To early humans, the sun rose from its hollow in the ground, passed over their head, before submerging in the other direction into the earth. The wind and rain randomly gathered then passed. Flowers and vegetables magically emerged from the soil every spring bringing with it nurturing life and sustenance. All of this was tempered by the random terror of earthquakes, volcanoes and hurricanes.
Not only were there unknown unknowns like nuclear physics, but there were lots of known unknowns such as basic anatomy, circulation and respiratory functions. In fact, the ins and outs of animal and human reproduction, the miracle of life itself, was a great mystery.
A few years ago, I read a book by the anthropologist Pascal Boyer entitled ‘Religion Explained.’ I don’t think it would be too much of a hyperbole to say that this was a turning point in my life. My intent on reading the book was to learn more how ‘other’ religions emerged. However, as a result of reading this book, the can of worms which was probably open before I started, spilled out all over the floor…
I think it is fair to say that the resurrection of Jesus Christ from his own death, is the key historical event on which Christianity rests. I know many Christians who if in their heart of hearts came to the conclusion that Jesus had never turned water to wine or made blind men see, would still hold on to their faith as long as they were convinced of the resurrection. I also think that there are few people who truly believe the resurrection happened or that Jesus was the son of god yet do not consider themselves Christian. Conversely, people who don’t believe in the deity and resurrection of Jesus don’t really fall into the category or believer with which I am interested.
So what is the process from damnation to Christian salvation?
Discussions with believers tend to follow a consistent path. If I say that having read the gospels, I am unconvinced that they represent proof or even good evidence of the resurrection, they will argue sometimes very intelligently as to why the proof is good and why I am wrong to disbelieve. If I am honest with them and say that I remain unconvinced they say that I need to open my mind and let the spirit in… let Jesus do the work, he’s knocking at the door just let him in. Or something along those lines…
Lately, Christians have been challenging me on the intellectual case for Christ based on the evidence for the resurrection and his miracles. For most/all Christians their faith hinges on the resurrection, so I find that it’s best to concentrate on this as opposed to the water-to-wine or heal-the-blind events. However, apparently I’m not intellectual enough to grasp this evidence.
Here’s the main points of the evidence/proof they proposed (unfairly I’m sure they’ll say):
- The disciples claim to have seen him alive and later died for this belief – ‘people just don’t do that’
- 513 (or so) saw him alive after the resurrection.
Before I get to the main point of this, let me give my simplistic and probably ignorant assessment of these points…
“It is useless to attempt to reason a man out of a thing he was never reasoned into” Jonathan Swift (Irish writer and satirist)
“Belief cannot argue with unbelief, it can only preach to it” Karl Barth (influential Christian thinker)
Above are two quotes, both of which I tend to accept as sensible. So I’m trying to work out the implications of it for those who live inside a world of faith and those who live outside.
Following the logic in both these statements, it’s very difficult to ‘reason’ someone out of a faith position – certainly if it’s a faith held as a child.
My first question to Christians now is always ‘what made you first believe?’ – and if the answer involves the phrases ‘well I was brought up in a christian home…’ or ‘at the age of 13 i went to a camp…’ – it doesn’t mean their faith is any less real or valid, but as far as discussion goes, again I must refer to Swift and Barth.
Can the de-converted people on this site maybe take a moment to discuss what they think are the best ways to guide people from their prison of faith?
(excuse the inflammatory last statement :) ) – QuestionMonkey
…what have you got to lose?
Take a walk with me for a moment – I’m not asking you to change your views, just to let your mind wander into hypotheses for a while. The Roman occupation was a difficult time and Jews were very open-minded about messiahs and were actively looking and praying for him. There were a number of messiah claims and rumors of messiahs at that time.
Jesus had, of course, come as a Jewish messiah. He was Jewish, and he was the man prophesied in Isaiah (or so you claim). He was there as the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies – he had come to redeem the children of Israel, god’s chosen people. Yet the overwhelming majority of good, god-fearing, open-minded, ‘messiah wanting’ Jews decided, based on the evidence, that Jesus wasn’t the one. So much so that Paul and the other apostles decided that god was telling them to go preach to the gentiles. A cynical man would say that they came to that conclusion because the Jews were having none of the ‘messiah’ talk – so therefore god was ‘guiding them’ to try somewhere else (in the same way god guided me not to go out with Kate Moss)…
A year or two down the line from my re-birth some things really start to look fantastical as I look back inside the self contained bubble of god-faith. It’s not the big things like heaven, hell, salvation, belief in miracles or fundamentalism – it’s the ‘Jesus is great – he really loves me, and is amazing!’ stuff which stops me in my tracks. I have friends, close friends and family who I love dearly who give thanks to Jesus and attribute ‘grace’ to pretty much every positive thing that happens to them. The interesting thing is that I also know a lot of non-Christians, whose lives are no better or no worse, who aren’t more or less lucky in their day to day. To both sets of friends sometimes positive stuff happens, sometimes negative stuff happens but my normal rational Christians friends attribute the positive stuff to Jesus’ love (incidentally they don’t blame god for the bad stuff, of course… that’s the other guys fault).
I’m coming to the conclusion that this ritual is key. Thinking about the object of your faith at times when good things happen and attributing that positivity to him, gives a strong sense of god being in control, and ‘looking after’ you.
In the movie ‘The Matrix’, Thomas Anderson is living a fairly contented life as a computer programmer, everything is pretty much as he likes it until he is meets Morpheus . Although Thomas resists and struggles to cling on, over time Morpheus shows him that the world he is living in is make-believe, his real name is Neo. When Neo finally realises the truth Morpheus offers him a blue pill. The blue pill will make him forget about the matrix and allow him to return to his normal comfortable life, the red pill will open his mind to the disturbing knowledge of the matrix, with no going back. He takes the red pill and accepts the disturbing reality.
Over the last four or five years Morpheus has been in my head banging on at me to wake up and open my eyes. After much deliberation and a protracted grieving process I took the red pill, I looked behind the curtain and found that the wizard of oz wasn’t magical (too many movie references?). The reality is now obvious, or more accurately the unreality of the father-figure god is obvious. When I watch, listen or read debates between god fearing types and skeptics, the god-believers say things which only a few years ago I would have taken as an honest reflection of my reality – now seem completely deluded…