Why I am no longer a Christian by Evid3nc3

This video is an atheist explaining how he lost his faith. It’s long, but I found it worth watching. The guy is very respectful of Christianity and he is far from being dismissive of his past faith.

His example reminds me of Robert M. Price who also began studying with the hope of strengthening his faith. The risk of apologetics is that it uses the methods of the enemy (logic, argument, questions, doubts, intellect, etc). There is a real danger to opening yourself up to any and all doubts and following questions to whatever answers they may lead. This is true for any person, whether religious or not. Intellectual inquiry isn’t for the contented. Questions aren’t for those who wish to remain in comforting certainties.

Darn Apologists!

Darn Apologists!

Posted on Dec 26th, 2008 by Marmalade : Gaia Explorer Marmalade
*begin rant*

I did a really silly thing.  I just made a brief comment on a Christian’s Youtube video.  I really didn’t want to discuss anything, but he responded and I responded.  I knew from the get-go that I desired not such a “discussion” (if an exchange with an apologist could be called that). 

I quickly disentangled myself from the pointless spiderweb of verbiage that apologists are so capable of tirelessly weaving.  I’ve dealt with enough of them to instantly realize when its not going anywhere.  I’m a person of curiosity and I find myself utterly bewildered by someone who has made up their mind before I even say anything.  They just know they’re right.

Shouldn’t apologists have better things to do on Christmas than argue about Jesus?  Shouldn’t they be spreading Christ’s Good message of Love or maybe ladling soup to the homeless while preaching to them about their sinful souls?

This particular apologist was one of the worst varieties.  I’ve come across this exact type many times before, and they’re all very predictable.  Its almost a personality type.  This type of apologist doesn’t tend to rant unless you really get them riled up.  They’re actually very intellectual with an aloof self-certainty.  They’re mostly harmless in that they’re not that annoying except if you’re ever experienced banging your head against their brickwall.  They have this intellectual inner certainty that reminds me of Introverted Intuition, but they have this outwardly congenial nature that doesn’t allow them to ruffle easily which makes me think of an INFJ Christian I know from another site… mostly a nice guy if a bit difficult to connect with.

If you’re feeling patient, you can sometimes have a good discussion with this type as they’ve tended to read a lot and they think very deeply.  The problem is that their thinking is somewhat narrow and plodding, and they have strong beliefs which at least tend to be somewhat interesting in their uniqueness.  They usually have some favorite obscure Christian philosopher, but it won’t bother them that you’ve never heard of the person.  They’re used to not being understood even by other Christians. 
They might secretly pride themselves on their idiosyncracies somewhat, but mostly they seem humble in a laid back way.  Its hard to unsettle them or change their minds.  If you try to have a debate with them, you’ll just go round and round.  In certain ways, they’re very conventional in that they just don’t see or don’t care about what exists outside of their narrow focus (definitely no sign of Extraverted Intuition).  You’re more likely to have an interesting conversation with them if you simply limit yourself to their interests. 

They can keep up an argument if necessary, but they don’t really care to get worked up.  Even though their beliefs are strong, they keep them mostly to themselves.  They’ll often talk about more peripheral issues because that which truly matters to them is such a deep and profound experience for them.

They’re very scholarly with a typical pedantic attitude.  Even though they like certain obscure writers, they put a fair amount of weight on tradition.  They’re the type that would make a great Catholic theologian who knows the entire history of the Church.  Their thinking is very abstract and they feel safest keeping theology away from practical affairs and thus keeping themselves away from getting mired in politics.  They’re very understanding people and capable of relating well, but they’re also wary of the risks of complex social dynamics.  They’re very good at reading others and also at hiding their own inner thoughts.

To be specific, this guy I was talking to on Youtube was quick to dismiss (dispute is the word he preferred) Robert M. Price.  I briefly defended Price as he is as about as respectable as you can get, but its true that he doesn’t toe the party line of Biblical scholarship (ie conventional belief of mainstream Christianity).  This guy definitely valued the theistic majority perspective of Biblical scholarship.  People in Biblical scholarship tend to be Christians and so its no great surprise that belief in the historical Jesus is just assumed.  One would have to be extremely naive to claim that this field was one of the more objective fields in academia.

Okay… so, I knew that if I tried to defend Price any further, this Christian would just nitpick and it would ultimately be just a battle of opinons.  This kind of person can be very willful in having great intellectual stamina in going over and over the same little detail.  I imagine that he would continually demand quotes and references all the while offering few of his own… or, anyways, that is a technique many apologists use… they just assume their position doesn’t need to be proved that its so obviously true.

