Why believe in Christianity

Do Martyrs Matter, and More?

This is one of the standard arguments against Christianity, but it is in need of some fine-tuning. The most important martyrs are those of the time of Jesus and shortly thereafter. There are few examples of this sort of martyrdom that we can actually point to — records of church tradition are our only source for the martyrdoms of many of the Apostles; our best witness is actually Paul himself, who testifies that he persecuted the church with “zeal” — using a word used to describe the actions of the Maccabbeeans who killed when they needed to clean things up.

But in fact we can broaden this argument further: persecution did not automatically equal martyrdom, and this is yet another reason why Christianity should not have thrived and survived. As Robin Lane Fox writes, “By reducing the history of Christian persecution to a history of legal hearings, we miss a large part of the victimization.”[i] Beyond action by authorities, Christians could expect social ostracization if they stuck by their faith, and that is where much of the persecution Fox refers to came from – rejection by family and society, relegation to outcast status.

pagans_and_christians

It didn’t need to be martyrdom — it was enough that you would suffer socially and otherwise, even if still alive. DeSilva notes that those who violated the current social values (as Christians indeed did) would find themselves subject to measures designed to shame them back into compliance — insult, reproach, physical abuse, whipping, confiscation of property, and of course disgrace — much more important in an honor-and-shame society than to us. And the New Testament offers a considerable record of just such things happening:

Heb. 10:32-34 32 But recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, 33 sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated. 34 For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one

1 Peter 2:12 12 Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.

1 Peter 3:16 16 having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.

1 Peter 4:12-16 12 Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. 14 If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. 15 But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. 16 Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name.

Phil. 1:27-30 27 Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, 28 and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God. 29 For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake, 30 engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have.

1 Thessalonians 1:6 6 And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit,

1 Thessalonians 2:13-14 13 And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers. 14 For you, brothers, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea. For you suffered the same things from your own countrymen as they did from the Jews,

2 Thessalonians 1:4-5 4 Therefore we ourselves boast about you in the churches of God for your steadfastness and faith in all your persecutions and in the afflictions that you are enduring.

5 This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering

Revelation 2:9-10 9 “ ‘I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich) and the slander of those who say that they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. 10 Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.

So there it is: The Jews would dislike you, the Romans would dislike you, your family would disown you, everyone would avoid your or make sport of you- kind of like today’s ‘bullying’. Furthermore, men like Paul and Matthew, and even Peter and John, gave up lucrative trades for the sake of a mission that was all too obviously going to be nothing but trouble for them.

It is quite unlikely that anyone would have gone the distance for the Christian faith at any time — unless it had something tangible behind it.


Human vs. Divine: Never the Twain Shall Meet!

Our next factor is related to the one I have already written about in two other posts – the resurrection (https://iamnotanatheist.wordpress.com/2014/12/30/why-believe-in-christianity-3/ and https://iamnotanatheist.wordpress.com/2014/12/23/the-wrong-resurrection/ ). It is a problem from both a Jewish and a Gentile perspective.

Earl Doherty, a Skeptic, has referred to the incredibility of “the idea that Jews, both in Palestine and across the empire, could have come to believe-or been converted to the idea by others-that a human man was the Son of God…. To believe that ordinary Jews were willing to bestow on any human man, no matter how impressive, all the titles of divinity and full identification with the ancient God of Abraham is simply inconceivable.” Therefore, it would be: Unless it actually happened, and that “human man” proved himself to be the Son of God. Doherty’s “fallacy” amounts to an argument in favor of Christianity.

And it would be no better in the Gentile world. The idea of a god coming down from heaven and taking the form of a human form, for anything more than a temporary visit, of sweating, stinking, going to the bathroom, and especially suffering and dying here on earth.

This would be too much to swallow!


No Class!

“Neither male nor female, neither slave not free.” You might be so use to applauding this sort of liberal left wing concept that you do not realize what a radical message it was for the ancient world. Moreover, this is another reason why Christianity should have died out in infancy if it were a fake.

