Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Was the Resurrection a Hallucination?

This is a review of a book titled, "The Psychological Origins of the Resurrection Myth." I wrote the review on Amazon under the pen name of Alberto. Alberto was my name to the Mexican people, while our family was living in Mexico.

In his book, the late Jack Kent weaves a hypothesis to explain the "myth" of the resurrection story. Many of the same topics, contra resurrection are addressed. The main focus of the book, however, revolves around the disciples hallucinations as a normal psychological symptom of grief and Paul's hallucination due to conversion disorder.

Hallucinations due to grief cannot be denied. Kent's view is that the disciples and Mary Magdalene did in fact experience grief-related hallucinations of the resurrected Jesus. Examples of grief-related hallucinations are presented with a survey noting that 47% of widowed spouses have experienced hallucinations due to grief, with a small percentage hallucinating being touched by the deceased.

The second main point made by Kent concerns Paul's experiencing the resurrected Jesus by conversion disorder. Conversion disorder is a psychological disorder that involves the "loss of physical functioning...due to an expression of psychological conflict or need (p.50)." Examples are also given by Kent of individuals who seemed to have experienced conversion disorder type symptoms.

According to Kent, Paul experienced his Jesus-hallucination due to his conflict on whether or not he should persecute Christians. Paul's respected teacher Gamaliel advised the Jewish leaders to be cautious about the treatment of Christians (Acts 5:17-42). Gamaliel is contrasted with his student Paul, who is approving persecution to the point of death. From Kent's perspective, Paul's emotional conflict came to a head during his trip to Damascus, thereby causing temporary blindness and experiencing a hallucination of Jesus (Acts 9:1-31). Thus, with Paul's hallucination due to conversion disorder and the disciples' grief-related hallucinations, the myth of the resurrected Jesus was born.

Big problems surface in Kent's hypothesis myth due to hallucination. Concerning point one, grief-related hallucinations, many questions are never answered. For example, no explanation is given concerning the empty tomb. Only a footnote is offered from the Anglican Bishop Barnes that states that Jesus' body was "possibly flung into a common grave (120)." Many of the critical scholars accept the tomb as being both known and empty after the third day. Secondly, according to Mark, Jesus makes reference to his eventual death and bodily resurrection. In Mark 8:31-32; 9:9,31; 10:34; and 14:28, we find detailed information by Jesus predicting his judgment, torture, death and resurrection. Kent makes no mention of these verses as being added texts, and, in fact, fails to mention the Markan evidence altogether. Perhaps the biggest unanswered question revolves around I Corinthians 15. Here we have the earliest creedal evidence of the physical resurrection of Jesus. Kent even concedes that this creed "could be dated very close to the actual crucifixion (p. 17)."

The hallucination-hypothesis of the disciples and Mary has other flaws. Kent's own listing of grief-related hallucinations further discredits his hypothesis. According to the survey (p. 29), only 39% felt the presence of the dead spouse, auditory and visual hallucinations were around 14%, and a mere 2.7% had the feeling of being touched by a deceased loved one. Additionally, grief-related hallucinations were always recognized as hallucinations, whereas the disciples actually believed they had physical contact with the resurrected Jesus. Kent even wildly asserts that the disciples could have mistaken mist for the apparition of Jesus (p. 38-39).

If we are to believe Kent's grief-related hallucination myth, then we must believe 100% of the disciples simultaneously shared the same physical encounters of Jesus as a hallucination experience. Hallucinations, however, are individual and not cooperate experiences. Finally, why would the hallucinations suddenly stop after a 40-day time period?

Kent's second point about Paul's conversion disorder is unsubstantiated by evidence and contradictory. Paul clearly had no conflict of interest prior to his Damascus trip. In fact, he fully intended to continue his persecution of Christians by going to Damascus (Acts 9: 1,2). Ananias was even aware of Paul's intentions, questioning the Lord's instruction in meeting with Paul (Acts 9:13,14). Conversion disorder calls for an individual to have psychological conflict. Paul was intent on causing harm to Christians and had absolutely no psychological conflict. Paul also believed he had physically encountered the risen Jesus. In I Corinthians 15: 42-44, Paul uses the Greek word sôma for body, which always indicates a material body.

