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As a college student, I was a little abnormal.  Because of questions that were raised by some of the classes I took my first semester, my nominal Catholic faith had been destroyed.  As a result, I was on a quest for Truth.  I was passionately focused on finding answers to life’s ultimate questions.  Like normal college kids, my classmates were more focused on where the next party was! 

During the height of this quest, I took an “Introduction to Philosophy” class.  At the same time, I had begun to examine the evidence for and against Jesus’ Resurrection.  One of the most common ways skeptics tried to explain the Resurrection, I found, was as some kind of hallucination.  In fact, according to the psychological literature, when they occur, hallucinations frequently happen among people in the wake of a loved one’s death.

That made a lot of sense to me—far more than a miracle.

It made a lot of sense to my philosophy professor—who I really liked and admired—too.  In fact, as we studied the philosophy of religion, he argued that the Resurrection can easily be explained as hallucinations induced by autosuggestion.  The distraught disciples of Jesus were so traumatized by His death, they so desperately wanted Him to be alive, that, overwhelmed with grief, their minds subconsciously manufactured hallucinatory visions of Him.   

For some reason, as he was presenting this, I thought of Paul.  I remembered reading somewhere how Paul had been a fierce and violent persecutor of the early church.  What turned him around was that he claimed to see the Risen Jesus appearing to him.  Innocently enough and fully expecting my professor had a good way to explain this, I put my hand up and asked: “What about Paul?  Wasn’t he an enemy of the Church?  How could he have had a hallucination of Jesus if that’s the last thing he ever wanted to see?”

My professor was completely stumped.  He had no good answer.  He even began to stutter as he unsuccessfully tried to explain Paul’s vision as a hallucination.  I felt so bad for him, I wished I had never asked the question!

What I hadn’t realized is that I was stepping on a landmine for skeptics.  As a zealous enemy of the early church, Paul frustrates skeptics to no end.  Paul essentially saw Jesus as a false messiah, the Anti-Christ!  In no way did he wish to see this justly crucified, rebel blasphemer conquer death.  In no way was he grieving over Jesus’ death.  In no way was he psychologically disposed to have such a hallucination of the Risen Jesus.  

Psychologically, it is extremely unlikely, if not impossible, that Paul would have some kind of altered state of consciousness projecting a positive vision of Jesus.  As is generally acknowledged, these kinds of experiences just don’t work that way.    

The attempts to get around this, such as the speculation that Paul was suffering guilt for persecuting the early church and that this is what produced visions of Jesus, are, as I will show in future blogs, also riddled with problems that make them completely untenable.  My philosophy professor, I’ve discovered, wasn’t the only one who didn’t have a good answer for Paul!

The reason hallucinations are most common among those grieving loved ones is because we have a desperate desire to see them alive again.  And this is what’s so special about Paul: His desire NOT to see Jesus alive again provides evidence, which skeptics are at a loss to explain, that Jesus did appear to Him risen from the dead.

Last week marked the Eighteenth Anniversary of 9-11.  Eighteen years ago we saw the worst in humanity, and the best; unimaginable evil, and breathtaking acts of love and self-sacrificing courage.  In our world, it’s impossible to tell which wins out in the end—love or hate.

But…but, knowing that Jesus is risen, we can and do know that love wins, and in the most glorious way!

How would you answer the question I asked my professor about Paul?  Let me know by going to the “Contact E.J.” page and leaving your comments there.  Thank you for “Liking” our Facebook page and subscribing to our YouTube channel!  If you haven’t had a chance to yet, please do so.  Thank you!

About Me

E.J. Sweeney is a true skeptic. He needs to see to believe. Hard Evidence. Compelling Proof. Solid Logic. This is what he believes in. In college, he encountered questions that the superficial faith he was raised on couldn’t handle. So he began a quest for Truth, a quest for the answers to life’s ultimate questions.

EJ Sweeney

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