An Atheist Reads The Case for Christ
PART 2: Analyzing Jesus
Chapter 8: The Psychological Evidence — Was Jesus Crazy When He Claimed to Be the Son of God?
We’re halfway through the book!
The Duncan Scott Story
- Duncan Scott was a New Mexico state senator who suggested altering state law in 1997 to require all psychiatrists and psychologists testifying in court to wear wizard costumes and carry wands, and have their testimony punctuated by the striking of a gong. The amendment actually passed the senate before dying in the New Mexico House of Representatives.
- Strobel relates this story to illustrate how skeptically many people regard psychiatrists and psychologists who offer testimony in court. He then shifts gears and relates the story of a seemingly normal housewife accused of murdering her husband, who was revealed on the witness stand at her trial to be deeply disturbed. His conclusion: “overall psychological testimony provides important safeguards for defendants.”
- Was Jesus crazy when he asserted that he was God?
- Can you feel the false dilemma approaching just as surely as the night follows the day? I bet he even quotes C.S. Lewis — you watch and see if I’m right.
The Seventh Interview: Gary R. Collins, Ph.D.
- Gary R. Collins, Ph.D. Author of CHRISTIAN COUNSELING: A COMPREHENSIVE GUIDE, et al, editor of CHRISTIAN COUNSELING TODAY, contributing editor of JOURNAL OF PSYCHOLOGY AND THEOLOGY. Masters degree in psychology from University of Toronto, doctorate in clinical psychology from Purdue University.
- Salt and pepper hair, silver-rimmed glasses, a maroon turtleneck sweater and herringbone sports jacket — this guy sounds like one of them college professors! But I thought they made people atheists . . .
- Strobel brings up all the crazy people today who claim to be God, or someone else they clearly are not, and asks why we shouldn’t lump Jesus in with them.
- “[Collins:]‘. . . psychologists don’t just look at what a person says. They’ll go much deeper than that. They’ll look at a person’s emotions, because disturbed individuals frequently show inappropriate depression, or they might be vehemently angry, or perhaps they’re plagued with anxiety. But look at Jesus: he never demonstrated inappropriate emotions. For instance, he cried at the death of his friend Lazarus — that’s natural for an emotionally healthy individual.” (Lee Strobel, THE CASE FOR CHRIST, p. 146)
- As with the previous chapter, we’re in the realm of textual analysis here, whether or not Strobel and Collins realize it or will admit it. As we’ve discussed throughout this series, there’s no reason to treat the gospels as historically reliable, which means the insights we can glean from analyzing the psychological state of Jesus in the gospels have no more bearing on reality than similar insights resulting from a psychological reading of Batman.
- Strobel mentions the instances when Jesus is shown as being angry. Collins chalks these outbursts up to healthy anger, and mentions specifically the cleansing of the temple, when Jesus angrily drives out the money-changers.
- What about other times when Jesus gets angry in the gospels? Like in Mark 11:12-14, right before the cleansing of the temple:
“And on the morrow, when they were come from Bethany, he was hungry: And seeing a fig tree afar off having leaves, he came, if haply he might find any thing thereon: and when he came to it, he found nothing but leaves; for the time of figs was not yet. And Jesus answered and said unto it, No man eat fruit of thee hereafter for ever. And his disciples heard it.” (Mark 11:12-14)
The dude curses a fig tree for not having figs out of season. Is that rational, righteous anger?
- Batman never cursed any fig trees . . .
- Strobel encourages Collins to continue expounding on what a great guy Jesus was, which Collins is happy to do: “[Collins:]‘He was loving but didn’t let his compassion immobilize him . . . he maintained balance despite an often demanding lifestyle; he always knew what he was doing and where he was going; he cared deeply about people, including women and children, who weren’t seen as being important back then; he was able to accept people while not merely winking at their sin; he responded to individuals based on where they were at and what they uniquely needed . . . All in all, I just don’t see signs that Jesus was suffering from any known mental illnesses. He was much healthier than anyone else I know — including me!” (p. 147)
- Note how we’ve abandoned any pretense of questioning the authenticity of the gospels. The only way Collins’s diagnosis of Jesus as a mentally healthy person makes any sense is if we assume his claims about himself are true. Because if someone proclaims himself to be the Son of God, and he’s not, it doesn’t matter how reasonable and rational he seems to be in other areas of his life. He’s not humble, he’s not balanced. He’s suffering from a very serious delusion.
- Strobel’s first sentence of this section: “Granted, as we look back through history, we don’t see obvious signs of delusion in Jesus.” (p. 147) Oh, really?
- Collins argues that Jesus wasn’t crazy for making the claims he made about himself because — wait for it — the claims he made about himself were true. “[Collins:]‘You see, if I claimed to be the president of the United States, that would be crazy. . . . But if the real president claimed to be president, that wouldn’t be crazy, because he is president and there would be plenty of confirming evidence of that.’” (p. 148)
- It’s the Miracle on 34th Street defense.
