RESPONDblog: Christianity’s Not As Mysterious As You Think

I found myself at Vasquez Rocks National Park this weekend. Actually – this was completely intentional. I was hunting for a shooting location used by the makers of the Original Series of Star Trek from the 1960s. What can I tell you…? I’m nerdy like that.

The episode I was thinking of is called “Arena”; Captain Kirk finds himself facing the war like Gorn creature on the surface of an asteroid with a suspiciously “earth-like” atmosphere. Which is handy. A superior race, the Metrones, have decided that Kirk must fight his adversary to the death. Not so superior, eh? In reality – William Shatner was acting his socks off with a poor guy sweating in a green rubber suit.

I wanted to find the spot where their iconic battle happened. After all…I remember watching the episode as a child.

My strategy on arriving at Vasquez Rocks National Park was to launch myself “Kirk like” into the mysterious and rugged countryside…to explore various trails and various rock formations in the 35 degree heat. “That looks kinda familiar…maybe they filmed it there? Oh no – hang on – maybe it was here? Man…I’m hot.”

After an hour or so trudging around in the oven like heat…I returned to the visitors centre for a rest. I sensed that I hadn’t really found what I was looking for. Walking back to the car…I noticed a big sign that I had driven past an hour ago when I first entered the park. It read, “To the Rocks” – with a big arrow pointing up a well built road to my left.

Genius that I am – I asked myself – “Hang on. Why don’t I follow that arrow…and just drive up that road? I wonder what’s up there?” I jumped into the car…drove up the signposted road…and eventually arrived at a large visitors car park. Exiting the car…I looked around. I was already hot…but I was getting warmer. I recognised these rock formations.

I began chatting on Twitter with my friend Alan. I explained what I was doing and – very helpfully – he sent me an image of the Star Trek episode that showed the location I was looking for. I gulped at the image on my phone screen. Raising my head, I looked again at the entrance to the visitors car park I had just driven through.

Would you believe it?

Star Trek had filmed the iconic Gorn battle scene HERE – within the visitors car park at the end of the road!! Of course. With so much equipment…the lights and cameras transported by truck…the film crew needed a wide space to set things up. It made perfect sense to use the car park. It’s slightly disappointing to me though that the scene was captured…in a car park. This Star Trek episode has lost some of its mystique to me now…

On reflection – I made this trip much much harder for myself than it needed to be. I hadn’t actually rewatched the episode on Netflix before travelling to the location…I was working from memories and assumptions in my head about what the location looked like. Life would have been easier…if I’d just googled a picture first. Worse – when I arrived at the park…I didn’t follow the clear and obvious signage that was provided and staring me in the face! I decided to purposefully wander off into the countryside instead.

In the end…finding what I was looking for was really easy and straightforward. It just required me to look at the source material…and follow the obvious instructions that were available.

It occurred to me as I reflected on these hilarious mistakes, that this might not be too different from how many people approach Christianity. One friend…sceptical of Christianity… said to me recently, “Why don’t I get it like you, Stuart?”

Well – maybe its like me hunting for the iconic Kirk vs the Gorn location without watching the episode first? We’re relying on our half remembered ideas about what Christianity is about…but why don’t we just go back and look at what it actually IS all about? The life of Jesus as documented in the New Testament. How about we actually read what, say, the Gospel of Mark actually records that Jesus said and did?

Further, so many people I’ve spoken to assume that the claims of Christianity are unreliable today. Their starting assumption is that the history of Christianity is very complicated…and so one needs to dig really deeply to work out what actually happened to cause the Christian church 2000 years ago. And frankly – that is too much work for most people. Well – perhaps we are missing the clear and obvious signpost that is staring us right in the face? We’ve dived off into the countryside…and come up with nothing useful as a result. And we’ve probably given up. Instead – why don’t we come back to the starting point and follow the clear signage that has been provided to lead us to what we’re looking for? Stop assuming its hard and complicated – and just follow the road and see where it takes us?

You know, historians have identified that the oldest and so the earliest description of Christian belief is recorded in 1 Corinthians 15. There’s an ancient creed written there in this letter that predates all of the layer gospel biographies of Jesus (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) by decades. The creed itself may date to just a few months after Jesus’ crucifixion…capturing what the first Christians stood for. This is the clear and obvious signage that I’m talking about. What does it say?

“that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas,[b] and then to the Twelve. 6 After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep.7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, 8 and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born”

1 Corinthians 15:3-8, NIV

It’s not complicated. Its laid out clearly. Just follow the signpost. Jesus was raised from the dead – this fact was widely accepted and assumed by both friends and enemies of Christianity during the 1st century. The first Jesus followers worked to help other people become friends and followers of this Jesus too. He was crucified on a cross, but he’s not a dead, ancient figure of history. He’s a vital and real person who is still alive today.

So why don’t we get this? Possibly because…we think we know better. Can I suggest to you…from experience…that we don’t know better. Christianity is worth “getting”. It really is. And it’s not hard to do. It just requires us to lay aside our wrong thinking…and follow the evidence provided.

As I drove away from Vasquez Rocks and pointed my car to home, I laughed out loud as I joined highway I-14. What did I find funny? You can actually plainly see the Star Trek shooting location as you drive up the highway! It’s SO obvious. It’s clearly laid out for all to see…it’s not mysterious..not hidden away in some obscure spot in the desert.

