Here's to a good time, a good life, and a good death.
Disclaimer: The white Jesus in the picture is far from accurate; technically he should look far more Middle-Eastern.
So I have just spent a considerable amount of time in the last three posts arguing some big reasons that Christianity could be a bit of a shaky foundation, at least in the contemporary sense.
Now, that being said, there are some things that Christianity does well, that is when interpreted in certain contexts.
Let’s consider the whole Biblical story in a big picture lens.
We have Adam and Eve, created by God and responsible for the Fall of Man. We have centuries of following the Israelites through different historical events from flourishing time periods of David and Solomon to times of enslavement and captivity by other nations. Prophets come to deliver God’s will to the people along with prophecies advocating a promised messiah to deliver them from persecution. This goes on for several centuries until the birth of Christ.
Jesus Christ, God’s son, comes into the world. He lives a relatively short life (by our standards) and dies and goes to heaven. He dies for the sins of the world, so that people can be reunited with God in spirit. The apostles are to spread the Gospel to the world until God comes back to judge the world.
Now, here’s the question that I like to consider, could somebody have planned/devised the Christian story? What are the odds that somebody over the course of 2,000 or so years could have created this religion?
Well, if we look at this with the intent of pointing out just one person to conspiratorially create Christianity, we can really only make a good argument with Jesus. He is the single person to have enough influence to transform the religion. In fact, Jesus is basically the cornerstone of Christianity. This is kind of equivalent to Siddhārtha Gautama of Buddhism or Muḥammad ibn of Islam. Now, It’s really tough to argue that anyone could have planned out the entire Bible, given that it has roughly 40 authors between the two testaments. Basically, the probability is rather extremely low that an old Testament prophet or individual crafted this epic story of spiritual redemption.
Furthermore, the story follows a consistent course of logic, given the assumption that God gave freedom of will to Adam and Eve because that is the most controversial philosophical premise for the religion. Nevertheless, this assumption can be supported in the reasoning that God wanted his subjects to “love” him, and the only way to really accomplish that is to by choice. In other words, if Adam and Eve hadn’t had freedom of choice, they would have basically been robots, incapable of choosing anything other than what God wants. Further, designing a human was far better demonstration of God’s power than creating a robot. Now, once Adam and Eve had sinned, a particular motion of events was set into effect. Basically, God creates a master plan to set “things right again” to His chosen people, the Jewish people, that becomes manifested through the prophets. The Jews look to God for the promised “Messiah” for years upon years. This is all documented well (relative to older texts) in the Hebrew Bible.
Then, Jesus arrives and this is a big deal because he is the Messiah to “fix” everything. Now, the Jews think that the Messiah is the person who will deliver them from persecution and captivity. But in actuality, God has a much more meaningful plan. He wants to release people from the “chains of sin” or otherwise enable people to live morally according to his commandments. He wants to bring a purpose to life and a renewed sense of salvation. Now, Jesus is a fascinating character in the Bible. He lives a life demonstrating miracles from various localities (this is controversial). He gains large crowds of followers. He willingly faces religious leaders and chooses to die an excruciatingly painful death. Now why would someone do this if they were lying? Further, he is so inspiring that all but one of his disciples become martyrs for him, excluding Judas. Now why would 11 people all voluntarily die for a false cause?
Now whether every detailed account of Jesus is factually true or not, we can at least say that the chances that Jesus fabricated this whole account is pretty hard to argue. You see, the accounts of the Bible fit nicely into a logical model of a meaningful story. The idea that Jesus saves people spiritually rather than physically ties in to the structure of Genesis and the Fall of Man. Additionally, it steps into a realm that people are naturally not concerned about. In general, people do not consider the spiritual dimension of the world to be of any primary importance. Rather, they are focused on meeting physical needs, like food, water, shelter, and so forth. It requires a certain level of perception and a certain manner of disposition for one to orient themselves towards spiritual concerns. If you look at the specific texts of the words that Jesus says, they are consistently along the lines of spiritual emphasis. In addition, the Holy Spirit follows this exact same trend of focusing on the spiritual. If one was to map out the macro trend on the emphasis that God places on spirituality, we would see one of high importance in the beginning, low importance in the middle, and high importance again once Jesus enters into the picture.
