What Does It Matter If People Who Claim To “Know Jesus” Disagree About What Jesus Thinks—Can’t Some Still Be Right?

Last night (or, more technically, “this morning) I posted a Non-Stamp Collector advertisement and as a bonus threw in a video in which he demonstrates the implausibility of people’s claims to have “personal relationships with Jesus” by making the point that people claiming to “know Jesus” constantly contradict each other about exactly what this Jesus they know thinks and feels about a number of central issues. In case you missed the video, here it is again for your convenience:

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In reply to the video, penultima wrote:

If I may…

While on this issue of a “personal relationship with Jesus” all he does is prove the point that people can be in error, but he does not prove that:

a. it is impossible to have a correct relationship with Jesus.
b. jesus doesn’t exist.

I mean there are people who have an understanding of quantum physics and they all disagree on exactly how many dimensions there are, but does that mean that quantum physics doesn’t exist? Hardly.

NSC has other videos that go into the nature of God and etc and those videos more strongly show that “religion” is crazy, but again that doesn’t prove that it is false.

I have to give him credit though, those are some funny videos.

That’s true but what he proves is further and that’s that those who claim they have a “correct relationship with Jesus” make competing assertions that flat out contradict each other and there is no clear way to settle their disputes. These are just flat out assertions without basis. Comparing the struggles of physicists to give an intelligible account of quantum mechanics is not apt. In the case of quantum mechanics it is known that quantum mechanics is true because its math is extraordinarily predictive. The issue is what sense to make of indisputable, known phenomena, experimental results, and mathematics.

The difference is between a struggle to formulate an account of a known reality (quantum mechanics) vs. positing a reality (a presently living Jesus who has a personal relationship with millions right now) whose existence as still living we are supposed to believe at least in part due to the testimony of those who claim to know him. And their “testimonies” alone are pretty worthless when all they ever seem to be are projections of the alleged witnesses’ own feelings and attitudes. Since a living Jesus is certainly not confirmable through any independent means besides these testimonies about people’s “experiences” of their “personal relationships” with him, the fact that their accounts of their relationships sound arbitrary, subjective, and reflective of nothing but their own completely contradictory accounts, then there is no independent basis for saying anyone is having a personal relationship with Jesus.

This is especially true because the specific criteria for getting right the facts of what someone you have a personal relationship with are much different than the criteria for getting the facts right about quantum physics. Proving a “personal relationship” involves demonstrating intimate knowledge or at least basic familiarity with someone’s basic views (or a silence about them). Unless you want to abuse language, personal relationship should be a pretty unambiguous thing. Either you have one or not.

All the people I have personal relationships with I can tell you what they think and it will not usually sound like just a projection of my OWN feelings, beliefs, and attitudes like these accounts of what Jesus thinks so usually do. I will actually tell you about personal friends with contrary views to my own. And something else I’ll do is shut up about what their views are on things on which I’ve never explicitly heard their opinion. Many personal friends of Jesus are not nearly so modest. They seem to like to fill in Jesus’ views on many topics that the Bible, for example, is vague or outright silent about.

In those cases am I to believe some of them are REALLY getting their extra ideas about Jesus from their personal relationship that just tells them what Jesus’ real feeling and attitudes on things are? Especially when this process of just intuiting is indistinguishable in contradictory cases and when there are no ways to confirm of verify correct vs. incorrect instances?

Now you may be saying that nonetheless it’s just true that some who think they have a personal relationship with Jesus do not really have a “correct” one and those with a “correct” one would get the questions about Jesus’ personal views right and the others wouldn’t. But what’s your criteria for reliably distinguishing correctness from incorrectness here? And with such an extraordinary claim—the claim to have a personal relationship with an invisible man who died and arose from the dead 2,000 years ago—isn’t the burden of proof really on those making these claims rather than on those who point out the contradictions in the alleged witnesses’ stories and the lack of evidence to support their claims?

Finally, the burden of proof for extraordinary claims, like religious ones in general and personal relationship with Jesus questions in specific, reside with those who make them and not with those who refute them. Non-Stamp Collector does not need to conclusively prove the extraordinarily unlikely is absolutely false. Any one who advances a proposition first needs to prove the likelihood for what she asserts before anyone has any onus to prove her outright false. As long as a belief can be demonstrated clearly implausible, “proof” is not necessary. If I tell you I’m blogging while sitting on an elephant in my third floor New York City apartment right now, you have every reason to infer my claim is false even without conclusive proof because of the sheer implausibility of the claim. It’s on me to prove my elephant. It’s on the religious believer to prove their wild claims are true. It’s on Jesus’ friends to get their stories straight and come up with a plausible account of how a man killed 2,000 years ago (assuming he even existed) talks to them daily. And a first step might be at least not contradicting each other constantly about what he supposedly says to them!

Your Thoughts?

About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.


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