The person of Christ is vitally important to the contemporary world. His importance does not remain confined to the Christian world alone but also to other major religions such as Judaism and Islam in particular. If these powerful religions were to unite in one common understanding about the nature of the person of Christ, his first and also his promised second advent, then such an understanding would lead to the resolution of many problems confronting mankind today. Unfortunately, even the very basic facts about the life of Jesus, his purpose, ideology and person are completely misunderstood. In their perception of these aspects, these religions are so strongly at odds with each other that a bitter rivalry among them becomes inevitable.
When we look at the facts of Crucifixion and consider what happened and why it happened, Redemption and its related philosophy, we find conflicting answers from various early sources. I have chosen to address this question solely from a logical point of view. I believe that this is the only platform, common to all, which can be used for a fruitful constructive dialogue. Otherwise, any discussion on the basis of what the individual scriptures present, along with their various interpretations, would lead to a tangle of controversy from which it would be difficult to wriggle out of.
Two thousand years have already come to pass, yet based on the scriptures alone, no solution, which could be equally acceptable to all, has been reached. The crux of the problem is that the very reliability of certain scriptural claims is further compounded by their various divergent explanations. Also, immense complications arise out of the gradual growth of conflicting understandings revolving around the historical person of Christ. The vision of a historic perspective generally tends to be fogged and obscured. By any standards, the passage of two millennia is no ordinary obstacle in perceiving events as distant as the time of Jesus. Human logic and reason, further aided by the dawn of scientific knowledge, has neither creed, nor colour nor religion. It is common to all peoples and religions alike. Logic and logic alone could provide us with a basis for consensus.
I will attempt to examine the problem from different vantage points. First, let me begin with Christianity and view it as the Christians see it and then critically analyse it under the magnifying glass of reason. I must emphasize however, that I do not mean to be disrespectful in any way to Christians or to the person of Jesus Christ. As a Muslim, it is a fundamental article of my faith to believe in the truth of Jesus Christ, and to accept him as a special and honoured messenger of God, holding a unique position among the prophets of Israel. But where truth demands, in all fairness to logic, common sense and human understanding, one cannot abstain from revising one’s views on Christianity. My purpose is not to drive a wedge between Christians and Christ. On the contrary, I wish to help Christians come closer to the reality of Jesus Christ and away from the myth created around him.
Time can distort reality into myths and legends. Influence of such legends only serves to distance man from the realities of life. As a result, faith becomes imaginary and unreal. Whereas true faith has its roots in the verities and facts of history, it is very real and potent enough to bring about significant changes in human society.
In the endeavour to understand the true faith and teachings of Jesus, it is essential to sift out the fact from the fiction and truth from myth. The search for truth is the ultimate purpose of this exercise. I hope that you will bear with me and understand that I mean no offence to anyone’s beliefs or sentiments.
A critical approach is essential to save the world of Christianity from unfortunate moral degradation; the course of which they are finding so hard to reverse. According to my analysis, contemporary youth is fast losing its faith in God. There was a time when scientists began moving away from God because they thought that the Judeo-Christian understanding of nature, as depicted in the Old and New Testaments, was not realistic. The understanding of the world and the heavenly bodies and of what lies beyond, as construed from a study of the Bible, appears far removed from the realities of scientific discoveries brought to light at the beginning of the Renaissance. The parallax between them continued to grow as science progressed and the human understanding of nature underwent a revolutionary change. This, besides other factors, initiated among the knowledgeable factions of society, a fatal trend towards disbelief in God. Later, as education spread far and wide, great universities and seats of learning turned out to be the breeding grounds of Atheism. The dilemma of the Judeo-Christian understanding of the Universe was that there prevailed a contradiction between the word of God and the act of God. The argument against belief in God took the following course: If God is the Creator of the universe and all that belongs to it, and if He is the Designer and Maintainer of the laws of nature, as discovered by investigative human minds, then how could He Himself have been so utterly ignorant of those realities?
When one studies the Biblical account of how heaven and earth were created and how man was fashioned out of dust and how Eve was carved out of the rib of Adam etc., (two examples out of a host of puzzling discrepancies between the word and the act of God) one is astounded and amazed at the glaring contradictions between the origin of life on earth and the Biblical account given in’.
Such inconsistencies made the Church take an oppressive stance in those times when it held an unchallenged political authority. One famous example is that of the tussle between the Church and Galileo. When Galileo (1564–1642) published his findings about the solar system, it infuriated the Church because his findings were against the perception which the Church had of the solar system. Under extreme duress he was forced to publicly renounce his scientific discoveries. Alternatively he would have suffered death by torture. Nevertheless, he was kept under house arrest for the rest of his days. It was only in 1992 that the Church decided to reverse the judgement passed against Galileo, after prolonged deliberations that lasted twelve years by a committee set up by the Pope, John Paul II.
