We often accuse the Armstrong movement of "proof texting". What does this mean? Well, let's take history as an example. Person A is a legitimate history scholar. He knows precisely what happened in given eras, and there is noticeable depth to his comprehension. He can share incredible detail. When history is being discussed, his overview and insights become invaluable. Person B may or may not have a basic, very general idea, and knows the names of some individuals, or locations, as well as some of the events which transpired during a given period. In a discussion, in support of his side, he knows enough to go back, find a quote which supports his particular contention, and in many cases, this makes him appear equally authoritative. However, his knowledge is not as deep, and because of this, he sometimes misses information which directly counters or reverses what he has posted as his "proof text". One guy knows it cold, the other scurries around looking for information to support his contentions. Who would you trust? How could you ascertain whether there was an agenda at play, guiding the evidentiary trail? Most of us realize that there are fewer Person A types than there are Person B types, yet in a highly polarized environment, it is usually the Person B types that get the "high fives". (Hooray for our side). The problem is that both believers and non-believers do this. It is embedded, learned behavior, a hangover from our Armstrong days.
I've always said that I am not a good welder. But, I do recognize good welding when I see it. And, I believe most of us have a certain gift of discernment. Something deep inside of us tends to either validate, or reject incoming information. But, we've also got the ability to "override" those gut feelings, if we have a preference as to the outcome.
Over the past years, we've all encountered people who lift various myths, personalities, and other little clues from history to support the theory that Jesus Christ never existed. Some have stated that He was either loosely based on some mythological character who in fact predated Christianity, or on a composite of teachers, magicians, or alleged do-gooders or miracle workers from the period, or from word of mouth legendary tradition that would not pass Snopes if we were discussing a possible contemporary character. However, it should raise a cautionary red flag that the broad majority of legitimate historians do not question the historicity of Jesus. There is much dispute over whether He was who He said He was, but little doubt that He existed. In fact, there is a documented progression of teachers and students, one having taught the other, extending from Antenicene Fathers of the first, second, third and fourth centuries back to the original disciples and Jesus Himself. The proto-Catholics, and later the Catholics were incredible record keepers, preserving what they felt was an oracle, much the same as were the Jews before them. Though they can't be the entirely secular sources that non-believers would prefer, the Vatican has amassed and preserved, in addition to the Bible, an incredible number of period documents. The Antenicene Fathers were very prolific writers. And, church historians documented the minutes of council meetings such as Nicea and Laodecea, decisions which were made, and often the activities of those considered as exemplary or leaders. There are some "fringe" or radical historians who have advanced theories involving the non-existence of Jesus, but these are not considered to be completely credible. They bear more similarity to our modern holocaust deniers, or those who believe that the astronauts' walk on the moon was actually faked on some back lot of a movie studio in Burbank, California.
I recently watched an episode of 7th Street Theater, in which a young woman had gotten a speeding ticket, but insisted that she was not going over the speed limit. As she agonized over how to approach this in her court appearance, with the help and commiseration of her theater group, a discovery was made. While driving on the freeway, and keeping pace with the freeway traffic, she noticed that her speedometer stuck at 51 miles per hour. So, she ended up paying her fine rather than asserting her innocence in court. As the story developed, her breaking of the speed limit had been caused by reliance on wrong information, and the consequence was that she was still legally accountable. Of course the moral lesson of the episode was that one must be sure that one's sources are accurate, especially when making critical decisions!
How could one possibly have been part of WCG without having been primed to be receptive to conspiracy theories? HWA actually set the blueprint up for this type of thinking via his Simon Magus theory, in which the first century Gnostics were accused of having hijacked the original teachings of Christ, morphing it into what eventually became the Roman Catholic Church. I think it might behoove us to look at the concept of conspiracy theories, and what they do. In many cases, originators of these theories base them loosely on certain facts, draw conclusions, and then extrapolate wildly, imputing sinister and very scary intentions to people perceived as being in power or control. Often, the people advancing these theories utilize them to leverage conventional wisdom or commonly held opinions, and to alter peoples' intentions. This can be very effective, as we've all witnessed, in destroying individuals' confidence in one thing, and subsequently redirecting that confidence to another. It's usually done to combat a seemingly insurmountable obstacle, and is not unlike a magician's sleight of hand. Right now, breaking news has the Securities and Exchange Commission taking Goldman Sachs to court, allegedly for conspiring, putting together, and selling packages of worthless investments, partially causing the recent meltdown in the global economy. Whether or not they did what is alleged remains to be proven in a court of law. Some astute observers find the timing of this SEC suit questionable, in that it seems to be happening just as Congress considers a new package of regulatory legislation pertaining to banks and investment firms. Thus, speculation as to leverage has already begun!We can nearly guarantee that, regardless as to the outcome of the lawsuit, if this is leverage, it is going to further erode trust. And, this erosion of trust is bound to influence the public's perceptions, and the pending legislation. Just seeing how a conspiracy theory works, I am not encouraged to buy into any of the conspiracy theories which people concoct in support of the alternative origins of the Bible, or of Jesus. For one thing, there are far too many of them! Overkill tends to make me suspicious.
