Who would die for a lie?

In a comment at UD, Sal Cordova says:

One could of course argue the New Testament is a fabrication and exaggeration, but then it is well attested that the Romans inflicted cruel deaths upon Christians, some of whom claimed to be eye-witnesses of Jesus. Why die such a horrible death for a lie?

It lends too much credibility to the New Testament.

Sal seems to be unaware of phenomena such as cult suicides and suicide bombings.

The “who would die for a lie?” Christian trope confuses conviction with truth. It is a persistent apologetic, since the confusion of conviction and truth is the fundamental error of the religious. It is something all humans are vulnerable to. Hence we always have to be wary of con artists and other charismatic people, governments, authority figures, and the media.

Over to you. Who would die for a lie?

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24 thoughts on “Who would die for a lie?

  1. Someone whose life was inextricably tied to a community, and who perceived that risk of death, sometimes even certainty of death, was essential to preserve the community.

    I doubt that Sal believes that Shinto is true, considering the Japanese pilots who deliberately crashed into American ships.

    How is that consistent “logic,” though?

    Glen Davidson

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  2. Questions like these are so trivially easy to answer I find it mindboggling why they’re asked in the first place.

    Nobody would knowingly die for a lie. Are we now supposed to list all the different possible ways in which people unknowlingly die for lies?

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  3. As a Vietnam veteran I’d disagree with the claim that no one would knowingly die for a lie. People go to their deaths for many complicated reasons.

    But consider this. If Jesus was God, he never died, and he knew it.

    The Trinity quickly gets into A and not A territory.

    ETA: The dilemma is this: if Jesus was God he knew what was going to happen. Pain has been endured by many people for many reasons. Enduring pain is a bit unusual, but not rare.

    He could have been making a political point. We see this all the time in contemporary society.

    If he was delusional the point is moot.

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  4. I suppose the strength of the argument is supposed to derive from its details, rather than the punchline. The argument, as I understand it, goes like this:

    1. Suppose that the New Testament is a fabrication or an exaggeration.

    2. Some people who claimed to be eyewitnesses of the NT events went to their deaths for their beliefs.

    3. If (1) is to be assumed, then either these people lied about being eyewitnesses, or they lied about what they witnessed. Either way, their martyrdom does not make much sense. People die for mistaken beliefs, but nor (usually) for what they know to be a lie.

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  5. Patrick:
    Sal has forgotten 9/11 so soon?Or does he accept that Islam is true?

    Millions of people have died in religious wars.

    And for all kinds of isms, including everyone’s favorite, communism. People have died for atheism. Think about that.

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  6. The actual eyewitnesses forgot to write anything down. Even so, people died for Jim Jones and even killed their children. Happens all the time.

    So the answer to the question is lots of people, all the time, almost every day.

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  7. Even the question is a strawman, because we don’t have to posit that deliberate lying took place to explain the origins and spread of christianity. The people who start religious movements and cults often aren’t liars, but are themselves convinced that their various religious experiences are true. There are so many things that can play a role here. Self-deception is primary among them. There are people throwing themselves to their deaths believing absolutely in falsehoods.

    They don’t have to know they’re falsehoods, they can have decieved themselves either through strong emotional biases or they can simply be honestly mistaken because they haven’t had access to all the relevant information.

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  8. I suppose the strength of the argument is supposed to derive from its details, rather than the punchline. The argument, as I understand it, goes like this:

    1. Suppose that the New Testament is a fabrication or an exaggeration.

    2. Some people who claimed to be eyewitnesses of the NT events went to their deaths for their beliefs.

    3. If (1) is to be assumed, then either these people lied about being eyewitnesses, or they lied about what they witnessed. Either way, their martyrdom does not make much sense. People die for mistaken beliefs, but nor (usually) for what they know to be a lie.

    I had previously thought about commenting on the circularity of that reasoning, but went for a shorter remark.

