May 06, 2006

Why Die For a Lie?

In order to show that the founders of Christianity were earnest about what they professed, Christian apologists often point out that they suffered horribly in the defense of their claims. According to Scripture and historical tradition, all of the apostles (except John) and armies of the disciples of Jesus died as martyrs for preaching and practicing the beliefs that we know as orthodox Christianity. In fact, (unlike many other movements, like Mormonism) history does not offer us any account of apostolic insiders who recanted of their beliefs or blew the cover of the "divine conspiracy."

As the argument goes, people may die for what they mistakenly believe to be a lie, but they do not die for what they know to be untrue. For example, Muslims may fly planes into skyscrapers earnestly believing that a virgin-filled paradise awaits them, but they do not happen to be the primary witnesses to the founding events of Islam. It is not as though they themselves have heard the voice of Gabriel reciting the verses of the Qur'an and are now dying in testimony to that experience.

On the other hand, the immediate disciples of Jesus were martyred for the beliefs about those things for which they were first-hand witnesses. It was either true or they were throwing their lives away in defense of a fiction. (Of course, they could have been somehow deluded about what they witnessed, but then we have the problem as to why they all had the same very specific and consistent delusion.)

My web friend Sam (ephphatha of Philochristos) has addressed the question of how some of the disciples died. He does so in answer to the challenge that perhaps our claim that they were martyred for their faith is merely a mistake, or is simply an extension of the larger Christian conspiracy. As one atheist put it to me regarding a similar issue, all such evidences are part of a great phantasmagoria of myth and deception. If this is true, then I must commend the Church Fathers for their thoroughgoing brilliance, and perhaps I will call myself a Christian anyway merely to bask in the genius of this meta-narrative.

To be honest, I have never interacted with a skeptic who questioned the record of the martyrdom of the earliest Christians. This one is usually granted, perhaps on the strength of the testimony of the Church Fathers and the secular writers, or perhaps because the martyrdom is rationalized by them on other grounds. However, this could be a case similar to the denial of the very existence of Jesus: there are those who do so, but it is not the mainstream position of critical scholarship.

On the Stand To Reason radio show of last Sunday (April 30, available in podcast) this very topic was raised. One of Greg Koukl's callers addressed the "dying for a lie" question, and this skeptic referenced Jim Jones as a counter-example, i.e., someone who knew he was a fraud yet died anyway. It is unusual for me to be disappointed in Greg's handling of such issues, but this was one of those rare occasions. Greg granted the Jones case as an exception to the rule. But that begs the question as to the legitimacy of the rule, and whether or not the apostles were just such lunatic characters as Jones happened to be.

What Greg might have done was to point out that Jones was not submissively tortured and/or slain in defense of his cultic truth claims; he committed suicide in order to avoid the ugly consequences of his schemes. It was just a larger example of fleeing public scrutiny and legal threats, which are what brought him to Guyana in the first place. Jones died to avoid embarrassment and prosecution, not because he refused to recant of his testimony. Criminals and financial failures do this all the time. It is an act of cowardice and defeat, not martyrdom.

By contrast, the followers of Jesus boldly marched into the face of trouble and proclaimed their "fiction" in the public square. Additionally, there is no equivalence among the apostles to the power base and sexual perks that folks like Jim Jones, Muhammad, and Joseph Smith enjoyed as a result of their "frauds." As far as the records reveal, the earliest Christians had nothing to gain and everything to lose for claiming that another man was God in the flesh, raised from the dead. And they consistently chose "loss" for the sake of the Gospel, and were forced to do so in droves for the next three centuries until Constantine finally and officially ended the persecution of Christianity.

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17 Comments:

At 5/07/2006 5:24 PM, Blogger Psiomniac said...

One quick point:
The Jim Jones example is about the followers not Jim himself. What it demonstrates is that people will 'die for a lie' when they are the primary witnesses to nothing particularly spectacular.

 
At 5/07/2006 10:02 PM, Blogger Paul said...

Good point. But what is it that his followers witnessed which caused them to give up their lives? Did Jones do miracles and rise from the dead? Was the data itself impressive enough to convince you of Jones' deity if it were true, or at least to kill yourself for his sake? Were these people reasonable to give up their lives?

This is as compared to the followers of Jesus who allegedly witnessed things that were not just bald claims, or easily staged; they made claims to see things that were pretty much slam-dunks if they are right about it.

