Friday, 2 March 2012

If A Stranger Told You He Was Jesus...

If a stranger told you he was Jesus would you trust in Jesus or would you want evidence? That question is not a facetious as it might appear because it goes right to the heart of 'faith' and what the Bible, and theologians are expecting us to believe.

Of course the answer would be no, you wouldn't believe a stranger just because he said he was Jesus, or the Messiah, or any manifestation of a god, or even a special messenger like an angel. In fact, you'd probably assume that he was either joking or in need of care and medication. It would take an extraordinary amount of evidence to convince you otherwise, unless you are unfortunately suggestible or extraordinarily gullible.

You would almost certainly dismiss even a miracle like turning water into wine as a conjuring trick and the chances are if he touched a blind person and restored their sight you would assume they were in collusion. With some justification you'd start to suspect a scam. Any moment now he's going to ask me for a donation so he can concentrate on his mission and not have the 'distraction' of having to work for a living.

And yet you're expected to take second hand (at best) accounts of a man doing just that in biblical times on faith, and not ask for evidence. In fact, you're expected to be proud of 'accepting Jesus on faith' as though it's something to be proud of; a virtue even!

Yet, reading the Bible, what was it that allegedly convince the disciples that Jesus was the Messiah and God incarnate? Was it 'on faith'? Was it because he walked up to them, a total stranger, and said, "Hi! I'm Jesus, Son of God!"?

Nope, it was allegedly evidence in the form of miracles which did it. Even Abraham, the founder of three major world religions and countless minor sects, needed evidence, as did Moses. All the writers of the New Testament cite evidence and Paul even performed miracles (albeit small ones like turning a stick into a snake and back) to convince people.

So, why did Jesus' chosen disciples and all those Old Testament prophets have less faith that you are expected to have? Why was it okay for biblical saints to require evidence and rely on science (if you believe the stories) to arrive at their beliefs, but not you?

The answer is quite simple, of course, they wrote about having seen the evidence but they had none to show, so they fell back on the ruse of telling you it was good not to require evidence; that God would be upset if you asked for it; that 'faith' is a virtue and something to be proud of. Not that they ever doubted or needed evidence, obviously. Oh, no!

Pah! That Doubting Thomas, eh? Oh! Ye of little faith!

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  1. I was travelling by train from the Midlands (Hinckley, I believe) back dahn sahth to Reading one Sunday evening, stoned off my head, after having had a seriously debauched weekend with someone I shouldn't have been etc. It was some time ago: I was pretty and gothic and had long black hair and black eyeliner, and wore a lot of lace and sequins. And a young lady sat down next to me and said (without barely having glanced at me), "Do you know Jesus Christ?" So I looked her in the eye with a reproachful expression and said to her, putting on my most messianic and apotheotic aura, "*You* ask *that* of *me*"?

    By the end of the journey she was convinced that she had been sitting beside Jesus Christ the whole way.

    So the answer to your question is: You'd be surprised.

  2. I have something interesting for you. The most prevalent popular understanding of "faith" really dates only to the time of the Reformation. What you are describing as faith could be a synonym for trust or hope. That is the point of your article -- why should you trust/have faith in someone who says he is Jesus. In technical terms this understanding of faith is called fiducial faith and this understanding as what theological faith (that is faith that saves) dates really only to Luther. The point of faith for Luther, to borrow a bit from kirkegaard, is to take a trusting leap in the dark in affirming the Gospel message. A lot of later fundamentalist and evangelical theology is set up so that the test of true faith is belief without evidence either of reason or experience. This is why there is so much rabid anti-science amongst certain Christian groups.

    Prior to the Reformation theological faith is not commonly understood as primarily a form of trust or hope, it is understood as a form of knowledge -- fides sapientia. The best way to explain this is that it is knowledge of another person gained by being in relationship with that person in sort of a veiled way because there is this certain gulf between our relationship experience of another person and their ontology because we perceive the natural world through mediums rather than directly. Thus a belief that is held by faith and a belief that is held by reason are not separate things but rather different species of the same thing. Further more the point of theological faith is not to increase in trust but to increase in actual knowledge so that those in heaven have no faith, nor would it be proper to say that Jesus had faith, because both those in heaven and Jesus know exactly who God due to direct relationship experience of God's ontology due to the beatific vision (and in Jesus' case actually being God).

    So to answer your question, the reason why those biblical saints, disciples, and prophets find it ok to ask for evidence and reason is because their understanding of faith is fides sapientia not Luther's fiducial faith.

    Accepting something as true without evidence is not wise in any situation especially when it comes to religion, though it is important to remember that not all evidence is empirical. Scripture constantly says that we need to test what people say, that we need evidence, that we are to require evidence, and that we are to give evidence.

    Jesus didn't go around saying "Look at me, I am God" or "Just trust me". He goes around providing evidence that the ancient Jews would find important and meaningful.

    To many Christians are not interested in the evidence but are only interested in their personal opinion of who Jesus is and I find that Plato's opinion of those who confuse opinion with belief to be warranted here.


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