the faith hope

an ongoing exploration of a thankless subject

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Location: Adelaide, Australia

Founding secretary of the Urbane Society for Sceptical Romantics, a club I take very seriously indeed.

Friday, August 04, 2006

the wee issue of Jesus' miraculous roadshow

Cana back in the good ole days - Jesus' first magic trick

Years ago I compared Jesus unfavourably with Socrates as mentor-to-youth-type figure. I'd read a few of the dialogues, and I had a vague knowledge of the gospels. Today I'm full as a boot with the words and deeds of Jesus, and Socrates has shuffled off into the distance, but I still far prefer the old hemlock-bibulator.

In Eugene Peterson's translation, Jesus comes across at times as a pushy, hectoring figure. 'Are you listening? Really listening?' he's constantly saying to the disciples. Of course, as with Socrates' interlocutors, the disciples rarely get any of the good lines. You never hear them saying, 'actually Jesus, I'm communing with my own thoughts right now, so if you'd just turn off the self-serving clap-trap for five minutes, I'd really appreciate it.' No, the disciples' essential role is to serve as humble vessels for the pouring in of the good oil from the Messiah.
So how good is this oil, really?

But before I examine the quality or otherwise of Jesus' message, as well as his method of delivery, I need to address a rather awkward but very large point.

Jesus captures the attention of his audiences not by what he says, first and foremost, but by what he does. He performs miracles. Socrates certainly can't compete with that.
He heals the sick, he raises the dead (himself included), he expels demons, he calms the waters, he increases the catch of fisherfolk, he changes water to wine and feeds the multitude with a few loaves and fishes.

After such performances, people will be inclined to listen to what you have to say - though certain sceptics might find it all a bit of a cheat. I suppose that fundamentalist Christians, and non-believers, won't have a problem with these miracles. For the fundies, of course he performed miracles, that was the whole point, he's the S of G, hallelujah. For the non-believers of course he didn't, it was all propaganda, everybody was credulous in those days, and every self-respecting Messiah performed his quota of miracles. It's the reflective believers - if that's not a contradiction in terms - who'll have the problems, and I've no idea how they resolve them. I mean, if they believe that Jesus was resurrected - and how could they not believe that and still claim to be Christians? - then it's not much of a leap to believe that he raised other people from the dead, healed the sick etc. And if they go that far, why not swallow the whole set of Jesus miracles? And if that's acceptable, why not believe in the parting of the Red Sea, walls falling down at a trumpet blast, or for that matter the creation of the universe in six days? How far into this morass of irrationalism are people prepared to let their faith take them?


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