The Case For Christ: Introduction

I have been meaning to do this book for a while. When I was struggling with my faith, a good friend loaned me this book and told me to read it.  I read the introduction, the first chapter, and skimmed the rest of it. Normally I would have read it the entire thing, but I was a full time college student and only had so  much time to read things.

I came away from the book disappointed. Not just because it hadn’t convinced me that there was a God, not just because the book hadn’t answered my questions, but because the book refused to even ask the right questions. The person who wrote this had claimed to be an atheist, but he didn’t ever touch on the questions that atheist bloggers were asking. The person who wrote this book didn’t seem to understand atheists. Now that I am an atheist, this fact is all the more glaring. This person does not think like me at all.

For examples of the types of things atheists actually think, read The God Delusion. Not all of it, mind you,  just the part where Dawkins presents arguments against the existence of God.  The God Delusion did not convince me to become an atheist, but Richard Dawkins seemed to be reading my mind, and he at least presented the right questions, even if I did not find he had satisfactory answers.

I submit to you that perhaps the reason the author The Case for Christ doesn’t meet atheists where we’re at is because this book is not aimed at converting atheists. This book is written for Christians. This book is written for the lapsed Christian, who still believes in God and the Bible but hasn’t been to church in decades. This is for the Christian who comes to church every week and reads the New Testament, but who perhaps doesn’t have the most solid foundation for his faith. This book was written for people who are struggling in their faith and desperately want to be convinced.

I too was struggling with my faith when I read this book, and desperately wanted to be convinced. Unfortunately, I did not want to be convinced so badly that I made my decision irrationally. And so I personally did not find the evidence in this book terribly compelling.

I do not think this book is aimed at actual atheists. I do not want to say that I doubt the author was ever an atheist, because if that is his experience, I don’t want to deny that. His experience is valid. However, the way the author describes his atheism is so similar to the way atheists are described by people who have never actually met any atheists that I do have to scratch my head and wonder if perhaps the author isn’t  subconsciously re writing his own memories to make them fit his current narrative.

In any case, the introduction starts with a court case about James Dixon.

The facts were simple. Sergeant Scanlon had rushed to address deleted after a neighbor called the police to report a man with a gun. Scanlon arrived to find Dixon noisily arguing with his girlfriend through the front door of her house. Her father emerged when he saw Scanlon, figuring it was safe to come outside.

Suddenly, a quick fight broke out between Dixon and the father. The sergeant quickly intervened in an attempt to break it up. A shot rang out; Scanlon staggered away, wounded in his midsection. Just then two other squad cars arrived, screeching to a halt, and officers came over to restrain Dixon.

A .22 caliber gun belonging to Dixon–covered with his fingerprints and with one bullet having been fired–was found nearby, where he had apparently flung it after the shooting. The father had been unarmed; Scanlon’s revolver remained in his holster. Powder burns on Scanlon’s skin showed that he had been shot at extremely close range.

I’ll summarize the rest. Scanlon got an award for bravery. Dixon had a criminal record involving another shooting. Dixon plead guilty to shooting Scanlon, and was sentenced.

An open and shut case, right? Well, not quite. A while later (we don’t know how much time has passed), an informant calls the author and tells him that Scanlon owned a pen gun.

Like the informant, I am well aware of the existence of pen guns. Unlike the informant, I am not aware of them being illegal. I imagine it would depend on exactly where in the States you are, as different States tend to have different gun regulations. Here’s a link for further perusal.

Long story short, Dixon gets a new trial, and the facts come out. They still don’t paint a pretty picture of Dixon.The actual story goes that Dixon was banging on his girlfriend’s door while waving a gun. While this happened, the gun discharged. Dixon didn’t want to be caught with the gun, so he hid it before the cops showed up. Ballistics did some tests and found that the wounds on Scanlon were consistent with a pen gun.

What about Dixon’s rap sheet? Well, it turns out that he was innocent of that crime too, and that this was known for quite some time. So why didn’t they take the crime off his record? Who knows.