To begin with, the impact of these contradictions did not penetrate or infiltrate the common levels of society and for some time it remained confined to a close circle of intellectuals. But with the spread of the light of secular knowledge, the so called ‘light of religious beliefs’ gradually diminished into comparative darkness. In the early period of the Renaissance (15th cent.), the activities of scientists generally remained confined within their own enlightened circles. A broad contact between them and the general public, as witnessed today, had not been established. Thus, their atheism did not much influence the society as a whole. However, when universal education was made available to the youth of advanced nations, things began to swiftly change in the wrong direction for religion. There followed an age of philosophy and rationality. Along with the sciences, new social and psychological philosophies began to proliferate rapidly, particularly in the nineteenth and the twentieth century. As the new materialistic philosophies mingled with secular development and thought, it played havoc with the very foundation of religion, i.e. the belief in God.
Morality is always governed and safeguarded by one’s belief in God. If it is weak and deficient or there is something amiss in this belief, then morality is influenced to the same degree. If, for instance, the belief in God clashes with the secular understanding of nature and the dictates of common sense, then slowly and progressively the quality of faith in God erodes with a corresponding negative effect on the morals of such people. For all practical purposes a society is then transformed into an atheistic one, however much individuals may remain believers in God. It is not difficult to determine this issue and to ascertain the quality of a society’s belief in God. The weaker the belief or the more deficient it is, the feebler its hold becomes on the moral conduct of a people. Whenever the two interests clash, the belief in God will give way to immoral urges.
By applying this criterion to any religious society anywhere in the world, we can always draw correct and reliable conclusions. Putting a so-called believing Christian society to the test, one can simply ask whether Christian values prevail in that society or not. Do they for instance, behave towards their neighbours as the Ten Commandments would require of them? Do they, at the time of national crisis in situations of war etc., apply Christian principles towards their adversaries? Do the innocent victims of aggression and assault offer the other cheek when smitten on one. The question is how far does one’s conduct in life portray the picture of ones belief? If it does not, this is exactly what we mean by suggesting that the belief in God clashes with human urges and requirements. If the belief in God stands supreme and it is the human urges and desires that are sacrificed on the altar of that belief, then one can truly say that whatever the nature of the belief, at least it is genuine, sincere and strong.
Observing the world of Christianity as it is today, and applying this test to judge the quality of belief in God, becomes a very depressing and disillusioning experience. What is generally seen is an open rebellion against the belief in God, and sometimes a passive revolt which is not translated into open negation. It is the contradiction between the belief in God and the practice, which gives one the illusion of there being a religious society of believers, while the truth is very different. The same applies, to a large degree, to all other religious societies. But in every case it is not always the same cause which produces a similar effect. The case of each society has to be dealt with on the merits of that case. That is why a genuine, detached, cool and analytical examination of the nature of the contradictions between the beliefs of people and their practices acquires such importance.
It is important to note that sometimes belief in itself is crooked and unnatural. For example, some parts of the Talmudic teachings concerning the Gentiles and the Hindu teachings of Manu Samarti regarding the Untouchables are such that it becomes a boon for those societies not to practice it. Sometimes a belief in itself is good and would be beneficial if practised, but the people become corrupt and the belief is abandoned as too difficult and demanding to be taken seriously.
Returning to the question of Christianity, we propose that the Christian beliefs in their fundamentals clash with the realities of nature and do not comply with human expectations based on rationality and common sense. With this perspective, it was only natural for Christians to gradually move away from taking their beliefs seriously and from permitting those beliefs to shape their lives.
