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Liar, Lunatic, or Lord

This recent blog entry criticizes C.S. Lewis's famous argument for the divinity of Christ. As will be recalled, Lewis proposes a trilemma: that Christ had to be either a liar, or lunatic, or, failing these, Lord. Since it is clear from Scripture that Jesus was neither a liar nor a madman, we are forced to conclude that he was Lord and God.

Now I am not a Biblical scholar, so I will not respond to the "Infidel in Exile"'s arguments dealing with whether or not Jesus really called himself God. I will simply assume that he did based on such Biblical passages as "Amen, amen, I say to you, before Abraham came to be, I AM" (Jn 8:58), "The Father and I are one" (Jn 10:30), and "Have I been with you for so long a time and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father." (Jn 14:9) I will therefore confine my replies to his logical arguments.

Infidel writes: "Could a liar be a great moral teacher? Of course! All the great moral teachers of history were human beings, and like all humans, must have been liars." First, setting aside the strange claim that all people (including presumably Infidel himself) are liars, it should be clear that not all lies are made equal. How many "great moral teachers" in human history pronounced themselves the infinite, transcendent, immortal God? Perhaps one can lie about one's youthful indiscretions and still remain a moral man, but to falsely claim divinity would be something that even Infidel should think is extraordinary. This kind of a lie would be utterly irresponsible on Jesus' part if he was a mere human, for it would entail his infallibility and therefore the absolute correctness of his moral teachings. But no great moral reformer has dared to claim such infallibility, except, of course, the Pope, but only when rarely speaking ex cathedra on faith and morals, and only in virtue of the truth of Christ's divinity. This very claim, therefore, would justify calling Jesus a bad guy, if he was a liar.

Second, one of the consequences of the belief in Jesus' divinity has been a 2,000-year-old worldwide religion that has claimed billions of adherers and a vast body of theological and philosophical certainties. If Jesus lied about himself, then the Christian religion is a lie, and he is responsible for it. (And don't tell me that Jesus' disciples or the later generations have "misunderstood" Jesus' message. The Church has developed the Christian doctrine pretty well.) Only the devil could have deceived so many people for so long.

Third, how was Jesus able to deceive his disciples? How was he able to convince erroneously so many people of his own divine/human nature? There must have been something immensely powerful about him. But the most powerful created being who is a deceiver is the devil. Hence that's precisely what Jesus was if he was a liar.

Fourth, Jesus was accused of being a devil.

But when the Pharisees heard this, they said, "This man drives out demons only by the power of Beelzebul, the prince of demons." But he knew what they were thinking and said to them, "Every kingdom divided against itself will be laid waste, and no town or house divided against itself will stand. And if Satan drives out Satan, he is divided against himself; how, then, will his kingdom stand? And if I drive out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your own people drive them out? Therefore they will be your judges. But if it is by the Spirit of God that I drive out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you." (Mt 12:24-28)

His argumentation here seems unimpeachable. But could Jesus have been just a prophet to whom God had given power to perform great miracles? This is highly doubtful, because it would imply that God also approved of Jesus' message of his own divinity. God would never have favored a man in such a way unless He also knew that he would not abuse the gifts horribly for his own ends.

Fifth, Jesus picked the worst environment in which to proclaim himself God. For the Jews were the least likely people to worship a mere man, and he would have known that.

Finally, if Jesus was a liar, then he had to have been a tremendously cunning man. Yet he failed to realize that blaspheming by calling himself God would lead to his rejection, persecution, torture, and death. Alternatively, Infidel must assume that Jesus wanted to die. But that assumption seems dubious and without Scriptural support. Jesus seems highly rational and without any kind of crazy death wish, unless Infidel would maintain that Jesus was both a liar and a lunatic at the same time! He predicts his death, but he does not welcome it.

The conclusion is that Jesus could not have been a liar. Now let us suppose that the second horn of the trilemma is true; that is, that Jesus was insane. Our author continues:

He might have sincerely believed in what he said. He might even have sincerely believed he was God. His followers might have believed it too. That sort of thing has happened before as well.

But even if he were crazy, would that invalidate him as a great moral teacher? Crazy people are as likely to say intelligent and insightful things as anybody. After all, saying Jesus was a nut doesn't really say anything about what kind of nut he was. He might have been a nut like Kurt Gödel, one of the great philosophers of all time, who in his later years insisted on communicating with everyone by phone even if they were in the same room.

Yet his social strangenesses did not prevent him from being a truly great thinker and teacher.

