The Story of Jesus Is Unimaginably Great; Therefore It’s True
The story of Jesus is unimaginably great; therefore it’s true.
That’s a new way I’ve just thought of to summarize my recent Touchstone article, : “What Happens to Apologetics If We Add ‘Legend’ to the Trilemma “Liar, Lunatic, or Lord”?. (Updated: see below.)
For those who know the terminology (and others need not worry, since I won’t spend more than a moment on it), this is not some new kind of ontological argument, even though in that one-sentence form it sure sounds like it. Here’s the short form of what it is instead.
Unmatched Ethical Perfection
It begins with Jesus’ ethical perfection, unmatched in all of Western literature, and I believe also in all world literature besides. He is the one character portrayed as possessing perfect power while being perfectly other-oriented, without flaw or exception.
This combination is rare beyond rare. The degree to which he displays this dual perfection seriously stretches the meaning of “unique.” Lord Acton said it well: “power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely;” but according to the accounts we have, Jesus had absolute power, yet he was absolutely uncorrupted. (To understand that rightly with respect to Jesus, you must take “absolute” in its most absolute possible sense.)
That means that if his story as portrayed in the Gospels really were invented, then those who thought him up concocted a character far greater than any other in all the history of human imagination. No one else has demonstrated the ability to compose a character anything like that. Maybe someone could have, but the fact is, no one has. That’s a hint—not proof, but a pretty good hint—that his greatness surpasses the reach of human imagination: that he is unimaginably great, in the most literal sense of the word.
Where Did Such a Character Come From?
Still we have his story. The skeptics suppose that it really was the product of human imagination. I can’t tell you that’s impossible, since we have only a strong hint that it might be; but I think I can safely say it’s exceedingly unlikely to have happened the way they say it did.
For what they tell us is that Jesus’ character was concocted through a disjointed, error-riddled process of corporate cognitive dissonance reduction. It originated in a culture where even a hint of human deification would get a person stoned to death. That’s where they think this character’s unmatched, divine ethical perfection came from.
And it happened not just once but four times. The number of Gospel accounts we have in the Bible is significant here, not because of how they might or might not confirm one another, but because the authors had four distinct opportunities to get it wrong—to introduce some flaw into Christ’s self-sacrificial, other-centered character—but none of them did. Therefore skeptics must suppose that this decidedly imperfect community not only introduced his ethical perfection but maintained it perfectly over multiple tellings of the story.
The Evidence is Against Its Being Merely Imagined
I think what they’re imagining could best be described as a miracle of a different sort.
You can choose which explanation to believe. Take Jesus’ life as true, and you’ll find it fits into a long history, a back-story, as it were. More than that, it’s the central piece in a coherent world picture.
Meanwhile there’s no reason to think that the skeptics’ proposed “community of faith”—actually, non-community of cognitive dysfunction, as I explain in the article—could or would have concocted a character of Jesus’ overwhelming ethical magnificence.
The skeptical version has no coherent back-story. It fits nowhere in what we know of human nature, of literature, or the context of the times. That is, it fits nowhere except by power of shoehorn and sledge hammer (and never mind the bits and pieces flying everywhere!) wielded for the purpose of keeping God out of the story.
If the story of Jesus is unimaginably great, but the story exists anyway, then it’s unlikely it came about by means of the imagination. It’s far more likely that it’s true.
I urge you to read the article. This is just a quick summary.
Update January 2019: Find it here instead.
Image Credit(s): Pixabay/Myriams-Fotos.
Hey Tom, hope you are feeling as well as possible (given your circumstances).
I have some brief thoughts and questions on this article, if anyone is interested…
This seems rather debatable, given the ethical teachings of the Jain religion. It could be said that the vast majority of those practitioners achieved a higher ethical perfection. Have you looked into their practices much?
I’m a little unclear about what you mean here. Jesus does not seem to possess perfect power in the Synoptic Gospels. This seems to come more from the attributes assigned to him in John. Is your position one that holds that all of the Bible must be taken as a whole?
Well, maybe not exactly like that, but one could make the argument that the characteristics of Brahman and his incarnations were even greater. I suppose it depends on what you assume “greatness” is, but it is not really that hard to imagine how this would have developed. I’m not saying it was developed in this way, but it seems quite plausible.
I read the linked article. Of course many people were deified at that time (e.g. Roman emperors). If you want to make the claim (for various reasons) that your savior was God, that is surely what people would have thought was worthy to have been killed for.
This also just doesn’t seen that difficult, especially when using similar source material (e.g. Matthew and Luke both using Q and Mark’s Gospel) or when you have a church that seeks to destroy what they thought of as heresy (edit what does not fit your picture, keep what you think agrees). Out of curiosity, have you looked that Ehrman’s critique of Mark 1:41? He makes a rather convincing case of how the original language may have expressed Jesus’ indignation at healing the leper.
Also, your “non-community” argument makes little sense to me. People accustomed to using multiple languages in a region about a shared subject could easily move back and fourth between languages (I know that is something we as Americans are rather unaccustomed to).
Anyway, those are just some first impressions.
It’s good to see you.
I hope you read the article I linked to. When you mentioned the ethical teachings of the Jain religion, it appears to me that you missed the point of the ethical perfection I was describing in Jesus Christ. My article had nothing whatsoever to do with his teachings, but with his power and his self sacrificial, other-oriented practice.
If you’re suggesting that Jesus didn’t possess perfect power in the Synoptic Gospels, then would you at least admit that he has incredibly immense power? For example, he spoke, and the wind and the waves ceased. This happened in the Synoptic Gospels. He raised the dead. He healed the sick. I think that my point stands even though he is not portrayed as creator in the Synoptics.
You suggest that “one could make the argument that the characteristics of Brahman and his incarnations were even greater.” Feel free to make that argument. I don’t know how to deal with quote one could make an argument.”
My point about the perfection in all four Gospels is not essential to my argument. I didn’t even put it in the article. However, there is absolutely no evidence whatsoever that the church sought to destroy any portion of any of the Gospels. The only hint of that might be they apparently missing ending to Mark’s gospel, but that’s a pretty slim hint.
As for Mark 1:41, see here or here.