In some ways, I prefer the ranting apologists more… the way an INFP apologist would act. lol  There is an honesty about in-your-face prosyletizing.  On the other hand, these more pedantic types lure you in with an appearance of being reasonable, but no amount of rationality will sway them.  They just enjoy discussing ideas even though they’ve stated the exact same ideas a million times before.  I’m fine with belief as long as someone is willing to admit that their views are beliefs.  However, this type has this intricate facade of rationalization that you can’t even pierce through to the actual person behind it all.

*end rant*

I suspect this is a conflict that I experience when my Ne confronts the Ni of another.  This might go back to my dad having auxiliary Ni.  Anyways, its a challenge for me.  The Ni is hiding away from the view of my Ne, but my Fi can sense it behind the social facade (especially in INFJs).  I want to force to the surface which is exactly where Ni doesn’t want to be, where it can’t be in fact.  My Ne gets bored with the narrow focus even though I can be momentarily impressed by the depth of insight that Ni sometimes proffers forth.  I just don’t have the patience waiting around for that inisight that may or may not show itself.  My Ne has thousand directions to go in and time is a’wasting.  Curiosity beckons.

I think this is particularly magnified when Ni is the dominant for the other person as my Ne is auxiliary.  I don’t identify with my thinking per se.  Its simply how I try to relate to the world.  My auxiliary Ne holds ideas very lightly.  I too have an inner certainty but it just ain’t involving ideas for sure.  Also, my inner certainty is less aloof as INFPs are more likely to get worked up than an INFJ.  The burning passion of an idealistic core (Fi) manifests through the ungrounded infinitude of wonder and possibility (Ne).  Simply put, Ne hates conventional thinking with a passion.  It chafes against more plodding thought processes, and it mistrusts the aloof congenial nature (or facade as Fi judges it) of an INFJ.

Don’t get me started about NTs.  🙂

Access_public Access: Public 11 Comments Print Post this!views (270)  
Tagged with: apologist, Christianity, debate, MBTI, Ni, Ne, Fi, Fe, INFP

Marmalade : Gaia Explorer

14 minutes later

Marmalade said

I realize I was projecting to a great degree. I don’t really know that guy on Youtube beyond my very brief interaction. I just have this sore point when it comes to apologists… or really with anyone who has strong beliefs. The only thing I’m righteous about is in relation to the righteousness of others. I’m a millitant agnostic afterall.

This does go back to my dad and my recent interaction with him. I’ll be seeing him tomorrow. I hope it goes well. I’ll steer away from all serious discussion… oh, who am I kidding… I’ll have to not say anything at all if I try to avoid serious comments. Oh well, such is my fate.

There should be a rule against INFPs becoming intellectuals. We’re just too sensitive of souls. We should be kept ensconsed in walled gardens and distant mountain retreats far from the maddening crowd. Of course, we must be permitted a library but maybe only stock it with poetry and fiction… oh yeah, and be sure to give us plenty of art supplies.

Marmalade : Gaia Explorer

about 3 hours later

Marmalade said

Actually, there is a big difference between a Ni dominant person and a Ni auxiliary person like my dad. My dad really isn’t an aloof person at all, but he does have a bit of that quality in that he is so focused outward that he often hides his true opinions. He has this deep side that rarely shows, and when it does show its filtered through Te: principles, analysis, practical evaluation, etc. He is very capable of open-minded philosophizing fueled by a sense of wonder… amd he even lets others see this side of him when you catch him in a relaxed mood.

Its kind of funny how opinionated INFPs can be (or can appear to be), but you have to give us credit in that we change our opinions somewhat easily (except for our few cherished ideals). INFPs can have a way of stating things as if they were strong opinions (when feeling worked up or defensive), but it really has nothing to do with core values.

Dominant Fi can be hidden in the way its not easily verbilized. However, Fi is so blatantly obvious compared to Ni. Or even compare the Fi of an INFP with the Ti of an INTP. When an INFP gets there Fi panties in a bunch, they can be downright annoying… very messy emotions will be splattered all over the place.

Ni is very interesting. Ni talks around an idea, but does so in a very focused way. Its like knowing a blackhole exists by its gravity alone. Ni writing style can be very convoluted and meandering. Both Ni and Ne can lead to verbosity, but Ni comes off as more philosophical and abstract somehow… maybe because it exists solely in the inner world.

