Me: Hello again and thanks for joining me for another conversation about the religion you unintentionally started.
Jesus: I have nothing to hide. I think divulging what I know and don’t know will be helpful to many. I also recognize the dangers of a false religion.
Me: That’s interesting, why is it dangerous?
Jesus: Because if God isn’t behind it, Satan is.
Me: A substantial portion of the America population would agree with your assessment. While I may entertain a vague hope in someone or thing beyond, I am reluctant to concede the existence of a malevolent being named Satan.
Jesus: How else do you explain all the evil, sickness, disease and suffering in the world?
Me: Science has determined the source of sickness and disease. Almost all have organic causes which can be treated or cured without exorcism through medical advancements. On the question of evil, things get more complicated. It may have something to do with each persons inherent biological drive to survive. Criminal activity has both social and biological factors which science continues to try to unravel. But here again we are learning a great deal about why people do bad things and ways to help prevent these actions.There are multiple other considerations which are beyond our discussion. The point is we no longer are in the dark about these things. A natural explanation seems far more plausible than a spiritual one.
Once again, I would concede without the benefit of scientific knowledge we would have few other conclusions to draw than either God was punishing someone or Satan was tormenting them. We also touched on how every anomaly of nature like earthquakes, drought and volcanic eruptions has traceable causes. I cannot emphasize enough how simple the world has become since science began exploring all its “mysteries.” I don’t mean to offend you, but the God of the natural world has become obsolete and has been replaced with the “God” of science.
Jesus: Yet most people believe in him as we keep coming back to. That must prove something.
Me: It proves most people believe in a God or gods but differ on their definition and responsibilities to that God(s). I will agree on that but this only demonstrates mankind’s insatiable desire to hope in something bigger and beyond to help alleviate their fears. Belief in God is purely selfish. Believers want something in return. For Christians it’s eternal life which most think is guaranteed regardless of how tepid their faith is. Judaism operates on the basis of obedience brings blessing, disobedience brings punishment, right?
Jesus: It makes sense a righteous God rewards righteousness and punishes wickedness.
Me: If you could prove a causal relationship between immediate reward or punishment based on an individuals level of obedience, I would agree. However, after studying the Hebrew writings, I find no specific evidence of such causality, in fact, the opposite. Sometimes there is immediate retribution and sometimes there is not. Sometimes an evil king enjoys a long prosperous reign while a good king does not. Many times the entire nation is punished for the sin of the king even if they were forced to obey the bad king. This is a general principle employed by a writer(s) who has rewritten Israel’s history to advance and promote Yahwism.
I would add by way of personal testimony, I completely understand how faith alters one’s perspective of their world. When I was a believer, I saw the hand of God is even the most minute detail of my life. Every thing I did or that befell me, good or bad, had divine purpose behind it. It was as if God was carefully orchestrating every thing which made life exciting and meaningful all the time. It also reinforced my belief in God’s existence in spite of what anybody said. It also crippled my ability to be objective and made me stubbornly resistant to outside influence.
I appreciate how these writers could only see the hand of the Lord in Israel’s history from their perspective. These are not historical records but theological works which borrow historical data to support them.
Jesus: You are forgetting about divine inspiration which ensures their authenticity and accuracy.
Me: I think we both would agree, God does not make mistakes. He is perfect, if he exists.
Jesus: Of course is are his holy writings.
Me: That’s where we differ. Until the advent of science, both the Hebrew and Christian writings went virtually unchallenged for fifteen hundred years. Then civilization changed as mankind evolved and invented things that changed how we perceive our world. The Bible was not immune to scientific inquiry. The same methods it applied to the natural world were applied to the biblical text. And like our understanding of the world changed, so too did our understanding of the Bible.
Jesus: I think you are referring again to the unprovability of the supernatural but isn’t it equally unquestionable? There is no evidence such spectacles did not occur.
Me: You’re appealing to the burden of proof argument which is a common defense. To this we turn to the question of predictability. Today we are able to investigate many of the Bible’s miraculous claims with the tools of science. The divine credibility of the Bible rests upon the supernatural, otherwise it is just an empty book of fiction, false promises and empty threats. There is nothing as important as this issue which is why it is vital we keep addressing it. If even a few of the alleged miracles found throughout the Bible could be verified by science, things would be different. Based on what the Hebrew writings teach, science can predict what it should find in places like the Sinai or Canaan to corroborate the text. To date, there is no persuading evidence to support a single biblical claim that relies on the miraculous but the opposite.
Let’s take one very important example. Moses claims a massive number of Israelite slaves escaped bondage in Egypt and fled into the desert. The number according to the text is about six hundred thousand men plus women and children which could be easily two to four million people. Forgetting about the sheer logistics problem of so many people and livestock escaping, there is no trace of evidence that number of people died in the wilderness or why the Lord would punish thousands of children for their parent’s sin. Proponents default to a supernatural explanation for virtually every inconceivable detail as if that makes it believable. It may make for great storytelling to impart traditions and values to children but it is incompatible with science and plausibility.