My “non-community” language applies in context of the “telephone game.”
of all of this, though, the most important thing is to take a look at Jesus’ immense power, and his constant and exclusive use of that extraordinary power for the good of others and not for himself.
Thanks for taking the time to respond.
Yes, I did (as I stated above).
Couldn’t this attribute be attributed to many Gods of various religions?
This is the point I was making about Jains. Certainly their lives are ones of self sacrifice (not in the sense of dying for a cause, but in many other ways) and other-oriented practice. Many people have self sacrificed for a great (and sometimes not so great) cause of course. But if you are assuming that Jesus did die for humanity and that this was effective, then I do not have any other examples in mind – though I’m sure people like MLK and Nelson Mandela thought/think of their causes as bettering all of humanity (Hitler, and Stalin probably thought of their causes that way too).
Yes, of course… even God-like power.
[I alter the text a bit in your following quote to read as I think you meant it.]
I’m having similar trouble assessing your argument of “greatness.”
That wasn’t what I was really referring to, or even about insertions such as John 7:53-8:11. I am talking about the “Lost Christianities” that were later deemed heretical such as the Gnostics.
I will look over your information about Mark later today. Thank you for sending it.
Ah, I see now. But try calling me on the phone [I really will give you my number]. I have a feeling that with just an hour long conversation I could describe to you my scientific research, and you could do a good job reproducing it on your blog, and that is with a complex subject with which you are unfamiliar. I have a feeling you would do even better if I could email you my summary. I hope you are aware that the “telephone game” is only one of the mechanisms that skeptics feel was likely at play for the gospels.
BTW, I no longer see the “edit” feature your blog once had. Has it been removed?
From the 2nd link about Mark 1:41:
To say the least, this does not seem like a portrait of someone who is “perfectly other-oriented, without flaw or exception.” Compassion speaks to me as a way in which we view the world by saying to others, “hey, help people in need. This is what matters in the world.”
Anyway, the next book on my list is “Misquoting Truth” by Timothy Paul Jones.
***Unrelated, (I don’t know where else to ask about it), I have begun watching “The Bible” since it is now on Netflix. Did you write about this anywhere else? What did you think of it? It seems like rather shallow coverage but with great effects and cinematography. Perhaps my expectations were too high.
The edit function should be there. Do you have a browser extension blocking it?
Bill, usually you’re more attentive than this.
It’s not whether someone has power in some religion, and someone else is other-oriented and self-sacrificial. It’s about Jesus having supreme power while simultaneously being supremely self-sacrificial, according to the accounts.
I thought I was really clear about that:
And yes, of course, the “telephone game” was one of many mechanisms. It was nevertheless one of them, and a highly distorting one, not the sort of thing you would expect to produce a character of Jesus’ ethical perfection (of the type described here).
The “Lost Christianities”? Which ones? From which century? With which documentary evidence supporting them? And what on earth could the existence of some other “Christianity” have to do with the fact that the surviving Christianity has four different ethically perfect accounts of the life of Christ?
(I have not watched any of “The Bible.”)
Slightly off topic but this detailed critique from the ever excellent Ben Witherington on another of Bart’s books can be found here.
I hope I did not make you angry yesterday – it was not my intention and it is something I am trying to avoid.
I don’t see myself as that attentive. Please don’t assume I am. I make mistakes often and am sure I will continue to do so.
You were clear. But I was trying to say that the Hindu concept of Brahman is similar, when you take the various incarnations into account. The Hindu concepts of God seem to encompass all of the attributes you have pointed out, but include many more.
Good questions… As I previously stated, the Gnostic teachings may be a good example. Naturally, the texts we do have came from some line of thought; whether these were oral transmissions or were written down early, it’s hard to find evidence for something we do not have (a la Jimmy Hoffa). Q, M, and L would be other examples.
Clearly, the Gospels had sources, and we don’t know what was or was not included in them. If Matthew and Luke used Mark and other common sources, it is not that difficult to see how a synopsis was achieved. There are other Gospels such as the Thomas and Peter that were not accepted by what became orthodox Christianity in later times. So what you leave out becomes almost as important as what you include. If when investigating a detective case you leave testimonies out of your investigation, that may or may not be for good reason. If they are left out because you are trying to reach a certain conclusion, that is obviously not a good reason. I’m not saying this was certainly the case, but it is a possibility to keep in mind given what we know of human nature.
Since you are now into your “evidence” series that pertains to evidence from the NT, it makes me wonder how good of a case could be built for the existence of the Jewish God on OT views alone. I have always thought that the Resurrection was the best case to be made for the existence of God (a sort of “bottom-up” approach) but I can’t help but wonder why their should not be good evidence for the Jewish God apart from the miracles attributed to Jesus and his followers. That is, did the Jews before Jesus but who did not experience God’s miracles have good justifications for believing in their God? I just don’t know.
I don’t know how to tell if I have a browser extension blocking the edit feature. I don’t think I have changed anything on my computer since the last time it was visible.
I think the “edit” function is supposed to now be in the little gray box with the arrow in it and the “comment” title over it. If you click that you can write and then save prior to posting but I don’t know if we can edit in there….. I had a hard time and can’t seem to get it to work either.
No, I wasn’t angry, just surprised at your answer. Thanks for asking.
The “Gospels” of Thomas, Peter, Judas, etc. were rejected by the church because they were late compositions, all of them at least second century, and clearly not written by their claimed authors. The four Gospels we have now are the only ones that came out of the first century. They were included because they had early composition and attestation, and a clear line of provenance to apostolic sources. So nothing was excluded just because it didn’t fit the picture they wanted of Jesus.
“What you leave out,” in other words, is important, yes; but what we exclude is for good, independent reason. A detective investigating a crime would want to listen to those who were close to the events, not to people who came along with discrepant stories years later, claiming to have been close to the events–but who weren’t even born at the time!
The question is not how a synopsis was achieved. (That’s a valid question for another context, but it’s not the one I’m asking.) The question is how perfection was achieved, in the ethical sense of which I’ve been speaking here, and how it was achieved four times without flaw.
The question of oral transmission is not as obscure as you might think. It’s covered in Randy Hardman’s chapter in True Reason.
You say, “The Hindu concepts of God seem to encompass all of the attributes you have pointed out, but include many more.” Do they include definitive, purposeful, willing, intentional lives of flawless and ultimate self-sacrifice by characters holding immense power? If so, I’d be glad to hear of it.
