Sunday, June 20, 2010
While I was in the Army, stationed in The Republic of Panama, I started getting involved with hermeneutics. I was stationed there for 15 months and had a lot of free time to fill. I studied using The Amplified Bible that was given to me as a gift from a good friend of mine, in addition to other study books. Here is a quote from the web site of The Amplified Bible about why it was made; “It attempts to take both word meaning and context into account in order to accurately translate the original text from one language into another.”i
There were questions raised in my study of the Bible that I found out other people had written about. No one can walk into a Christian bookstore or any book store and find Bibles full of pictures of ancients places in the Mid East with the captions indicating the facts of scripture instead of the reality of archeology. I do, indeed, concede that there are many biblical archaeological sites. But none of these on there own merit indicate anything supernatural. There are numerous other books that will help put all the pieces in place for the devout believer, wishing to find the truth. I wish I could set down in this book the path to lead someone to reason and peace in their own life, apart from religion. But, just as each path to “God” is unique, the path leading out is also unique for each man and woman. I hope that this will at least show the path is out there and is worth finding. Sometimes it requires you to get deeper into your faith before you can come out. A short browse over the Christian literature will give you many options. One of the more popular of these questions are Lee Strobel's versions from his book, A Case For Christ:ii
Is there credible evidence that Jesus of Nazareth really is the Son of God?
How reliable is the New Testament?
Does evidence for Jesus exist outside the Bible?
Is there any reason to believe the resurrection was an actual event?
I am not going to deal with answering his questions one by one here, in depth. I will leave that for a later time. Besides, it would be something good for a person that wishes to research on there own to do. This way you can see the questions and find the answers yourself, without my or Strobel's influence. I will just briefly give my point of view to his questions and leave the in depth response to a later time.
I will though give my replies to these questions. These questions lead me to find facts about the story of Jesus that I had not learned in my Bible studies nor heard in church or Sunday school. The most important thing I think an atheist can tell an adherent to do about their religion is to STUDY it. Study the secular and church history origins. Study the dissidents of the religion and why they disagreed. Study the relationship to the church to other faiths that were around before their religion was established. Study the history and culture of the source of the religion. Above all, be willing to accept what their research reveals to them. Reading Strobel's book was really the first time I had addressed these issue and it came in valuable to me when I was later in Saudi Arabia and talking to the imams that were trying to convert us to Islam.
If most Christians were to honestly study their religion in depth, and all the other adherents to religions were to study their faith as well, then I would conclude that most would have to say they do not believe the supernatural aspect of them anymore. This may be why so many colleges begin as bible colleges or seminaries, but end up being a more expansive liberal arts and science school. It is also why many followers of a faith loose their fervor as they find more about the facts. Some people may find this “loss” to be an incredible price to pay for finding the truth. But would could make one more peaceful or content than to know how things really work and to behave accordingly.
Reading Strobel's book started an actual religious education. I had read about it and wanted to read the book prior to a visit that I was going to have with my Dad in a few months. I wanted to be able to talk to him about the reality of Jesus and help him to see that what I believed was based upon facts not emotional faith. One that made sense to me within the culture and context of the places the words originated in. This information is not hidden from the general public. It is just a matter of searching for it and reading the sources.
To answer each of Strobel's Questions for myself:
Question One: Is there credible evidence that Jesus of Nazareth really is the Son of God? No, none that is reliable, that I can think of. Several additional pagan Christs include Krishna, Osiris, Alexander The Great, Mithra, Adonis, Attis of Phrygia, Quetzalcoatl are among a few of the ancient names that have many similar life stories as Jesus, including things like a virgin birth; temptation in the desert; killed on a cross or tree; had twelve disciples; rose again from the dead, and several of the familiar ideas that are incorporated into the Jesus story. All of these predate the Jesus stories by many decades if not centuries.
Question Two: How reliable is the New Testament? This is a question dealing with the organization and the authorship of each of the sections of the New Testament. Each of the sections that are and are not part of the cannon of the New Testament. Some rely on stories of general ethics and morality. As the different movements of the Jesus Christ story began to grow, they all moved to get their particular version established as the legitimate stories. But gone are the books and stories that supported the view of the gnostics and other early churches. The fight to have one book or story included in the cannon was going on until the rudimentary edition that is mostly known today as the New Testament. Again many of these stories predate the time in which they are suppose to represent in their “corrected” text. Some researchers have actually said that it was Paul started the Christian faith and gathered other stories and people that would support his idea of a risen savior.
