Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Jesus - madman or something worse?

You might find the title of this post a little surprising.  But before you decide that you disapprove,  you should be aware that the words come from one of the 20th century heroes of christianity.

However, as Peter Brietbart writes:

C.S. Lewis, a serious and sensible theologian wrote in 1942 about Jesus:

“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.”

Watch the movie at "A Madman or something worse".  As they say:

Jesus of Nazareth was an awful moral philosopher. He compares badly to such modern greats such as Mill, Rawls or Ross and also to historical thinkers such as Aristotle, Diogenes or Plato. His moral contributions are not original, and his original contributions are not moral.

God is little more than a pleasant fable for adults, a pacifier for the mind that quells the nervous forebodings of death. And so Lewis is right. The Nazarene was A Madman or Something Worse.

Of course there is a third option.  Whenever someone presents you with a choice or two or three options there is always another option, and that is not to make a choice at all.

I'm almost certain that Jesus was neither mad nor a great moral teacher.  To be either of these he would have had to have existed, and it is not at all clear that he did exist.

Related posts:


Shane said...

Lewis was a dipstick in this area, unfortunately. The "trilemma" is sometimes stated as "Lunatic, Liar or Lord", as if these were the only possibilities. It is a false trilemma. One other important possibility is "Legend". We have *no* direct works from Jesus - just reports, and none of them - NOT ANY - are from people who ever actually met him (assuming he existed).

Much as I enjoyed the Narnia fantasies as a kid, and much as I feel I should stick up for a fellow Northern Irishman, Lewis's theological notions are drivel.

Steve Walker said...

Per Something Surprising:
"God is little more than a pleasant fable for adults...
..there is always another option, and that is not to make a choice at all."

Given the information in the Gospels, Lewis' reasoning is sound. Just using cold logic, Jesus claimed to be God. So hypothetically, if I offend you, I need to ask HIM for forgiveness (as well as making amends to you). Well, if he is God - the person who invented us - then this might be a fair request. If he isn't God (remember, we're taking the bible at its word for now) he's clearly mentally ill. Those are the only two choices available to a disciplined thinker.

But the real question, the one the matters, needs to be addressed long before we start debating bible verses, and that question concerns the existence of a god; but you've gotta have the sense to ask the right one. I like this one: If God IS, if there's really some eternal being out there who made us and, as we're told, loves us, then my question is "Is this God discoverable? And if so, how?"
- If he isn't, then who cares about any of this? Why talk about it? If he's there but doesn't communicate back to us then AFAIK, he's useless and I'm moving on to some other subject. Life's too short.
- If he is discoverable, then how? And we can't settle for some of the goofy, natural, normal occurances that some do indeed settle for, e.g. "I NEARLY got hit by a car but it just missed me - IT'S A MIRACLE!" No, the only real proof is when the supernatural being who IS god is willing to directly reveal him/herself (itself) from the supernatural realm - directly and unmistakeably to ME. Think about it - who else can reliably answer that question? If he is, he is. There's no reason for it; Whether he is or isn't, it's never going to be a logical thing. So you can pretend you know the answer but until you've seriously asked him if he's there or not, then waited a while for an answer, you have no data. No real data, anyway. Per the story, if Jesus existed then, he exists now. And if you don't believe it because you've never seen any evidence of a god - that's reasonable. So you obviously can't make yourself believe it somehow. It's not possible; it would be a lie. And if Jesus does exist, and he "knows your heart" as they say, then this isn't just a reasonable request, it's a necessary request. It shows integrity and he'd know that, wouldn't he? He'd have to be dumber than I am not to, right? I think he'd be impressed that someone barged right up and honestly stated this very logical, reasonable case man to man, and required proof before compromising his integrity by pretending to believe. Or, again, with no data, pretending not to believe. Because without first conducting that experiment, our conclusions are aimless conjecture. Our opinions have no integrity.

And yes, I know this works because I have done it.

"It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly, one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts."
-S Holmes

Plasma Engineer said...

That all seemed very logical and although I was almost sure which way it would end up you succeeded in maintaining the suspense. A nice story - one that would sound great from a pulpit where nobody would challenge or question it.

So - you just know something in your mind having asked Jesus? You heard a voice in your head and that counts as objective evidence? It counts as data? Not for me.

The reason to talk about gods who are not there is quite simple. (Remember that we are now taking the premise of there being no gods at face value.) The godly continue to evangelise their myths and to influence the lives of the rest of us. Do they expect to continue, unchallenged by the simple truth that there is no evidence for god?

I suppose they can always dream of such a perfect and comfortable world, but I wouldn't bet on it happening.

Open your heart to the truth and come to London on 17th September and join the march for a secular Europe.


Steve Walker said...