Ni, by definition, can never be directly expressed and so can only be known via an Extraverted function. OTOH Ne is just there trying to get your attention. Ne is also more playful in that it wants to interact, and if one is not careful Ne can lead to superficiality and flakiness (ie being a dilettante).

I sometimes have a bit of the dilettante in me jumping from one temporary interest to the next. I have a hard time committing myself fully to anything, but of course I idealize this tendency in order to put a positive spin on my Achilles’ Heel. People who actually have strong opinions and stick to them are just plain righteous idiots… whereas I am “flexible” and able to see multiple perspectives. rotfl

Marmalade : Gaia Child

about 13 hours later

Marmalade said

The interesting thing about the internet is that you get the opportunity to interact with more Introverts in a way you’d never do in everyday life.  Online interactions encourage Introverts to show the side of themselves they normally hide.  This is good and bad because its the side of them that is least socially adapted.

So, an Ni type might seem even more intellectual or detached.  And an Fi type might become even more passionate… or, yes, righteous.  An Fi type might go so far relying on their dominant that they feel they have people figured out… ahem… not that I’d ever fall into such low behavior.

Marmalade : Gaia Child

about 14 hours later

Marmalade said

There is another blog of mine that has very similar subject matter.  Its about a specific archetypes that are related: Trickster, the Primal Man, the Titan/Giant, the Hero, and the Savior… also, the Divine Child and Shadow.  These archetypes are especially central to the Monomyth.

Myth, Religion, and Social Development

Nicole : wakingdreamer

1 day later

Nicole said

How did it go with your Dad? I’ve been thinking about this for a while but haven’t discussed it yet with you, sorry.

Marmalade : Gaia Child

1 day later

Marmalade said

That is funny! I put that last comment in the wrong blog apparently. It really doesn’t fit here.

Hello Nicole. Enjoy the holidays?

You might be able to tell from my plethora of blogging that I spent a lot of time at home. I had 3 days off in a row, but because of weather conditions haven’t yet visited with any family. Hopefully, I’ll see my parents tomorrow. We’re planning to visit one of my brothers in a nearby town.

The roads have been very icy this week. Strange weather. There was thunder and lightning last night and rain all today which was of course supposed to freeze.

Nicole : wakingdreamer

2 days later

Nicole said

thanks, I have been having a very relaxing holiday, just what I wanted!

we just had some very high winds but everything seems normal this time of year – snow, freezing rain, rain, sunny weather – we get a little of it all…

Marmalade : Gaia Child

2 days later

Marmalade said

Relaxing holidays always are good for me. So, what was relaxing about your holidays. Did you stay at home?

I was thinking about some other things when I mentioned strange weather. There has been some very warm weather in the Midwest. Along with that, there have been some tornoado watches (not in my area), but I don’t know if any tornadoes have been spotted.

I finally spent some time with my parents today. It was nice to see them, but they’ll be gone tomorrow and so is a short visit. It was all the family together today which isn’t my favorite way of experiencing family. It wasn’t stressful though because everyone seemed in a good mood.

I guess everything went fine with my dad. I don’t think my dad understood why I was annoyed at him and I didn’t feel like explaining. I really didn’t see any advantage to having a discussion about it. I more or less kept conversation light.

Nicole : wakingdreamer

5 days later

Nicole said

I’m glad things went well with your dad.

Yes, it was relaxing because of being at home, but especially because I didn’t answer the phone or spend time on the computer, and playing games like Munchkin and Carcassonne with my kids. Do you know of Munchkin? Seems like it would appeal to your sense of humour 🙂

It was wonderful to have my oldest daughter Julia home for a few days.

Marmalade : Gaia Explorer

5 days later

Marmalade said

Munchkin? No, I don’t believe I’ve heard of it. Nor does Carcassonne sound familiar. My niece doesn’t seem too excited about games. She is more into imaginative play-acting. She probably doesn’t enjoy games because she dislikes losing. She was an only child the first 4 yrs of her life and she is used to getting her own way.

Is Munchkin a board game? I used to play a lot of games growing up. My friends and I would play almost any kind of game… board games, card games, video games. I don’t play games as much anymore. Occasionally I play a video game with my friend. Until recent years, I used to love playing Rummy but I finally became annoyed with the luck factor which is the largest part of the game.