In summary, Kent falls short in The Psychological Origins of the Resurrection Myth. He provides no evidence of hallucination due to grief for the disciples or hallucinations due to conversion disorder for Paul. The disciples and Paul believed they had physically encountered the resurrected Jesus. Not one first century source even insinuates the possibility of the disciples hallucinating. The end result of Kent's book becomes that which he was trying to prove concerning the resurrection of Jesus - an invented myth.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Ethics Without God

Atheist, Kai Nielson wrote an article with the above title.[1] Recently, I watched a video by Atheist, Sam Harris titled, "Science can answer moral questions." I would like to make a few comments on Harris and what I took from the video.

First, Harris belongs to a group who refer to themselves as the "New Atheists." The new atheists are slightly different in that they have a passion for ridding the world of all religions. They see no distinction between Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, or any other religious group. Their perception is that religion causes harm to the human race, and therefore, it needs to be extinguished. Some of the prominent players of the new atheists include, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, and Richard Dawkins.

The video of Harris lasts about 20 minutes and he makes a passionate plea for a new way to do Ethics. First, It should be stated that Harris obviously does not believe in God or in any type of Supernaturalism. Because of this belief, he believes that moral values are the product of the brain, which he so states in the video. Secondly, Harris seems to be promoting the philosophical view of utilitarianism. Utilitarianism is a philosophical belief that "all action should be directed toward achieving the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people."[2] In order to make his point In the video, Harris compares Muslim women who wear burkas, verses women who are scantily clad. In his judgement there must be something better in between. He also implies that corporal punishment is wrong, but homosexuality is OK.

This brings me the the third point which I see as the overall goal of Harris and some of the new atheists. At one point, Harris remarks that, "we need a universal concept of morality." I believe what Harris wants is a governing body that determines what is morally acceptable and what is not. If this is the case, then it goes beyond cultural relativism (where cultures decide what is moral) and heads right to a universal relativistic world. Relativism posits that, "truth and moral values are not absolute but are relative to the persons or groups holding them."[3] In this case, those in power decide what is right and what is wrong. A universal relativistic world would make all the ethical decisions, since God does not exist and needs to be terminated on the new atheists view point.

What Harris and others are really advocating is nothing short of complete intolerance of any religious group. They have decided that all religions are bad without even inspecting the validity of each on its own merits. They (new atheists) are not interested in truth, but are more than willing to have others bow to the god of scientism. Scientism is the view that science, and only science, can give us meaningful knowledge of how things really are. In the end, ethics without God, becomes a form of self-worship that can only be spread by way of oppression.

* To see the video click here
[1] Nielson, Kai, Ethics Without Religion, from Louis Pojman's Ethical Theory, p. 619-624
[2] Utilitarianism
[3] Relativism

Monday, March 15, 2010

Avoiding The Question

Lately I have been listening to or viewing various debates between Christians and Skeptics. I have noticed several themes that permeate all of these debates. The three themes present almost always include organization, presentation, and addressing the debate subject. Now, my view is biased, I will admit, but I believe any objective person listening to any of these debates will see what I'm talking about.

The first point revolves around organization. What I mean by this is that most of the Christian debaters have a few solid points that they make addressing the debate topic or question. One of the best at this is Dr. William Lane Craig. Most of the Skeptics, however, seem to have no thought out plan to address the debate subject at hand. Most of Skeptics arguments are based upon tearing down the Christian worldview in a disorganized manner.

The second theme that seems present in all debates concerns how the debaters present their material. Again, the Christian will often present a point by point case that addresses the subject/question in a positive manner. What I mean by positive manner, is that, the Christian will make a positive case that addresses the topic at hand in order to sway opinion in favor of his/her position. The Skeptic, on the other hand, will often present a negative case, filled with "red herrings" and "straw man" arguments. By negative case, I mean the Skeptic will often resort to tearing down the Christian worldview, as opposed to focusing on the subject at hand.