PROF. BART EHRMAN
In recent years a lot has been written that can be considered as an explanation or commentary of this book, Christianity a journey from fact to fiction. For example, Professor Bart Ehram has a chapter titled, who invented Christianity in his famous book, Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (And Why We Don’t Know About Them). He writes:
“If there was no expectation among Jews that the Messiah would suffer and die for sins, why is it that Christians believe in a suffering Messiah? Here’s the way it worked historically. Prior to Jesus’ death some of his followers evidently thought that he was the Messiah; this conviction shows up throughout the Gospels. But obviously if they said “Jesus is the Messiah,” they meant it in a traditional Jewish sense, for example, that he would be the king who would establish the throne once more in Israel and rule over his people. (Remember, though, that Jesus himself appears to have understood the term in a different, apocalyptic, sense).This hope that Jesus could be the Messiah was radically discon¬firmed by the events of history: Jesus never did raise an army, never did drive the Romans out of the promised land, never did establish Israel as a sovereign state. Instead, he got crucified. This showed his followers that their faith in him had been unfounded.But then they, or at least some of them, came to believe that God had raised Jesus from the dead. This reconfirmed their earlier notion: Jesus really is the one chosen by God! He is God’s own son! He is the one upon whom God has shown his special favor, God’s anointed one, our savior. He is the Messiah!This reconfirmation forced the earliest Christians into a new understanding of what it meant to be the Messiah. Their logic was impeccable. Jesus is the Messiah. Jesus suffered and died. Therefore, the Messiah had to suffer and die.But what was one to do with the fact that there were no Jewish prophecies that the Messiah would suffer and die? The earliest Christians began searching the Scriptures for hints of their new belief, and they found them, not in passages that referred to the Messiah but in other passages that describe the suffering of God’s righteous one. Christians concluded, and argued, that these passages were actually referring to the Messiah, even though the Messiah is never mentioned in them and even though no one had ever thought, before this, that they referred to the Messiah. But for Christians, such passages as Isaiah 53:1-6 were clear messianic predictions:He was despised and rejected by others; a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity; and as one from whom others hide their faces he was despised, and we held him of no account. Surely he has borne our infirmities and carried our diseases. Yet we accounted him stricken, struck down by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray, we have all turned to our own way, and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.Jesus’ suffering and death were foretold by the prophets. In fact, the first Christians were convinced that there were passages that described the actual crucifixion of the Messiah, such as Psalm 22:1-18:My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? . . . I am a worm, and not human; scorned by others, and despised by the people. All who see me mock at me; they make mouths at me, they shake their heads. . . . I am poured out like water and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted within my breast; my mouth is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws; you lay me in the dust of death. For dogs are all around me; a company of evildoers encircles me. My hands and feet have shriveled; I can count all my bones. They stare and gloat over me. They divide my clothes among themselves, and for my clothing they cast lots.Originally this passage had nothing to do with a future Messiah, and Jews did not interpret it as a reference to one. But once Jesus’ followers came to believe that he was the Messiah, it was only natu¬ral that they saw in such passages references to what the Messiah would experience. The debates over Jesus’ messiahship ensued. Jews insisted these passages were not referring to the Messiah (and they had a point, since the Messiah is never mentioned in them); Chris¬tians insisted that they were. And so the fireworks began.”
“In reality, the idea that Jesus was the suffering Messiah was an invention of the early Christians. It is no wonder that the apostle Paul, writing decades after Christians had come up with this idea, indicates that it is the greatest “stumbling block” for Jews (1 Corinthians 1:23). Even though this is the very foundation for all Chris¬tian belief, to many Jews it was a ridiculous claim.Paul saw this claim as valid precisely because it was so foolish (1 Corinthians 1:1:18-25). God’s ways are not humans’ ways. God has saved the world through a crucified Messiah, as no one would have or could have expected. For Paul this was the central point and the key to the salvation that God had brought to the world (1 Corinthians 15:3-5; Romans 1-3). Through the death of the Messiah God had made salvation available to all people, Jews and gentiles. And Paul pushed this point a step further: it was only through the death of the Messiah that a person could be right with God-not, say, through the Jewish law.But Paul did not make up the idea that the Messiah had to be crucified. The idea had been invented much earlier, as soon as Jesus’ original followers came to believe that God had raised him from the dead. Paul inherited this idea when he converted to become a follower of Jesus. It was this idea that eventually led Christianity to break off from Judaism to become its own religion, a religion that stood in direct opposition to Judaism, the religion of Jesus himself.”
“You’re talking to someone about religion and, as sometimes happens, she turns on the steam. “Look,” she says, “the New Testament is full of contradictions; we can’t know what the man Jesus actually did; the apostle Paul turned Jesus’ simple preaching of the coming Kingdom into a complicated theological system of sin, judgment, and redemption; and most of the NT writers actually believed that the end,was coming in their own lifetime. This book is misogynist and anti-Semitic and homophobic and has been used to justify all sorts of horrendous acts of suppression over the ages: just listen to some of the televangelists! This is a dangerous book!”How do you respond?”
- Report of the Court of Inquiry Constituted Under Punjab Act II of 1954 to Inquire into the Punjab Disturbances of 1953 (Lahore: Government Printing House, Punjab, 1954), 184. Justice Mr Muhammad Munir (president) and Justice Mr M. R. Kayani (member) constituted the committee. Further references to the report will be shown as Munir Commission Report.