Jamie correspondence: Jesus and the “Mad, bad or God” challenge
A nice Christian guy called Jamie has got in touch after he heard my podcast on the problem of evil. Here’s the latest exchange (done with his permission).
I won’t call it “the problem of evil” anymore since that’s a misnomer. I was going off the title of the podcast. So as I understand it then, you were answering that problem (during the podcast) by basically refuting the idea of god (including an all-powerful, all-good god) on the grounds of reasonableness.
If I’ve got that right, let me address the god/evil idea from a whole other angle. Instead of starting with God, start with Jesus. (And I’ll assume that there is enough documentation of his life to agree that he existed.)
C.S. Lewis said something like “Jesus was either a liar, a lunatic, or the Lord.” If one believes him a liar or lunatic then any other Philosophy will do. Anything.
But if he was Lord then that changes everything. A believer is bound to accept the whole of the Bible, even with the apparent gaps and inconsistencies. So if one holds to that central Truth (Jesus is Lord) then all the rest of life has to be figured out in relation to that. And that results in centuries of philisophical discussions (starting with the first apostles). Some of the time — even today — that means grabbing at straws as new ideas, arguments, and philosophies come up.
I’m not sure I can adequately sum up what the Bible says about Jesus in an email, but I think it is accurate to say that the whole Bible (from Genesis to Revelation) is about Jesus and God’s redemptive work through Jesus.
So when I mentioned the perfect solution to the God/evil issue in my first email I was talking about that redemptive plan (the corruption of everything from the Fall), which you dismissed as silly. But the reason it is not silly to me is because I have answered the question of Jesus by saying he is Lord and am therefore bound to the whole of the Bible.
May I ask what “school” (if that’s the right word) of philosophy you consider your arguments?
Thanks again for taking the time to discuss this with me. Like I said in the first email, I appreciate the way you work counter-arguments in to your responses.
Happy Sunday will do, and the same to you!
I’m not sure I want to let you off the hook so far as the problem of evil is concerned – saying “Jesus solves that” isn’t enough. OK, let’s suppose believing in Jesus saves us and the world. But when did the world get corrupted in the first place, and by whom? How, by us believing in Jesus, will that prevent the tectonic plate movement – driven by (God-given!) laws of nature – which is the real cause of earthquakes and tsunamis? Why has God allowed literally unimaginable pain and horror to be unleashed on human beings and other sentient creatures over many millions of years – even if he’s going to stop that horror now on the condition that we believe in Jesus?
I just can’t make any sense of this.
I also don’t buy the “Mad, bad or God” challenge that theists use to try to recruit new believers. The are lots more possibilities.
First off, I am not sure whether Jesus existed, or if he did, what he did and said. Remember, we have four documents, written decades after Jesus lived, by true believers, saying there was this person and he did these things. None of the authors was an eyewitness, it seems. It’s all second-, third- or fourth- hand testimony. There were, in addition, many other gospels that the Church later suppressed. These gospels contradict the “official” four on many points (in some, Jesus does not even die). Even if we can put them to one side as “later” and “unreliable” (as the Church did), the fact is they illustrate that, at that time, the faithful were not at all shy about adding their own embellishments to the story, and indeed, just making stuff up. But then how can we be sure the four official Gospels don’t involve a lot of made up stuff?
We also know that large chunks are made up (e.g. the nativity story was clearly bolted on).
There is no independent historical corroboration of anything AT ALL in the Bible at all about Jesus, despite the fact we are talking about astonishing miraculous events witnessed by literally thousands of people, and indeed very notable other events, such as the earthquake after Jesus’ death, the massacre of all first born children born in Bethlehem ordered by Herod, etc. Just take this example (the earthquake after the crucifixion, in which tombs were opened and many dead came back to life and walked into the Holy City and were seen by many – Matthew 27:51-53):
Then, behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth quaked, and the rocks were split, 52 and the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; 53 and coming out of the graves after His resurrection, they went into the holy city and appeared to many.
No one else mentions this! Not even the other gospels! Perhaps because it was made up.
I am sure you will say “But what about Josephus”? Yes there’s a paragraph referring to Jesus (quite possibly doctored) But Josephus wrote decades later, and there is no reason to suppose he was doing anything other than reporting what Christians told him. In which case it’s not independent corroboration at all.
If four Scientologists said, now, that they saw L Ron Hubbard resurrected, and witnessed him saying and doing some amazing and profound things, would you believe them? Of course not. But then why should we lend much credence to four documents produced by four somewhat anonymous true believers, who weren’t even eyewitnesses themselves, decades after the alleged events, in the case of Jesus?
Real myths are generated in complex ways. It’s rarely a case of someone simply going nuts, or deciding to fib. There is often a grain of truth in there somewhere. I would guess that’s true of the Jesus story. Certainly, there were many people going round claiming to be the Messiah at about that time (as The Life of Brian correctly portrays). If one of them, somewhat deluded, but certainly not mad, then had their life-story heavily and imaginatively embellished (not all in one go, but by increments, through retellings, etc.) – at a time when such embellishment and myth-making was very much the norm – and that’s how we ended up with the Jesus myth – I find that entirely plausible, don’t you?
have a good day, Jamie.