Its interesting, though, that many kids games have large luck factors. I wonder what that teaches kids. Historically-speaking, the luck factor of games relates to divinization. The connection is lost to most of us moderns, but games have a strong connection to religion. They’re a ritual of sorts. The ritual itself is more important than the outcome of the game.

I’ll have to blog about that sometime. I’ve come across some fascinating info when studying the symbolism of numbers as it relates to games.

Nicole : wakingdreamer

5 days later

Nicole said

I used to play a lot of board games with my friends growing up, but we didn’t have many video games back them 🙂

Munchkin is a types of special card game – the other is a sort of card/board game… Munchkin is unfortunately very luck oriented (you’re right, that can get very annoying!) but Carcassonne is strategic.

That’s an interesting philosophical point about the large luck factors. You’re right this all could make a cool blog 🙂

RE: Top Ten Problems With the Jesus Myth Theory

I every so often check out the blog by the apologist Stephen J. Bedard.  I noticed some new comments and one particular comment was quite nice.  I’ll quote this comment in full because it’s such a perfect summary of the Jesus Myth position.  I’d been meaning to fully respond to this post of Bedard’s for a while, but just had only answered Bedard’s first criticism and so it has remained unposted until now.  I’ll first give my limited response, then share the other commenters response, and after that I’ll respond to Bedard’s response to the commenter.  Clear?

Top Ten Problems With the Jesus Myth Theory

1) The rejection of the Gospels as historical sources.  They are seen as faith documents and not modern biographies.  That is true but we do not have any unbiased ancient texts that meet the criteria of modern biography.  If we reject the Gospels, we would also have to reject most of what we know about ancient history.

Some mythicists may reject the Gospels as historical sources, but this has nothing directly to do with the mythicist theory.  The parallels are relevant whether or not there is any relevant historical references in the Gospels.  Besides, I doubt any mythicist claims that the Gospels entirely lack history.  In fact, all the mythicists I know of agree that the writers (and interpolators) were purposely adding history to make the Christ myth more convincingly real.  The difference from literalists is that mythicists either see the historical additions as coming later in the development of Christianity or they see a historical figure that was evemerized and whose biographical details now are (mostly or entirely) lost.

It’s a rather complex issue since the limited info allows for endless speculation.  There might’ve been a historical Jesus who was lost beneath mythology and then the later historicizing of the gospel writers may have attempted to reconstruct the hypothetical evemerized Jesus.  Or there might’ve been many historical figures that became amalgamated by which they were given a unified and coherent story through mythological motifs.  We conveniently don’t even have the unmodified writings (or even the first commentaries) of the earliest Christians/Gnostics to determine how they perceived their own process of storytelling.

All of this shows a difference in thinking styles.  To the degree that someone is a literalist, they think in black and white terms.  A literalist historical Jesus can’t be mythical (even if one allows for superficial mythical accretions).  The mythicist position, on the other hand, can allow for a historical Jesus.  As such, mythicists (unlike apologists) are in a better position to adapt to the evidence as it arises for they have no singular fixed position, no belief system held above doubt and question.  A difference here is that a historical Jesus is unimportant to a mythicist because history doesn’t prove theology nor does it disprove the mythicist theory.  Even if the litealist can prove a historical Jesus, it is utterly meaningless because what they’re really trying to prove is that he is the Son of God who died for our sins… which is outside of the proof of history.

Oddly enough, a number of Christians have supported mythicism even while they affirmed historicism, but these aren’t your typical literalists.  One of the greatest New Testament scholars was Rudolf Bultmann.  He believed in mythological parallels, but the apologist prefers to ignore Christians like him.  Another example is C.S. Lewis who is a favorite of apologists, and yet he accepted that Pagan parallels existed before Christianity.  Actually, the earliest apologists didn’t try to deny any of this, but some just said the Devil foresaw the coming of Christ and taught the Pagans false doctrines ahead of time in order to deceive.  Lewis followed a different tradition of interpretation (Justin Martyr speaks of “seeds of truth among all men” within 1 Apology 44. See: preparatio evangelica).  He argued that the pre-Christian parallels strengthened Christianity.  If the pre-Christian parallels were false, then Christianity would be false as well.  However, maybe Christianity took the truth of Paganism and added further truth to it.  What had been just mythological was now historically real… or so the argument goes.  But this ignores the fact that many Pagans believed their myths were also historical.  Anyways, it is insightful how apologists overlook this part of Lewis’ writings.