All you have to do to find what you need…is first not convince yourself that finding it is just too hard. And second, follow those signs that point to Jesus Christ.

Advertisements

RESPONDblog: Galaxy Quest + My Limited Worldview

The movie Galaxy Quest tells the story of a group of washed up actors, tired and bored of living with the enduring fandom around their old space opera TV show from 20 years ago. It introduces us to Jason Nesmith, the actor who played the captain on the NSEA Protector space ship in the space opera. And he’s signing autographs at a fan convention…when suddenly and finally he explodes in a “Shatner-istic, get a life” way. Who does he explode at? Branden – a geeky fan who is asking for an autograph, while also pressing him on a tricky episode plot hole that Nesmith couldn’t care less about.  
Nesmith roasts him.

“It’s just a TV show. You got it?!”

The movie also tells the story of a group of alien beings – the Thermians – who have been watching Nesmith’s old TV Show from outer space…and have come to believe that the stories told in the show are actually real, rather than just hokey entertainment.

Now, in addition to their viewing habits, we learn the peace loving Thermians are facing an oppressive and controlling space gangster called Sarris who wants to oppress them. They fear Sarris…yet are actually quite technologically advanced. So they decide to emulate their heroes on the TV show and build an advanced space ship to fight Sarris…and they make the ship look and behave just like the NSEA Protector.

They make it work in exactly the same way as the ship on the show. So…the computer will only work if the girl on the bridge repeats all the data the computer provides the bridge team. And the controls for the ship’s pilot are laid out just as the actor playing the pilot pretended to fly the ship.

BUT – the Thermians have a problem – they cannot use their cool spaceship technology to defeat Sarris. They are smart enough to build their ship. They aren’t brave enough to use it.

Their solution? They decide to naively travel to earth…find their heroes from their favourite space TV show…and take them back to their planet to pilot the ship and defeat Sarris for them! After all…these guys are their heroes…and have defeated evil many times on the show. They’ve watched it on their equivalent of TV. They think its all real.

And for some cool and interesting reasons – read pride and boredom here – Nesmith and his crazy, LA based actors from the cast say “yes” to the Thermians’ request…and travel to their alien planet to man the new and very real NSEA Protector space ship. What they don’t bank on, however, is the very real jeopardy this puts them in. And so these actors must work out a way to cope in this conflict…and survive.

I’ve been sitting in a class at BIOLA University taught by PhD professor John Mark Reynolds this week. And he reminded me of the coolest part of Galaxy Quest.

What’s the coolest part?

During their conflict with Sarris – Nesmith and his crew find themselves running through the bowels of the ship to find the engine room…so they they can diffuse the reactor and stop the ship from exploding. While doing this, they realise that – in the course of the original TV show run – they never did an episode of the show where they visited the bowels of the NSEA Protector. So – they have no idea where to go to find the reactor to diffuse it. Worse – they have no idea what do do if and when they get there.

That’s a big problem. So what do they do?

Genius idea. They contact the geeky kid Branden that Nesmith roasted during the fan convention at the start of the movie. The kid who had grown up watching the show, who bought and pored over the deck plans of the NSEA Protector. Who knew this show and the ship inside out.

Nesmith contacts Branden…but before he can ask him for help finding the engine room…Branden stops him. Not realising the very real jeopardy Nesmith is in, Branden blurts out…”Look. About the convention. I know its just a TV show. I understand completely that’s its just a TV show. There is no ship…I’m not a complete brain-case…you know?”

And Nesmith responds with three words that transform Branden’s life.

“It’s all real.”

And without hesitation…and with a whoop of confident delight…Branden explodes. “I knew it. I just knew it!!!”

Here’s what’s cool about this scene. It poses a question to us.

What if my settled view of reality…actually is more about me just settling for a narrow perspective…the little bit that I understand. And dismissing the notion that there is so much more to know! Right now – I simply don’t fully understand everything that could be known about life and reality. But there’s a future awaiting me…

Further – what if that future reality is bigger…and more amazing than I could understand today. What if it truly is bursting with goodness, with truth and beauty in a way that I’ve yet to know on this planet…so its greater than I can fully comprehend right now. So much so…that when I finally DO experience it…I might just go slack jawed…and then burst with something like…

“I knew it!! I just knew it.”

Just like Branden.

And maybe then we will reflect back…and remember. We had a suspicion that there was more to life than just this one…we had this inner sense of it…maybe from our time as a child. But we’ve grown up since then. We’ve allowed other people to convince us otherwise. We’ve cooperated as others have systematically robbed us of our hope for ultimate goodness, truth and beauty.

What a shame that has happened.

One day – we will know. We will know it for ourselves in a fresh and wonderful way. And we’ll just exclaim, “You know what? I knew it!”

I’m looking forward to the day when I begin to really experience the full wonder of creation. In the here and now…I’m living in just a fraction of it…I sense that that’s true. But there is SO much more to come in the reality that’s to come.

Why do I think that? Well…because there’s this person in history called Jesus who transformed the world with his goodness, his beauty and the truth he brought to this planet. His beauty…in what he did and said. And it all culminated in his defeat of death and his invitation to join him in the bigger reality that is to come. This points to a future reality, a bigger sense of knowing reality as it truly is in all its goodness, its truth and its beauty…in a sense that I can only imagine today.

What a shame so many of us have been duped into thinking that our narrow view of the world is the right and only one…when we haven’t given ourselves the chance to consider that there is so much more that is awaiting us.

