I wrote a post a while back that was a response to a blog post by Acharya S (D.M. Murdock). Here is the link to that post and the link to the post I was responding to.
After my initial comment, another commenter just wanted to argue with me. It was frustrating because the person didn’t even understand that there was actually very little disagreement. I’m a major fan of Acharya, but some of her fans are a bit too defensive. I can admire someone and still feel no requirement to subserviently agree with their every thought and opinion. However, some of Acharya’s fans for some reason are very argumentative and defensive which I personally can find quite annoying. In discussions, people who would be open to Acharya’s ideas become polarized in opposition partly because of some of her over-zealous fans. I’ve tried to ignore it, but this discussion on her post was getting to me.
I happened to visit that blog again and noticed she had responded to me. Even she didn’t understand my perspective which is rather ironic since my review of one of her recent books has the highest rating on Amazon. So, why am I able write a review that explains Acharya’s ideas so well and yet Acharya can’t understand my view?
If Acharya understood my point, then she probably wouldn’t be disagreeing. I personally don’t disagree with her general view. I frankly don’t find my view difficult to understand and so I frankly don’t understand the misunderstanding. She wrote nothing in her reply to me that actually disagreed with anything I was trying to communicate. There is an obvious miscommunication.
I’m arguing that there are two issues that are related but not identical. The scholarship about history informs the scholarhip about mythology and vice versa, but they still can be studied separately. Neither field is dependent on the other. If someone doesn’t understand that, I don’t know how else to explain it. Maybe the confusion is based in our respective studies. Acharya wrote that she read widely in mythology and so have I, but we may have focused on different kinds of authors and ideas. To understand where I’m coming from, someone would probably need to have a detailed comprehension of certain thinkers: Carl Jung, Joseph Campbell, Karen Armstrong, Patrick Harpur, Ken Wilber, etc. I’m more interested in the ideas than the history, more interested in the mythology than textual criticism. My curiosity has drawn me towards the subjects of storytelling, creativity, imagination, and the imaginal. My interest in history and religious documents is from this perspective.
As I see it, mythology works in parallel with history and yet according to its own mechanisms. At the same time, history and mythology interact in various ways. Sometimes history inspires mythology and sometimes mythology interprets history, and it’s impossible to entirely separate the two which is especially true the further one goes back in history.
My main point is that history is secondary to understanding mythology. I don’t need to disprove a historical argument to prove a mythological argument. The problem I see in most discussions of biblical scholarship is a lack of subtle insight and a lack of larger context. Too many people are trying to prove or disprove issues where the data is skimpy on both sides of the argument. What annoys me is that this ends up just being bickering over details. People miss the forest for the trees.
The reason it’s dangerous to have one’s arguments rely too heavily on history is that history is never black and white. We’re forced to assess according to probability. We have to weigh and measure various documents and weigh and measure the sources (and translations and alterations) of those documents and weigh all of the conflicting evidence. There is no formula to ascertain a specific probability. It demands much guesswork and subjective interpretation. It’s very imprecise.
So, there is no evidence that convinces me of the probability of Jesus existing. But then again there is no evidence that absolutely disproves Jesus existed. It just doesn’t matter to me. And I must admit I feel frustrated that others believe this is the most important issue. What does matter to me is that if a man named Jesus lived it has little to do with later Christianity. There may have been a single person who was called or came to be called Jesus and who inspired early Christians, but if such a man existed all relevant details of him have been lost. Nonetheless, it’s perfectly rational to accept that it’s possible that Jesus actually lived. I won’t say it’s probable, but neither will I say it’s improbable. There just is no way to make an objective judgment.
The arguments about the historical proof of Jesus are simply moot. So, why don’t we just ignore it and focus on more interesting issues which aren’t dependent on it (such as mythology).
I brought up the biblical scholar April DeConick to demonstrate the problem of conflating the debates about history and mythology. DeConick seems to be a rational, intelligent and educated person. She is the type of person who should be easy to convince of mythicism, but apparently is wary of it. My suspicion is that she is wary of it because of how it’s often presented. She is very far from being a bible-thumping Christian and yet her professional assessment is that Jesus may have existed. Because of the entangling of mythicism with historical arguments, someone like DeConick ends up judging mythicism based on the historical arguments. This is very bad news because it could be avoided. The worth of mythicist arguments doesn’t rely upon any conclusion about history. DeConick represents the openminded mainstream biblical scholar who is unconvinced about mythicism, but unconvinced because she probably hasn’t studied it in depth. Part of shifting public opinion is by making one’s actual view clear. Obviously, mythicists haven’t been entirely successful in explaining their actual position.
There is good reason that mainstream biblical scholars who are open to mythicism such as Robert M. Price also at the same time keep some distance from it. Price would rather not be identified with a single perspective which I think is a very intelligent attitude. Like Price, I support Acharya and other mythicists even as I’d rather not be labelled as a mythicist. I prefer to go where ever the facts take me (along with where my intuition and curiosity take me). I have no desire to defend a singular position and there is always a weakness to any scholar (whether of the professional or armchair variety) who becomes identified so strongly with a particular argument that they feel the need to defend it against all criticisms even criticisms from potential allies. The major weakness of mythicists is that they spend as much time bickering with eachother as they do with literalist Christians.
As another example, Joseph Campbell did know how to explain well these type of issues. He knew how to invite people to consider a new perspectives. In biblical discussions, there is way too much antagonism from all sides (not just from Christians). Campbell knew how to avoid conflict because he understood conflict closes minds rather than opens them. Instead of conflict and righteous debate, Campbell appealed to the imagination. If mythicists want to actually change public opinion, they need to learn new tactics. Separate the issues into smaller fights that can be won and look past the superficial disagreements to the fundamental issues that really matter. Let the literalists waste their time mired in pointless historical arguments and meanwhile undermine their entire position from a direction that they never see coming.
