Saturday, June 1, 2013

The Gospel According To Me

There's no doubt that we all bring to the table our world beliefs. When it comes to the resurrection of Jesus, if you already believe in a god who can work miracles and violate the natural order, you're going think the chances that Jesus rose bodily from the dead are pretty damn high. If you're a naturalist however, any alternative natural explanation besides an actual resurrection is more probable and more likely given that you don't believe miracles are even possible. So when it comes to reported miracles we each come at them through our world views.

I'm by no means a biblical scholar, but lately I've been reading and watching debates about the historicity of Jesus' death and resurrection. When it comes to the mythical Jesus idea versus that he was an actual living person, I'm honestly an agnostic. I have no idea whether or not the story of Jesus is based on a real life person. I'm willing to say that there probably was a person that Jesus was based on; whether or not this person was called Jesus, I don't know.

Since Christianity is entirely founded and centered on the idea that Jesus was resurrected, this reported event remains to the theist and atheist alike, a matter of extreme controversy. I certainly agree with the likes of Bart Ehrman that the Bible is not a reliable historical document (as is evident from its undeniable contradictions and geographic/archaeological inaccuracies). But believers will always cite that the central story surrounding Jesus' death and resurrection remains consistent even though there are "minor" details that are discrepant.

That's like believing stories of UFO abductions are true because their central components are consistent. We know for a fact that UFO abduction stories and religions are made up all the time. When I was a kid I was really into the idea that aliens were visiting earth and abducting people in order to perform experiments on them. I wanted to believe this so bad. And the same is true for most people who have no sense of skepticism - they want to believe that their guru or leader really is divine and can perform miracles. If Jesus was a real person, then we have natural explanations why people would want to believe that he was divine and a prophet who brought transcendent wisdom. Human credulity makes us want to believe what we wish to be true and we can easily fool ourselves into seeing things that simply aren't there. We see this happening today all the time, and for ancient peoples with no knowledge of modern science, the effect would be even more powerful.

We don't have the original gospel manuscripts so we have no idea what was originally written down. And the earlier the manuscripts we have dated, the more differences we see in them. This means that the further you go back, the more discrepancies you find and the more unreliable the accounts are. Who would base their entire worldview on such inconsistent and fragmented copies of copies of copies of second and third hand accounts? I've always wondered that if Jesus were indeed divine, why he couldn't have simply just written his own philosophy down in a variety of languages and using his magic, made thousands of copies that could be given to all his disciples and anyone who could read. Then we'd know exactly what Jesus preached. And you'd think that if Jesus were god this would be possible and the thought would have occurred to him.

What all this means is that we have reasonable doubt to deny the historicity of the gospels. We have more than reasonable doubt actually. The accounts of Jesus' resurrection, empty tomb, and post-mortem appearances may very well all be literary fabrications in the style of mythology. And if it were true that Jesus was crucified and his tomb were found empty (and open), then the most plausible explanation is that someone removed the body. And if his followers did indeed have visions of Jesus after his death, this is most plausibly explained by hallucinations brought on by extreme emotional stress, dehydration, or wishful thinking in the same way that makes people think they saw UFOs or Elvis Presley. The neuroscience behind hallucinations is pretty well understood and we don't need to invoke the divine to explain any of it.

So any reading of the gospels with even a little bit of skepticism and background knowledge should give you pause when encountering the reported "facts" about the miracles surrounding Jesus of Nazareth, whether he was real or not.

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