Jesus killed his childhood friends and blinded their parents. He made birds of clay on the Sabbath and then clapped his hands and they flew away.
Well, it’s not a very popular story now, but it was in the first centuries of Christianity. And there are many stories like this, from early gospels that are not part of the canon. It’s useful to remember that the canon was created by vote and that some gospels didn’t make the cut by as little a margin as a single vote. We have the Infancy Gospel of Thomas, the Infancy Gospel of James, The Birth of Jesus, a Latin Infancy Gospel, and so on. Many of these gospels are available for reading for the curious, of which Christianity seems to produce few.
So how did the four canonical gospels come to be? I’m thinking that many were voted out because they seemed to have nothing in common with other gospels or because they presented events that would be considered unlikely. In other words, some bit of judgement was going on regarding these favorite stories.
If these stories were too unbelievable to survive, too unreasonable, then why do the other stories sound reasonable? How reasonable are walking corpses, ascending godlets, stone-rolling angels. If someone claimed such events about someone today they would be hauled away by the men in white coats, and I don’t mean angels.
I see it as a form of special pleading. To say one story is truth while another, equally preposterous story is fantasy is selective and arbitrary. When people say that God inspired the Bible, what they really mean is that God dictated the Bible. They mean that God carefully caused the specific words to flow from the pens of the scribes who first wrote the gospels. But it’s a sloppy process, isn’t it?
In addition to God’s dictation, there seems to be a far larger body of writing that is flowing from the pens of others. Let’s whip out Occam’s Razor here and ask ourselves, which is more likely, that one small group of writers has the accurate and complete words of the deity while a larger body of writers has meaningless mythologies, or does it make more sense to say that a huge body of mythological writings were produced and some few of them were chosen for their relative similarity? Of course, that does not explain how the fevered Revelations came to be featured in the canon.
There are also many Apocalypses. It shouldn’t be surprising that, for a captive tribe, apocalypses should be compelling. Jesus, real or not, was of an apocalyptic nature, focused on the importance of his eventual victory over the Romans. Christianity was indeed the religion of the slaves. The Apocalypse of Paul is obviously authentic, because it was preserved in a marble box, along with his shoes, until it was found in 388 C.E. Isn’t it strange that such an incredible find isn’t well-known? How does it differ in reliability from gospels written five decades after the time when Jesus supposedly walked the earth?
Special pleading, that’s how it differs. It’s OK to believe that some preposterous things are true because they have the authoritative imprint of councils of men who voted on them, but since they did not vote for the others, they must be looked at as mere popular stories with no connection to the others.
And this is how religion is done. God does not himself need to be created because he just doesn’t, while everything else needs to be created because it just does! Jesus can ascend up into the sky to Heaven, seen by a great many people, in spite of the fact that there is no reason to believe that there is any Heaven “up there.”
No one has ever seen someone ascend to anywhere, but in this case special pleading takes over and it’s all right to accept the miracle as a true story. Jesus died for three days, at least for those who are not good at math, and then came back to life. On this hinges the entire of Christianity. And yet, we have not been able to witness or reproduce this sort of feat in over two thousand years.
If you take away the special pleading there is nothing left. No part of the Christ story has any meaning whatsoever without the supernatural component. Even the knowledge Jesus was supposed to have, his viewpoint, is viable because of his supernatural ability to understand things that mere mortals could only struggle with. Special pleading.
Special pleading is the intention of the religious to convince us that their stories are true, just in this one case. Other stories are not true. Other religions are false and you should regard their stories as myths. Special pleading is saying that one can recite a prayer and that God will hear it and suspend natural law just in this case, while natural law remains in effect everywhere else. Special pleading works for the credulous, who are willing to believe that they can create a system to beat the casinos, to cheat disease, to beat death itself.