Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Missing the point again (and again and again and again and again)

I've been reading Bart Ehrman's book Misquoting Jesus. A worthwhile read and quite the eye-opener, which got me to thinking about Isaiah 7:14 (Behold, a virgin (or young woman depending on your scholarhsip) shall conceive etc.) It is transparently obvious from a logical point of view that this verse has nothing to do with Jesus, and that the Christian apologist arguments to the contrary are vacuous.

Consider the following prophecy:

"Behold, a race horse shall win the Triple Crown and his name shall be called Sussmahir."

Now, suppose I claimed that Seattle Slew fulfilled that prophecy. You might counter that while they may share a few letters in common, "Seattle Slew" and "Sussmahir" are quite transparently not the same name. At which point I, playing the role of the religious apologist (and those of you who speak Hebrew are no doubt way ahead of me here) would point out that "Sussmahir" means "fast horse" and there can be no denying that Seattle Slew has been called a fast horse. Q.E.D.

The problem, of course, is that on the apologists' view both prophecies are vacuous. Of course any triple crown winner will be called a fast horse, and of course the (any?) Messiah will be called (some variant of) God With Us by someone (though, I note in passing, Jesus is actually never referred to that way in the New Testament).

Of course, none of this will convince a believer, and so I get quite depressed when people put forth extraordinary efforts to produce even more extensive debunkings. And, of course, all of it completely misses the point, which is that people do not believe in God because it makes sense. People believe in God because it helps them deal with their pain.

You'd think that after reams and reams of futile debunking all these atheists and agnostics (who are by and large fairly bright people, even though many of them are complete morons when it comes to marketing) would take a step back and try to figure out why it isn't working. But they don't. They just keep spouting logic, completely oblivious to the fact that in many cases that is actually making matters worse. There's a reason most people don't gravitate towards math and science.

It is at once amazing and tragic how so many smart people can miss such a simple and obvious truth.

1 comment:

asdf said...

I had not read much about this issue, but here's my best guess. It's worth pointing out two things. First, many prophesies find double fulfillment as a part of a validation process. Second, the Jews were not expecting the Messiah to be God -- they were looking for a political leader like Moses. When quoting Isaiah, perhaps Matthew is emphasizing that Immanuel signified more than just a name since he bothered to translate it. We've had 2 millennia to grow accustomed to the idea that the Messiah is God, and Jesus himself certainly didn't expect contemporaries to accept him as God simply on the basis of subtle word meanings -- he simply pointed to his miracles. Historically speaking, later authors were then behooved to go back and look for evidence that Jesus as God was not unreasonable from the prophetic writings.

I think it's also worth mentioning a bit of corroboration for what you said next. I don't think Christians become Christians through logical reasoning or because they understand everything the Bible says, therefore, if they ever stop being Christian, it will not be because of logic or misunderstanding. On the other hand, part of presenting an argument is that some wish to flatter themselves in their ability to do so as well as reassure themselves that their decision was entirely rational in the first place.