The Instigator
ApostateAbe
Pro (for)
Winning
23 Points
The Contender
sing_along
Con (against)
Losing
0 Points

The historical Jesus Christ was a doomsday cult leader

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Post Voting Period
The voting period for this debate has ended.
after 5 votes the winner is...
ApostateAbe
Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 6/21/2011 Category: Religion
Updated: 6 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 6,870 times Debate No: 17171
Debate Rounds (3)
Comments (30)
Votes (5)

 

ApostateAbe

Pro

Resolution

The historical Jesus Christ was a doomsday cult leader. In other words, he taught that a destructive global calamity is imminently within his own generation.

Clarification

This resolution is NOT an attempt to faithfully interpret the New Testament, though the writings of the New Testament may be used for evidence. The debate is about the probable historical Jesus, not necessarily the Jesus of religious or Biblical faith.

Definitions
  • "Jesus Christ" is a historical human being of the same rough profile of the central character of Jesus in the Christian gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.
  • A “generation” is a group of people of roughly the same age and living at the same time, and it is used to signify a length of time bounded by the births and deaths of the group of people, as opposed to a longer length of time covering centuries.
  • A “doomsday cult” is a small group of people who are strongly devoted to the perceived will of a human leader and believes that the world will soon face a destructive global calamity. The term is primarily intended to be descriptive, not pejorative. A “doomsday cult leader” is a leader of a doomsday cult, and such a model of Jesus is otherwise known among critical New Testament scholars as, “apocalyptic prophet.”
  • “Destructive global calamity” is a set of events that entail death and destruction all over the world and strongly affecting everyone living, through many such events as wars, political upheavals and natural disasters.
Opposing Contender

A contender may be anyone who does not believe that the historical Jesus was a doomsday cult leader, including but not limited to someone who believes or suspects that Jesus was merely a myth, that Jesus was the son of God or messiah, or that Jesus was a mere human but commendable moral teacher, rabbi, social activist or philosopher.

Personal note

This is my first debate on Debate.org, but I consider myself an experienced veteran of debate elsewhere on the Internet. I hope it will be an uplifting and educational experience for all participants and observers, not merely a religious battle of words.
sing_along

Con

Thank you for this interesting topic, ApostateAbe,

Whether or not Jesus was the messiah that he claimed to be can be questionable, but certainly Jesus should not be demonized as an apocalyptic prophet. My position is that Jesus should be, at the very least, regarded as a commendable moral teacher.

But above all, the message that Jesus preached was to teach mankind to live in peace and harmony. He preformed miracles to help those in need, and taught others to live a righteous life. Jesus taught people to be selfless and caring,

My opponent has sought to portray the central figure of Christianity in a negative light, by promoting him as a "doomsday" cult leader, who promotes "destructive and global calamity". Although portions of the Bible do prophesize of an eventual apocalypse, the majority of Jesus' teachings promote benevolence and compassion.

My opponent Cites:

"According to the Lord's word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever." -Thessalonians 4:15-17

Also,

"And he said to them, "Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God after it has come with power."" - Mark 9:1

I'd like to point out that the apocalyptic messages issued in Mark 9:1 and Thessalonians 4:15-17 etc. are to serve only as incentives for dutiful Christians to live a rich and fulfilling life.

Further referencing the Bible,

"He who is kind to the poor lends to the LORD, and he will reward him for what he has done." - Proverbs 19:17

We can see that, more importantly, Jesus encouraged others to be generous and selfless and that the Lord will reward the generous whether in life or the afterlife.

"One man gives freely, yet gains even more; another withholds unduly, but comes to poverty. A generous man will prosper; he who refreshes others will himself be refreshed." -Proverbs 11:24-25

"Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver." -2 Corinthians 9:7

"For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself" -- Galatians 5:14

These are just a small handful of Jesus' teachings that promotes and spreads a message of love and compassion to the world.

"Suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope" (Romans 5:3-4)."

We can see that, although Jesus warns the sinful people that their judgment will come, Jesus also gives hope to the people who are already suffering. It is my speculation, that Jesus' main motive was to make the rich people more generous in so that they can distribute their wealth to the poor. He also taught the poor to work together and have hope for the future.

