53 thoughts on “Is Christianity trustworthy?”

  1. I guess I’d ask what is Christianity first. Is it that Jesus rose from the dead? If so, then I’d say it is trustworthy to the degree that a person can, in their own minds, establish this fact to their own satisfaction using written accounts made roughly 2000 years ago.
    If on the other hand Christianity is seen as a direct personal encounter with the risen Jesus as some claim it to be (a spiritual event) then that’d be pretty difficult for the person in question to deny I suppose.
    Note this being entirely different from original Christianity. The first responders, as it were, had no need for accounts or spiritual happenings. Supposedly they observed the real thing.

    1. Thanks, Chris! I like the first paragraph: well put. To my mind, the first observers have passed on their observations, direct, one step, two steps removed, for our benefit, 30 years later, 60 years, 100 years, 1000 years, 2000 years later…

      1. But then again – if you see it thus, then why not look at the teachings of the Prophet Mohammed, Buddha and all these charismatic individuals from the distant (!!) past who said/claimed many glorious utterances?? Why focus on Christianity as the ultimate truth?? Your choice, but that in itself doesn’t provide a shred of proof/evidence. It comes back to Michelle often writing “I think…”, and that’s the point! No-one can be sure, and as an agnostic I’m sure as hell not going to ‘throw my lot’ into believing in something which neither I nor any other latter day human being can every show irrefutable evidence for. And here I’ve flogged this horse for the millionth time! :-)!

        1. Why Christianity? Because we have a record of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and these events were physically witnessed. Mohammed had spiritual experiences, yet, interestingly, was never perceived in the same light as Christ. Muslims are anticipating Jesus to come again at the end of the world, in the same way as Christians are, (and in the same way the Jews are anticipating their Messiah), rather than anticipating Mohammed. Buddha? A charismatic human, for sure, but he died, as we all die: he was human. Christ, on the other hand, was witnessed alive again.

          An eyewitness account is evidence, by definition. The resurrection was given as the quintessential sign of God.

          Why focus on Christianity as the ultimate truth? Because I think a person who was capable in character and act of doing what Jesus did shows more authority in defining truth than you or I do. My choice? No. I don’t believe something to be true on the basis of personal preference: I believe it is true because I believe it is truth. Truth is more important to me than preference.

          Why do I use ‘I think’? Out of respect for you, Zack: I am addressing agnostics. If I was addressing a Christian, ‘I think’ would become redundant. There’s not much use saying ‘I know’ or ‘This is the absolute Truth’ to someone who is not buying in to the same worldview, so ‘I think’ is a way to meet in the middle.

          No one can be sure? It depends what you mean by ‘sure’. Faith is the experience of certainty in something which is believed to be true. Belief means there is not 100% certainty, granted: but this also applies to other areas, in science, apart from religious belief or faith.

          You’re not going to throw your lot into believing something without irrefutable evidence? I feel a discussion about the Theory of Evolution coming on… 🙂

          1. Oh Michelle…. Re your first paragraph – we (you) have a record of the life of a Jesus Christ, as witnessed…..BY WHOM?? Apologies for the upper case, yet it’ll never cease to amaze me how you can simply accept as ‘evidence’ the so-called accounts of some strangers from a distant past. Michelle, WHO were these people who witnessed these so-called events and how, by what authority, can you accept this?? How credible are these individuals and subsequently their word/s re what supposedly happened?? Faith? OK, and I’d have no argument there. But with your play with words above you still maintain a truth as YOU see it. With respect, how sure can you ever be? Or anyone, for that matter.
            Michelle, I’ve traveled to many places in my life. Let me thumb suck and say – Ho Chi Minh City. You’ve never been there, right? (hypothetically speaking you haven’t). I then tell you about the wonderful things I saw and experienced there, and it leaves you spellbound! You then tell your husband what I experienced (verbal!); he tells his best mate, who tells his wife, who tells her yoga teacher, who tells her sister, who tells her friend at the local deli, etc…… You see what I’m getting at?? I’ll bet you – merely the 20th person down the line who heard my original story of HCM City would hear a totally different story. Why? Human nature; susceptible to sensationalism. We talk cow dung today; why not 2000 years ago?? There’re just……too many questions re happenings in any distant past for me/us here in 2016 to simply…..believe.
            Chris?? No sitting diplomatically on the fence! Tell us the way I know you would like to. Don’t worry – Michelle is a very nice lady. She won’t bite your head off! ;-)!

