Response to Alpha Course: Week 2

Posted on Oct 6, 2012 in God | 0 comments

I went to church this week.

Well, not really church.  An Alpha course.  Week 2 to be precise, at Nicky Gumbel’s church, the home of Alpha, “HTB”.  Which stands for… something… HTB-y…

I’m staying in London with Australian friends I knew from Sydney and they invited me along on my second night here.  One of my few regrets from my years as a Christian is that I was so centric – never reading or listening to or entertaining ideas from people that contradicted my own.  Now that I’m at the other end of the spectrum, I’d hate to commit the same mistake. Plus, I’ll admit I was curious as to what it would be like to be back in that environment after a 2 year hiatus.  So I met my friend for a glass (or two) of red wine after work and trotted along.

There’s a whole other blog in the emotions of the experience but I just want to outline what I mentally thought of the ideas presented, in a simple non-comprehensive, non-referenced way, just like Alpha does.  Even though Alpha is designed for people to come and ask questions and assist as a base for a search for meaning, most people probably attend it without doing any follow up on what was said.  I actually taught the Alpha Course twice when I was a Christian and never did any further reading on the claims.  Atheist websites are always so judgemental and rude about it, so I thought I’d put some ‘alternative thoughts’ down for anyone wanting to get a bigger picture.

First of all, one of the best sentences all evening was something Nicky said after confirming Jesus did actually claim to be the Son of God.  He said, “How do you test a claim like that?  I would suggest you look at evidence.”

Which is a great idea.  Because there’s lots of people who’ve claimed to be god or a demi-god or from god or showing the way to god or related to god… there’s a vein of similarity amongst all of them but one glance will tell you they can’t all be 100% right.  So assuming that one of them is correct, how could we tell?  Nicky’s suggesting evidence so let’s go with that for now…

Evidence Number One

The bible should be believed as an historical account

Comparative textual evidence, aka: the number of writings about an event and the age of the oldest copy of those writings, is given by Alpha as reason to believe in the accuracy of the New Testament.  Here’s some reasons the majority of people do not believe it is a reliable historical account:

  1. The New Testament was written not by Jesus and not by anyone who actually met Jesus, but by those people’s friends.  To put this in context, this is like me coming to you and saying “I just met a guy who told me he hid a million dollars in a cave in the middle of the ocean.”.  You believe me, write about it and 240 million people don wetsuits and begin scouring the ocean for a million dollars.
  2. Of all the historians writing at the time Jesus was alive, none mention Jesus.  The guy the Alpha course uses as a source was born after Jesus died and didn’t start writing until a number of decades later.  I used to have a vague impression that this was because in ‘biblical times’ people weren’t cultivated enough to be recording history or something like that.  Just a reminder that Jesus lived at the height of the Roman Empire – they created architectural and engineering feats we are still trying to work out today.  There were a lot of historians around at the time and many of their works are preserved.  For a guy who drew large crowds wherever he went, raised the dead and performed the miracles he did, it’s a huge problem that none of them mention him.
  3. Because of this distance from the source of events, the New Testament was written decades after Jesus actually existed. The earliest someone started writing about Jesus was 40 years after he died, possibly up to 100.  That’s at least one, if not, two generations of people verbally passing on information in an era where writing things down was prolific.
  4. The New Testament is just a portion of writings that existed about Jesus.  Some of those writings claim he wasn’t the son of god.  Others claim he was married.  A group of people, called the Council of Nicea, picked which writings were ‘god-inspired’ about 300 years after Jesus died.  And that’s how we have the bible today.  Christians don’t necessarily agree about which are divine and which aren’t though still, which is why Catholics have an extra 7 books in their bible.
  5. The New Testament accounts contradict themselves.  The Christian argument is that these contradictions are merely ‘viewpoint’ discrepancies.  Read this and decide for yourself whether the discrepancies are too much for you.

There are entire books written on whether the bible can be taken at face value or not and, believe me, it’s a dry, black-hole discussion.  Regardless of how far evidence for or against Jesus as the Son of God is down the ‘reliability’ ladder, at the end of the day, it’s on the ladder. There is room for doubt about whether the events took place as described and whether Jesus did actually say what he said.

I use to wonder “Well, if it didn’t actually happen like that, why would Christianity have started at all?”  Christianity isn’t the only religion to have started and flourished.  Religions thrive for all sorts of reasons; if the fact that Christianity exists at all is evidence of its truth, the same will have to be applied to Islam, Buddhism, Taoism, Jehovah’s Witnesses etc.  To choose Christianity over all the others, there’d need to be something sort of special about it.  Which brings us to the next point…


Bit of light reading over your coffee?