When someone claims to have encounters with supernatural beings and receive revelations from God, it seems to me that one of the possibilities that must be considered is that the claims are the product of an over active imagination. The person making the claims might be perfectly sincere, but he he might be delusional or he might be a pathological liar.
In the 19th century, Joseph Smith managed to convince many literate people that he had encountered a supernatural being and that he had received revelations from God. Some of his followers made similar claims. Most non-Mormons seem to think that Smith was a huckster or a lunatic. In the 1st century, many illiterate peasants became convinced that a supernatural being had made appearance to various people and that God had given revelations to some of the people who had witnessed those appearances. Nevertheless, I have never seen any serious discussion of the possibility that the resurrection was an invention of someone's imagination.
Friday, March 11, 2011
Apologists like to cite the willingness of early Christians to endure persecution as necessitating some sort of supernatural explanation for the spread of Christianity, but it seems to me that this willingness must be viewed in context. Although the persecution of early Christians was occasionally severe under the Roman Empire, it was sporadic and ad hoc. Many early Christian communities were probably undisturbed. Moreover, life for peasants and slaves within the Roman Empire was no bowl of cherries in the first place. Life expectancies were low, social mobility was unlikely, and the possibility of a brutal death was a fact of life. It is easy to see the attraction of a supportive community that taught that man could transcend a world filled with pain.
In fact, when you compare the choices available to nineteenth century Mormons with those available to first century Christians, I think that the sacrifices of the Mormons look pretty impressive. The people who followed Brigham Young out to Utah could have settled on fertile farmland in either Iowa or Illinois where the Indians had been largely subdued. Instead they chose to make a long trek to a much less promising region where the threat from hostile natives was much greater. Despite having seen their leader murdered, they chose hardship when there were many other attractive opportunities.
Thursday, March 10, 2011
Since my cable package added Bloomberg, I have been watching CNBC much less. However, I did catch Joe Kernen's interview with Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan today. Naturally, when Ryan cited a recent article by Alan Greenspan, Kernen did not ask why the Republican Congressman was looking for policy guidance from the man most responsible for the financial crisis. And of course, Kernen did not question the logic of cutting Social Security and Medicare benefits in order to avoid cutting Social Security and Medicare benefits.