This may be my most controversial post so far. I urge my friends who will be disappointed in me not to think of me as wicked, but as a fallen brother. I also urge them to point out to me where I went wrong.
A friend sent to me an excerpt from a well-written article by N. T. Wright. He argues that as a historian there is convincing evidence that Jesus Christ came back to life after dying. This is what he concluded:
The historian’s task is not to force people to believe. It is to make it clear that the sort of reasoning historians characteristically employ — inference to the best explanation, tested rigorously in terms of the explanatory power of the hypothesis thus generated — points strongly towards the bodily resurrection of Jesus.
Is that true? I accept it as a principle, that the more astonishing the claim the stronger the evidence must be to support it. I would suggest that someone rising from the dead is such an unusual accomplishment that objectively we would never believe that this had happened without very strong evidence indeed that it had in fact occurred. I don’t know about you, but I have never found such a claim about anyone else was ever true or even mildly convincing. Would any of us accept such claims about Mohammed, for example? I would suggest that Muslims might believe that, but unless one had been indoctrinated to believe from a very early age it is highly unlikely that anyone would ever reach the conclusion that the evidence “points strongly towards the bodily resurrection of Mohammed”. Only those who already believed in the faith, would feel that evidence pointed strongly in that direction.
Would anyone say that about the evidence that any person at all rose from the dead? Can you conceive of any evidence at all that might lead one to believe that? I would submit that any such conclusion is highly unlikely. The reason is that such beliefs are not based on evidence, they are based on inculcation or indoctrination and even highly intelligent people are guided, usually unconsciously, by that indoctrination, not by evidence at all. They don’t even realize their belief is based on indoctrination.
For the same reason it is obvious why most Christians were raised by Christians and most Muslims were raised by Muslims. We tend to believe what our parents teach us, especially what they taught us from a very young age. It is not that the evidence for Christian beliefs is so much more available in Christian countries or evidence for Muslim beliefs is much more available in Muslim countries. The key is indoctrination not evidence
I am no expert–but I have never seen evidence for the resurrection of Christ that would actually convince anyone other than a person who already believed it. The evidence is not strong at all; it is extraordinarily weak. At least I have never seen any. It is not surprising of course that the evidence is weak. After all millennia have passed since the alleged event. Finding convincing evidence of such an astoundingly rare event would in fact be miraculous, if not impossible. Of course, that does not mean those who believe in the resurrection are wrong, I am only suggesting that they do so not on the basis of belief, but what I call “indoctrination” and they call “faith.”
Of course millions of people believe that Christ rose from the grave and they are entitled to do that but I don’t believe it is based on evidence at all but faith. That really means that such beliefs will be held no matter what the evidence. I think it was John Loftus who said, “You cannot reason people out religious beliefs, because they were not reasoned into them”.
Faith is belief without reason. If you believe something without there being a reason, then you have faith in it. According to the Bible in Hebrews11:1, “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” That is precisely what Friedrich Nietzsche objected to about faith. Hopes are not evidence! The search for truth, he believed, is corrupted by wishes and desires. If hopes are the “evidence” of truth you know the evidence is tainted. Contrary to the book of Hebrews, it is completely unreliable .
N.T. Wright earlier in the above referenced article said, about the historical evidence for the resurrection of Christ,
“The question divides into four. First, what did people in the first century, both pagans and Jews, hope for? What did they believe about life after death, and particularly about resurrection? Second, what did the early Christians believe on the same subjects? What did they hope for? Third, what reasons did the early Christians give for their hope and belief, and what did they mean by the key word ‘resurrection’ which they used of Jesus? Finally, what can the historian say by way of comment on this early Christian claim?”
The fundamental problem I see with an approach like that of N.T. Wright is that it is based on hopes. His method is to find evidence to support beliefs he has probably had since the time of his youth and which ground his hopes for a life after death. Hopes have no place in historical or scientific inquiry. They have a place in theology of course. Hopes are part of faith–a fundamental part of faith in fact.
That is what made Friedrich Nietzsche say, “Faith” means not wanting to know what is true.” The faithful believe what they want to believe. It is extremely difficult not to believe what you want to be true. Nietzsche also said, “The craving for a strong faith, is no proof of a strong faith, but quite the contrary. If one has such a faith, then one can afford the beautiful luxury of skeptics: one is sure enough, firm enough, has ties enough for that.” In other words, if faith is strong enough, no reasoning will talk one out of it. No evidence, no matter how compelling will dispel the belief.
