A Rebuttal to C. S. Lewis’ Trilemma

December 1, 2008 at 9:48 pm 46 comments

“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic – on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg – or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronising nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.

“We are faced, then, with a frightening alternative. This man we are talking about either was (and is) just what He said or else a lunatic, or something worse. Now it seems to me obvious that He was neither a lunatic nor a fiend: and consequently, however strange or terrifying or unlikely it may seem, I have to accept the view that He was and is God.” – C. S. Lewis in Mere Christianity, page 52-53

The Trilemma is perhaps C. S. Lewis’ most famous argument. Jesus claimed to be God. Either these claims were true or they weren’t. If they weren’t, either Jesus knew they were false or he didn’t. If he didn’t know, he was a lunatic. If he did know, he was a liar, and a fiend because of it. The only remaining possibility is that what he said was true. Therefore, Jesus is Lord.

I will show that this argument fails on four different lines, any of which is sufficient to refute the argument.

Problem 1: Biblical reliability

Like virtually all skeptics, I do not trust the historical reliability of the Gospels enough to believe that Jesus said all the things attributed to him in the Gospels. The Trilemma doesn’t even get off the ground when facing the position that the words of the biblical Jesus are not always those of the historical Jesus.

However, the Trilemma argument is not designed to get past this problem. While it is a valid reason to not be persuaded, it is off the topic of direct criticism of Lewis’ argument, so I will not elaborate here. From here on I will grant the assumption that Jesus said everything that the Gospels say he said.

Problem 2: Jesus was not a great moral teacher

What’s wrong with the possibility that Jesus was a lunatic or fiend? Many people in history have been liars and many have been fools. Why not Jesus? What’s wrong is that Jesus was a good teacher, and thus the lunacy and liar options are implausible. Lewis plays off this assumption rhetorically with “You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon…” so that one’s moral outrage is raised by such insulting statements being leveled at such a good teacher.

I disagree with generalizations about Jesus being a good teacher. At the last supper, Jesus had a chance to save millions of lives killed in his name by just clarifying whether or not the bread and wine were literally his body, or just a metaphor. Jesus did a terrible job explaining that salvation was through faith in him and not through selling your possessions and giving to the poor. Jesus spoke in parables so that people would not understand – if that’s not poor teaching, I don’t know what is.

Jesus spoke as though adultery of the heart is as bad as actual adultery. So why not treat them as equivalent in practice? As long as one is guilty of the former, why not go ahead and make oneself guilty of the latter? Applying the same approach to charity as to sin, should we not admire the ethics of a person who thinks long and hard about giving to the poor and then doesn’t?

Also, Jesus’ message is tarnished a bit by not coming to unite, but to divide. He wanted people to abandon their families in following him. He told the disciples to sell their cloaks and buy swords, and then scolded Peter for using his sword at the opportune time. Coming from the side of faith, these can be explained away. But Lewis is talking to skeptics, and these explanations fall flat when the goodness of Jesus as a teacher is still in question, rather than when looking back and rationalizing as believers do.

Finally, even if Jesus’ teachings were good, this wouldn’t make him a good teacher in the sense that Lewis needs him to be for the Trilemma. A statement about the goodness of Jesus’ teachings does not necessarily translate into a statement about the goodness of Jesus himself. I look at many of Jesus’ sayings and acknowledge their wisdom because they appear wise to me, and not because I recognize the legitimacy of Jesus’ words for the mere reason that they came from Jesus. Only claims about Jesus the person take away from the plausibility of the liar and lunatic options. The goodness of many of Jesus’ teachings is not a claim about Jesus the person.

Problem 3: Lunacy is an open option

By “lunacy,” I merely mean the possibility that Jesus wasn’t more than a man, but honestly thought himself to be – a clinically diagnosable disorder is not needed to fit under the second option of the Trilemma. Lewis dresses up this possibility with a great deal of rhetoric by claiming that this would be “on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg.” I disagree. I think that to be as superstitious as the common people in the first century already borders on lunacy by modern standards.

After Paul performs a miracle in Acts 14, the crowd becomes convinced that he’s a god come down in human form – despite Paul’s protestations that he’s not a god. And then some Jews are able to get the crowd to turn on Paul and stone him. Whether or not Paul performed a miracle is not the question here – what is clear is that first century people were either able to be convinced that a man was a god on the basis of no evidence, or were able to be dissuaded of the evidence of a miracle by means of no evidence. In a culture like this, how crazy would someone have to be to think that They were a god? This is less crazy than a person in modern times believing they are the reincarnation of Elvis. Delusional, yes, but they may actually be a talented musician capable of getting a job and living a life outside a mental hospital. Due to his time and place of birth, to fit under the “lunacy” option, Jesus did not have to be nearly crazy enough to warrant a lunatic label.

Next, Jesus’ words and actions are consistent with someone who is a little crazy. He wandered around the countryside preaching. He got angry at a fig tree for not having any figs, and so he cursed it. He didn’t give straight answers, but spoke in parables [in the synoptics, at least] so that the people would hear but not believe. He seems to have said the stars would fall from the sky before this generation passes away. Also, do not his mere claims to be God and have the power to forgive sins further support the lunacy theory? Why must we think Jesus to have been sufficiently sane to know he wasn’t God?

And finally, perhaps Jesus was a perfectly sane moral teacher when he conducted his memorable moral teaching. Only later did he grow to believe the hype about himself and turn into a lunatic.

To argue that Jesus could not have been mistaken about his identity seems to require some sort of appeal to his miracles or Resurrection. Unfortunately for Lewis, he is not arguing from the Resurrection, but still trying to argue toward the Resurrection, so this line of reasoning is not available to him.