I can agree that they gave up their lives for what they heard and genuinely believed about Jones, but I think what they witnessed stunk of conspiracy, and does not demand my surrender even if true. I don't think it had a good empirical connection between what Jones was really about and what these people saw and understood about him.

 
At 5/09/2006 12:50 PM, Blogger Psiomniac said...

I agree on that last point.
What that demonstrates for me though, is that it is not necessary for people to witness genuinely miraculous things in order to lay down their lives for a belief.

 
At 5/10/2006 7:20 PM, Anonymous CB said...

The submission of Jones' followers and their subsequent suicide is really no different from a young suicide bomber today. Both are responding to the influence of someone else whom they believe to be divinely connected in some way. Jones' followers believed that he was giving them an accurate picture of things and thus died willingly (the same could be said of the Heaven's Gate cult). The question of Jones' sincerity is a separate question, to which I agree that Koukl didn't fully address. The caller did not sustain the argument that Jones was intentionally deceiving his followers. While this is certainly possible, it is also possible that Jones himself was insane. If this is true, then the sincerity of his suicide is sustained. If it is not true, then Scott's point is more than satisfactory, that he committed suicide for the same reason that many other sane people end their lives- to avoid consequences, or out of hopelessness or despondence. But these reasons are not applicable to the disciples of Jesus, who died at the hands of others while proclaiming the Gospels. I am aware of no defense that the disciples ended their own lives to avoid consequences.

In any case, the 'dying for truth/dying for a lie' defense really only established the sincerity of the disciples' belief. It is a different matter to defend that what they believed is true. With that in mind, skeptics who use this line of defense to work back to the conclusion that their belief was untrue are equally unable to sustain the claim.

 
At 5/10/2006 8:00 PM, Blogger sacred vapor said...

Not to move too far off from the topic, (in reflecting about Jesus), if he didn't really rise from the dead as he said he would, or substantiate his claims, he really was a lunatic (the great CS Lewis passage comes to mind).

I know far too many people that believe in a great moral teacher named Jesus, but do not submit to him as Lord. To be honest, He really doesn't leave us that option, right.

paul

 
At 5/11/2006 6:18 PM, Blogger Psiomniac said...

In any case, the 'dying for truth/dying for a lie' defense really only established the sincerity of the disciples' belief. It is a different matter to defend that what they believed is true. With that in mind, skeptics who use this line of defense to work back to the conclusion that their belief was untrue are equally unable to sustain the claim.
I agree that skeptics should not (and in my experience do not) over reach their case. All that is required is to establish that the sincerity, even to the point of death, is independent of the truth value of the proposition that is believed. Further, I think that there are good credible explanations for why followers died despite not having witnessed a risen Jesus.
As for Jesus being a lunatic, it is possible that he was a jewish revolutionary who used the fulfillment of prophesy ticket but was perfectly sane. If he wasn't the messiah, then his legacy was not his responsibility.

 
At 5/11/2006 6:59 PM, Blogger Paul said...

All that is required is to establish that the sincerity, even to the point of death, is independent of the truth value of the proposition that is believed. Further, I think that there are good credible explanations for why followers died despite not having witnessed a risen Jesus.

Yes, whether they died for their beliefs is a different issue from whether those beliefs for which they died are true. But if they did not actually witness a risen Jesus, then they are either liars or they were delusional. Which path are you following? The former denies the thesis of their sincerity, which you seem to affirm. The latter requires you to sign on to a long tradition of skeptics who have been attempting creative answers to this question for centuries. I would think if there were a really plausible (or true) solution to this question, it would have found a sustained consensus by now.

 
At 5/12/2006 5:14 PM, Blogger Psiomniac said...