There is what is known as oral law, or oral tradition. The Jews have this, in the form of their Talmud and Cabala, and the Catholics have it as well, supposedly the cumulative effect of the primacy of Peter. The Protestant Reformation was all about shedding much of the Catholic oral tradition, and getting back to the Bible as the basic core or source for human actions, rather than the authority of the church. Coinciding with the Reformation was the translation, mass printing of, and availability of the Holy Bible to the masses, so that each individual believer could be responsible for doing the due diligence required by their faith. In the early stages of this, people were actually killed for making the Bible accessible, because it was seen as eroding the power of the church, and even that of secular Kings and Queens.
There are questions and theories regarding the authenticity of the Bible. The Old Testament was available during Jesus' time in the form of the Septuagint, and today we have the Dead Sea Scrolls, which differ very little from what was available prior to the discovery of these scrolls. That is probably a factor as to why there are more questions and theories surrounding the New Testament than the Old. It becomes difficult to imagine, however, how we, two thousand years removed from the selection and canonization process, would be in a better position to make some of the related decisions today than those who were actually part of that process. Those compiling Christian documents treated the materials at hand very reverently. They felt they were preserving an oracle, and did evaluate them very carefully and even agonized over them! We know this based on conflicts such as that between Marcion and Irenaeus. Canonization seems to have been a gradual process, but regardless as to the timing, those actually involved were closer to the time period of the actual early Christian events which the books and letters describe than are those of us living today. They had testimony, materials, and criteria available to them which have long since been lost to antiquity. So, in many cases, the absence of evidence which seems to pose great problems for us today was not a problem for them. For believers, the authenticity of scripture has an additional basis. We believe it to be Spirit protected.
Because Christians have oft cited Josephus as an authority, his account of Jesus is frequently attacked as having been inserted later, and not conforming to his general writing style. And, frankly, this may or may not be true. But, the bottom line is that Josephus is just one of numerous resources. Jesus most certainly does not rise or fall just based on Josephus. You see,
we don't just need to deal with Jesus, but also with Peter, John, Paul, Pilate, the Ossuary of James and other archaeological artifacts, Egyptian Christian traditions, the Antenicene Fathers, the Jewish Talmud and associated historical records, and even the apocryphal gospels and people attacked as having been heretics. They all, in their own way, give testimony of Jesus' existence. If this were all a huge, global conspiracy, can you imagine all of the people who would need to have been complicit? Even the detractors! Plainly, there are odds and the laws of probability in play here, with both believer and non-believer alike placing their bets. Some derive encouragement from the so-called Dark Ages, and cite it as support for the idea that there could have been an all-encompassing black out and control, but the Dark Ages were not global! Some nations existing today never participated in these Dark Ages! Mohammed and the entire early Islamic movement were seen as being on the cutting edge during this era, as compared to the Catholic nations. It is difficult to imagine this today, but apparently they were quite advanced (Incidentally, they also believed in Jesus! They just saw Him as being a prophet)
And, speaking of some of these other nations, I used to ask, "What about the Chinese people? There are some areas of China where nobody has even heard of Jesus. Would a loving god hold them accountable?" This was supposed to be another one of my escape hatches, but the flaw lies in the fact that it applies to the Chinese, not to me regarding my own situation or salvation. It is nice to have brotherly concern for others, but their plight is their plight, and I am responsible based on my own conditions. Lack of knowledge amongst Chinese people is not something which I could logically present to God on judgment day, and expect Him to cut me some slack!
All of the above was at one time used in constructing my "wall", a protective structure which I had built following my exit from Armstrongism. It was designed to keep me from being fooled and hurt again. Judging from discussions and comments on forums and blogs, I believe that others have also used some or all of these in their own walls of non-belief. As one comes in from that deadly and dangerous "road to Damascus", one's perceptions change. My hope is that there are some nuggets here that might either provide food for thought, or perhaps help some other people, those who may also be in the midst of some important decisions in their lives. Non-belief isn't a bad intermediate stage. It serves as an excellent neutral buffer, and helps clear out all of the old baggage. My opinion, though, is that it is not altogether optimal or satisfying as a final stage.