[UPDATE below with Mencken link.]
There are two very common arguments that people in the comments bring up every week. So I thought I would try to deal with them here “in the spotlight.”
First:: People often ask some variant of, “Much of your evidence, Murphy, for Christianity is actually consistent with other world religions. So how come you think they’re all wrong, but you happened to get the one that’s juuuuust right?”
But this isn’t my view. I am not familiar with the specifics of Hinduism, Buddhism, Mormonism, Islam, etc., to say whether they are literally incompatible with my beliefs. I know a lot of my fellow evangelical Christians are quite strident in their denunciation of Mormonism and Islam, but as I say, I personally haven’t researched those systems carefully enough, to be able to definitively say, “OK yeah, I think those people are flat-out wrong.”
The most obvious example of what I mean is Judaism. Obviously I look to the Hebrew scriptures as part of my own religious heritage, so I certainly don’t think faithful Jews today are “wrong.” Rather, I think they are missing the unbelievably important fact that Jesus is the Messiah of whom their ancient prophets foretold.
It’s a similar thing with a lot of the wise sayings and precepts we can find in Eastern religions, or even Native American traditions for that matter. If there is a God, it would make sense that every culture going back through human history grappled with His existence in ways that were not identical but yet were similar in many respects.
I have given my reasons in plenty of posts before, about why I think the specific claims about the divinity of Jesus are true. What I’m addressing here, is the widespread belief by agnostics that the existence of non-Christian religions is somehow evidence that there’s not really a God after all. I find that a strange argument.
Second: One of my main arguments for thinking Jesus existed, prophesied His own death, and then came back to life, is that (I claim) some of His followers were willing to die for claiming this happened. Here’s the crucial part of that claim: These people would have known firsthand whether He really came back or not. That is what makes these people’s deaths so categorically more significant than, say, me being willing to “die for Jesus.” I actually don’t have firsthand knowledge. However, someone claiming to have seen Jesus Himself would know if he were lying about it or not.
Now I suppose you could come up with convoluted chains where some of the apostles claimed to have seen Him firsthand (even though they really didn’t), and then others lied about claiming to have seen Him just to try to spread the word, but only because these latter ones thought the first guys were telling them truth. So if that’s the kind of objection you want to raise, OK fair enough. But some people are saying things in the comments like, “Well gee whiz Bob, some Muslims died last week for Allah. I guess you think Mohammed must have been telling the truth, right?” And that’s not at all what I’m saying.
Last point on this: The first person who made me think the best hypothesis was that this guy Jesus actually came back from the dead was…H.L. Mencken. I was a hardcore atheist at the time, reading Mencken’s Treatise on the Gods for pleasure. And I thought Mencken conceded way too much to this ridiculous fairy tale, but anyway there it was: The skeptic Mencken didn’t believe in the divinity of Jesus, but nonetheless he thought the most sensible explanation for the unbelievable success of the gospel was that this teacher Jesus got lucky and predicted his own “resurrection.”
(It’s been a while since I’ve looked at Mencken’s exact description, but I think I’m accurately paraphrasing his position.)
UPDATE: At this link you can start reading Mencken’s discussion from page 222 about the Resurrection. Unfortunately it gets cut off right at the crucial part, where Mencken says, “The indisputable thing…” Earlier Mencken says something like, “Unless the whole New Testament is to be disregarded as moonshine…” and then says it must be the several people witnessed Jesus after his alleged death. However, in context it’s not obvious that Mencken is saying the NT is NOT pure moonshine.
Be that as it may, I know that when I read this part of his book as an atheist, I took Mencken to be saying that he thought it was pretty incontrovertible that there had been a guy Jesus, that he had been publicly nailed to a cross in front of his followers, and that afterwards some of his followers spoke to him. I admit you can’t conclude that from the link above, because the preview doesn’t contain the exact right page.
Also, let me admit that at this site, there is a Mencken quote from later in his career where he seems to say quite definitively that no scientific person can believe in the Resurrection.