Problem 4: Jesus didn’t say who he was

According to Christian theology, Jesus was fully man and fully God. He got his body through embryonic development inside Mary, even though he has always existed. He existed in certain physical locations, although as God he was everywhere at once. He needed food although God needs nothing. He had to grow in wisdom, because he was born lacking wisdom even though as God he was omniscient. Jesus was part of the Trinity, an entity which is one in essence. He prayed to himself in the Garden. The next day he asked himself why he had forsaken himself – I don’t ask “why” so much as “how.” Three (meaning two) days later he was somehow able to raise himself from the dead, even though he was dead. These ideas just don’t go together all that well. At this point, I’m not addressing the question of if there is any way to justify calling these “apparently” contradictory rather than actually contradictory. I’m suggesting that the incoherence of who he supposedly was increases the level of clarity needed in Jesus’ words to justify talk of who Jesus said he was.

The closest he comes to explaining his identity is in John 10: “I and the Father are one … the Father is in me, and I in the Father.” This can reasonably be taken to mean that he is God in some sense, and separate in some sense. However, Jesus never even approaches the subject of being fully God and fully man or what this would even mean. How is the Christian answer accepting that Jesus is “just what He said?”

Looking at Matthew, Mark, and Luke, and leaving out the last Gospel written, it’s not even clear that Jesus thinks he is God. He certainly thinks himself to be the Messiah, but there are lots of possibilities between mere mortal and God himself. For instance, he could be the Son of God who was delegated the power to forgive sins without a Trinity to make the Son of God equal to God. The differences between the Synoptics’ Jesus and John’s Jesus is a subject deserving its own post, but for now note that John is needed to defend the claim that Jesus claimed to be God, so claiming that Jesus thought he was God is not based off the testimony of the four Gospels, but based on John’s Gospel alone.

Suppose someone accepts that John is a reliable source of what Jesus said, the implausibility of the lunatic/liar descriptions of Jesus, and that we should thus take seriously who Jesus said he was. The lack of a clear statement by Jesus describing himself as both God and man and the incoherence of all the different things he is supposed to have been should point back to the conclusion that we are confused about what he meant. He also called himself a door, bread, and a vine, but that doesn’t mean he was lying, insane, or any of these things literally speaking. Throughout the Gospels, Jesus gets frustrated with the disciples for misunderstand what he is saying. Even if the Gospels were written by disciples, we should not uncritically accept the disciples’ understanding of what Jesus was talking about.

No matter how far-fetched one thinks the lunacy or liar theories are, they merely need to compete with believing someone whose self-description appears contradictory, who offers no reconciliation of the contradiction, and who never even recognizes that this part of his message and identity is so confusing that it must merely be accepted as a “mystery.”

Conclusion

We have had millions of crazy people and liars throughout history, and at most one God-man. Thus, before considering the evidence, the lunacy and liar theories are millions of times more plausible than the Lord theory. The fact that Jesus founded a religious movement only gets this number down in the thousands or hundreds.

For the Trilemma argument to work, what is needed is reliable Gospel accounts, reason to accept Jesus as at least a good teacher, reason to exclude the lunacy option, and a clear statement from Jesus concerning what he was. All four hurdles must be overcome with a level of certainty sufficient to overcome the fact that the lunacy option starts out vastly more plausible than the possibility that Jesus is “just what He said.” I am neither convinced nor impressed by Lewis’ most famous argument.

- Jeffrey

(Kudos to C. S. Lewis and the Search for Rational Religion by John Beversluis. This book provided the basic idea of at least half my arguments.)

Entry filed under: Jeffrey. Tags: , , , .

The continued desire for a sense of Community after de-Conversion Crazy for God (a must read for the de-converting)

46 Comments Add your own

  • 1. VorJack  |  December 1, 2008 at 10:13 pm

    I’ve always wondered if Lewis knew of the other Jewish claimants to the title of Messiah. What did he think of Simon Bar Kochba? Liar, Lunatic or Lord? Here we have reliable sources with a clear statement, including a coin stamped with his name and a messianic star. He put his life on the line, so it doesn’t seem likely that he was a liar. He generated a decent following, so could he really be a lunatic?

    Sebbathai Zevi? Liar, Lunatic or Lord? etc.

  • 2. blueollie  |  December 1, 2008 at 10:23 pm

    How about this: Jesus may have gotten some things right, but he may well have been delusional or simply wrong about other things?

    Example: Newton believe in alchemy. Darwin embraced some LaMarkian (sp) ideas.Francis Collins is a believing Christian.

    This “all or nothing” stuff in sheer nonsense and would have been laughed at had the subject not been religion.

  • 3. ubi dubium  |  December 2, 2008 at 12:53 am

    In response to the “liar, lunatic or lord” trilemma, I usually respond with “You left out three other options: Mistaken, Misquoted, or Myth.”

    Many people feel they have been somehow “called by god” to do something, only later to decide they were wrong about that. You don’t have to be crazy to be wrong.

    Perhaps the disciples so badly misunderstood the original message, that when it was finally written down second-, or third-hand, it was so garbled that it bore little resemblance to what was actually said.

    Or, perhaps tall tales and legends were spun around an executed radical jewish preacher until what he actually said and did were totally lost under a blizzard of invented prophecy-fulfilling events, borrowings from other mystery religions, and imagined miracles.

    Lewis tries to convince skeptics of his assertion, but he started with the assumption that the bible is a true record of what happened. It’s an argument to make the christians feel good about their beliefs, without actually being convincing to anyone else.