Interestingly, Acharya did quote Campbell briefly in one of her recent books, but she doesn’t seem to reference his ideas much. I’m not sure how much she has studied him and other similar writers. In my humble opinion (which so happens to be in line with Campbell), the problems of literalism aren’t merely a religious issue. Literalism is a problem of any position that becomes taken too concretely. Literalism is just what happens when people stop learning and questioning. Materialistic scientism, for instance, is a variety of literalistic thinking. A literalist takes a model for reality and forgets that a model is always an approximation, forgets that a theory is always open to being improved or even discarded. Literalism is the bane of modernism because, as Karen Armstrong points, fundamentalists took their cue from science itself. The literalist argument of either/or is a false argument as there are always more than two sides to every argument. The difficulty is that objectivity is forever grounded in subjectivity and it’s easy to take the latter for the former.
The debate about the historical proof of Jesus is a game that will continue endlessly. That is fine if everyone were having fun, but they’re not. However, pointing out the uselessness of such a game falls on deaf ears because apparently it’s the game many people want to play. I was suggesting to Acharya that she simply refuse to play this game, but it almost seems like she thinks its the only game in town… as if everything were riding on that one issue.
In the end, I find myself arguing with (or being attacked by) both literalist Christians and mythicists. The reason for this is that both of these kinds of people are defending a specfic position and I’m not. I’m only defending curiosity and wonder, the freedom to question and doubt, the desire to explore new possibilities and consider new perspectives. The problem is that someone defending a position is constantly on the defense because they can never absolutley prove their position. There are always further doubts and questions. On the other hand, my perspective in a sense can’t ‘lose’ because my perspective allows for the possibility of my being wrong. The inevitable doubts and questions are what inspire me.
My heroes are people like Charles Fort, Robert Anton Wilson, and Philip K. Dick. These are people who valued questions over answers, people who considered every possibility and continually discarded each possibility for the next one. The true believer (whether a believer in Jesus or Darwin, theism or mythicism, or whatever) can’t help but be perplexed by the person of a Fortean bent. Neither Acharya nor some of her fans, apparently, can understand someone like me. I’ve read her work and understand it, and yet have my own opinion. The fan of hers who was commenting in that post couldn’t comprehend how I could disagree if I understood Acharya. The idea that Acharya’s argument could be improved was blasphemous. It’s not even a matter if I was right or wrong. The issue was that I dared question Acharya’s authority. It sometimes feels like Acharya believes that all disagreement is based on ignorance and that if she could enlighten the world everyone would agree with her (trust me, I understand the temptation of thinking this way). She doesn’t seem to get the real issue. I’m not even in disagreement with any of the facts she brings up or even her general interpretaion, but her view is just one view. Nothing more and nothing less.
To me, it seems she is more certain of her position than is necessary. I think she relies a bit too heavy on astrotheology. I personally love the insight astrotheology offers, but there are many other perspectives that offer insight. As for even deeper insights, I prefer the ideas of integral theory and of depth psychology; I prefer ideas such as the archetypal, the imaginal, and the daimonic. I think studies of the trickster archetype, for instance, may offer more insight than most theories from mainstream religious textual criticism. For me, I separate religion from spirituality. The problem with biblical scholarship debates is that the line generally gets drawn between theists and atheists. To many (most?) theists and atheists, you have to be either one or the other. However, in the traditional sense, I’m neither theist nor atheist. Furthermore, I grew up in an extremely non-literalist Christianity and so I have a hard time trying to make myself care about historical debates that never go anywhere. History didn’t seem to matter much to early Christians and so why should it be made the primary issue of almost every single discussion about Christianity? What does someone like Acharya think she is gaining by seemingly trying to make this the pivotal issue on which all of Christianity either stands or falls?
– – –
Note: I just wanted to clarify what I mean by being a fan of Acharya S.
I guess it was in the late 1990s when I first read her work. It was about 1999 and so I’ve been studying her work for at least a decade. She has written quite a bit (thousands of pages) and it’s difficult reading, but I’ve read most of it even her various online articles. I’ve spent massive amounts of time studying mythicism and buying books by mythicists. I’ve spent time on many different forums discussing mythicism in general and Acharya in particular. I’ve been on all of the major forums and have studied all sides of the debates. At one time I spent a fair amount of time on the forum that Acharya runs and I got to personally know her most loyal fans (many of whom were quite friendly and one of whom actually was familiar with Joseph Campbell). I’ve read all of Acharya’s opinions of other biblical scholars and I’ve read the opinion of other biblical scholars about Acharya. I’ve written about mythicism and Acharya’s scholarship numerous times in this blog and in Amazon reviews, and I’ve often gone out of my way to defend her scholarship.
I enjoy and highly respect her scholarship and consider her to be a very trustworthy source. On top of this, I’ve personally interacted with her numerous times on her forum and blog and she emailed me a couple of times (one of those was in response to my Amazon review which she quoted on her publshing site).
My studies of mythology and religion go beyond Acharya and mythicism and include years of study prior to my discovering Acharya. I’m not an expert in this field, but this subject is one of my personal obsessions and I take my obsessions very seriously. I think it’s fair to say I’ve studied more widely and in more depth about this subject than most people will do in their entire lives.
So, my criticisms aren’t offered lightly. Even with these criticisms, I still respect Acharya’s scholarship. But I also respect the scholarship of many writers and not all of them agree with eachother. My criticisms aren’t insults. They’re just differences of perspective.
My point in bringing all this up is that there is a major problem if Acharya can’t accept constructive criticism offered by one of her more vocal admirers (i.e., me). Does she just think everyone is out to get her and every criticism is either someone attacking or someone who is ignorant? If so, that is a very odd way to view other people.