All of this reminds me of that great 20thcentury deep thinker—Archie Bunker. Archie Bunker proudly claimed to have faith. He said, “Faith is something that you believe that no one in his right mind would believe.”
People who acquire faith usually do so not because of a convincing argument, or a powerful religious experience, but as a result of deep and persistent inculcation or indoctrination by their parents. Such a faith is therefore nothing more than a very powerful prejudice. It is very difficult to divorce oneself from one’s parents. It is actually much more difficult than to divorce a spouse. Nietzsche disdained such faith. He said “To accept a faith just because it is customary, means to be dishonest, to be cowardly, to be lazy.”
Nietzsche contrasted this faith with love of reason. He put it this way,
“A kind of honesty has been alien to founders of religions and others like them: they have never made their experiences a matter of conscience for knowledge. “What did I really experience? What happened in me then, and around me? Was my reason bright enough? Was my will turned against all deceptions of the senses and was it courageous in its resistance to the fantastic?—none of them raised such questions; all the dear religious people still do not raise such questions even now: rather they have a thirst for things that are against reason, and they do not want to make it too hard for themselves to satisfy it. And so they experience “miracles” and “rebirths” and hear voices of the little angels! We, however, we others, who thirst for reason, want to look our experience as straight in the eye as if they represented a scientific experiment, hour after hour, day after day. We ourselves want to be our experiments and guinea pigs.”
We have to be “courageous” in “resistance to the fantastic.” I think Wright lacked that courage. He has instead found convincing evidence where no objective person would have found it. He has been guided not by evidence or “reasoning…tested rigorously” but instead by preconceptions.
Preconceptions are dangerous because they keep us from looking for the truth. After all, if you think you already have the truth why would you search for it? Nietzsche said it was not important to have the courage of one’s convictions. It was much more important to have the courage to attack one’s convictions.” That is what we have to learn to do. That is the basis of critical thinking. This willingness is its most important element.
Nietzsche also said, “Convictions are more dangerous enemies of truth than lies.” He said, “I am dynamite.” I think he meant to say that he was on this earth to break up encrusted ‘truths.’ He was here to attack them, to expose them.
Nietzsche’s approach is difficult. He does not deny that. He scorns easier positions. Unlike Nietzsche, most people do what John Kenneth Galbraith talks about when he said, “Faced with the choice of changing one’s mind and with proving there is no need to do so, almost everyone get busy on the proof.”
It is very difficult to give up our convictions. This is particularly true of those we learn at a very young age from our parents. They seem to be a part of us. To cut them loose is like cutting off an arm. I also like what Albert Pike said, “We believe what we are taught; and those are most fanatical who know least of the evidence on which their creed is based.”
Dewitt Jones, the photographer enunciated another profound concept. He said, “I will see it when I believe it.” Until then our preconceptions or biases can stifle the truth so that we cannot detect it.
Christians keep talking about the importance of belief in Jesus. I am never sure exactly what that means. Can they mean that we have to believe some particular proposition? After all why would such a belief be necessary? Or does it mean we should trust him? Have faith in him. That would make more sense. Is that very different however?
Some Christians even suggest that unless we have some beliefs in Jesus we will be condemned to eternal damnation–whatever that means. Forget about eternal damnation, is it fair to base rewards or punishments of any sort on beliefs–particularly fundamental beliefs that we have had since the time of our extreme youth? In most cases our parents should get the credit or blame for those, not us.
Our parents indoctrinated us–rightly or wrongly–when we were very young. We were so young we had no ability to resist the indoctrination. We are not good or bad because we accepted the indoctrination. We were vulnerable. There was nothing we could do about it. Just as it is not fair to condemn an accused person of a crime when the person is so mentally ill that he or she cannot resist the impulse to commit the crime, so it is not fair to base any rewards or any punishments, let alone eternal ones, on what we were indoctrinated to believe, or not believe, when we were young children. I cannot believe any God who would do that. That is why we should never be judged by our beliefs. We should be judged by our actions freely accomplished.