Jesus Without Miracles and The Rational Problems of Rejectionist Philosophies

Blogger Joe Geisner once reported on a book he was reading called The Life of Jesus. The author, Heinrich Paulus, reviews the miracles of Jesus in a ‘scholarly study’ (Joe’s words not mine) and addresses non-miraculous means for each of them:

In this book Paulus tries to explain the miracles from a natural point of view. When it comes to the loaves of bread and fish Paulus points out that Jesus has the disciples organize the congregation into small groups and also has the disciples get him the fish and loaves, when the people see this they realized it was time to eat and opened up their own baskets of food. By doing this there was plenty of food with baskets of food left over.

For the walking on water Paulus writes that because of the storm and it being night it caused the disciples not to realize that they had not travel much off shore. Jesus really walked in ankle deep water and Peter didn’t realize that they were in such shallow water, he panicked and Jesus had to lift him up so that he could get his composure.

The raising of the dead is much more complicated but he comes from a medical point of view for the time. What is interesting is Paulus also makes an argument for the rising of Jesus from the dead as being a explainable natural occurrence. There actually is accounts from antiquity of people surviving the crucifixion though the Romans thought they were dead.

This quote explains well my main concern with Rejectionist philosophies. Think about all the miracles in the New Testament subscribed to Jesus and then think about ‘natural explanations’ for each of them. Then here is my question for you. Just how rational is Paulus’ point of view?

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The Improbable versus the Even More Improbable: The Existence of Jesus

Another reprint from Mormon Matters. The following article, despite appearances, is not about whether or not Jesus existed. I accept that He did exist as an article of faith. This article is actually about a certain flawed way of thinking that we all sometimes fall into. As such, I admit up front that I know next to nothing about the historicity of Jesus. If you think you’re going to learn a lot about this subject by reading my post, you’re wrong. All that I know on this subject I got off Wikipedia from this article. Go read it yourself and draw your own conclusions. Maybe someday I’ll get serious about the historicity of Jesus and actually make a real attempt to study it. But in the mean time, bear in mind that this article has nothing to do with whether or not Jesus existed.

Not long ago I came across someone on the internet on Yahoo Answers asking for evidence that Jesus even existed. Several decent answers were posted pointing to the non-Biblical sources that refer to, or seem to refer to, Jesus. These are:

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John Cage Music and Rejectionism

If there is one thing my lampooning of Conan taught me, it’s that people can turn anything into a religion and can feel persecute over the mere expression of different tastes.

Therefore, let me lead with this disclaimer. I have never heard John Cage music in my life. I have no opinion of his music. I bear him no ill will whatsoever. My only interest in his music is that I was reading a book by Douglas Hofstadter (one of my favorite authors) and came across this passage about John Cage music.

A Cage piece has to be taken in a larger cultural setting – as a revolt against certain kinds of traditions. Thus, if we want to transmit the meaning [of the music to a hypothetical alien culture], we must not only send the notes of the piece, but we must have earlier communicated an extensive history of Western culture. It is fair to say, then, that an isolated record of John Cage’s music does not have an intrinsic meaning. However, for a listener who is sufficiently well versed in Western and Eastern cultures, particularly in the trends in Western music over the last few decades, it does carry meaning – but such a listener is like a jukebox, and the piece is like a pair of buttons. The meaning is mostly contained inside the listener to begin with; the music serves only to trigger it. And this “jukebox”, unlike pure intelligence, is not at all universal; it is highly earthbound, depending on idiosyncratic sequences of events all over our globe for long periods of time.

On the other hand, to appreciate Bach requires far less cultural knowledge. This may seem like high irony, for Bach is so much more complex and organized, and Cage is so devoid of intellectuality. But there is a strange reversal here: intelligence loves patterns and balks at randomness. For most people, the randomness in Cage’s music requires much explanation; and even after explanations, they may feel they are missing the message…. In that sense, Bach’s music is more self-contained than Cage’s music. (Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid, p. 174-175)

If Hofstadter is right, then John Cage’s music is a sort of Rejectionism. It’s ‘meaning’ exists relative to the (more) intrinsic meaning in someone like Bach. If Bach were to disappear (and all other composers) John Cage’s music would lose it’s meaning too.

This is what Rejectionism is like in all intellectual or theological schools. It is not devoid of value or meaning, but owes it’s value and meaning in relation to someone else and does not exist as a stand alone point of view.

The Book of Mormon: Would You Regularly Study Inspired Fiction?

The post below is a reprint from Mormon Matters. The discussion that followed was intriguing. Most of the posters that no longer believed in the historicity of the Book of Mormon openly admitted that when the Book of Mormon lost it’s historicity for them, it also lost it’s value as scripture worthy of study. There was at least one notable exception of someone that still studied it as scripture regularly, if perhaps a reduced level overall, though he admitted that he felt the same way about the Bible as well. Also intriguing was John Hamer’s concerns that the wording was biased because the word ‘fiction’ might be a loaded term. I had not intended it to be so, but I compromised by adding a ‘revised wording’ version at the bottom.

I’m intrigued by those on the bloggernacle that see The Book of Mormon as fiction but inspired by God. It’s common to hear someone that holds that belief say that it doesn’t really matter if The Book of Mormon is historical or not.

In the past, Clay asked me if I thought that someone who believes The Book of Mormon to be fiction lost their salvation. My answer was, no, I do not believe such a belief causes a person to lose salvation in and of itself. [12/22/2010: At this point in time, I had not admitted to people that I was just shy of a universalist.] DougG asked me if I believe people that believed the Book of Mormon was inspired but not historical should be rooted out of the Church. My answer to that question was, no they shouldn’t be.

Both of these questions made me think of some counter questions for those that believe The Book of Mormon is inspired of God but just a work of fiction:

  • Do you still study The Book of Mormon as a guide to your life on a regular basis?
  • Do you still prayerfully seek for truths in The Book of Mormon to apply into your life?
  • Did you do any of the above types of study when you thought The Book of Mormon was also historical?
  • Do you limit your study of The Book of Mormon to only finding 19th century patterns now or are you open to finding unique eternal truths there for our day?
  • Do you limit your study of The Book of Mormon to only what you need to do to fulfill a calling? (Like say preparing for lessons.)
  • Did coming to believe The Book of Mormon was only inspired fiction cause you to reduce your efforts to study it in any way?

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Re-evaluating LDS Myths about Reorganized Latter Day Saints

A long time ago, I remember reading this post by John Hamer about the myths LDS people hold about the RLDS (Now the Community of Christ.) At the time, the Bloggernacle hailed this post as groundbreaking. Though I had some limited awareness that the LDS Church didn’t do a very good job of disentangling fact and myth about the RLDS, I also had some misgivings about the veracity of a few of Hamer’s points. 

Recently FireTag, who is a Believing member of the Community of Christ, wrote this article on the Community of Christ’s recent choice to join the NCC (National Council of the Churches of Christ) expressing at least some level of concern over their move away from their Joseph Smith Jr. and restorationist roots. Interestingly John Hamer has responded to the post defending the CoC’s move.

The RLDS made a move to try to simultaneously embrace both Conservative and Liberal view points within their Church and here we have two great representatives of both of those view points. This gives us a unique chance to see two perspectives on the same issue — both from within the CoC — and thereby tease out truth, myth, and apologetics. Based on this further information, I am going to reassess Hamer’s original “myths” in light of a fuller knowledge.

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