- By the way, am I the only person who gets that the point of that movie is that the old man wasn’t really Santa Claus?
- “[Collins:]‘. . . Jesus didn’t just claim to be God — he backed it up with amazing feats of healing, with astounding demonstrations of power over nature, with transcendent and unprecedented teaching, with divine insights into people, and ultimately with his own resurrection from the dead . . . So when Jesus claimed to be God, it wasn’t crazy. It was the truth.’” (p. 148)
- His teachings weren’t unprecedented, but nevermind that for now. About those miracles. Admittedly, it’s difficult to test whether or not someone healed a blind person or turned water into wine 2,000 years ago. But we can test another claim of Jesus and use the results of that test to extrapolate a reasonable conclusion about whether or not he was able to work miracles. Remember that fig tree? Let’s not forget what Jesus said to Peter the next day, after the cleansing of the temple, when they walked by the same tree:
“And in the morning, as they passed by, they saw the fig tree dried up from the roots. And Peter calling to remembrance saith unto him, Master, behold, the fig tree which thou cursedst is withered away. And Jesus answering saith unto them, Have faith in God. For verily I say unto you, That whosoever shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; and shall not doubt in his heart, but shall believe that those things which he saith shall come to pass; he shall have whatsoever he saith. Therefore I say unto you, What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them.” (Mark 11:20-24)
Jesus — the rational, sane, emotionally healthy Jesus — makes one of the most extravagant promises imaginable to his followers. All they have to do is ask God for something, and have faith, and what they ask for shall be given to them. “What things soever ye desire, ye shall have them.” And before someone says, “Yeah, well, that’s just Jesus being metaphorical, obviously he didn’t mean for people to pray mountains into the sea, he was just saying that for illustrative purposes” — let me ask you this — were the other miracles metaphorical? Was the raising of Lazarus a metaphor? Was the multiplying of the loaves and fishes metaphorical? Was walking on water and transforming water into wine metaphorical? Because it certainly doesn’t read that way to me. It reads to me as though the disciples have actually experienced these events, and Jesus is saying to them, “Have faith in God and you will be able to do all these things, and what’s more, you’ll even be able to move mountains if you want to.” Collins certainly seems to interpret the miracles that way.
But clearly this claim of Jesus’s is not true. Faith and prayer do not move mountains, or result in any other miraculous occurrences. This claim has been tested and debunked scientifically numerous times, and if you need special confirmation, feel free to try it yourself. Give praying a mountain into the sea a shot and let me know how it turns out. If Jesus really said this to Peter, he was either crazy or he was a liar. Take your pick. Either way, he was not telling the truth.
- Collins disputes Strobel’s suggestion that Jesus’s healing miracles may have been the result of the placebo effect, but hedges his bet saying that even if Jesus did heal some people by suggestion, he still healed them, so it still counts. I guess the fact that you don’t have to be God to induce the placebo effect doesn’t really matter . . . ?
Jesus the Hypnotist
- Strobel brings up Ian Wilson’s suggestion that Jesus accomplished some of his miracles, particularly the transforming of water into wine, through hypnosis. The guests at the wedding only thought it was wine, in other words.
- Collins counters that not everyone is susceptible to hypnosis: “[Collins:]‘When Jesus multiplied the bread and fish, there were five thousand witnesses. How could he have hypnotized them all?’” (p. 150)
- We don’t know there were 5,000 eyewitnesses. We have a report in the gospels that there were 5,000 eyewitnesses. Glenn Beck reported there were 500,000 people at his Restoring Honor rally in 2010; there were actually between 80,000 and 90,000. See how that works?
- Collins says hypnosis wouldn’t explain how those who doubted Jesus, like James and Thomas, along with Saul of Tarsus, were converted after encountering the resurrected Christ. Collins also says that hypnosis doesn’t explain the empty tomb.
- Prove to me there was an empty tomb, then we’ll talk about how to explain the empty tomb.
- Regarding the water-into-wine miracle, Collins claims Jesus didn’t have a chance to hypnotize anyone, since he doesn’t address the wedding guests or the servants — he merely has some water brought to the master of the banquet, who confirms that it is now wine.
- This is so stupid I’m not even sure if it’s worth the time to talk about. But this is a short chapter, so fuck it. I don’t think the hypnosis argument is really necessary, but let’s say we want to make that argument. Is there opportunity within the story for Jesus to have hypnotized people? Here’s what it says in the Gospel of John: “And the third day there was a marriage in Cana of Galilee; and the mother of Jesus was there: And both Jesus was called, and his disciples, to the marriage. And when they wanted wine, the mother of Jesus saith unto him, They have no wine. Jesus saith unto her, Woman, what have I to do with thee? mine hour is not yet come. His mother saith unto the servants, Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it. And there were set there six waterpots of stone, after the manner of the purifying of the Jews, containing two or three firkins apiece. Jesus saith unto them, Fill the waterpots with water. And they filled them up to the brim. And he saith unto them, Draw out now, and bear unto the governor of the feast. And they bare it. When the ruler of the feast had tasted the water that was made wine, and knew not whence it was: (but the servants which drew the water knew;) the governor of the feast called the bridegroom, And saith unto him, Every man at the beginning doth set forth good wine; and when men have well drunk, then that which is worse: but thou hast kept the good wine until now. This beginning of miracles did Jesus in Cana of Galilee, and manifested forth his glory; and his disciples believed on him.”(John 2:1-11) Hardly a moment-by-moment account of Jesus at that wedding. Plenty of space for Jesus to have hypnotized the others into thinking the water had become wine. Is it plausible? Not really — not until someone suggests a miracle as an alternative explanation, that is.
