Wahhh this is such a long blog!! Had to be done… next ones will be back to bite sized, promise.
See: Response to Alpha Course: Week 2 for the background to this blog.
Evidence Number Two
Jesus was either Bad, Mad or God
I love this… it’s simple and I think it’s fairly true. A guy claiming to be God either: 1) knows it’s not true, and is therefore evilly deceiving people, 2) doesn’t know it’s not true and is therefore mentally deluded or 3) is actually telling the truth.
According to the records, Jesus died a really painful death and probably would’ve seen it coming. Despite the fame (and, according to evangelicals, money) afforded him from his teachings, I’d have to agree it’s a fairly big deal for someone to go through if he was fleecing people. So let’s rule out evil for now.
Below are the 5 reasons Nicky gave for logically believing Jesus was not mentally deluded and some additional thoughts in response (Nicky Gumbel is quoted in italics).
1. Jesus Teachings:
Nicky: “Well, the teachings of Jesus have been widely acknowledged to be the greatest teaching ever to come forth from anyone’s lips. (…examples of how society has advanced…) Here we are 2000 years later and no one has ever improved on the teachings of Jesus. Who’s improved on the teachings of Jesus?”
Well, Paul the Apostle came up with extra stuff that Jesus hadn’t clarified; like whether you should stay married to an unbeliever, pray in tongues in public and how to discipline someone who wasn’t toeing the party line.
Outside of Christianity, there’d be 1.6 billion Muslim people who evidently strongly believe Mohammed improved on the teachings of Jesus. And 376 million people who would think Buddha’s teachings were better than Jesus’ in the first place. Even Scientologists would probably rate L. Ron Hubbards writings above those of Jesus.
‘Widely acknowledged’ here clearly relates only to the Western world. My impression is that people in the Eastern world generally have quite a low opinion of Jesus and his teachings (mostly because he is associated with the capitalistic greed of the Western countries).
Nicky: “So much of the medical care that spread throughout western civilization came from Jesus’ teachings.”
True. Jesus’ teachings in the hands of humans has also accomplished 1000 years of intellectual darkness known as the Middle Ages, 500 years of wars in the Crusades, 350 years of the Spanish Inquisition, burning of ‘witches’ at the stake, the continuation of apartheid and a loss of cultural heritage for many cultures thanks to missionaries who equated “Christian” with “Western”. We could go on.
I used to look at these examples and scoff that those people clearly just misinterpreted the bible and it was never Jesus’ intention for those events to take place. Makes you wonder if we’re doing the same thing with some of our ‘newer’ fundamental beliefs, like no to gay marriage or submission to leadership, today.
3) Actions: Jesus did nice things and was a fun guy.
He also told his followers to leave their family without even saying goodbye. He told some people they were ‘goats’ and deserved to be tortured for eternity. He had a raging fit in the middle of the markets, deliberately taking the time to make a whip and use it to whip people out through a gate. We’d arrest someone who did that today and put them in a mental institution.
The counter-argument to this is that, as God, Jesus is pure in requesting these things and judging people and these are ‘righteous actions’. Well, we’re either going to judge him on today’s moral standards or not. If we’re not, then it means nothing that Jesus was nice and has fun.
4) Jesus’ Character:
Nicky: “Is he evil, is he insane? Look at his character. (reading from the bible) “His enemies could find no fault with him.” His friends lived with him for 3 years, they really knew him. These are the people who, if there was fault with him they would have found it. And they said ‘he is without sin’.”
Hitler’s followers believed he was mentally sound, or at least their actions would suggest so. Every prophet has had followers, or friends if you like, who believed in them 100% and also wrote glowing reports about their guru’s teachings. Jesus had plenty of people disagree with him it’s just that their writings aren’t considered Divinely Inspired. Which is not a coincidence.
There’s no denying Jesus was a basically good guy and had some pretty good teachings, even if they have been abused at the hands of his followers over the past 2000 years. However, this doesn’t make him any different to Muhammed or Buddha or Ra or Bahá’ull’áh.
4) Fulfilling of Prophecies:
Nicky: “Jesus fulfilled 300 prophecies from the Old Testament, stuff that he had no control over, like where he was born and how he died.”
Here’s how this could also work; let’s take the birth one as an example. The Jewish teachers, and therefore, the Jewish congregation, were expecting The Messiah to be born in Bethlehem. There were always a number of suspects walking around claiming to be the Messiah. If these people couldn’t prove they were born in Bethelehem, no-one believed them and therefore they were never written about. It took at least 800 years of false Messiahs to find one that satisfied the ‘unfakeable’ criteria. The rest can be taken care of on purpose, by disciples or in the two generation gap before anyone actually wrote anything down.
The biggest shock for me though on this point was that Jews don’t think Jesus was the Messiah. If he fulfilled 300 of their prophecies, how come they’re not convinced?
5) The Resurrection.
It’s true that The Resurrection is key to Christianity. The above 4 examples don’t make Jesus any greater than other nice-guy kooks running around claiming to be god. If Jesus did actually rise from the dead that’s pretty impressive; he’d then only have to compete with Osiris and Attis of Phrygia (both BC) as the Son of God who healed people, died and rose again after 3 days. The evidence given by Alpha for the resurrection is The Bible and I already gave some additional thoughts as to why there’s room for doubt on those accounts.
It’s easy for Christians to understand how I now view Jesus by answering the question; how do you view the claims of this fairly extensive list of people who also said they were God? If I guess right, you believe them mentally deluded, regardless of whether they were nice people or not.
Why is how I come to choose Option 2; Delusional, like everybody else.
I hesitate over this last section because I don’t like to personally attack people but I’m going to include it because I’m genuinely confused about the oxymoron of the label ‘nice, intelligent pastor’. Nicky Gumbel said towards the end of his talk, “But I can’t help look at all these facts and this evidence and then I believe we have to ask ourselves the question: Did he claim to be God? Yes. Was he evil? I don’t think so, looking at his character and the things he said and did. Was he insane? I don’t think so…. That doesn’t really fit with the evidence. The only third logical possibility is that it’s true!”
If we apply Nicky’s own logic to himself, either he knows the things he’s saying are misrepresentations and he’s evil, he honestly believes them to be truly unequivocal evidence for Jesus as Son of God and he’s irrational or he doesn’t know they’re not true and he’s ignorant.
According to my friends, Nicky’s a seriously nice, humble guy. He’s also written a number of books and done a lot of study on the arguments around Christianity, even attempting a response to Richard Dawkins’ “The God Delusion”. So I’m going to rule out evil and ignorant and settle on irrational.
Nicky’s conversion story goes like this; he was an anti-Christian lawyer. Two of his close friends became Christians so he decided to read the New Testament. After three full days of straight reading, he got to the end and, in his own words “hadn’t studied all the things we talked about just now but it was basically what I saw and I came to the conclusion, it’s true!”
This is akin to a Muslim saying “I read the entire Qu’ran and at the end of it, just knew it was true.” This isn’t using logical and factual evidence to arrive at a conclusion. Using logical reasoning on factual evidence of a recording of Nicky’s own words, I would deduce that Nicky believes in Jesus not because it makes logical sense, as he asserts, but because for whatever reason it ‘felt right’ at the time. Which is where these sorts of discussions get to with every Christian. They eventually say; “I don’t believe because of logic, I just have faith inside me which I can’t deny.”
That’s fine. But let’s not pretend like there’s logical, factual, undeniable reasons as to why Jesus is the Son of God.