  • 4. orDover  |  December 2, 2008 at 12:56 am

    Sort of building upon what blueollie said, I think it’s a bit of a false dichotomy to say that a person can’t be mentally ill and a wise teacher at the same time.

    Since I’m an art history student, I come across this a lot. Take Antonin Artaud, for instance. He was very mentally unstable and spent a large part of his life in asylums, and yet he was able to write several very interesting and relevant works of theory and philosophy (mostly pertaining to theater).

    Doesn’t the Dalai Lama also claim to be the reincarnation of a demigod? And yet he has written several books and his words of wisdom are read and appreciated worldwide. He might be a little bit mentally deluded, but what he says still contains value.

    Anyway, hanks for writing his post, Jeffery. I really enjoyed reading it. When I was at Christian school we spent nearly an entire quarter discussing the Trilemma, but since then I don’t think I have given it a second thought. It’s very interesting and refreshing to go back down and see with what ease the theory can be torn down.

  • 5. orDover  |  December 2, 2008 at 12:57 am

    It’s an argument to make the christians feel good about their beliefs, without actually being convincing to anyone else.

    So true!

  • 6. Rob  |  December 2, 2008 at 3:35 am

    I agree with your comments on Jesus’ character. I’ve always wondered why people say he was a great teacher. Too me he has always come across as angry and bitter, even hateful. So many people calling him “good teacher” is like the story of the Emperor’s New Clothes.

  • 7. LeoPardus  |  December 2, 2008 at 11:28 am

    I remember being presented with this argument when I was quite young. My first thought was, “Why couldn’t he be one of those people who taught great stuff but was still a liar?” My parents gave me the standard response, “You can’t be a great moral teacher if you’re immoral yourself.” I replied with a list of Bible teachers who had been exposed in scandals, “They taught good morals, but were immoral themselves. So your response doesn’t hold up in the face of reality.” I told them. Their response to that …….. “You can’t be a great moral teacher if you’re immoral yourself.” I’ve run into this a number of times since. The old, “If you just keep repeating it, it will magically be true” response.

    So Jesus could have been God, or he could have been a lunatic, or he could have been a liar. Any of the trilemma options are acceptable. And of course the ‘M’ trilemma (Misquoted, Misunderstood, Myth) options are all possible too.

  • 8. Richard  |  December 2, 2008 at 2:20 pm

    Fabulous article. This has been one of the foremost arguments used by a number of people I know who are still evangelical. For the record, what I actually think is that Jesus didn’t consider himself the messiah; he considered himself an apocalyptic prophet and much that is recorded in his name was added by his followers (so I would add a fourth “L” to the trilemma: Legend. But that aside, let me contribute a couple of other considerations:

    First, it doesn’t scandalize me anymore to say that maybe he was just crazy. Even for a long time after “officially” deconverting, I was reluctant to come out and admit this possibility. It felt, well, sacrilegious, and I think that’s what Lewis counts on. Not many people in our culturally-Christian society would be willing to say he was just delusional. It would feel kind of blasphemous, and would mean 2 billion Christians are following a psychotic person. But if 2 billion Christians aren’t following someone who isn’t what he is believed to be, then 2 billion Muslims are. Either way, there’s a lot of mistaken people out there. Why couldn’t it be Christians?

    Secondly, Jesus’ ethics stand or fall on their own merit, just like anyone else’s. If the schizophrenic guy living under a bridge says “it’s good to be nice to your dog”, he’s still right about that, and its still good ethical instruction, regardless of the fact that he believes with all his heart that he’s Bono. So being crazy or even malicious does not invalidate one’s ethical statements.

    Finally, I like what ubi said: we need to be careful about what counts as a “delusion” in a nonliterate, prescientific society. There was no concept of “naturalistic” explanations as contrasted to “supernaturalistic” ones, back then, because there was no concept of natural law to begin with. For someone to claim to be a prophet of God back then, even for monotheistic Jews, wasn’t uncommon. And the messiah wasn’t expected to be a supernatural figure in the first place, just a nondivine human being who overthrew the yoke of the occupying power.

    So for Jesus (or anyone) to have claimed to be a prophet of God, or even the messiah, could very well have been sincerely, mistaken, and nondelusional.

    Great post!

  • 9. Yueheng  |  December 3, 2008 at 11:22 am

    This is completely off-topic, but I would like to address orDover’s remarks about the Dalai Lama, which I feel do not do justice to a rather complicated issue.

    The present 14th Dalai Lama Tenzin Gyatso (the Dalai Lama’s name) was born in 1935 and identified as the reincarnation of his predecessor the 13th Dalai Lama (Thubten Gyatso, who died in 1933). Practically speaking, Tenzin Gyatso had no say in the selection process, after all he was only two when he was “discovered”. After his discovery, Tenzin Gyatso spent the rest of life as a Buddhist monk.

    In a recent interview, he was asked about whether he remembers his (alleged) former reincarnations and His Holiness brushed that aside saying: “Now..no. Even sometimes difficult (to remember) what happened yesterday.” He has also constantly reiterated the importance of learning from science and has even gone so far as to say that should any teaching of Buddhism be disproved by science, that teaching should be abandoned.

    Even though his office is a religious one, the 14th Dalai Lama has consistently downplayed any claim to divinity. “I am a simple Buddhist monk” is a constant refrain from him and, having accessed many of his books and teachings, I can say with certainty that His Holiness presents his teachings, not as a divine being speaking down to mere mortals (undoubtedly that is how many Tibetans, due to traditional reverence for the office of the Dalai Lama views him), but as a human being speaking to other human beings. I have yet to discover a single instance where the Dalai Lama has gone on record to declare that he is not a human being, but a divine being whose words are infallible nor have I heard of any instance where His Holiness has demanded people to accept him as a divine being.

