Saturday, August 29, 2009

Can you follow Jesus without believing in God?

The information we have about what Jesus did comes from the Bible. The Bible has Jesus performing miracles and making statements that imply that he thinks he's God. He never acts as if he's just a humble carpenter's boy, he acts as if he has the right to forgive the sins of others, he says he's going to come and judge the world, he predicts his own resurrection, he goes into the temple and acts as if the place belongs to Him, he teaches the Torah without feeling that he has to refer to anything the rabbis had said about it in the past, and in some cases actually say "It says in the law of Moses X, but I say Y" suggesting that his own words supersede the Mosaic law. So the Jewish leaders asked the perfectly natural question "who in the Sam Hill do you think you are?"

None of this makes sense of course, if there is no God, and if Jesus has no special status or miraculous powers. C. S. Lewis argued that Jesus had to be liar, a lunatic, or else he had to be right and really was God. You can dodge Lewis's conclusion by arguing that the biblical sources are not accurate, and the Jesus never said or did anything that implied that he was anything more than a carpenter's son who became a charismatic Jewish preacher. But what that is going to do is leave you with no accurate sources with respect to what Jesus said and did. In which case, it's going to be hard to follow Jesus.

7 comments:

Clayton said...

I don't think Jesus is magic. Do I think he's a liar? Hard to say. I'll opt for lunatic. Maybe Jesus is a bit crazy, but he's a harmless crazy and his crazy is the kind of crazy we like. So, we follow him. He's like a happy accident. What's wrong with that?

If someone happened to be crazy and happened to act and talk _just_ like Jesus, don't you think you'd take him to be a good role model if, say, you didn't realize he was a lunatic? And, if you discovered that he was a lunatic, wouldn't you still think that he acts just like someone who is worth emulating?

Gordon Knight said...

I think Clayton is right, you can follow someone's teaching without necessarily believing they are sane.

What may be more difficult to make sense out of is following a teacher that you believe is insane on the basis of their authority.

So if you read "love your enemies" think about it and recognize its truth, you can follow this advice without really paying attention to who Jesus was (maybe Jesus was a zombie!) But it would not make sense to follow such advice because of who taught it.

Victor Reppert said...

The problem here is that those who want to hold to a naturalistic account of who Jesus is have to be skeptical of large chunks of the New Testament record. That being the case, it becomes hard to see how much confidence you can have in the parts of the NT that don't reference anything supernatural, given the fact that so much of the text is bound up with supernatural claims about Jesus.

The question is whether it is at all likely that we should have someone who is crazy in just the right way to be Jesus. I mean, people who think they are Napoleon, much less God, ordinarily have to be locked up for their own protection or for the protection of others. This certainly lends support to the idea that there are too many improbabilities in the founding of Christianity unless Christianity really is true, though I suppose you can evade this outcome by using a Humean argument that any supernaturalist hypothesis has to be the most improbable of all.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Victor there's plenty of good stuff in there without the supernatural. How much of the supernatural stuff do you have to take literally in order to get something useful (at a psychological or even spiritual level) out of the NT? I like Sermon on the mount, for instance. There are lots of cool stories in there. I am perfectly happy treating them the way I treat stories about men being swallowed by fish, or stories about God making Eve from the rib of Adam. If I were to treat them as asserting literal truths, they would suddenly lose all credibility.

So, to answer the question in the original post: Yes, obviously. Clearly, some Christians will get all their knickers in a bunch and mock it as being diluted, new-agey, wishy-washy, or whatever. But that doesn't mean I can't try to live by the majority of the principles Jesus espoused, sans the supernatural stuff.

Jefferson realized this over 200 years ago, that's why he edited a version of the Bible, stripping it of superstitious mumbo jumbo. :) (That's not a joke, he actually did this).

The liar/lunatic/lord thing is silly I'm surprised you treat it with so much respect. Lunatic is such a loaded word, for instance, that it is a false trichotomy. If someone is deluded (and this is assuming that Jesus literally said what is written in the book, obviously contentious in itself), that doesn't mean he is a lunatic. It also doesn't mean he is wrong about the other things he says.

This has all been pointed out by others that have examined this argument. I'm sure the liar/lunatic/lord thing works well on kids or the less critical undergrads, but come on dude. As philosophy, as theology, as argument, it's junk.

Clayton said...

"The problem here is that those who want to hold to a naturalistic account of who Jesus is have to be skeptical of large chunks of the New Testament record. That being the case, it becomes hard to see how much confidence you can have in the parts of the NT that don't reference anything supernatural, given the fact that so much of the text is bound up with supernatural claims about Jesus."

But why is _that_ a problem? If the supernatural and non-supernatural parts are parts we can't assume to be true, we can't take ourselves to have any reason to think that Jesus is admirable. And, so there's a fourth option, liar, lunatic, lord, or some guy we know nothing about because everything about him is, so far as we know, a lie.

Clayton said...

"The problem here is that those who want to hold to a naturalistic account of who Jesus is have to be skeptical of large chunks of the New Testament record."

Also, I'd question this assumption. So far as I know, there's decent empirical evidence for parts of the non-supernatural stuff in the NT that doesn't give me much reason, if any, to believe the supernatural stuff. So, being skeptical about one doesn't seem to require or recommend being skeptical about the other. The grounds for belief in the supernatural and non-supernatural parts are prima facie different.

Anders Branderud said...

Le-havdil (to differentiate (to distinguish between the above and the below),
It is important to comprehend the difference between the historical Ribi Yehoshua ha-Mashiakh (the Messiah) from Nazareth and the counterfeit image.
To follow the historical Messiah is not the same as following the counterfeit image.
A logical analysis (found in www.netzarim.co.il (Netzarim.co.il is the website of the only legitimate Netzarim-group)) of all extant source documents of the “gospel of Matthew” (which is redacted and anti-Torah) and archeology proves that the historical Ribi Yehosuha ha-Mashiakh (the Messiah) from Nazareth and his talmidim (apprentice-students), called the Netzarim, taught and lived Torah (kept the mitzwot (directives or military-style orders) in Torah (“the books of Moses”)) all of their lives; and that Netzarim and Christianity were always antithetical.

The original words of the pro-Torah teacher Ribi Yehoshua were redacted by Roman Hellenists, and the redaction is found in the “gospels”. Jzus is described in the “gospels”, and le-havdil the teachings of the historical Torah-teacher Ribi Yehoshua from Nazareth are found in the reconstruction (using a logical and scientific methodology to create the reconstruction), Netzarim Hebrew Reconstruction of Hebrew Matityahu (NHM).

The historical Jew Ribi Yehoshua is not the same as the Christian Jzus. The historical Ribi Yehoshua was a human. There is a Jewish Ribi Yehoshua. The Christian Jzus is a counterfeit image of the historical Torah-teacher Ribi Yehoshua.

The only way of how to follow Ribi Yehoshua is through becoming one of his Netzarim (www.netzarim.co.il)-followers

To follow Ribi Yehoshua is the opposite of practising Christianity and the opposite of following the
counterfeit image Jzus.

Anders Branderud