Do you know what? My anticipation is rising…there’s going to be a whoop of delight that’s going to burst out of me that day when I see that which I confidently expect to see in the reality to come with Jesus.

I knew it. I just knew it…!

RESPONDblog: Why is there Something Rather than Nothing?

gervais

I found this discussion on prime time US TV to be pretty fascinating! I’m always pleased to see when discussion about God comes out of the private places and into the public square where it belongs.

Ricky’s a sharp and witty comedian…and I do enjoy his irreverent humor. But I honestly find his atheism troubling. Not because I find his arguments compelling…its just the way he immediately seems closed to the idea of God.

I thought Colbert asked a great question out of the gate on his show…and he let Ricky off very lightly by allowing him to sidestep his good question.

 

Why is there something instead of nothing?

Why does the universe exist at all? Why are we here?

 

Ricky’s response was,

“That makes no sense at all…surely the bigger question is not why, but how?”

 

Interesting.

 

First – Ricky’s saying first that the question makes no sense. Sure it does. The sentence conforms to the laws of English grammar and syntax. But that’s not what he means. What he means is that naturalism and his materialistic worldview has no good answer to the question “why”. And so rather than admit that, he moves the discussion to “how”. Interesting sleight of hand. But it seems to me that it would have been more honest to admit that he has no answer to the question “why”.

 

Second – he says that the bigger question is not why, but how. Of course…Ricky thinks he’s on solid ground now about the “how” because…well…science. He can engage on that topic because of the great work in cosmology, biology, etc. But is he right? Is “how” a bigger question? I personally don’t think so.

  • Human beings have been asking “why” for millennia. It’s the oldest philosophical question. And I’ve experienced the “why” question many times in my discussions with atheists to this day. “Why” always matters to people – whether you have an answer or not.
  • Why do we exist? That is MASSIVE. I think its short sighted to skip that one because it feeds directly into our own purpose in life. Are you saying you don’t care about that?

 

Personally – I’m of the opinion that BOTH the “why” AND the “how” are important questions. And rather than dodge them…we need to work on them. Maybe we don’t have all the answers yet – which is why we are working on them. David Robertson makes an interesting point,

“Don’t be so dismissive of the very questions that make us human.   Humans are the only animal who ask the why question.  Please don’t dehumanise us.”[1]

Too right – you are worth more than that, Ricky.

 

I also love the part in the interview when Ricky says,

“Can you prove there is a God? You say no. So I don’t believe you.”

I’ve hit this so many times myself. And it’s like…we are stuck together in this odd discussion on proof for God…with the definition of the word “prove” getting tougher and tougher by the second. Yet there are so many things in life that we naturally accept, even though there is no empirical, cast iron proof of them.

  • I have a mind as I am writing this. You are reading this and you are using your mind. You have no empirical proof of my mind. You just choose to accept it. The same for me with yours.
  • What’s more…can we prove we are not plugged into the Matrix as we read and write? No. And neither can I.
  • Can you prove there is a God? No – because someone always pushes the definition of “prove” that bit higher each time.

BUT – is there EVIDENCE for God. Now – that’s a whole different question. Of course there is evidence that points towards the existence of God. For example…

https://respondblogs.wordpress.com/2014/06/17/does-human-reason-point-toward-gods-existence-or-gods-absence/

https://respondblogs.wordpress.com/2014/09/06/respondblog-doesnt-order-in-nature-provide-circumstantial-evidence-for-god/

 

And yet…again as Robertson points out about Ricky,

“you have already pre-determined that there can be no such evidence and therefore you automatically dismiss or explain away any such evidence.”[2]

Isn’t that the truth. We come back to what is permitted or allowed by the atheist belief system. Robertson engages with many more of Ricky’s points during this brief exchange…it worth taking a read of his blog.

[1] Ricky Gervais v Stephen Colbert – The Real Answers – An Open Letter, https://theweeflea.com/2017/02/03/ricky-gervais-v-stephen-colbert-the-real-answers-an-open-letter/, accessed 13th Feb 2017.

[2] Ibid.

RESPONDblogs: Why Christianity Can’t Just Be Based On Wishful Thinking

i_want_to_believeIn 1961, the first big Alien Abduction claim hit the public consciousness. Barney and Betty Hills, from Portsmouth New Hampshire, reportedly had a Close Encounter with…something.

What exactly did Barney and Betty claim? You can listen to an interview with Betty online[1]. It’s fascinating and familiar to those of us with the benefit of 10 seasons of Chris Carter’s “The X-Files” to draw from!

And this raises a question for me. As I raise my eyebrow at Betty Hills outlandish claim…which sounds very much like fiction to me…I wonder whether Christianity sounds just like it to many people today. Christianity’s claim that Jesus of Nazareth returned from the dead 2000 years ago  – is this any less outlandish? Does the New Testament’s report of Jesus’ resurrection belong in the fictional “X-Files” cabinet, or is there more substance to Christianity’s claim that points toward its historical credentials?

 

Let’s go back for a moment to the cold war tensions and paranoia of 1961. It wasn’t just a new decade marked by musical brilliance and Moon shots. Aliens were also reportedly doing medical procedures on unfortunate folks who were going about their daily business!

 

Driving home one evening, they thought they saw something unusual in the night sky. Actually – many people including the US Military later agreed that something weird was happening that night. They reportedly stopped the car and took a good look. But the bright lights – and the erratic behavior of the object – began to freak them out. So they hurried back to their car and drove on. Before long – it became apparent they were 35 miles further down the road than they should have been. They appeared to have lost time!

