I’ve been listening to a lot of responses to Christian apologetic arguments. I like the people who create these but there is something that bothers me. They tend to demand the same level of evidence for normal matters as they do exceptional matters.
Peter and Paul
Think about the two (reasonably) well-documented post-resurrection appearances of Jesus. (These are well-documented in the Bible; they aren’t documented anywhere else. So we are starting on very favorable ground for the apologists.) Paulogia, for example, responds that one was clearly a vision (Paul) and the other (Peter) could well have been a post-bereavement hallucination.
Fair enough. But suppose you could find some well-documented source stating that all the disciples saw Jesus risen from the dead. Should we believe this?
I would certainly accept that kind of evidence if the claim were something simple, “Jesus walked 150 miles in 5 days.” Okay. That’s a lot but it is certainly plausible. I know that I could do that and that some people can run 150 miles in a day.
I’d need more than that if the claim were, “Jesus flew 150 miles in 5 days.” And that claim is far more reasonable than that Jesus died and came back to life three days later!
There’s another issue. Peter had an enormous amount to gain from claiming that Jesus had risen from the grave. So did Paul!
But I understand that there is a social aspect of apologist-skeptic dialog. The skeptics don’t want to be seen as dicks. They don’t want to claim that the founders of the Christian religion were charlatans.
The problem with this is that we have so many examples of modern cults starting in exactly this way. It isn’t as simple as people lying. As Upton Sinclair put it, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”
All I’m saying is that it’s easy to convince yourself that you saw Jesus after he died when saying it is paying the bills and getting you invited to all the best suppers.
Or they could have been lying. They could have simply thought that Jesus’ teachings we so important that it made sense to fabricate the resurrection narrative. (Paulogia has suggested just that.)
Did Paul Really Persecute Christians?
One thing I’ve never seen contested is Paul’s claims that he worked for the Romans persecuting Christians before being converted. It isn’t attested to anywhere else. It’s just his claim.
Should we believe him? I doubt it.
I have seen many Christians tell exaggerated or outright false things about their pre-Christian days. Think about Mike Warnke who made a career claiming that he was a Satan Seller.
But he isn’t the only one. I’ve personally known two people who claimed they worshipped Satan when they were younger. It’s nonsense. If there were as many reformed Satanists as claimed, they’d have to be using my office at least part of the time for their orgies and goat sacrifices.
Paul’s story of his past sounds to me very much like stagecraft — a good tool to use to win converts. (And power. Just saying.)
Cults Then and Now
Everything we know about modern cults tells us that they are driven by the desire for power and grown through lies. I really can’t imagine the earliest days of Christianity being all that different from the early days of Heaven’s Gate. And even with the mass suicide, there are still believers in that cult.
Why would we think things would be more reasonable two thousand years ago?
Image via GaryStockbridge617. It is in the public domain.