The latter requires you to sign on to a long tradition of skeptics who have been attempting creative answers to this question for centuries. I would think if there were a really plausible (or true) solution to this question, it would have found a sustained consensus by now.
First I would like to say that, depite your faith in plausible solutions being able to find sustained consensus, the entire history of our species seems to deny that hypothesis. On the question of plausibility itself though, on the one hand we have the thesis that the creator of the entire universe sacrificed part of himself to himself to atone for sin, which is the violation of laws that He decided upon. He decided upon these laws in the full foreknowledge that the feckless weak willed covetous creature he created, next to a talking satanic snake and the tree of knowledge would violate said laws, yet he created the scenario anyway. He gave us brains and rationality but made the evidence of His existence inhabit a labrynth of exegesis and interpretation. All this so we would have the free will to chose him or suffer eternal torment. On the other hand we have sound evidence that people who share a belief and who make a prophesy, for example that somebody will rise from the dead, will, when that prophesy is proved false, make up an alternative, for example that he will appear in the clouds soon, and then they will ardently seek new recruits to their belief. So, far from the common sense idea, that when a dramatic prophesy fails, a group would fade away and disband, the opposite is true. There are well documented cases of this. Of course, very few of these cults make it to world religion status. For that you need other factors, like the appeal underlying ideas of salvation, Paul's religious genius, and eventually the hijacking of a world empire.
Now, which is more credible? Take the former as metaphorically as you like. I know you have made your decision. Time will tell. Or not. All this for a species inhabiting a planet on the outer arm of a nondescript galaxy, one of millions of similar galaxies. You really think so?

 
At 5/14/2006 3:58 PM, Blogger Paul said...

Hmm, I don't even know where to begin with that diatribe. There are so many off-topic issues in there that I'm tempted to bite on, but I've promised myself for the sake of my schedule to keep the debating down to a minimum. However, the last thing you said might be an interesting subject for a post given that I have a passion for astronomy.

As far as relevance to the topic at hand, I think this comment of yours is most applicable:

We have sound evidence that people who share a belief and who make a prophesy, for example that somebody will rise from the dead, will, when that prophesy is proved false, make up an alternative, for example that he will appear in the clouds soon, and then they will ardently seek new recruits to their belief. So, far from the common sense idea, that when a dramatic prophesy fails, a group would fade away and disband, the opposite is true. There are well documented cases of this.

First, I would point out that you admit that these prophecies have been "proved false," which the resurrection has not. (Note: I think you are referring to things like The Great Disappointment of 1844, which spawned the Adventists and the Jehovah's Witnesses.) Second, I would point out that most of the followers of this movement turned away after this failed appearance of Christ, unlike with the resurrection, which caused those who had fled at the crucifixion to regroup, and inspired the skyrocketing growth of the church. Third, I don't recall that there was a comparably massive persecution against those who did not abandon the cause and claimed that Jesus had come in some more abstract form. I think it more accurately would be termed "ridicule." Fourth, there really wasn't anything tangible that was witnessed here. The ultimate conclusion that Jesus made an invisible return, entering the inner sanctuary to begin the "investigative judgment," was more a forced theological conclusion than an eyewitness event. Even if persons where committed to this thesis, at the expense of there lives, it would be a rather difficult task to connect such a belief with the truth of it.

 
At 5/15/2006 2:03 PM, Blogger Psiomniac said...

First, I would point out that you admit that these prophecies have been "proved false," which the resurrection has not.
I wasn't of course using 'proved false' in the formal sense. The point I was trying to make is that when a prediction is manifestly diconfirmed to those who made it their levels of devotion to the cause increases rather than decreases and they go forth and try to recruit others to their cult. Although the resurrection has not been proved false there is no good evidence for it and I was pointing out one reason why the 'die for a lie' idea isn't good evidence either.

Second, I would point out that most of the followers of this movement turned away after this failed appearance of Christ, unlike with the resurrection, which caused those who had fled at the crucifixion to regroup, and inspired the skyrocketing growth of the church.
We just do not have good data to support this claim. We do not know what percentage of followers melted away. By definition those that remained were the ones that got written about. Don't forget, the Jehova's Witnesses are still with us!

, I don't recall that there was a comparably massive persecution against those who did not abandon the cause and claimed that Jesus had come in some more abstract form. I think it more accurately would be termed "ridicule"
As others have noted, the evidence on the martyrdom question is not cut and dried. In any event, some cults and religions have been persecuted and the believers have kept faith. This in no way lends support to their truth claims as they contradict each other. It is just another aspect of human behaviour.

Fourth, there really wasn't anything tangible that was witnessed here. The ultimate conclusion that Jesus made an invisible return, entering the inner sanctuary to begin the "investigative judgment," was more a forced theological conclusion than an eyewitness event. Even if persons where committed to this thesis, at the expense of there lives, it would be a rather difficult task to connect such a belief with the truth of it.

I think this final point is begging the question.

 
At 5/15/2006 8:58 PM, Blogger Paul said...

Although the resurrection has not been proved false there is no good evidence for it.

