December 12, 2008

Countering the Attacks on Jesus

As we move forward in this 21st century, one trend on the religious front is becoming more pronounced and disturbing. That is the rising tide of attacks on the person of Jesus Christ. The attacks arise from within and outside the so-called Christian church (or churches) from professed 'scholars' and 'scientists', as well as simply from atheists who may have a pulpit by virtue of being writers or celebrities of some kind. Some people will say that it's because we are more advanced today, and we don't just accept the 'fairy tales' of religious tradition; or that we now apply critical thinking to all areas of thought, including religion. So all these attacks are really academic debunking of 'the mythos of Jesus,' they would claim.

In this paper, I want to present arguments that I believe, if investigated, will dispel the essence of the attacks on Jesus, and invigorate the faith of believers who may be having growing doubts in the face of scholarly bluster. I will not butt heads with the scholars by attempting to refute their laborious research point by point. That, I believe, is futile, becoming a debate over whose sources and whose interpretations are the more convincing. As my preferred approach, I will try to stand back and survey the big picture, appealing to the atrophied faculty of common sense and to experience to arrive at the most plausible conclusions.

The assaults on the founder of the Christian creed take several different forms. Primarily, the thrust of the trend is to undermine belief in Jesus by demonstrating that he never existed historically, but was a reprise of prior, more ancient religious myths, for instance, the Horus deity of the Egyptian pantheon. The main tactic is to appeal to earlier mythologies that bear certain resemblances, or 'parallels' to the gospel accounts of Jesus' life, and to conclude that, since these stories were antedating, therefore, the gospels were fabricated from those earlier sources. I have to admit, some of those arguments can almost appear compelling on first exposure (see 'The Pagan Christ,' by Tom Harpur, for notable example.) A recent addition to the 'anti-Christ literature' comes from Joseph Atwill, who proposes that the Romans engaged the services of Josephus to concoct the whole Jesus story for the purpose of providing the Jews with an alternative to the Zealots, who were a constant thorn in their eastern flank ('Caesar's Messiah: The Roman Conspiracy to Invent Jesus'). To a committed Christian, this notion sounds positively absurd; yet it seems to be taken seriously by a segment of readers.

The scholars claim there are numerous parallels between the life of Christ and events recorded in ancient literature about certain figures regarded by those cultures as 'man-gods.' If one picks and chooses, there may be apparent points of correlation. But when you look into those records from antiquity, you find the situation is far from clear-cut. The Egyptian gods, for example, run a gamut of names and portfolios, often changing one or the other at various times. Their stories (or myths) similarly seem to morph from one sub-era to another, and most likely, from one cult to another... something we know little about. Just as all religions today are splintered into many sub-groups, so too the religion of Egypt must have been divided into numerous cults. Which stories are we to believe? Which story did they believe back in those days? If nothing else, we can say that the basic story of Jesus has remained quite consistent for almost 20 centuries, something that can't be claimed by the Egyptian religion.

Other attempts to denature Christianity come from different tactics. One 'TV Archeologist' claimed he found the ossuary (or 'bone-box') of Jesus in a crypt under an apartment block in Jerusalem. The 'proof' revolved around a coincidence of common names found on some other boxes in the same crypt... and the use of statistics to close the argument put forth. Before any independent researchers could examine the situation, the authorities suddenly sealed the area from further intrusion. This wasn't the first time researchers claimed to have evidence that, although he existed, Jesus was just an ordinary man who was executed by the Romans, and whose resurrection was faked by his disciples for expedient, religious reasons. And the use of 'probability theory' to rule out coincidence in the confluence of names marks a milestone in the saying of Samuel Clemens that 'there are lies, damn lies, and statistics.'

Even the entertainment industry has been employed in the frantic pursuit of 'debunking Jesus.' Dan Brown's fictional work, 'The daVinci Code,' became a best-selling novel a few years ago, so much so that many readers believed or presumed that it must be based on substantive fact. Once it was turned into a popular movie, the enemies of Christ must have had a celebration, since it helped spread the subtle doubt in the minds of both religious skeptics and believers, in a very effective way, since we know how attuned the younger generation is to 'music, movies, and micro-code.' In employing 'plausible fiction,' these novels invoke neuro-linguistic programming to insinuate doubts about the fundamental belief in the divinity of Jesus.

