Sunday 8 January 2012

The entire Christian faith is a gigantic lie

"We will be examining the history and beliefs of the major religious movements of the world; but let me say at the outset, we will begin with the pre-supposition that everyone of them is a legitimate expression of the cultural, social, psychological, and existential experience of its adherents. Though they may differ in external and formal statements of doctrine and practice, they all express a similar essence of the awe and mystery in life and the universe. Furthermore, we will assume that each of the founders of the religions were all, in their various ways, expressing similar and universal moral and spiritual concepts. Thus, we will assume they are all equal in their authority and revelational validity."
This — shock horror — was what greeted a 19-year-old Southern Baptist when he enrolled in a comparative religion class at his university, as related by Tal Davis in "Is Jesus Superior to All Other Religious Leaders?" — Chapter 38 of Dembski & Licona's Evidence for God. The student, however, was undeterred by this unexpected revelation and went on to convince himself (it took several months) that "all religions were not equal and that Jesus Christ was and is superior to the founders of the other major religions of the world. His conclusion was based on five lines of truth."

So let's go through these five lines of truth:

1. Jesus Christ is the only major world religion founder who had no beginning in time or space.

The evidence for this assertion consists of a slew of Bible quotes — so it boils down to Jesus had no beginning because it says so in the Bible. (Even if it were true, I fail to see the link between timelessness and superiority. It sounds like an extreme example of the argument from tradition.)

2. Jesus Christ is the only major world religion founder who came into the world as He did.

This is all about the virgin birth, which (as above) happened because it's reported in the Bible. Moreover, Davis claims this is unique to Jesus. Presumably Krishna, Buddha, Marduk and Huitzilopochtli don't count because their births were not exactly like that of Jesus (though each could be described as unique). Mithra beats them all of course, as he was born from a rock, which, you know, rocks. (Again we have an inexplicable link between superiority and being some kind of freak of nature.)

3. Jesus Christ is the only major world religion founder who lived a perfect and sinless life.

There's a bit of a problem here, deriving from the Euthyphro dilemma. It's very easy to claim that your deity is sinless if you define everything he does as good. If goodness is his very nature, it's impossible for him to have sinned, because sin is defined specifically to exclude anything he is reported to have done.

4. Jesus Christ is the only major world religion founder who died as a sacrificial atonement for the sins of humanity.

Lots of religious leaders die. If your religious leader dies a particularly humiliating death it can be somewhat deflating to the high hopes of the movement. Disappointed followers will desert in droves unless you can think of something to lift their spirits and convince them prospects aren't as bleak as they appear. Transforming an ignominious death into the potential saving of the whole of humanity is the kind of public relations coup that should — if you can pull it off — do the trick.

5. Jesus Christ is the only major world religion founder who rose from the dead to demonstrate His power and authority.

Given the success of number 4, this one should be a doddle.

The student in question apparently took several months to investigate all this, but I assume that's how long it took him to read the whole of the Bible (he had, I expect, other classes). But it comes down to one simple principle: Jesus is superior to all other religious leaders because it says so in the Bible.

Muslims, however, believe the Qur'an is superior to the Bible because the Qur'an came after the Bible. No doubt Jews believe the Old Testament is superior to the New Testament because the Old Testament came before the New Testament. These arguments are individually bullet-proof because they are completely self-contained — anything that contradicts them also confirms them, just as evidence against a conspiracy theory automatically (in the mind of a conspiracy theorist) confirms the conspiracy theory as true.
Christianity does not stand or fall on its moral principles or depth of mystical experience. If that were true, then it would be no better than any other religion in the world, and Jesus Christ would be only another great religious or moral teacher. No, Christianity stands or falls entirely on the person and work of one man: Jesus Christ. Either He was who He claimed to be, the Lord of the Universe, who came to earth as man, lived a sinless life, died on the cross as an atonement for our sins, and rose again from the dead, or the entire Christian faith is a gigantic lie.
Thanks for making it so clear.