I wonder if you are ignorant of the evidence or if you simply reject it. In any case, I think there is compelling evidence for the resurrection, which would be more than sufficient if we were talking about any other event of history. If you were actually interested in wrestling with the case for the resurrection, perhaps you would be interested in this formidable resource by N.T. Wright, or this more modest one by Gary Habermas.

We just do not have good data to support this claim. We do not know what percentage of followers melted away. By definition those that remained were the ones that got written about.

It is true that we don't have stats on this. But I'm willing to bet that a crucified messiah discouraged the heck out of them. As Sam pointed out, there were many other pretenders who's death pretty much ended their movements. We should at least be able to agree, from sources that you might admit, that the movement caught like wildfire, and by the end of the first century, Christians could be found infesting the bulk of the Roman Empire.

Don't forget, the Jehovah's Witnesses are still with us!

As I said, I am unimpressed even by what their founder(s) claimed to "witness." They are founded more on theological speculation than some miraculous and authoritative event, like the resurrection of Jesus.

As others have noted, the evidence on the martyrdom question is not cut and dried.

But there is no particular reason to deny it unless you are predisposed to believe anything and everything that runs contrary to the claims and history of classical Christianity. Too bad we can't employ the multiple attestations of the various authors of Scripture to convince you of any of these claims. I am in a position equivalent to trying to convince you that I am a nice guy without appealing to the testimony of my friends or family because they are just biased. I guess this means I would have to appeal to my enemies to make the case.

In any event, some cults and religions have been persecuted and the believers have kept faith. This in no way lends support to their truth claims as they contradict each other. It is just another aspect of human behaviour.

Again, I still remain unimpressed by the foundational claims of most of the cults for which I am aware. I think that the resurrection stands head-and-shoulders above any other event (even assuming any cults were founded upon empirical events).

I SAID: Fourth, there really wasn't anything tangible that was witnessed here. The ultimate conclusion that Jesus made an invisible return, entering the inner sanctuary to begin the "investigative judgment," was more a forced theological conclusion than an eyewitness event. Even if persons where committed to this thesis, at the expense of there lives, it would be a rather difficult task to connect such a belief with the truth of it.

YOU SAID: I think this final point is begging the question.


I'm not sure what question I am begging. All that they were claiming was that Jesus had entered the inner sanctum of heaven (or something like that). It was not that they had witnessed such a thing; it was a theological move to wiggle out of the embarrassment of the no-show of Jesus on 1844. There was nothing being "witnessed" for which they might die. How do you prove such a thing?

 
At 5/16/2006 2:33 AM, Blogger mxu said...

Thank you for this post. I've linked to it here.

 
At 5/17/2006 8:11 AM, Blogger Psiomniac said...

Paul,
I wonder if you are ignorant of the evidence or if you simply reject it. In any case, I think there is compelling evidence for the resurrection, which would be more than sufficient if we were talking about any other event of history.
I think we have both looked quite hard at the evidence judging by your reply. It is likey that we have done so through the prism of our own world view. I strongly disagree that the evidence is anywhere near the standard necessary to establish the veracity of historical accounts. We could quote book lists at each other but I feel this would be futile.
The fact that the Jehovah's Witnesses are still here despite merely being founded on speculation is the point I am making. It shows that actual eye witnessing of miraculous events is not necessary to spawn and maintain cults. This means that the idea that Jesus physically came back to life could be added later into the legend of an already existing cult.

Too bad we can't employ the multiple attestations of the various authors of Scripture to convince you of any of these claims. I am in a position equivalent to trying to convince you that I am a nice guy without appealing to the testimony of my friends or family because they are just biased. I guess this means I would have to appeal to my enemies to make the case.

If I were trying to find out whether Sai Baba was a genuine miracle worker or a fraud would it make sense just to ask his friends? The Gospels are not historical documents and cannot be read as such. If the standard, transparent and generally agreed protocols of historical analysis are employed then I think the martyrdom question is open to doubt.

Your last two points beg the question because they assume that Christianity is based on the witnessing of a physical event, which is precisely what is at issue. Take one example, 1 Cor. 15:3-8 (Jerusalem Bible) :"...and next he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time". Yet none of the Gospels mention that Jesus appeared to anything like this number of people. One would have thought it might cause a stir, but there is no mention of it from Josephus or any Roman historian. I think it far more likely that the legend of the risen Jesus appeared later as part of the explanatory narratives that helped this particular cult with a dead leader become popular and take over the Roman Empire. It was the only cult to successfully fuse the messianic jewish idea with that of the living god in human form common in other religions of the time. With the help of Paul's religios genius this was sold as a way we could all ultimately cheat death. No wonder it caught on.