The third and last observation that seems to permeate all debates concerns addressing the debate subject. This has already been touched on, but it seems the Skeptic in many instances totally avoids the question only for the purpose of tearing down the Cristian Worldview. In other words, the Skeptic is unwilling to present evidence/arguments for his/her position. Now I know I am generalizing here, but many of the Skeptics enter the debate for the express purpose of promoting skepticism. This is really highlighted by the agnostic Clancy Martin, who debated Christian apologist J.P. Moreland. One of Clancy's final arguments was that we should all be skeptical. How is anyone going to prove anything if your goal is to promote skepticism? The Christian rightly addresses not just the topic at hand, but will try to give an answer for what he/she thinks is the best at corresponding to truth.

In looking at the three themes, the real issue to emerge revolves around the question of truth. In my opinion the Christian apologist is concerned ultimately with the truth issue, while the skeptic tries to promote an unsustainable position of skepticism. What I would really like to see is for the skeptic to put out a succulent, organized position, that addresses the topic at hand, telling the audience why their position best matches with truth. So far, not so good for the skeptical position. Maybe the Skeptic has to avoid the truth question, so as not to embarrass his/her position?

* William Lane Craig debates
* JP Moreland's debate with Clancy Martin

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Pete's Apologetic Road

Probably the most often quoted scripture surrounding the need for apologetics is 1 Peter 3:15, which states, "Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect." What is apologetics and how is one to conduct himself/herself as an apologist?

Apologetics is derived from the Greek word apologia, which means to give a defense. In this case, the 1 Peter passage is referring to giving a defense for the Christian worldview. Since the beginning of the Church until the present, apologetics has been necessary to thwart those who would attack the Christian worldview.

Apologetics is very powerful, and if used properly, it is helpful in pointing out the inconsistencies of the non-Christian worldview. Our culture today, as in the past continues to challenge the Christian worldview. Apologetics serves four primary needs. The first is to defend God's Word and the Christian worldview. This is exactly what Peter is trying to get across in this passage. There are other passages that inform the Christian to be prepared to defend Christian truth (Phil. 1:16, Jude 1:3, Titus 1:9, and 2 Cor. 10:4-5). A second need is for building the body of Christ. Not only is study good for the Church, but it benefits the Christian who engages himself/herself to understanding truth. Thirdly, apologetics is needed to articulate the Christian worldview, this involves study and being relevant with current issues that face the Church. Christians need to be involved with spreading God's truth and it is impossible to do so if you have no answers to counter heretical attacks. Lastly, although apologetics is defending Christian truth, it is beneficial in meeting a divine need to those who are not followers of Jesus. Acts 17 is a classic passage dealing with Paul's defense of Christianity and his reaching out to those unaware of God's truth.

By far, the most important part of the 1st Peter passage occurs at the end, where Peter informs the Christian to dialogue with gentleness and respect. The quickest way to turn off the non-Christian is to argue from an arrogant and belittling position. Unfortunately this has been the road taken by many. Following Pete's road of apologetics benefits the individual, the Church, and a world that desperately needs to hear the Good News truth of Jesus Christ.

* An excellent article dealing with apologetics and the need for it.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Health Care or Life Care?

The health care debate has reached a new level with abortion coming to the forefront. The two sides involved in the debate refer to themselves as pro-choice (supporting abortion) and pro-life (against abortion). It is interesting that the pro-life stance is often referred to as anti-choice or anti-abortion. The pro-choice group often brings up the point that abortion is legal, as if this is the magic word that makes everything moraly right. It needs to be pointed out that slavery was once considered legal as well.

The real issue that is never discussed by the media is that of life. For if life starts at conception, then the debate is over. In reality the pro-choice group must view a fetus as non-life up until a certain point, depending on who you talk to. This point is clear in a recent comment by House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, who said in a interview:"I don't think that he himself would be one to say 'I'm taking down health care reform because of [abortion].'" Pelosi is saying one of two things: either she is calling Congressman Stupak out, who is a known conservative Catholic, trying to embarrass him, or she is saying that health care is more important than a stance on abortion.

It should be clear to all that health care would have already passed had not Congressman Stupak (and others) seen a problem with the funding of abortion. Here is the issue at heart, Stupak and many others view life as starting at conception, and the aborting of any fetus after that point is the taking of an innocent life. This is why the bill is hung up at present. Why is everyone trying to avoid the life question? Why are many writing off Stupak and others while failing to address the question at hand? Could it be that a fair and open debate on when life starts would raise questions against the pro-choice position? Is the pro-choice group being morally arrogant assuming that a fetus is not deserving of life?