Again, it’s not about one character (one god, say) having great power, and another one demonstrating self-sacrificial love. World literature is full of characters with one attribute or the other. It’s the combination of the two in one character that makes Jesus ethically remarkable. It’s the absolute magnitude of the two, combined in him, that make him truly exceptional.
So please, catch that: if you can bring me an example of one character like Jesus in those two respects, I’ll have to reconsider my whole thesis here. If not, and if you still think Jesus is not that unique anyway, then you’re not really addressing the point of the article at all.
I’ll need to review my Hindu literature (I lived in Nepal for a time, but it’s been a while), but I would start with Rama, Narasimha and Krishna.
I never know where to find the most reliable information. Do you have a good source that shows the scholarly consensus on the authorship of the gospels by historians?
I’ll ask around. But the real issue is the formation of the canon, isn’t it?
First, C.S. Lewis on Christianity and Hinduism:
“For my own part, I have sometimes told my audience that the only two things really worth considering are Christianity and Hinduism. (Islam is only the greatest of the Christian heresies, Buddhism only the greatest of the Hindu heresies. Real Paganism is dead. All that was best in Judaism and Platonism survives in Christianity.) There isn’t really, for an adult mind, this infinite variety of religions to consider. We may ‘salva reverentia’ [“without outraging reverence”] divide religions, as we do soups, into “thick” and “clear.” By Thick I mean those which have orgies and ecstasies and mysteries and local attachments: Africa is full of Thick religions. By Clear I mean those which are philosophical, ethical and universalizing: Stoicism, Buddhism, and the Ethical Church are Clear religions. Now if there is a true religion it must be both Thick and Clear: for the true God must have made both the child and the man, both the savage and the citizen, both the head and the belly. And the only two religions that fulfill this condition are Hinduism and Christianity. But Hinduism fulfills it imperfectly. The Clear religion of the Brahmin hermit in the jungle and the Thick religion of the neighboring temple go on side by side. The Brahmin hermit doesn’t bother about the temple prostitution nor the worshipper in the temple about the hermit’s metaphysics. But Christianity really breaks down the middle wall of the partition. It takes a convert from central Africa and tells him to obey an enlightened universalistic ethic: it takes a twentieth-century academic prig like me and tells me to go fasting to a Mystery, to drink the blood of the Lord. The savage convert has to be Clear: I have to be Thick. That is how one knows one has come to the real religion.”
Second, some context:
Ravi Zacharias (from India) described speaking to his kin about Christ as the exact opposite problem as when speaking with atheists. With atheists, there is no truth. With the Hindu, all is truth, all is good, all is god. The I is illusion, and therein Will is an illusion, and thus, though we find no god sacrificing himself on behalf of Man (man is part of god) in Hinduism, if we do, it cannot be for the likes of the self-serving fiend who is typing these letters and tastes his own foulness. There is no such kind of love in Hinduism because there cannot be any such kind of love. Everything is part-of-god. Also, there are many, many manifestations of Brahman, not just three. The motion that is I-You is, in Brahman, in reality, non-entity.
Omnipotence and Love:
That the Omnipotent should Be is one thing, but that the Omnipotent should be Love is quite another and if we do not know our history, nor some necessary ends of, say, pantheism, our perspective is, being so Christianized – even at a distance – a perspective which is something less than offended at such a statement.
E Pluribus Unum is both our hope and our despair, and this is so within each of us in our own personal fragmentation and also outside of us in humanity’s own fragmentations and Christ’s pull is found – in part – in the vast array of moral and metaphysical tensions and contradictions which are dissolved in such an Out-Pouring / In-Filling amidst the Underived and the Derived, the Divine and the Human. In Christ Man discovers Immutable Power’s Suffering Servant Who subsumes the Corporeal while simultaneously infusing it with worth, Who subsumes all that is Man while simultaneously glorifying him, Who simultaneously surrenders to and annihilates death, and Who manifests the Omnipotent God in Whom is found the very ends of love’s regressions as Immutable Love’s Eternally Sacrificed Self saturates Time and Physicality to their very ends with Himself and therein simultaneously affirms both our corruption and our worth, therein simultaneously affirms both our fragmentation and our final felicity.
That the first century slave should be declared as on ontological par with this Omnipotent Who spreads His arms wide and pours Himself out for, and into, we His beloved is purely an offense born of the offense that the Omnipotent is Love. That the first century husband be commanded to submit to his wife, and she to him, is purely an offense born out of the larger offense that the Omnipotent is Love. That the insane, the criminal, the unclean, the leper, the cripple should find Omnipotence pouring Himself into them – touching the unclean thing – is an offense born out of the God Who is Himself the Offense Who in Christ reconciles the world to Himself as He aborts all Mercy and pours out all Judgment, Who aborts all Judgment and pours out all Mercy, Who thereby – for we His beloved – makes of Himself both our Means and our Ends. In Christ Omnipotence declares the unthinkable and promises – on Himself – that all people are of one cast: “My beloved”
I’ve been off in a corner not paying a lot of attention to the post on morality. I’m just catching up again, at least a little bit.
I was wondering if you were aware of what I’m about to share.
I had my own impressions, but for objectivity’s sake I ran your paragraph beginning, “E Pluribus Unum” through a readability checker. On a reading ease scale where “scores usually range from 0 to 100,” with higher numbers indicating easier reading, that paragraph scored negative 23.3. On a grade-level scale where 22 indicates graduate level reading, that paragraph earned you a 36.
(I won’t tell you what score the second sentence in that paragraph elicits on its own. For my part, I find it more understandable than the first.)
I have several concerns about this. One is that these kinds of offerings are not likely to be read. Another is related: since they’re not read, they don’t contribute much to the conversation. Even if they are read, they don’t invite much of a response. What could anyone say?
We’e exchanged messages on this before, and I appreciate the way you’ve responded. I’ve been remiss in not checking in here sooner, and I thought I should step in to the conversation with a word.
I am fully appreciative of the impulse to worship God in words as you are doing here. I am grateful it’s in your heart, thankful that you want to express it.