 
At 5/20/2006 12:55 PM, Blogger Paul said...

Psio,

It is likely that we have [looked at the evidence for the resurrection] through the prism of our own world view. I strongly disagree that the evidence is anywhere near the standard necessary to establish the veracity of historical accounts.

It's good enough to convert many a skeptic who first went after it with hostile intent. But I suspect your own prism would exclude anything I could offer short of a Pauline visitation. Even then you may just write it off the next morning as a bad dream. The problem is that the supposed refutations turn out to be meager, independent defenses against the various historical milestones, but do not rise to anything like a comprehensive narrative of what "really" happened. I will be impressed by the critical response when they can manage to get a meaningful percentage of skeptics to ride any given explanation for more than half a generation.

The fact that the Jehovah's Witnesses are still here despite merely being founded on speculation is the point I am making. It shows that actual eye witnessing of miraculous events is not necessary to spawn and maintain cults.

Oh, I have no doubt that the JW's believe their theological aberration. Maybe some would die for it. Not sure if that theory has been tested yet, but if they did so I would believe they believed it all the more. Do you believe that the followers of Jesus actually believed they saw Him raised from the dead and that He said the kinds of wild things recorded in the N.T.? That is my point: that what they were dying for they must have believed (why die for a lie?). And what they happened to believe was a rather impressive and important thing for which they were primary (and secondary) witnesses. This is why many modern critical scholars have conceded that the disciples at least thought they saw the risen Jesus.

This means that the idea that Jesus physically came back to life could be added later into the legend of an already existing cult.

So, just what was it they were professing for which they were forced to die? What was this alternative truth that inflamed the citizens and caused a radical break with Judaism and the pagan Hellenistic culture and founded the largest spiritual dynasty in the world: that God is love & tolerance; or that we are all gods deep down inside; or that we just have to trust our inner voice? Those things are already covered; we don't need a new religion for that.

Here's one of those faith-driven, fill-in-the-blank opportunities for a skeptic such as yourself. There's just nothing to use to sustain the argument that the resurrection was a later insertion and that Christianity was something else at its beginning. All you can do is try to push the dates for authorship of the primary materials out as far as plausibility allows and then assume that time=myth. Problem is, even the most radical fringe of Christianity, like the Gnostics (who critics would love to put in Jesus' time), claimed that Jesus was divine and raised from the dead in some sense. There's just not much yarn left to weave another tale. Oh, I forgot: as Brown says, we destroyed all the evidence, so the very lack of it is proof of a conspiracy.

And one other thing: if they did mythologize Jesus at a later date, then those conscious mythologizers were the one's dying for the lie, since the later you get after Jesus, the more abundant the evidence that they were indeed dying rather than renounce their faith.

If I were trying to find out whether Sai Baba was a genuine miracle worker or a fraud would it make sense just to ask his friends?

I would certainly consider the testimony of those closest to him as my starting point. Usually we look to the critics when we begin to suspect that something is fishy. I think it is the moral and miracle claims that incline you to discard the canon documents from consideration. I have no particular a priori bias against miracles. However, they need to be part of a coherent context, which Jesus more than satisfied. This Baba fellow does not impress me even at face value. His "miracles" seem rather gratuitous party tricks and the fact that his theology embraces all religions lets me respond, "Okay, thanks. I'll keep working with this Christ, then, who is the propitiation for the sins of the world." Baba himself hands to me the basis for my apathy toward him. Jesus doesn't give me that option.

The Gospels are not historical documents and cannot be read as such.

That is your conclusion, not an argument. It certainly is not the face-value truth of the matter, since the authors of the Gospels work very hard to try to convince us that they are writing about real events. They may be deceived or lying, but they have done a miserable job if they meant for us to take them as mythologists or parablists.

If the standard, transparent and generally agreed protocols of historical analysis are employed then I think the martyrdom question is open to doubt.

My goodness, every question of history is open to doubt. You are welcome to apply it as you like. However, I would beg to differ that the standard techniques of historical analysis (or even legal analysis) come up short on this question. If this were true, then we'd have to give up our claims to knowledge of most every character of ancient history, since we have far more to work with on Jesus than anyone else. The renowned law professor Simon Greenleaf actually became a Christian after accepting the challenge by one of his students to assess the evidence for Jesus using his own methods of legal analysis. And there are historians who have experienced the same in their own fields of study.

