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Two Powerful Reasons to Doubt Your Religion

In my last post I went over some basic epistemology, beginning with the basic assumption that all claims, in order to be convincing, must be justified—that is, they must be shown to be the most reasonable claim among all the alternatives.

One insightful reader, writing under the name “Philonius,” pointed out in the comments that the great majority of “every-day” beliefs go completely unjustified. For example, I believe that I was born on November 14th, 1994, but I have not justified that belief. I could, in principle, ask my parents to prove to me that I was born on that date, or check the hospital records, but practically speaking, it would be absurd to say that in order to put forward the claim that I was born on that date, I must first justify it in this way.

The same goes for claims in other realms of knowledge in which we are unable to justify claims directly including, for example, nearly everything we read in school textbooks. To claim that dinosaurs existed, we need not have dug up the fossils ourselves; to claim that George Washington was the first United States president, we need not have investigated the historical evidence as the history-writers did. We believe these claims, as well as our birthdates, the existence of places we’ve never been to, and many, many other basic claims purely based on the testimony of secondary sources.

Obviously this kind of justification, which we might call a practical trust in certain kinds of testimony, is not only rational but necessary. Not to take certain claims basic beliefs about ourselves and the world for granted would make it impossible to function normally in conversation and in society. (That said, this blog is meant to encourage critical thinking, a significant part of which involves determining which claims we can take for granted and which we should not.) But what about religion and the existence of God? Are these claims that we can take on the basis of testimony alone? There are a number of reasons why I think they are not, and two of them are worth mentioning explicitly at this point:

1) The stakes are infinitely high… and I’m not using the word “infinitely” hyperbolically. Belief in God and religion usually come with some belief about the afterlife—our permanent, eternal fate. If there is an afterlife that involves, as most major religions claim, the possibility of eternal suffering or eternal happiness; and if there is any possibility whatsoever that we could increase our chances of attaining the latter by believing in and acting upon the true religion; then we would have to be either insane or tragically ignorant not to do everything in our power to figure out which one, if any, is true and act according to it.

I find it incredible and perplexing how few people seem to contemplate this reality. I can’t resist a quick thought experiment to try to make the concept of eternity a bit more “real”: imagine that your fate, either your perfect happiness or perfect suffering, for the next 100,000 years—a length of time that already pushes the limits of our imagination—depends upon how many pushups you can do over the next 24 hours. How does that change the way you approach the next 24 hours? Would you not suddenly become the most enthusiastic push-up machine the world has ever seen? I certainly would.

Now, replace the 24 hours with your short lifetime, replace doing pushups with whatever the true religion says is required to attain happiness after death, and multiply the 100,000 years by infinity—not by 300 billion, or 10 to the power of 500 octillion, but infinity… The point here is not to capture the nature of eternity (which is non-temporal), but to communicate the infinite significance of what we are doing now, in the short life that we have, in terms of how it affects our eternal fate. Should we not be doing everything possible to ensure that we and everyone we care about make it to heaven (or its equivalent)? Is it not likely that determining which religion, if any, is the correct one will help towards that end?

2) There are many religions; only one of them can be true (or none of them). If there were only one religion that claimed to know the truth, the believers of that religion could more confidently assume that if the atheist is wrong, their religion can be taken for granted. But this is not the case. Theists should recognize that the majority of people in the world hold religious beliefs that compete with their own, and that most of these “others” are honest, intelligent believers who are as certain about their own religion as anyone else is about theirs.

Theists should ask themselves, “What is it about my particular religion that makes it the right one, and all the others the wrong ones?” This question demands a powerful answer: as I mentioned in my last post, it’s not enough to vindicate a claim by showing it to be reasonable; it must be shown to be the most reasonable among alternatives. The amount of competition, and the significant influence on religious belief by factors having nothing to do with the truth of the religions themselves (the subject of an up-coming post), raise the bar for justification of any particular religion extremely high.

We may all believe in contradictory accounts of JFK’s assassination, or whether GMO’s are healthy; but compared to the claims of religion, these issues are infinitely trivial. Given what we realize is at stake, the presence of so many competing religions and the difficulty of justifying any one of them against all the rest should awaken in every intellectually comfortable theist a sense of urgent skepticism and curiosity.