    “When I meet people in different parts of the world, I am always reminded that we are all basically alike: we are all human beings. Maybe we have different clothes, our skin is of a different colour, or we speak different languages. That is on the surface. But basically, we are the same human beings.” – His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s Nobel lecture
    University Aula, Oslo, December 11th, 1989

  • 10. VorJack  |  December 3, 2008 at 10:24 pm

    Yueheng – “I am a simple Buddhist monk”

    If I remember rightly, this was his response when Stuttering John asked him what it was like to be a God.

  • 11. buff  |  December 5, 2008 at 12:17 pm

    While I do not believe Jesus is a god. The OP is using a logical fallacy. It’s called false dichotomy. You are silly to try to convince people there is only one of two options to pick from. Why can’t someone be both insane and insightful? Insane people may still have deep insight and compassion. In the game Vampire Malkavians are mad, and yet they speak the truth underneath that. Druidism and its adherents have often describe the figure Merlin (whether real or a myth) as being insane at one point, and his Insanity was part of his development in spirituality and enlightenment. Read RJ Stewarts The Way of Merlin

    And about His Holiness The Dalia lama. It is true he never makes claims about being perfect and all that. I have spent 4-5 days at his teachings and being a Tibetan Buddhist for 6 years I have a lot of knowledge about him as well as respect and admiration. Attacks on the Dalia lama grow stale and stem from Maoist propaganda.

  • 12. Quester  |  December 5, 2008 at 3:14 pm

    Buff,

    You do realize that your examples of insightful madmen are fictional, right?

  • 13. Christian Beyer  |  December 7, 2008 at 10:11 am

    When did Jesus claim to be God? When did the (mostly Western) church get around to closing the book on the subject? It was some centuries after Jesus’ death wasn’t it?And that was after much debate and at times violent dissent. And even today there are those who lean more towards Jesus’ essential divinity and not any substantive divinity.

    I like Lewis, a lot. But, I’ve always felt that his trilemma was terribly flawed (particularly for such a master of rhetoric) for the same reasons listed above and therefore a terrible ‘evangelical’ tool. It really only serves to prop up our own (believer’s) insecurities.

    Nice site, btw. Good discussion. Thanks.

  • 14. orDover  |  December 7, 2008 at 5:51 pm

    Was he really a “master of rhetoric”? I certainly thought so when I was a Christian, but every since I became very skeptical atheist who has learned a great deal about fallacious arguments and how to critically deconstruct arguments, I find all of his arguments extremely weak. Honestly, it’s a little bit disappointing. I find myself asking, “Is this the best rhetorical argument Christianity has to offer?”

  • 15. Jeffrey  |  December 7, 2008 at 6:46 pm

    I think Lewis was a master of rhetoric, but in a bad way. He had the ability to take logically empty reasoning and express it in a way that is psychologically persuasive. This made him very good at writing fiction and motivational Christian living books (The Screwtape Letters and The Four Loves come to mind) but a very poor apologist.

  • 16. Richard  |  December 7, 2008 at 11:05 pm

    Jeffrey-

    He had the ability to take logically empty reasoning and express it in a way that is psychologically persuasive.

    I entirely agree. I wrote a post a few months ago outlining my suggestion for exactly how he accomplishes this. I.e., what is the nature of this psychological persuasiveness?

    http://de-conversion.com/2008/10/22/the-psychology-of-apologetics-sin/

    In case youre interested.

  • 17. buff  |  December 11, 2008 at 3:51 am

    “You do realize that your examples of insightful madmen are fictional, right?”

    So all the mental qualities of a fictional character cannot be shared by real people?

    Wow I wonder where we get the idea to even create fiction now.

    What is pathetic is a lot of you are attacking Lewis for making a logical fallacy and then creating the exact same one by saying Jesus was clearly insane and thus completely untrustworthy as a moral teacher.

    Harry Potter is fictional but the qualities of his personality can surely be the qualities of real people.
    Many great thinkers and scientist, etc. have had mad streaks.
    Believing oneself to be the son of god does not mean that speaking about love and compassion is flawed, unless that person is using it as a means to controlling others like a cult. Like Jim Jones or something.

  • 18. BigHouse  |  December 11, 2008 at 10:47 am

    What is pathetic is a lot of you are attacking Lewis for making a logical fallacy and then creating the exact same one by saying Jesus was clearly insane and thus completely untrustworthy as a moral teacher.

    Umm..who is saying this?

    The premise of the post is the trilemma argument is not sound because it falsely limits the potential answers to what Jesus was.

    And of course someone can be mad but also speak truths. Again, who says otherwise? However, I’d be less inclined to believe a madman MOVING FORWARD than I would a sane person. But that doesn’t mean a broken clock can’t have been right in the past..

  • 19. SnugglyBuffalo  |  December 11, 2008 at 7:07 pm

    I agree with BigHouse: where has anyone said that Jesus was clearly insane? I’ve seen it posited as a possibility, but I’ve never seen anyone say it was clearly the case.

    And I’ve frequently seen people posit that Jesus could have been both insane and a wise teacher.

    I think you need to calm down a little, buff.

  • 20. LeoPardus  |  December 12, 2008 at 12:12 pm

    Christian Beyer:

    When did Jesus claim to be God?

    “I and the father are one.” … “Before Abraham was, I am.” …. “Do you not know that if you have seen me, you have seen the Father.” ….. Just a few that pop quickly to mind.