Your last two points beg the question because they assume that Christianity is based on the witnessing of a physical event, which is precisely what is at issue.

And my point was that the JWs were not even claiming to "witness" anything. The first Christians were at least claiming to witness something to be contended with, and this is what they were presumed to have died for. But I know that you take issue with that by whatever means seems most plausible.

Take one example, 1 Cor. 15:3-8 (Jerusalem Bible) :"...and next he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time". Yet none of the Gospels mention that Jesus appeared to anything like this number of people. One would have thought it might cause a stir, but there is no mention of it from Josephus or any Roman historian.

So one line of evidence must be discarded simply because it is not adequately repeated elsewhere. Seems like you are swatting at gnats. The Gospels do mention various appearances (different ones in some cases) and they make it rather clear (as at the end of John) that they only give some highlights of the story. As far as extra-biblical writings (secular that is), we are lucky to have much of anything about Jesus since the Jews were of little priority to the Romans and because we have so little surviving materials from that particular time. The fact that we do have references at all for a Jewish carpenter is quite impressive.

What you're really looking for is secular confirmation. But this is a no-win situation for Christianity, because anyone claiming that there was an actual resurrection would be ruled out of bounds by the critics as a biased, friendly source. And if a non-believer did happen to see the risen Christ (like Paul and James), they wouldn't remain "secular" to qualify for your list of credible.

One of the problems here is that Paul's letters are some of the earliest writings we have (as conceded by the skeptics). This means that Paul was saying things about Jesus right during the time when people would have still been alive to check it out. Indeed, he claims that most of them are still alive today. If these guys were making up a religion, they sure knew how to do it in a way that just begged to be refuted.

I think it far more likely that the legend of the risen Jesus appeared later as part of the explanatory narratives that helped this particular cult with a dead leader become popular and take over the Roman Empire. It was the only cult to successfully fuse the messianic jewish idea with that of the living god in human form common in other religions of the time. With the help of Paul's religious genius this was sold as a way we could all ultimately cheat death. No wonder it caught on.

Gosh, a brilliant story, huh? Kind of pulls all the best of the (alleged) myths together and curiously fulfills the Hebrew Scriptures. If there were a God, He'd probably work something like this. The best kind of "myth" is a true myth, as C.S. Lewis used to say. Much more comforting to think it just a concocted myth, though.

Actually, it was the other failed cults that crafted their ideas in a way that would help them "take over the Roman Empire," which was the popular messianic expectation. Paul and the "crafters" of orthodoxy were not even interested in power and politics based on the many statements they made about it (e.g., be obedient to your masters and rulers, give Caesar his due, God sovereignly ordains governments, etc.) It is only the fact that they did manage to saturate the Roman Empire (by peaceful means) that would lead one to conclude that this was their original objective (I don't agree that Christianity took it over, since I don't think the Holy Roman Empire was all that "holy").

Most people wanting to concoct a religion are not so interested in the long-range, multi-generational plan of self-indulgence (kind of an oxymoron). The immediate gains are the very impetus of the deception. And it's hard to reap many benefits (much less conquer an empire) when you're running around unarmed preaching things that piss off most of your audience.

 
At 5/21/2006 5:51 PM, Blogger Psiomniac said...

First I'd like to say thank you for taking the time to argue your case eloquently and I wish you well. Also I hope you are right, apart from one or two minor details of course, otherwise I am toast!
before signing off this topic I'll just quibble a little more:

It's good enough to convert many a skeptic who first went after it with hostile intent. But I suspect your own prism would exclude anything I could offer short of a Pauline visitation. Even then you may just write it off the next morning as a bad dream. The problem is that the supposed refutations turn out to be meager, independent defenses against the various historical milestones, but do not rise to anything like a comprehensive narrative of what "really" happened. I will be impressed by the critical response when they can manage to get a meaningful percentage of skeptics to ride any given explanation for more than half a generation.

Conversion still works both ways and many are going in the other direction. As to your criticism of the acuity of my prism its just symmetrical to me saying: 'It says this in this book and lots of people have believed it and still do so it must be true'. A bit of a caricature. Your point about the coherence of the case against the evidence ignores the fundamental asymmetry of the situation. You are the one with the truth claim. The detractors have no obligation to be unified.