To be fair, I should point out that Bedard isn’t a simpleminded apologist (see: Reading the Bible Literally).  Bedard seems to be more in the latter camp as he was influenced by C.S. Lewis (see: Mere Christianity).  He accepts that Christian holidays are Pagan in origin (see: The Bible and Pagan Holidays), that the earliest Christian iconography copied Pagan images (see: Christ as Orpheus), and that the Judeo-Christian tradition was contributed to by Pagan ideas (see: Hellenistic Influence and the Resurrection).  To me, this seems to be as literalist as a Christian can be while maintaining some basic rational dignity, and Bedard claims his beliefs are based on rationality.

But if one were to take all of those Pagan elements away, what would be left?  A historical figure?  Well, Pagans had historical claims about their godmen.  A savior who is the Son of God?  Well, this motif can also be found outside of Christianity.  Bedard, obviously, feels there is something unique here… but exactly what?

Bedard at times does show his literalist tendencies in a black and white thinking.  No mythicist is using modern standards of biography to judge the Gospels.  It is absurd to argue we’d have to reject most of ancient history if we reject the Gospels.  That almost doesn’t even deserve a rational response.  For one, secular historians aren’t trying to prove anything theologically and so they always start from a position of questioning and doubt.  There is no reason to accept any text as true until other sources of info validate it.  In the case of the Gospels, they lack confirming sources.  No ancient historian spoke about Jesus while he was alive even though there were numerous historians (including Jewish historians) in the area Jesus supposedly lived.  Also, Romans were meticulous record keepers and the records of the time survived for us to inspect, and yet we discover no Jesus in them.  This lack of evidence may not be remarkable for an average person of the time, but Christians claimed Jesus had great impact on the Roman World.

Let me add one last point on this issue.  I was listening to Richard Carrier on the proper defense and improper defense of the Jesus Myth(scroll down).  Carrier makes an interesting point.  People aren’t idiots for believing in Jesus’ historicity.  They’re just looking at different data.  Just a few pieces of data not assimilated or countered by historical arguments won’t disprove it, but a few hundred pieces of data that promotes doubt causes one to consider alternative theories.  However, most people never get to that point.  This is particularly true for many (most?) New Testament scholars who are Christians (which is a large percentage) and hence who don’t have much motivation to seek out and seriously consider all of the contradictory data.  According to Carrier, it’s a bad argument to try to support mythicism by claiming silence on Jesus’ historicity.  The evidence that has survived could be interpreted as proof of a historical Jesus, but it could also be interpreted in other ways when placed in context of other evidence.  If one doesn’t take into account the plethora of Pagan parallels (either out of ignorance or dismissal), it isn’t irrational per se if one were to claim Jesus’ historicity.  However, as an apologetic argument, it’s just an empty claim that one can say little about… not that apologetics is meant to have substance beyond the belief motivating it.

Michael’s response to Bedard:

“As I sit here watching the documentary on Tom Harpur’s Pagan Christ, I find myself reminded of all the problems that I see in the Jesus myth theory. I will share my top ten problems with this theory. This is not a detailed analysis but rather my opportunity to vent on the glaring problems with this theory.

1) The rejection of the Gospels as historical sources. They are seen as faith documents and not modern biographies. That is true but we do not have any unbiased ancient texts that meet the criteria of modern biography. If we reject the Gospels, we would also have to reject most of what we know about ancient history.”

For the most part, proponents of the Jesus Myth (JM) regard the gospels as allegorical first and faith documents second. Also, proponents of the JM do highlight the fact that the early catholic church used purely theological arguments for the existence of Jesus and did not defer to historical sources. Barnabbas and Clement are very curious because when they refer to the passion of Christ they simply quote Isaiah 53… which is an odd thing to do if the exploits of Christ had been a matter of recent history and were purported to be world reknown.

And there does exist a good selection of actual historical documents from the 1st century, such as Pliny’s Natural History and Josephus’ Testimonium… the four gospels do not mirror the style and format of any known works of historical record from the time period they are alleged to have been composed in.

“2) The claim that Paul never mentions the historical Jesus. This is simply not true. Paul quotes Jesus, mentions aspects of his life and in 1 Corinthians 15 he challenges his readers to check out the surviving witnesses.”