          2. Zack: the eyewitness record is by whom? What do the documents say? How is the authorship handled by the church that has passed on the documents? Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Matthew is considered to be the disciple of Jesus. Mark is considered to be the companion of Peter. Luke is considered to be the Greek Physician friend of Paul. And John is considered to be the disciple. If this is the case, both Matthew and John are themselves direct eyewitnesses.

            I don’t simply accept as evidence: I have reasons for continuing to consider the documents were written by those put to them. Why would you assume I just simply accept? 🙂 By what authority? By the authority of documentary evidence. I’m about to enter into a book about this by Craig Blomberg, because I do consider this is where the money is wrt Christianity: ‘The Historical Reliability of the Gospels’. There are many other reasons to believe in God, but the foundation of Christianity is the eyewitness experience of Christ, passed on for 2000 years.

            How credible are the individuals? These are important questions to ask.

            For an agnostic, of course ‘faith’ doesn’t answer the question of reliability: it doesn’t provide an entry point. From my point of view, it is the experience of Christ, passed on, that does provide the entry point into Christianity. And so, the valid question: are the Gospel accounts reliable? That to me is the nitty gritty.

            Truth as I see it? If many people have seen a reality, does my opinion define that reality, or does theirs? Evidence is evidence. If something actually happened, my opinion, and your opinion, actually has nothing to do with it. What matters is whether people saw it. If it happened, it happened.

            I like the analogy of Ho Chi Minh City. Let’s run with that. No, I’ve never been, and never heard of. You could tell of the wonderful things you have seen there. First question: would you lie about this? Would you perpetuate a lie, on and on and on? Why? And what if telling a lie about the city would put your life in danger? Now, suppose for some reason you did want to create fiction, and present it as history: you are one witness. What say there are two? What say there are five? Twelve? What say some of them didn’t believe HCMC existed, and then they saw for themselves, told everyone about it, because it really was a wondrous place, went to different countries spreading the word, and then wound up getting killed for it? (This is Thomas). What say there were five hundred people who saw the city?

            Now, what say this account was written down. The direct witnesses died. The written account, some by direct witnesses, some by indirect, was passed on from generation to generation, until 2000 years have passed?

            I read what you have written about HCMC. How do I approach it? As if no one else has read it but me, 2000 years later? As if you were the only witness? Sure, if this was the case, I might not know: I get that. But that is not the case. Billions of people carry this account of HCMC – it’s been passed on, from generation to generation. It’s not a spiritual experience that has been passed on: it is a physical experience, from multiple people. Untrue?

            Now, approaching your arguments from the other side of the coin. If you are asserting a negative, on what basis? The church is asserting the above authorship: I have answered your question. Now, answer mine: who do you think wrote the documents, and why do you think this? Do you have any evidence to support your alternative approach to authorship? Do you have any evidence to refute the church’s claim to authorship? This is the nitty gritty: otherwise you are simply expressing a belief. Faith? Yes. You have faith in your own opinion against, but faith based in what? That is my genuine question.

            You assert that I am simply accepting evidence: but are you not simply accepting your own opinion as being Gospel, requiring not even any evidence at all? The questions are valid: that’s why I have created this post, and that’s why I’m going to look into them more. But an assumed negative? On what basis?

            As to the reliability of a message being passed on and on: again, this is a valid question. Interestingly, there is a lot of evidence to support reliability of transmission of the message. Do you have evidence to the contrary? Paul is important here: ‘I passed on to you what I received of most importance: that Christ died…that he was buried…and that, on the third day, he rose again.’ Paul’s receiving of this view can be dated back to within two years of the actual life of Christ. The message was not sensationalized: it was kept in its original form. Paul died passing it on.

            2000 years later, we might come up with alternative versions and explanations, and believe them to be equally authoritative: I say, no – the authority resides with those who saw for themselves, and those closest to the events and witnesses. The fact they were willing to die for their testimony reinforces my view that their accounts are trustworthy.

            If you were willing to die in your testimony of HCMC, and had others around you who also had seen it, and had already died passing the reality of it on, I would believe you too.

  2. A comparable example (to our time) is how we, in 2016 , view the death of JFK <– roughly same time difference from AD 33 to the writing of the gospels.
    For one I wasn't born. On the other hand my father stated that he heard it first-hand on the radio.

    1. For me, the comparison is the death of my own father: 33 years ago. I was alive. My daughter was not. Will she believe what I say of it?

      1. You may tell your daughter the truth about your father, or you may lie. How will your daughter know, for sure??!! Your words and thoughts about your father are your own – subjective.

