: 'It seems so improbable that a story like that of Jesus, as an offshoot of Judaism and in defiance of prevailing religious practices of the region, should have survived. They killed the leader and they killed his followers. Why would Jesus's contemporaries make up stories about him and pretend to believe their own made up stories? How did Christianity spread, and why were so many people fooled into discarding their own beliefs for this new one, even in the face of incredible persecution, executions, and torture? [...] The first christians, however, were all slaughtered for it.'
Well, not quite all of them, obviously. :-)
There are also some disputes I've heard of, but not researched, as to how significant the persecution of the Christians was in the early days of the Church. A lot of what we know of at the time comes from -- well, Christian writings and traditions themselves.
(Of course, Christians have done quite a fine job of persecuting and killing Christians for not being the "right kind" of Christian themselves over the centuries, sadly enough.)
One question I consider is, would an engaging religion that scratched a certain emotional itch be sufficient to create the spread of the faith that we see over time in the Western world up until Constantine, whether or not it had a miraculous origin? Christianity had a lot of different flavors, but its argument for personal morality, removal of class and national division, common and caring living, and promise of reward in the afterlife would have attracted a lot of people, especially in an era were state religions were unsatisfying, leading to the spread of a variety of mystery cults. That might especially be true if many (or most) Christians in the early years were attracted to it as an apocalyptic cult, keying off Christ's reputed words that He was coming again Real Soon Now.
I've found Bart Ehrman's books, especially Did Jesus Exist,
to be interesting in this area (his answer is "Yes, but probably not much as he appears in popular modern Christian interpretations"). 'That's true of most bodies of literature. Our science books from five years ago are often wrong and need to be corrected, so believing that writings from two thousands years ago are infallible does require faith.'
Especially since the corrections to science books over the course of five years are often in the area of updating from new
knowledge that's been gathered, not old knowledge that's been rediscovered.'I cannot judge you, because I don't have the right, I don't know you, and I don't know your motives or reasons. All the more so, I cannot judge God. [...] The question is how can I know if God is good? Dare I judge based on my own standards?'
I think we are called upon to judge, but not judge with too much confidence or arrogance. If I read of God doing or commanding something that seems profoundly wrong to me (the flooding of the world, the killing of the firstborn in Egypt, calling for the sacrifice of Isaac, the massacre of the Midianites, etc.), then my conscience compels me to consider:
(a) is this a good thing simply because God commands it [working in mysterious ways, as it were], and if I don't consider it good then I need an attitude / conscience adjustment?
(b) is this an historic event [accurate or not] offered up by the writers of Scripture using God's actions / commands as a justification for something awful that happened or that the writer's kinfolk did?
(c) is this a parable recorded to teach some sort of lesson [closely related to (b)]?
If one takes the premise that Scripture is infallible, then (a) would seem to be the case, but I'd argue instead that (b/c) seem so likely that they argue against the infallibility of Scripture (or else argue that the standards of "good" taught by God in the OT are pretty horrifying).
For me, the role of the Holy Spirit in informing my conscience as to right and wrong seems to imply some need to judge, both my fellow humans and the God that they variously assert to be the truth. It is to help me to discern the truth, not simply accept the truth on the authority of any person or scripture.
[I hope I haven't wandered too far afield here in your post, Chris -- some of the things you wrote obviously inspired further thought on my part.]