Hiddeness of god Part 2
This entails that God apparently is not as interested in us knowing he exists as he is us knowing him on a personal level. Mere knowledge of his existence does not necessarily garauntee our humble love relationship with God (even "the demons believe - and tremble").
Why, exactly, does a trans-cosmic superduperbeing so incredibly vast, powerful, etc. etc. that he can create tens of billions of galaxies full of stars and planets on a whim, need humility and subservience from us? What could any number of human slaves possibly offer such a being? It is very easy to see why an iron age king, a 19th Century Confederate plantation owner, or a modern dictator would need lots and lots of obedient minions. Having such minions gives them wealth and power they could not have otherwise. The Iron Age king could never build palaces and temples and giant statues of himself without them. The 19th Century slaveowner could never harvest all that cotton himself, or maintain his palatial home and lavish standard of living with only his own strength and effort. The modern dictator could not have his war machine without millions of obedient citizens to provide the tanks and the soldiers to man them.
So what does God need, that humble, unconditionally obedient human slaves can provide for him? If he is really as powerful as his propaganda claims, what can a few puny humans offer him that he needs so badly
he'll torture them forever
if he doesn't get it?
Secondly, the biblical record shows that big flashy "special effects" miracles such as sea-partings only go so far in promoting relationship God desires. Miracles, in fact, are rare in biblical history and tend to come in clusters in association with specific revelation for crucial periods.
This is the common "one-off premise" Christians assume with regard to miracles. It goes something like this: "If God were to heal an amputee, you'd all just say, 'Meh. That's just an anomaly. Who knows what caused it?' So God doesn't heal amputees because he knows you guys would disbelieve anyway." And it's true. It's very difficult to establish the existence of any phenomenon on the basis of a single, one-off event. The same principle applies to one really good UFO photograph or one really baffling NDE or poltergeist account. When scientists set out to understand reality, they look for patterns
--repeated or repeatable events that make it possible to discover a generalized operating principle of Universe. A one-off "WTF?!?!" anomaly like fish raining from the sky or claims that thousands of people saw the sun swoop around the sky at Lourdes doesn't really offer the prospect of learning anything new about reality, except perhaps, that sometimes weird stuff happens, or at least seems to.
However, if God existed and behaved in any non-random manner, then a generalized operating principle could be discovered that required and included his existence. Take James 5:16:
Confess [your] faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.
This is from a letter to a church, so it's not something that only applies to Jesus' disciples. Now, if such prayer really did "availeth much," and it only worked for the "righteous" (e.g. non-heretical Christians who are "right with God") then there would be a definite statistical correlation between anomalous healings/cures and devout practice of a certain brand of Christianity. This, in turn, would indicate that these Christians were on the right track regarding their understanding of God. If intense prayer in a collective setting worked about equally well for all religions (e.g. the prayer of a Hindu sage, Muslim Imam, etc. "availeth much" as well as that of the Elders of a devout Christian church) then we might explain it differently--say, in terms of a God that embraces all religions, as each "different deity" is just one of his/her masks, or in terms of psi powers inherent in the human being. If intense prayer in a collective setting does not
"availeth" anything noticeable for anybody, regardless of religion (as seems to be the case), then the generalized operating principle would appear to be that there are no gods or other Mysterious Forces that respond to prayer.
But Jesus said that even if someone "comes back from the dead" there will be those who will not believe.
Again, you're talking about a one-off here, namely the idea of one guy (the "rich man" of the parable) making an apparition to his brothers. But what if necromancy worked? What if anybody could get a ouija board, meditate a little, and watch the planchette float across from letter to letter spelling out communications from the dead? Obviously, if whenever the user sought a non-Christian (or a heretical Christian), and the messages consistently came out something like, "Oooooh, it hurts, it hurts! Please, if you value your soul, listen to [members of the "right" Christian sect]!" people would
believe in that brand of Christianity. Especially if they could also consult the dear departed and devout pastor of ["right" Christian sect's church] and hear him describe the bliss of Heaven, the wonderful conversation he had with the Apostle Paul yesterday, and so on.
People would derive generalized operating principles of the afterlife. It would be obvious who among the dead were joyous, and who were in torment. Maybe you'd have a few liars, people in Hell trying to trick humans to their doom out of spite, but then they'd
be the odd one-offs that no one would take seriously.
And the Pharisees could not refute Christ's goodness and miracles, they just rationalized that they were "of the Devil".