- “[Collins:]‘It’s just amazing to me how people will grasp at anything to try to disprove Jesus’s miracles.’” (p. 151)
- Grasp at anything . . . like the absolute nonoccurrence of miracles? By the way, thanks for shifting the burden of proof onto those of us who think people can’t magically change water into wine there, Gary. Appreciate it.
Jesus the Exorcist
- Strobel mentions that Jesus cast demons out of people, and asks Collins if it’s rational to believe that evil spirits are responsible for the actions of some people.
- “[Collins:]‘From my theological beliefs, I accept that demons exist. We live in a society in which many people believe in angels. They know there are spiritual forces out there, and it’s not too hard to conclude that some might be malevolent. Where you see God working, sometimes those forces are more active, and that’s what was probably going on in the time of Jesus.’” (p. 152)
- So it’s rational to believe in demons because people also believe in angels. The logic here is sound. Afterall, isn’t it rational to believe in goblins, since there are people who believe in elves?
- It’s just amazing to me how people will grasp at anything to try to reconcile obviously mythical passages of scripture with reality.
- “[Collins:]‘People who deny the existence of the supernatural will find some way, no matter how far-fetched, to explain a situation apart from the demonic. They’ll keep giving medication, keep drugging the person, but he or she doesn’t get better. There are cases that don’t respond to normal medical or psychiatric treatment.’” (p. 152)
- Tell you what, Gary, you come up with an estimate of how many severely mentally ill patients have been helped by exorcisms, and I’ll do a bit of research and come up with an estimate of how many have been helped by modern medicine and psychiatry. Whose list do you think will be longer?
- The unfortunate fact that some who suffer from mental illness cannot be helped by drugs or psychiatric therapy doesn’t mean they are suffering from demonic possession. It was once believed that epilepsy and Tourette’s syndrome and a whole host of mental and neurological disorders were caused by demons. Now we know better. Or most of us do, anyway.
- “[Collins:]‘At the same time, we shouldn’t be too quick to jump to a demonic conclusion when faced with a recalcitrant problem. As C.S. Lewis put it, there are two equal and opposite errors we can fall into concerning demons: “One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased with both errors.”’” (p. 153)
- Not the C.S. Lewis quote nor the false dilemma I was expecting, but I’ll take both, nevertheless. Goddamn, did C.S. Lewis love either-or fallacies or what?
- One more quote from Collins about demons and modern psychology: “[Collins:]‘It’s interesting how things are changing. Our society is caught up in “spirituality.” That’s a term that can mean almost anything, but it does recognize the supernatural. It’s very interesting what psychologists are believing these days. Some are into Eastern mystical stuff; some talk about the power of shamans to influence people’s lives.
“‘Whereas twenty-five years ago the suggestion of demonic activity would have been immediately dismissed, many psychologists are beginning to recognize that maybe there are more things in heaven and earth than our philosophies can account for.’” (p. 153)
- So attributing some mental illnesses to demons isn’t irrational because there are lots of psychologists who believe in all kinds of other equally crazy shit? Help me out, philosophy students — would this be a false analogy Collins is advancing here, and back there with the bit about angels and demons? Is it still a false analogy when you’re arguing in favor of one batshit crazy belief by comparing it to another batshit crazy belief?
- Strobel closes the chapter this way: “. . . my talk with Gary Collins prompted me to spend time that night carefully rereading the discourses of Jesus. I could detect no sign of dementia, delusions, or paranoia. On the contrary, I was moved once more by his profound wisdom, his uncanny insights, his poetic eloquence, and his deep compassion.” (pp. 153-154)
- Whatever you believe about him, Jesus never wrote a single word, so whether he deserves any credit at all for his “poetic eloquence” in the gospels is an arguable question. As for his wisdom and insight, try this experiment, those of you who feel toward Jesus as Lee Strobel does: read the gospels without the assumption that Jesus is the Son of God. Read about the words and deeds of Jesus without assuming he is who he says he is, and then tell me if he still sounds like a man exhibiting no sign of dementia or delusion.
- That’s it for this chapter! And they fucking blueballed me on the “Lunatic, Liar or Lord” false choice. I was totally expecting that before I read the chapter and they didn’t bring it up. Not in this chapter, anyway — I looked ahead and it is coming up. Just not yet.
Next week: Chapter 9: The Profile Evidence – Did Jesus Fulfill the Attributes of God?