Sean McDowell’s Second Big Question Backfires Too

Sean McDowell’s Second Big Question Backfires Too May 1, 2020

Hi and welcome back! Yesterday, we began an examination of Sean McDowell’s big Easter video about the Resurrection of Jesus. (I prefer to capitalize fictional chapter titles, she said sweetly.) In that first post, we checked out how he contorted illogic and junk history to arrive at the conclusion that his god was totally for realsies. Here, he moves forward into his next question: which religion is the real deal? So today, let’s see how Sean McDowell misinterprets this fictional event to claim validity for his entire religion.

status of attis in italy
The god Attis. (Dennis Jarvis, CC-SA.) In one hand, the photographer tells us, Attis holds a shepherd’s crook. The rays of the crown are made of bronze.

Question #2:

Which Religion Is True?

I’m cringing again. Sean’s second question concerns which religion, out of many thousands, might be the real deal. After all, they can’t all be correct. But he assumes that one must be correct, which isn’t so at all. In truth and in reality, they could all be wrong.

Here’s how his fractured logic works on this question:

Of all major religious figures, Jesus is the only one who claimed to be God in human flesh and did publicly-testable miracles that people could examine to back up his claims to be God — to defend and show that Christianity was true.

So therefore, Christianity is the only true religion ever, out of thousands of competitors.

HE’S MOVING ON NOW!

Don’t look at this idea any closer!

The Supposed Uniqueness of Jesus.

Sean McDowell definitely isn’t alone in making this assertion. I’ve heard it almost verbatim out of the mouths of countless earnest, fervent Christians dwelling in every single corner of the religion. They don’t normally point to the miracle stories as PROOF YES PROOF that Christianity is the only valid religion, but they lean very hard on the supposed Incarnation and Resurrection.

Thus, it’d really suck for Sean McDowell — as well as these countless other Christians — if those assertions weren’t actually true. If he’s hanging his entire religion’s validity on those two situations really having happened, then his entire house of cards collapses instantly.

(Mr. Captain: “I hate this guy’s voice. Just the fact that he’s speaking at all annoys me. He’s got to be an apologist. I can’t even make out exactly what he’s saying and he irks me.” I’m counting down the minutes till I get asked to put on headphones.)

Debunk #2:

More Assertions and Non-Evidence.

Inexplicably, Sean points to a 2001 movie called The Body as some sort of proof of his point. In this movie, someone finds what the Catholic Church fears might be the dead body of Jesus Christ. Gosh, Sean asserts: that’d just be the worst. Somehow that proves his point about Jesus being unique.

Evangelicals keep pointing to fictional stories to bolster their real-world claims. They don’t even notice themselves doing it, which just makes it funnier to watch.

We saw the exact same thinking on display when we looked at The Love Dare, the book written to accompany Fireproof. Evangelical fans of the book got really mad at its critics, repeatedly telling them to watch the movie to see how well the book worked for married couples. However, the movie is not only fictional but was written specifically to accompany the book! Evangelicals didn’t care. This fictional movie PROVED YES PROVED that The Love Dare worked as a marriage-saver.

Whatever Sean thinks he’s doing, his choo-choo falls apart if he’s wrong about Jesus being unique among god-claimants. And again, Jesus was not unique. Here are a few very similar claimants:

But Sean has a lot of misplaced trust in the Bible’s stories.

What Miracles?

Jesus didn’t do miracles to prove Christianity was true, because Christianity didn’t exist yet. Jesus himself very clearly thought his mission involved fixing Judaism. He considered himself completely Jewish. The earliest Christians considered themselves a new flavor of Judaism. So whatever Jesus might have been doing, it had nothing to do with Christianity.

Hey, if Jesus had revealed Germ Theory he could have saved billions of people. But okay, fine, let’s all coo and gurgle over stories about widdle Jesus curing one person of lady issues and someone else of leprosy and whatever. Ya know, he could have told everyone to stop treating women like chattel and that slavery was absolutely morally repugnant (oops, there’s that “moral law” problem), but instead he attended weddings, turned water into wine, and got lit.

I’m just sayin’: I expect better time management out of my omnimax beings.

But Jesus’ weird misplaced priorities are not even the most damning part of Christian mythology.

The Fusion Mix.

If a real live Jesus had wanted to PROVE YES PROVE that he was really a unique being and that his supernatural claims were uniquely true, he sure picked a weird way to go about it.

See, the Gospels’ way-after-the-fact stories fit into a Hellenistic worldview, not so much a Jewish one. That’s the place where Christianity diverges from being a total cookie-cutter product of its time: it took Jewish roots, added Hellenistic elements, tossed in tropes from popular mystery religions (notably Mithraism), and then whizzed it all together until it was hard to even tell where one influence ended and the next began.

I mean, I guess you could call this fusion “unique,” in the same way one might call a Can-Can Casserole “home cooking.”

The Jews themselves rejected the resulting fetid slurry out of hand — which is why the religion got rejiggered to appeal to pagans. And those pagans embraced it (to the extent that they did) for the exact same reasons that Jews had rejected it:

Jesus — or rather, the anonymously-written Gospels’ account of Jesus — fit into the exact mold that first-century pagans would have absolutely expected of their god-men. Jesus also performed the various miracles they completely expected of human-born divinities. He had a biography that looked familiar to them.

