Trading Jesus for God

I have a challenge for Christians — a mental experiment.  After the experiment, please take the poll at the bottom of the post.

Weighing_GodSo here is the experiment.  Please entertain the following hypothetical situation:  Imagine that someone was able to prove to you that Jesus was not a god — that either he was a totally fictitious person or that he was just another failed generic apocalyptic Jewish doomsayer whose vision failed and he was even surprised himself to be killed before a messiah came or something that dispelled the essential aspects of your belief in Jesus.   I know, it is painful, but for the sake of the experiment, please imagine that you are now convinced Jesus did not die, was not resurrected and did not have a divine nature.

OK, now, once you believe this, my question is, “Do you still believe in God?

Pause and think about it before reading further.  Now, I am assuming that most committed Christians reading this have a prayer life where they talk to God.  Well, they probably talk to Jesus too.  Well, they jump back and forth and remind themselves constantly that they are really the same.  But either way, they are talking to God.  And many would even say they have a relationship with God.

So, if you have a relationship with God but are now convinced that the Jesus story is all false, do you keep talking to God?  Or would you totally give up on God and the whole deal?

Would some of you say, “Well, I still believe in God” and then become a Jew or a Mystic.”   Or would you just say, “Wow, I really fooled myself and I have just been talking to myself all along — I am out of this.”

Let me tell you my story, to offer full disclosure.  When this happened to me, I was very uncomfortable with admitting that I had been talking to no one all these years.  I then explored (in this order) Mystical Christianity, Judaism, General Mysticism, Raja Yoga, and then Buddhism.  It took me a long time to give up Theism.  Remember, you have to assume the Jesus story has proved to be false in this experiment.  Go in your prayer head and imagine trying to talk to God now.  What would happen?

So here is the conclusion of the experiment.  Please answer the poll. I’d appreciate choosing one of the answers even if a stretch from the way you’d phrase it. But if you can’t, please leave a comment below. Thank you !



Filed under Philosophy & Religion

26 responses to “Trading Jesus for God

  1. Renee

    The experiment doesn’t work for those who simply believe.

  2. An interesting experiment.

    There are many Christians who do not believe (or claim we simply cannot know) that Jesus *actually* rose from the dead because of the historical distance and the obvious bias of those who wrote his story (not to mention what we know about dead bodies and their tendency to stay dead).

    Rather, these Christians base their faith on a theological idea of what the resurrection meant to the early church and what it means to us today. For them, what one merely intellectually assents to is only one part of being a Christian–the other parts might include certain moral conduct, ways of treating other people, cultural identity etc…

    I am not one of these types of Christians but I probably would become one if it were ever *proven* that Jesus Christ was not resurrected.

    In my opinion, what one believes about the Resurrection has more to do with how one prefers to think about God and reality than it does about looking at the actual evidence. The event is simply too far away.

  3. Sabio,

    I’m there with Reed. It’s not like anyone can ‘prove’ the Resurrection as it is!

  4. I don’t see how you are testing people’s experience in this experiment. I have experienced the truth of Jesus. When I pray I don’t just talk to God I experience Him and I hear from Him. I’ve seen miracles, and experienced miracles, I’ve prayed for others and seen them healed.

    So even if some ground breaking evidence was unearthed that claimed to prove the reality of Christ all false, I would still say I’m continuing in Him because I have known it’s reality. I would also say the alternative to live life doing my own thing instead of having my life intertwined with is isn’t a life I would want.

    I see the reality of life with Jesus all the time. It’s very rewarding. I often use the analogy of meeting someone who tells me my husband isn’t real, and I’ve been imagining him all these years, that simply cannot be, I have relationship with him and I know he is real so no one could convince me otherwise. With Christ it is the same way, He is so incredibly apart of my life in real tangible ways that nothing could take that away.

  5. I don’t see how you are testing people’s experience in this experiment. I have experienced the truth of Jesus.

    How does one distinguish between an experience of a true supernatural being and an experience that one mistakenly imagines to be of a true supernatural being?

