The “miracle” of Christmas

Tis the Christmas season, an entire cultural phenomenon derived from a miracle claim.  Christmas is the day the (virgin) birth of Jesus of Nazareth (God in flesh) is celebrated.  As we all know, claims of the miraculous sort are by definition extraordinary claims, and extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, right? On its face, this seems to be a reasonable request. After all, if something truly outrageous happens we shouldn’t simply surrender our disbelief without having good reason. But does it do us any good to require extraordinary evidence for extraordinary claims? Is it even reasonable?  In my experience this stipulation is invoked more often than not to afford an easy escape from having to acknowledge otherwise good historical evidence for a position someone desperately wishes to deny. It is the refuge of the intellectually dishonest.

This demand is used primarily when discussing the possibility of miracles.  The New Testament is considered an unreliable source by skeptics generally on the sole basis that it contains narrative about miracles such as virgin births, talking animals, and the dead being raised.  Considering these claims filtered through a purely physical worldview, the skeptic categorizes miracles as claims requiring extraordinary evidence, and seemingly by design, excludes by definition any evidence which affirms a miraculous event.

The term “extraordinary”, however, is an equivocal term.  It can carry both a quantitative or a qualitative sense, either of which can be accepted or rejected depending on who it is that’s weighing the evidence.  This is precisely the problem.  Since both quality and quantity are subjectively defined, the skeptic is under no obligation to admit that anything ever fulfills his personal requirement.

There could be multiple pieces evidence which might play in favor of a miracle’s historicity, but the skeptic always has that subjective out: “that’s not enough”.  There may never be enough evidences to ever satisfy what the skeptic would consider sufficient enough in quantity to convince him a miracle happened.  There could always be more, and thus there’s always an escape.

Usually eyewitness accounts are dismissed by the skeptic since they could be lying, or mistaken, or invented. Two things about this dismissal have always bothered me.  First, this skepticism is almost universally applied to religious texts for no other reason than that they are religious in nature. This selective application to sectarian texts reveals the bias of the skeptic.  Their claim of “honestly seeking” is belied by the persistent artificial barriers erected during their “investigations”.  Second, when dealing with pre-audio/visual recordable history, we must rely exclusively on eyewitness testimony, there is no other way.  So when the skeptic wants to dismiss the only possible kind of evidence out of the box, I am always hesitant to believe him when he claims to be “honestly seeking”.

Here’s the thing about extraordinary evidence when speaking in terms of quality: it too suffers from personal subjectivity.  It may be that no type of evidence will be extraordinary enough for the skeptic.  Even if we weren’t  solely reliant on eyewitness accounts, pictures and video can be altered, Hollywood does it all the time.  Even seeing a miracle with their own eyes wouldn’t likely force a concession that a miracle took place.  I’m not all that confident that the skeptic wouldn’t do everything he could to explain away what was seen with his lying eyes.  Whether it’s chalked up to hallucination, slight of hand, or “even though I don’t know what happened right now, science will eventually explain it…” it still wouldn’t be a miracle.

I don’t place much stock in people who insist that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.  I don’t think they are at all serious about investigating without bias barriers, and the “honest seeking” is rigged to avoid fulfilling the “extraordinary” threshold.  All that is required is adequate reliable evidence.  We accept this all the time in various situations in life.  Extraordinary events happen on a daily basis all over the world, all without the demand for unfulfillable evidence.  I suspect that if pressed to define what is sought by way of evidence, the standard will always be just out of reach.  Hmm, I wonder why.

Comments

  1. You fail to realize that the default position is not knowing. The religious approach (at its worst) declares a conclusion, considers any evidence sufficient, and denounces any contrary evidence.
    But what is meant by ‘extraordinary evidence’ is not a special kind of evidence. It is just the case that an ‘extraordinary’ claim goes against a large list of what is generally considered to be factual. In the case of the Christmas story: Humans don’t experience parthogenesis. Ancient peoples didn’t travel for census. (arguably, Nazareth was uninhabited at the time.) Angels don’t exist. Stars don’t point the way to birthplaces. All those things collectively don’t prove the baby had any special powers.
    So the Christmas story is an ‘extraordinary’ claim because in order to convince me of your version of events, I have to declare that at least in this special case, long lists of things I have lots of evidence for are in fact false. So without ‘extraordinary’ evidence, which is evidence that overcomes all the points of dispute, then the claim as a whole can’t be accepted.
    You can’t just say ‘people said so’ and expect all those other claims to be put aside, especially when people really didn’t say so (which is to say the gospels were mostly made up and cobbled together a century or more after the events described).
    And before you declare skeptics, just remember that you reject all the identically-supported Muslim and Hindu and Mormon claims while we atheists are able to accept or reject, as appropriate, extraordinary evidence regarding Free Will (in the negative), the Higgs Boson (found), arsenic-based life (in the negative), water on Mars (found), quantum entanglement (demonstrated), etc. You’ve shown the range to accept only homogeneous lumps of Christianity. Feel free to show me otherwise.

