Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Keeping It Real

Every so often, I become aware of a new attempt to prove that Jesus of Nazareth was a "real" person. This is, I think, somewhat of a misnomer, as the actual goal has always struck me as proving that the Gospels (or at least the main narrative arc of them, since that can't all be accurate) are literal histories, and the events that they purport to chronicle actually happened as (belatedly) recorded. The fact that simply proving the existence of a man whose name would have been "Jesus" in Greek doesn't get you anywhere near there appears to be lost on many. Simply because I can demonstrate the possible existence of the claimed miracle worker does not mean that I can automatically substantiate the occurrence of the claimed miracles. (Find me the recorded rantings of a fishmonger or baker who'd planned to make a killing, and we'll talk.) And the same arguments pop up: You can take an uncorroborated story from the Bible at face value; the fact that the story seems sketchy is actually proof of its veracity, et cetera.

For me, the question is simpler. Does it matter? The neutral historical record is always going to be woefully incomplete. That's never stopped anybody from believing before (and belief creates a reality all its own), and if you don't believe, yet another believer breathlessly proclaiming to have found the same evidence that the last 50 did isn't going to be at all convincing.

While it doesn't much matter to me, clearly there are a number of people to whom it does matter. I don't like to speculate about what people are thinking (as I'm rarely correct), but I've always had the feeling that many Christians aren't comfortable with relying on faith, instead looking for concrete evidence. Not only to shore up their own beliefs, but as a means of saying to others: "Now you HAVE to believe." This strange quest to obviate the need for faith seems quixotic at best, and counter-productive at worst. After all, if we can't manage universal agreement on the shape of the Earth, we're unlikely to have universal agreement on matters spiritual.

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