I recently watched the movie “The Case for Christ” and found it to be intriguing . I have been drifting away from the Christian faith I once had and becoming more of an agnostic, or a Deist. I found many evidences of why the Christian faith is a false doctrine. However, I found some aspects of Jesus’s teachings to be applicable and useful in today’s society, and in my personal life, such as the concept of forgiveness, mercy, serving the poor, grace, loving my neighbor as myself , etc. But I have almost completely abandoned today’s church’s way of interpreting the true identity and nature of the figure of Jesus and the meaning of life.
I have recently embraced some teachings of Buddhism. I tried to practice mindfulness and simplicity in my life. The concept of suffering as a result of desiring things and the idea of emptiness as a way to reach enlightenment have been appealing to me. Allowing things to be as they are and letting go . Being formless, like water.
But I don’t identify myself as a Buddhist per se. I don’t even want to identify with any religion or faith in particular. I just want to be a person who finds meaning in this life, if there’s such a thing as meaning. And if there is even worth finding meaning or just living life the fullest. Although I don’t identify myself as such, I have been living a life of an atheist .
But I have recently been longing for an emotional connection to “something”. My heart has felt sad and I find myself seeking something “more.” When people talk about their faith in God or Jesus, I find myself longing for that same feeling again. I have been wanting to explore once again the possibility of a supernatural being that I can reconnect with. It’s almost like wishing to experience a childhood experience once again.
I know I have to be careful to not let my emotions dictate by behaviors. I recently lost my Dad and I’m getting older myself, so I may also be going through some life crisis at the moment. I should weigh all possible explanations before reaching any conclusions . I have to measure every step I make before making any life changing decision.
Nevertheless, I am currently interested in learning more about evidence for the Christian faith, since I watched this movie. I have read and own three of Strobel‘ books which I may read again. I have read many other books that explore the nature of Christianity. Among them “Mere Christianity” by CS Lewis, “Mere Churchianity” by Michel Spenser , “The Hole in our Gospel” by Richard Stevens, “The Purpose Driven Life” by Rick Warren, and “So You Thought You Knew: Letting Go of Religion” by Joshua Tongol , and many more.
I feel that, if I decide to do so, I can do some research again with less biased mind, meaning that I will be ok with finding evidence on either side of the argument. If I find evidence and information that proves that Christianity could be true or not true, I will be accepting it either way . I would also find a combination of conclusions , that maybe some aspects of Christianity is true and others are not.
Possible Evidence for Christianity
Christianity is mostly based on the resurrection of Jesus. I can say that some teachings of Jesus may be sufficient to be principles to live by and live a full life. The sermon on the mount is a good verse that can be practiced in our daily lives and be the meaning of our existence (Matthew 5 ). But today’s interpretation of Christianity does not end there. It insists that the resurrection of Jesus after he died on the cross is the culmination of his so called “salvation.” Or is it ? Is there any evidence of the resurrection?
500 witnesses. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15, that Jesus appeared to 500 people after his resurrection “at once.” This sounds more like a ghostly appearance to me. Anyways, this supposedly happened along with appearing to Peter and all of his apostles. Believers continued to gather and grow, not simply because of what Jesus taught , but because they apparently “saw him alive” after the resurrection. Could so many people have had some hallucinations or could have made up such a claim? Very unlikely.
Women witnesses. In the times of Jesus, women were considered secondary citizens by many. They were really not regarded as important eyewitness or reliable sources . Yet, the Gospels tell us that the first people to see the resurrected Jesus were women. He also had women among his followers and he freely talked to them (John 4:4-42), and even forgave the sins of prostitutes in public (John 8:3). Is this compatible to that historical culture? If this story of the resurrection was fabricated , would it have mentioned women as the first witnesses? Would any of these “fabricated” stories mention women in this matter?
Early Christians persistence. Christians were persecuted until death . Yet they continued to gather and grow in number. And they spread throughout the world . Does the fact that this faith grew globally serve as evidence of its authenticity? Some speculate that Paul was the main influencer of today’s Christian faith (his epistles were the earliest after Jesus’ time) and that his writings shaped today’s teaching of salvation by grace alone. He was beheaded because of his teachings, giving his life for a cause. I wonder if people were willing to give up their lives for a false doctrine that lasts up to today.