  6. More importantly, Karla… How does one distinguish between ‘experiencing the truth of Jesus’ and psychotic delusion? In both cases, the claimant will adamantly proclaim the reality of the experience. But without any way to differentiate the two… We know from psychiatry that psychosis is a real condition producing visions, voices, delusions, etc. We do not have any knowledge of ‘experiencing the truth of Jesus’, whatever that means. How do you know that your perception is correct?

  7. @Karla: to be fair to the post, it is clearly hypothetical. I don’t think it’s a ‘test of people’s experience’, per se. It seems intended to provoke thought as to how highly an orthodox Christian theist would place the *Jesus Christ of the Gospels* in their theism (i.e. is Jesus ‘detachable’ from their belief in God, or not). Obviously no-one will ever definitively prove either way on this issue; as Reed said, it is too far away historically. Though I would note to the objectors that several noted and respected apologists have made the point that there is more historical evidence (using the proper ‘rules’ of historical enquiry) for Jesus’ resurrection – that is, evidence that he actually died, and that at later times, was somehow seen to be alive again – than that Julius’ Caesar even existed. Personally, my philosophical leanings make me sceptical of the use of such apologetic techniques, and their ability convince anyone of anything, but I still find the research interesting. The most authoritative source, for me, on this issue is the work of N.T. Wright, the Bishop of Durham. [Obviously some reading this might (!) dismiss such claims on the ad hominem basis that they are *Christian* apologists, and are somehow being dishonest or self-deceiving.]

    This is beside the point though. Sabio, no real idea how I would respond. I think (?) I might become a Jew. That would seem the most sensible thing to do in the circumstances.

  8. @ Simon

    1) Wow, as expected, that took you a long time to say your answer: So, you’d become a Jew. Maybe even a Jew like Jesus was, eh? (smile)

    2) Thanks for explaining to Karla what a thought experiment is.

    3) You think N.T. Wright says there is historical evidence for Jesus — and you think that is “interesting”. Of course you would. We’d have to go through it to see how valid it is. It was funny to see you try to get a one-liner in there and then protect it by:

    a) Implying our doubt of a committed Christian’s “research” would be predictably silly.

    b) Covering yourself by saying, “my philosophical leanings make me sceptical of the use of such apologetic techniques.”

    I don’t want to get into a comment exchange over this issue, but instead want to point out blaringly odd irony that you felt the need to couch your answer in protective skeptical apologetics even though it was only a thought experiment.

    Thanks for playing.
    Follow-up questions:
    Continuing with the thought experiment,
    a) Though you’d be a Jew, would you continue pray to God still because there would be not Jesus as a mediator?
    b) Wouldn’t you feel God had deceived you, for obviously all your communications to date had been largely in error?

  9. @ Reed

    1) That was interesting, I do not know about many Christians who don’t believe in Jesus’ resurrection. Could you point me to the sects or seminaries in which they live. I’d be curious to read more.

    2) I guess they don’t pray to Jesus then, do they?

    3) Reed, do you pray more to Jesus or more to God or do you keep it pretty even? I mean linguistically, of course — for I imagine you constantly remind yourself that they are ontologically one.
    Serious questions — thank you.

  10. For the record N. T. Wright is anything but an apologist. His book “The Resurrection of the Son of God” is an 800 page tome filled with historical and exegetical work. He explicitly says he is not going to nor can he in any philosophical or historical way “prove” the Resurrection.

  11. @adhunt — it was Simon who hinted at him being an apologist. But I care not what you call him. Nonetheless, I have heard him spoken highly of in a few Christian circles and I shall have to put him on my reading list. If you have a chance to read some key posts on this blog and get a feel for who I am and what I think, which of Wright’s many works would you recommend for me? I found this site, maybe you can choose a few items from here. I have realized that there are brand new theological ventures since I last examined them and I am going to make a mild effort to start learning the various categories and so value exchanges with folks like you guys. Thank you.