For the sake of dialogue, though, I’m going to ask you to try to confine your contributions here to those that really partake of the give-and-take of discussion, and that you try to keep your readability scores to a level that might not expect a person to have multiple Ph.Ds before he or she could read them.
By the way, I’ve never studied Latin, but I’ve been taught in American studies that E Pluribus Unum means “out of many, one.” If I’m right, and if that is intended to be your term for the Trinity, it’s not accurate. Or if I’m wrong, and if its sense in classical Latin fits the meaning of the Trinity, its sense has at least been corrupted by its usage in an American motto, where it certainly does not refer to God.
I suggest you not use it where you have American readers, at least. I would make a broader suggestion if I were more confident of my understanding of the Latin.
That is a great point, and part of my implied use is our (mankind, etc.) merge as a Bride of Christ, which has overlay with what goes on in Him, though our contingency (many-ness) is very different from His truly “one-ness” (He is not poly-theistic, etc.).
The specific geography here which Christianity offers through the Trinity is something which we find just nowhere else and that “something” is that landscape we all taste, or know, inside of our own experience of love. Let me preface the next paragraph with this of C.S. Lewis:
“And that, by the way, is perhaps the most important difference between Christianity and all other religions: that in Christianity God is not a static thing – not even a person – but a dynamic, pulsating activity, a life, almost a kind of drama. Almost, if you will not think me irreverent, a kind of dance. The union between the Father and the Son is such a live and concrete thing that this union itself is also a Person.”
The Grandness of Christ:
Marriage’s bridge: In our own (real) experience of marriage we find, or know, or experience, all that is “Me”, or I, or Self (and so on), and, just the same, we “find” all that is “Her”, or You, or Other (and so on), and, just the same, we find, know, experience, a very distinct, very real, entity that is neither me nor her, but is both she and I, which we experience as “Us”, or “We” (and so on).
I have found that those who reject all that is god just do not reject all that is love, for we perceive the truth of such and the Grandness of Christ which you are (rightly) claiming lies – in part – therein.
The risk there (to my mind) is the error of Pantheism, and I found this thread interesting on that front because “God loves” can sort of “ooze” into that kind of error (and disaffirmation of the real) and we see that temptation pulling on the minds of others, particularly our youth who sort of “feel their way to truth”. The Trinity breaks that down as “all is not dissolved”, or, in Christianity, the “I-You-We” dynamic of love (or the “Self-Other-Us” geography) is retained as Actuality in Christianity and in God and so the error (the disaffirmation of all that is real) of illusion is avoided, thus affirming the grittiness of our own (painful) reality of a brokenness both in Being and in Love while at the same time taking us into God’s greater, better, higher, reality which we also intuit the veracity of.
That ability to “merge”, to “unify”, to simultaneously hold our world of physicality (and hurt, ought, etc.) with the ephemeral world of the Good and the True is a marvel which is unique to Christ. And it dissolves so many metaphysical tensions that I think you are on to something in asserting that the grandness of such a thing immediately caught fire in the real world of our real humanity in which the dissolution of those tensions caught hold of both our intellectual and our existential through vectors nothing else could (can).
The gods played and the people paid, and, various modes of geopolitical “caste systems” abounded. And yet both of those constructs “ring false” to our humanity, to our reality. The subtle, persistent friction therein wears, wore, on us.
Against that backdrop: when Christ manifested the love of God and revealed (finally) the whole topography of what just is our human experience of love, we found our own experience of “Self-Other-Us” (or “I-You-We”) breaking onto the scene (in Christ) and the radical (grand) truth of what we all taste inside of love, inside of “Marriage” cohered perfectly inside of love’s “Amalgamation” in all that is incarnation, all that is God-In-Man, Man-In-God. Therein Christ presented both the intellect and the soul with inescapable veracity, with undeniable true-ness, and the very radicalness of the formally elusive but now concrete e pluribus unum suddenly being, via Christ, affirmed in reality, affirmed in God, and affirmed in us reached (reaches) where nothing else can and brought coherence to all of our intellectual and existential assent as it dissolved all the seeming contradictions of truth in the physical and moral world. Man discovers that he truly is made in the Image of God, and in Christ we discover that that Image is the Image of the God who is love, in Whom all these vectors seamlessly converge.
“The Gospel is the fulfillment of all hopes; the perfection of all philosophy; the interpreter of all revelations; and the key to all the seeming contradictions of truth in the physical and moral world.” (H. Miller)
It is in all of these many senses, or all of these many vectors, which “E Pluribus Unum” is employed.
I think you might have missed comment 20. Thanks for taking a look at it now.
If you are looking for a consensus a good study Bible will give you that. (From the NIV) Matthew was written by the apostle Matthew, Mark was written by John Mark a close associate of Peter, Luke was written by Luke a close associate of Paul and John was written by the apostle John.
I don’t want to be too casual my explanation and sourcing but this is a widely accepted, non controversial view.
As far as the cannon and the other books you mentioned its pretty well understood that the cannon was well established by the mid/late 2nd century. That predates most of those other books you mentioned. Also, it’s a myth that those other books were “excluded” usually, as the story goes, at the Council of Nicaea. Those other books were never part of the cannon, for the reasons Tom gave, and thus there was no need to exclude them.
Really! The widely accepted, non-controversial view in professional biblical scholarship is the anonymous authorship (i.e., not actually Mark, Matthew, Luke, or John) of all four canonized gospels, with the three synoptics all descended from an earlier, lost precursor (Q) and John being a later re-imagining of the Q-type narrative.
There’s no controversy.
Even though there’s controversy.
If BillT overstated the degree of consensus among all scholars (which I think he did), Larry, you certainly have too.
Additionally, there’s actually no one who believes that all three synoptics are “descended from” Q. No one. (There’s consensus for you!)
As to John being a “later re-imagining” of a “Q-Type narrative,” I’ve never heard of that and I can’t find anyone online who seems to have heard of it either.
You’re operating on false facts, Larry.
In case you want to contest what I just wrote, Larry, consider what Q is understood to be: it’s the likely (albeit hypothesized) source for the material common to Matthew and Luke that’s not included in Mark. Ergo, Mark is not descended from Q. That’s not controversial.
Further, the material that’s unique either to Matthew or to Luke has never been considered to have come from Q.
The material that’s common to all three Gospels has never been considered to have come from Q.