    When did the (mostly Western) church get around to closing the book on the subject?

    Council of Nicea in 325 AD. Of course there were plenty of creeds and writings that clearly showed the Church’s position on the matter before Nicea. Arius’ wasn’t new with the heresy, but it was the first time that it had grown so large a following.

    And that was after much debate and at times violent dissent.

    Oh yes. At the Council of Nicea, St Nikolas of Smyra was said to have actually struck Arius with his bishop’s staff. Nikolas was put out of the council supposedly for that, so at least we can say that most of the folks there weren’t going in for clubbing as a way to deal with heresy.

  • 21. Christian Beyer  |  December 16, 2008 at 5:12 pm

    Thanks, Leo. But I didn’t ask about Jesus ever INFERRING he was God. His remarks are not that cut and dry, hence the ‘heresy’ that was much more wide spread than you suggest, (and well before Arius, by the way)l. Much to Athanasius’ chagrin, the Council hardly closed the book on the subject and the heavy handedness of Constantine and Co. makes the authenticity of this tribunal at least as suspect as the recent Floridian elections.

    Not only did some bishops smack with their staffs but churches were burned, people were hung and many more banished. (Who would then return and banish those who banished them, depending upon the whim of the emperor.)

    The point remains; Jesus never ever actually said that he WAS God, so Lewis’ point about his integrity or sanity falls short. In my heart and mind Jesus is God, but I don’t need Lewis or Josh McDowell or Lee Stroebel to prove it. Besides, they can’t.

    Does anyone know of a case where these apologetic arguments have won someone over to the faith? Or are they merely ‘preaching to the choir’?

  • 22. LeoPardus  |  December 16, 2008 at 6:06 pm

    I didn’t ask about Jesus ever INFERRING he was God.

    No you didn’t. And I didn’t cite you verses of him INFERRING it either. Read ‘em again.

    the ‘heresy’ that was much more wide spread than you suggest, (and well before Arius, by the way)

    1- I made no suggestion as to how wide spread it was. Read again.
    2- I said it wasn’t new with Arius. Did you read at all?

    the Council hardly closed the book on the subject

    Given that you could find whole nations that were almost all Arian for the next 1000 years or so (e.g. the modern region of Hungary), I’d say you were right there.

    and the heavy handedness of Constantine and Co

    Not sure who “and Co” would be. Constantine did little by way of ecclesiastical enforcement.

    makes the authenticity of this tribunal at least as suspect as the recent Floridian elections.

    1- It wasn’t a tribunal, it was an ecumenical council.
    2- Authenticity? What’s that in this context. I’d say the anti-Arian side had a better historical case. Does that make for authenticity? …
    3- What’s suspect about Florida’s elections? They were poorly done; they had lousy contingency planning; doubtless votes were messed up. For all that, there was no indication of favoritism. And the results (of 2000 and 2004) were finally, duly recognized by all established, legal authorities.

    The point remains; Jesus never ever actually said that he WAS God,

    “Before Abraham was I am (greek = ego emi; hebrew = ha on)”
    And others. What the heck do you want?
    Admittedly I think the Bible is a collection of hooey, but if you’re trying to say that the words recorded in the NT don’t show that the Jesus character equated himself with God, then you’re wrong.

    Does anyone know of a case where these apologetic arguments have won someone over to the faith?

    I’ve heard people say that apologetic works got them into the faith, or helped them into it. McDowell said that his investigations convinced him of the faith. Lewis made a similar claim.

  • 23. Christian Beyer  |  December 16, 2008 at 9:44 pm

    Considering that the debate focused on whether Jesus was of the essence of God or the substance of God, those particular scriptures were and still are inconclusive. If they were as conclusive as you believe then there would have been no debate.

    In that these councils not only addressed what doctrine should remain in the church but also what people (they often resulted in excommunications and exile) then they had some of the flavor of a tribunal, no matter what they were called.

    Since certain bishops were not invited, some invited so late they could not attend and some were excluded from the proceedings, it would seem that councils legitimacy were just a tad suspicious. I wasn’t making a point about Florida’s elections being sketchy – my point was that these councils were at least as sketchy.

    Constantine may have done ‘little’ enforcement, compared to his predecessors and those who followed, but it was enough to initially sway things in Athanasius favor. Constantine’s company (Co.) would be the three little Constan-derivatives that followed him, who also continued to influence church doctrine

    I somewhat misread your statement about Arius. Sorry about that. Arius was in many respects just the popular front man for Eusebias and other church leaders that held similar views.. And as I’m sure you know, there was much less theological consensus than even this historical debate would suggest.. There was more to this “Christian” thing than just those two sides.

    If you think the Bible is hooey, then what history is it that you feel backs up the anti-Arian side?

  • 24. LeoPardus  |  December 17, 2008 at 12:00 pm

    the essence of God or the substance of God

    Yes. i always found it amusing that they argued these matters using Aristotelean categories. (Aristotle being a pagan and all.)

    If they were as conclusive as you believe then there would have been no debate.

    Oooh. Ha ha. Hee hee. Oh hahaha heeeheeee hooohooo hoooooooo! Oh boy. …. That was funny.

    they had some of the flavor of a tribunal, no matter what they were called

    Had to actually look up how “tribunal” is being used these days. Looks like the meaning of it has been expanded quite a lot. To me it always means the same thing. i.e., a judgement panel of THREE. Somehow that “tri” prefix just throws me eh.

    If you think the Bible is hooey, then what history is it that you feel backs up the anti-Arian side?

