Monday, November 24, 2014

Of Atheists, Zombies, Wizards, and Jesus

An atheist recently claimed the following about Our Lord:
"First century zombie wizard" accurately describes what christians believe about Jebus.He lived in the first century.He died then came back to life, like a zombie.He had magic powers (ie, performed "miracles"), like a wizard.
To which another atheist disagreed, saying

Jesus wasn't a zombie.  Now a lich is more reasonable or a mummy but better to say. "Do you believe in a 1st century undead carpenter whom may have performed magic" is the most detailed description one can make.
Which, of course, is nothing less than a painfully obvious misrepresentation of actual Christian beliefs (which these atheists must only learn from other atheists). This kind of argument is essentially the same as this brilliant rebuttal of evolution:
Two monkeys had sex and a human baby popped out? Yeah right. Who'd the baby mate with then? Ha, ha... stupid evolutionists.
Both the "first century zombie wizard" and the above description are ridiculous straw men of the positions Christians and evolutionists actually hold. Let's take a look at why this type of argument entirely fails to land even a glancing blow against Christianity.

What is a Straw Man?
For those who might not be familiar with the term we turn to Dr. Peter Kraft's Socratic Logic for a description,
The "straw man" fallacy consists in refuting an unfairly weak, stupid, or ridiculous version of your opponents idea (either his conclusion or his argument) instead of the more reasonable idea he actually holds. You first set up a "straw man," or scarecrow, then kick it down, since a straw man is easy to knock down. (p. 79)
With that definition in place, let's look at each of the claims made by our first atheist and see if they accurately represent Christian beliefs or if he is creating a "weak, stupid, ridiculous version" of what Christians believe. 

First Century
Do Christians believe Jesus is a first century being? Do we believe in, pray to, and worship a man from the past? No. Christians believe Jesus is co-eternal with the Father, begotten not made. When we pray to Jesus, we don't think we are communing with some character from the days of Caesar Augustus, we claim to be in communion with a contemporary - a man, in fact, who is contemporary to every time. Of course, Jesus did trod the Earth during thirty-three years of the first century in a unique way, that much our atheists get right - He does have a special connection with first century history (that being the time from His Incarnation to His Ascension) but Christians most certainly do not see Jesus as being somehow "from" the first century. I'll grant this this, of the three claims, comes the closest to actual Christian belief, but it still grossly misses the mark, making it appear was if Christians worship a limited being from the distant past.

Zombie (or Lich or Mummy)
Do Christians believe Jesus is "undead?" Well, first it might do well to see what the "undead" are. According to Wikipedia,
 undead is a being in mythology, legend or fiction that is deceased yet behaves as if alive. 
Which brings us to the question, do Christians believe that Jesus, after the Resurrection, is  "deceased yet behaves as if alive?" The answer is a clear "no." Christians profess Christ Risen, not as if alive, but actually, fully alive. Christians believe that Jesus had the power to lay down His life and also to take it up again (cf. Jn 10:18). Christians manifestly do not believe Jesus is still dead after the Resurrection, but now - like the undead - behaves as if He is alive. Rather we believe He actually is alive. Further, the undead (whether they be zombies, liches, or mummies) are, as we see from the definition above, less alive than we are, or indeed than they were before their deaths. Just think of any depiction of a zombie, groping about mindlessly looking a brain to feast on, and we see these images of the undead are monstrous distortions of life (because they are, in fact still deceased despite moving about as if alive). The opposite holds true for what Christians believe about Jesus. We don't believe He is less alive after the Resurrection, we believe He is more more alive. He doesn't stumble about in a half decayed body - one that still shows the effects of the tomb, rather His body is glorified - is superior to His pre-Resurrection Body. The undead, far from being Christlike, are actually anti-Christ figures - distorting the promises of the final bodily resurrection of all believers into a horrific "living death." Again, our atheists have grossly missed the mark of actual Christian belief, creating a straw man version of the Resurrection. 