The answers to the questions are clear. Anyone willing to look at the issue objectively will see that this is not about pro-choice, but about the question of when life starts. The pro-choice group has never been willing to address the life issue, so what we have now is not a health care debate, but one of life care.

* Check out the powerpoint on abortion dealing with the ethical/moral, scientific, and philosphical issues. The powerpoint is found at the top right corner.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

My way or the highway

In our culture today we hear cries of discrimination and reverse discrimination. In dealing with the issue of tolerance, it seems the only ones who get a free pass are the very ones who are themselves intolerant of others views. Agnostic and Skeptic, Bart Ehrman is championing the cause of tolerance as a wolf in sheep's clothing. In his book, "Lost Christianities," Ehrman closes with a chapter on tolerance. Of course, he weaves the same story that has been woven before, and that is of Christian intolerance.

The major point in the book according to Ehrman is that Christianity (which Ehrman calls proto-orthodoxy) had sufficiently beat to death other legitimate Christian movements that are not considered orthodox. He reasons that orthodox Christianity was the big winner in the past, and because of its intolerance of other legitimate Christian movements it is the lone survivor. He implies that if orthodox Christianity were tolerant then we would see a very different view of who Jesus is and even our ethical system would be different. Consider this point by Ehrman concerning the New Testament, "It is quoted in the Senate to justify war and peace,...of a woman to have an abortion...death rights...slavery. It has been used for good and evil. But where did this book come from? It came from the victory of the proto-orthodox."[1] According to Ehrman, many of the issues today would have been handled differently, had proto-orthodoxy tolerated the other so called Christian groups.

In trying to prove that the proto-orthodox Christians were intolerant, Ehrman says, "The problem was that the Christians refused to worship the other gods, especially the gods of the state. If the state gods had made the state great, then surely they deserved to be acknowledged through acts of worship."[2] Ehrman pushes the lack of tolerance further by saying, "These Christians were exclusivistic in their views. They believed that the one and only true God had given one way of salvation, and that the only way to be right with this God was through this way he had provided - the death and resurrection of Jesus. This exclusivity...bred an intolerance toward religious diversity...Those who did not accept the one true God by believing in the death and resurrection of his Son for salvation would be condemned to the flames of hell for all eternity."[3]

One thing is for certain, Ehrman never hides his disdain for the religion of Christianity. What about Ehrman's charges, are they valid in saying that Christianity was intolerant to other legitimate forms of Christianity? His views are totally inconsistent if Jesus rose from the dead. If Jesus bodily rose from the dead and the Gospels and New Testament epistles make factual, truthful, and historically accurate claims, then Ehrman is simply beating his head against the wall. Ehrman is good at tearing down the "Straw Man," but as of yet, he offers no explanation of how Jesus should really be perceived.

Paul is correct in his epistle to the Corinthians by saying, "And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith(1 Cor. 15:14)." This it seems to me is Ehrman's hangup. He is unwilling to accept the possibility that Jesus rose from the dead. In Ehrman's worldview, the bodily resurrection is an impossibility, and therefore he feels free to say that Christianity is intolerant and exclusivist, but if he is wrong it doesn't matter what he states. If Jesus did rise, then Ehrman is lost in translation. Ehrman has determined that Jesus did not rise from the dead and because of his unwillingness to debate this issue he is clouded in his views and he becomes the true prophet of intolerance.

Ehrman is a skeptic at heart. His unwillingness to intelligently debate why Jesus did not rise and give reasons to disprove the resurrection make him equivalent to a religious hack. In listening to Ehrman debate and in reading from his numerous works, it is clear to me that Ehrman has nothing to offer as to why his skepticism is legitimate. In fact, skepticism itself is self-defeating. For Ehrman it is, my way or the highway, showing all who the truly intolerant person is.

[1] Ehrman, Bart, Lost Christianities, p. 248
[2] Ibid, p. 255
[3] Ibid, p. 255-256