By: Paul S. Cilwa Viewed: 9/28/2020
Posted: 1/28/2006
Topics/Keywords: #HistoricalJesus #ReligiousPolitics Page Views: 1863
Jesus on trial.
Jesus takes a selfie.

An Italian court is about to decide whether Jesus of Nazareth is an historical character, or a fictional one. Italy has a law against "abusal of popular belief" and the plaintiff has accused his ex-friend, a priest, of conning the public. The trial has sparked the usual division of people into "believers" and "non-believers". The believers have faith on their side. The non-believers have facts. Unfortunately, faith usually trumps facts. Otherwise, why would fundamentalist Christians still believe that gay marriage would destroy the world as we know it?

When one is surrounded by a culture that is saturated with a particular belief, members of that culture can't help but believe the belief is "proven". This is because people underestimate the convincing effects of time. It's logarithmic. To most people, when they don't think hard about it, the two centuries 1700-1899 contain about as many events as 1900-present. The four centuries 1300-1699 contain about the same. The eight centuries from 600-1299 about the same, and so on. So they can't imagine that there's been enough time for a lie in 300 CE to have spread so convincingly that a large minority of the world believes it today.

(That's also the reason that the same large minority cannot accept the concept of evolution; they can't grasp the enormity of the Cambrian period. For them a billion is like a million, only with a "b". That's also why the same large minority doesn't appreciate the significance of having a national deficit of over $8 trillion—that's like a million, only with a "tr", right? Not that bad.)

But every year is the same size, whether it's 2003 or 303. And, like the TV ad that used to run, if two people tell two people, and they tell two people, and they tell two people—soon, everyone has heard. And when it's the government telling you, and there's no Internet to fact-check against, and no easy way to verify information—then, even if the lie contains such fantastic elements as virgin births, heavenly messengers and resurrections from the dead, it is spread and then becomes common belief and then "everybody knows" it's true.

Someone once wittily pointed out the disparity between people's acceptance of a lie that "everyone" believes, and refusal to accept a truth that "everyone" disbelieves: "If there's really such a thing as UFOs, how come there's no clear photos? If there's really such a thing as God, how come there's no clear photos?"

Now, I happen to believe in both God and UFOs, even though I don't have photos, because I have had personal experience with both. Jesus, on the other hand, left no tangible evidence to prove his existence other than, possibly, the Shroud of Turin—but that artifact is itself shrouded, shall we say, in controversy; and the other elements of the story—the town of Nazareth didn't exist until 200 CE; there is no contemporary record of a Roman governor named Pontius Pilate or of a mass slaughter of infants during the reign of Herod or of an earthquake, eclipse, or mass rising of the dead in Jerusalem ever occurring on the same day—pretty much proves that the Jesus of the Gospels is fiction.

As photos go, the Shroud of Turin isn't clear enough to prove the point.