        1. That is my point, too. How would my daughter know? She would know through her knowledge of my character. My words and thoughts may be subjective, but experience is experience. In concluding subjectivity in a representation, does that mean the entire representation is, in fact, false? Or a deliberate deception? I think it takes more to conclude this. Why would I lie about my father? For example. In the case of an asserted resurrection (suppose I started saying that I had seen him alive again, shortly after he died), can this really be put down to ‘subjectivity’? I don’t think so. Sure, other possibilities are worth testing: a hallucination, for example. But hallucinations don’t tend to affect more than one person at once. So, then: how to explain the accounts in the New Testament?

    2. Paul’s writings are twenty years later: that takes us back to 1996. And then he refers to a time likely within two years: that takes us back to 2014. I don’t know about you, but the 80’s feel like just yesterday…what is that? Oh, yes: thirty plus years ago. The time Mark was proposed to be written, after Christ. That someone would want to write it down thirty years later really resonates with me, as a writer. Would they suddenly get the details wrong, after a mere thirty years? Details like whether or not Jesus was physically seen alive again? I think not.

      1. Guys c’mon! :-)! Comparing JFK’s assassination to Christs so-called death and resurrection is silly! Why? JFK died during a time when history could be recorded, TRULY recorded, with video feeds, TV interviews, etc to the nth degree. 2 millennia ago when goodness knows how many folk were literate AND which was soooooo long ago, well, you’ll forgive my grave doubts. The time of Ghengis Khan too: apparently recorded history, yet his blood thirsty life was ages ago! Too hazy to be taken as the gospel truth (< a pun somewhere??…). But Christ?? No, we (Michelle and co.) believe this to have happened; no questions asked! Wow!…

        1. So you are saying you wouldn’t believe JFK existed and was assassinated if you had merely heard this from a previous generation, passed on verbally or through writing? In other words, you would only trust a video account to determine history? Rather than believe verbal or written communication, you would, instead, conclude that JFK was a myth? To do this is to say that all the other information put forward is lies. Why would your view be more authoritative than those who saw the events for themselves, and their accounts? People say ‘2000 years,’ but the entire point is that it wasn’t 2000 years in the recording: it was 30 years. And, in the case of Paul, it was, in essence, 2 years. If someone 2000 years after JFK picked up multiple written records (not a visual one) of what took place, would they believe it was a piece of history? That is the entire question.

          1. This JFK comparison is interesting. Well, ever since his dreadful assassination, we (the sheep) have been led to believe that it was Lee Harvey Oswald and LHO alone who pulled the trigger. A lone fanatic who had ties to the Soviets and who was anti-establishment. In the past few years it is coming to light that there was (still is!) a massive coverup by the US government at the time and perpetuated by the successive Administrations. Only now is the truth coming out that there were multiple shooters and that LHO was a convenient scapegoat for the ‘powers that be’. The point here??: who-is-to-say 2000 years ago when a certain miracle was supposed to occur that the real facts were also distorted for whatever conniving reasons then?? Michelle, my take on Christ?? I reckon/think/speculate that this man did indeed exist, that he was highly charismatic, a genuine and benevolent good guy who tried to help others who were downtrodden and was subsequently punished by the authorities because he was becoming a perceived danger to them, for myriad reasons. Does that make him…..God?!

              1. So the thing is – Mohatma Ghandi and Mother Teresa were 2 other examples of exemplary human beings who loved their fellow man and who devoted their lives to helping others (in a nutshell). Wonderful and caring people they were. Does that make them a God?

            1. I acknowledge that I have no real knowledge wrt the shooter and the motivations behind the shooting of JFK. Like many things, these details are beyond my capacity for certainty. But I think we both agree that he was a real man, and that he was shot. These details are certain. Does the uncertainty of the first lead to the uncertainty of the second?

              I appreciate your acknowledgement re the person of Jesus: these comments are certainly after my own heart. Yes, when I read his words, they certainly do represent a person who has very strong character, and willing to die for humanity, according to what he believes to be true. But there is also a difference. Jesus was not presenting humanism, as often he is represented: he was representing theism – a relationship and faith in God. And, more than this, he was claiming a unique connection with this God.

              Was this true? Did he have a unique connection with God that meant we could look to him as a spiritual older brother, closer to the big guy than we are, and who can tell us about him?

              1. You’re asking many questions Michelle. Many are theoretical; to be pondered over. Comes back to my original assertion, that 50/50 is too hazy for a sound belief. What you write above is what he (Christ) said. True, or was it tongue in cheek?? I’m not going to categorically believe in something because it ‘might’ have happened. Too much of a gamble.