    The thing, of course, is that Sal is arguing that they saw the resurrected Christ, so that is why they would die for that belief, and that they would die for that belief is why we know they saw the resurrected Christ. Aside from the whole lack of really reliable witnesses for any of that story, though, you first have to assume that they did see the resurrected Christ in order for their own deaths to mean anything, because otherwise they may have died not knowing it was a lie (if “lie” would be the right term for it). But the only reason we know for sure that they must have seen the resurrected Christ is that they died for that belief–at least according to this “argument.” What if they really hadn’t seen the resurrected Christ, in fact, but had been convinced that they must have by others claiming to have done so, thus we’re back to people proving their faith by suffering for it?

    The whole thing about people seeing Jesus after his death is kind of surreal in the New Testament. Two men walk to Emmaus talking with Jesus, never recognizing him until sometime while they’re eating, then Jesus promptly vanishes. That’s perhaps the weirdest of the stories, but the rest are on the odd side as well, like with Peter and Jesus–and again Jesus is not recognized by the people–redoing an old fish miracle. What is that?

    Finally, he disappears rising into the clouds. Yes, an eyewitness account.

    I don’t know, I suppose Jesus could have survived the ordeal and appeared to people, but why are the encounters so seemingly paranormal? Even if they weren’t truly paranormal, people seemed to take them as such, so we’re right back into a sort of religious fervor about the whole matter, exactly what might induce people to die for the belief. In fact, it’s often better if things aren’t so very certain in a religion, because belief is what comes into play to “make things certain.” Paul didn’t see Jesus, except in a kind of vision, and purportedly died for this “eyewitness account.” Am I supposed to think that Paul would die for a vision, and others wouldn’t?

    And really, the question might be, who would die for a truth? Would I die for the truth of evolutionary theory/processes? No. I suppose it’s possible that I might suffer to keep the truth available (and I might not), but it can stand on its own two feet, and I can’t imagine singing in the flames to maintain the truth that life evolved. People don’t die for things that are certain, but for what must be made to be certain.

    I don’t know what happened with the whole Jesus thing after the crucifixion. I can only say that whatever happened was experienced as being profound, at least according to the accounts we have (could have become so after the fact, I know). But that people would die for a belief is not surprising. What would have been surprising is if so many would die for an incontrovertible fact.

    Glen Davidson

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  9. This isn’t a popular meme, but death and resurrection religions (cults) were pretty common at the time. I’ve seen a list of about 60. Some are well known Greek and Roman myths, some a bit more obscure. Some were, prior to Constantine, more popular than Christianity.

    There are a couple of religions in the United States that have made one or more very specific predictions about the end of the world. They failed, yet people did not abandon their faith.

    Faith is, to me, a very odd thing.

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  10. You misunderstand David Hooke, but thank you for taking the time to even notice what I said at UD.

    There are two kinds of falsehoods someone might promote:

    1. a falsehood he knows is false
    2. a falsehood he believes is true but is actually false

    A sad example of #2 is Fourier, he essentially killed himself by exposing himself to extreme heat and wrapping himself in blankets because he felt heat had miraculous powers, and it is believed he tripped on a blanket down the stairs and it killed him. Brilliant scientist and mathematician, but not really good homeopathic healer….

    Dying for a falsehood you know is false, that’s different than the examples you cite of dying for falsehoods someone believes sincerely are true.

    An opportunist who has lived on lies all his life when faced with the wrath of a Roman Emperor would seem more inclined to cave in with more lies and expedient recantations, much like a politician.

    Dying a horrible death for insisting on something you know is a lie, what is the point, it would be, as Paul himself, better to “eat and drink, realizing tomorrow we die.” That would a nice utilitarian, pragmatic alternative than being beheaded or being fed to lions.

    If I made something up, and I knew I made it up, and the Roman emperor said, recant or be fed to the lions, I know I’d recant. What would be the point of persisting? Saving face? Ha. Not me, I’d rather go with “eat and drink and be merry with what little time I have on earth.”

    The early Christians died not just because they believed some theological claim about heavenly rewards but because they either were eyewitnesses of Christ’s work or the miraculous healings of the Apostles.

    We do have cases like Jim Jones, Marshall Applewhite, the Waco disaster, etc. But their claims aren’t tied to the claim of someone rising from the dead or evidence of miraculous healing but rather promises of some heavenly reward (a promisorry note). That is subtle but important distinction.

