Gary, there’s only a certain degree of certainty you could ever gain from dusting off books. And if the faith claim was that Jesus rose and died again, it wouldn’t be particularly compelling. Instead, the claim that He’s still alive and active today IS measured in eye witness testimony, which is truly sufficient for all of us who sought Him out and experience Him regularly.
You’ve done your reading, which is commendable. That’s your due diligence, and no one could argue that you didn’t care enough to look into it.
The only other thing I’d encourage you to do is take your Christian friends out to coffee and ask them what their personal relationship with Christ looks like. If it’s just historically true and not relevant today, then it wouldn’t be worth engaging. Instead, what we find is billions of people who find it incredibly meaningful, powerful, life changing and experiential.
I don’t know a whole lot of Christians who read their way into the faith. A consistent theme with all the people I disciple is that they have experienced God in powerful and moving ways that I can’t simply dismiss, as you do, as “natural coincidence.” I have my own journey, and while we disagree with how much evidence the scholars amass, which I find incredibly detailed and compelling, I could never doubt my own daily relationship with God.
Yours will always be an argument from silence. “I haven’t experienced God myself.” That’s not like to sway Believers, unless they only believe because they were raised that way and haven’t engaged the faith on their own.
One day at the age of nine, I sincerely and with all my heart prayed to Jesus, asking him to forgive me of all my sins, save my sinful soul, and make himself the Lord of my life. I felt a great peace in my heart and great assurance and comfort. Shortly thereafter I was baptized.
In my teen years, I began to have doubts about my salvation. “Had I really and truly believed in Jesus as my Lord and Savior?” “Had I fully repented of ALL my sins?” “Did I ask Jesus to save me because I wanted him to be my Lord and Savior or simply because I was afraid of Hell?”
The uncertainty of my salvation was very emotionally draining.
One night, I prayed to God and said, “Dear Lord, I will do ANYTHING you want me to do. I will become a preacher or a missionary if that is what you want me to be. I will forsake all worldly pleasures. But PLEASE give me assurance of my salvation!” I went into the backyard, burned all my rock-n-roll records in the trash bin and again asked Jesus to save me and to be my Lord and Savior. Once again I felt great peace and assurance.
In my twenties I joined a non-denominational evangelical church in which the people were much more expressive and emotional about their faith and experiences of Jesus than my previous Baptist congregation. As people prayed to Jesus their eyes would roll back in their heads, they would cry, they would sway with the rhythmic songs about Jesus. Why had I never felt that kind of INTENSE emotion about Jesus??? Was it because I lacked enough faith? Was it because of some sin of which I was unaware? Or, was it because I was STILL…unsaved???
So I have “experienced Jesus”, my friend. I know the warm feelings of peace, comfort, and serenity. I know how wonderful it feels to have a supernatural “big brother” figure who is more powerful than any force on earth and has the power to do ANYTHING for me, if he desires. That gave me GREAT comfort.
But I began to ask myself this question: Is that still, small “voice” that at times speaks to me, moves me, and leads me to do “God’s will” God, or, just…ME? And here is the conclusion I have come to, my friend: The evidence is overwhelming that corpses do not come back from the dead. The evidence is overwhelming that corpses do not levitate into the sky. And the evidence is overwhelming that children who believe that they have an IMAGINARY FRIEND also experience peace, comfort, and security. Are their feelings and perceptions about their invisible friend any different than those Christians claim to receive from their invisible friend?
And what about miracles? Jesus only seems to heal conditions that could have very natural explanations, even if that natural explanation is very rare.
The evidence is very strong to me, my friend: Jesus “the Christ” is simply an imaginary friend. He died two thousand years ago. He is still dead. He was not a god. The intense emotions and perceptions Christians experience are no different than the intense emotions and perceptions of people in other religions, sects, and cults, and, of children with imaginary friends.
The evidence strongly suggests that Christianity is an ancient superstition, friend.