Recently, I was listening to Sam Harris' Waking Up podcast with Dr. Bart Ehrman when, during the interview, Sam mentioned another podcast called Heaven's Gate. If you're unfamiliar with the Heaven's Gate cult, as I was, I'll just very briefly fill you in. Started in the 1970's, "Do and Ti," the two leaders of the group, believed through direct revelation that they were, in fact, the two witnesses described in the Book of Revelation. This idea later evolved into Do and Ti being directly related to both Jesus and God, respectively. Moreover, they convinced their followers that upon death the group would be whisked away by a spacecraft and taken to Heaven. After the matriarch of the group died of cancer, Do, the remaining leader, convinced 39 members of the group to commit suicide in order to "graduate" to the next level, an act that he, too, participated in. It is a tragic yet fascinating story that left me feeling all the more convinced of the importance of being able to discern fact from fiction. I can't help but think, with all due respect, that this is what can happen when one's critical thinking skills are never developed and this one precious existence is but a mere stepping stone to the ultimate paradise. Sound familiar?
In Natasha Crain's Keeping Your Kids on God's Side, she introduces Chapter 18 of her book, titled "Did Jesus really claim to be God?" with a concern that all Christian parents should have regarding a growing trend among today's youth, termed Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. Apparently, many young people are falling into the detrimental trap that life is about being a good person (moral), that it's important to feel good about oneself (therapeutic), and that a nonpersonal god created the world (deism). Thus, a personal relationship with Jesus is absent. The horror! I mean, why would you want your kids to be good just for the sake of being good? Better to have them fearing the wrath of God. How could you be a true filthy rag suffering for the kingdom of God if your self-esteem is a little too healthy? Seriously, if that's all these kids take away from their Christian upbringing, Christian parents better count their blessings...name them one by one. If you want to know true heartbreak, listen to the Heaven's Gate podcast as parents recount the unbearable loss of their children to an utterly misguided belief. Yes, critical thinking skills can, in fact, be a life saver; and it is these skills that Natasha and other apologists are determined to overwhelm with their pseudo-evidence.
So, where did these Christian kids go astray? As Natasha notes, "They clearly lack the conviction that Jesus was actually God. If they believed He was truly God, their faith couldn't possibly exclude Him." And thus, apologists are forced to address whether or not Jesus is God, because "If He didn't claim to be God, there would be little reason to conclude he actually was God, regardless of what others thought." Whoa. Really? I'm surprised Natasha would make this admission. It seems to me that if the evidence for Jesus is convincing enough, then whether or not he directly calls himself God is irrelevant, right? Given the many miracles that Jesus supposedly performed, why would Natasha's faith hinge on Jesus claiming to be God? Nevertheless, Natasha posits six main points that support the divinity of Jesus, despite the fact that Jesus never directly stated, "I am God."
1) Jesus claimed to be Yahweh.
2) Jesus claimed to have the same unique rights as God.
3) Jesus claimed to be the Messiah (God).
4) Jesus claimed His words had as much authority as God's words.
5) Jesus accepted worship.
6) Jesus accepted prayer in His name.
Rather than tackling each one, I'll just make a broad criticism that I think is sufficient. Natasha supports her points by utilizing multiple verses from the Gospels of the New Testament, offering direct quotes from Jesus himself! Okay, so given that none of the Gospel writers were eyewitnesses to the life of Jesus and the very earliest Gospel, Mark, was written 40 years after the death of Jesus, how in the world can we feel confident in knowing what came out of Jesus' mouth? The book of John was written approximately 60 years after the death of Jesus! Am I to believe that oral tradition's game of telephone was just that accurate? Once again, I'm not buying it.
People make outlandish claims all of the time. People believe those outlandish claims all of the time, sometimes billions of people. Even more concerning is the fact that many are willing to die for those beliefs and claims, convinced that something better awaits them upon death. What is a person not capable of believing when from the earliest age possible they are taught by trusted adults that absolutely anything is possible? Raise the dead? God can! Heal the sick? God can! Cast demons into pigs? God can! Kill literally millions of his own creation? God did! I'm sure you get the point. It's such a severe disadvantage that Christian children are unnecessarily burdened with, one that can have potentially dire consequences.