Many weeks later, following a period of disrupted sleep and nightmares, they reportedly went thru regression hypnosis. And this brought out vivid details of little bald grey captors, operating tables and medical procedures.

Actually this is only the first well documented case of Alien Abduction – throughout the next 20 years, a number of similar claims were made by apparently ordinary people with no apparent reason to lie.

 

The New Testament contains 2000 year old eyewitness reports from apparently ordinary people too.

  • Reports of the death of Jesus of Nazareth, followed by the grief and shock of his friends.
  • Reports that these grieving people then subsequently encountered their friend back from the dead at various different times and places over a 40 day period.

 

Sounds pretty unlikely – right? Dead people don’t come back. Aliens don’t abduct people driving home in their cars.

 

Whatever historical event you are trying to verify – whether mundane or fantastical – historians apply 5 criteria to test the solidity of the report.

A solid Historical claim will[2]:

1 – be supported by multiple, independent sources

2 – be attested to by enemies (hostile witnesses) as well as friends

3 – include embarrassing admissions which reflect honest reporting rather than creative storytelling

4 – be supported by direct eyewitness testimony

5 – be supported by early testimony making legendary development impossible

 

The problem with the Barney and Betty Hills Alien Abduction claim is – by the criteria laid out above – we do not have a solid Historical report.

The only witnesses were the alleged abductees. There are no independent sources or witnesses – either friendly or hostile – to the Hill’s claim.  While other people agreed something strange was seen in the night sky that evening in September 1961, no other witness to the alleged Close Encounter exists. We’re right to be skeptical – their case is historically unverified.

 

So – what about the Bible’s claim that God raised Jesus from the dead? (Acts 2:24) Well – a historical case based on a minimal set of data does exist. What is this data and how solid is the case?

 

DATA POINT 1 – The Death of Jesus By Crucifixion

This fact is attested by every Gospel, and many non-Christian sources too. For example – Roman historian Josephus, Tacitus, the Greek satirist Lucian of Samosata as well as the Jewish Talmud itself.

Jesus crucifixion meets the historical criteria of multiple independent eyewitnesses, early sources and enemy attestation.

Some have proposed that – maybe Jesus didn’t actually die on the cross. He merely swooned, was then buried and was then revived in the cold tomb.

But this doesn’t work.

  • Roman executioners were excellent torturers and executioners
  • Jesus faking his resurrection goes against his moral teachings
  • There are no early reports he was wounded and not killed
  • A half dead Messiah could not serve as the foundation for a belief in the Resurrection. If his friends had encountered him bloodied and bleeding…they would not have called him the Lord of Life. They would have called him a doctor!
  • Jewish thinking said, only once at the end of human history would the dead be raised. This means that – on encountering Jesus alive again after his crucifixion –his followers would naturally have just assumed he didn’t die. Yet this is not what they claimed. It is highly culturally unusual for the Jewish early Church to proclaim him as Christ crucified and raised from death.

 

DATA POINT 2 – The Empty Tomb

All naturalistic theories that attempt to explain away the Resurrection presuppose the empty tomb. The body was reportedly gone.

From the beginning, the hostile Jewish authorities claimed that Jesus’ followers had stolen his body to fake his resurrection. But this claim gives no reason WHY they would have done so.

Further – the claim that the disciples stole the body does not work within Jewish culture at that time. There was no expectation of a Messiah who would become the suffering servant; who was executed shamefully by the Gentiles, and then raised bodily before the general resurrection at the end of time. Rather – Messiah’s were ten a penny in ancient Jerusalem. If your Messiah got themselves killed – you either gave up and went home, or you hitched your wagon to a different one. But the idea that Jesus followers stole his corpse and faked his resurrection just wouldn’t have entered their minds at that point in Jewish history.

Finally – if the disciples stole the body – this doesn’t explain the conversion of Christianity’s 1st century enemy turned Apostle – Saul who became Paul.

Surely if someone had managed to produce his rotting corpse and deposit it in the middle of Jerusalem for all to see….that would have been an end to it. But they could not.

DATA POINT 3 – The Post-Resurrection Appearances

Scholars cite 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 as the earliest snapshot of Christian belief about Jesus. Paul claimed to receive this creed from the original Apostles many years before he wrote his letter. Scholars date the creed to within months or weeks of the crucifixion itself.

Three of our four minimal facts are recorded there as an early statement of belief – Christ died, his tomb was discovered empty and he was seen by his closest friends. And then more than five hundred people saw him at once.

The early date of this creed rules out legendary embellishment because there simply wasn’t time for legends to develop. And besides – the eye witnesses were still alive at the time this was passed on.

Yet over hundreds of years some legends did develop; they are referred to as the 3rd century Gnostic Gospels. In comparison to the New Testament’s stark and excited eyewitness reporting, the Gnostic Gospels are full of bizarre and fanciful imagery.

 

Some have suggested hallucination as an explanation for the appearances. People saw what they wanted to see. But Psychologists have ruled this out. Hallucinations are private experiences yet crowds of eyewitnesses reportedly witnessed the risen Jesus. Remember, Jews would not expect to see a raised Jesus anyway. And finally – hallucination does not explain the empty tomb itself or indeed Saul’s conversion to Christianity.

