Monday, May 22, 2006

Jesus Christ, Benny Hinn, And Santa Claus

In a thread below, John Loftus writes:

"Who investigated the stories written by the four evangelists?...And isn't it likely that the four evangelists painted a picture of Jesus that, rather than acturately describing what this Jesus did, told stories like Clement More did? I believe Jesus existed, but with all of the pseudepigraphal writings in the first few centuries, including the Gospel of Judas, how do you say with a straight face that Jesus' reported miracles were ever investigated in the same way as Amazing Randi, or the Myth Busters or Mike Wallace or any investigative reporter today would do, reveals an ignorance based in blind faith."

And an anonymous commenter writes:

"I'd really like to see an elaboration on this claim [that there's a significant difference between how Jesus Christ and Benny Hinn carry out their respective ministries]."

I'll give several examples of the differences between the two:

- Jesus' purported miracles are of a different nature than Benny Hinn's. Jesus is thought to have fulfilled significantly detailed prophecy. Nothing comparable to Jesus' fulfillment of Isaiah's Suffering Servant prophecy or Daniel's 70 weeks prophecy, for example, can be claimed for Hinn. Hinn's alleged miracles are of a more limited variety. He doesn't claim to walk on water and calm storms around him, for example. Hinn mostly claims to perform healings.

- The purported supernatural elements of Jesus' life are supported by better evidence. Some of Jesus' prophecy fulfillments are of a nature that allows their fulfillment to be verified from non-Christian sources, and they concern matters that are rarely disputed even by atheists, agnostics, and other critics of Christianity (the timing of Jesus' life, the fact that He died by means of crucifixion, etc.). I'm not aware of any purported miracle of Benny Hinn that has comparable evidence. Similarly, men like Peter and Paul were willing to suffer to a large extent, eventually being martyred, for their belief in having seen the risen Christ, whereas I'm not aware of anybody suffering in a comparable way for a comparable claim about eyewitnessing a miracle of Benny Hinn. (And it can't be argued that men like Peter and Paul may have suffered for reasons not having to do with the resurrection appearances. For an explanation, see here.)

- None of Jesus' miracles have been documented to be fraudulent, whereas some of Hinn's have been.

- Jesus never had to retract a miracle claim, whereas Hinn has.

- Jesus' enemies didn't deny that He performed apparent miracles, but rather attributed those purported miracles to a source other than God. Hinn's enemies, on the other hand, widely deny that he performs miracles.

- Jesus and the early Christians didn't try to prevent people from investigating their claims in the manner in which Benny Hinn and his associates have tried to prevent people from investigating theirs.

- Jesus didn't have the sort of financial corruption and other discrediting background characteristics that Benny Hinn has been documented to have.

- Jesus had reasons to be careful and honest that Benny Hinn hasn't had. Most likely, Hinn will never be beaten and crucified. Hinn is living in a society with significantly more freedom in relevant contexts, enemies who have significantly less ability to harm him, significantly more apathy regarding opposing religious claims, etc.

I could mention other differences, but these are more than enough to establish my point. And I'm not denying that Hinn has some disadvantages in some contexts. For example, in one case that comes to mind, Hinn was caught making a miracle claim on television that he later had to retract. Jesus wasn't followed by people with cameras and microphones. However, we can't assume that cameras and microphones would have shown Jesus to have been similar to Benny Hinn. We have no evidence leading to such a conclusion. The evidence we do have leads in a different direction. Though having something like a microphone or a television camera would have been an advantage in terms of documenting the details of Jesus' life, much can be reliably transmitted without something like a camera or microphone. Some of the documentation we have for the fraudulent nature of Hinn's ministry comes from eyewitness accounts or reports of what eyewitnesses said, for example, without any audio or video tape.

That's why it's unreasonable for John Loftus to object that we don't know that:

"Jesus' reported miracles were ever investigated in the same way as Amazing Randi, or the Myth Busters or Mike Wallace or any investigative reporter today would do"

Every day of his life, Loftus makes judgments based on less evidence than would be produced in an article or television program by Amazing Randi or an investigative reporter. We don't need a report by Mike Wallace before believing what somebody tells us or before concluding that we weren't hallucinating when we thought we saw something.

Some of the New Testament authors were making claims about events they eyewitnessed. Paul claimed to meet the risen Christ, Luke claimed to see Paul perform miracles, etc. Paul wasn't just a skeptic. He was a persecutor of the church. Even when eyewitnesses aren't writing the documents, there are control factors that can give the documents credibility. We know what genre the gospels were written in, for example. They were written in a highly historical genre. The society of their day had particular expectations for documents of such a genre. They lived in a highly oral culture that had developed better memory skills than we commonly have today. The earliest Christians demonstrably had a high degree of concern for eyewitness testimony. Miracle claims of the nature we see in the gospels were relatively rare leading up to the time of Jesus, even though they later became more popular. That's why people responded to Jesus' miracles with surprise, fear, etc. It wasn't considered commonplace for people to behave as Jesus did. Etc.

I've discussed many of these things in my previous exchanges with Loftus. I've discussed the evidence for John's authorship of the gospel of John, Glenn Miller's refutation of the concept that ancient sources are too gullible for the Christian claims to be credible, etc. Yet, Loftus didn't interact with much of what I said then, and he isn't interacting with much of it now. Instead, he keeps making vague assertions about how gullible ancient people allegedly were, ridiculous comparisons to Santa Claus, etc.

He asks how we can believe that Jesus' purported miracles were investigated as somebody like Amazing Randi would investigate them. He claims that the existence of documents like the Gospel of Judas make it implausible to suggest that there was significant investigation of Jesus' miracles. But why would the existence of some unreliable documents prove that other documents are unreliable also? How does the non-existence of significant investigation into Jesus' miracles logically follow from the existence of a document like the Gospel of Judas? Loftus doesn't tell us. As Evan May explained in another post, Loftus' claim "is like asserting that the Declaration of Independence is no longer reliable since the movie National Treasure hit theaters". If the gospel of Mark was written earlier than the Gospel of Judas, written by a different author, written in a radically different environment, written in a different genre, makes radically different claims, etc., why are we supposed to believe that the two documents are comparable?

Skeptics who have so much difficulty distinguishing between Jesus Christ and Benny Hinn and between the gospel of Mark and the Gospel of Judas should spend more time studying and less time posting in public forums. People who think that making vague comparisons between the gospels and "'Twas The Night Before Christmas" is a good argument against Christianity probably shouldn't be writing books and publishing blogs claiming to debunk the Christian faith.

3 comments:

  1. Here's my problem: any atheist will get very jiggery and upset if you posit the syllogism:

    (1) Stalin was an atheist
    (2) Stalin committed mass murder on a global scale
    (3) All atheists are like Stalin

    But no atheist will blink an eye to posit the following:

    (1) Benny Hinn is a Christian
    (2) Benny Hinn is a fraud
    (3) All Christians are frauds like Benny Hinn

    It makes you wonder what "free thinking" is free of.

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  2. Or substitute "Pat Robertson" for Benny Hinn in your example centuri0n. Everyone thinks that Pat Robertson speaks for the majority of Christians, when really he doesn't.


    Good post, Mr. Engwer, and good comment, centuri0n.

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  3. So, I've finally made it to being treated like the red letter KJV Bible? Red letters for Loftus, just like for Jesus? Cool! I've arrived.

    ReplyDelete