Monday, 10 November 2008

Liar, Lunatic, or Lord...or Something Else?


How often do you hear the apologetic refrain that Jesus was either a liar, a lunatic, or lord? The idea goes that either one must say that Jesus was a con-artist, mentally deranged, or one has to admit that Jesus was the son of god, etc. Unfortunately for the apologist, this is a poor argument in quite a few ways.

First, the argument assumes that what the Bible reports about Jesus is true. We have no reason to believe that, however. The evidence is scant that a person named Jesus existed to begin with, and even if we grant that, there's no evidence to suggest that the Bible is accurate about what he said or did. We know that the accounts were written well after the time period in question by people who were not there to witness the goings-on, which is fatal to the argument.

Second, the argument relies on an emotional response from the one being questioned. People don't like to accuse others of being liars, nor do they like to make pronouncements about the sanity of others, so the question is rigged to play on these emotions and present the third option as more comfortable. This pushes the one being questioned towards that answer due to their human emotions, not their reason or intellect.

Which leads to a third problem, which is that there aren't only 3 choices to this dilemma. It's quite possible that if Jesus did exist and claim to be the son of god, that he might have simply been mistaken or himself misled. There's no reason to rule out those possibilities if we assume that the story is historically accurate. It's just another example of bad apologetics.

12 comments:

bud said...

Hi,
I am taking the liberty of making a comment because I believe you may have a few facts incorrect.
There are no original copies of any writings of antiquity. What we have are the hand written copies by scribes of the original text, since the printing press wasn't invented until 1456 A.D.. These hand written copies are called m.s.s.. Obviously, the more m.s.s.(s) found, the greater the credibility of the document they describe. Julius Caesar's Gaelic Wars was written in 50 B.C.. to date, there have been 10 m.s.s. found confirming its
authenticity. On the all time list, Homer's Iliad (6-7 century B.C.) is 2nd with 683 m.s.s..
The New Testament of Jesus Christ has 24,633 m.s.s.. Kind of an impressive authenticity support fact. The accounts of Jesus' life were all written within the living memory (pre-120 A.D.) of
Christ. 24 of the 27 books were referenced by outside sources before 95 A.D. and all 27
were referenced by 110 A.D. It would be difficult to reference material that wasn't written. There are also 60-65 facts of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus from Non-Christian sources such as Josephus, Tacitus, Phlegon, and more, some of whom were contemporaries of the Apostles. To be fair, however, the gnostic letters weren't written until 150-200 years after
the fact, but they are not included in the canonized version.
The arguments in the trilemma are logical, not emotional. Emotionally, C.S. Lewis would have loved to remain an atheist, however, logic dictated that he couldn't. Below, I have copied down the actual assertions made by Lewis:
“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 patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to. ... 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."

The last sentence clearly proves my claim of emotion vs. logic. This trilemma clearly debunks your third point, as well.

The almost 2 billion Christians in this world would debate your claim of the scant evidence of Jesus' existence. In Islam, Jesus is considered to be a prophet. Mohammed even taught (at the turn of the 6th century) that his followers should follow the teachings of Jesus so we can safely add them to the list of verifiers. Judaism refers to Jesus by His Hebrew name, Joshua of Nazareth. That puts the Jews in the same category. The dating components of B.C. (before Christ) and A.D. (in the year of our lord) are also testimonies to His Life. But you are the strongest evidence for the Life of Jesus. "Why I hate Jesus." Could you actually hate a non-existent being? This site isn't "Why I hate the idea of Jesus." as you know. Maybe a little polishing on your facts is in order.

Anonymous said...

a class hated for their
Tacitus wrote:
"... abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judaea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome."

Interesting. "a most mischievous superstition". Doesn't say a thing about his "resurrection" that I can see.

bud said...

I apologize for my lack of clarity. These outside sources were to verify the life of Jesus. I believe that the quote you referenced does just that. Christianity, the religion, is what I believe the "superstition" Tacitus was referring to. (one thing I could never do in english class is remember not to end sentences with a preposition.) Since Tiberius and Pontius Pilatus are also mentioned to have lived at the same time as the Biblical account states, this appears to add additional credibility to Jesus' earthly life.
I also admit, to my chagrin, being unclear about the reference about to the life, death, and resurrection from these outside sources. I did not mean to imply that each of these writers did a complete biography about Jesus. This statement is a compilation of their works. Here, Tacitus refers to events surrounding Jesus' life and death (as you have accurately pointed out) but clearly not the resurrection. The argument I made here was to dispute the claim of "scant evidence that a person named Jesus ever existed." Thank you for pointing out the need for additional clarity.