Now a modern guru, Deepak Chopra, has made his contribution to the devaluation of the Christian faith with his latest book, 'Jesus: A Story of Enlightenment.' Using another fictional account of Jesus' unrecorded years, Chopra has found a different way to neuter the Christian message-- he portrays Jesus as an ordinary man who, thru 'the path of enlightenment,' attains the kind of perfection common to the concepts of the East, the attainment of 'God-consciousness.' And, of course, the corollary to all that speculation is that, if Jesus can do it, so can you and I. In interviews, Chopra seems to think he is 'making Jesus accessible,' and thereby doing Christianity a big favor. In reality, he comes along as an outsider, and pulls the fundaments from under the faith, apparently unaware of Paul's assertion that "in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form," (Col 2:9). In other words, Jesus was the embodiment of God. Many readers, however, seem to desire this Jesus semblable, who simply shows mankind that you can become as gods thru diligent works of seeking and meditating (or whatever exercises are defined). But that isn't what the scriptures teach; it isn't what Jesus or the evangelists taught; and even the mainstream churches don't subscribe to this doctrine that they would label as 'New Age.' Chopra's book may be good fiction; but it is nothing more.

There are numerous other theories, often presented as 'new fact' on the worldwide web, that claim to prove that Jesus was entirely a figment of someone's imagination, or the product of a conspiracy of some sort, but definitely never existed in the flesh. Some websites are rabidly anti-Christian, and proud of it, apparently thinking they are doing the world a great service to disabuse us of the notion of a God who loves us enough to send his essence in flesh to atone for our sins. Some of these cavaliers seem to be sincere, and my reading is that they are really reacting to the failures of the Christian church by their vitriol against its figurehead. It's entirely understandable that thinking individuals would challenge the legitimacy of the organizations that assume the name of Christ, in view of their atrocities committed in his name. As I've written many times, tho, most churches are mere human edifices cobbled from quite faulty understanding of the faith bequeathed to mankind by Jesus. The anti-Christs would render far better service to the world if they studied the scriptures and, instead, attacked the churches that promote a false religion.

So far, none of the attacks on either the existence or the divinity of Christ has succeeded in gaining any significant credibility among the rank and file of Christian churches. Even the studies of Quisling scholars within the Christian churches have not generated any surge of disbelief among a community that is already either halfhearted or half-baked in its faith. However, among the general-- which is to say, largely atheist or agnostic-- populace, these new ideas on the divinity and personhood of Jesus have apparently had some influence in strengthening disbelief and providing ammunition for renewed assaults on the faith. All of this makes it difficult for a sincere and open-minded believer to maintain his/her position vis-ˆ-vis other believers or the world at large. A large segment of church-goers belong to fundamentalist type churches that have adopted rather extreme positions on doctrines and outlook, so that outsiders see only a distorted, often bellicose version of the Savior of the World. Those churches also tend to be the most vociferous in promoting their rendering of the character of Christ and of the church, which does nothing positive to enhance the image of Christianity in the world. On the other hand, the 'quiet Christians' have been too quiet in countering the negativity of their evangelistic confreres, giving the impression that most of the Christian community is bigoted and belligerent in its views towards the non-Christian world. So, there seems to be a dichotomy between zealous, destructive believers, on one hand, and apathetic, nominal believers on the other. One characteristic both sides of this schism share is that they are all woefully ignorant of the holy scriptures upon which their faith is supposed to rest. Consequently, neither wing is suitable for countering the flood of attempts by non-believers to discredit Jesus and his invisible body of true believers.

While critics point out that, apart from cryptic reference by Josephus, there are no other mentions of Jesus in contemporary writings, I contend that, nevertheless, the key to validating the existence and truth of Jesus lies right in the Bible itself. The lack of references to Jesus in extra-biblical sources is not really surprising at all. We always have to keep firmly in mind that we are looking back 2,000 years after the fact, and our world is considerably removed from that time and place. Altho Christianity went on to become a dominant religion in the world, its origins were humble and problematic indeed. Jesus was born in poor circumstances, had a short life and shorter ministry, was unrecognized by the authorities of his day, and at the time of his death, still had only a few loyal disciples. Why would anyone write about him in any kind of document that we could expect to survive for two millennia? (And incidentally, the scriptures are significantly silent as to the date of Jesus' birth; hence, those who allege that his birthday of December 25 mimics that of more ancient avatars are invoking a false argument). Also, the fact that Josephus mentions Jesus hardly qualifies him to write the gospel of Matthew, let alone any other holy writ, in response to the delusions of Joseph Atwill.