Portraits_of_Paul

Malina and Neyrey[i] note that in the ancient world, people took their major identity from the various groups to which they belonged. Whatever group(s) they were a member or part of helped to shape and determine their identity. Personality changes in persons (such as Paul’s conversion) were abnormal. Each person had certain role expectations that they were expected to fulfill. The removal or blurring of these various distinctions — stated clearly in Paul, but also done in practice by Jesus during his ministry — would have made Christianity seem radical and offensive to the average person.

Note that this does not apply just to those in power or the rich; it is an anachronism of Western individualism to suppose that a slave or the poor would have found Christianity’s message appealing on this basis. For one thing, even from a Western perspective, joining the group did not do anything to alleviate their immediate condition in practical terms. For another, in the ancient world, it would have been foreign to the mind to not stand in some sort of dependent relationship. “When ancient Mediterraneans speak of ‘freedom,’ they generally understand the term as both freedom from slavery to one lord or master, and freedom to enter the service of another lord or benefactor[ii].”

It would also not have occurred to such persons as a whole that their situation could be changed, since all that happened was attributed to fate, fortune, or providence. You did not fight your situation, you endured it, and to endure it was the most honorable thing.

In other words, it was not a matter of whether you were in service to another, but who you were in service to. Shattering these social distinctions would have been a faux pas of the greatest order — unless you had something else more powerful to show why you wanted the change.

By the same reason, a Christian’s Jewish neighbors would be no happier. Strict observance of the Torah became Judaism’s own “defense mechanism” against the Roman prejudices, it was their way of staying pure of outside influences. A convert who ceased to observe the law, and began to associate with Gentiles, would receive a double-whammy — especially with memories still fresh of the era of Antiochus, when Jews often capitulated to Hellenism – devotion to or imitation of ancient Greek thought, customs, or styles.

Christianity turned the norms upside down and said that birth, ethnicity, gender, and wealth — that which determined a person’s honor and worth in this setting — meant nothing. Even minor honor signs like appearance and charisma were dismissed {2 Cor. 5:12- “12 We are not commending ourselves to you again but giving you cause to boast about us, so that you may be able to answer those who boast about outward appearance and not about what is in the heart.”).

The group-identity factor makes for another proof of Christianity’s authenticity. In a group-oriented society, you took your identity from your group leader, and people needed the support and endorsement of others to support their identity. Christianity forced a severing of social and religious ties, the things which made an ancient person “human” in standing. (It did provide its own community support in return, but that hardly explains why people join in the first place.)

Moreover, a person like Jesus could not have kept a ministry going unless those around him supported him. A merely human Jesus could not have met this demand and must have provided convincing proofs of his power and authority to maintain a following, and for a movement to have started and survived well beyond him. A merely human Jesus would have had to live up to the expectations of others and would have been abandoned, or at least had to change his tactitics, at the first sign of failure.


[i]

http://www.amazon.com/PAGANS-CHRISTIANS-Robin-Lane-Fox/dp/0394554957/ref=la_B000APRFTO_1_3?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1425383773&sr=1-3  Hardcover $1.13 used. Fox, a lecturer in Ancient History at Oxford, presents a detailed and scholarly account of Christianity and paganism prior to Constantine. He describes pagan oracles, festivals, and cultic practices as they related to civic and community life in third-century Roman Empire; then, comparing these with Christian practices, he discusses the possible reasons for Christianity’s ultimate triumph. Along the way, certain misconceptions are dispelled: Roman paganism was not dying out, as is sometimes supposed, nor was early Christianity primarily a religion of slaves.

[ii] How did ancient persons understand themselves, other people, and the world around them? Is there a marked contrast between their understandings of “self” and “other” and the way modern Westerners define the same? Bruce Malina and Jerome Neyrey focus on the figure of Paul to provide a comprehensive investigation of how one man was perceived in the ancient world. Drawing on primary sources from antiquity, as well a lessons from cultural anthropology, the authors help provide a fuller understanding of the person of Paul and his world. The result is a new, more balanced way to approach the New Testament.

[iii] Malina and Neyrey, Westminister John Knox press, ISBN :9780664256814, p.163

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