    The historical writings and teachings of the Church from the first through the third century. We have some of them. Others are referred to in later writings. The anit-Arian side at Nicea made frequent reference to the authority of Church teaching/tradition in understanding the doctrine. The pro-Arian side made almost no such references. That’s why I said that the anti-Arian side has history on its side.

  • 25. Christian Beyer  |  December 18, 2008 at 7:23 pm

    Gotcha. I’ll buy that. (And you’re right -I’ll be careful before using the word tribunal again. Thanks.)

    But the problem (as I see it) is that the ‘history’ began to muddle the fairly simple and elegant truths of the gospel. This history is made up of the opinions and writings of dozens of men (that we know of) and perhaps just as many more that have been repressed and discarded. I think another word for this history is religion, or perhaps theology. Which, I think, is something that Jesus usually was at odds with.

    Both of the major players in these debates, both West and East, attempted to define the indefinable and in the process lost sight of the Gospel. At least the East allowed some latitude, accepting the fact that ‘he who speaks does not know’ (I know, that line’s a bit further to the east, but it works.)

  • 26. VorJack  |  December 18, 2008 at 8:27 pm

    “But the problem (as I see it) is that the ‘history’ began to muddle the fairly simple and elegant truths of the gospel.”

    The problem, as I see it, is that ‘history’ – in the form of Eusebius of Caesarea and the 4th century bishops – selected those truths that fit their traditions and accepted those gospels which contained them. This became our cannon.

    Seriously, you can’t get away from doctrine and tradition. That’s sawing off the limb you’re standing on.

    “Which, I think, is something that Jesus usually was at odds with.”

    Really? I see most of Jesus’ preachings as fitting squarely into the liberal Pharisee tradition of Judaism. I’ll grant you that Rabbi Hillel could sum up the Torah with the Golden Rule, but I don’t think he suggested discarding the rest or abandoning the practices. Likewise, Jesus might preach a rejection of legalism, but he quoted from the Torah extensively. He might relax some rules, but he made others – like divorce – more stringent.

  • 27. Christian Beyer  |  December 19, 2008 at 9:35 am

    OK, let me rephrase this:

    Religion is a tool that one uses to relate to God. We don’t need religion to encounter him, but it can help us relationally. Too often what happens is that religion becomes the focus and not God. This is what Jesus consistently came up against with the religious leaders of his time. Not all religious leaders were missing the boat and not all religious people miss the boat today, But (IMHO) think that the majority probably do.

    I like the way Siddhārtha put it, that religion is like a raft to help us get across the river of life to enlightenment. Once we have crossed the river we have no need for the raft and to hold on to it can jeopardize our continuing journey.

  • 28. Anonymous  |  December 19, 2008 at 12:04 pm

    How do you ‘focus on God’ without religion?

  • 29. Christian Beyer  |  December 19, 2008 at 1:10 pm

    I guess it depends upon how you define religion. There are so many different definitions – just check out Websters or Dictionary.dot com. If you accept the very loose definition, that says that religion is any thought or action that involves the worship or service to God, then I guess it is impossible to encounter him without it.

    But I think it is interesting that the semantic root of ‘religion’ means to tie back or to bind. So in that regards, religion is much like a discipline or community devoted to discipline, with the goal being drawing closer to God and to be in line with his will.

    At some point this could and should become the second nature of the believer. There is no longer a need to consciously follw the guidelines or the strictures of religion. Someone might want to continue in the religious vein, finding comfort and beauty in sacred religious acts. But others may just as easily cast those aside and still remain in communion with God (and others).

    Because the Christian religion seems to suggest that it is the communal aspect of a person’s life that is crucial for an authentic relationship with God. Although we can encounter God anywhere, It is through eager service to others that we most often realize and display God’s spirit.

  • 30. bipolar2  |  January 6, 2009 at 6:06 pm

    Silly rabbits — your mything the point. Jesus resides in the same fictional world as King Arthur. No literature is sacred — none of it comes from on high — you’re wasting your time on problems which are not problems at all.

    ** Dissolving theistic pseudo-problems **

    The de-deification of culture — including the sciences — will modify every aspect of how life gets lived in the West, laid waste by the zoroastrian-judeo-xian-islamic moralized worldview.

    Fortunately, we still can learn from Homer, Herodotus, Democritus, Thucydides, Sophocles, Epicurus . . . they are our direct ancestors, yet unaffected because unafflicted by xianity.

    Someone who understands the difficulty of ridding ourselves of the after-effects of the long, lingering death of xianity is Michel Onfray.

    In Atheist Manifesto (2006) French philosopher Michel Onfray conducts two succinct thought experiments: one on Western ideology about persons (body, “the flesh”) and the other on the Western legal conception of punishment. (These are contained in chapter 3, sections 3 and 4.)

    Essentially, Onfray asks two questions.

    1. What happens to our concept of a person when we reject the pseudo-hierarchy running from “matter” (filth) to “spirit” (purity)?

    2. What happens to the concept of punishment when we reject the judicial presupposition of “always being able to choose to do otherwise” (complete free-will)?