Wizard (or Magic Working Carpenter)
Do Christians believe Jesus is a powerful wonder working wizard? Well, you've probably already noticed a trend here - the answer (again) is clearly, no. A wizard is a man who, usually through some hidden occult knowledge or through some special object or book, is able to interfere with and manipulate matter. The Bible knows full well about such characters, as we see in the eighth chapter of the Book of Acts
there was a man named Simon who had previously practiced magic in the city and amazed the nation of Samaria, saying that he himself was somebody great. They all gave heed to him, from the least to the greatest, saying, “This man is that power of God which is called Great.” And they gave heed to him, because for a long time he had amazed them with his magic. But when they believed Philip as he preached good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women.  Even Simon himself believed, and after being baptized he continued with Philip. And seeing signs and great miracles performed, he was amazed.... Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money, saying, “Give me also this power, that any one on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.”  But Peter said to him, “Your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money!... And Simon answered, “Pray for me to the Lord, that nothing of what you have said may come upon me.” (v. 9-24)

We see here the juxtaposition of a "wizard" with the apostles, who work wonders not through "magic," but through the grace and will of God. The apostles derive their power from God to the point where they can do nothing apart from Him (cf. Jn 15:5). God simply chooses to work miracles through them - this distinction (working magic through your own will and being a conduit of God's will) is the essential difference between wizards (who control nature by their own power or learning) and the disciples (who do not). If the wonders worked by the apostles are not the result of their wizardry, how much more is Jesus Himself not a wizard? Jesus, being God enfleshed, obviously works the miracles He does not through any gained wisdom or power, but through the power of God. Further, Jesus doesn't work His miracles through His own will (like a wizard), but merely does the will of the Father (cf. Jn 6:38). Which is a bit of a long way to say, no Christians don't believe Jesus is a powerful wizard, they believe He is God.

What Do Christians Really Believe?
If we don't believe Jesus is a First Century, Zombie Wizard what do we believe He is? We believe Jesus is the eternally begotten Second Person of the Most Holy Trinity. True God from true God. As such He is the author of (and thus has control over) the laws of nature. Indeed, He is omnipotent. In the first century, He took on flesh and dwelt among us (and He continues to be physically present with us until the end of the age hidden behind the accidents of bread and wine in the Holy Eucharist). He was crucified under Pontius Pilate, died and was buried, but rose again, in a new and glorified Body, into a fuller experience of life and will never die again. I admit that is a bit longer and less catchy (not to mention less easy to argue against) proposition than the Zombie Wizard bit, but such is what we actually believe and such is what needs confronted to avoid a failed "straw man" argument.

Does it Matter What Christians Believe?
As you can see, I keep stressing "what Christians believe." Our atheists might retort, "well I don't believe any of those things about Jesus, so he's still a Zombie Wizard." This would be the height of illogic. As we saw from the definition above, a straw man is a mischaracterization of what the other side believes. It doesn't matter if you believe it or not, what matters is arguing against what the other side does in fact believe. It would do our young Earther no good to say, when called out for the straw man example above, "oh, well I don't believe in evolution, so I say it is the same as a monkey giving birth to a human baby." That would just be to restate the straw man, it wouldn't make it any less of a fallacy. The same holds true for the atheists. It doesn't matter whether or not they believe Jesus is Resurrected in almost the exact opposite way of the undead - it only matters that Christians believe it. To argue effectively against Christianity, you have to actually argue against Christianity, not against a weak (straw man) version of it.

Perhaps the Best Question... Why Create the Straw Man?
The most common reason people construct straw men of their opponents positions is because they can't refute the actual positions held by those they disagree with. Those employing straw men, then, are being less than honest. I never like, however, to ascribe malevolency where ignorance can suffice as an explanation, which I think is a good rule to follow with our two atheist friends here. Sure they both could know what Christians believe and be deliberately constructing straw man versions of the Faith, but, for some reason something tells me they just don't know any better. They might just actually believe that they are summing up what Christians really believe. I suppose such might be the necessary consequence of getting most (or all) of your information about Christianity from atheist websites. Imagine someone deciding they'd learn all about the African American experience from reading materials produced by the Ku Klux Klan or someone opting to study evolution (to return to our example above) but staying far away from any evolutionist, preferring to read young Earth creationists exclusively. Such selective reading brings to mind James Carville who once remarked (apropos of cable news channels) that viewers tuned in for the same reason a drunk uses a light post - not for illumination, but for support. Of course, doing so might end up making you look ridiculous.

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Of Atheists, Straw Men, Spaghetti Monsters, and God

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