In any case, the author argues that Dixon didn’t end up actually having any violent tendencies. Despite the fact that it is not disputed that Dixon got in a fight with the girlfriend’s father, oh and also he was banging on their door with a gun. But you know, no violent tendencies or anything.

Once the facts were re-examined in light of new evidence, Dixon was found innocent and released.

Ok, but….regardless of whether he actually shot someone, he was still pounding on his girlfriend’s door while waving a gun. Said gun actually discharged because he was pounding on the door with it. The fact that the weapon was charged accidentally makes Dixon sound more dangerous, not less.

That alone should have gotten him locked up for a while. At the very least his gun privileges should be revoked. In my opinion, Dixon deserved the time he did spend in prison, even if he was technically innocent of the crime that put him there. Because pounding on your girlfriend’s door with a gun is still a crime. Or at least, it should be.

Strobel asks Dixon why on earth he confessed, if he was innocent.

Dixon sighed. “It was a plea bargain….they said if I pleaded guilty, they would sentence me to one year in prison. I’d already spent 362 days in jail waiting for my trial. All I had to do was admit I did it and I’d go home in a few days. but if I insisted on a trial and the jury found me guilty–well, they’d throw the book at me. They’d give me 20 years for shooting a cop. It wasn’t worth the gamble. I wanted to go home….”

In criminal justice class, our cop teacher said that if we were to stop taking plea bargains, it would be a good way to shut down the entire justice system real fast. However, the more I read stories like this one, the more convinced I am that plea bargains need to die.

Here’s an article about the Dixon case, written by the author of this book. It was all I could find about the case when I googled.

What does all this have to do with the existence of God? Well, quite a bit, according to the author.

One of the most obvious lessons was that evidence can be aligned to point in more than one direction.

This is very true.

And there was another lesson. One reason the evidence originally looked so convincing to me was because it fit my preconceptions at the time. To me, Dixon was an obvious troublemaker, a failure, the unemployed product of a broken family. The cops were the good guys. Prosecutors didn’t make mistakes.

It would have been better if the author could have used this to kick off a phase where he sat down and thought about all the (possibly unconscious, possibly not) biases he has and sort them out.

NOPE. Instead the author starts talking about his experience with religion.

For much of my life, I was a skeptic. In fact, I considered myself an atheist.

Note the wording. I considered myself an atheist. He doesn’t say, “I was an atheist.” A lot of conservative Christians believe there are no true atheists, and so it is my opinion that the wording here is suggestive that this is what the author believes as well. The author only thought he was an atheist because deep down he knew God was real.

A lot of Christians think we atheists think like that, you see.

The paragraph continues:

To me, there was far too much evidence that God was merely a product of wishful thinking, of ancient mythology, of primitive superstition. How could there be a loving God if he consigned people to hell just for not believing in him? How could miracles contravene the basic laws of nature? Didn’t Evolution satisfactorily explain how life originated? Doesn’t scientific reasoning dispel belief in the supernatural?

  1. This is not a question that addresses whether or not God exists. This is a question that addresses the character of said God. “Does God exist?” and “Is God an asshole?” are two different things.   Just because you perceive the God of the Bible as loving doesn’t mean he exists. Just because I think the God of the Bible is an asshole doesn’t mean God does not exist. This question is irrelevant, and I am most disappointed, therefore, to find it in this book.
  2. This one was never a question I asked. If there was a God, it was not out of the bounds of possibility that he could perform miracles. If God can do anything, I didn’t feel like he was limited by something like the laws of physics. It was, therefore, not a question I asked when I was struggling with my faith.
  3. No, evolution does not explain how life originated. It does not intend to. Evolution only explains how we as a species evolved over time. If you’re looking for theories on the origin of life, you’re actually going to be looking at abiogenesis. And from what I understand, science has yet to come to a solid conclusion. Does that mean there isn’t one? Maybe. Or maybe we just haven’t found it yet.
  4. Well, maybe? The trouble is narrowing down the exact definition of “supernatural.” It’s a pretty broad category, and it changes over time. Some things that were once thought to be supernatural are now known to have a scientific explanation. Example: people who were “demon possessed” are now thought to be experiencing seizures or other medical conditions. See also: Ellen White’s visions. Once you have a scientific explanation, it ceases to be “supernatural,” but the events still happened. So in my opinion, the answer to this question is “yes, scientific reasoning does dispel belief in the supernatural.” But do we even have a thorough understanding of what is supernatural? No, a this time, I don’t believe we do.