One would think that the most important text to be written in the history of the human race would be much more reliably written than what has happened with the New Testament. The oldest versions are scraps and the collection of the books that make up the New Testament didn't come together until AD325. So no one really even noticed Jesus outside his family and friends until he was about to be killed or the actions of his followers. No one outside his followers ever saw anything supernatural happen. Yet the stories of Jesus are very lacking in there cohesiveness and completeness. Given the time that the followers had prior to Jesus being killed, you would think that a few older manuscripts would have been made. I do bear in mind that the volume of copies of the text is not validity of the subject matter in it.
Question Three: Does evidence for Jesus exist outside the Bible? There are certainly a lot of books written about Jesus of Nazareth. To this, I cannot deny. But the question is not, “Do books written about Jesus support his existence?”, now is it? However that is how it tries to support itself that the volume of books are an indication of fact. There are two common extra biblical sources for Jesus existence. Theses two are the works of Josephus and Pliny the Younger. These two accounts address the stories of followers of one called Christ and deal very little on the evidence of this person. The reference in Josephus is viewed by historians and scholars as an injected text to the works of Josephus and the second reference is just a passing reference to James, "the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ." The conclusion I reached, based upon additional evidence as well, was that there was more proof for the existence of Santa Claus than there was for Jesus. So at best I see a man that may have lived and been a good and moral teacher but by no means exhibited the powers that were later on ascribed to him later by his followers.
Question Four: Is there any reason to believe the resurrection was an actual event? It is a fact that crucifixions were very much an actual event. And they were used as capital punishment for crimes against the Roman Government and other governments since then. So it is quite possible that a 1st Century itinerant rabbi may have been picked to be crucified for his teachings if found to be subversive to the Roman Authority or to the Jewish religion, via the Roman Authorities. But what the question asks is if the resurrection real? Well, there really is no evidence for that outside the Bible. No human in recorded history has ever been dead two or three days then came back to life for an additional score of days just to vanish in a cloud. Or vanish in any other method as well.
The Arabs and Jews have contended from the very beginning of when the story was being told that Jesus wasn't crucified but he either got someone else to take his place or that he escaped at some time. But addressing Strolbel's question, No, there really is no good reason to believe that the resurrection was an actual event in human history.
I have read Strobel's book and found it to be very juvenile in dealing with what he would consider facts. Many of the confirmations that he uses are filled with logical fallacies and circular reasoning. He fails to take in consideration any actual opposition to the views he wishes to question. The questions themselves are good ones to begin with. But the questions only get you to the starting line. You must use your mind to find answers that you may not agree with. , there is really no reason to ask the questions to begin with.
STILL SMALL VOICE part nine
To many people, if somewhere in the back of your mind you think that a god is real , then when a time of need or stress such as death or illness or job loss happen or the wholesale presentation of a religious dogma is presented, you are more likely to believe and follow that belief. The initial belief doesn't have to be a structured belief or a strongly held belief, just a vague concept of a God. However, if you think that we are just here for a short time [1 lifetime], one is more likely to try to improve the condition of humanity for ourselves and our posterity. Mutual goals and cooperation serve the needs of humanity and promote a higher quality of life. I see this behavior as the ongoing evolution of man. I can only imagine what we could have achieved if we worked for the common good instead of the suppression of ideas and the subjugation of other people.
I am sure there are many other stories like mine. Who knows , maybe the only place Bible stories will be told in the future are in kindergarten classes, where the little kids can be thrilled by the imagery, but the adults will not subject them to living to its horrible morals, traditions and dogma. On that day The Bible will find itself as a great work of mythology along many others, such as The Iliad and The Odyssey we have Today, that once were used in religion. To be honest, I see nothing wrong with old religions. They make for good movies and entertainment.
[Next posting: GOD IN CHAOS: Chapter Three; EVOLUTION AND RELIGION part ten]