Imagine a young man, helplessly in love with a shy, very beautiful girl. He's afraid to approach her because rejection would be so much worse than nothing at all. But then one day she comes to him and boldy makes it clear that she is interested in him. He's stunned. In subsequent months it becomes clear; she wants only him. "And not another man in town, my darlin's heart could win." He knows she loves him back. He knows. And now everything he does, wherever he goes, whether with her or without her, happens in the light of this one truth: someone of such value is out there who is equally glad that she has finally found .. me.

Who can challenge his confidence that he is honestly loved by an honest heart? Who besides the two people who experienced this personal exchange could know?

It's a little like standing at the side of a room where you see a box on the left, and people on the right who are facing the box, and are claiming there's something very specific emanating from the box that interests them. You can see with your own eyes there's nothing between them and the box but empty space, and you can see the box. It's just a box! But they keep entreating you, "Come over here and look from here and you'll understand. It's just a television. If you look directly into it you see wonderful things."

But if you merely observe others watching the box from a position outside of the flow of information you just see crazy, deluded people laughing and crying, and who have the effrontery to claim they know something that you don't.

I still maintain, and your post states it clearly, that you insist on observing from without while insensibly insisting those who have moved into the flow of information see nothing different than what you see.

You asked "You heard a voice in your head and that counts as objective evidence?". In fact I met a being who arrived at an unexpected moment who was unabashed enough to admit that it needed ME. It was the first time I ever "saw" a spirit. Being in the same room with this person would be better compared to orgasm than your "voice in my head". It knew me intimately, was almost childishly giddy about this new love affair with ME, and I was indeed stunned at the intensity of palpable affection coming from a being so huge, absolutely perfect, and utterly without pride. You also said "This counts as data? Not for me." Of course not for you. How could it count as data for you?

And I will admit this: Based solely on the influence that religious people in general have had on the world, if I had never heard that voice in my head as you put it, I would march for a secular Europe in a heartbeat. But I can't help it. It's like I've been ruined. I know what I know, I don't just believe it. Like "believing" you're having an orgasm.

RosaRubicondior said...

Steven Walker. I note you opening sentence - "Given the information in the Gospels...".

Can you give an authenticated piece of evidence which would justify taking anything in the 'Gospels' as a given, please?

After all, I could with equal 'logic' say that, given the information in Peter Pan, fairies are known to exist.

Plasma Engineer said...

Mr Walker - your second sermon fails to convince me in any way. Your analogies are rather feeble since there is ample evidence for love with shy beautiful girls and for televisions. I don't doubt that you have come to know Jesus in your imagination or that you continue to see daily signs to confirm it. Confirmation bias can be a very powerful effect. I'm slightly surprised (even worried) about your supernatural orgasms.

Incidentally - most would argue that a secular Europe would be a good thing for the religious as well as the non-religious. The aim of the campaign is not to ban religions but to remove the corrosive effects of religious discrimination.

Steve Walker said...

Sorry, I've been hampered by hurricane Irene the last few days.

I understand your point and will comment, but you may have misunderstood my intent. Someone had labeled Lewis' theological notions as drivel without support. The subject was theology and Lewis was using the bible as basis for this 'trilemma' (good one), so I did too. Lewis actually suggested two possibile conclusions based on 'the sort of things Jesus said' in the bible. I was defending his logic, that's all. I also think it a little too easy to call someone a dipstick or just say "It's a false trilemma" without revealing the fallacy. Cheap shot. There is no dilemma (or trilemma) in Lewis' statement.

I think that technically answers your question, but your issue is about the bible as authority and in this context I agree with you. If both parties in a debate don't already agree on the authority of some reference - the bible, koran, book of mormon, whatever - then its foolishness for one of them to try to invoke it. That was not my intent, as I hope I described above.

Recently I let a group of Jehovah's Witnesses give me the ol' pitch. When they started to quote a bible verse I immediately interrupted with something like "What does the bible have to do with me? There are a lot of religious books out there. What gives yours more integrity than the others?" The answers were just different versions of "well, because it's the holy bible." I said "I have a crushed disc in my back. If your god will heal my back - or you can introduce me to him somehow and I can know that he IS - your book and your religion will have my undivided attention."

Obviously I do recognize their book as an authority, but they didn't know that and I wanted to make the point: The only thing that matters is whether a thing is real or not. If it's real I want know about it. I'll believe anything if its true. But just waving your book at me proves nothing.

Steve Walker said...

Plasma Engineer

Ah. So you thought I was trying to prove the existence of lovers and televisions. I see. In that case I have to agree there is indeed ample evidence for each. Excellent point. You may have missed the conclusions of my analogies, though. Those were the little paragraphs AFTER each analogy. I admit, they were small.

And if I gave you the idea I was actually having physical, sexual orgasms in, uh, some mystic way or something, gee I don't know what to say. I guess I didn't word it very carefully.

