I’ve mentioned before that I spent a large portion of my younger years reading about religion and theism, trying to find answers for myself. One particular part of this that I want to write about is all the time I spent looking into claims about Christianity in particular, and the things I found out. While it would take too long to go into all of this search, parts of it are relevant to the issue of why I currently believe that Jesus probably existed, and thus it would be good to write about those before I start the upcoming course on the subject.
The reason Christianity was a particular issue in my search for the truth was, of course, because I lived in a nominally Christian country. This meant that, when I browsed the religious section of the library shelves, I came across a lot of books telling me all the reasons why Christianity was obviously true. (The apostles wouldn’t have died for a lie! Jesus obviously wasn’t crazy or lying, so the only other option is that he really was the Messiah! The Jewish authorities would have just showed everyone Jesus’s body if he really was still in the tomb, so the fact that they didn’t do that proves he really had risen from the grave! Etc. You probably know the kind of thing.) I was young, and inexperienced in the ways of analysing arguments, and had no idea how to start coming up with answers to these. They sounded scarily convincing.
I say ‘scarily’ because I found (and find) the basic Christian theology horrifying. According to what Christianity taught (although the kinds of books I came across in the public library did gloss over this somewhat), everyone who wasn’t a Christian was going to end up burning in hell forever, just for not being the right religion. And this was how God saw fit to organise things. Because, again according to Christianity, God saw all of us as hopeless sinners no matter how many good things we’d done, fit only to burn in hell unless we escaped this by having the good luck to be the right religion. And people claimed that this setup was a sign of how forgiving God was, and that our response should be to love and worship him. However was I supposed to make any sense out of that?
To see the fallacy of those arguments, I didn’t need to look any further than my own father. Since he was a non-Christian, if what Christians believed was right then he was one of the people destined for an eternity in Hell. Now, I might not be sure of anything else related to religion or God’s existence, but I certainly was sure that this sweet, gentle, wise, witty, lovely man did not belong in any sort of a hell, much less an eternal one. So, when Christianity tried to tell me that God had arranged the universe in such a way that that was where my father was destined to end up, I knew that either our universe was in the charge of a seriously psychopathic and horrifying God, or else Christianity was wrong.
It was the former of those two possibilities that had me worried.
However, I did have one ray of hope in all this, and that was that Judaism believed Christianity to be wrong. Jews had rejected Jesus as the Messiah. While this fact seemed to get dismissed by Christians as being just a sign of how sinful, or stubborn, or set in their ways, or whatever, the Jews were, it seemed to me that it shouldn’t be brushed aside that easily.
After all, the Jews were surely the experts on the matter; they were the ones who came up with (or were given, depending on how you looked at it) the Biblical prophecies and the concept of a Messiah in the first place. What was more, everything I read on the subject said that the Jews desperately wanted the Messiah to arrive. They hoped for him. They prayed for him. They would, from all I could find out, be overjoyed to have him show up – which meant, by implication, that they would have been overjoyed if Jesus really had been the Messiah. So, when they decided that he wasn’t… surely they must have had a good reason for doing so?
I decided I had to find out what was required, according to Judaism, to qualify as the Messiah. Otherwise, how could I possibly judge whether Jesus really was?
To be continued…