    Part of the meaning of Nietzsche’s infamous sentence “God is dead” resides in following out the “logic” of concepts altered according to a worldview which is “anti-supernatural” through and through.

    bipolar2 ©2009

  • 31. Chantal  |  March 26, 2010 at 6:21 pm

    This is not in response to any of the comments above but a general response to the argument written. The problem with Jeffrey’s argument is that he is misunderstanding what C. S. Lewis was implying in this “trilemma” discussed in Mere Christianity. Jeffrey assumes Lewis is using this argument to prove that Jesus must be God. However, nowhere does Lewis actually state that. We can make this assumption about the implications of Lewis’s argument, but I believe that we would be making a very wrong assumption. C. S. Lewis was NOT using this trilemma to prove Jesus is God. Ironically, the very first sentence that Jeffery quotes of Lewis demonstrates Lewis’s motivation behind his words: “I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: ‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.’” While Lewis ultimately does make a very strong attempt at demonstrating the validity of Jesus as God and even immediately after discussing this trilemma in the book, writes that he has “to accept the view that He was and is God”, this trilemma was not a proof of this. Lewis simply used the trilemma to show how ridiculous it is to believe that Jesus was a great moral teacher and not God. I’m not going to go into supporting Lewis’s claim in coming to this conclusion of how senseless that belief is; I think Lewis does an eloquent job and I need not try to repeat in many different words what he already said [I encourage you to read Mere Christianity and come up with your own opinions, even if your sole purpose is to argue against Lewis’s ideas]. Lewis certainly uses the trilemma in his support of the argument that Jesus is God, but he does not use it as a proof for Jesus being God. I agree with Jeffery, and I think Lewis would as well, that the trilemma is in NO WAY sufficient to come to a conclusion that Jesus is God.

    It’s not even necessary for me to refute the details of Jeffrey’s argument because the basis for his entire argument is incorrect, but just to make a point, I will address the “Problems” Jeffrey outlines:

    Jeffrey’s Problem 1 discusses “Biblical reliability” and Problem 4 states, “Jesus didn’t say who He was”. We don’t even need to “trust the historical reliability of the Gospels” to support Lewis’s argument. Jeffery claims disparity between the “biblical Jesus” and the “historical Jesus” (which is a whole different debate), but whether we’re considering the “biblical Jesus” or the “historical Jesus” is irrelevant. Either perspective we find a man whose actions and words expressed to others that he was God. We don’t need to know and trust to be true “EVERYTHING that the Gospels say He said”. All we need to be clear on is the fact that He, whether directly or indirectly, claimed to be God. The evidence is sufficient to say… He did.

    Problem 2 states, “Jesus was not a great moral teacher… What’s wrong with the possibility that Jesus was a lunatic or fiend?” Ironic again because Lewis’s argument actually agrees with this. Lewis says Jesus could have been a lunatic (a madman), a fool, or a demon… or He was who He said He was: God. Lewis is simply stating that Jesus could not be a great moral teacher and at the same time falsely claim to be God; that’s just not an option. He either was God or if He was not, then He must have been crazy or a liar to much such a TREMENDOUS claim, and thus, he certainly wouldn’t be a great moral teacher. That’s the point Lewis makes in this trilemma. You CAN believe Jesus was a lunatic or fiend, but to believe he was merely a great moral teacher is foolish and contradictory.

    Jeffery claims, “Jesus spoke in parables so that people would not understand” and he states that this is poor teaching. OH THE IRONY!! It could be argued the very opposite: that Jesus used parables when people were confused on matters to clarify and to help people understand. I personally think parables are an excellent teaching strategy because people tend to remember stories and the symbolism and true meaning behind them can be applied to their own lives.

    Problem 3: “Lunacy is an open option… Jesus did not have to be nearly crazy enough to warrant a lunatic label.” Jesus didn’t just claim to be God, he also made claims indicative of being equal with God. He claimed, as Lewis discussed, to forgive any sins. Lewis states that “this is really so preposterous as to be comic”, if He was not God. Obviously Lewis doesn’t think Jesus was a lunatic, but he’s making the point that for a man who is not God to claim the power to forgive your sins is CRAZY and ABSURD! I would have to agree!

    Conclusion: I find Jeffery’s argument to be quite ironic because his levels are actually in accord with the trilemma argument; none of the four lines refute the true argument. C. S. Lewis’s argument does not fail on any of those four levels, because those levels incorrectly interpret Lewis’s argument. Ultimately however, even if Lewis’s argument did fail, this would still not negate the argument that Jesus is God.

  • 32. Joe  |  March 26, 2010 at 6:57 pm

    Chantal—-

    Thank you for taking the time to explain all of those points so clearly, and I think quite effectively.

  • 33. Quester  |  March 26, 2010 at 7:59 pm

    Chantal and Joe,

    Try reading all of what Jeffrey quoted from Mere Christianity, and see if you understand Jeffrey’s points then. If you’re still confused, feel free to ask for help. (Hint: the final paragraph is key).

    By the way, Joe, how’s your work on the Resurrection Challenge going? I haven’t seen you around since you said you were going to work on that.

  • 34. Joe  |  March 29, 2010 at 11:21 am

    Quester—-

    I was on vacation in Oregon for a couple of weeks, but I did read Luke 24 this morning. I’m still investigating. I do suspect however I will come to the same conclusion—these are accounts from several different sources—-each giving their PERSPECTIVE on what occurred. For example, Luke says that Peter went to the tomb and viewed the grave clothes. However, one of the other Gospels (John) says that John actually ran ahead of him and got there first before Peter entered.

    it appears to be contradictory, but then we realize that Peter was telling what HE DID when relating the story to Luke, and may not have mentioned John. Whereas John remembers his place in the scenario and DOES mention it.

    I’ll continue comaparing though—-very interesting.

  • 35. Quester  |  March 29, 2010 at 8:31 pm

    That is the usual assumption, and if it is true, you should be able to sail through the resurrection challenge by sitting down and writing a single account that all five tellings are merely different perspectives of. I couldn’t do it, though. Especially when I looked at a timeline and a map.

    The multiple perspective viewpoint bothered me as a Christian, as it said some odd things about the scriptures as “inspired”.

