The Argument From Suffering (Part 1)

In my many debates with Christians, both online and face to face, I often hear an argument that goes a lot along this line and shares this theme:

[Suffering I have gone through] confirms [something I believe is true] because [something I believe is true] therefore [something I believe is true].

This line comes in such forms as:

[I once was diagnosed with heart failure, but now the doctors tell me my heart is healthy] confirms [God is good] because [God is my healer] therefore [God is good!]

This, unfortunately, tells us nothing about God except that you believe in God, you received adequate medical care and that you have a heart that needs constant monitoring. Congratulations!
(By the way, if you got professional medical help for your heart condition, then why does God get the credit and not the professionals who treated you?)

Or its converse:

[Something I believe is true] confirms [something I believe is true] because [suffering that someone has gone through] therefore [something I believe is true].

This comes to us in the form of such arguments as:

[God will stand by people who believe in him] confirms [God is good] because [this particular Charismatic church was sued by an Islamic group for religious vilification] therefore [God is good].

It turns out that Jesus may be King of Kings, but that won't stop you being found of having breached the Australian Charities Act 2013, your tax-free status being revoked and being required to back-pay tax on hundreds of thousands of dollars of donations.

Or, most widespread of all, you may have heard the well-worn apologetic of:

The disciples knew what they believed was true and were willing to die for it, therefore it is true that Jesus rose from the dead!

All of this combined is the apologetic I call The Argument From Suffering. For reasons I will outline below, it's not a good apologetic, and definitely isn't strong argument - it makes a great sob story, but it is no good way to convince a rational atheist.

The relative to Argument From Suffering is the Argument From Blessing:

Without God, I wouldn't have/be [insert circumstance here]!

For example:

"Without God, I wouldn't have [been able to go to university]!"
"Without God, I wouldn't have [this nice house/apartment]!"
"Without God, I wouldn't have [this awesome job]!".

Again, from a rationalist point of view, the fact that plenty of atheists go to university, have nice houses and awesome jobs doesn't as evidence for God's existence, unless you want to entertain the possibility that atheists can do and have awesome things without needing God's help.


But to refute the Argument From Suffering, we need to start with the big one - the claim that:

The disciples of Jesus were martyred because they knew the Jesus they followed died and was resurrected - they wouldn't die for a lie!

This idea behind this argument is that the disciples of Jesus knew that Jesus rose from the dead and they were willing to die in defence of that truth, instead of recant to save their lives.

However, this is nowhere near a solid argument. The amount of people that die for a belief is no validation to the truth claims of that belief.

Consider the following: 

a. Muslim jihadis blow themselves up somewhere in the world on seemingly a weekly basis because of the conviction of what they believe, and of what you don't believe

Does this make Islam true?

"Au contraire" the Christian apologist says. "Yes, Muslim jihadis blow themselves up, but they're only doing that because of what they have been told. Jesus' disciples and the apostles were killed because of what they knew - they knew Jesus firsthand, or knew people who knew Jesus firsthand, and they knew that Jesus rose from the dead!".

So then you have to consider:

b. Joseph Smith, the founder of the Mormon faith, was killed by a mob while awaiting trial for treason while in Carthage, Illinois on June 27, 1844. Smith and his brother were charged with treason because Smith (as mayor of Nauvoo, a nearby town) had ordered a printing press belonging to a newspaper critical to Mormonism be destroyed.
If anyone was in a position to know if Mormonism was true or indeed just made up, it would have been Joseph Smith himself. Smith could have easily saved his life and recanted the very religion he founded as the mob were baying for his blood. But as it stands, Smith died because he attempted valiantly to defend Mormonism. 

Does this make Mormonism true?

c. Respond with "How do you know the disciples were martyred for the Christian faith? Were you there?" (and I am cheekily invoking Ken Ham's argument against methodological naturalism here).

Answer 1. "It says so in the Bible!".

Fact: The only book of the Bible to mention any actual and detailed post-Jesus martyrdoms is The Book Of Acts, in chapters 7 and 12.
However, as The Mystery Of Acts by Richard Pervo discusses, Acts makes liberal use of Greek mythosymbolism and was written to make the apostle Paul both the new Jesus and the new Peter - not to document church history. It is what might be deemed historical fiction - and proto-orthodox Christian literature is rife with fiction, historical or otherwise.
Further, we do not actually know who wrote Acts or when it was written, and no originals to compare manuscripts against. This makes claims of documentary reliability incredibly tenuous.

After Acts, the only other martyr story we get is in The Book Of Revelation 11:3-8, which mentions 'the two witnesses'. But, Revelation is exactly that - revelation. And in Christian-speak, 'revelation' is a euphemism for 'hallucination'.

(Just to add further fuel to the unreliability of the narrative sprouted by the modern church, consider this - the apostle Paul, the earliest Christian writer, mentions no martyr stories whatsoever in his epistles. This is very strange, as Paul himself was involved with the stoning of the very first martyr in Christian history in Acts 7. 

How does Paul omit, even by accident, any mention or any details of any Christian martyrs, when he was involved in the very first one?)

Answer 2. "Church history shows a long string of Christian martyrs!". 

Fact: Most of the documentation regarding the earliest Christian martyrs comes from the same time period that the apocryphal gospels were written - decades, if not centuries, later than the events they describe, and possibly by the same people.
If mainline Protestant Christians don't/can't/won't accept the apocryphal gospels, then they can't (or shouldn't) accept the equally as late and equally as apocryphal writings about the martyrdom of the apostles.

They can't have it both ways. Either the apocryphal writings are true, which makes both the Christian martyr stories true, but also the stories of Jesus killing other children for mocking him for being illegitimate true as well. Or, Jesus (thankfully) didn't kill other children, but neither did the apostles die horrible deaths.

In short, the only information we have that even indicates that the apostles died for the cause of Christ comes from the historicising sect of Christianity - all the histories and stories and theologies of the other sects of Christianity were wiped out!

Now, I agree, there were Christians killed by Romans and by Roman authorities, as numerous historians of Roman Antiquity write, but we have to ask a very important question:

Were any of those Christians killed because they were Christian, or were they killed because they were found to be seditious or treasonous?

If they were seditious, were they being seditious and treasonous in line with a command of Christ, and if so, which one?

If they were seditious without a command from Christ, then they were being seditious and treasonous for the sake of being seditious and treasonous.


Until next time where I will expand further on the Argument From Suffering, have a great new year, make time for the important things, and stay healthy!


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