Oh, I have no doubt that the JW's believe their theological aberration. Maybe some would die for it. Not sure if that theory has been tested yet, but if they did so I would believe they believed it all the more. Do you believe that the followers of Jesus actually believed they saw Him raised from the dead and that He said the kinds of wild things recorded in the N.T.? That is my point: that what they were dying for they must have believed (why die for a lie?). And what they happened to believe was a rather impressive and important thing for which they were primary (and secondary) witnesses. This is why many modern critical scholars have conceded that the disciples at least thought they saw the risen Jesus.

So we are left with the conclusion that people will die for things, a tiny proportion of whom you assume died for the same thing you believe. Ok. Many scholars are on the other side though.

I said: The Gospels are not historical documents and cannot be read as such.. and you responded with:
That is your conclusion, not an argument.
I agree with you here. It is my conclusion based on argument and evidence which I have not stated at length here. I have looked into this again since my last post and I can see persuasive narratives on both sides so I can understand why it all seems credible to those with a sympathetic prism.

And my point was that the JWs were not even claiming to "witness" anything.
I accept the distinction but if people, for example the gnostics, will die for their beliefs despite not witnessing anything, then death in the face of persecution loses its power to convince us that something miraculous is necessary. We know this must be so anyway because only a tiny percentage of martyrs could have witnessed the actual risen Jesus even if the resurrection were true. So most are persuaded by a process almost like mathematical induction, a chain of heresay. Unfortunately a chain is only as strong as its weakest link.

So one line of evidence must be discarded simply because it is not adequately repeated elsewhere. Seems like you are swatting at gnats.
Well either you want to adhere to those historical protocols or you don't, you can't have it both ways. Maybe some of the Biblical claims are like gnats.

Gosh, a brilliant story, huh? Kind of pulls all the best of the (alleged) myths together and curiously fulfills the Hebrew Scriptures. If there were a God, He'd probably work something like this. The best kind of "myth" is a true myth, as C.S. Lewis used to say. Much more comforting to think it just a concocted myth, though.

Here is where I disagree most. there is nothing particularly curious about people writing down later that stuff that was written down earlier has been fulfilled. This smacks of human work rather than God's to me. If there were a God, he'd probably pull something like: 'ok I know free will seems fairly good but I'm just going to impose a few limits. First, an end to earthquakes because they have nothing to do with free will. Next, all bullets will turn into whipped cream on impact... etc etc'


Actually, it was the other failed cults that crafted their ideas in a way that would help them "take over the Roman Empire," which was the popular messianic expectation. Paul and the "crafters" of orthodoxy were not even interested in power and politics based on the many statements they made about it (e.g., be obedient to your masters and rulers, give Caesar his due, God sovereignly ordains governments, etc.) It is only the fact that they did manage to saturate the Roman Empire (by peaceful means) that would lead one to conclude that this was their original objective (I don't agree that Christianity took it over, since I don't think the Holy Roman Empire was all that "holy").

Softly soflty catchee monkey. I thought the 'Holy' Roman Empire was Charlemagne's lot anyway. Converted a lot of people to Christianity at the point of a sword. Or I could just be making that up.


Most people wanting to concoct a religion are not so interested in the long-range, multi-generational plan of self-indulgence (kind of an oxymoron). The immediate gains are the very impetus of the deception. And it's hard to reap many benefits (much less conquer an empire) when you're running around unarmed preaching things that piss off most of your audience.

I actually think its most likely that it is not a scam and that this was not their objective. I just think that cults rise and fall. Yours has had a very good run, which, by definition, is why we are still talking about it.

 
At 5/22/2006 12:53 PM, Blogger Paul said...

Psio,

It is not my desire simply to win a debate (I would hope for much more than that), and for this reason I'm going to let you have the last word on this topic. Of course, if you or any other reader wants a genuine response to one or more of the final points made here, I'll be glad to follow up.

I'm not sure where you are in the process of hammering out your worldview, or what your real issues are with Christianity. However, I hope that your interaction with folks like me helps to at least show Christianity to be a "reasonable" belief system. If you are genuinely interested in better understanding Christianity, you are a more than welcome guest of this blog. If not, you are still welcome, but my schedule constrains me to pick my battles.

 
At 5/23/2006 5:12 PM, Blogger Psiomniac said...

Paul,
Thankyou for making me welcome. You have assuredly enhanced my understanding of the considerable intelligence and integrity of those who take their faith seriously. Until the next contoversial topic then.

 

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