Looking back on these two reasons, I think they do more than show why religious belief should not be taken for granted; they give us good reason to actively scrutinize them. Do you agree?


  1. Yes, I agree.

    The eternal stakes are unimaginably high, but exactly what constitutes being in a state of salvation is up for discussion. One thing for sure, I think, is that no one can, on his or her own, merit salvation. You can never do enough spiritual push-ups or anything else on your own to be saved. It’s worth mentioning.

    The thing about competing religions laying claim to exclusivity has been a pet peeve of mine for a long time. It is obviously untenable to have several different religions making this claim simultaneously. While one possible conclusion is that all religions are therefore false, I think it is more likely that people have just never “looked beyond their own back yard.” Hence, I feel that salvation depends much more upon an individual simply saying “yes” to God, whatever that might mean on an individual basis, than by being “right” about specific points of religious doctrine.

    Besides, consider that even in the New Testament divisions among the faithful were recorded, so it should not be any surprise that such divisions continued and even increased since then. Some of what I think of as healthier churches (and healthier individuals) may believe that their particular “take” on religion is more correct, but they still do not find it necessary to believe that anyone who differs with them is damned to hell.

    1. Have you “looked beyond your own backyard” and determined that your religion is better than the rest? Ideally it seems that’s what we would all do, including atheists. But then, there are thousands of different religions, so when have we done our “due diligence” and can stop looking? Given the high stakes, I see this as a big problem for believers.
      I believe that all religions are false, not from the simple fact that their are many of them, but because of the nature of religious belief itself– similar to how superstitious beliefs are false by their nature. We need not investigate each and every superstitious claim (about black cats, broken mirrors, etc) in order to know that, just by virtue of their being superstitious, they are all false. Now that does take some explication on my part, as to WHY religious beliefs are false by nature. I intend, of course, to make that case in the future.

      I’m put off by your comment: “I feel that salvation depends much more upon an individual simply saying “yes” to God … than by being “right” about specific points of religious doctrine.”
      I understand that minor doctrinal differences like the kinds that exist between, for example, protestant Christian sects, might not merit much concern. But between religions? There are plenty of people of faith (including Christians) who would strongly disagree with you and say that what religion one believes (and perhaps even certain particular doctrines) makes all the difference for your salvation. What do you say to them? Does ones salvation being dependent simply on “saying ‘yes’ to God” not sound far too subjective?
      The trend I see here is that people of faith, at least in modern times, will argue vehemently for the truth of their particular faith, but when pressed on the implications of anyone’s belief on the afterlife, all of a sudden they back off to “well as long as you want God in your heart…” or something similarly vague and unfalsifiable. I think this is intellectually weak and inconsistent.

      1. Oh, I hate being verbose…

        Yes, in fact both Christina and I ripped ourselves up by our roots to look beyond our own respective back yards (of origin). I was raised Catholic and Christina grew up as a Jehovah’s Witness. We were both deeply ensconced in our respective religions of origin. If I say so myself, to venture beyond either after being so ensconced took some serious cojones on our part. We have since been written off as condemned apostates by some, and we have also both been shunned by our families of origin.

        No, I have not felt that it is at all necessary to determine that my religion is “better” than the rest, whatever you mean by “better.” This is neither a requirement nor a necessary consequence of looking beyond one’s own back yard. You look beyond your own back yard to realize that the way you have been taught to think about things is not all there is and that other points of view, though different to some degree, can and do still have validity – Truth, if you will. And, since, my goal has ultimately been to pursue all Truth, and to find the answers to certain questions, this is why I looked beyond my own back yard. Same for Christina.

        Any subjectivity there might be to the idea of saying “yes” to God curiously ends when you walk through the door of a religion that lays claim to exclusivity. I suspect they would all be entirely in favor of saying “yes” to God – as long as it is under the auspices of their exclusive group. In other words, I think just about all religions would agree with me that in some way saying “yes” to God is our entrance to salvation, except that for some it must be done within THEIR organization. I find this absurd, by the way, because saying “yes” to God is saying “yes” to God, no matter where you are. I think this idea is plainly reasonable, provided you believe in God in the first place.