Your breezy confidence in your information is not matched by your actual knowledge of the facts.
The Buddha was reputed to have done major miracles as well, and only for the benefit of others. Admittedly, that’s not part of “Western literature”, but it does limit the uniqueness somewhat.
No, Ray, it doesn’t. Not unless the Buddha is represented as having supreme power and as being supremely self-sacrificial, as Jesus is. (By “supreme” I do not mean simply “unusual,” but as I put it in the OP: “To understand that rightly with respect to Jesus, you must take ‘absolute’ in its most absolute possible sense.”)
But I’ve said this over and over again. How many times do I have to say it!?
When will you pay attention?
This is becoming painful to me.
See the OP:
See comment 7, where I quoted the same again, plus this:
See comment 14, where I wrote,
See my previous post on this topic, which I know you’re quite well aware of, since you commented there nine times. In comment 6 there I wrote,
In comment 12 I wrote,
In comment 14,
In comment 41 I addressed you directly and wrote,
In comment 58,
I’ve said it eight times previously. Now I’ve just doubled that count. Will 16 repetitions of the point be enough for you to recognize the specific sort of uniqueness of which I’m speaking here?
Sorry, non controversial was an overstatement.
[Tom: readability score 64, average grade level 9.2] =)
It is clear you are missing the challenge of uniqueness as you keep re-focusing on other topics. The references you referred to (Ulysses, etc.) are not that of Omnipotence, nor are they of a timeless presence of love’s eternal sacrifice of self, nor are they of these two in amalgamation.
That God “is” is one thing. However, that God houses such an everlasting sacrifice of Himself within Himself – and – in fact fills up time and physicality – man – to their bitter ends because of His love for man (an other whom He calls His beloved) with that very act/motion, is unique.
Metaphysically, the ontological reach is unparalleled.
This is not the topic at hand: The denial of all that is the anthology of physics becomes necessary in that we must deny the existence of any such entities as “causes” and we must deny the very existence of any such entities as “effects” should we retain materialism/naturalism. We find no such organ by which to “see” such a state of affairs, nor do we find any evidence for such a state of affairs. In fact, all evidence runs the other way. The move to God-Is is one thing, but it is not this challenge. The challenge here is that the anthology of physics is true, and thus the step into “God is” is on presupposition both prior and reasonable. From that point forward comes the ontology behind and within Christ.
This is not the topic at hand: Obviously you will disagree with God-Is. With the resurrection. With Christ’s having lived. With Christ’s actual crucifixion. And so on. Historicity in the 96th-ish percentile surpasses all others. Therefore: Christ lived, Christ was crucified.
This is not the topic at hand: Given historicity’s reach, you’ll concede and merely assert that the life and crucifixion “actually happened” but “none of the other stuff” happened, all the while failing to demonstrate historically how, where, when, by what mechanism, and by whom the Real-X (lived, crucified) morphed to the skeptic’s alleged legend-Y (God is love).
None of those are the topic at hand.
This topic is that of uniqueness:
There is no ontology of the Divine, of Omnipotence, of All-Power, that is the ontology found behind and within Christ for the self-sacrificing motions within and among Self-Other as found in that ontology are unrivaled.
Since you say that Jesus is akin to other stories of messiahs, or that the trinity came later, and so on, we need only look at John chapter one, placed somewhere between 50 and 100 AD by most.
We find in that chapter three states of affairs of Being. The Word Is God. The Word is with God. The Word is Begotten.
I don’t mean, here, to draw out everything on the God’s Spirit or on Christ. I only mean to draw on those three motions of, states of, Being. Being Is. Being is With Being. Being is Begotten.
Remember, the challenge is to match the whole show that is Christ.
It is a challenge of concrete love laced through concrete omnipotence. C.S. Lewis eludes to the “timelessly begotten” state of affairs within Being: “And that, by the way, is perhaps the most important difference between Christianity and all other religions: that in Christianity God is not a static thing – not even a person – but a dynamic, pulsating activity, a life, almost a kind of drama. Almost, if you will not think me irreverent, a kind of dance. The union between the Father and the Son is such a live and concrete thing that this union itself is also a Person.”
Remember, the challenge is to match the whole show that is Christ.
That Omnipotence loves Man, the fragmented and corrupted other, is matchless. That unmatched state of affairs stems out of another unmatched state of affairs: the ontology behind/within Omnipotence Himself, Who “is love”. In John we find that oddly triune state of affairs within Being, where Unchanging Being Is, wherein Unchanging Being is With Unchanging Being, and where Unchanging Being is Begotten.
Remember, the challenge is to match the whole show that is Christ.
We cannot embrace that ontology if we cannot embrace our own imperfect but brutally repeatable experience within even our own, frail, love. If we have loved, and have been loved, we will intuit the truth captured in all that is Being there in the NT immediately. “The union between Father and Son is such a live and concrete thing that this union is itself a Person”. That state of Being wherein Being Is, wherein Being is With Being, and wherein Being is Begotten within Being is, we find, the ontological ends of what Christ “is”, of what love “is”. Should I tell you of all that is me, and should I tell you of all that is my beloved wife, I shall have told you of something less than the whole show, for there in our embrace there is something which I can only describe to you as the very real, very tangible distinct which is neither I nor her, neither Self nor Other, but is, purely, the begotten us, the singular we. That distinct has a life of its own and the more I die, the more I pour out for her, the more alive I find myself over there on the other side of death – I find in love that I both die and am found alive again – within that distinct that is the begotten singularity of us.
Remember, the challenge is to match the whole show that is Christ.
We find in Being that which we find in love and there we find that which is the “distinct” that is the Dying Self, just as, we find the “distinct” which is the Beloved Other, just as, we find that “distinct” that is the Dying Self found alive-again – resurrected – on the other side of love’s sacrifice – via the begotten “distinct” that is unity’s singular Us. We find here the ontological uniqueness of the NT. We can on Christ’s ontology state this of Being: Inside of Being/Love we find a necessarily triune state of affairs within what is necessarily singular for we find Being/Love being Being/Love, and, we find Being/Love being with Being/Love, and, we find Being/Love begetting Being/Love. That there is the triad of a dying self, a glorified other, and an alive-again, and in all vectors, is but more of the same – ceaseless – living water.