Again, this is something of a one-off: one guy who can (supposedly) work astounding miracles. Except that there were other examples--they just did not follow a pattern (i.e. only "true followers of Jesus" can work miracles). The other miracle-working godmen the Pharisees would have been familiar with included Pagan Greek sages like Apollonius of Tyana (an alleged contemporary of Jesus), Simon Magus, or legendary miracle-workers like Orpheus, Dionysus, Bacchus, Pythagoras, Hermes Tresmagistus, Pharaoh Nectanebo, or the Egyptian magician Djedi whose feats included the ability to resurrect a goose after reattaching its severed head.1
Given the company Jesus was in (following in the footsteps of legendary Pagan wonder-workers) and his non-standard teachings (e.g. repealing the Sabbath Law, which was so serious for Moses that picking up sticks on a Saturday was a capital offense enforced by stoning to death), the idea that he might be a deceptive magician actually made sense. Let's say you started hearing stories of a young woman who went around working miracles claiming to be the Only Begotten Daughter of God, and teaching new ideas that contradicted your church's concept of orthodoxy (Say, she said something like "Truly I say unto you, God is too big a target to miss, and His love is too powerful to fail! Just as He could not fit within Solomon's Temple, neither can She fit within only the Christian Church; but indeed, God will meet you wherever you turn, for God will wear whatever mask you need to see. Look under a rock and you shall find Him; chop wood, and there She is."). No matter what miracles she worked, you would reject her, perhaps even cheer as the forces of orthodoxy killed her. Rumors that she rose from the dead afterward would likely prove unpersuasive.
However, an ongoing pattern
--the ability of believers in religion X to generate a consistent effect that believers in other religions could not produce--such as a statistically-measurable correlation between prayers for healing when the procedures outlined in the Book of James were followed--would provide compelling support for that religion's claims.
Furthermore, it should be noted that there are considerable problems with the notion that Jesus' miracles (or those of Apollonius of Tyana, et. al.) actually happened as literal historical events. Just taking the "Feeding of the 5,000" as an example, that miracle alone would have produced thousands of eyewitnesses who would have excitedly told their tale to anyone who would listen, passed it down to the grandkids, etc. The Gospel of John claims that Jesus worked so many miracles that "the whole world could not contain the books" needed to record them (John 21:25). Consider the fact that Roman Judea sat on the strategic crossroads and trade routes linking Europe, Asia, and Africa. Thousands of literate people lived there at the time. It was right next door to the greatest center of learning and inquiry in the world at the time--Alexandria, Egypt. Alexandria also had a large and prosperous Jewish community responsible for the translation and preservation of the Septuagint (the translation into Greek of the Hebrew Bible). Philo of Alexandria was a noted writer living in the time Jesus was supposed to have lived and worked his miracles, and he wrote about other events and religious/spiritual developments taking place in Judea at the time.
If there was really a wonder-working God-man performing astounding feats like feeding thousands from a lunchbox, controlling weather, healing people by the thousands and so on, it would have been the most noteworthy and important thing going on in the world at the time. Accounts by Christian and non-Christian sources would have been ubiquitous. The Roman Empire would have needed to produce an "official spin" and distribute it widely in hopes of dispelling the notion that the Jewish Messiah had arrived.2
The Jewish and Herodian elite would have had to produce and distribute a rebuttal ("he's a Satanic magician!"). Any efforts at censorship and suppression of the Jesus movment would have been reported by writers like Josephus, and perhaps bragged about in Roman monuments and inscriptions ("And Pilate put down the insurrection of the diabolical Jewish magician Yeshua in the days of Tiberius Caesar, upholding the strength of Roma Aeterna."). To use words attribtued to Jesus, "A city on a hill cannot be hidden." All those thousands and thousands of eyewitnesses--traders and pilgrims and seekers of wonder from all over the known world (see the Pentacost narrative in the Book of Acts) would have returned to their homes with tales of the great Jewish God-man. Even if they ended up being wildly distorted and exaggerated, they would provide lots of corroborating testimony to the historicity of Jesus. Wherever Christian missionaries went, they would have found Jesus-cults founded by eyewitnesses to miracles, or people who heard the stories fourth-hand.
Instead, we have a deafening silence punctuated only by a bad forgery (the "Testimonium Flavium") and responses to Christian belief after it had already become popular. "But no Jesus movement would have ever arisen if not for a real, miracle-working Christ!" Not so. Mithraism, a Mystery Religion centered on a mythical Persian3
God-man (whose "biography" matches that of "Jesus" in several important details) rose to great prominence in the Roman Empire in the Third Century, receiving the patronage of several Roman Emperors, just as Christianity would a century later.
More To Come...
1. After demonstrating this feat at the command of Pharaoh Khufu (the one who had the Great Pyramid built), Djedi courageously refused to perform it with a human slave--having one's head chopped off would surely be a traumatic experience even if the sage could restore him or her to life!
2. There were Jewish communities in important cities throughout the Roman Empire. A widespread Jewish insurrection including "terrorist" acts (or "guerrilla resistance" if you prefer) in Judea and these communities would have presented considerable problems for the Empire.
3. It should be noted that at the time of Mithraism's rise to popularity, Persia was an enemy of the Roman Empire, just as the Jews were during the rise of Christianity. In other words, the "unlikelihood" of the rise of Christianity is equalled by the "unlikelihood" of the rise of Mithraism, yet no one asserts this as proof of a real, historical Mithras.