        What would I say to other religious people who disagree with me? Very simply this. It is rationally untenable to have multiple religions laying claim to exclusivity at the same time. Multiple religions laying claim to exclusivity at the same time would mean either: 1) God is schizophrenic, 2) God is dead, 3) there really and truly are multiple gods, one or more for each religion, 4) the one God has multiple personality disorder, 5) God arbitrarily or capriciously decides which ONE of the 40,000 Christian sects to reveal Himself to in the “right way” while all of the others are indifferently relegated to hell without even being told in advance that they have it “wrong.”

        Yes, I am still speaking largely of Christianity here, but my solution can even apply across entirely different religions. Namely, I choose option #6: PEOPLE CAN REALLY MESS THINGS UP. This seems far more likely to me than the other options. So, that is what I would, and have, said to those who think they alone have it right while everyone else is wrong and condemned for it. I am still glad to associate with such people as long as they continue to be reasonably respectful and do not cause problems. But, if they start looking at me like I have lobsters crawling out of my ears, then I just leave them to themselves and their own little world. There’s little I can do for them unless they decide to become more reasonable.

        But, the good news is that the more I look, the more I realize that there are indeed many people of goodwill in divergent religious groups who do not wish to condemn others and who hold out hope for their salvation. It’s the aggressive hotheads among us who rush to condemn, and I am convinced it is accidental that they chose religion as a vehicle to express this. If they never found religion, they would act out on their aggressive tendencies with something else.

        God is not responsible for people being crazy nor does He condemn them for being crazy (whew!). Nor is God at fault for ambitious, aggressive people who hijack religion for their own purposes that often include a power trip and/or financial gain. This and other very human reasons account for why there are so many divisions both within Christianity and, from what little I admit to knowing, among other religions.

        As far as the other monotheistic religions are concerned, it is noteworthy that many Christians see Christianity as the flower of Judaism, and many Christians are very protective of Judaism. Islam believes in Jesus and Mary, for instance. While there are doctrinal differences, the moral underpinnings (for personal conduct) among the three major monotheistic religions are remarkably similar. Investigating a sampling of Christian denominations to the extent I was able, my solution was to look at the similarities, which proved far more important than the differences. The same can be done across the boundaries of the three monotheistic religions. People of goodwill and happy to peacefully coexist without automatically condemning those who think differently.

        I also again point out that while The Catholic church sees itself as the one true faith (which it may very well be), it still does not exclude from the possibility of salvation people from other walks of life. While I am not well educated on the subject, I *think* the same may be said by Judaism and Islam. Let us realize that many religious people do not merely focus on the differences between religions.

        While religious unity would have its advantages, don’t make the mistake of seeing problems that aren’t there, given the disunity. You mentioned that given the high stakes, you see disunity and competing claims of exclusivity as a big problem for believers. I suggest that, for truth seekers, it is not as big a problem as you might think. I suggest, rather, that at the end of the day it will be a big problem for the ambitious, aggressive people who hijack religion – as they could any ideology – for their own self-aggrandizement.

        “The trend I see here is that people of faith, at least in modern times, will argue vehemently for the truth of their particular faith, but when pressed on the implications of anyone’s belief on the afterlife, all of a sudden they back off to “well as long as you want God in your heart…” or something similarly vague and unfalsifiable.”

        Not actually too sure what you are thinking of here. Can you rephrase?

  2. Wow Nathan, you are a cautious atheist. Didn’t you just describe the reason why people begin to believe in God, not to disbelieve in him?

    1. I may as well start right in with the question all your confused readers will ask you right away. How can you say that the stakes are high if you don’t believe in them? What in the world are YOUR stakes? You seem to have an extremely high regard for truth — not a relativist (moral or otherwise) as far as I can tell — and you seem to think that we all have some obligation to pursue it. Why is that? I am genuinely intrigued.

