Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Who Would Die for a Vague Mystical Experience?

One answer to the question of who Jesus was is to claim that He was a mystical experience in the mind of His followers. That what matters is not who He was and what He did, but simply how His followers responded to Him. That the whole thing was entirely subjective, with no objective basis. Now I am far from despising experiences; I have had a few of them myself. But it is my experience that experience follows faith and not the other way around. And the most powerful experiences are those that are based on something.  Why someone would have a strong mystical experience over one more moral philosopher or one more failed Jewish messiah is not at all clear. And this was clearly a very powerful experience, People were willing to die for it. And it went beyond the a few people who were close to Jesus and might be sentimentally attached to Him. It spread like wildfire, ultimately engulfing the whole Roman Empire.

Now there are those today who base their faith totally on a vague mystical experience. But theirs hardly seems the most committed of faiths. And this is frequently with history and culture under-girding it. In fact, it seems to continually alter itself to fit in with the culture. And that is in a culture like ours, where being somewhat fanatical is still fairly safe. This is not surprising, as it is the character of experiences to ebb and flow due to circumstances or just over time. It is faith that becomes the basis for a genuine experience and preserves and encourages it. But something based only on a vague experience would have been blown over by the severe persecution Christians faced. Also, if there had been no solid basis for their experience, their opponents (and they had many) would have pointed it out.

Also, the New Testament writers do not talk like people only trying to communicate an experience. In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul says the whole Christian faith is based on the resurrection of the body, particularly Christ's body. But if you are basing everything on an experience, why would you care if Christ rose physically or only spiritually? It is only if you are trying to defend a historical event that it makes a difference. Also, Paul appeals to 500 witnesses. Now if he were advocating an experience, his appeal ought to be, "I had this experience and you can have it too." But the appeal to witnesses is an appeal to a unique historical event that cannot be reproduced for every observer.

The truth is, this is a deliberate attempt to read a modern philosophy of life back into the ancient world. But there is no evidence they had such a belief. And reading a philosophy back into a time when it did not exist only confuses the issue.  

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