    • Jason

      “(which is to say the gospels were mostly made up and cobbled together a century or more after the events described)”

      This is factually inaccurate.

      “And before you declare skeptics, just remember that you reject all the identically-supported Muslim and Hindu and Mormon claims ”

      And so is this. Not only do I merely dismiss them, they are not identically supported. If you are under the impression that they are, you are either dishonestly characterizing them for rhetorical effect to onlookers, or you are not familiar with the claims those religions make regarding their claims to authenticity.

  2. Yup – my experience has been very much the same! It became clear to me that the people demanding “extraordinary evidence” have no intention of accepting *any* evidence, but none is ever “extraordinary” enough. I’ve also found that, as I continue to present evidence and rational arguments, they become increasingly angry and emotional. It seems to me that come from an expectation that there *is* no evidence and, because they are emotionally attached to their conclusions, while at the same time claiming to have reason and logic on their side. Having those conclusions in a purely logical and evidentiary manner is something many of them have no idea how to handle, so they lash out in anger and start digging out the dusty accusations of sky faeries and cave man myths. :-/

  3. *sigh* I knew I should have read that again before I hit post.
    “Having those conclusions *challenged*…”

  4. This horse has been kicked for a good long while. The Bible as a “factual” historical document, wouldn’t hold up in civil court against a mediocre jury. As a self serving book that is considered infallible written and edited by inerrant men it is an idea that is self producing and self answering. It is a closed loop. It is it’s own answer. There is no room allowed to seek it’s verification outside itself. This was of course punished with a long history of ridicule and persecutions and of course silence by those seeking answers outside of the book itself. Would you also consider that every other ancient text with all of their stories to be factual because they measure up by the same terribly aforementioned standards? With the lens/filter of faith applied equally then the FSM deity is “factual”. I dare you to disprove my eyewitness account of said deity. It is the antithesis of critical thinking. It requires faith, which is at best subjective delusion. I don’t worship at the altar of science by a long shot, but to begin to consider the miracles of the Bible as fact because they are witnessed by someone and to not consider the numerous types of bias (confirmation/omission) that come into play is at best humorous and at worst, makes for a life of bad decisions based on the non sensical.

    • Nash

      “With the lens/filter of faith applied equally then the FSM deity is “factual”. I dare you to disprove my eyewitness account of said deity. It is the antithesis of critical thinking. It requires faith,”

      This isn’t the case with Jesus or his reported miracles. it wasn’t a single witness alone with no corroboration. If it were a single eyewitness, there would be no Christianity. It is the fact that there were hundreds of witnesses to the events is why it was able to persist even through persecution.

  5. When you start with the religion of naturalism (nothing exists except what is material and can be observed by the senses), you lose a sense of wonder in the universe. When you lose that sense of wonder, you lose a sense of purpose in life. Lives without purpose are hopeless and miserable.

  6. So John you subscribe to all of the “modern” miracles, which are almost universally verified by the the Catholic church, as being “factual” because more than one zealot/believer, witnessed said event? That is to say, that it is the work of or hand of your god making tears of blood emanate from the eyes of Mary on some fresco in the south of Italy? Or the face of Jesus on a tree or a piece of toast, again only by believers. I mean if Jesus wanted to leave his mark as convincing why not reach a larger audience than the nomadic, non-writing, illiterates of sub saharan Africa? The real miracle would have been to leave a mark that wouldn’t be argued and interpreted for millennia because there was no wriggle room. This is exactly the closed loop I mentioned. It is “verified” by those who already believed that this Jesus guy was unique. I mean Joseph Smith and L Ron Hubbard and 1k guys did this same act before and after Jesus. What invalidates their charade but “factually” supports yours, beyond faith of course?How many “non-believers” wrote tomes about the events surrounding Jesus? How many skeptics and non theists were invited to witness the events?