  12. Will come back to this, but yeah, adhunt is absolutely right re. N.T. Wright. Good clarification.

    Re. the ‘couching’ thing, you don’t want a comment exchange, so I won’t give you one. All’s to say is I wasn’t trying to protect my ‘one-liner’, but merely point out that I am not stupid enough to assume such a claim would convince or persuade anyone here. My main conviction is – as I, adhunt and Reed have already said – that no-one can prove or disprove anything on this issue. The other point was just a throwaway.

    I’ll answer your other qu.’s later tonight; I’m flying tomorrow and have to pack 🙂

  13. Sabio, re. N.T. Wright, there’s a bunch of stuff here:

  14. Sabio,

    I was more responding to Simon originally labeling him ‘apologist.’ I agree that the ntwright page is a great site, but for someone (as I gather from your profile etc…) as intelligent and searching as you (btw that is not meant to be sarcastic or anything) I would highly recommend Wrights historical series entitled “Christian Origins and the Question of God” So far he has released three volumes:
    i – The New Testament and the People of God – wherein he sets out a philosophically nuanced “critical-realist epistomology” for doing historical research. From there he examines the Judaism(s) of Palestine in the 1st century CE and locates Jesus firmly in the Jewish tradition. After this he sets out a vision of the first 100 years of Christianity from which he will build his future volumes.

    ii – Volume 2, “Jesus and the Victory of God” is a 700 page book on the “Historical Jesus.” He ends up being neither predictably “conservative” or “liberal” but he interacts with all the major literature.

    iii – Volume 3 is “The Resurrection of the Son of God” in which he examines the “afterlife” in ancient Roman and Greek culture, the OT, intertestamental Judaism, and the major literature of the early church extending past the NT into the “apostolic fathers.”

    His next volume will be on St. Paul and there will be at least one other that will deal specifically with the Gospels and possibly another comprehensive “theology” of sorts.

    If you wanted more info on Historical Jesus studies I could fill you in on the major authors, skeptical and “conservative”

  15. Sabio, sorry just saw you’d already linked to that Wright site. Your questions:
    1) I’d do what Jews do, and they pray to YHWH, obviously. You seem to misunderstand Jesus’ mediatorial role a bit.
    2) No. Strange question.

    In the hypothetical situation, becoming a Jew seems to makes sense for the following reason. Christianity affirms that Jesus is the Messiah promised in the OT, the fulfilment of the Jewish law etc. etc.; it is an outgrowth of Jewish religion (growing into a kind of fusion of Greek and Jewish worldviews, I guess), unless you’re a Marcionite. All that is obvious. So, subtract Jesus and you’re left with the old Jewish religion, still waiting for the Messiah. That is, if it is suddenly unveiled that Jesus was a fraud or whatever, when you really think about it, and if (big ‘if’) you continue to accept the OT as somewhat authoritative, pre-Messianic Jewish religion is what you’re left with. That is, of course, unless the whole thing sours you on religion entirely (the ‘big if’ above).

  16. @adhunt: “…Simon originally labeling him ‘apologist.’”


  17. Simon,

    I was going with where Sabio said it. Is it really that important? If I mispoke I’m sorry.

  18. adhunt,
    No, no forget it. It was twattish of me to read tone into that. I apologise. I’m in a weird mood today.

  19. I do that all the time

  20. Glad you boys kissed and made up. We don’t want fellow Christians quarreling, save your energy for those pagans. (smile)

    @ Simon. Let’s say, only for argument’s sake, that I was a Christian and that your statement:

    You seem to misunderstand Jesus’ mediatorial role a bit.

    in reaction to my one statement:

    Though you’d be a Jew, would you continue pray to God still because there would be not Jesus as a mediator?

    were true.
    Would my lack of understanding of Jesus’ role in my salvation hurt my chance of salvation?
    Heck, “Reed” from your site who posts anonymously (pls tell him that is a no, no), is willing to call people Christians who don’t believe in Jesus’ resurrection. I mean, how far can we stretch it. Or did I forget, are you guys universalists? (not that you are all the same — but then, that is part of my point). You may not want to answer tonight — wait till you are in a less quibbly mood. Smile.