Most of Jesus' negative messages can be directly related to the rich, powerful, and sinful men of his day,
But Jesus message of love and compassion is also aimed at giving hope to the poor, and teaching them to live amongst one another cheerfully and respectfully. Call me a radicalist, but Jesus could be considered to be the first
Marxist in the history of the world! Examine,

Messages aimed to promote the working class:

Lk. 3:14 - " Then some soldiers asked him, "And what should we do?" He replied, "Don't extort money and don't accuse people falsely--be content with your pay."

"Not that I was ever in need, for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have." -Phil. 4:11

Sound a little like
"From each according to his ability, to each according to his need" –Karl Marx

Also, apocalyptic messages aimed to criticize and warn, the ancient Bourgeoisie:

"For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many grieves." -Tim 6:10

"In their greed these teachers will exploit you with stories they have made up. Their condemnation has long been hanging over them, and their destruction has not been sleeping." -Peter 2:3

In the end Jesus sacrificed his life to atone for the sins of man. These are the facts which I will further prove to you in the following rounds, and the majority of Jesus' teachings and actions are simply out of compassion and goodness of mankind.

This ends my first post,
I will proceed with my argument in this form during my 2nd post, I will also include rebuttals to points my opponent has made.

I will prove that
1) Jesus was commendable moral teacher, he may not have been divine, but his intention was for the good of mankind, and that Jesus made sacrifices for the goodness of mankind.
2) The effect of Jesus OVERALL message has had a more positive than negative impact on the history of the world.
3) The apocalypse may or may not occur. In fact, the apocalypse is nothing more than a metaphor used by Jesus to symbolize some sort of retribution that those who are not righteous, in order to set forth a sense of divine justice.

The last post will be used for conclusions, and I hope that no new points or evidence should be brought up.

Good luck, ApostateAbe
Debate Round No. 1
ApostateAbe

Pro

Introduction

I would like to thank my partner in this debate (I prefer "partner" to "opponent") for his valuable and steady-tempered thoughts on this contentious subject. It has already been a learning experience for me. I will present my arguments, and, given space limitations, I will make counterpoints to many of the above arguments at a later point.

Apocalyptic prophecies

The three earliest gospels, also known as the "synoptic gospels" of Mark, Matthew and Luke, each contain roughly the same set of apocalyptic prophecies, each with a certain deadline. The deadline was the death of the last of Jesus' immediate listeners.

In Mark 8, the prophecies are as follows:
  • If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it
  • Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels
The deadline for these two prophecies is given as, "Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see that the kingdom of God has come with power" (Mark 9:1, see also Matthew 16:28 and Luke 9:27).

Mark 13 contains much fuller detail of the end of the world. In Mark 13, the prophecies are as follows:
  • Many will come in my name and say, "I am he!" and they will lead many astray.
  • For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom
  • earthquakes
  • famines
  • you will be beaten in synagogues
  • brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child
  • children will rise against parents and have them put to death
  • those in Judea must flee to the mountains
  • Woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing infants in those days
  • suffering, such as has not been from the beginning of the creation that God created until now, no, and never will be
  • False messiahs and false prophets will appear and produce signs and omens, to lead astray, if possible, the elect.
  • the powers in the heavens will be shaken
  • the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power
The deadline for all of these prophecies is given as, "Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place" (Mark 13:30, see also Matthew 24:34 and Luke 21:32).

When reviewing this set of prophecies, it is important to note, despite what many people (not just my debate partner) are inclined to believe, that theses prophecies do NOT "serve only as incentives for dutiful Christians to live a rich and fulfilling life." Neither are these prophecies are metaphorical. On the contrary, Jesus was very specific about the horrible calamities that would soon engulf the world, and Jesus commanded his disciples to leave their homes, families and livelihoods, for the sake of following him and saving others, and they did, as I explain below.

Imminent deadline

The same imminent deadline is expressed in two different ways: (1) the death of all of "those standing here," and (2) "this generation" passes away. This pair of expressions was first recorded in the gospel of Mark, and it is repeated in both Matthew and Luke.

The gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke were apparently written before the deadline, but we have evidence of embarrassment in Christian writings composed after the deadline passed. The two key passages are John 21:20-23 and 2 Peter 3:3-9.

The Second Epistle of Peter was composed not by the disciple Peter but by a man writing in the middle of the second century CE, and by that time the apocalyptic deadline of Jesus could not be merely dismissed as a rumor, as in the gospel of John. Scoffers of Christianity were assailing them for the failed deadline of the apocalyptic prophecies, and doubts could be seen from within the church. So, the author of 2 Peter has an apologetic defense different from the author of the gospel of John: he claims that there is no slowness with God, even if the fulfillment of the promise seems slow to mere mortals.

Further cult characteristics

If you take the gospel accounts at face value, even regardless of whether or not you accept the theology or miracle stories, then a doomsday cult leader is the character profile that you find in Jesus. But, the Biblical evidence goes further. In addition to the doomsday prophecies and leading a small cult, according to the synoptic gospels, Jesus:
  • strongly encouraged complete devotion to his self (Matthew 16:16-17).
  • encouraged hatred of one's family (Luke 14:26) and complete separation from one's family (Matthew 19:29).
  • made enemies of the religious and political authorities (Matthew 21:23-27).
  • commanded the members to devote all of their time and their lives to his own leadership (Luke 9:61-62).
These characteristics of Jesus are very narrowly and strongly expected of a leader of a "dangerous cult," not the Son of God, not a philosopher, and not a mere myth. A checklist of characteristics of a "dangerous cult" has been published by the cult studies journal. Each of those four characteristics are containted within that checklist (see http://www.csj.org...).

Though the synoptic gospels are among the earliest evidence for Jesus, they are still only beliefs, not necessarily historically-accurate accounts. So, what are the best explanations for these beliefs?

Sociological pattern of doomsday cults

There is a known personality profile of those who lead religious movements and tell others that the end of the world is directly at hand: doomsday cult leaders. History and the modern day are littered with those people, and they very much tend to be actual people, not mere myths.

If you interpret the gospels at face value, then Jesus was a doomsday cult leader, even if such a phrase carries a derogatory connotation. If you interpret the gospels at face value, then Jesus led a cult and predicted the doomsday. This is a very plausible model of Jesus, given that we have many human characters in history who fit the same profile.

Strong cults do not always predict the doomsday, but doomsday prophecies are almost exclusively the mark of a cult--they motivate adherents to go to extremes to evangelize, work for the cult and recruit, because they believe that the fate of the whole world is at stake in what they do. Many such cult leaders develop into myths, including myths with miracles. A particularly close comparison to this model of the historical Jesus is Haile Selassie of Rastafarianism.

Recently, an article was written that explored the analogous myths of Haile Selassie, the figurehead of Rastafarianism. It was published in 2009 in the journal Think of The Royal Institute of Philosophy, titled, "Against Mythicism: A Case for the Plausibility of a Historical Jesus" by Edmund Standing. Though the historical Haile Selassie was a third-world dictator as authoritarian, violent, ambitious and amoral as any, the cult that was founded on his character portrayed him as a divine wise generous messianic enactor of miracles. The vestiges of the historical Jesus found in the New Testament portray little that is different.

Conclusion

The reputed "golden rule of interpretation" is: "If the plain sense makes good sense, seek no other sense or it will result in nonsense" (Robert M. West, How to Study the Bible). There can be exceptions to this rule, but exceptions should carry a strong burden of proof. Anyone can find any number of ways to dodge the meaning of the words of the historical Jesus, but, when one and only one explanation has seemingly far-superior explanatory power, explanatory scope, plausibility, consistency with accepted beliefs and deficiency of ad hoc suppositions (C. Behan McCullagh, Justifying Historical Descriptions), then I think that is the explanation that we should accept.
sing_along

Con

sing_along forfeited this round.
Debate Round No. 2
ApostateAbe

Pro

Introduction

My fellow participant has forfeited Round 2, but it is just as well, since I could use the opportunity to more fully address the points that he brought up in Round 1. He will have the last word in this last round, and I thank him for the experience.