    2. Coming from a Catholic background, I’m sure you hear as much about the “one true faith” as I do. “I believe in the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church”, etc. etc.
    As a kid, I used to think that every other religion was somehow a huge lie. Then I went through I period where I thought every religion was equally valid in some way. I don’t think either of those perspectives are true.

    You may be entering this topic with the assumption that religious people treat every religion as they treat atheism — essentially, if someone doesn’t believe the “one true faith,” they don’t deserve eternal salvation. That, I believe, is an extremely narrow-minded picture of God.
    It’s obvious that not every religion can be true. They all claim totally different facts and paths to salvation. But I don’t think God is keeping a tally of who enters what formal religion, whether they go to church obediently, whether they pray the rosary or meditate daily or who knows what else. Ultimately, the reason why someone would be damned is not because they failed in their religion, but because they choose not to accept eternity with God. Why someone would do that is a topic for another discussion — the main reason is almost always pride. I suggest you read CS Lewis’ “The Great Divorce” for some suggestions.

    That being said, I don’t think every religion is equally valid. One of them is better than the rest. I don’t have space left in this comment to explain all the reasons I think Catholicism is beautiful and mysterious and logically sound and true. But in discovering the best religion, a person does not guarantee his salvation in any respect. I think he just finds the best way to God, who is the God of Love whether you live in Canada or South-East Asia or Mali or the Middle East.

    So although your second point may be a good reason why to think more deeply about your religion, I don’t think it’s a significant reason to doubt whether God exists at all. I have a feeling you’re leading into the concept of “faith” — the justification many give for choosing one religion above the others. I know you think faith is one of the weakest justifications for religion. I’m interested in the blog that faces the question head-on. 🙂

    1. 1) A good question. The fact that I don’t believe in ANY religion or concept of an afterlife is significant. As I mentioned to Uncle Peter, I think the nature of religious belief renders all the religions false (see my response to his comment above), and so that is why I don’t “worry” about where I might end up after death in the same way that a believer must worry about it… which seems problematic to the believer, for sure, because they assume that I am nevertheless hurdling towards the afterlife whether I believe it or not. Here I only mean to make the point to the believer that if she assumes the existence of an afterlife to begin with, that the existence of other versions of an afterlife ought to arouse a sense of urgent curiosity: “given that there is an afterlife, and that I’m headed for it, I should probably figure out which religion’s understanding of the afterlife and how we get there, is the right one”. So it’s actually not an argument for atheism per se, just an argument that the religious believer shouldn’t be too comfortable in her own particular belief regarding the afterlife, for her own sake, given the fact that there are so many others that compete with hers.

      As far as my “high regard for truth” I’m not really sure what you mean. It’s not hard to figure out that pure relativism is incoherent, certainly at least not practically. I believe, like you, that there are such things as right and wrong beliefs. But I don’t think, as you seem to suggest, that we have some categorical duty to search for “Truth”. Just because I choose to pursue something myself does not mean I feel it is necessary for everyone else to pursue. To each their own.

      2) Again, as I said to Peter, this is the overall trend I see here: people of faith, at least in modern times, will argue strongly for the truth of their particular faith, but when pressed on the implications of their beliefs about the afterlife on what actually happens to people after they die, all of a sudden they back off to “well as long as you want God in your heart you’ll make it to heaven” or something similarly vague, unfalsifiable, and suspiciously wishful. I think this is intellectually weak and inconsistent.
      Of course, it makes sense that believers don’t have clear answers to my questions, because the afterlife necessarily exists outside the material world and is inaccessible to us; how could they know? Revelation, right? So they can claim to come to their beliefs through revelation, but when faced with unpleasant implications from those beliefs, they (unknowingly) use the ambiguity inherent in any discussion about completely unobservable, extra-material realities to fashion whatever response they like… which these days is often the “well you sort of maybe just need to be a good person and accept God into your heart to get to heaven” response.

      1. I don’t like to belabor a point, but I am still not sure I understand what you are saying. Where is the weakness or inconsistency in arguing for a particular theology while allowing for the possibility that those who are not with your group may still be saved? The belief that many hold to this effect is part-and-parcel with the very theology they defend, for instance:

        Luke 9:49-50 New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised Catholic Edition
        Another Exorcist

        49 John answered, ‘Master, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he does not follow with us.’ 50 But Jesus said to him, ‘Do not stop him; for whoever is not against you is for you.’