    It’s likely Marshall Applewhite was self-deluded thinking he’ll end up flying away in the Hale Bopp comet if he committed suicide, but that’s quite a different thing than dying because you’ve witnessed a resurrected Jesus and you feel obligated to convey that claim to the world. The former (Applewhite) is tied to a promisory belief of his own imaginations, the latter tied to a claim of something you’ve seen with your own eyes!

    Unlike the powerful religious leaders of today, the early Church had the witness of impoverished suffering Apostles who wandered from Judea to Rome (no small feat!). There was no glory or fun in the process, and it met a miserable end. You might do it if by your own imagination you believe you’d be rewarded in the hereafter, but I don’t think one would do it based on a false claim you’ve actually seen someone who was risen from the dead unless of course you witnessed someone actually alive after he was dead.

    Would I make up a story that I had a dear friend who worked many miracles of healing, saw him die on a Roman cross, and then saw him alive again on the 3rd day walking through walls. And then live a miserable impoverished life travelling from Judea to Rome and then get martyred in order to tell that story?

    Going around preaching “I believe I’ll go to heaven” is different than saying, “I saw Christ risen from the dead. Christ told me I would suffer a horrible death as I proclaimed this truth, but that is what I must do because he told me.” Why die for such a claim if the claim is something you know you made up. Making the claim up would be making it up if:

    1. Christ never existed
    2. Christ died but was never resurrected
    3. Christ never did miracles, was crucified, and never resurrected
    etc.

    What are the chances an odd collection than poor fisherman (Peter, John, James), tax collectors (Matthew), revolutionaries (Simon the zealot), physician (Luke), clergyman (Paul), would put together the story of a carpenter who was crucified and rose from the dead and carry out such a detectable transformation in religious views through the Roman Empire. It suggest to me, as Rodney Stark said, whether the resurrection was real, the apostles and disciples who insisted they were eye witnesses did so with incredible zeal and effectiveness.

    The epistles also list names of specific people in the letters and healing claims. If the Roman church didn’t have the people listed in Paul’s epistles, there would be instant lack of credibility in the Roman church toward Paul. There are lots of small details like that in New Testament that are often disposed of as insignificant, but it speaks volumes to me.

    Would you be willing to be fed to the lions after receiving a letter from Paul that had all these names of the church you were a part of and you didn’t actually know these people? I doubt it. See:
    http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Romans+16
    At the very least I’d say, “before I get fed to the lions, can you explain this discrepancy? Why should I believe anything else you say since you can’t even identify the people in my church whom you claim to know personally.” But of course we know the Christians were fed to the lions, so something was very persuasive about the message ESPECIALLY in light of the fact there were tons of other much more convenient and comfortable religious ideas to self-delude oneself on in the Roman Empire.

    It is seemingly insignificant details as this (like the list of names), the abundance of other more convenient religions, that suggests the Roman church had plenty of opportunity to reject Paul as a charlatan. But then they see his chains, his poverty, his difficulty in travelling from Judae to Rome, etc. and then his miserable death. Why would he do it? Does not the epistle or Romans suggest someone that was learned (by ancient standards) and probably capable of living a much better life than the miserable end he met? Why do this for a lie that you KNOW you made up about a friend doing miracles, getting crucified, and then rising from the dead. I wouldn’t do it, and neither would Paul.

    if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.

    If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.

    If I fought wild beasts in Ephesus with no more than human hopes, what have I gained? If the dead are not raised, “Let us eat and drink,
    for tomorrow we die.”

    Unlike Jim Jones or other charlatans, there is another observations, the apostles emptied themselves in charity toward the church, not made themselves demigods to be pseudo worshiped like a lot of these charlatans.

    Now, if Jesus didn’t rise from the dead, is it reasonable for an Apostle to persist in believing and proclaiming he actually did to people (like the Romans) who couldn’t care less? I find that a bit hard to believe.

    History attests to the martyrdom, but it seems to me the most parsimonious explanation of the martyrdom based on the claim many saw Jesus rise from the dead or witness of the Apostles miracles, is that the account is true.

    I find the possibility of miracles also more believable because of the miracle of life, hence my interest in ID.