Explanatory power

Both sing_along and I have used a set of Bible passages to reinforce our respective models of the historical Jesus. Any imagined theory of the historical Jesus can be evidenced using Bible passages, but some theories are more probable than others, so we need a methodology to decide which theory has the upper hand. The methodology of debate that I support is "Argument to the Best Explanation" (ABE) by C. Behan McCullagh, summarized on Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org...). It is a methodology most appropriate for settling fundamental disagreements on any given empirical topic. I don't demand that sing_along use the same methodology, but a methodology of some sort is important to make his case, and I will use ABE for my own case.

There are five key criteria of ABE--greater explanatory scope, greater explanatory power, more plausible, less ad hoc, and disconfirmed by fewer accepted beliefs. The criterion most relevant in this debate, in my opinion, concerns "greater explanatory power." The criterion states, "The hypothesis must be of greater explanatory power than any other incompatible hypothesis about the same subject; that is, it must make the observation statements it implies more probable than any other."

In other words, the evidence should narrowly expect (or predict) the theory.

I claim that my theory has far more explanatory power than sing_along's theory. Most of the passages that I listed in Round 2 are very strongly expected of the theory of Jesus as a doomsday cult leader--the doomsday prophecies, the seeming imminent deadline, the seeming encouragement of hatred and separation from one's family, and the command of complete devotion to his own self. Conversely, such passages are very unexpected of either a "commendable moral teacher" or a "Marxist." Magnifying the problem, we should very much expect the opposite.

Jesus and Marxism

To build his model of the historical Jesus, sing_along made references to passages in the Bible that are not directly relevant to the historical Jesus--the Old Testament and 2nd-century Christian writings. However, he did effectively quote the gospel of Luke and the Pauline epistle to Philemon. The theme of those two passages is to be content with one's own given share of wealth. A connection is drawn to a saying of Karl Marx:

"From each according to his ability, to each according to his need."

However, there is a strong misalignment between the sociological reality of early Christianity and this Marxist imperative. For Jesus or the early Christians to be both Marxist and content with their share would be unexpected for a society that was, by all scholarly accounts, very sharply divided between the rich and the poor, with the rich being the oppressive ruling class. Writes Bart Ehrman in The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings, p. 19, "In the early Christian world, there was no such thing as a middle class as we know it... In that world, only a few persons belonged to the upper class; nearly everyone else was in the lower. Few people had any hope for social mobility, slaves made up perhaps a third of the total population in major urban areas, and many of the poor were worse off than enslaved."

In such a world, contentment with one's own share is NOT the expected Marxist response, by any stretch of the imagination. The entire thrust of the Communist Manifesto was the overthrow of an oppressive and unjust social system (the capitalist society of the late 19th century western world was only a fraction as offensive). If Jesus encouraged contentment, then he was not a Marxist. Aligning with Marx's own negative opinions of the Christian religion, Jesus would have been more of a tool of the bourgeoisie.

Conversely, Jesus's encouragement to be content with one's own share of wealth is compatible with the theory that Jesus led a cult. In a travelling oratorical cult, the wealth must be divided according to the leader, and it is in the leader's interest to discourage complaints about an unfair share.

Love bombing

Effectively quoting from Galatians, sing_along makes another valuable point that Jesus, according to the earliest Christian testimony, strongly encouraged acts of love, generosity and compassion, and I accept this. Such behavior is incompatible with a stereotypical cult, but it is not at all incompatible with true cult behavior as known in the behavioral sciences. One of the well-known methods of cult recruitment is, in fact, "love bombing." According to the study, "Group processes in cult affiliation and recruitment," by David A. Halperin, 1982, "This use of unqualified and total approval of the prospective cult member by the cult recruiter has been dubbed 'love bombing.'" See also the Wikipedia article titled, "Love bombing" (http://en.wikipedia.org...). When I said that I intended the term, "doomsday cult," to be descriptive and not pejorative, it was intended to help us get a more accurate perspective of Jesus as a cult leader, unclouded by our negative judgments of cults.

