This dialogue began in the comment exchange for the post How many wrong beliefs did Jesus have? at Randal Rauser’s blog. I’m picking up the dialogue at the point “clamat” made the following comment, to which I will respond one piece at a time:
clamat: Staying calm doesn’t mean what one is saying is rational, any more than raising one’s voice means what one is saying is irrational.
Mike: I agree. I didn’t say otherwise. I only pointed out that behavior can be unusual without being irrational, and that this was the case with Jesus.
clamat: And I seem to recall that Jesus “cried out with a loud voice..My God, My God, why has thou forsaken Me?” So apparently, by your reasoning, this loud “crying out,” i.e., failing to “stay quiet,” means he wasn’t rational.
Mike: Not at all. First, I was making the point that when Jesus was crucified He did not revile those who reviled Him, nor did He threaten those who were mistreating Him. That was what made His behavior different from normal human behavior. Generally speaking, therefore, He could be said to have “remained quiet” during His suffering, but that quietness is in relative terms. I was not trying to make the point that He didn’t literally utter a single word. That wouldn’t have proven anything, for people can quietly seethe when they’re feeling mistreated. One of the few statements Jesus did make that fateful day, in addition to the one you mentioned, was “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” Again, this may not be normative for humans in this position (antiquity does not report that victims of Roman crucifixion were prone to such utterances), but there’s nothing irrational about it if one believes that this life is not all there is.
clamat: Giving a “rationale” for doing things doesn’t mean one is rational, it means one is rationalizing.
Mike: That’s just not true. A person who gives a rationale for his actions might be rationalizing, but he might be simply explaining why he did what he did. The latter was the case with Jesus.
clamat: The most evil people in the world give a “rationale” for their atrocities.
Mike: Yes, some do. And this demonstrates that they’re being rational. They are, of course, not right. Being rational doesn’t make you right; it just means you have reasons for doing what you do.
clamat: You can’t honestly dispute that many, many people have made claims that, on their face, are qualitatively indistinguishable from those made by Jesus. Including many claims to actually be Jesus (http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/science/2010/05/jesus_jesus_jesus.html).
Mike: I acknowledged from the outset that a mere human being who says things like “I am the way, the truth, and the life” and “You must love me more than the members of your family,” would rightly be considered irrational. It was the basis of my point that Jesus was altogether unique in saying these things with good reason.
As for people thinking they are Jesus, I’ll add to your link by pointing out that the guy accused of shooting at the White House apparently said he was Jesus. But that there are people who claim to be Jesus no more disproves the reality of Jesus than people claiming to be Napoleon disproves the historicity of Napoleon.
And if you think that the statements these sort of people make are “qualitatively indistinguishable” from those made by Jesus, then I have to question whether you are really a fair-minded person – unless you are completely divorcing their statements from their behavior, but then that’s an exercise with no practical value.
clamat: I assume you think the Three Jesuses of Ypisilanti were delusional, despite the things they said. Why do you think Jesus of Nazareth was telling the Truth? It seems to be because Jesus of Nazareth was really “eloquent.”
Mike: I know Jesus Christ tells the truth because my conscience bears me witness that it is the truth. No one else speaks so directly and persuasively to the biggest problems of the human race, which are, unquestionably, sin and death. I know that I have a sin problem and a death problem – and in that regard I am no different from any other human being.
I saw nothing in what the “Three Jesuses of Ypsilanti” were saying that touched on my life. My heart, however, goes out to them for truly there are some tormented people in this world. I am glad everyone is going to heaven, which means they even if they don’t find relief in this life they will surely find it in the next.
clamat: But eloquence is entirely subjective. In the immortal words of the Dude, well, that’s just your opinion, man. It’s trite, but entirely accurate. Eloquence is in the ear of the listener.
Mike: I could agree that eloquence is somewhat subjective, but not “entirely” subjective. For if it were entirely subjective there would be so such thing as a survey-of-great-literature course in a university because all literature would be random and there could be no agreement about what distinguished good literature from bad.
clamat: In my opinion, plenty of cult leaders have said things just as eloquent as the Sermon.
Mike: Notwithstanding my example just above, I’m speaking more of moral eloquence than rhetorical or literary eloquence.
If you believe that “plenty of cult leaders” have said things just as eloquent as the Sermon on the Mount, then you have pretty low standards for eloquence.
clamat: Prove my opinion is wrong. You can’t.
Mike: Not to you, I agree.
clamat: Similarly, I defeat your argument by simply offering my bald opinion that, oh, the Koran, say, is marked by far superior moral “beauty” and “clarity.” (again, eye of the beholder).
Mike: I have to believe that you’re just saying that to be argumentative. I can’t believe you really hold to it.
clamat: Whether Jesus of Nazareth actually rose from the dead is a matter of some dispute, to make the understatement of the year. All the rest is just your own attempt at eloquence. Others would praise their personal heroes just as passionately, and in similar terms.
Mike: No problem. I’ll put my Hero up against theirs.
clamat: On their face, Jesus’ claims to be “the way” (whatever that means), the “truth” (whatever that means) and the “life” (whatever that means) are just as likely to be the product of a sick mind as were those of Jim Jones. Or as conniving a mind as the Baghwan. Or as deluded a mind as Mohammed.
Mike: If you cannot distinguish between the life and teachings of Jesus on the one hand, and the lives and teachings of the other three, then I have to conclude that you are not yet a morally serious person.
clamat: That said, in my opinion, Jesus of Nazareth said some wonderful things, the Golden Rule being perhaps the best. But Confucius and said it first.
Mike: Ah, but Confucius didn’t say what Jesus said. The golden rule as Jesus delivered it (see Matthew 22:34-40) was the second part of a two-part answer to the question “What is the greatest commandment in the Torah of Moses?” I doubt if Confucius was even aware of the Torah or Moses. However, since Confucius didn’t live until some one thousand years after Moses, I suppose it’s possible he could have have been a biblical exegete after all.
You are, of course, welcome to answer if you like.