                1. And what if the New Testament accounts were actually real, Zack? What would this mean for you? Repeated eye witness testimonies do away with ’50:50,’ by definition. 2000 years later a person may feel sceptical, but their scepticism itself is 50:50, is it not? Better to rely upon those who saw, I’d suggest.

      2. Michelle, I often cannot remember what happened last week, let alone 3 decades ago. Some memories are still with me, some are gone and most are hazy.

          1. Sure I would. But then my telling of it – would you believe me? Why?? You don’t know me (haven’t met me), so why would you assume I’m telling you the truth? Your comeback (I bet! ;-)!) is why would I lie? True. But then I know I’m telling the truth; however can anyone else be sure? Really sure?? Your ‘argument’ (?) Michelle is – why would I lie? Mine is: why wouldn’t I (or anyone) lie? So, with such UNcertainty it comes back to me being amazed how either the theist or the atheist claim(s) what they do. I suspect individual emotions are at play, for whatever readons.

            1. That’s all very well, Zack, but the difficulty I have with this approach is that no one lives this way in any other sphere than religion. Why apply a different standard when it comes to Christ to all other spheres in life? Are all people liars until they are proved to be telling the truth? Whatever happened to ‘Innocent until proven guilty’? It’s a valid question to raise: were they lying? But shouldn’t one then pursue an answer to the question? Unless one would rather the question be left unanswered. Is that the case here? If a person would like to test the alternative hypotheses to explain the existence of the gospels, they may. But asking the question is not in itself the answer: it is only the beginning of a true exploration.

  3. 🙂 Just comparing it for the timeline, Zack! Point taken about the rest of your comment. I was just y’know, just thinking it through: ersonally I can’t recall the event (literally impossible) … so I need to get it second hand. On the other hand many others do. And true, there was that terrible movie footage of it …

    1. It’s a good parallel to use. People assert a degree of uncertainty that doesn’t apply in other general experiences in life of history, when it comes to big events.

  4. I see at least three theoretical points of conflict. 1/ the taking in of the raw data as an observer, 2/ the transmission of this information to others even one step removed who weren’t there (my JFK analogy), and 3/ the transmission of this information down to us folk today (2000+ years).

  5. … few more thoughts. It seems the *content* of the phenomena will matter as well. JFK dying – well that’s a perfectly natural occurrence if the means of it were not quite regular. The proposition of someone seeing, say, aliens is not quite the same (though admittedly still ‘natural’.) The proposition of someone witnessing to the literally miraculous (supernatural) seems to matter somehow. It has to bring into question issues of trust, surely … because the miraculous by definition has one in a gazillion odds of occurring.

    1. Yes, I get that. A person would need greater assurance of the reality of the resurrection of Christ than the life and death of Christ. Part of the reason for this, though, is in the worldview of the reader. If there was a resurrection, and the reader has a pre-existing framework that precludes it, what then? This is the stuff of science, as well. What if empirical evidence appears that shakes the scientist’s previous understanding of the world? Will the scientist allow for it and reframe their understanding, or will they block the evidence? But, yes: the evidence would need to be clear to bring this kind of scientist to a point of engaging with the discomfort of changing their understanding and conclusions.

  6. Eg. I could have grown up trusting my father on a general basis. Further I could trust him for things I never saw – his childhood for example. Would my basic/general trust in him survive him putting forward miraculous events? I think it would at least bring it into question – not that he does not believe that he saw it, but that that belief necessarily makes it an objective phenomenon (maybe he had a really believable vision or something.)

    1. That actually is a really good question! Okay, one might doubt it: or at least retain it as a mystery, unable to be known. I’d probably take that approach too. Understood the acceptance that he himself believed that he saw the miracle: so we are not talking about deliberate lies (as some believe about the church) – we are questioning a genuine mistake. But if a mistake, what then? What actually happened?

      So, then: what kind of miracle are we talking about? That he saw a resurrection? Well, that’s a biggie. Others would have seen the person alive too, if it was real.

      So, then: what if others did see the person alive too? What if they wrote it down, and passed it on?

  7. Of course that basic trust MAY survive anything. For myself I’m not sure but I suppose for some it may.

  8. I’m not sure about the Gospellor’s. I never met any of them. The only way I could imagine this working is through something like mass hysteria – the unable to be disbelieved nature of the massive energy rippling through mass crowds causing all to believe (in, say, an alien landing) regardless of whether it was seen first hand or not. But even then nothing in this makes it objectively true since rumours, if ‘needed’ to be believed, are transmitted in exactly the same way.