Like Paul wrote,
And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. (1 Corinthians 15:12-15)
However , the Progressive Christianity website states : “When Christians talk about the resurrection of Christ, they may be proclaiming that death did not have the last word in the Jesus story because his followers were raised up to be his new body. “
Was it a physical resurrection, or a symbolic resurrection that represented the resurrection of the “body of Christ ?” That is still a debatable topic.
But, Did Jesus even exist? Can we trust the story of Jesus from Bible ? If not, are there any non biblical literature that talks about the existence of Jesus? There’s actually some Non biblical literature of Jesus.
“There was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man, for he was a doer of wonderful works—a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews, and many of the Gentiles. He was Christ; and when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him, for he appeared to them alive again the third day, as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him; and the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day” (Antiquities 18:3:3)
Pliny the Younger:
“They (Christians) were in the habit of meeting on a certain fixed day before it was light, when they sang in alternate verses a hymn to Christ, as to a god, and bound themselves by a solemn oath, not to any wicked deeds, but never to commit any fraud, theft or adultery, never to falsify their word, nor deny a trust when they should be called upon to deliver it up; after which it was their custom to separate, and then reassemble to partake of food, but of an ordinary and innocent kind.” (Epistles 10.96).
Joseph Klausner, a Jewish researcher, sums up some of the conclusions which can be drawn from the Talmudic theories about Jesus:
“There are some reliable theories regarding the fact that his name was Yeshua (Yeshu) of Nazareth; that he practised sorcery (that is to say that he performed miracles, as was common in those days) and seduction and led Israel astray; that he mocked the words of the wise and discussed Scripture in the same way as the Pharisees; that he had five disciples; that he said he had not come to revoke the Law, nor to add anything to it; that he was hung upon a piece of wood (crucified) as a false authority and seducer on the eve of the Passover (which fell on a Saturday); and that his disciples cured disease in his name” (J.Klausner, Jesus of Nazareth, p.44)
“Nero fastened the guilt … on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of … Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judaea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome….
So these example show that Jesus was at least a real person with controversial views. He was crucified and there was darkness during this day and his disciples continued to gather and grow in number in spite of the persecution. And his teachings , like CS Lewis wrote, made him an immoral man because of his pathological and delusional claims of being the”son of God” , or he was actually a moral man who stated the truth. And truth is usually not well received by people who follow the status quo.
Possible Evidence against Christianity
On the other side of this argument lies the fact that there are stories of spiritual teachers who died and resurrected, similar to Jesus’s story .
Mithras (Persian god).
“.Persian legends of Mithras says that He was born of the Sun God and a virgin mother, called “the Mother of God”, on December 25th. They saw him as a symbol of justice, truth, and loyalty. He was considered the saviour of humankind, and stories abound of His healing the sick, raising the dead, and performing miracles (making the blind see and the lame walk). Throughout His lifetime, He was seen as a protector of human souls, a mediator between “heaven” and “earth” and was even associated with a “holy trinity”. He remained celibate, until the ripe old age of 64, throughout his life and preached the virtues of ethics, moral behavior, and good will.”
Osiris (Egyptian god):
Osiris was regarded as the “good shepherd” who was loved by his people and it was felt that paying homage and venerating him would help Egypt and Egyptians to be successful. He also resurrected and was crowned as a king. To the ancient Egyptians, Osiris’ resurrection after being slain by his evil brother Set represents the new beginning for good after it has defeated evil. To them, the tale was symbolized by the sun going into the world of the dead each night and being reborn with each new day.
Attis (Phrygon-Roman god)
“Many professors of modern and past times cannot help but conclude that Jesus is based on mythical deities of old. Among these scholars number individuals such as Porphry (3rd Century), Max Muller, Ernest de Bunsen, Joseph Wheless, Albert Churchward (all of the 19th Century), and T.W. Doane (20th Century). Even Pope Leo X, privy to the truth because of his high rank, made this curious declaration, “It was well known how profitable this fable of Christ has been to us” (“The Diegesis” by Rev. Robert Taylor, footnote, p. 35.
There is also evidence that Paul probably created today’s image of Jesus, to the point of worshiping him as a god. The title of “son of God” could have been added later to the Gospels.