I want to mention science does not only debunk myths, it hypothesizes alternative explanations. The evidence we now have suggest only a small group escaped and camped outside the land of Canaan. They were able to recruit a sizable number of Canaanites from within the land to join their confederacy under Yahweh’s banner as the God of war. Slowly and methodically they began to acquire more and more native Canaanites who had been displaced by puppet kings under Egyptian control. There was resistant especially among these vassals which resulted in armed conflict, but the movement to repossess the land from their Egyptian overlords grew in size and power. Eventually most of the land was re-taken and settled as Egypt was unable to hold on to its foreign holdings due to internal strife and coastal invasion. All of which was embellished and recast for theological effect.
Jesus: All of this is strange to me and I must reserve my opinion until I know more.
Me: I think that is a reasonable response but it is Christianity and particularly American evangelicalism which should stay our primary purpose. Judaism does not pose nearly as significant a threat as evangelicalism.
Jesus: Very well, where were we?
Me: I closed our last discussion with stating Christianity is baseless. Let me expound a little. Christianity absolutely exists as a religion grounded in historical fact starting with you, a man named Jesus who lived in Nazareth two thousand years ago, the son of Mary and Joseph. He had a band of followers who thought he was a Last Days prophet and the Messiah. He was crucified by the Roman authorities for this claim as a potential insurrectionist. An empty tomb and the mystical encounters of a handful of his followers was the genesis for the resurrection story which began to spread. While deeply connected to Judaism and messianic expectation, this fledgling faith soon drifted away after repeated failures of you and the kingdom to appear. However, because decades earlier, a converted Pharisee named Paul had begun his own “gospel” for Gentiles and Jews outside the law, Christianity’s survival was ensured in spite of what would befall Jerusalem in 70AD.
Jesus: I find it remarkable the story of my resurrection became as popular as it did without a single persona actually witnessing me in the living flesh.
Me: The distinction is between knowing the difference between fact and fiction not reality and fantasy. To someone who believes in spirits, a vision of an angel is as real if not more as the sight of a tree.
Jesus: The unseen world is real. Even if we can’t see it we can see its effects. Take the wind for example. It is real but unseen and could only come from God.
Me: While we can’t see it, we can identify its source and measure it. But let’s get back to how your resurrection became so believable.
Originally, you were not considered divine but only to have been raised back to life. I think Mary thought she saw you in the flesh but it was likely due to her mental state. She had trouble sorting fact from fiction because her mental condition likely prevented it. Regardless, whatever she heard or saw was real to her experience. You did cast seven demons from her?
Jesus: She was one of my closest followers and strongest supporters. I did heal her of demonic affliction.
Me: Today she might be considered to have suffered from a mental disorder of some kind that impaired her ability to distinguish reality and fantasy. In her mind, a spirit could be a physical person.
Jesus: How does this explain widespread belief in my being raised from the dead if no one actually saw me to confirm it?
Me: It only took one person to persuade others she had seen you for them to believe her. Her certainty was enough to persuade others thus planting the seed in the possibility of your resurrection. The gospels suggest it was believed you had ascended and returned in a glorified bodies the day of your resurrection. Thus, your disciples experiences were of a spiritual encounter not a physical one. Paul who did not know you personally claimed himself to have “seen” you in a vision and it put him on a path that would lead to his eventual death.
Jesus: Belief in the spirit world was very popular at this time. It would explain how they would believe in a resurrection which never took place.
Me: I have devoted most of my life to this consideration. Early in my investigation, I wondered how without an actual physical encounter they would devout their lives to propagating a myth to the point of death.
Jesus: Obviously, their mystical encounter was powerful enough to persuade them.
Me:. Today’s world is largely bereft of supernatural encounters but as you said, in your time, not only were they common but they were considered more “real” than the natural world. Throughout the history of Christianity there have been martyrs who were far removed and who could not profess to have seen you resurrected. I think this point is critical for understanding the resurrection myth. It is impossible to overestimate the power of one’s personal encounter with God.
Jesus: I couldn’t agree more as you know.
Me: I would like to conclude this conversation by say, for most American evangelicals believing is easy and offers great rewards. It take incredible effort to disbelieve something you “think” you believe in and perhaps have been raised to believe in. It took me years of intensive investigation to dismantle my faith theological brick by theological brick. Some can reject God in an instant if they feel he has let them down or brought pain and suffering into their lives. The death of a child or incurable disease often cause a person to question God. However, for those comfortably contented in their faith, no amount of argumentation will work.
The problem is many will adamantly claim their faith is rational and those who do not agree with them are somehow less enlightened or blinded by sin. Herein lies to folly of evangelicalism.
Until our next conversation.