Remember, the challenge is to match the whole show that is Christ.
When the state of affairs that is that Unchanging Being manifests within time and physicality we find all that is Christianity’s ontology of Omnipotence wholly Other-Focused. That He loves us and sacrifices Self, that is to say, sacrifices Omnipotence (Himself), for mankind, His beloved other, is the ontology which seamlessly merges Word and Corporeal, Timelessness and Time.
Remember, the challenge is to match the whole show that is Christ.
As for the “state of affairs” of Being that is the Singular Us, in Genesis chapter one we find the first descriptive of such. Plurality amid Singularity has been from before the foundation of the world — because the God Who is love has been from before the foundation of the world. The Protoevangelium of Genesis chapter 3, found manifest in John chapter 3, finds scripture’s A through Z speaking of the Whole of Being wherein the Image purposed by God in Genesis one is – through time and physicality – flowing towards actualization.
The God Who is love said, “Let Us make Man in Our Image”.
He meant it.
No, that isn’t the challenge.
For argument’s sake, I momentarily stipulate the uniqueness of the Jesus character, and I do so because many historical and fictional characters can be considered unique and unprecedented.
That Jesus was/is unique tells us nothing about his historicity. That you claim omnipotence for Jesus, his dad and uncles–that tells us nothing abut the historicity. That you see Jesus as self-sacrificial tells us nothing about his historicity.
In earlier comments, what I have argued and shown at a high level, however, that the Jesus character was really not so unique nor so unprecedented.
So, the main argument you have contains a trifecta of fatal problems: Jesus was not unique ethically (and not all that great anyway), not unprecedented, and not able to be historically verified through the character you ascribe to him.
Ultimately, the argument you are making is that if Jesus existed, he existed.
I didn’t see your presentation of [Omnipotence = Love’s Eternally Sacrificed Self].
I also haven’t seen your presentation of the Omnipotent in what must be Immutable Love’s effusively singular, seamlessly triune Self-Other-Us. I haven’t known love void of such states of affairs amid Being.
Larry, you say you have “argued and shown at a high level” that the “Jesus character was not so unique and unprecedented.”
No, Larry. You could perhaps say you have argued it, but you certainly haven’t shown it! My goodness. Every attempt you’ve made to show it has been countered with a response, except for a couple that I’m going to deal with here.
In this thread you tried (and failed) to say there was some analogy between the Superman account and the Jesus account. (You failed to engage with my answer to that.)
Earlier you offered Till Eulenspiegel and even Satan as candidates for competition with Jesus’ magnificence in the relevant sense. What you showed there was that you didn’t get the point. (You failed to respond to the ongoing answers we gave you there, too.)
You tried this:
Actually, no, neither of them presents the kind of explanatory gap that Jesus does. Their characters were not vastly ethically superior to the character of their authors. They manifested excellence but not ultimate ethical perfection. What you’re showing with them as your candidates is that you don’t understand the argument you’re disputing.
The only other character you’ve offered as analogous to Jesus is God. That’s not a problem for Christians, obviously: and it also doesn’t explain how Jesus as a man was represented as being so perfectly powerful and good. There’s still a huge explanatory gap there. You know your Jewish history and religion well enough to know why.
Well, take a look at the miracles. He was more powerful than the gods – hard to get more supreme. But he didn’t like doing miracles, they were just a side-effect of his enlightenment. He wouldn’t do them on demand, he only did them to teach and benefit others. Indeed, he preached a denial of self to help others, delaying his own ascent to Nirvana until he had set up the conditions for others to reach it too.
I assumed you were at least somewhat familiar with the basics of Buddhism. Sorry I didn’t explicate this further until now.
scbrownlhrm, thanks for making that adjustment!
I mentioned something else I’d like you to be aware of, and this was part of it, which is the whole idea of being part of the discussion. I would encourage you to take note of when people respond to what you’ve written, and when they don’t. That’s probably the single best indicator of how involved a contributor is in what’s going on.
Ray @ #39,
That’s part of the equation, although I’m still not aware of anything to indicate that the Buddha ever conquered death, or (especially) created everything, as we see reported in the Gospels! And of course it’s just part of the equation: was he uniformly and without the smallest exception, throughout his entire recorded life, devoted only to serving others, especially with his extraordinary powers?
We have records of the Buddha speaking of self-oriented miraculous powers.
But this is intriguing, and I would be interested to hear from a Buddhism scholar on this. It could be that you’ve found a real exception that undermines my theory. I’m open to hearing more.
And then there is also the third aspect of the conundrum I’m trying to raise. Legend theory posits a certain sort of community that invented Jesus in the form he has come down to us. Does Buddhism have a similar question concerning accounts of the Buddha’s origin and his life?
Again, I wonder about stories like these, which are uniformly self-oriented. Are they representative of the Buddha, or are they later accretions on the religion? I’d be interested to know.
Precision matters. Definitions matter. Accuracy matters.
We find in Buddhism no definition of love, no definition of those motions amid and among Self/Other, which are more concrete than that which is an obstacle, a hindrance, an illusion. “Where the self is, truth is not. Where truth is, the self is not.”
The self, the “me” at first seems real, and as enlightenment comes the shedding begins. All awareness, all consciousness, all mental activity, all perception, all feeling, all sound, any internal stimulus, any external stimulus, all which mind does, all which is emoting, is not the real. All is illusion and one grows – if one is progressing – ever more dispassionate, ever more impassive, ever more liberated. To love, that is to say, to – have passion – perceive – know – value – is to have an obstacle – an illusion – to shed as it is not love’s actualization but rather it is love’s annihilation which enlightenment brings in the dissolution that is Nirvana.
If Buddha was other-focused, he was not perfect. If Buddha was perfect, he was not other-focused.
Buddhism houses no love – not actually, and what there is of it hinders us. The very motion we inquire of here, speak of here, amid and among Self-Other finds a peculiar and mystic metaphysical mereological nihilism as kindness is taught in Buddhism even as we discover that kindness must sum to that which is from one illusion toward another illusion. The kindness of Self to Other is itself a perception, feeling, sense, stimuli, thought, notion and is thus itself whatever summing illusions actually yields, which must be nothing, and further it cannot be an actual Good, but is in fact an obstacle to achieving dispassion. Annihilation, rather than actualization, ends all illusions, and thus ends all love.