        I think you might agree with me about the rational untenability of different, competing groups banishing all others to hell. But, when we find some who are willing to allow for the salvation of others, I guess that isn’t satisfactory either.

        I would point out that otherwise competing religions actually demonstrate unity in their common belief that people who are not part of their respective organizations may be saved, whatever permutation or interpretation of being “saved” means to them (again, let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater by not looking at the similarities along with the differences).

        So, it seems that to a skeptical eye, competing religions are neither permitted to lay claim to exclusivity nor are they permitted to make allowances consistent with their beliefs without being weak or inconsistent. You’ve insisted from the get-go that religion should be quite uniform…

        “2) There are many religions; only one of them can be true (or none of them). “

        …and, not being able to satisfy this rather arbitrary and needlessly restrictive criterion, conclude yet another scenario that contributes to doubting religion.

        On the contrary, if this is not putting up a straw man to knock down, what is?

  3. I would like to first compliment you on your posts and previous articles in the UD newspaper. As a practicing Catholic graduate student at the University of Dallas, I applaud your call for debate. I think anything less than a healthy openness to debate is bad for thinking, and very bad for religion.

    Rather than dispute any points you made in your post above, I would like to offer a different approach I prefer to take to the whole endeavor of “proving” God’s existence. My views have developed over the course of 9 years, since I converted to Catholicism (having held a variety of views all my life, one of which was a sort of atheism or agnosticism–though its very difficult to see it that way in retrospect, however, after conversion). Let me try to put it clearly. There is some subject matter that is simply beyond the pale of the kind of human activity that one engages in when validating truth claims. Don’t misunderstand me. I am totally in favor of fashioning and critiquing good “proofs” for and against religion. This makes for some of the most interesting philosophical discussion and allows believers and nonbelievers to intelligently respond to the most important of all questions. I only mean to say that such “proofs” not only have never been decisive, can never be decisive in principle, nor should be decisive. The kind of intellectual security produced by a truly successful “proof” is simply alien to a healthy religious life. Let me give an example. A husband and wife have a child born with an incurable disease that, while not life-threatening, guarantees the child will be crippled for life. They undoubtedly love the child, and fear for him, quite reasonably so, for they do not know (in the sense of being intellectually secure and doubt-free) as to whether the child will fair well or poorly in life. Yet they raise the child as if he will thrive. Indeed, they tell him that no shadow hangs over his future (in spite of their fears and rational doubts). They say to him that nothing will impede his ambition and that he can achieve whatever he desires. The boy grows up to be one of the world’s greatest violinists, Itzhak Perlman.

    If you want to understand the believer, perhaps even better than he may explicitly understand himself, I suggest you imagine that the belief of those loving parents in their child (in face of rational intellectual doubt) is of the same nature as the belief one finds in God, and (this should never be left out) the belief he finds in himself in relation to God. This belief CANNOT be a product of proof-assessment and still retain its essential nature of a risky endeavor in the face of uncertainties, the essential nature of which is involved in all loving personal relationships. Good “proofs” for the existence of God can help destabilize the nonbeliever’s intellectual obstacles, and partially quell the intellectual doubts of the believer, but they can never initiate or even effect the kind of believing that spontaneously erupts in spite of those obstacles and is sustained and grows in the midsts of those doubts. Even more, the proofs can do nothing to publicly validate the kind of understanding that faith engenders. I am not sure whether to call this knowledge or understanding or something else (it is sui generis). What I mean by this is the peculiar tincture that faith lends to one’s frame of mind–very easy to take for granted if you are not a convert. As this frame of mind strengthens it becomes increasingly difficult for the believer to conceive of genuine atheism, especially (if he is a convert) the “atheism” he once maintained. The God in Whom one finds belief is not super-added to one’s experience but rather shows up as having always been there. I will not make the claim that this sui generis understanding or intellectual attitude is peculiar to Roman Catholics. I don’t think it is. If it were, that would make for a strange and self-contradictory God, who hopes that we believe in him as a lover believes in the beloved (in face of fear and uncertainty), while at the same time rejecting the venture unless it is grounded in perfect doctrinal accuracy backed by the best theological arguments.