As for Jesus, did you know he never claimed to be God? He was a revolutionary, a sage, an iconoclastic Jew–but God? No, that thought never occurred to him! I could point you to plenty of university professors who said so–and certainly they could be trusted.

It is clear that the author says this sarcastically. This is said sarcastically by the man who, in the very next chapter, will present information gathered from an interview with a university professor as a form of evidence that the gospels are reliable.

Let’s face it: even a cursory examination of the evidence demonstrates convincingly that Jesus had only been a human being….although with unusual gifts of kindness and wisdom.

And those gifts may have been edited in by the gospel writers. We can’t know for sure.

I will give the author this, though, because he’s right about one thing: Historians, from what I have read, tend to agree that the man Jesus existed. Not all of these historians agree that Jesus was Lord, but they do seem to agree that there was a man that the Jesus myth was based off of.

But that’s all I had ever really given the evidence: a cursory look. I had read just enough philosophy and history to find support for my skepticism–a fact here, a scientific theory there, a pithy quote, a clever argument. Sure, I could see some gaps and inconsistencies, but I had a strong motivation to ignore them:

This paragraph, word for word, is exactly what I could say about my faith in Christianity and God. I believed in him with all my heart, and whenever I thought about considering the evidence, I only read evidence from Christian sources. There were gaps and inconsistencies, but I ignored them, terrified of what I might find if I examined them.

But the author’s motivation is different. The author says that his reasons for ignoring the evidence for God was his immoral lifestyle that he would have to give up.

This is a thing you constantly hear Christians say about atheists: that the only reason we refuse to consider that there might be a God is because then we would have to worship him and give up our sinful lifestyles.

This could not be farther from the truth. I am an atheist because the evidence brought me some painful conclusions.

Set that aside. Even if I did come to believe in God, I would not have to worship him. I did go through a period, believe it or not, where I believed in God, but did not worship him. I knew God existed, but I thought he was an asshole and couldn’t bring myself to try and worship….that. That’s another story, but the main point I want you guys to get from that is that believing in God doesn’t mean liking, loving, or worshiping him. In fact, it could even mean joining with his worst enemy to fight against him. You could write some serious bible fan fiction about that: about someone joining Satan’s army because they honestly feel that Satan does more good.

Now we risk getting off on a tangent. Let us move on.

The author states he was confident in his lack of belief about God, and that was that. Until his wife converted to Christianity.

I rolled my eyes and braced for the worst, feeling like the victim of a bait and switch scam. I had married one Wife (name redacted)–the fun, carefree, risk taking one–and now I feared she was going to turn into some sort of sexually repressed prude who would trade our upwardly mobile lifestyle for all night prayer vigils and volunteer work in grimy soup kitchens.

Gee, this author sounds like a great husband. Entitlement aside, there is actually some cause for concern here. There are Christians like this, who take things too far. The fear here isn’t actually too far fetched. However, I hardly think volunteering at soup kitchens (which, by the way, are not grimy) is a bad sign. Lots of people of lots of faiths volunteer at soup kitchens. Volunteer work is not incompatible with an “upwardly mobile lifestyle.”

Instead I was pleasantly surprised…by the fundamental changes in her character, her integrity, and her personal confidence. Eventually I wanted to get to the bottom of [this].

Note that we do not get examples of exactly what the fundamental changes were. I do not know if this is bad writing, or if the author is trying to protect his wife’s privacy. I am feeling generous, so we shall assume the latter and move on.