If we say Love is the Highest Ethic, we must mean something more than nothing, for to inquire of nothing is not to inquire, to speak of nothing is to speak not. Love is the Highest Ethic in that Love is the Actual, the Real, and we find the end of ad infinitum there within Immutable Love’s ends of regress (described earlier).
Actualization, not annihilation, is our story. However, in Buddhism it is annihilation, not actualization, that is our story as all illusions end in annihilation and annihilation ends all love.
There can be no other-focusing in Buddhism, for there is no other, and what there is of the other-focused must be summed to passion, to value, and thus to illusion, and, even more, it is the very thing (one of many) which is a deficiency, a hindrance, something to be – eventually – with enlightenment – shed, annihilated. Love is an obstacle.
Jesus ought to have shed all want, all passion for His beloved, for want is – passion is – the product of illusion.
If Buddha was perfect, fully enlightened, he did not love. If he loved, he was not perfect.
In Christ timeless love is manifestly actualized within time and physicality. Jesus loved, loves, perfectly.
Further comment, delineation of, post #43:
“We’ve both said that truth must be pursued to wherever it leads, I assume you mean that to include both word and deed?”
A question of morality:
Gautama, who became the Buddha, married and, on the day his child was born, named him Rahula, which means Shackles, as the child hindered Gautama from his search for peace. He left his wife and child that day, the day of his child’s birth, to find his peace, his answer to the mystery of pain. By the Buddha’s own standard, the man Gautama was there responding to pain, to anxiety, to emotional grief, to perception, to illusion, and commits an act of imperfection. That is in one sense. In another sense, all attachment is error, and here we find the business of love, of passion, of husband/wife, of parent/child, and of where Buddhism takes us in the arena of passion for the beloved. Such is an obstacle to one’s progress to the dispassionate, and here we begin to see a very, very different interpretation of relationality amid and among all that is Self/Other. We need only look into the life of Gautama to find either: A) Moral Imperfection in leaving his wife and child (responding to anxiety and setting out to find peace) – or – B) we find Moral Progress as he severs love’s ties, love’s shackles, to Other.
Truth and Deed find coherence in the dispassion of the Buddha, whereas, in Christ, we find a different Truth and a different Deed as Christ tells us – simultaneously – to lay down our lives for our wife, to value, love, our child – and in grounding these – He points us not to our own mutable need-to-escape or our own need-to-progress, but to Immutable Love Himself as that which transcends, outreaches, both our own love and our own persons as that which is the perfect, the excellent, the preeminent, and, therein, by such necessary means comes the necessary ends within the coherence of love’s embrace of – not escape from – pain, loss, sacrifice for one’s wife, one’s child, for the beloved other. He points our first love to Immutable Love and therein ushers in Love’s leading us to sacrifice our self for our wife, our child, our mother, our father, as we actualized His Image in the True, the Beautiful, the Good.
Christ simultaneously affirms both our innate corruption and our innate worth, our painful fragmentation and our final good.
Indeed, Ontology/Truth disconnected from Epistemology/Living is implausible.
We find in Buddhism the absence of all that is – at bottom – ought not have. Good/Evil are misperceptions born out of attachments to the self and to perception, all of which we need to be liberated from. No specific act of volition houses that innate essence of ought-not-have for the volition of the self is impermanence – as is the self – as is the value of all therein. Truth leads to actions, to outcomes, and here we find the absence of all that is – at bottom – grace – and the absence of the essence that is apology, that is forgiveness and this is so whether we speak of such from self to self (which are temporary impressions) or from God towards Man if there were a God. There is debt, moral debt, only, there is no grace, only performance, there is no forgiveness, only the blind, pitiless circle of payment. I cannot forgive you, I cannot pay or relieve your debt, you must pay in the unforgiving circle until all is paid and you are liberated. You cannot forgive, you cannot relieve my debt, I must pay in the unforgiving circle until all is paid and I am liberated. Grace is – at bottom – nonentity. Apology/Forgiveness are – at bottom – nonentity.
Helpful (perhaps) paraphrases of Ravi Zacharias:
Buddhism: You were not free from debt when you were born and you will not be free from debt when you die. You were born with a cup half full and your every act, word, and deed has to be paid for.
Jesus: How does one pay? With what does one pay? The creditor haunts but isn’t there.
Buddhism: A moral law of cause and effect exists in human consciousness. It’s inexplicable. We do not ascribe it to anything, anyone, any place, “any anything”. The collective moral capital with which you were born is something you had nothing to do with – that, at least, should bring comfort. But your present suffering is because of the way you lived your life – that should bring you responsibility. You came into being bearing another’s debt. Your choice was to reduce that debt or to pay it. This is the karma of lives gone by and your own karma. This combination of what is inherited and what is spent is like a wheel that will either crush you are enable you to break free from its repetition when you’ve lived a pure life. There is hope though, for the sum of your good and bad will reappear in another life. Not you, for you are not reincarnated, because you don’t return, but another life will make its entrance after you’re gone. Another consciousness with the moral deposit reaped from your indebtedness will be born.
Buddhism: The self that we claim is actually non-existent. It exists nowhere, neither in our physicality nor in our mental parts. Look at this boat. Is it wood? Is it the motor? Is it the glue? The paint? No, it is none of these. In the same way the self does not exist in any of our own elements nor outside of them. We’re nothing more than physical quantities and when that physical being dies, the individual dies as well. Nothing remains beyond that consciousness. All of our troubles begin by having this sense that there is an individual, united self. It’s only when you realize that the self does not exist and that you are living with an illusion of self that suffering comes to an end. Once we realize that the self does not exist, we find the Middle Way between asceticism and pleasure, and in that balance life ceases to hold us hostage to our attachments.
Jesus: First you told us there is no God. Then you said that when the gods come to the realization that you have they will be promoted to your state. You postulated a moral law apart from God and you asserted that each “one” or “self” owes a moral debt flowing within the inexplicable “human stream of consciousness”, and then you told us there is no “one”, no “self”. You state there is no real self on the one hand – but – the self is all one needs to find the truth. Listen to your own words: “Once we realize…. We find the middle way…. If you only knew…. You would not be…. Life ceases to hold us…..” All of this assumes personality, Gautama. Who are we talking about? This you and this she are particular individuals not to be confused with some other him or some other her. You cannot shake off the person no matter how hard you try. And it stands to reason. You cannot reconstitute reality just by changing language.