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  11. Sal, firstly there is no more evidence that eyewitnesses died than there is for the claims of any religion. How do you know an eyewitness even wrote any of the Gospels?

    Secondly, you assume that eyewitnesses, especially members of a cult, can’t be mistaken. There are many examples of mistaken eyewitnesses, especially in religious cults.

    You confuse conviction with truth.

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  12. Oh and you are wrong about cult members not attributing supernatural powers to leaders.

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  13. History attests to the martyrdom…

    Actually, there’s very little such history, almost none outside the gospels, and they were written decades later. There’s no firsthand eyewitness account at all.

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  14. GlenDavidson: I had previously thought about commenting on the circularity of that reasoning, but went for a shorter remark.

    The thing, of course, is that Sal is arguing that they saw the resurrected Christ, so that is why they would die for that belief, and that they would die for that belief is why we know they saw the resurrected Christ.

    No, there is no circularity in the argument. We proceed from the premise that a person would not die for something he knows to be false. The next premise (and I am not evaluating the premises here, just exposing the logic of the argument) is that whenever a person claims to be an eyewitness, he could hardly fail to know that what he claims to have witnessed did not happen. Nor could he fail to know that he was not an eyewitness in the first place. Therefore, credibly sincere eyewitnesses are reliable. Therefore, Christian martyrs can be trusted to tell the truth about the events that they claim to have witnessed. The final premise is that there are historically attestable Christian martyrs who claimed to have witnessed key events in the Gospels. (There, I have spared you reading Sal’s excruciatingly verbose post.)

    This last premise has to be justified independently from the others. And this is, of course, where the argument fails the worst, because, as far as I know, there is not even one such witness.

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  15. I find the possibility of miracles also more believable because of the miracle of life, hence my interest in ID.

    This is just a statement of religious faith. If you want to make an argument that X is Y, you have to provide reasons that X is Y, not assume it devoutly.

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  16. “What harm would it do, if a man told a good strong lie for the sake of the good and for the Christian church … a lie out of necessity, a useful lie, a helpful lie, such lies would not be against God, he would accept them.”

    – Martin Luther (Cited by his secretary, in a letter in Max Lenz, ed., Briefwechsel Landgraf Phillips des Grossmüthigen von Hessen mit Bucer, vol. I.)

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  17. There’s Tawriya, which I think is a bit like equivocation. Or marketing. Deception without lying.

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  18. As another Vietnam vet, I find this question simplistic. Even at the time, I thought the war was a crock, the Vietnamese culture was being force-fit into an American domino delusion, there was no definitioin of “victory” and that US foreign policy was idiotic. Calling it a lie is close enough.

    BUT at the very least I had to do a cost-benefit analysis. Putting my life at risk with no guarantee I would lose it (most US soldiers survived) had to be balanced against the guaranteed penalties of (and likely futility of) any sort of protest.

    I think most people make that sort of analysis at some level.

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  19. I don’t want to hijack the thread, but wanted to say that people die for all kinds of trivial reasons. Perhaps the simplest way to put it is that sometimes you are just expected to put your life at risk, and can’t think of a good way out. Social pressure.

    The OP has, I think, two major errors, both of which have been covered.

    The biggest error is in assuming without any evidence, that eyewitnesses to the Resurrection died to defend their story. I don’t think anything like that is even in the Bible.
    The other big error is thinking that people won’t risk their lives for odd causes.

    This may seem off topic, but I was in Vietnam for a year and encountered nothing that put my life at risk other than traffic and insane drivers.

    But during that time I became desensitized to the inevitability of my own death. Any fear I might have had just went away. I fear getting old and losing my ability to care for myself. I fear disease and pain, but I am not afraid of being dead. I suspect I am not alone in this. I think one should be careful about assuming that everyone fears death.

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  20. I suspect that some people are willing to die to protect the image they have of themselves and to protect the image they think their friends have of them.

    For some, maybe many, people shame is worse than death, I suspect.

    And then there are those who will lay down their lives for their friends, even in a cause they know is futile. I hope I would do that, but also I hope I’ll never find out.

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  21. –“Who would die for a lie?”
    Anyone who was a character in a just-so story who was specifically written that way. Fictional characters can do anything their authors want them to do.

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