Furthermore, if you track the average interpretation of Biblical passages, generally speaking, they align closely within the framework of PSIC. Jesus’ persistent emphasis of love, not rules, is just one major demonstrative theme. Further, his emphasis on hope, optimism, respect, and passion for helping others adheres closely to the framework of PSIC. The apostles also continue this trend, although they become more specific in terms of practice.
So what’s the argument here? It’s that the sheer Biblical account of Christianity seems to be a good reasonable model for a religion. It contains a certain prerequisite level of complexity, fits a consistent philosophy, and demonstrates a logical pattern. And critically, there is little to no chance that someone could have singlehandedly concocted the religion outside of Jesus. Lastly, It is highly improbable that someone like the apostles would give up his/her life aspirations and die for an idea or person that he/she knows is a blatant lie.
The other argument that I find particularly strong for Christianity is found inside of C.S. Lewis’ theological book, Mere Christianity. I was exposed to this argument in high school and have found it particularly insightful ever since.
The argument goes something like this.
All people are born with a sense of right and wrong or in other words a moral sentiment. It’s like a conscious so to speak, but a little bit different. The theory goes that all people have this sense even if they disagree in its application. For instance, one person may feel that it is inherently wrong to kill a person, animal, or any living thing, as where another person may feel that it is inherently wrong to kill only people. Both people share the perception of right and wrong; they just disagree on its manifestation. Now, incorporating FAM, we begin to remember how, in context, right and wrong are better explained in degrees and not just as dualistic concepts (i.e. instead of right and wrong, say more right or more wrong).
Now, here is the big question. Where does this inherent derivation of morality come from? Why do people almost instinctively differentiate between right and wrong?
There are three possible approaches to explaining this phenomenon.
1) It is part of a combination of evolving characteristics and chemical reactions of millions of years.
2) It comes from social engineering or complex social interactions and is thus taught by society.
3) It comes from God or some other supernatural origin.
So, how about question 1? Well, if this was the case, scientists still do not know how this would have happened. In other words, how come animals don’t seem to share this moral sentiment? Scientists cannot explain the difference using the table of elements and fancy formulas. They also cannot explain it through agent-based modelling or theoretical scenarios. In short, this answer is a tough option until we can learn what combination of chemicals induces a disposition towards a certain moral belief. Or if it is even possible for it too.
So, how about question 2? Well, this is a decent answer, and probably an Atheists/Agnostics’ best bet. Essentially, the argument would be that interacting with another human or individual induces a moral propensity in the individuals. So, then, the question would be, can an individual have a moral sentiment without ever interacting with other humans? Basically, is a human actually born with moral sentiments?
The key to moving through this argument is to critically think about what we are asking. Is it possible for a human to be purely objective? In other words, can a human perform any action or any communication without implicitly saying that what that is is a good thing?
Take, for instance, a fisherman. He lives his whole life without interacting with humans. By fishing, he catches food to live. The argument becomes that by making a profession of fishing, he thinks fishing is generally a good thing to do, or at least not a bad thing. It bears some sort of neutral to positive characteristics. It is morally more of a right thing to do than nothing. Basically, the code of behavior that a human employs inherently demonstrates his moral beliefs. But this does not mean that he thinks that everyone should/must act this way, but that it is okay for others to act this way. If this is true, than every human shares a moral sentiment of some varying capacity, where societies likely increase the capacity. Now what distinguishes this concept from an animal? It is bound up in the assumption that humans are innately different from animals in their mental faculties and capabilities. Humans can reason and animals cannot. Further, if the concept that we have just argued is logically true, then humans are also different than animals in their bearing of moral sentiments.
So if we accept the argument above, then we are only left with option 3. If that is the case, then that supports the concept of God, which is a key assumption that Christianity requires. Note, this does not mean Christianity is “true”, it just means that we have a decent case for God.