“Fine. I will wait (but not hold my breath) for your blog article on what makes the Christian (particularly Catholic) mythology better than the others.”
Cool. I’ll add it to my list of things to do. (No kidding! It may take a while, but I’ll work on it.) And I’ll address your other questions now.
“You’re begging the question”
“Begging the question” assumes a common understanding by both parties of what they are each trying to maintain over against the other. I’m not at all convinced that our dialogue has reached that point of cogency and organization.
In my mind, the question was whether the way I talked about God earlier makes me sound like a non-Trinitarian Deist. My counter-argument is that Paul and St. Thomas Aquinas (archetypal Christian thinkers, certainly) were able to talk about God in very much the same way. Presumably the way to rebut this would be to try to find some relevant disanalogy between Paul and Aquinas’s situation or speech and my own.
Can you state very clearly what you think the question was and how you think I was begging it?
“St. Paul and St. Thomas Aquinas both believed in the Judeo-Christian God when they started writing.”
And so did I. So, no disanalogy there. Whatever is your point?
“They were writing to justify belief in that particular God and Jesus as the Messiah.”
That’s what they ultimately believed. It’s what I ultimately believe. It’s not what Aquinas was trying to show in the five ways, or what Paul was trying to show in Romans 1:18-21. Unless you think you can find the Trinity and Jesus Christ in the five ways, or in Romans 1:18-21?
“By the time Aquinas was writing, no one dared to consider any other god—the inquisitions were in full force at the time.”
Bracketing irrelevancies that I don’t have time to deal with, at best that would be a disanalogy for Aquinas but not for St. Paul. Presumably you’re aware that quite a few other gods enjoyed currency in Paul’s day?
“What is the difference between this Internet forum and any other?”
I don’t think you understood what I was saying.
“Restricting ‘authority’ to scripture also is a cheap way to ‘promote or retard discussion.’”
Very clearly you didn’t understand what I was saying, since I specifically contradicted the stance you attribute to me. (See below.)
“Again, you are also begging the question.”
You keep using that phrase. I don’t think it means what you think it means.
“Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think your position is that the Christian Trinity is the only god I should believe in so that I can be ‘redeemed’ for the ‘sin’ of being human.”
You are wrong. I correct you.
Among other things, God created you to be human, he likes you human, he became human himself in order to redeem all humanity, including yours. The resurrection is all about divine affirmation of human nature. We don’t become something else (angels or aliens or spaghetti monsters) in the next life, or at the eschaton. We remain gloriously human, as the risen Jesus is gloriously human.
“My position is that there are other religions and there is atheism. How can I support my position without non-scripture references?”
As noted above, you misunderstand what I said. You are most welcome to offer any arguments you want, either in your own words, or, as I indicated above, by citing arguments from competent authority (for instance, scientists commenting on science, historians commenting on history, religious scholars commenting on religion). The only thing I ask is please don’t copy and paste stock arguments that anyone can make in their own words, that don’t depend on the expertise or authority of the one speaking, and would lose nothing if you wrote them in your own words. Do me the courtesy of actually investing yourself in the arguments you would like me to invest myself in addressing.
“Begging the question yet again—isn’t Christ supposed to both human and divine? Isn’t the human death of Jesus and his resurrection the so-called ‘proof’ that humans will be resurrected if they believe He was?”
You’re looking at the question backwards.
You have to try to prescind from 2000 years of Christian history and theology, put yourself into the mindset of second Temple era Jews living under Roman domination, and think through the historical process of the development of Christian faith and praxis.
This is a very difficult thing to do. We’re always smuggling anachronistic assumptions about developed Christian theology and culture into how we think about the life of Jesus and his contemporaries.
You have to imagine people, for one thiing, who had never seen crosses on houses of worship or as symbols on necklaces—who would find such an idea horrifying and incomprehensible. A cross for these people was a despised instrument of Roman tyranny and brutality. They were something that a proper messiah would banish, not succumb to.
A messiah was an anointed leader who would unite the Jewish people, put an end to the intolerable situation of Roman domination. Perhaps he might even inaugurate the kingdom of God on earth. The kingdom of God was actually a bigger deal in Jewish thought than the messiah.
The idea of the kingdom of God was that God would visit his people, in judgment and in vindication, and all the nations of the world would see his power. The pagan nations would abandon their pagan gods and come to Jerusalem to learn the wisdom of God’s law from the children of Abraham.
That’s what the Jews were expecting: divine vindication, the end of Roman rule, the revelation of the true God to the nations. The messiah, if he were involved, would receive his father David’s throne and reign in Jerusalem, fulfilling God’s promises of old to David. If he arose before that, presumably it would be in the guise of a military leader, a royal general, again like David, who would rally the Jews against their Roman oppressors, lead them to glorious victory. (If it needs to be said: No one expected the messiah to be a divine being, or God made flesh. The Jews did expect God to visit his people in some sense, but this wasn’t connected with the messianic hope.)
Either way, a messiah was, politically speaking, a rebel, an offender against Roman rule. Other would-be messiahs had risen now and again around the time of Jesus, and led revolts against the Romans. Rome had a standard way of dealing with them: crucifixion. (This was specifically the punishment for sedition, not for other crimes. The two “thieves” crucified with Jesus would have been bandit rebels, robbing to fund their subversive activities.)
When a would-be messiah was crucified, that was the end of his messianic aspirations. He was a failure. At this point, one of two things happened: Either his followers would simply disband, or perhaps some other would-be messiah would arise to lead his followers in his place (perhaps a family member, like a brother).
Nobody among Jesus’ contemporaries expected a messiah to rise from the dead, any more than they expected a messiah to be crucified. Resurrection wasn’t something they thought about that way. It was an eschatological hope for the future, nothing more. It wasn’t even that prominent in Jewish thought. Certainly it wasn’t supposed to happen to one person to start out with. It was all the dead rising at the end of the age.
The crucifixion of Jesus posed the greatest possible challenge to his followers’ messianic hope. When the New Testament describes his followers after the day of his crucifixion cowering behind locked doors, that is an utterly plausible picture historically.
The idea of Jesus’ spirit surviving death in some fashion would not have changed this. The New Testament suggests, indeed, that early encounters with Jesus after the crucifixion were initially taken as ghostly appearances. This would not have changed anything. The spirit of a dead messiah appearing to his people would not have perpetuated the messiah-cult.
The idea that Jesus had, instead, been resurrected initially would have been an even greater shock and challenge than the idea of his crucifixion. People had heard of crucified (i.e., failed) messiahs before; no one had ever heard of or imagined a resurrected one. No one had ever heard of anyone being resurrected, in the strict sense of the word: raised to glorified immortal life, according to the eschatological hope of the Jewish people. It was a totally unprecedented concept.
Eventually, Christians thinking through these experiences were able to formulate an entirely new way of thinking about crucifixion and resurrection. They came up with a brand-new and profoundly startling vocabulary of the cross—it was now something to be, in some previously incomprehensible sense, embraced—but only because the bitter pill of their leader’s actual crucifixion had been forced upon them. Not in a million years would they have invented such a story for themselves.
“Without the idea of resurrection/reincarnation, no cult works.”
See, the very fact that you equate or parallel resurrection and reincarnation in the same breath like that, as if they were interchangeable concepts, suggests a profound misunderstanding of the 2nd Temple Jewish mindset in which Christianity first took shape. The Jewish people had been believing in resurrection for centuries before Jesus came on the scene; they didn’t need a demonstration to convince them it was possible.