Buddhism: Everything is impermanent. I gave my disciples no word as an abiding authority as everything I have taught hangs on that statement of impermanence.
Jesus: Even that statement? Truth cannot be permanent if everything is impermanent. Here you stumble upon the truth that truth is asserted principally by words and can be tested by reason. How then do we know what is true if nothing is ever said or thought in assertions?
Buddhism: Returning to the Self, the origin and the destiny are worlds apart. We are born in debt and in life we either add to or subtract from that debt. We have offered to us the Triple Gem. The Buddha – enlightenment. The Dhamma – the teachings. And the Sangha – the community.
Jesus: The first gem, the Buddha: you personally no longer exist, nor will we. Nonexistence is the first gem. The second gem, Dhamma: Teaching can have no permanent word, no persevering truth to be guided by. All is impermanent. The third gem, the Sangha: community consists of those who believe no self exists and move towards not desiring anything, including the friendship of other.
The journey ends:
Suffering woman: I suppose neither of you can go back to my home with me?
Buddha: No, I can’t.
Jesus: I can.
(The paraphrases were from The Lotus and The Cross)
Passion fades into the Dispassionate. Attachments, all of them, fade. Attachment to Other fades. Self fades. Motion amid and among Self-Other fades and that necessarily for where there is stillness there can be no such entity as motion. No motion – no love. Finally there is Nirvana: Dispassion, stillness, motionlessness, stasis, inertness, nonentity. If the Buddha was other-focused, if he loved, if he housed attachment to other, he was not perfect, had not achieved enlightenment, had not been liberated. If the Buddha was the Buddha, had achieved enlightenment, he could not find in himself (which no longer exists) any attachment to other for all attachments are born of illusion and fade in liberation, that is to say, he could not love.
Love in Motion:
“And that, by the way, is perhaps the most important difference between Christianity and all other religions: that in Christianity God is not a static thing-not even a person-but a dynamic, pulsating activity, a life, almost a kind of drama. Almost, if you will not think me irreverent, a kind of dance. The union between the Father and the Son is such a live concrete thing that this union itself is also a Person.” (C.S. Lewis)
“God is Trinity. He is fundamentally a relationship: a lover, a beloved, and the love between them. In other words, God is a complete openness and receptivity to the other. He is love. Now, we believe we are made in the image of God. Thus, we become fully alive to the degree that we imitate God.” (wordonfire)
The above post is 1,677 words long. It is simply outrageous that after all of the comments by Tom about the style, content and excessive length of your posts that you would post a tome like this. It’s an outright slap in the face to Tom and quite insulting to the rest of us as well.
Are you really so self absorbed and clueless that you can not figure out not only how worthless a post like this is but how utterly disruptive to this blog and the flow of the dialogue here. Yes, scbrownlhrm we are all so privileged to have such a monumental intellectual talent like you here that we are all going to just stop posting and admire your great erudition and ability to post endless nonsense.
Please grow up.
Whether it’s nonsense or whether it can be parsed to make sense, scbrownlhrm, it really is disrupting the flow of discussion. Your non-conventional terminology would undoubtedly be appropriate for a journal or a reflective and contemplative website. It’s not working here, though, I’m afraid to say.
I think it’s partly because your style directs a person inward to think, rather than outward to discuss. It’s also because it’s hard to converse with a person who adopts a wholly different style and a remarkably different vocabulary, which is what you’ve done. A 1600-word comment is long but not too many standard deviations outside the norm; what makes it seem really long is that it can only be read very slowly, on account of your way of communicating. That makes it about as approachable in practice as a 4,000 or 5,000 word comment.
If you started a blog with thoughts like you’ve posted here I would enjoy reading it, for you do make me think. In this context, though, it really doesn’t fit.
So in deference to the rest of the ongoing discussion, I’m going to ask you to enter the flow of the discussion as you continue in it, or at least to refrain from using non-standard vocabulary and modes of communication.
Well, actually 1677 words would be about 17 standard deviations above the mean. For those who haven’t studied stats, 3 standard deviations is considered rather far from the average, at least in social research (physics is another matter). To get to 6 SDs is almost vanishingly rare in a normal distribution. To reach 17 never happens.
But this isn’t a normal distribution. I’m pretty sure I’ve written comments that long, and that others have, too, when we’ve gotten into long point-by-point back-and-forth discussions. So 1600 words isn’t necessarily outrageous. It has more to do with the way it fits into the discussion.
The stats above are based on a quick word count of 40 comments, selected non-randomly but also non-systematically with respect to anything that ought to influence comment length. The back end of the website makes it easy for me to go back 20 comments at a time, or any multiple of 20. I selected every 400th comment for the analysis, back a total of 40 comments. None of the long comments I’ve just described happened to “hit,” so I’m sure a more complete analysis would bring the average and the SD up quite a bit, but I’ve wasted enough time on it!
Yes, I was only trying to draw attention to what I think the assertion of legend must come up with and that is a sound, evidence based refutation of the sheer scope of what is – really – a 5000+ year seamlessness and coherence across multiple intellectual, academic, existential, and metaphysical arenas. Christ’s glaring link to Omnipotence is (IMO) a link to moral perfection and to all-power, all of which converge at the Cross, which makes a startling statement about that Omnipotence, about that All-Power. “Let Us make man in Our Image” finds equally glaring ties to that [whole set], thus spanning the 3000+ years of the OT as well as the 2000 years since. You need not surrender Omnipotence nor Perfect Love (Moral Excellence). In fact, you ought not. The presence of each in the Gospels (Genesis to Revelations) is far, far more than reasonable, and is in fact glaring, and thus utterly unique.
To speak of Moral Excellence, Perfect Love, we find in the Trinity the very sum and substance of Perfect Love, and immutably so, and such descriptive language finds a kind of loss should one tackle it with pure, feelingless logic-terms.
The only genre of this kind in planet Earth is the whole show that is the sum and substance of the ontology we find behind and within Christ.
I can read that!