That Paul “quotes” Jesus is not problematic for proponents of the JM. There’s nothing that prohibits the idea that the cosmic divine messiah taught his apostles. That Paul is aware of a sacred meal is not problematic either. Sacred meals are virtually universal. And in 1st Corinthians 15 Paul never differentiates between the nature of his experience with Jesus (revelatory vision) and the experience of the other apostles. Doesn’t Paul say at some point in the epistles, “Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen the Lord?” Paul wrote that there was no difference between his experience with Jesus and the other apostles experience. And in verse 45 Paul actually says that Jesus was not a human and draws a stark contrast between Adam and Jesus to illustrate the point.

You seem to be basing your 10 points off of a very faulty understanding of the JM, which is regrettable but predictable.

“3) The rejection of Josephus as a testimony of Jesus. Some authors reject Josephus as evidence for Jesus because it is clear that there is Christian tampering. Most scholars see an original core testimony that has been augmented by Christians not created. Plus we have what Josephus says about John the Baptist and James, the brother of Jesus.”

I am always very doubtful of anyone who says anything along the lines of “most scholars”. This kind of appeal to authority and reliance upon an alleged consensus is the heighth of intellectual laziness.

“4) The claim that gnosticism was an equally original valid of Christianity along side what became orthodox Christianity. The fact is that there is a clear continuity with our first century Christian documents as found in the New Testament and what became orthodox Christianity. Gnosticism with its rejection of the Jewish God, Jewish Scriptures, material world, and its focus on gnosis rather than sin were a later (mid to late second century) break away from Christianity.

5) The misuse of pagan myths. Many claims are made about the pagan myths by these authors but when you look at the myths themselves, these claims are often not accurate. You are expected to rely on their secondary sources and not to look at the primary sources.

6) Pagan myths are described in Christian language to strengthen their connection to Jesus. Mithras is said to be born of a virgin even though he was born of a rock. Horus is said to be born of virgin even though he was conceived in the post-death intercourse of his married parents.”

It is not a fact that there is clear continuity between canonical texts and what became orthodox Christianity. There is a record of development from the 1st century to the 2nd of an evolving human Jesus doctrine. This can be seen in primitive “gospel” references throughout Barnabbas, Polycarp, Clement, Paul, Ignatius, etc. and it leads all the way to the end of the 2nd century with the crystallization of the four gospels as referred to by Irenaeus in Against Heresies.

Please note that, unlike your baseless assertion this is an argument that is logical and supported by the documentary evidence.

Also, you over-state the case for pagan influences. You’re building one heck of a strawman. Certainly there was pagan influence, but any proponent of the JM worth his/her salt will tell you that the biographical data that came to be expressed in the gospels was drawn almost entirely from the Old Testament.

Again, your understanding the JM seems to be incredibly flawed.

“7) No respect for the dates of texts. Authors use pagan texts to establish connections to Jesus but sometimes (as in the case of Mithras) the texts post-date the New Testament. How do we know that the pagans did not borrow from the Christians?

8 ) Use of post-biblical traditions. Authors demonstrate pagan influence on the three wide men, the ox and ass, December 25 and a number of other traditions. The problem is that those are not biblical traditions. These things were added to the tradition later and any pagan influence says nothing about the origins of the Jesus story.

9) Misunderstanding of pagan influence on art. There are valid examples of pagan influence on Christian art such as Isis holding baby Horus being used as a model for Mary holding baby Jesus. It make sense that the new movement of Christianity would look beyond itself as it was developing its artistic side. This says nothing about pagan origins for the story.

10) The patchwork use of pagan myths. It is difficult to find large chunks of pagan myth that look like the Gospels. Jesus myth theorists take a word here and a phrase here, from dozens of myths from many cultures and say “Here is the Gospel!” If you start with enough stories, you can reconstruct almost any historical figure, ancient or minor.”

Strawman strawman strawman.

“These are just a few of the problems that I have with the Jesus myth theory. Unfortunately, it is not likely to go away any time soon.”

No, it won’t go away any time soon, in fact it is gaining traction.

– – –

I generally agree with this assessment of the Jesus Myth theory.  Bedard responded to this comment, but the commenter didn’t return.  So, let me have a crack at Bedard’s comment.

Regarding the Gospels, even the great allegorist Origen did not take them as strictly allegorical. While not exactly the same as Josephus, the Gospels do have much in common with ancient histories. They are closer to ancient biographies with Luke-Acts having stronger historical leanings. And as for the early church, they did not just rely on allegory or OT interpretation. They also stated these events as being historical events.