Peace and harmony

A third valuable point by sing_along is that "But above all, the message that Jesus preached was to teach mankind to live in peace and harmony." There is at least some gospel evidence that Jesus may have believed this. Matthew 10:34 says, "Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword." Luke 12:51 says, "Do you suppose that I came to grant peace on earth? I tell you, no, but rather division." Though, on the face, this evidence may seem to contradict the claim that Jesus preached peace, it speaks to the existence of an early opposing school of thought known and opposed to the community of the gospel of Q that supported "peace on Earth," and this perhaps may have been the thinking of the historical Jesus.

On the other hand, it remains unclear whether this line of thinking came from inside the Christian community or from the outside, and, regardless of that, it remains unclear whether such a doctrine is original to Jesus. Unfortunately, without knowing, the prima facie evidence shows that the earliest Christians primarily believed that Jesus not only failed to uphold "peace on earth" but he explicitly opposed it in favor of division and "a sword."

Though violence is very seldom in the interest of cult leaders, a mentality of "spiritual warfare" with the larger community is typical. One of the characteristics of a cult is "a polarized us-versus-them mentality, which may cause conflict with the wider society" (http://www.csj.org...).

Conclusion

The New Testament historian Albert Schweitzer pointed out that fellow liberal Christian scholars in his own time (1910) merely remade Jesus in their own images, following the pattern of every other ideological thinker. Jesus, however, was fully an ancient character of his own time, not in any way concerned with the prejudices of the modern age. If somehow Jesus wasn't a doomsday cult leader, then all of his Christian successors most certainly were doomsday cult leaders, as their own writings appear on the face, and all of them made the most convincing efforts to make Jesus appear likewise. However, we merely apply the criterion of less ad hoc (or Occam's razor) to conclude that this same behavior is found in Jesus himself.

This is my last entry in the debate. I know that I brought up new arguments despite what sing_along requested, but I had only two opportunities total to make arguments (my fault, admittedly). sing_along may use his last entry as he sees fit. Again, I think him for this.
sing_along

Con

sing_along forfeited this round.
Debate Round No. 3
30 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 10 records.
Posted by ApostateAbe 6 years ago
ApostateAbe
Cool, ReformedArsenal. Whenever you are ready, just send me a challenge.
Posted by ReformedArsenal 6 years ago
ReformedArsenal
I'll do that debate with you, but I can't for a little while.
Posted by ApostateAbe 6 years ago
ApostateAbe
ReformedArsenal, I opened a new debate, and you are free to join it: http://www.debate.org...

Or else, if you don't like the resolution, then you can send me a challenge.
Posted by ApostateAbe 6 years ago
ApostateAbe
Tell me which one you like better, anytime.
Posted by ReformedArsenal 6 years ago
ReformedArsenal
Perhaps. Let me think about it.
Posted by ApostateAbe 6 years ago
ApostateAbe
Or how about:

Jesus told his cult that they wouldn't die before the end of days
Posted by ApostateAbe 6 years ago
ApostateAbe
How about:

Jesus told his cult that they would live to see the end of days
Posted by ReformedArsenal 6 years ago
ReformedArsenal
I don't disagree with that either. The problem with what you are saying is the definition of the word "imminent."
Posted by ApostateAbe 6 years ago
ApostateAbe
How about:

Jesus told his cult that the end of days was imminent
Posted by ReformedArsenal 6 years ago
ReformedArsenal
See, there is the problem... I don't disagree with you (At least not in the intention of the resolution).
5 votes have been placed for this debate. Showing 1 through 5 records.
Vote Placed by GMDebater 6 years ago
GMDebater
ApostateAbesing_alongTied
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Reasons for voting decision: forfeit
Vote Placed by askbob 6 years ago
askbob
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Reasons for voting decision: all points due to forfeit hopefully you find a worthy opponent
Vote Placed by popculturepooka 6 years ago
popculturepooka
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Reasons for voting decision: Obvious vote is obvious.
Vote Placed by baggins 6 years ago
baggins
ApostateAbesing_alongTied
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Reasons for voting decision: Unfortunate. Would have been a good debate had Con stuck on.
Vote Placed by Cliff.Stamp 6 years ago
Cliff.Stamp
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Reasons for voting decision: Unfortunate, nice opening.