 

DATA POINT 4 – The Origin of the Christian Faith

Within one generation of Jesus crucifixion, “the Way” had spread to Europe, Asia and Africa. If Christianity is the effect – then what was the cause?

Well – surely the most obvious cause is the Apostles belief that God had indeed raised Jesus from the dead. And this belief transformed people’s lives. The cultural worship practices of Jewish people changed. Church moved to a Sunday.

Could the Disciples have stolen the body and made it all up? No lie or shared conspiracy or mistaken observation has the explanatory power to ignite the Christian church in human history.

 

IN SUMMARY

Jesus resurrection is based on historically verifiable evidence – it meets the 5 requirements outlined earlier in this blog. However unusual the event, there is powerful evidence of the event’s historical reliability. Even though we don’t understand how it happened – this does not preclude us from historically accepting that it did happen.

 

Really?

You’ve got to be gullible to believe Alien abduction reports – right? In the same way, dead men do not rise!

Hold on a minute –

The historical basis of the resurrection is incredibly strong. And no one claims Jesus was raised from the dead by natural means. Christians simply repeat what the Bible eye witness accounts say – that God raised Jesus from the dead.

Besides – you don’t have to understand something to accept the truth of it. Ask any Scientist to explain human consciousness; where does it come from? Then ask them what energy really is. They don’t really know. If Scientists can accept these things even though they don’t understand how and why they work – can’t we accept Jesus’ Resurrection as true based on observable and historically verifiable evidence?

 

 

[1] Betty Hill UFO Encounter Interview, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FO6VIMPZhwA.

[2] Gary R. Habermas and Michael R Licona, The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus.

RESPONDblogs: God, Morals and Steven Avery

murderer

Over the past few posts, I’ve done my best to lay out the moral argument for God as I understand it.

While doing so…I’ve also been watching “Making a Murderer” on Netflix…which has been a fascinating experience…and resonates strongly with the argument I have been making. I’ll explain why I think that in a moment.

For now – here’s what I’ve been exploring on this blog: 

 

 

1 – The claim that human morality is simply just what society does as it evolves. I’ve explored reasons why this cannot be the case.

2 – The claim that each different human society has its own particular moral code. I’ve discussed why I think this misunderstands what morality is.

3 – I’ve gone on to explore what moral absolutes look like.

4 – And I’ve said that – this state of affairs only really makes any sense if there is a God to provide the code in the first place.

 

 

But – so what? If there’s a moral code imprinted onto each human heart that urges us to look after the poor and the helpless, to care for and respect our children and our elders, to seek justice in this world…so what?

 

 

Here are a couple of thoughts.

First – I think it’s easy to forget just how strong the force of the moral code really is in our lives. The stronger something is – the more important it is to explore its cause and its reason.

Just after the Christmas holiday, Janet and I watched the Netflix series that’s getting a lot of buzz right now. It’s called “Making a Murderer” and it’s a series that documents the life and misfortunes of Steven Avery who has spent most of his life in prison. And the series lays out – using a creative mix of interviews, news clips and recovered footage during the events – that Avery has been sent to prison twice for crimes that he did not commit. And as things stand today – he may never manage to gain his release.

What affect has this had on the people of have watched it? Well – those who I have spoken to, those who I have listened to – have been full of moral outrage on behalf of Steven and his nephew Brendan Dassey. That he would be misrepresented in such a crushing way twice, leading to decades behind bars, makes people angry…and it makes them call for change. Some people take it further…and seek to punish the poor prosecutor Ken Kratz for putting Steven in prison. Kratz seems to have done a good job of punishing himself, if the reports of his impropriety are to be believed!

Director Peter Jackson has written about his feelings on his public Facebook page:

“it’s only by watching the 10 hours of riveting documentary that you will really understand how faulty the U.S justice system currently is, and how badly it needs fixing. That will only happen if you are angry enough to demand it, and “Making a Murderer” does a pretty good job of achieving that!”

This TV show has made a massive impact. Netflix hasn’t released viewing figures…but its impact on social media has been enormous between December and January 2016. The first episode was uploaded to YouTube to encourage non-Netflix subscribers to get on board…and that episode has achieved 1.6 million views since 18th December when it was posted. The official @MakingAMurderer twitter account went from 4000 to 114000 followers over the same period. This show has made a big impact on an international viewing audience, and it highlights just how important the moral absolute of “justice in court” is to the average person.

Our shared call for legal justice in a corrupt justice system points to the creator God who makes sense of our moral outrage. That’s an important point to consider here.

 

 

Second – if God has given us a humane and protective moral code, then that tells us a lot about what his character is like. Because it’s going to reflect the caring protective heart laws we have explored.

Now some would reply – “Stuart, the Bible is the most immoral work of fiction I’ve ever read!” Really? You call the Bible a work of fiction? Are you sure you read it? But I do agree it is full of immoral acts. And I think there are some reasons for this:

1 – The Bible is not completely prescriptive. It does not spend all of its time telling us how we should behave. It doesn’t need to do that because the moral law is written elsewhere (on our hearts). What it does however spend a lot of time doing – is describing the human condition. The immoral problems that humanity wrestles with. The problem is the human heart – the problem is my heart. And the Bible spends a lot of time showing us why we need God’s help.