What the speculators and doubters demonstrate in their treatises on the non-existence of Jesus is a profound lack of scriptural understanding. Yes, they may be familiar with the words in the Bible; but they do not grasp the spirit underlying the words. Of course, many unsubtle readers may retort that there's no distinguishing of a 'spirit' behind the words. That is the problem when one reads the Bible-- which purports to be the 'word of God'-- with profane, worldly eyes, merely seeing it as history or literature. Read in that spirit, the pages will yield few illuminating insights to the reader. When read with sincere desire to understand the true, spiritual meaning, one is surprised at the reality that starts to emerge. Yes, I appreciate that this sounds incredible to the minds of many readers. The thing is that you have to actually do it to experience it; to try it before dismissing it. If you think that is a crazy idea, why have some of the most brilliant people over the ages believed in Jesus? Were they all smart but deluded? That's part of the divine mechanism undergirding the Bible-- it hides its truths from the profane, but reveals them to sincere seekers. I don't mean to say that there is something magical about the book, itself; it's just a volume of writings. But there is a reality beyond the mere words that has to be experienced to comprehend what I'm saying about it. Think of it as a window or telescope into the workings of the spiritual dimension.

When you read the New Testament, in particular, you begin to discern that there is something being revealed here that goes beyond everyday, physical life. Starting with the 'synoptic' (meaning a similar viewpoint) gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, one sees a consistent story. Sure, there are a few discrepancies. Would you not expect to find some differences among three individual accounts of Jesus' life? If they were identical, scholars would immediately say they were fakes. Because they have minor differences, other scholars say they are fakes. You can't have it both ways! The real death blow to all theories that deny the existence of Christ is the gospel of John. And the reason is, as some comedians like to say, 'Folks, you just can't make this stuff up!' John's account is so full of fresh spiritual insights and more importantly, completely new (some might say crazy) ideas, that it simply could not have been construed. Impossible! Why? Because we humans don't have the spiritual imagination to invent the concepts that John's gospel presents about Jesus. (E.g. the bread of life; fountains of living waters; I am that I am; etc.) You just don't find concepts like those in any other book of religion. Some of them are hard for even Christians to accept or comprehend. You can discern that the apostles themselves took a long time of reflection and divine coaching before they finally could appropriate the teachings of Jesus, and transmit them coherently.

What other religion teaches that you must lay down your 'old life' and put on a new life, one that is surrendered to God's Holy Spirit? What system professes that we are, every one of us, sinners incapable of saving ourselves, but that we can obtain salvation thru belief in the Son of God? Virtually all human systems teach that we are 'God;' we all possess a spark of godliness in us, and that thru diligent works of mind and/or body we can attain to ultimate God status. They imply that humanity can devise a 'system' whereby the whole race will be elevated to eternal life and bliss. This is a spiritual variation on the secular Theory of Evolution, whereby the 'illuminated' claim that we journey thru many lives or many trials, developing spiritually until we make ourselves worthy of God standing. If this notion held any shred of truth, shouldn't we expect that over thousands of years our race should be getting better, morally? Wouldn't we expect society to be evolving towards some utopian state, given our level of technical knowledge? Quite evidently, humanity is going in reverse; as we make technical progress we are just using technology to hasten the destruction of the planet.

One of the characteristics of the New Testament that strikes the seasoned Bible student is how it echoes ideas and themes found, centuries earlier, in the Old Testament. Prophecies, foreshadowing, and 'types' (persons who typify a later repetition of the original; e.g. David as a type of Christ, slaying Goliath, representing Satan) all find their fulfillment and culmination in the story of the life of Jesus. And this is accomplished in a way that we simply cannot conceive of any human writer being capable of inventing. The permutations and combinations, the nuances, are just too subtle and complex for a human (and especially one bent on mischief) to credibly achieve.