Yes, there was a great variety in early Christianity.  It was common practice for Christians to take some of the Bible allegorically, but there was disagreement about which parts were allegorical and exactly how they should be interpreted.  Some Christians even believed that Jesus was entirely allegorical or at least entirely spiritual (non-physical/non-historical)… allegorical and spiritual being related in the ancient mind.

I personally wouldn’t argue that the Gospels entirely lack commonality in certain aspects of style with some ancient histories.  It wasn’t uncommon in the ancient world for history to be mixed with allegory (whether allegory as spiritual truth or as moral storytelling), and it’s not easy to tell how literally ancients took any given text as the common understanding would likely never have been written down.  The claims of emperors as godmen, for example, can be found in supposedly historical accounts.  Did the Romans actually believe their emperor was a godman?  I’m sure some did… just consider how gullible some modern people are even though modern education is far superior.

The Gospels show commonalities with many types of writing and storytelling and that is part of the point of the Jesus Myth theory.  There are a few comparisons that can be made.  Alan Dundes wrote the book Holy Writ as Oral Lit in which he shows the similarities of the Bible with folklore texts.  Other scholars have pointed out the similarity of the Gospels to the genre of Spiritual Romances which were a type of fiction popular at the time.  As an example of a novel of that time period, read The Life of Aesop which supposedly tells the biographical story of Aesop’s life and the style of it is reminiscent of the Gospels.  I’m not implying that there is any causal connection between the Gospels and The Life of Aesop, but I’m merely pointing out that this genre of storytelling was extremely popular in the early centuries of the Roman Empire.

Regarding Paul and the historical Jesus, in the first verses of 1 Cor 15 where Paul speaks of the resurrection historically and tags his experience to the witness of others. As for verse 45, Paul is contrasting Jesus with Adam but he is not denying that he is human. Read the passage from Genesis that he is quoting and you will see that the whole verse is about Adam. Paul is saying Jesus is a complete Adam.

I have no particular opinion about this.  Jesus and Adam are equally mythological and both were taken as historical figures by some believers.  On the other hand, there were also believers who interpreted the Bible as spiritual allegory which isn’t exactly fiction but which is far from historical fact.  The purpose of spiritual allegory is to point to a more profound truth.  The question is which belief was closest to the original Christians.  Well, I don’t know if there was any singular group of Christians that was orginal.  What I do know is that the Gnostics were the earliest Christians to organize the Gospels into a single book, were the earliest Christians to comment on the Gospels, and were among the earliest prominent Christian leaders both within and outside of the Catholic Church.

I hear what you are saying about “most scholars” but I have trouble when there is a strong consensus among a wide variety of scholars (not just Christian) and just a few scholars, usually those with a theory like the Jesus myth to promote, who deny the passage.

My opinion is that the concensus in Biblical studies isn’t the same thing as a concensus in science.  Most Biblical scholars have been and still are Christians or at least were raised in Christianity.  Most of the Biblical scholarship in the past was done as overt apologetics, and many scholars still act as apologists and see no contradiction in their ability to think objectively and critically.  Bedard himself is an apologist who has beliefs such as the virgin birth that contradict the concensus of scientists.  Shouldn’t the concensus of scientists supercede the concensus of apologists when it comes to a subject such as the biological possibility of virgin births in homo sapiens?

As examples of the importance of distinguishing apologetics from scholarship, read the following blogs and articles.  I also threw in some other responses to specific apologetic arguments just for good measure.

Robert W. Funk:

A letter of Concern for Prof. Dr. Gerd Luedemann

April DeConick:

Choosing your method

What do I mean by ‘confessional’?

The never-ending confusion about perspective

Robert M. Price:

Protestant Hermeneutical Axiomatics: A Deconstruction

Is There a Place for Historical Criticism?

MUST WE TAKE A LEAP OF FAITH? (HAVE WE ALREADY?)

Paradigm Shifting and the Apologetics Debate

Introducing the Journal of Higher Criticism

N.T. Wright’s The Resurrection of the Son of God

By This Time He Stinketh

Earl Doherty:

Challenging the Verdict

Responses to Critiques of the Mythicist Case

D.M. Murdock:

Is the Bible True?

Richard C. Carrier:

Bayes’ Theorem for Beginners

Epistemological End Game

Experimental History

History Before 1950

Related to apologetics is the issue of scientific understanding in the ancient world… and sadly the issue of scientific understanding in the modern world.