And so the author decides to research Christianity. He tells us that “It was like the James Dixon case revisited.”

JUDGING FOR YOURSELF

Maybe you’ve been basing your spiritual outlook on the evidence you’ve observed around you or gleaned long ago from books, college professors, family members, or friends. But is your conclusion really the best possible explanation for the evidence? If you were to dig deeper–to confront your preconceptions and systematically seek out proof–what would you find?

Yes. I am convinced that atheism is the best explanation that fits the facts. In fact, if I had never asked these tough questions and really considered the evidence, I would still be a Christian. According to that logic, should I have never examined the facts, then?

This book is about the author examining all of the evidence. He’s going to do this by talking about a 2 year period where he went on a “spiritual journey.”

I’ll take you along as I interview thirteen leading scholars and authorities who have impeccable academic credentials.

You know who else has impeccable academic credentials? Atheists!

I have crisscrossed the country….to elicit their expert opinions, to challenge them with the objections I had when I was a skeptic, to force them to defend their positions with solid data and cogent arguments, and to test them with the very questions that you might ask if given the opportunity.

How…. how….how are they going to make this into an interesting movie? I honestly do not see how this book could possibly make a movie interesting enough to entertain people for longer than 15 minutes.

The author goes on to tell us that, if we were selected for a jury trial, we would have to swear that we would be open minded and fair, rather than relying on bias and prejudice. I don’t know if jurors are asked to swear to that, but yes, they are asked to do it.

And yet, everyone knows that this will not happen, because everyone has biases and prejudices. That is why jury selection can get a bit tedious. The lawyers, when selecting a jury, try to dismiss the jurors with biases the lawyers don’t like, and keep the jurors with biases the lawyers do like. (Seriously, if you are ever called to go in for jury duty, bring a book. Because this interview process can either be interesting or boring as fuck.)

I am the type of juror a lawyer like the author would want to dismiss.

You would be urged to thoughtfully consider the credibility of the witnesses, carefully sift the testimony, and rigorously subject the evidence to your common sense and logic. I’m asking you to do the same thing while reading this book.

You know what, fair enough. I shall indeed use common sense and logic.

Ultimately, it’s the responsibility of jurors to reach a verdict. That doesn’t mean they have 100% certainty, because  we can’t have absolute proof about anything in life.

It is true that the jurors don’t have to be 100% certain that a defendant is guilty or not guilty. What the jurors do have to do is come to the conclusion that a person is guilty “beyond all reasonable doubt.” If there is even one reasonable doubt, technically they must render a “not guilty” verdict. (Whether or not that actually happens isn’t something we will be discussing in this post.)

Which, when you’re dealing with humans, is reasonable. It gets unreasonable when you are talking about a supposedly supernatural being who has the power to bend, break, and otherwise alter the laws of physics. If God can do literally anything, because nothing is impossible for God, then who’s to say exactly what is a reasonable doubt?

Then there’s the whole “God works in mysterious ways” copout.

I hope you take [your task as juror] seriously, because there may be more than just idle curiosity hanging in the balance. If Jesus is to be believed-and I realize that may be a big IF for you at this point–then nothing is more important than how you respond to him.

Translation: If Jesus is God, and you don’t worship him, you’re going to hell.

But who was he really? Who did he claim to be? And is there any credible evidence to back up his assertions? That’s what we’ll seek to determine as we board a flight for Denver to conduct our first interview.

Thus ends the introduction.

Personally, I don’t believe Jesus was anything other than 100% human. Who did Jesus claim to be? We only have the word of others on that, and these words have been copied and copied and translated and re-translated so many times that I don’t believe we can know if Jesus did claim to be the son of God.

Tune in next time as we discuss the reliability of Jesus’ biographies: The gospels. Will those other gospels that didn’t make it into the Bible get mentioned? Will the author only interview people who are Christians, or will he ever interview a truly unbiased source? When this movie comes out, will it put Madame Snowman to sleep?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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