If Jesus was mad, then one of his mental problems was delusions of grandeur of the most outrageous sort. He did not imagine himself to be the emperor of Rome but God. Now once again, how common is that delusion? In fact, in order to believe himself to be God in human flesh, Jesus would have to deceive himself into believing to be omniscient, omnipotent, immortal, already blessed with the vision of God, etc. Are these beliefs common to the mentally ill? Infidel would have to show that they are, yet he has not done so. And how reasonable would it have been for Jesus' followers to believe their master's claims unless he gave them very good reasons to do so?

But suppose that this ultimate megalomania is, in fact, a recognized form of psychopathology, a "divinity complex" of some sort. As Peter Kreeft points out,

Its character traits are well-known: egotism, narcissism, inflexibility, dullness, predictability, inability to understand and love others as they really are and creatively relate to others. In other words, this is the polar opposite of the personality of Jesus!

In addition, people who are victims of such an exaggerated self-status are very often proud and antinomian and therefore wicked. We read in the Bible, for example, that "The LORD would speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks with his friend." (Ex 33:11) But we know also that "Moses was a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth." (Num 12:3) If Jesus falsely thought of himself as God, then he would have no need to be humble (except insofar as he thought he needed to be obedient to the Father). How likely would it be then for his teachings to be coherent and to correspond to reality? Falsely imagining oneself to be divine would poison all of one's actions and likely result in insane doctrines, as it did, for example, for the 13th century Brethren of the Free Spirit, whose motto was "if the eye sees and covets, let the hand grasp it." Yet we read about Jesus that "The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him." (Lk 2:40)

Our author continues: "Another problem with this point of view is that in fact there is nothing particularly divine about his teachings in any case; they can be found in the popular philosophy, Cynic and Stoic, of his day, and in the Old Testament." But no one claims that it is Jesus' moral teachings that compel our belief in his divinity. Rather, we are to infer it from the manner of his birth, his miracles, his fulfillment of prophecies, his revelations, his resurrection and ascension into heaven, from the inner witness of the Holy Spirit, and lastly from his character that makes Jesus' self-understanding as a union of the divine and human natures in one person to be believable. Yet these teachings are nevertheless consistent with his divinity and inconsistent with his being a liar or a lunatic.

For example, the Catholic Encyclopedia emphasizes in the character of Jesus his strength, poise, and grace:

In His teaching Jesus does not argue, or prove, or threaten, like the Pharisees, but He speaks like one having authority. Nowhere is Jesus merely a long-faced ascetic or a joyous comrade, we find Him everywhere to be leader of men, whose principles are built on a rock. ...

The will-power of Jesus is strong enough to keep a perfect equilibrium between His feelings and His reason; His body is the perfect instrument in the performance of His duty; His emotions are wholly subservient to the Will of His Father; it is the call of complying with His higher duties that prevents His austerity from becoming excessive. ...

The character of Christ carries with it the trait of grace, doing away with all harshness and want of amiability. Grace is the unconstrained expression of the self-forgetting and kindly mind. It is a beautiful way of doing the right thing, in the right way, at the right time, therefore opens all hearts to its possessor. Sympathy is the widest channel through which grace flows, and the abundance of the stream testifies to the reserve of grace.

Now Jesus sympathizes with all classes, with the rich and the poor, the learned and the ignorant, the happy and the sad; He moves with the same sense of familiarity among all classes of society.

Mad? Hardly.

But suppose for the sake of argument that Jesus, being mad, was nevertheless able to avoid the bad character traits associated with his illness. There is once again the matter of the foregoing signs and wonders. From where could Jesus get the power to persuade the world of his nature and mission? Would God have blessed a madman in such a way? If Christ performed miracles, etc., then that is a sign of his divinity; if he did not perform miracles, then the conversion of billions completely without miracles is a miracle in its own right.

Infidel's final claim is that Jesus may have used the term "God" and "Son of God" as a metaphor for his secular kingship or claim to the throne. But in light of the life of Jesus taken as a whole, is it really plausible to suppose that he considered himself to be a merely secular ruler? For one, he explicitly denies it: "My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders." (Jn 18:36) Did he not rebuke those who imagined him to be a secular deliverer of Israel from the Roman rule? Does he seem like a Caesar, "afterwards deified"? Does he look like the kind of a guy who would claw his way to power, all in order to tax, inflate, regulate, conscript, start wars, lie, and do the sort of things that governments do? Is his message "I will reform the government to make it more efficient?" I think not.

There are two other possibilities, viz., that Jesus was a kind of Eastern guru and, the most popular idea nowadays, that the whole thing is a myth. I will not argue against these here. But it should be clear by now that Jesus could have been a lunatic either.

September 27, 2006

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