Sunday, April 12, 2015

Nature of Belief in Jesus

So, as it were the other day, I was discussing religion in a bar.  Why this came about I don't remember, but I do recall it wasn't I who began this tangent.  The interesting bit was that the person told me that they believe in Jesus (as many Christians do - perhaps all) but that they somehow also believe in ghosts and spirits.  Also, somehow, that this person did not believe (as some Christians also do - perhaps a majority) that the old testament was a thing that involved Jesus.  So that's the argument I'm breaking down today: old testament and it's relation to Jesus.

Calling oneself a Christian, and professing a belief to Jesus, contains within itself a fundamental thing in Christianity.  Typically, most people will assert that Jesus is either the son of god, or god incarnate (or in some cases both). The implication is that the god who became Jesus (we're gonna use that phrase for simplicity from here on out - please understand it to mean either or both) is the god of the old testament. This carries with it further implications.  Let's discuss a few.

Also, it is mildly important to note that Jews, Christians, and Muslims all believe in the same god, the same deity, in a matter of basics.  It's important with respect to further facts soon to be discussed.

The Story of Creation


So here's one of the most common points (Ken Ham, Kent Hovind, etc.) that literal evangelists and their adherents like to point out.  They claim the creation story is absolute, concrete.  They hold it to be the word of god, explicitly and without fault.  This is the major sticking point on things like evolution, or dinosaurs and man not coexisting.  This is a literal reckoning of what happened.


The largest problem here tends to be that these same people have no problem violating most of the laws of Leviticus, wearing mixed fibers for example.  They say that these parts don't apply anymore, that they were simply stories of how to trust in god (as with Job or Samson, for example), or were laws that shouldn't apply anymore.  Because somehow a god that knows everything, including the timeline for creation, exists in a book that isn't literal.  Except as it were the parts that support whatever story the individual likes best. 

The Allegorical Old Testament

So, let's contemplate this one moment further.  A supposed perfect being is incapable of writing his own book.  Let's even let the fact that it was written by men, literally thousands of years after some of these events, be on the back burner momentarily.  It still can't be both ways.  It must either be literal, the word of god made print; or it's allegory and should server more as a moral compass (and therefore the creation story isn't any more true than the need to stone women for wearing clothing that is too immodest, or just having sex, or eating eggs. Deut 22). 

But I can hear your protest now, what has this to do with the new testament?  Well, Christians by definition believe in Christ (Jesus, Emmanuel, et cetera).  The old testament is what gives the new testament any validity at all.  For if you don't believe in the prophets of the old testament proclaiming (in a roundabout way, mind) that the one prophesied is Jesus, then you've got a Jewish mindset.  Jewish people similarly don't believe that Jesus is god.  That's literally the defining trait between Jews and Christians. 

The Biblical nature of the New Testament

Jesus did not, in fact, overturn many of the things in the old testament. Jesus even used many of those same teachings himself.  Ergo, if the old testament is mostly allegory, then likely the part that prophesied Jesus is as well.  I mean, if Mary were just having a kid, who wasn't foretold by the old books, there wouldn't be a book about Jesus.  But if the old testament is literal, then we should cast into fire any woman who has cheated on her husband, and the women should go along quietly.

The logical reason for this is that the positive claim here is that the biblical account of creation is real, and secondarily that Jesus is real.  The burden of proof rests upon the person making these claims.

The logical breakdown here is that if the old testament is untrue in some way (read: isn't literal), then one of the foundational tenets of Jesus being the son of god is also equally untrue.  Jesus is never portrayed as the son of Mephisto, Baal, Odin, Zarathrustra, Hera, nor any other number of gods.  Jesus is most definitely (at least, biblical Jesus) the son of God, who is the author of the old testament. 

Jesus, Spirits and Higher Powers

This is where the argument broke down further, but it's actually still a pretty common argument in a few forms.

Belief in a non-specific higher power

This is a generic, catch-all answer.  Higher power is not defined as a specific thing.  Usually people want to insert this as a first-cause sort of argument, or a guiding purpose kind of thing.  People like to think that creatures evolved for a reason.  I was even having this discussion recently, that life from non-life is a thing (abiogenesis), and is separate from evolution itself.  The person I was discussing it with didn't care about all that (actually multiple persons, but the memory point remains).

The most important thing here is to recall burden of proof.  You are free to assert a positive claim about the nature of the universe, but then you are also the one required to defend it.  Even if I can't directly rebuke your point, that doesn't mean you are correct for having made an assertion.  If this were the case, I could simply say unicorns are real until you show me that they are not.  This is a false burden of proof fallacy.  If you don't have a unicorn higher power god some kind of evidence for your claim, you cannot make your claim.

But this problem is more divisive than that.  Highly conservative groups, like the Westboro Baptists for example, are in a collective known as a 'bible-believing' subset of a denomination of Christianity.  They hold that anyone who doesn't believe the bible in exactly the way that they do is somehow not a Christian, regardless of how their own beliefs (polygamy is just fine in the bible, for example) fall within that subset.  Remember, if God really hated homosexuals, he probably would have destroyed Rome or Greece instead of Sodom or Midia.  Or, you know, being omnipotent, just not made homosexuality, if he felt so strongly about it...

But I digress.

Belief in Spirits/Ghosts/Life Energy/Souls etc.

Let's start with Angels.  Angels are not humans.  Angels are a specific class of being in the bible.  Humans do not become angels. Angels and Demons (as demons are, like Lucifer, fallen angels) are a separate creation in the bible, basically gods messengers.  They fall into various classes, like Cherubim, Seraphim, Nephilim (which are actually demigods like Hercules, but I digress again), et cetera.  Not a one of these is your dead grandmother with whom Sylvia Brown claims to be talking.

Now let's go to spirits roaming the earth.  Hebrews 9:27 clearly points out that this is not a thing human spirits do with regard to biblical teachings.  Christians simply can't believe that if they accept a literal translation of the old testament.  If they accept an allegorical one, it's still pretty clear that spirits don't linger.  A person dies and goes directly to Judgement, do not pass go, do not join seance, do not talk to anyone, do not possess dishes, et cetera.

This does raise another interesting point, however, because it definitely implies that those spirits will be judged on old-testament beliefs (and some of Jesus teachings in the new testament, which we can save for another day).  Ergo, if you believe in Christian heaven and judgement day and the creation, then you should also believe in women being subservient toward men, not eating certain kinds of meat, and dressing modestly with unmixed fibers.  Because otherwise you're not getting into heaven.  Don't forget, accepting Jesus as your savior means also accepting that his father sets the rules for the heaven he's supposedly running.