  7. When you put up post like this, are you doing this because you actually want an atheist to reply and answer your question? or is it just a rant?

    Because if you actually desire an answer I will be happily to oblige.

  8. Hello JB
    Well I’ll actually try to answer the questions without sounding like the clanging rants of an angry atheist.

    As we all know, claims of the miraculous sort are by definition extraordinary claims, and extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, right? On its face, this seems to be a reasonable request. After all, if something truly outrageous happens we shouldn’t simply surrender our disbelief without having good reason. But does it do us any good to require extraordinary evidence for extraordinary claims? Is it even reasonable?

    As much as love the quote of extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, its not really an accurate quote. Really extraordinary claims really just need reasonable evidence. Even in the court of law, the terminology that is used, is proof beyond a reasonable doubt. In that the evidence should be reasonable to assume a reasonable and solid conclusion. This is not to confused with all possibilities or shadow of a doubt. Which considers all possible scenarios even the absurd ones. Reasonable evidence is just that reasonable, not all possible nor absurd possibilities.

    Anything is possible, but not everything is reasonable
    the best example I can give of this, is that it is possible that I alien of higher intelligence typing this message to you from another planet. That is a POSSIBLE scenario, but not a realistic REASONABLE scenario.

    -Now in regards to the topic of eyewitness accounts, It is not reasonable to assume that the gospels are eyewitness of the miracles of Jesus. Several reasons

    1) When looking at the 4 gospels, it is not 4 independent accounts, but really 2 accounts, with one of the accounts being rewritten 3 different times, (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) And this is important, because in proving something true, you want independent Eye-Witness accounts.

    2) In addiition, they are not written as eyewitness accounts, They are all written in third person narrative, which is not the narrative of an eyewitness accounts. And in addition, considering Matthew and John, were written by their supposed apostles/disciples they should have been written in first person perspective but they weren’t, they are both in third person

    3) On top of that, according to both christian and secualr scholars none of them were written during the time of Jesus. They were all written some 30 years after Jesus died, atleast. And some scholars place the gospel of John in the 2nd century, almost 60 years after jesus died.

    4)The Gospels are not written in the native tongue, of those who lived it or saw it. http://bittersweetend.wordpress.com/2012/10/16/why-are-there-no-aramaic-or-hebrew-manuscripts/

    5) John was illiterate Acts 4:13, so there was no way he wrote the gospel himself, (Some say he could have dictated it), however that is doubted by literary analysit, because the literary and writing styles in greek of both the gospel of John and the epistles of John vary considerably. and they read like the were composed by someone of medium to high writing skills, not that of a peasent farmer/fisherman.

    In addition, even thought it was possible they (The disciples) may have all spoke greek, it is unreasonable to assume they were all educated enough to speak it fluently or read and write in it. Considering it was not their native/primary language.

    6)Lastly the gospels themselves in their own writings, never verify authorship, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John were assumed names by Church History.

    This in my opinion is a cumulative case argument against the authenticy and reliability of the authorship of the gospel writers. All reasonable talking points, for anyone to come to their own reasonable conclusion.

    • M Rodriguez

      Thanks for the thoughtful and non-ranting reply. I’ll do my best to respond.

      I agree that extraordinary evidence is not required, but rather adequate and reasonable evidence, but Atheists do request extraordinary evidence. Evidence beyond a reasonable doubt, however, is only required in criminal trials, not all courtroom activity, and this is only because someone’s liberty is at stake. In fact, the majority of legal trials only require a preponderance of the evidence to make a decision. Small claims, civil suits, liability claims, etc. all only require evidence which shown that it is more likely than not that something happened. But I’m even OK with the standard beyond a reasonable doubt.

      I also agree that just because something is possible does not bean it’s probable. I wrote on this some time back where I assert that just because we can think of an alternate explanation to something doesn’t undermine the current explanation. We must also have a good reason to believe the alternate explanation over and above what we have.