Jesus in my imagination: I'm part of a small group of about 6 to 10 believers who get together a few times a week. I have watched these people heal a five year old case of Lime Disease, a broken foot (he came in with me in a lot of pain and in less than 10 minutes was jumping up and down on that foot, incredulous. I was incredulous.) A week later I took along my guitar playing friend who was blinded in one eye 18 years ago in a kitchen accident (he was a chef at the time). One of our people prayed for the eye and nothing happened. Next morning he was looking out his window; he covered his good eye and as he put it "I saw bricks." - the house next door. His doctor says he "has no scientific explanation for how your eye has physically changed this radically. It was even 45 degrees off center and now it's lined up straight." These people have been doing this sort of thing for so long that they aren't impressed anymore; they expect it. But if you read the book of Acts, it's just normal Christianity. I'm sort of the puppy in the group, in training. I feel lucky. And when you see these things - not on TV, not even in a church, but in someone's barn among friends - it changes you. I'm beginning to learn the simplicity of this: Once you see this stuff over and over, you realize these things happen and they become the norm. Then learn to relax and let go of the natural "what if nothing happens?" fear that everyone starts out with, understanding that I Can't Heal Anyone, and you just reach out your hand and speak directly to the malady - tell it to go or to reconstruct or whatever comes to mind at the time. Doesn't really make much difference what you say. And relax - let your stomach go. Don't TRY to heal them. You can't. In fact, its none of your business whether Jesus heals this person or not; not your decision. You just put a hand on them, talk and wait because that's all He wants you to do.

THAT's when he's free to do his own business - when I finally get myself out of the way. No sir, this is not my imagination. Its not.

What you just read happened like I wrote it. I didn't exagerate or make a single thing up.

Enough. This stuff's kind of personal and I didn't intend to spill it like that, not here anyway. But there it is. Believe what you need to believe, but please don't call it a damned sermon. It's what happened, what's happening - that's all it is.

And when you offer a rebuttal to someone in a forum, give him the courtesy of honestly speaking to the issue presented. Don't use logical fallacies and obvious misinterpretations to squirm out from under it. Honest debate of opposing views is an intriquing, helpful tool to discover all facets of an issue. If your opponent makes a good point, admit it. It won't hurt. We don't have to win.

Plasma Engineer said...

Steve - I'm glad you survived the hurricane and sympathise with the East Coast residents who have been inconvenienced by it.

Thanks for your nice story. I'm genuinely pleased that some people have felt that they have been healed but I honestly doubt that god had anything to do with it. I can't address the specific cases in detail, but it is true that real (double blinded randomised) studies of the effectiveness of prayer have actually proven that it is statistically detrimental for the patient.

That is not to say that your group is not special, but I have a colleague who claims similar healing powers using his mastery of 'chi', and know people who believed that they were cured by him. However, I'm afraid that anecdotes do not count as data.

I posted previously about the power of prayer at Lourdes. You might like to dispute it.


I'm not responding to your lecture about use of logical fallacies other than to say that a sentence containing the words 'pot', 'kettle' and 'black' comes to mind. I'll just suggest that analogies also need to be relevant to make any discussion meaningful. Even when they are meaningful they are still just analogies, and you can prove almost anything by analogy. You analogies about television are more like an example of Clarke's Third Law.

Greg said...

Even historical scholars who are skeptics of Christianity's truth claims will tell you that to deny the existence of an historical Jesus is the scientific equivalent of believing the earth is flat. Quit trying to avoid Jesus by denying his existence. Conceeding to an historical Jesus does not mean one has to give up their atheism. C'mon... don't be scared...

Plasma Engineer said...

Good try Greg!

That is what is called 'the argument from authority' and it doesn't work.

Presumably these scholars have some evidence for his existence then? And before you quote the bible or other fragments of scriptures that might have been in the bible but were not included in the canon, please believe me that those could hardly be said to be objective evidence, even by your historical scholars.

C'mon, don't be scared of telling me how they know these things . . .

Anonymous said...

You can believe the text or not, but 3 of the first 4 books of the New Testament are first-hand accounts of 3 men who stayed with Jesus throughout his ministry. So you might want to back off your "NOT ANY" theory above.

Plasma Engineer said...

Oh dear! Credulous Christians who have not taken the trouble to find out about the origin of their own bible are so pathetic!

I think the last comment was demonstrably wrong in every important detail.

Plasma Engineer said...

Oh yes - I meant to suggest that I have no intention of backing off.

sergey said...

the best understanding that we have of the writers of the New Testament is that these writers were future people that wrote about a past figure aka "Jesus of the past" not "Jesus of the present". In simple terms these writers of the New Testament are future followers of this Jesus not people who actually knew him first hand.