Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Reflections on Drive By Proselytism and False Claims About Christ

The internet being what it is, there are inevitably bizarre claims made by somebody about the "real nature" of Jesus, claiming that Christianity had it wrong for 2,000 years while they had it right.  Thus we hear claims that Jesus was merely a human who kept the Torah perfectly, or was a teacher enlightened in India or that Jesus was merely a "mask" of God, or some other (heretical) claims which seek to deny both the Scripture and the consistent interpretation of it for 2,000 years.

They point to certain verses in the Bible to bolster their claims, yet whatever runs counter to their beliefs are negated as being "added later" or "being misunderstood."

The Problems with the So-called "Real Jesus" which run against Scripture and Tradition

It seems to me that St. Augustine's comments on the Manicheans seem to fit these sort of claims.  Recalling when he was a Manichean and encountered Christians who showed the group he followed was against Scripture and Tradition:

[A]t this time the words of one Helpidius, speaking and disputing face to face against the said Manichaeans, had begun to move me even at Carthage, in that he brought forth things from the Scriptures not easily withstood, to which their answer appeared to me feeble. And this answer they did not give forth publicly, but only to us in private,—when they said that the writings of the New Testament had been tampered with by I know not whom, who were desirous of ingrafting the Jewish law upon the Christian faith; but they themselves did not bring forward any uncorrupted copies. (Confessions.  Book V, Chapter XI Section 21)

Given that the testimony of Scripture and the Church speaks of Jesus are all that exists as evidence of the historical person of Jesus, any "alternate" account must exaggerate one aspect and suppress another.  The question is, of course, "on what basis can one make claims about this other view?"

One could certainly pull quotes from Scripture to claim anything.  Do you want to use Scripture to claim Christ is an alien?  Sure, how about John 18:36, which says:

Jesus answered, “My kingship is not of this world; if my kingship were of this world, my servants would fight, that I might not be handed over to the Jews; but my kingship is not from the world.”

If World is another word for Planet, then it follows that Jesus is saying that He came from another planet, and anyone who thinks He was God clearly did not understand alien technology.  Prove me wrong.

[I suspect nobody would buy this argument of course.]

Anything which ran afoul of this view was "obviously" contradictory or added later to this sort of claim.  This is how they defend their beliefs.

The Response

Anyone who would seek to make claims about the "Real Jesus" which runs counter to the Christian faith needs to not only show Scripture which seems on the surface to support their view, but they need to establish that this was the faith of the Apostles.  We have the testimony of the early Christians in the writings called "the Patristics."  We have testimony of these writings which show how the Christian faith was understood from the earliest centuries.  Anyone who wishes to claim that this testimony is false must show us the testimony they claim is true.

Usually they won't however.  They'll use a variant of what the Manicheans said to Augustine: The originals were tampered with, the originals were burned, the originals were misunderstood and so on.

The problem is, this means that for 2,000 years everybody missed the point, including the Apostles who believed Jesus had risen from the dead and was God, and only now did someone figure out what he really meant.  This is of course asinine.

Moreover, it means they have no evidence unless they can (as St. Augustine pointed out) produce the "uncorrupted copies."

The term for this is ipse dixit.  (An unproven statement which is based entirely on the "say-so" of the speaker).  Of course if the speaker cannot produce proof of the authority he possesses to speak authoritatively, there is no reason to accept it when there is no evidence for it, and much evidence to the contrary as to what Christians believed.

Ultimately people who believe in and promote these claims have no basis for establishing they do speak for the "Real Jesus."  Whether it is something famous like Dan Brown's pro-Gnostic Da Vinci Code or something obscure nobody has heard of until they post it on a blog site, they say a thing ipse dixit and expect one to swallow it by making themselves an authority who cannot be questioned.

Those of us who know the truth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will not be swayed of course.  But there are those out there who are not confident in their knowledge, and can be bullied into thinking they might be wrong because such a person sounds so "authoritative."

So when these believers of false claims come to challenge the Christian faith, there are two questions they must answer to our satisfaction:

  1. What proof do you have for your claims?
  2. What authority do you have to tell us your interpretation is superior to the testimony of the first Christians?

(Recommended Reading: Between Heaven and Hell)

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