      1. The synoptic Gospels do seem to draw from a common source, the hypothesized “Q”. However, there is much in each of the 3 which are independent of each other. Regardless, I don’t believe it’s necessary to have different wordings for each work. If we can reasonably presume that each author’s biggest concern was accuracy of events, and I do think that’s a reasonable presumption, then if they believed their own recollections matched a previously written account, then I don’t consider it a liability for them to draw from a source which they believed to represent their memory. If we accept that the Gospel accounts were written between 15-30 years after the events themselves, I think this is even more a reason to accept this line of reasoning.

      2. I agree that they are not written as “eyewitness accounts” if by that you mean something akin to what we would call a witness statement that someone might give to a police officer at the scene of a crime, or testimony in court. But even though we may describe the Gospels as “eyewitness accounts” they are actually written in the genre of ancient biography. I also don’t consider this discrepancy to be a liability either. I don’t think it’s fair to impose modern terminology and reporting standards onto written works which were not intended to fulfill. When the authors penned the New Testament their goal was to relate what they believed to be accurate information in a manner consistent with the standards of accuracy for the first century, not the 21st century. So where there might be what we believe doesnt conform to certain expectations, it is most reasonable to judge them by the standards with which they were expecting to meet.

      3. Very few scholars, sympathetic or not place any of the New Testament documents outside the first century. But even if we consider 30 years after the events to be too late for accuracy, I don’t think it is, not for the time period anyway. If we grant that the authors were eyewitnesses for the sake of argument, I dont think it would be unreasonable to place their ages between 20-40 at best at the time of Jesus’ impact. Now consider the events they’re recording. The resurrection and other healing miracles had to be life changing events. I think it’s safe to say that if either you or I saw what these people claimed to have seen we would recall these things which would have drastically altered our perspective on life. Having carried these things around with you for 30 years, but also others in the community, who I’m sure had much discussion about, would certainly keep the information pretty accurate. When there are others who had similar changes in life perspective due to witnessing a miracle from God (presuming for sake of argument) it is not soon forgotten.

      4. If this were true, it is of no consequence. First, Greek was the native tongue of business and commerce, just like English is today. Even in many foreign countries today business is conducted in English, not the native language. It is my understanding that Latin and Greek was the commercial language of the day and most people — even if they couldn’t write — could speak at a minimum two languages. If the Gospel writers were intent on getting their message out, it would have been written in a language that the largest audience could be reached. The majority of people in the Asian/European region of Rome and Athens weren’t Hebrew or Aramaic speakers. If the message in the Gospels were true as they are reported to be, it doesn’t make sense to write it in a language which would reach so few.

      5. First, I don’t think unschooled means illiterate. I think it could reasonably concluded to mean that they were not what we consider formally educated in a university. There were universities at the time. I think we can reasonably conclude that Peter and John were literate but not to the degree of scholars of the day. But even if he were illiterate, I still think it is not out of the realm of reasonable possibility to have the Gospel and epistles penned for him. I also don’t think it’s any liability that they were written by someone who was highly educated. Transcribers could be hired, and given the weight of the document, and given the growth of the church, I think that it is certainly reasonable to believe an educated convert to Christianity could have taken John’s dictation for the good of the movement, so to speak. For example, people today all the time do things for each other. People barter. There are favors done for good friends, especially if you have a skill they don’t. I have a friend who’s expertise is in computer engineering, I also have a mechanic friend. Both of them do very expensive work for me at a fraction of the cost. But what about the differences in styles? This is only a liability if we postulate that the epistles and the Gospel were penned in one sitting by one scribe/John himself. But they weren’t. They were written over a span of time. My writing style (vocab, structure, content type, and flow) here on this blog has changed drastically over the last 3 years. In fact, I would bet all the money I could borrow that if we gave one of my first posts and one of my last to an analyst, they’d conclude they were different authors. Same could easily be true with John’s writings. But even more to your speculation, that he was illiterate, different scribes means different style. Still not a problem.