  • 36. Jeffrey  |  March 29, 2010 at 10:33 pm

    >Lewis simply used the trilemma to show how ridiculous it is to believe that Jesus was a great moral teacher and not God.

    As Lewis sets it up, there are four possibilities: Good human teacher, liar, lunatic, and Lord. He begins by excluding good human teacher, which leaves us with the trilemma. The goal of the trilemma is to support the Lord conclusion. This is why Lewis says it’s obvious that Jesus was neither a lunatic or fiend.

    >Jeffery claims, “Jesus spoke in parables so that people would not understand” and he states that this is poor teaching. OH THE IRONY!! It could be argued the very opposite: that Jesus used parables when people were confused on matters to clarify and to help people understand.

    You should reread the phrase so that people would not understand. That “not” is not a typo. In Matthew 13, Jesus says that he speaks in parables so that some people will not understand. Had his goal been to communicate clearly, he would have taught differently.

  • 37. Chantal  |  March 31, 2010 at 6:44 pm

    Quester: (Hint: the final paragraph is key). This is why I wrote, “…even immediately after discussing this trilemma in the book, [Lewis] writes that he has ‘to accept the view that He was and is God'” However, the tone is different in this paragraph than the others… Let me emphasize: “Now it seems to **ME** obvious that He was neither a lunatic nor a fiend: and consequently, however strange or terrifying or unlikely it may seem, **I** have to accept the view that He was and is God.”

    Jeffrey (I apologize for spelling your name wrong!):
    I agree that Lewis uses the trilemma to support the Lord conclusion.
    I did not read the “not” as a typo, but I should clarify:
    Jesus’ parables DID confuse people, but this is different from saying they were used TO confuse people. Even the parable of the sower had to be explained by Jesus to the disciples. When initially heard, Jesus’ parables are not easy to understand. Matthew 13 (which also sites Isaiah 6) is an excellent passage to turn to and demonstrates how parables act as double-edged swords. For those with a ready-heart, one earnestly seeking God, they would seek the truth and the meaning behind the words, and in response, God would grant them GREATER understanding and wisdom. On the other hand, for the others (“For this people’s heart has become calloused”), they would hear the words but not REALLY hear, they would see but not truly see, they would be blind and simply turn away, and they would not understand (the truth would not be revealed to them).

  • 38. Barney  |  July 2, 2010 at 4:36 pm

    Problem 1: Biblical reliability

    The bible is the one of the most historically reliable documents compared to any if you apply the documentary hypothesis to it.

    Problem 2: Jesus was not a great moral teacher

    Jesus was purposefully vague to those who had already made up their minds about Him. Please see Matthew 13:10-16. The word “gross” in verse 15 is a bad translation for “thickened, or fat”

    Problem 3: Lunacy is an open option

    This is true, but has been pretty much debunked by the fact that His detractors NEVER, EVER refused to recognize His supernatural interventions with time and space referred to as miracles. And these were the Pharisees, Saducees, Zealots and the Essenes. Not then or since has anyone who is a Jew and has bloodlines dating back to that time denied Him doing amazing things.

    Problem 4: Jesus didn’t say who he was

    Uh, I don’t think you have thoroughly done the research. Please see John 14:11, and John 10:30, John 14:11,20 etc.

    These things are written in one of the most historically reliable documents. They may not agree with your presuppositional world view, but are perhaps more reliable and as the Hisories and Annals of Tacitus upon whom a whole lot of what we call history has been built upon on account of the sheer number of extant source documents that date to within 30-60 years of Jesus’ life.

  • 39. Barney  |  July 2, 2010 at 4:39 pm

    Please excuse me! My editing was lacking

    Problem 4: Jesus didn’t say who he was

    Uh, I don’t think you have thoroughly done the research. Please see John 14:11, and John 10:30, John 14:11,20 etc.

    These things are written in one of the most historically reliable documents on account of the sheer number of extant source documents that date to within 30-60 years of Jesus’ life. They may not agree with your presuppositional world view, but are perhaps more reliable than the Histories and Annals of Tacitus upon whom a whole lot of what we call history has been built upon..

    Sorry!

  • 40. DSimon  |  July 2, 2010 at 5:37 pm

    Barney, to respond to each of your points in turn:

    1. What is the “documentary hypothesis”? And, how does it contradict the problem that the gospels have a severe lack of contemporary confirming documentation?

    2. You seem to be ignoring the bulk of the OP’s argument, which lists many examples of Jesus not being a great moral teacher. Furthermore, saying that someone has been “deliberately vague” strikes me as being a very poor way to argue for them being a great teacher. A truly great teacher would know how to convince people even if they started out disagreeing with him.

    3. You’re seriously saying that there are no Jews who deny that Jesus performed miracles? This is (a) an arbitrary redefinition of the word “Jew” which I suspect many actual Jews would strongly disagree with (b) beside the point, because people believing in a supernatural thing happening is poor evidence by itself for that supernatural thing having actually happened (or else we’d have to conclude that Peter Popoff actually had miraculous powers).

    4. The OP specifically mentioned John 10, and the language you’re referencing in John 14 is much weaker (what does being “in the father” mean anyways?)

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Attention Christian Readers

Just in case you were wondering who we are and why we de-converted.

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Whether or not you believe in God, you should live your life with love, kindness, compassion, mercy and tolerance while trying to make the world a better place. If there is no God, you have lost nothing and will have made a positive impact on those around you. If there is a benevolent God reviewing your life, you will be judged on your actions and not just on your ability to blindly believe in creeds- when there is a significant lack of evidence on how to define God or if he/she even exists.

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