So what was up with the twelve disciples? Those guys did some pretty wacky stuff, huh?
Whether or not you are religious, there is sound evidence to show that Jesus was, at least, a real man. I'm not going to take the time to cite any sources unless someone challenges me on this... but it is fairly well-documented that Jesus lived, as did his twelve disciples, and that Jesus was indeed crucified for his radical words.
Now I'm not trying to prove anything here... indeed, I doubt there will ever be certain proof for or against a greater divine power... but I have a question about the disciples that I've always wanted to ask a group of informed atheists.
According to the Bible, the disciples all died unnatural, violent deaths. This is quite likely - as I'm sure you are aware, Jesus and his professed believers faced much persecution from those whom Jesus' teachings offended. I've always been curious as to the motivation behind the disciples' convicted, unwavering faith. These are men who died not for what they believed, but for what they claimed to have seen: the return of Jesus Christ from the dead.
At the threat of imprisonment, torture, and death, these eleven men - recall that Judas hung himself shortly after Jesus' crucifixion - these eleven men ALL refused to back down on their claim that they had witnessed Jesus return from the dead.
So let's say Jesus didn't really come back. He died, and stayed dead, and for whatever reason, the disciples decided to fabricate his resurrection. It could very easily have happened. But... then, eleven guys all died for what they knew was a total and complete lie. Right? How likely is it that ONE man would give his life for a cause he knew beyond a shadow of a doubt to be lost, let alone ELEVEN? - Bear in mind that these man had, only three days prior, watched the man whom they were certain was going to bring salvation to all of humanity, die a slow, painful, humiliating death, at the hands of mere mortals. I cannot think of anything more demoralizing. Eleven men conspiring fabricate a bold-faced lie just three days after such demoralization, three days after having their beliefs torn apart at the seams, just doesn't sound realistic to me.
Perhaps the disciples really and truly believed that Jesus had risen from the dead. I suppose it's possible, if rather unlikely, for one man, entrenched so deeply in despair from watching his Savior die a slow, painful death right before his eyes, to have a lucid hallucination of a man rising from the dead, talking with the man, feeling the holes in his hand, and watching him ascend into Heaven. But how likely is it that ELEVEN men simultaneously had the same vivid hallucination? Possible? ... ... ... yes. But so astronomically unlikely that it may as well be called impossible.
So what other possibilities could there be? What motivated these men to so adamantly stand by their professed savior? Nobody was there to TELL them what to believe, certainly... there is no brainwashing or religious dogma to cloud their judgement. The disciples claimed to have WATCHED Jesus ascend into Heaven. And not once did one of them back off this claim, ever. At the very least... these guys had some mighty strong willpower, huh?
Again, I'm not trying to prove anything here. Indeed, the disciples' powerful willpower and/or faith by no means proves the existence of God, or that Jesus is His son. I am just like you; nothing but a curious mind, searching for answers - searching for the truth.
So maybe you guys can help me out - From an atheist's point of view, how does one explain the truly extreme convictions of Jesus' disciples?