There are also the gnostic gospels (Peter, Thomas, Phillip , Gospel of Truth) which have writings that do not support today’s image of the four traditional Gospels. For example , some of these writings talk about “the self and the divine as identical” and that “the ‘living Jesus’ of these texts speaks of illusion and enlightenment, not of sin and repentance, like the Jesus of the New Testament. Instead of coming to save us from sin, he comes as a guide who opens access to spiritual understanding.” (https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/religion/story/pagels.html).
The Gospel of Judas talks about “oneness of the self with God,” and Judas being the closest disciple to Jesus who helped Jesus die and “escape this world”. Many of these scriptures were considered heretics and, therefore, prohibited by the bishops and priests of the second and third century Orthodox Church. Only the four Gospels of Mark, Matthew, Lucas , and John were accepted as “Scriptures.” How can we then know if these four Gospels can be trusted since there are so many more that have been rejected by the church?
As we can see, there have been numerous myths and stories that resemble Jesus’s story . It’s hard to ignore the possibility that Christianity was copied or at least a product of all these other similar stories and myths. Does this take away the legitimacy of Christianity and what it is based on?
We could go on and on about the authenticity of what the church teaches and how it interprets the Gospels. But in my own personal journey, it mainly boils down to how I’m going to live my present life. And am I going to include the concept of a loving God or continue to live like an atheist?
Am I content with how my life is going right now or do I want something different? The simple answer is that I am not content .
What do all the stories about different myths (including Jesus) all have in common ? Instead of trying to figure out if Jesus’s story is legitimate and “truer” compared to the other numerous stories, would it be wiser to simply concentrate on the common and central message of all these stories , regardless of the “godly figure” that we choose to follow as its protagonist? Can we blame today’s Christians for focusing and using the image of Jesus to represent the central message? If the message is what we should be concentrating on, what is the message then?
The message could be summarized as such: Humanity has a reminder about what life is. There’s death and then there’s a resurrection . There’s the acknowledgment of “sin” and then there’s repentance. There’s also a return to our “selves” through self acceptance and wisdom. There’s the message of loving our neighbors , serving the poor, forgiving others, being meek and making peace. There’s always light after darkness. And Jesus beautifully described this at the Sermon on the Mount. (Mathew 5)
I think that it boils down to the idea of grace.
The teaching of eternal damnation in a place called “hell” is disturbing to say the least. It has been the church’s attempt to manipulate the masses to lure people into their doctrine . In contrast , I find it very inspiring the concept of grace. In the Christian tradition, God has forgiven our trespasses without us having to make sacrifices or doing anything in particular to please God. However, the only condition is to believe. I reject the idea that we would still end up tormented away from God for eternity if we don’t consciously “accept” God’s grace by reciting and “confessing Jesus as our savior.”
An all powerful, all loving God would not let a soul get “lost.” It just doesn’t compute. And I realize I’m not God , and my mind is limited. But God’s grace, by definition, is not limited.
God’s unlimited grace would surpass any amount of grace that any human being can even practice. It is almost impossible to forgive someone who murders our family or steals from my children. But God (somehow) could. So I think it was taught 2000 years ago that , through God, we can do many things, including the impossible “unconditional grace.”
That’s why I would be inclined to accept God’s unconditional grace. Not because the church tries to manipulate me through fear and intimidation with the idea of “hell”, like it has done in all its history. Believing that God punishes us with eternal damnation is rejecting the whole idea of God himself. It is putting limitations to God’s unlimited grace. And I am not creating a God out of convenience. I am clarifying what eternal grace from an eternal God would be.
If you have a child, or a brother, or any significant other, whom you love so much, but this beloved person decides he or she would not want to love you back anymore, what would you do? If this person, whom you love dearly, wants nothing to do with you, would you then decide to let him or her starve to death? Would you abandon this person until death simply because he or she does not love you back ?
If your answer is no, then you think like a any loving being would.
And if so, why would an eternally loving and all powerful being do so then ?
Are we more loving and forgiving than God?
God loves and accepts us even if we don’t love him back. How he decides to give us a chance after we die as unbelievers is up to Him. He doesn’t need us to invent the idea of hell to scare people and manipulate them into believing. We are guaranteed to live eternally and be one with God no matter what we do or say.
Now that’s what I would call “good news.”