  21. Sabio, I’ll respond now just cos I’m on a plane all day tomorrow. But I am quibbly, so be careful or I’ll accuse you of using inappropriate tone at me…

    I don’t think people are ‘saved’ by right understanding, necessarily. That limits salvation to cognition. For me, in ‘salvation’ or ‘conversion’ there is something else, bigger, going on, which includes right understanding, but not narrowly, and which is much more than that. I hesitate to say something ontological occurs, but I’m thinking more in that direction. I actually think, oddly, a radical nihilist like Nietzsche would agree that an ontological change is necessary if people are to be transferred from ‘death’ to ‘life’, like in the way Paul describes (not merely a future thing for him, note). The atheist philosopher Alain Badiou also agrees with this radical reading of Paul, though he obviously doesn’t believe it literally. These are just thoughts; you have a habit of asking huge questions, Sabio, which is to your credit as it shows you see quite quickly what’s at stake, but it makes it very hard to answer you in a comment box.

    The term ‘Christian’ is frankly irrelevant. Loads of people call themselves Christians. I personally have no investment in the term; it’s just a communication aid. Reed was talking about theological liberals who obviously see themselves as Christians, although not orthodox Christians.

  22. Wow, caveats, caveats, caveats, cushions, cushions.
    So, “right understanding” counts, but “not necessarily”, “not narrowly”.

    OK, let me make it simple.
    Is there salvation?
    Can one person be saved and another not?
    Is there any way for you to know of that status (apparently an ontological changes — cute philosopher phrase).

    This classification of saved vs. not saved has large consequences in people’s behaviors. So this is a straightforward question. Most Christians would willingly jump in and take quick position. Theologians may waver — but then God probably has purgatory for them to stay in until they can learn to talk straight — no matter what the Pope says about purgatory (smile).

    Are those poor Christians who really did not understand the subtle ‘ontologicollogy'[sic] handicapped and at risk? How about the poor rural Hindu?

    Almost all Christians want some part of “correct knowledge” to count. You never told me if those Christians (liberals) will be in Jesus’ kingdom even if they don’t believe he is alive. Are they OK just because they call themselves “Christian” and buy into to part of the story and because of Mark 9:40?

    for whoever is not against us is for us.
    Mark 9:40

    Christianity is essentially a gnostic religion. Though lots of Christians may say it is all about a “relationship” with Jesus, they don’t mean “relationship” in the normal sense of that word. Since they don’t see, hear, touch Jesus or eat or play with him (which is what we normally mean by the word), then they are relating to stories in their head (that is why they keep reading the bible) — So there is some right knowledge no matter how carefully you’d like to rephrase my crass typification.

    Come on. Take a chance, tell us where you are on all this. Wait, I forgot, are you a professional religious person — are you thinking of making a living out of religion. In which case I caution you — be careful what you write — it may be used against you by a future student and get you fired or by a future parishioner and get you defrocked. The Christian world is very “right understanding” oriented. Mystics need to fly to Orthodox or certain Catholic orders. If I remember, you are thinking that you may need to go into the Orthodox tradition.

    So you did not answer my question, are you a universalist or do we need a more “nuanced”, “richer”, “fuller” conversation to deal with this? Do you think the Apostle Paul or James would have this trouble being straightforward and speaking plainly — who would they quote (or yeah, dead Greek or Hebrew writers).

    Well, maybe they would have the same issues if they were blogging back and forth — smile.

    PS – I was serious about the professional thing. They tried to fire me once at a State University for talking about evolution in the medical classes I taught — and that was graduate school ! It ends up that the Head of the Biology department was a creationist and a student reported me. I got called in, and refused. They took it to the Dean. Now Ironically, the Dean was Mormon and the Mormon students loved me because I defended their belief to be no more silly that orthodox beliefs. This made me a member of the Mark 9:40 Club in Mormon circles. Unbelievable, no? No, I have lots more stories like that. Thus the non-theoretical side of my questions.