    One final note, and another reason why I applaud your call for questioning. This believing and the sui generis understanding that burgeons out of it, is paradoxically strengthened by doubt. Every time you consider the possibility that your loved one was never really there, and all human life pavillioned by a vast cosmos indifferent to you, the necessity of the belief is strengthened and the understanding deepened, like major key set against minor in a dramatic piece of music. It would be the same for those loving parents, every time they feared for their child’s future and thought from time-to-time that he was lost cause after-all. This is why it is very important for believers, as well as nonbelievers, to question religion.

    I hope this makes some sense to you. It is the sort of phenomenological description of belief that you might get from a philosopher such as Soren Kierkegaard, Gabriel Marcel or Miguel de Unamuno. It is not supposed to bridge the gap between non-belief and belief by way of the intellect, but rather to clarify and situate the distinct essence of belief, so as to show that such a gap can only be overcome by a leap, though the intellect may be involved in a running start. That being said, I am totally in favor of assessing good arguments for and against religion, as long as our notions of “evidence” and “validity” are not too restricted.

    1. Mario,
      I apologize for the long delay in replying to your comment. I truly appreciate you taking the time to read, engage, and share your well-expressed thoughts.
      I find your analogy to the parents and their disabled child poignant for the purpose you intended, which was, I think, to give us a better understanding of how the experience of belief plays out in the mind and heart of the believer (whether or not they would describe it in the same way you did). I find this kind of explication quite valuable for the kind of dialogue I would like to initiate, and yet tragically underrated, particularly by other nonbelievers; for the most part they seem completely uninterested in the subjective experience of others–it’s all about “facts” and “reason” and “evidence”. But ignoring the more subjective aspects of experience they miss out on a huge part of the puzzle of belief, and their ability to truly engage with believers suffers for it.
      That being said, nothing you’ve said was a direct attack against any intellectual position I hold, as I think you acknowledged (definitely correct me if I’m wrong). You didn’t address whether the kind of faith in the face of doubt that you describe in your analogy is an effective means to discover what is actually true. I, of course, do not. Religious truth-claims are different from the future of a couple’s child in ways that render the analogy mute when it comes to determining the truth or falsity of things; we are not talking about the inherently uncertain (from a human perspective) future of some child, but about the fundamental nature of reality. In fact, I think applying the same kind of hopeful trust in religion as one does to one’s disabled child’s future is intellectually irresponsible and more likely to obfuscate the truth. Just take the fact that unlike rational argumentation, this faith does not lead necessarily to any particular belief; it can be used to come to any number of conflicting beliefs.
      This wouldn’t constitute much of a disagreement between us—you are clearly open to fashioning arguments and proofs for and against religion—if you hadn’t made the claim that “such ‘proofs’ not only have never been decisive, [but] can never be decisive in principle, nor should be decisive.” To a certain extent, little beyond mathematics and logic can be “proven,” but to say that no rational arguments could or even should be decisive to us as searchers of truth grants religion far too much freedom from the standards of truth-claim-justification that we rightly apply in just about every other domain of discourse–we can’t legitimately justify our beliefs in the efficacy of certain public policies in achieving certain ends, or the scientific theories like evolution, etc, just by having faith in them. And yet with religion, the stakes are higher than in any other domain!
      For me, there are two goals here. The first one falls more in line with what you’ve written above: to understand each other, think clearly about and engage with another’s subjective experience and understanding of themselves, the world, God, whatever–and thereby understand ourselves better, live better lives, etc. The second goal is to believe in things that are TRUE–or, to hold more strictly to “skepticism” as such, to not believe in things that are false (a significant difference, when we get down to it). So while explaining our internal processes to each other is valuable in its own way, we should not forget our responsibility to the truth.