2 – The Bible was written at a different time in a different culture. For example, the ancient near east was nowhere near as humane a society as the western countries are today. Yet ISIS seems to be trying to take us back into those dark ages. The behaviour of God’s people seems very harsh to 21st century eyes. Yet when viewed alongside the evils of the time that were wrought by other nations…Israel was always progressive in its humanity. An example of this is the way it treated slaves – who were limited in their engagement to 7 years (Exodus 21:2).

3 – When we hear non-Bible scholars accusing God of heinous immoral acts in the Old Testament, you’ve got to ask:

  • where are you getting your sense of morality from in the first place?
  • why do you think you are properly understanding these ancient texts that come from a particular place and time – and are not prescriptive today.

 

 

Humanity is capable of incredible acts of selflessness, love and faithfulness. And I suggest that they reflect the character of the God who made us, who loves us and who has imprinted his goodness onto us.

“May the Lord bless you and protect you. May the Lord smile on you and be gracious to you. May the Lord show you his favour and give you his peace.” Numbers 6:24-26, NLT

RESPONDblogs: Who are We to Judge?

dont judge

There’s a growing sense in our society that…at the end of the day…relax! Everyone is entitled to their opinion. About everything. And on one level I completely agree and think that is quite right. I have opinions…and I blog about them. Others have opinions about what I say…and so they respond to me with questions. This is all good and right.

But a growing problem in our culture is that people are taking the right to opinion…and turning it into something else. Something that’s not relaxing at all…something downright dangerous.

Some years ago, Francis Beckwith participated in a panel discussion that looked at the possible dangers of violence and sexual content on broadcast media to children. This debate happened years before always on, instantly accessible torrent sites, Netflix accounts…and the shrinkage of traditional TV broadcasters. During the debate, Beckwith suggested that Government censorship was not the answer. Rather, the media outlets themselves had a responsibility to make moral judgements about how their programming may affect young people.

One woman in the audience bristled at that suggestion and raised her hand. “Who are you to judge?” she asked. She wasn’t expecting an answer. She was making the point that – no one has the right to make an absolute moral judgement about an individual or society in general.

This is the dangerous problem I’m talking about. We are taking everyone’s right to opinion – and we are using it in an unhelpful…and actually quite dangerous way. Beckwith’s answer explains why.

“I certainly do have a right to make moral judgements. I am a rational human person who is aware of certain fundamental principles of logical and moral reasoning. I think I’m qualified. Your claim that I have no right to make judgements is ITSELF a judgement about me. Your claim, therefore, is self-refuting.”[1]

 

“Who are you to judge?”

It’s a powerful rhetorical putdown, isn’t it? Yet it poses a great danger to our society. Why? Because it encourages and pushes us towards a place of moral vacuum. Where no one feels free to take responsibility to stand up for what is morally right. The long term effects of this on society are going to be felt as the years pass. But they won’t be good.

Why not? Well – when we are encouraged to deny moral absolutes, then that gives free reign for anyone to do whatever they feel like. Whether it is good and uplifting for society, or whether it wreaks horror and terror on people in society. Both are encouraged in a society where morals are relativized. Both are permissible in a “Who are you to judge?” society.

This society also just plainly doesn’t make any sense!! Beckwith described “Who are you to judge” as a self-refuting statement. What does that mean? Well – a self-refuting statement is one where the statement talks about itself and then makes the statement false. A part of the statement denies the whole. Here are some examples.

“No sentence is longer than 3 words.” Well – that sentence is 7 words long. Because this sentence exists, it denies the premise behind the statement itself. It is a self-refuting claim.

“There is no truth.” This is itself a statement OF truth. And so because this statement of truth exists…it denies the premise of the statement itself. It is a self-refuting claim.

“No one has the right to make a moral judgement about a person or society in general.” Do you see the problem? This statement is ITSELF a moral judgement. It is a heavy burden of judgement for moral human beings to bear. The person who fires this statement at us is themselves declaring a moral judgement. And so it is a self-refuting claim.

 

I think we live in an increasingly toxic culture where no one is allowed to express moral opinion. It’s often called Moral Relativism…its dangerous and illogical…

 

…and I think Moral Relativism flies in the face of how human beings are wired. Why do I say that? More to come in part 2!

[1] Francis J. Beckwith and Gregory Koukl, Relativism Feet Planted in Mid-Air, (BakerBooks, 2011), 12.

RESPONDblogs: The “Buddhist Jesus” Claim…and BATMAN!

buddhist

A friend sent me a Youtube link to a documentary that the BBC put together a few years ago asking the question – “Was Jesus a Buddhist Monk?”

 

Here’s the link I used to watch it (apologies if the link no longer works for you)

Jesus Was a Buddhist Monk (BBC Documentary)

 

The documentary makers claim that, because the Bible contains no description of Jesus of Nazareth between the ages of 14 and 29, that he must have gone to live in India to learn Buddhist ways. (of course!) Further, after surviving his crucifixion by the Roman Government, instigated by the Jewish religious leaders, Jesus fled to India and lived out the remainder of his natural life there.

 

This is a fascinating and fun story as it plays out. It reminded me very much of the story told about the comic book character Bruce Wayne, who spent his formative years learning from Ra’s al Guhl, his spiritual mentor, before returning home and donning his cape and cowl…”I’m Batman!” The documentary also feels very “Da Vinci Code”…which may give a clue to the dating of the piece itself.

 

From comic books + novels + movies …and back to history. This documentary attempts to dismiss the New Testament claim of Jesus supernatural resurrection from the dead and his ascension. And it portrays the people of Jesus’ time as gullible dupes who were setup to perpetuate the Christianity myth, while Jesus himself legged it back to Kashmir to live out his days there.