  23. OK, last post for right now.
    – I believe there is an orthodoxy (right teaching) which anyone with the name ‘Christian’ should hold to. We discussed this over at D&L a little bit.
    – I find it hard to answer your questions because, if I were to do so in your ‘yes’ or ‘no’, black and white style, I would be making sweeping generalisations, and reductionist statements I wouldn’t be happy with.
    – I am happy to say with a lot of your questions that I am in no firm, final position – I’m 23 and have a lot to learn (makes me sound pious, I know); I have an idea or where I might stand; I know of the options theologically. When I believe something, I believe it with conviction, but am not overly dogmatic and don’t insist everyone agrees with me.
    – I am moving tentatively toward an academic career, and probably an inter-disciplinary one. I don’t intend to teach in a seminary, but hopefully in a mainstream institution, probably philosophy or literature or something. We’ll see.
    – I have been studying academically for quite a few years, and yes, I like nuance, and I don’t like broad, sweeping statements. I don’t really like too many propositions (though that may sound silly to you).
    – The Christian world is very ‘right understanding’ oriented, yes. There needs to be a corrective there, definitely, back to ‘right practice’. But it’s both/and not either/or.
    – I would dispute with you on the Gnostic thing (though I see why you say that) and point to a very bodily/fleshy sacrament like the Eucharist as evidence that Christian religion shouldn’t be just spiritualized or cognitized (is that a word? I mean in the head). And to bodily practices such as works of mercy etc. Gnostic tendencies are a danger for Christians today. I think there needs to be a corrective there too.
    – I am not a universalist, in the typical sense, and that is mostly C.S. Lewis’s fault. I am an inclusivist, broadly, though, and so would not be a jerk to a rural Hindu.

    Hope some of that is interesting. I’m aware I’m hedging my bets, but I’m hesitant to lay out some kind of statement of faith for you, because I’m not settled on a lot of issues. I’m pretty settled on the essentials of orthodoxy, but that’s about it right now. Next time I respond to this I’ll be in the States. Maybe that will make me more dogmatic 🙂

  24. @ Shamelessly Atheists

    Multiple people do not have the same psychotic delusions. If three people say they saw the same miracle before their eyes, they are either being tricked or it really happened. They can’t all be seeing the same delusion.

    If you have millions of people saying they have experienced something supernatural — they can’t all be deluded. Something is happening to them. It could be natural, but it would be safe to say that something real occurred whether it had a natural or supernatural source. The source would need to be traced, but to dismiss it all as people having delusions then you are ascribing lunacy to a lot of people at a level that isn’t physiologically possible.

    Also to those recommending N.T. Wright; I agree he’s got some good historical research available that ought to be investigated.

  25. oddy

    Belief is a process of experiences that has meanings to yourself. If it happen to you, then you believe. Whatever it is, other people is very hard to change your experiences. Until now, we still cannot understand how brain work for collecting from the data the sensual nervous system send in order to respond to the ever changing outside world. That is a big problem we face. The way we can do is to response the harsh world based on what you believe or belief. It sometimes helps but it is not really safe to rely on. We must recognize that we know little about it.

  26. Interesting survey and blog post. I can actually talk with some experience here. I was raised as a Christian and believed the Bible was the literal word of God even after college. I had questions about some of the Bible stories that didn’t make sense literally, but I always thought I would one day figure out the answers. After college I decided to read the Bible in more depth. I began comparing scriptures from the Old and New Testaments. Suddenly, I found myself realizing there were all sorts of contradictions. Like you, I studied Christian mysticism, Gnosticism, and even Judaism and Messianic Judaism. Unlike you, however, I found my place with an esoteric understanding of the Bible. Jesus and Buddha seem to stand for the same thing. When you stop reading the Bible literally, it all begins to make sense, at least it did for me. I no longer believe Jesus was literally resurrected – in fact he was a sun god – but I still have a strong belief in spirituality. I now know God is not outside of us. We are god.

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