  4. Hello Mario,

    I appreciate the thought that went into your post as I also appreciate the different perspectives that a diverse population of believers bring to their faith. I think that subjective and/or simply philosophical argumentation can be valid enough, though not likely sufficient for many skeptics. This is part of the reason why I look for evidence and build a case that I feel supports belief as quite reasonable based upon a preponderance of such evidence.

    However, and maybe it’s some kind of a problem with me, I have difficulty with the idea held by some that there is little or no evidence of God’s existence. I won’t restate what I have already written in regard to evidence that I do believe is available, as I have already done so elsewhere in this blog.

    But, I will introduce a somewhat different perspective as I beg to differ with your assertion that:
    “I only mean to say that such ‘proofs’ not only have never been decisive, can never be decisive in principle, nor should be decisive. The kind of intellectual security produced by a truly successful ‘proof’ is simply alien to a healthy religious life.”

    I would suggest, on the contrary, that proof for those of the right frame of heart was paramount to Jesus mission on earth, and He provided more than enough proof. While I agree that a scientific, legal and utterly indisputable proof 2,000 years after the fact is arguable, I feel like I hit bottom where C.S. Lewis nailed it by pointing out the limited choices available when deciding who Jesus was and is. In all candor, I think Lewis’ discussion of this point in Mere Christianity is a fine example of how argumentation can transition from the sublime to the ridiculous if we let it.

    The strongest objection I can see to Lewis’ classic proposition (liar, lunatic or Lord) is the idea that the Gospels were embellished with stories of miracles that never actually happened. However, if the miracles never actually happened, it would therefore mean that a group of uneducated fools knowingly followed an insane upstart to their deaths, and all for nothing. Playing this scenario out, this greatest hoax in human history went on to form a pillar of Western Civilization, change the world (for good or ill), and remains with us 2,000 years later with no end to it in sight. Well, I find the Gospel accounts of Jesus life and times, including the miracles, much easier to believe than a hoax. Jesus offered indisputable proof at the time, and the call to future believers is plain to see in the quotation from John’s Gospel – note in particular John 20: 29-31, below. I think it is important to realize that Skepticism did not originate with scientific enlightenment.

    John 20:24-31New Living Translation (NLT)
    Jesus Appears to Thomas
    24 One of the twelve disciples, Thomas (nicknamed the Twin),[a] was not with the others when Jesus came. 25 They told him, “We have seen the Lord!”
    But he replied, “I won’t believe it unless I see the nail wounds in his hands, put my fingers into them, and place my hand into the wound in his side.”
    26 Eight days later the disciples were together again, and this time Thomas was with them. The doors were locked; but suddenly, as before, Jesus was standing among them. “Peace be with you,” he said. 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and look at my hands. Put your hand into the wound in my side. Don’t be faithless any longer. Believe!”
    28 “My Lord and my God!” Thomas exclaimed.
    29 Then Jesus told him, “You believe because you have seen me. Blessed are those who believe without seeing me.”
    30 The disciples saw Jesus do many other miraculous signs in addition to the ones recorded in this book. 31 But these are written so that you may continue to believe[b] that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing in him you will have life by the power of his name.


    John 10:38New Living Translation (NLT)
    38 But if I do his work, believe in the evidence of the miraculous works I have done, even if you don’t believe me. Then you will know and understand that the Father is in me, and I am in the Father.”


    Matthew 28:11-15New Living Translation (NLT)
    The Report of the Guard
    11 As the women were on their way, some of the guards went into the city and told the leading priests what had happened. 12 A meeting with the elders was called, and they decided to give the soldiers a large bribe. 13 They told the soldiers, “You must say, ‘Jesus’ disciples came during the night while we were sleeping, and they stole his body.’ 14 If the governor hears about it, we’ll stand up for you so you won’t get in trouble.” 15 So the guards accepted the bribe and said what they were told to say. Their story spread widely among the Jews, and they still tell it today.


    1 Corinthians 15:6New Living Translation (NLT)
    6 After that, he was seen by more than 500 of his followers[a] at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died.


    The miracles either happened or they didn’t. The account of the life and times of Christ in the Gospels are either true or they are not. We must make our choice.

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