GCT said...

Bud,
The number of manuscripts doesn't denote that the stories told are true. For instance, the Iliad isn't more true than the records of Julius Caesar simply because we have more copies of it. Also, you have to take into account that the Bible was the only book going for a while in the region where it was copied over and over, and also the copying errors that were transcribed into it by the copiers.

Second, the writings of Josephus, et. al. are descriptive of the religion of Xianity, not independent verification that Jesus existed. They take the track of reporting what other people said, and are therefore hearsay. We have no contemporaneous accounts of Jesus or the events described in the Bible.

"The arguments in the trilemma are logical, not emotional."

Thank you for that, but it's simply not true. CS Lewis was never an atheist anyway. You've done nothing to counter my point. Lewis's faulty rhetoric does not avoid the fact that Jesus could have been misled or mistaken. And, no, simply repeating the bad argument doesn't rebut my critique of it.

"The almost 2 billion Christians in this world would debate your claim of the scant evidence of Jesus' existence."

Argument by popularity is a fallacy. It's been said that religions such as Xianity are able to persevere mostly because people are ignorant of the surrounding facts and history. Simply because many people believe that Jesus existed doesn't make it so.

"Mohammed even taught (at the turn of the 6th century) that his followers should follow the teachings of Jesus so we can safely add them to the list of verifiers."

No, they do not "verify" anything.

"The dating components of B.C. (before Christ) and A.D. (in the year of our lord) are also testimonies to His Life."

No they are not. They are testaments to the fact that the dominant culture that developed our calendar was Xian.

"But you are the strongest evidence for the Life of Jesus. "Why I hate Jesus." Could you actually hate a non-existent being? This site isn't "Why I hate the idea of Jesus." as you know."

The title is hyperbole, get over it. One can't hate a fictitious character as you point out, but the title isn't some sort of proof or verification. If it were and I named the blog "Why I hate ET" would that mean that the alien in the movie ET was real?

"Maybe a little polishing on your facts is in order."

Right back at ya, and maybe you shouldn't be so quick to make assumptions about what I know and what I don't know.

GCT said...

I should also point out that Bud's quote from CS Lewis makes the first mistake I pointed out of taking the Bible as a historical document that details Jesus's life and works. Even if Jesus existed, there's no reason to assume that the Bible accurately records exactly what happened and what he said.

bud said...

First, let me apologize for the "polishing" remark. I don't usually make those kind of statements, and it was out of line. I don't even know why I did it. sorry.

Second, you certainly (and obviously) have the right to run your site as you like, and it is not my place to presume your statements or anything else. I guess that it appears that way because I find that your arguments are only opinions. It is difficult to debate with only beliefs.

Third, your presumption that I have a problem with the hyperbole is incorrect. There is nothing to get over. My point was simply that the title and theme of your post was in direct reference to the historical Jesus. You mention His Name 6 times (as compared to zero for E.T. until the unusual comparison at the end.) The entire post was negative toward Jesus and Christianity, which is appropriate considering the afore mentioned title. It is hard for me to understand how you could spend some much time, energy, writing, and venom toward the antithesis of your world view, then consider the literary enemy of your work, to be fictional. You will be hard pressed to find any historical scholar, secular or not, that denies the existence of Jesus the man. It is the deity question that is debated. If the opponents of His deity, those who hated Him enough to call for His crucifixion, and those who preformed said execution believe to this day in His earthly existence, and that you, having spent so much time explaining why you hate Him, doesn't validate His life as factual, not fictitious, will any fact? Do you have any facts to back your claim? Isn't your stance simply emotional, not logical?

I know that I am not an invited guest here, thus I don't have the right to post. I appreciate your response, and that it was given in such a civil manner. I sincerely wish you well. Shalom

GCT said...

bud,
"I guess that it appears that way because I find that your arguments are only opinions."

Says you. It's not simply an opinion that the argument at hand is weak and falls apart, as I demonstrated.

"My point was simply that the title and theme of your post was in direct reference to the historical Jesus."

No, it was in direct reference to the bad argument that apologists give.

"You mention His Name 6 times (as compared to zero for E.T. until the unusual comparison at the end.)"

It doesn't matter how many times I mention anything, because following your logic ET would exist if I said I hate ET.

"The entire post was negative toward Jesus and Christianity, which is appropriate considering the afore mentioned title. "

No, the whole post was negative towards the weak argument that apologists put forth for Jesus being god. Did you really not get that, because it's rather obvious.

