One of the favorite arguments put forth by Christian apologists is that of “Liar, Lunatic, or Lord” in reference to Jesus. It was published by C.S. Lewis in his book Mere Christianity, and later repeated by Josh McDowell in his works. Basically, it goes like this:
“Jesus claimed to be God. If so, he must have been God incarnate in order to be accepted as a great moral teacher. If he was NOT God incarnate, then he must have been either a liar (evil) or a lunatic (diseased in the mind) and by definition someone who is evil or diseased in the mind cannot be a good moral teacher, so the only logical conclusion is that Jesus must have indeed been God incarnate, and therefore his teachings were infallible and he was by nature superior to any other moral teacher that ever lived.”
This argument is completely bogus! And here’s why:
First, we know NOTHING about Jesus that came directly from him. Everything written about him, including all quotations of his words, are second-hand or third-hand sources. See my earlier blog entry for more details:
Second, it is perfectly possible for someone to teach good morals and yet be a con artist. Indeed, you wouldn’t expect someone to openly proclaim “I am a liar and am immoral, corrupt, and serve evil causes!” You would expect someone to USE issues of morality to attract the well-meaning but gullible followers that the con artist could exploit for his personal gain later.
Third, even most insane people have some elements of lucidity in their characters. There is not an absolute distinction between the insane and those of normal mentality. Mental illness has many different manifestations and degrees of severity.
Fourth, there is an incident recorded in the Gospels of Jesus cursing a fig tree just because it had no figs to give him at the time (and it wasn’t even the season for them) and the tree soon dies: Mark 11:14, 20-23, Matthew 21:19-21. He uses this irrational action as an example of the power of faith. Sounds like insanity to me!
Fifth, the same liar, lunatic, or lord argument could be just as well applied to the founders of every other religion, including those with teachings very different from Christianity. Yet to be a Christian, you must assume that all those other religions are false!
Quite simply, this argument is an appeal to religious and cultural prejudice. It is no more valid than arguments to support astrology, palm-reading, or belief in a flat Earth.