 

One wonders WHY the first Christians would be willing to be duped like that. Given that history and tradition indicates that all but one of Jesus’ inner circle were martyred for their faith in Jesus as God, killed for their persistence in sharing the world changing message that everyone who believes in Jesus can be sure of a resurrection body something like his in the future. Why would anyone die for a lie…when they personally knew the truth that their Jesus was really just an ordinary bloke…living an ordinary life…somewhere due East of ancient Israel? Certainly…the documentary makes no attempt at touching this rather relevant question.

 

Instead – it chooses SOME of the historical evidence we have for the life of Christ…and extrapolates wildly from that. I’m sorry…but honest scholarship would acknowledge all of the available evidence first….and build from there.

 

1 – Some Great Quotes from the Documentary

I heard some really head scratching statements being made while watching this documentary. I have no intention of pointing the finger here…so I’m only sharing the quotes, not the people who said them. Watch the documentary if you are interested.

 

 

“It is possible that Jesus was sedated on the cross and was removed early, before he died. This is very possible.”

Clearly this person has not studied the well documented ancient Roman practice of flogging and crucifixion. I’ve shared some details below in this blog.

Many people have tried to support the “swoon” theory, of a Jesus who survived his execution. Yet none of these attempts are historically convincing. More explanation below.

 

“The earliest Gospel is Mark…and it has no resurrection appearances at all. The last verses of Mark were added 200 years later.”

This misrepresents Mark’s surviving original text in chapter 16. Jesus’ resurrection is clearly announced by this text, although the women who discover the empty tomb leave it bewildered and frightened.

“When they entered the tomb, they saw a young man clothed in a white robe sitting on the right side. The women were shocked, but the angel said, “Don’t be alarmed. You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth,[b] who was crucified. He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead! Look, this is where they laid his body. Now go and tell his disciples, including Peter, that Jesus is going ahead of you to Galilee. You will see him there, just as he told you before he died.” Mark 16:5-7, NLT

It also conveniently, or mistakenly, misses the fact that the earliest record of Jesus’ resurrection isn’t Mark’s Gospel at all…but 1 Corinthians chapter 15. This creed is dated to within weeks of the crucifixion itself…

I passed on to you what was most important and what had also been passed on to me. Christ died for our sins, just as the Scriptures said. He was buried, and he was raised from the dead on the third day, just as the Scriptures said. He was seen by Peter[c] and then by the Twelve. After that, he was seen by more than 500 of his followers[d] at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he was seen by James and later by all the apostles. 1 Corinthians 15:3-7, NLT

 

“The Gospels are not primarily interested in what actually happened historically…just what Jesus taught.”

Again – I’m wondering if this person cared to check their Bible? Luke the physician used great care to communicate the eyewitness reports of Jesus life.

Many people have set out to write accounts about the events that have been fulfilled among us. They used the eyewitness reports circulating among us from the early disciples.[a] Having carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I also have decided to write a careful account for you, most honorable Theophilus, so you can be certain of the truth of everything you were taught. Luke 1:1-4, NLT

 

“Jesus resurrection was just a picture and an image of hope. It was not literally true.”

What nonsense. If Jesus resurrection did not literally happen, then the message of Christianity is a dangerous delusion that leads people astray. It doesn’t comfort them at all – it misleads them in a cynical and dangerous way.

No – to be a carrier of hope, Jesus Resurrection has to have happened the way the Gospels clearly report that it did…based on eye witness testimony.

 

 

Overall – I’d say the scholarship that this documentary appeals to in making its case…is suspect. As a non-scholar myself…even I can see that! This hurts the documentary’s claims, I think.

 

 

2 – Why the Foundation of the Documentary’s Claims are Suspect

Going back to the claim that Jesus was a Buddhist, this is a great work of fiction…and this claim rests on two assumptions that seem to me to be absurd. If the assumptions aren’t solid…then you can be sure that their resulting conclusions will be unsupportable.

Assumption 1 – Jesus grew up in India between ages 14 and 29. But there is no evidence that Jesus spent any time outside of ancient Israel beyond his brief forays into regions like Samaria, as described in the Gospels.

Assumption 2 – Jesus survived his crucifixion and escaped back to India. But there is no reasonable way that Jesus could have survived his crucifixion.

 

Here are some of my reasons for making both of these statements.

 

First assumption – Jesus wasn’t living in Israel between the ages of 14 and 29.

The only ancient historical basis for this (the earlier the evidence the more credible it is to historians) is that Jesus’ biographies (the Gospels) do not mention anything about his life between those two ages. Someone once observed that – absence of evidence is never evidence of absence. This is sometimes called an appeal to ignorance…and formal logic says it’s a fallacious way of constructing an argument. It asserts a proposition’s true because it hasn’t yet been proven false (or vice versa). But there is another option – that there is insufficient data to prove whether its true or false. That’s what we’ve got in this case and – given Jesus documented peasant status – a more reasonable assumption to make – given the style and agenda of ancient biography – is just that the writers didn’t focus on any event in his life growing up in Israel between 14 and 29. Sure – they claim Jesus went to India – but they are simply inventing the story. So their assumption doesn’t logically follow from the evidence.

 

 

 

Second assumption – Jesus survived the crucifixion.