"It is hard for me to understand how you could spend some much time, energy, writing, and venom toward the antithesis of your world view, then consider the literary enemy of your work, to be fictional."

Truth is its own reward.

"You will be hard pressed to find any historical scholar, secular or not, that denies the existence of Jesus the man."

There are some out there that do. Most of those that don't deny it would similarly not claim that Jesus definitely existed.

"If the opponents of His deity, those who hated Him enough to call for His crucifixion, and those who preformed said execution believe to this day in His earthly existence, and that you, having spent so much time explaining why you hate Him, doesn't validate His life as factual, not fictitious, will any fact?"

Excuse me? First off, once again, simply because people believe that Jesus existed doesn't make it so, and it sure as hell doesn't mean that Jesus was the son of god. Nice try. Second off, I've already explained to you that I can't hate a character that I believe to be fictional, so thank you for the falsehood regarding me that I've already corrected. Your "point" is weak and not at all validating.

"Do you have any facts to back your claim?"

Yes. There are no contemporaneous accounts of Jesus or the miraculous things he supposedly did or that supposedly happened, like the zombies that rose up from the dead when Jesus died. Not that you actually asked before shooting off, but I don't deny that Jesus existed, because an itinerant preacher named Jesus (or Yeshua) may have existed. I doubt his existence and I claim that the Bible is made up and fictional.

"Isn't your stance simply emotional, not logical?"

No. Until you can provide evidence that Jesus did exist and did the things attributed to him in the Bible, my stance is the rational stance to take.

"I know that I am not an invited guest here, thus I don't have the right to post."

If you didn't have a right to post, your comments would not appear. You are welcome to comment here, but I advise that you actually take the time to read what I wrote so that you avoid making claims about my hating Jesus after I've corrected you.

bud said...

Hi again,

First, " Raised in a church-going family in the Church of Ireland, Lewis claimed he became an atheist at the age of 15, though he later described his young self (in Surprised by Joy) as being "very angry with God for not existing". He returned to his Christian beliefs at age 33." Wikipedia.

Second, I believe that if you analyze the quote from Tacitus you will find that he is confirming the existence of the man,Jesus, and backing this verification by citing his fellow Romans, Tiberius and Pilatus. The "superstition" is specifically aimed at the Christian faith.

Third, whether I can understand it or not, I am wrong in contradicting your stated primary reason for this thread. And maybe, as you say, I do need to "get over it." My apologies. I have listed these points in this specific order out of respect,so that you know that I am not trying to get the "last word in".
Shalom

GCT said...

Bud,
"First, " Raised in a church-going family in the Church of Ireland, Lewis claimed he became an atheist at the age of 15, though he later described his young self (in Surprised by Joy) as being "very angry with God for not existing". He returned to his Christian beliefs at age 33." Wikipedia."

You, yourself, pointed out that you can't actually be mad at something you don't think exists.

"Second, I believe that if you analyze the quote from Tacitus you will find that he is confirming the existence of the man,Jesus, and backing this verification by citing his fellow Romans, Tiberius and Pilatus. The "superstition" is specifically aimed at the Christian faith."

He is reporting what he has heard and what people have said happened, not what he witnessed or knows to have happened.

"Third, whether I can understand it or not, I am wrong in contradicting your stated primary reason for this thread. And maybe, as you say, I do need to "get over it." My apologies."

Thank you. You've shown some class and integrity, and I respect that.

Anonymous said...

Bud: Raised in a church-going family in the Church of Ireland, Lewis claimed he became an atheist at the age of 15, though he later described his young self (in Surprised by Joy) as being "very angry with God for not existing". He returned to his Christian beliefs at age 33. Wikipedia.

GCT: You, yourself, pointed out that you can't actually be mad at something you don't think exists.

I can totally relate. As one who once practiced the xtian faith, believing and loving god, I now deny him for his nonexistance. Daily I attempt to reaffirm that he is nonexistant, but the old beliefs are difficult to overcome. Essentially, I end up in some type of hybrid state. On one hand I see that he does not exist in that he does not show himself to me in the way the bible purports; on the other hand I experience things, primarily negative things, that I attribute to him. Hence I too end up being angry at someone that doesn't exist.

GCT said...

"Hence I too end up being angry at someone that doesn't exist."

No, you end up being angry at something that you believe does exist, as your post illustrates quite nicely.

Joshua said...

There's another issue going on that makes the trilemma effective. Most people who encounter the trilemma are coming from a very Christian culture. So there's deep emotional issues with saying that Jesus was either a liar or a lunatic. It is playing off of that emotional difficulty that makes this an effective apologetic technique.