissonance faith yields. But if you don't start with the premise that every story recorded in the Bible is accurate and free from exaggeration, mythologizing, or factual error, then you are not going to be persuaded by what some anonymous goat herder wrote down nearly two thousand years ago.
His Greatest Proof - Rising from the Dead
Jesus' supreme credential to authenticate His claim to deity was His resurrection from the dead. Five times in the course of His life He predicted He would die. He also predicted how He would die and that three days later He would rise from the dead and appear to His disciples.

Surely this was the great test. It was a claim that was easy to verify. It either happened or it didn't.
Sure, at the time it would have been fairly easy to verify, but since we have none of that evidence today, what you're really going to do is ask me to rely on hearsay. A dying and resurrecting god is hardly new to human mythology. What you have is a claim that Jesus died and resurrected; there is no evidence.
The Life of Jesus - Why the Resurrection Is Centrally Important

Both friends and enemies of the Christian faith have recognized the resurrection of Christ to be the foundation stone of the faith. Paul, the great apostle, wrote, "If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith." Paul rested his whole case on the bodily resurrection of Christ. Either He did or He didn't rise from the dead. If He did, it was the most sensational event in all of history.
Why? Why would it be so sensational, when Jesus was reviving people right and left in the gospels? Heck, women gave birth in their 90s, according to the Old Testament. That has to be at least as impressive as yet another resurrection, right? And notice how a non-believer like myself is branded an "enemy of the Christian faith." I mean, yes, I'd love to see all religions tossed in the bin, but I'm a non-combatant "enemy."
If Christ rose, we know with certainty that God exists, what He is like, and how we may know Him in personal experience. The universe takes on meaning and purpose, and it is possible to experience the living God in contemporary life.
Uh, no. Whether or not Jesus died and rose again has nothing to do with his claims. It certainly doesn't answer the question of purpose or meaning to the universe. You cannot get from "I have a baseball" to "I know everything about every baseball team and player that ever lived, and all the coaches give me free tickets to every single game." That's the kind of leap Mr. Little makes when he says the single event of resurrection imbues meaning into *everything else*. Here's an idea - what if Jesus did (for the sake of argument) rise from the dead, but he hadn't been to Hell, wasn't the Son of God, and couldn't perform miracles or forgive sins. What if someone else more powerful resurrected him (like he did for Lazarus?) Even if there was substantial evidence to believe the resurrection occurred (which there isn't,) it would not mean other, unproven or unprovable claims about an afterlife, a god, and purpose in the universe would then automatically be true.
On the other hand, if Christ did not rise from the dead, Christianity is an interesting museum piece -- nothing more. It has no objective validity or reality.
What is an "interesting museum piece" anyway? I can't say whether I agree or disagree with this assessment, because I have no idea what he means. Poorly defined terms For the Lose. And his second statement here is rather black-and-white. I can see that some of the food and hygiene laws of the Old Testament would have preserved healthier lives for desert dwellers millenia ago. I can giggle at the eroticism of Song of Solomons. I can appreciate the art tax-free churches have commissioned over the years, and (some of) the music. I can say that some of the verses have nice moral sentiments (though by no means a majority.) There is no need for Mr. Little to paint a strawman of nonbelief, but he has done it nonetheless.
Though it is a nice wishful thought, it certainly isn't worth getting steamed up about. The martyrs who went singing to the lions, and contemporary missionaries who have given their lives while taking this message to others, have been poor deluded fools.
Well, yes. But before you go thinking I am rude and condescending, Christians, please tell me what you think of Islamic martyrs, apostles, and missionaries. Are they poorly deluded fools?
The attack on Christianity by its enemies has most often concentrated on the Resurrection because it has been clearly seen that this event is the crux of the matter.
Whoa, attack? Well, since he was just talking about missionaries and martyrs, this must be something quite serious and violent, right?
A remarkable attack was the one contemplated in the early '30s by a young British lawyer. He was convinced that the Resurrection was mere fable and fantasy. Sensing that it was the foundation stone of the Christian faith, he decided to do the world a favor by once and for all exposing this fraud and superstition. As a lawyer, he felt he had the critical faculties to rigidly sift evidence and to admit nothing as evidence which did not meet the stiff criteria for admission into a law court today.
Oh, so the "attack" was actually just someone questioning dogma. I see. (Also, wouldn't it be evidence considered admissible in the 1?30's, rather than "today?")
However, while Frank Morrison was doing his research, a remarkable thing happened. The case was not nearly as easy as he had supposed. As a result, the first chapter in his book, Who Moved the Stone? is entitled, "The Book That Refused to Be Written." In it he described how, as he examined the evidence, he became persuaded against his will, of the fact of the bodily resurrection of Christ.
Okay, now we're being given the argument from personal experience (combined with the "I used to be an atheist" angle we're all so tired of.) Some guy thought the evidence was compelling. Great, now where is this evidence please? I'm not taking someone else's word for this, but I guess it will have to wait till tomorrow when I conclude this series with Part 4 The Life of Jesus - Facts About His Resurrection (*snort!*)