Of all the marvels of scripture, tho, the one that seals the case for its divine inspiration is the accuracy of prophecy within its pages. To fully appreciate this aspect, we have to take account of the fact that the Bible is really a collection of many books, written by many authors of various backgrounds, and put together over a broad expanse of time-- some 1,000 years from the days of Moses (said to have written the first five books) to the last of the minor prophets, Malachi. That numerous Messianic prophecies would be fulfilled and recorded in the NT is quite astonishing... (unless you subscribe to the theory that conspirators wrote the NT in such a careful way that they ensured all the minute fulfillments-- which is not credible in my opinion). In any case, the fulfillment of Biblical prophecies in these 'latter days' constitutes even more dramatic and convincing demonstration of the divine power behind the words. This is where the rubber meets the road, and we are witnesses to the proof of the Bible's authority. As I've stated often, the prophecies for the 'end-times' had to be couched in such skillful phraseology that it would not be possible for anti-Christian enemies to modify the words to mean something different-- for the simple reason that no-one could determine with certainty what the words meant-- until they became canonized (recorded in final, authoritative sense). Critics might argue that, in this view, the words can be interpreted to mean anything. But that is not so. As events unfold, and if one reads with knowledge and sincerity, the true picture emerges coherently. We don't get every detail, but the broad outlines of current affairs unfold sufficiently to validate the Bible as more than mere antique literature. (I refer readers to my studies on the books of Revelation and Daniel, for illustrations of the power of prophecy).

So, to recap, my argument against the various theories that purport to disprove the existence or the divinity of Jesus, rests on the integrity of the book that looked forward (in the OT) hundreds of years to his birth and ministry, and that describes his life and teachings (in the NT) and looks forward to his second, final advent. I believe that the next few years will take the world to a crisis wherein it will become clear that evil forces openly oppose Christ and his followers. It will be the Christ versus the Antichrist; there will be no third option. Every person will have to make the choice, and the decision will have eternal consequences for each of us. History will reach its climax, and after that comes the judgement. To those who doubt this idea, I just say keep your eyes and ears open, and do some serious Bible study of your own before you dismiss the whole scenario. And, importantly, watch to see how current geo-political movements echo the words of Bible prophecy. This multi-pronged assault on Jesus in our day is no mere coincidence; it is softening up the world for stranger things to come. You must be prepared, and firm in your faith.

1 comment:

  1. I refer to your statement "The lack of references to Jesus in extra-biblical sources is not really surprising at all. We always have to keep firmly in mind that we are looking back 2,000 years after the fact, and our world is considerably removed from that time and place" . Actually in the Holy Qur'an , numerous verses and in the Al Hadith many references made to Jesus as a person ( not God ) though to the Christians may always want to disbelieve . As many biblical scriptures were destroyed by Emperor Constantine following the Council of Neice , much of the true teachings were loss that the Vatican took into their hands all matters pertaining to interpretations and adopt Godliness virtues ( catholism , etc.) . Semetic scriptures just like the old testament ( torah ) handed over to Prophet Moses and then the Injiil ( bible ) for Prophet Jesus era ( nullifying some of the earlier commandments i.e. the Jews to follow new covenants during Jesus era and later the Holy Qur'an to Prophet Muhammad saw pbuh i.e. the earlier believers to follow the newer covenant ( Islam ) indicate a continuity in the God's teaching . There were 124,000 Phophets altogether of which 25 are the main ones mentioned either in the Torah , Bible and Qur'an . However only 4 are characterized as Ulul azmi i.e the ones that received or underwent severe challenges from God / their people - Abraham , Moses , Jesus and Muhammad saw . Since Abraham to Muhammad the religion is still the same . Islam believes in all revealed scriptures but the Jews denied Torah and believed in babylonian Talmud . The Christians denies the Qur'an making them part of anti Christ themselves . Revealed religion is monoeisthic - the 3 in 1 complex of Jesus were made up during Emperor Constantine . He is the 1st antiChrist but the impact led the Christians astrayed from the teching of oneness of God . Read the Qur'an and see the difference - nothing mentioned about the divinity of Muhammad but only submission to oneness of God . Just like when Noah's sons refuse to submit to God , they perished in the big flood . Those who refused to believe in oneness of God ( thus become part of the Devil associates ) will be punished just like people of Lut where Sodom is buried . Just splain simple . Trinity is complicated and complicated further by the Vatican doctrines . Read the Qur'an . Open the first verse , you will realise - Just open to prove it to yourself .