There was some conspiracy, or agenda to get him off the cross quickly so that he would survive his ordeal and recover. The primitive 1st century people didn’t know the difference between resuscitation and resurrection…and they leapt to a fantastical explanation…rather than go for a naturalistic one.

 

Again – great plot for a novel. I’m always up for a good conspiracy theory…and an episode of the X-Files too. But I don’t think the claim stands up to historical scrutiny and personally I don’t think this is a reasonable conclusion when ALL the available evidence is taken into account. Doctor Alexander Metherell is a Professor of Engineering and Medicine and he has written on the events surrounding Jesus crucifixion from a medical perspective. He is quoted by Lee Strobel’s book, “The Case for Christ”[1].

 

What does he suggest? He says that there is no way that Jesus could have survived his well-documented crucifixion. Look at what Metherell says about the proposition that Jesus survived his crucifixion:

 

“After suffering that horrible abuse, with all the catastrophic blood loss and trauma, he would have looked so pitiful that the disciples would never have hailed him as a victorious conqueror of death; they would have felt sorry for him and tried to nurse him back to health. So its preposterous to think that, if he had appeared to them in that awful state, his followers would have been prompted to start a worldwide movement based on the hope that someday they too would have a resurrection body like his. There’s just no way.” – Metherell

 

Metherell goes on to assert that it is just unreasonable to say that Jesus survived his crucifixion. It’s a fanciful claim. He died on the cross. The evidence that Metherell points to in the Gospel accounts for this:

 

  • Jesus sweat was tinged with blood in the garden beforehand. Hematidrosis, the result of psychological stress. Would make his skin very sensitive.
  • Jesus was flogged before he was crucified. The roman whips were leather thongs with metal balls and sharp pieces of bone woven into them. Ancient historians talk of the victims back…down to the backs of their legs…being shredded by this process of flogging. Often exposing the victim’s spine and his internal organs. Many victims would die there and then from hypovolemic shock. It seems reasonable to assume Jesus was in this state as he staggered thru Jerusalem holding the upright beam of his cross.
  • Romans used 7 inch spikes that were driven thru the wrist (considered back then as part of the hand). It would go in where the median nerve runs. This is so painful that a new word was invented to describe it – excruciating…literally “out of the cross”.
  • His posture would have meant that his shoulders would have been dislocated.
  • As they say in the video…this is death by asphyxiation. To exhale the victim must push himself upwards…tearing the flesh of his feet every time. Until the victim eventually became exhausted…leading to respiratory acidosis.
  • Yes – the Romans would break the legs to speed up death. It talks of them doing this in the gospels because the Sabbath was approaching. Yet Jesus legs weren’t broken. Is that because he got special treatment so he might survive? Not at all. What the documentary conveniently fails to mention is that the Romans stuck a spear in his side to make sure he was dead!!
  • Hypovolemic shock apparently would lead to a fluid build up in the pericardium – so when the spear was thrust in – blood and “water” came out, as the gospels report.
  • Maybe Jesus wasn’t nailed? Well archaeology confirms the first century gospel claims. Nails have been found in the remains of victims buried in Jerusalem with nails in feet bones.
  • Maybe the Romans were just mistaken and Jesus wasn’t dead? Hang on – it was a Roman soldiers job to kill their victim. This was not hard to do – it was a well-documented process – and they risked their heads if they let a prisoner escape. Yes – the documentary points to the part of Josephus where he asks for 3 friends to be removed from their crosses…two die and one survives. But the difference here is – Josephus is a Roman Official – he has the power to make a request of Governor Titus to remove these people from their crosses. In Jesus situation – he had no one in power on his side. The one that could have saved him – Pilate – washed his hands of him. Just because people have been taken off crosses in the past…does not mean Jesus was.
  • Many people have claimed Jesus survived crucifixion over the centuries. The swoon theory is “impossible. It’s a fanciful theory without any possible basis in fact” according to Metherell.

 

 

 

But – assume that by some turn of events – Jesus DID survive his crucifixion? He could not have walked around having had nails ripping thru his feet. And he couldn’t have used his arms because his shoulders were dislocated. Not to mention the gaping spear wound in his chest. Metherell’s interesting quote again…

 

“After suffering that horrible abuse, with all the catastrophic blood loss and trauma, he would have looked so pitiful that the disciples would never have hailed him as a victorious conqueror of death; they would have felt sorry for him and tried to nurse him back to health. So its preposterous to think that, if he had appeared to them in that awful state, his followers would have been prompted to start a worldwide movement based on the hope that someday they too would have a resurrection body like his. There’s just no way.” – Metherell

 

 

Jesus didn’t survive his crucifixion – to claim so is unreasonable when all the evidence is taken into account – the documentary misses out lots of important pieces of evidence when making its case (I’ve only mentioned one or two of them).

 

Here’s another quote from a Doctor.

 

“Clearly the weight of the historical and medical evidence indicates that Jesus was dead before the wound to his side was inflicted… Accordingly, interpretations based on the assumption that Jesus did not die on the cross appear to be at odds with modern medical knowledge.” – Doctor William D Edwards, Journal of the American Medical Association

 

No – personally I think it’s reasonable to go with medical opinion…and assume Jesus was dead when he was lifted from his cross.

 

And if he was dead, then there was no escape to India. And there is no simple naturalistic explanation to the historical evidence of the empty tomb and millions of changed lives down thru the centuries following the birth of the Christian church.

[1] Strobel, Lee, The Case for Christ, Zondervan