      6. It is widely understood that because these documents were written on scrolls, their author attribution and title were not needed in the content itself, but was attached onto something like a “toe tag” on the end of the scroll so it could be easily identified by someone looking for it on a shelf, or in a box. I think this makes sense. It relieves someone from having to pick one up and open it to find the one they need. Also, consider this: it is reasonable to conclude that the names werent assumed, but recognized. I think it speaks to their authenticity that their authorship has not been disputed by the church. Not even an argument over who wrote what. It was centuries before “the church” took on the role of what we might see as what the Roman Catholic church is. “The church” was just what the Christians called themselves in the first century. They werent erecting ecclesiastical authoritarian bodies yet. Doesn’t it strike you as odd that the Gospels weren’t penned under more authoritative attribution, like Peter, James, or Jesus Himself? Instead authoritative writings were accepted by authors such as Matthew, a relatively unmentioned Apostle; Mark, a mere student of Peter; Luke, not even a “member” of the inner circle; and John, who was exiled and carried no place of authority in the Christian movement like James, Paul, or Peter. Over all, these people commanded no authority of their own, they weren’t major players in “the church”. The only reason to accept the attributions of Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John is because they actually authored the Gospels which bear their name.

      M. Rodriguez, do me a favor, please hold off on responding to my comment above. I will write full posts elaborating on each of your points above. It will also prevent monotonously long comments here.

  9. At the risk of violating Proverbs 26:4, let me answer one thing Nash said. “I mean if Jesus wanted to leave his mark as convincing why not reach a larger audience than the nomadic, non-writing, illiterates of sub saharan Africa? The real miracle would have been to leave a mark that wouldn’t be argued and interpreted for millennia because there was no wriggle room.”

    Nash has dashed right past the real miracle. Jesus has left his mark on the entire world history that has stood the test of millennia. Jesus came to “the nomadic, non-writing, illiterates” and yet his fame covers the earth. (Just want to point out that the Jews in Palestine were neither nomadic, non-writing, nor illiterate. And they did not live in “sub-Saharan Africa.”) Nash is short on education but yet so sure of himself.

    The real point, however, is that Jesus didn’t come to leave a message to be adhered to and correctly interpreted. Jesus didn’t come to leave us some new teaching. Jesus came to accomplish something. His appearance in time and space during the first century was simply to die in our place for our sins. THAT IS HOW JESUS LEFT HIS MARK. His sacrifice by dying on the cross is the mark that he left.

    As for how Jesus is different than, say Joseph Smith, Muhammad, David Koresh, L Ron Hubbard is that all of them are still dead. NONE of them came out of their graves like Jesus did. Jesus proved he is God by his resurrection. When you sincerely investigate the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus, you too will be convinced that it is true. Talk about the greatest miracle of all time…

    • Leaving Proverbs aside, because of it’s irrelevance, you have just played the predictable and easily stereotyped card Dog Tags. You friend, are a representative of the “closed loop” I mentioned. You bring to the table a faith based unrelenting “belief” in the miracle of the resurrection. And further this is “proof” that Jesus not only existed but performed miracles. If you were a non-theist or belonged to a different cult this might carry some water, but you are on the team that say’s it won the game or is “right”.
      Please provide proof/evidence that this sliver of the Middle East had any measurable literacy rate against the total population. If these populations were so prolific in their language beyond speaking it, where are all of the writings? And just because some Jews had finally settled in or around Jerusalem does not in any way mean that the majorities of the Middle East especially from the Red Sea north were not Nomadic. From Abu-Simbal to Ninevah and West to Eridu, these people were moving as a way of life. They were indeed, across a wide group of tribes, pastoral nomads. And further the sedentarization of these groups was not in effect en masse during the life of Jesus, this would take another 385 years, I would suggest at a minimum you read the work of Sherratt before calling someone “uneducated”. Oh and by the way all the maps I have ever seen or had referenced specific to sub-Sahara Africa shows that it stretches from Morocco to the Black Sea to Oman and Yemen. Uh oh.

  10. John,

    The classic work on this subject is Testimony of the Evangelists by Simon Greenleaf. Greg Boyd tackles this pretty extensively also, but I can’t recall the book. Just did a search and the book is The Jesus Legend. There are actually two versions, one is the “scholarly tome” and the other is written more for a popular audience. Boyd and his co author do a nice job of looking at this issue.

    Finally, the main legal evidence standard is not “beyond a reasonable doubt”, but “preponderance of the evidence”.

    Anyway, I look forward to your posts.