    1. The appearances happened at different times, to those who were not expecting to see him. They were hiding away, afraid, and Thomas still didn’t believe until he saw directly and physically. No, the picture doesn’t fit with mass hysteria. Also, there wasn’t a need to believe in the further followers: when Peter preached to the crowd, after he has seen Jesus alive (which was costly for him, by the way: he had denied him three times), they were cut to the heart, because they realized they had cried out for his death. This wasn’t a warm fuzzy, ‘Let’s believe in Christ because we really want to,’ moment: this was a life-threatening and deeply challenging confrontation with a person carrying the authority of God.

    2. There is another explanation, Chris: that the thing actually did happen, as it was written. Is that one of the possibilities?

  9. Many people were proposed to have seen the resurrected Jesus for example. Is this the same? I mean for >me< today? (More thought required..)

    1. Comes back to my ‘Istanbul analogy’. I can tell you heaps of stuff; my experiences there, etc. Why would I lie, as Michelle asked? Because I’m human. My overt intention may not be to lie per se, but due to sensationalist storytelling??…..,

      1. Would you die for your sensationalist storytelling? No, this explanation doesn’t fit with what we see in the New Testament. The style, the authors’ representation of their own purpose, and the cost of the writing speaks to something quite different from mere sensationalism. And yes, Chris: there were multiple sightings of Christ alive again, after death, and at different times.

        1. Michelle,
          In this day and age (2016+ years after this supposed occurrence) how-do-you-know (how-can-you-be-so-sure?) that ‘there were multiple sightings of Christ alive again?? I mean, what if (<<???) some prankster back then pulled the ultimate hoax on us all?? So many events in history had eyewitnesses. Some credible, some not. Some, as recently as the JFK assassination (which I'd mentioned before, is now huuuuuugely controversial. There are simply too many question marks for any distant and supposed event to be accurate. That's why, I cannot base my entire belief on 50/50. You do? Hmm….

          1. There are answers to these questions, Zack. My genuine question to any agnostic is this: do you want to find the answers? Anyone can keep asking questions, about anything, and many seem to prefer to not know: but a definition of truth requires actually looking for an answer. ‘Seek and you will find.’ Would you like to seek?

              1. Sure. When I say, ‘seek,’ I’m not meaning a blind acceptance of the Bible – I wouldn’t suggest this for any independent thinker. I mean, find out why the church has put forward these documents for almost 2000 years. The gospels are put forward as witnessed accounts of Jesus: that’s actually a big deal. Eye witnesses represent evidence. Why has the church passed on these accounts of Christ? Why does the church even exist?

                And, by all means check out other documents as well: it’s what any independent researcher would do. But, as with science, beware a conclusion formed by the initial assumptions of the researcher (this applies for theists, atheists, and, yes, agnostics). The best mind to have, from the research point of view, is an open one. (To either conclusion.)

                Test the New Testament, is really what I am saying. Find out why it exists, if you really want to get to the bottom of Christianity.

                1. Michelle, a quick side-track question – why are you Christians always on about the NT? Why always ignore the Old Testament?? I mean, isn’t that also important?? Problem for you guys is – it’s chronicals a time before Christ and is basically the Jewish Bible, right?? One of your theological arch-enemies, as it were. So, let’s perpetually sweep that under the carpet. Add the fact that it talks about the various atrocities and genocide committed by an ‘all-loving’ (??) God, well I can understand your aversion to said book.
                  As for me ‘seeking for the truth’ – I simply don’t feel the need to. I speak with my heart, not what a dusty book and it’s often arrogant followers tell me to do. You aside (Michelle).

                  1. Why the NT? Because this is the evidence often being asked for by sceptics: it is the life, death and resurrection of Christ. Is the OT swept under the carpet? Certainly not: it is the foundation of the NT. Certainly not an enemy: Jesus was a Jew. I’m very grateful to Judaism. Atrocities? That’s a whole new topic. The atrocities I’m more focused on are nukes, rather than what happened 3000 years ago in an entirely different setting, pre-Christ. Why no sense of atrocity in man-made events? And, to reciprocate, why do some atheists/agnostics react vehemently against Christianity looking at the OT without seemingly even giving the NT a glance, when it is the foundation of Christianity? Similar question: why judge a 2000 year old religion based on British expansion two hundred years ago?

  10. Just re reading the comments at length. No really good, yours too Michelle! (I’m always kinda turned off by the length, done it all soooo often before. 🙂 )

    1. Hi Chris,

      Yes, I too am put off somewhat by lengthy replies (cough cough….Michelle….cough cough…), although it makes for interesting reading. Sometimes I feel like I’m drowning in words. ;-)!

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