The Gospels’ stories don’t sound remotely unique, much less compelling, to anybody who even half-understands the history of the time.

More Circular Reasoning.

Even worse (for Sean McDowell), Jesus’ supposed miracles only exist in the Bible.

Thus, we encounter that circular-reasoning problem again.

Nobody has ever verified a single miracle. Ever! In fact, every time we investigate a miracle closely, we discover it’s a fraud (pious or otherwise), an exaggeration, or a misperception. There’s no reason to suspect that the Gospels’ accounts of miracles run along any different lines.

Nobody during Jesus’ supposed lifetime and active years of ministry ever thought to write down anything they saw or heard, so all we have are a few snippets of stories from people who probably weren’t even alive to see that stuff happening, much less to investigate it.

If we had any external sources talking about these miracles, we still would need to critically examine the claims. For example, we could look at how those witnesses had been tricked into thinking miracles had happened. But we don’t even have that much to go on.

When we consider all the miracles that people in other religions report, Sean’s argument looks worse. Every religion that makes supernatural claims also features miracle claims. They look very much the same as the ones Christians love to report, too, and when we investigate them they fall apart in the same ways.

If Sean’s Assertions Were Actually True.

Sean’s second argument is hilariously bad: misinformed, poorly-considered, and blatantly manipulative. However, what makes it so hilariously, stupendously backfired is this:

Even if Jesus really had lived, died, and been resurrected, and even if he was the only god-man who ever existed who’d done that, and even if the Gospels were 100% true, that doesn’t make Christianity a religion worth joining — or its god worth worshiping.

Sean McDowell, like most history- and science-based apologists, goes for broke on PROOF YES PROOF that the Bible’s accounts are 100% accurate and literally true. He thinks that if he can just persuade a mark of his viewpoint, then his mark will be forced to concede that Christianity is a valid religion based on reality — and then immediately convert.

But that’s completely not the case.

Ignore These Dealbreakers!

If Sean even could make that leap, he’d still have to contend afterward with a whole host of dealbreakers about Christianity:

  • Jesus doesn’t change anybody or help anybody in any tangible way
  • miracles still don’t exist and have never been credibly confirmed
  • Christians are still really awful people as a group, with evangelicals being the worst of all
  • hypocrisy runs rampant through Christian groups, with the worst of it found among evangelicals
  • Christian social rules just don’t work on any kind of large scale
  • it’s impossible for any one Christian’s interpretation of the Bible to definitively demolish any other interpretations, so denominations multiply and attack each other
  • however, it’s very easy for Christians to justify atrocities using the Bible — and somehow neither “Jesus” nor other Christians seem able to stop them

As the bard said, “What have you done for me lately?”

In fact, the mess we see in Christianity nowadays sure acts like an anti-witness to the veracity of Sean’s history claims. No good, loving, omnipotent god could possibly be okay with followers like these.

Segue: Strawman Ahoy!

Instead of dealing with those above-named dealbreakers, apologists decide that The Big Problem Here is that people just don’t know the apologetics-based hand-waving around Christians’ science and history claims.

It’s way easier for them to create that straw man to attack, rather than tackling the real reasons why people reject their sales pitches.

In reality, nobody has to know anything at all about ancient history or Biblical criticism to reject Christianity. All they have to do is look at those dealbreakers. They’ll immediately know that whatever’s going on in Christian groups, it’s not divine and it’s certainly not worth anyone’s time or money.

Every year, more and more apologetics comes out that’s based on pseudoscience and junk history. And none of this effort matters. It’s not actual evidence for Christians’ claims, so it neither persuades new marks nor retains existing ones with real questions. All it’ll do is ease the doubts of some already-believing sheep — for a while.

Declaring Victory.

Ultimately, Sean’s second argument doesn’t prove what he wants it to prove, but then, neither did his first argument.

Nonetheless, he declares victory. Hooray! He’s officially determined that only Christianity, the religion he happens to believe in and make money selling swag for, is true and valid among all other religions!

What would anyone reasonable expect a Christian apologist to discover? Did anybody seriously expect him to discover that Hinduism or Wicca is really the only one true religion?

No, confirmation bias is alive and well in Christendom.

Because really, everyone knows what the only true religion is.

NEXT UP: In this second argument, Sean McDowell reaches for a really nasty manipulation tool, the cruel dilemma. Tomorrow, I’ll show you what that is and why it’s so bad. See you soon!


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We made it through the entire 2 minutes of Sean McDowell talking without Mr. Captain demanding I wear headphones to finish my writing. Let’s see how long he lasts when we reach Part 3!

Chat day!

About Captain Cassidy
Captain Cassidy grew up fervently Catholic, converted to the SBC in her teens, and became a Pentecostal shortly afterward. She even volunteered in church (choir, Sunday School) and married an aspiring preacher! But then--record scratch!--she brought everything to a screeching halt when she deconverted in her mid-20s. That was 25 years ago. Now a comfortable None, she blogs on Roll to Disbelieve about psychology, pop culture, politics, relationships, cats, gaming, and more--and where they all intersect with religion. She lives with an adored and adoring husband named Mr. Captain and a sweet, squawky orange tabby cat named Princess Bother Pretty Toes. At any given time, she's running out of bookcase space. You can read more about the author here.

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