  11. You have repeatedly brushed aside the hard questions. Now calling them “extreme”? When the going gets tough for you or your ideas and opinions you either ignore them out of hand or cast them aside by classifying them as something that is somehow beneath you that you can’t be bothered with.
    What is soo extreme about the “closed loop” failure of the Bible to produce objective, quality evidence? In no other “fact” based profession would this fly at all. If science operated the way that professed belief in the Bible acts then NASA would still be trying to get to the Moon with a catapult. And if you continue to believe that the Bible is as Jesus intended, and has not been modified and edited and redacted over it’s first 500 years you are still gravely mistaken. It would only take a serious reading of the various compilations from the Codex Sinaiticus to the Codex Vaticanus then the Curetonian Gospels and then the Gnostic texts and finishing with a list of the authors and editors themselves, i.e. Constantine and at least the first 2 councils of Nicaea. These were just men like you deciding what would be in the moment, included in the gathered Gospels and what would be, at least temporarily, if not forever, cast out. Most of these guys have made no written claim to the oft found “divine inspiration”, that goes on to live a long life eventually becoming the inerrant and infallible words of god, at least to the Fundamental sects. Your Bible was written by men with a self professed zealous belief in something that required tremendous amounts of faith, i.e it is at best a terribly skewed and subjective device for conveying one of the many post pagan stories of that era and geographic location. The only miracle here is that anyone with even a cursory introduction to independent critical thinking tools could muster a belief in this material as anything other than just another curious ancient text.

  12. Although there are illegitimate and unreasonable ways to use the idea of “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence,” the basic concept itself is based on demonstrably true Bayesian logic. If something has a very low prior probability it takes a lot of evidence to outweigh the initial likelihoods.

    There definitely is a major issue for the believer and skeptic alike when it comes to assessing historical probabilities, as with many things, and especially this topic I find, much is predicated upon people’s priors and much room for interpretation is often available, especially when discussing ancient historical documents.

    I do notice John that you seem fond of making very broad and vague pronouncements and attacks against “people out there.” It seems to me often better to address specifics.

    I try my best to keep my assessments consistent, and when I do so I find that I cannot accept the gospel miracle claims, and if I did I would have to open my worldview up to such a wide range of ontological beings and claims that I would likely be prone to believing any religion, psychic, conspiracy theory, etc.

    One way to think about it is, if I claimed I was born of a virgin let’s say, how much evidence would YOU require to believe me?

  13. I will agree on one thing. I have definitely heard many atheists make very bad arguments against miracle claims in the bible or historical analysis when it comes to the bible in general… No worse than the many horrible arguments I have heard from theists and believers though.

  14. @John Barron,

    “This isn’t the case with Jesus or his reported miracles. it wasn’t a single witness alone with no corroboration. If it were a single eyewitness, there would be no Christianity. It is the fact that there were hundreds of witnesses to the events is why it was able to persist even through persecution.”

    We actually know very little about who claims to have seen what. We don’t really know who wrote the gospels and upon what information they based them on.

    Many people have endured great hardship and persecution for beliefs you consider completely false. You neither need a miraculous event witnessed by many or great evidence to have a religion spring up and face massive hardship… Sometimes self-imposed.

    • Austintx

      The reason for the generalities is two fold. I was first accused of being too general by saying “skeptics charge such and such” so I attempted to alleviate that by adding the term “some”. Also the particular objections I cover are offered in various forms with different parts stressed and when I used to quote the particular skeptic I was charged with attacking a specific view that wasn’t representative of the general objection, so now I offer the general objection. Seems I can’t win.

      But the first disciples suffering for their beliefs is different from religious people suffering today. They were in the unique position to know if their beliefs about Jesus were actually true. That’s what makes their suffering and martyrdom significant.

  15. John,

    I don’t know about what other’s have accused you of (and I do not deny it) but I just find that arguing against vague generalities is the easiest thing in the world.

    I am sure you have heard countless times somebody saying “conservatives believe such and such” or “Christians say such and such” and thought to yourself “who are these conservatives and Christians?”

    The rest of what you said, though I have heard it often from apologists and other defenders of the faith, is simply false.

    There are plenty of examples of people who were there at the founding or even supposedly witness to miraculous events undergoing hardship and persecution.

    The Heaven’s Gate cult, though an extreme example, were so convinced of their bizarre beliefs that they were willing to volunteer for castration and death. Joseph Smith and the early Mormon founders underwent a good deal of persecution for their beliefs (and admittedly their actions as well).

    There are plenty of examples of this in history and presently.

    Secondly, again, we don’t know much for certain about who claimed to see what and who was persecuted how. For sure there are specific examples that we can be relative certain of, but many of the stories of persecution of founders are just matters of “Christian tradition.”

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