Evidence that Demands a Retrial
One book I recall as being influential during my Christian years was "Evidence that Demands a Verdict" by Josh McDowell.
I was drawn to apologetics at the time, because these Christians at least put some thought into what they believe. Most Sunday morning sermons consist of a dumbed-down pablum of tired clichés and appeals to faith. While the average parishioner couldn't have cared less, apologetics specialists would at least address the issue of reasons for belief. They had an arsenal of 1001 “rational” reasons why the claims of Christianity had to be true.
It seemed somewhat impressive to me at the time, but once I expanded my information in-basket to take in a much broader perspective, I was appalled at how ingrown and circular apologetics reasoning was.
These guys spend their lives within a Christian culture. Seminary training reinforces the circular reasoning approach until it becomes 2nd nature. By this time they have lost the ability to discern reality from an unbiased perspective. Any new information that conflicts with "faith" is automatically quarantined to a place where it never will receive consideration.
McDowell is still at it after all these years. I grabbed the following excerpt from his website to illustrate "circular reasoning" with a classic example:
Two important verses speak to the heart of the matter: 2 Timothy 3:16 and 2 Peter 1:21. The former reads, "All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness." The word inspired is a translation of the Greek word theopneustos, meaning God -breathed. Thus the origin of Scripture is God, not man; it is God-breathed.
There you have it, folks. The words of Paul and Peter are somehow construed to refer to "all scripture" as in "all scripture that orthodox Christianity recognizes" otherwise known as the Bible. The fact that these documents make internal claim to be inspired by God proves nothing. Anyone could make such claim in their writings!
Never mind the fact that neither of these Biblical authors could have been aware of which documents would get cobbled together hundreds of years later into "The Bible". In fact, there is some evidence that there were documents highly revered during Paul's time that were rejected by the Nicene Canon makers. One example is The Book of Enoch, and there were at least 21 different Gospel accounts in circulation at the time. Nice try Josh, but no dice!
Apologetics gurus like to point out how many extant copies of "original scriptural texts" exist compared to classic works such as Homer's Iliad. Overlooked is the obvious difference that Homer does not claim to speak on behalf of God or make sweeping theological statements. How many copies exist of "Holy Blood, Holy Grail", and does this prove anything?
Another little incongruity which doesn't get discussed is why the original Gospel manuscripts are not written in Aramaic, the language spoken by Jews in 1st century Palestine. Besides, any Messiah trying to start a new religion would have published his thoughts extensively, wouldn't you think? But we have no books penned by Jesus, and the only Biblical texts about Jesus were written in Turkey, Greece or Rome a generation later. Where is the chain-of-custody?
Let's extend McDowell's point a little further, as to how many extant copies of the original teachings of Jesus exist: The real answer is none! The Gospels were written decades later by people who simply compiled stories about Jesus, and then added twists to support their own agenda. These authors did not know Jesus personally and were not eyewitness to any of the events. By that time, the Romans had wiped out the Jewish culture in Jerusalem and obliterated whatever records might have existed. To call these "original manuscripts" makes as much sense as if I were to attempt to write a history of WWI based on stories I have heard about it.
One point I wish Christians would consider, is in whom they are really putting their trust in when insisting that the Bible is "God's Word": Everything they believe has been filtered through the very narrow sieve of 3rd & 4th century political wrangling that resulted in the forging of the Church as we know it. If you want to trust those guys as your source of truth, go ahead, but don't try to tell me God had anything to do with it.
Lets review for a moment some real “evidence”: Most Christians are totally unaware of how prevalent echoes of the core Gospel story was among various Mystery Schools that predated the Christian Gospels by centuries. The cult of Mithras was one such example that featured a man-God, born of a virgin on December 25, teacher of wisdom, performer of miracles, killed then resurrected on Easter Sunday. He had 12 disciples and performed something similar to the Eucharist sacrament. The time frame was set some 600 years before Jesus. So obvious and well-known were these parallels that the early Church fathers resorted to claims of “diabolical mimicry” on the part of the Devil to explain away how history happened to include other preceding versions of the “Gospel”.
My studies have led me to conclude that the Christian Gospel account is largely a fabricated rehash of earlier Mysteries. The historical Jesus may have been a composite of a mystic healer/wisdom teacher and a rebellious political leader that was executed by the Romans. The early Church borrowed much mythology and major holiday traditions from existing religions. Icons are simply substituted, Mary takes the place of Demeter/Isis/Cybele, and the Vatican was built on the ruins of an ancient Mithraic temple. This is how the dominant form of Christianity originated.
A person of Faith can find this expose extremely disturbing, as was the case in my own experience, until realization sinks in that our spirituality does not depend on religious dogma. In fact, religion tends to discourage true spirituality. Throwing off the shackles of religious dogma begins the process of opening doors and enlightenment.
Don't expect the questions raised by these facts to get any treatment by McDowell or other Christian apologetics experts. Any facts that conflict with "faith" are simply discarded, and they circle the wagons and the discussion ends. McDowell’s use of the word “evidence” is a misnomer.
Copyright 2010 Lynn B. Savage