Richard C. Carrier:

Stark on Ancient Science

Books on Ancient Science

Science and Medieval Christianity

Statistics & Biogenesis

Yockey on Biogenesis

Defining the Supernatural

To continue with my response to Bedard:

I disagree with your statement about the continuity. Orthodox Christians agreed that Jesus’ Father was the God of the OT and that Jesus was human and divine. All of this found in the NT but denied by gnostics.

The Gnostics were the first to collect scriptures into a single book we now call the Gospels.  The Gnostics intentionally left out Jewish scriptures because the purpose of their creating the Gospels was because they specifically believed the OT God and the NT God were separate Gods (enemies even).  The Gospels were created for the purpose of demonstrating the distinct uniqueness of the Christian God.  Yes, there were some Jewish or Jewish-influenced Christians early on, but there is no proof that they were the first Christians.  Obviously, Judaism was a part of the milieu of early Christianity and so were a number of other religions.  As the earliest commenters on the Gospels were Gnostics who were also the creators of the Gospels as a singular canon, I think it’s fair to give them precedence on it’s interpretation… or at least it’s fair not to dismiss them out of hand.

Regarding the pagan influence. I agree that there is a stronger case that the Gospels are based on the OT than on pagan sources but the Jesus myth people I have encountered (Tom Harpur, Peter Gandy, Timothy Freke) have focused mostly on the pagan sources.

As I see it, it isn’t either/or.  Yes, many biographical details were lifted at some point from the OT.  But, some argue, that this was simply a matter of Hellenistic Jews and other related groups reading the OT through the lense of Greco-Roman philosophy, theology and mythology.  In the ancient world, a new religion was deemed unworthy if it didn’t have precedent in an already existing religious tradition.  So, a new religion had to prove itself by interpreting older texts in a new light.  But this was just a matter of convenience and they weren’t trying to stay true to the original intent and purpose of those texts.  The Jesus story that they created was in contradiction to the traditional Jewish expectation of a Messiah, but all that mattered is that Jesus was portrayed as Jewish which gave him the appearance of respectability.  They had to detail his Jewish lineage in order to substantiate their claims.  However, from a strictly traditional Jewish perspective, such superficial reinterpretations were meaningless and outright blasphemous.

Let me make one last point about Bedard’s scholarship.  It’s obvious he lacks any full understanding of mythicism.  The three Jesus myth people he mentions (Harpur, Gandy, and Freke) are just popular writers.  He admits to having never read any serious scholarship about mythicism.  I appreciate popularizers for they communicate ideas to the general public, but there are several scholars I can think of offhand who are way more respectable than those three.  I linked some of these scholars above, but there are a few more besides.  I should mention Karen Armstrong.  She is a respectable scholar who, although doesn’t identify as a mythicist, seems to support the connections between pagan mythology, classical thought, allegorical thinking and early Christianity.  If you want to know more about the Christ myth theory and the scholars who have supported this position, then check out the Wikipedia article which gives a good overview.

As an apologist, it doesn’t matter that Bedard’s knowledge of mythicism is limited.  However, as a scholar, it’s very important.  Bedard is not only a published scholar but has specifically written a book about mythicism.  He presents himself as an expert and he is an expert in other areas of Biblical studies but not in mythicism.  I first commented on Bedard’s blog around the beginning of this year (2009) and the year is almost ended.  One of the comments I made to Bedard at that time was specifically that he claimed to have only read the popularizers of mythicism and that if he was serious about his scholarship then he should read some serious scholarship on the subject.  I was just perusing his blog and saw no evidence that he has since read any high quality scholarship on mythicism.

As far as I can tell by my brief interactions, I respect Bedard as a person.  He is one of the most easygoing apologists I’ve ever met.  Also, I read one of his articles published in a journal and I was impressed.  But none of that changes the fact that he isn’t an expert nor has read any experts in the field of mythicism.  His opinions about mythicism are no more worthy than the mythicist popularizers he has criticized.  As such, his writings on mythicism mostly serve the purpose of apologetics rather than scholarship.

That is fine if that is all he wants to do, but he seems to have a mind that is capable of so much more.  I’d love to see him (or some other apologist) do an in-depth analysis of the full range of mythicist scholarship.  I’m waiting…

Another Apologist: P.W. Dunn

Below is a comment of mine directed to P.W. Dunn in a discussion I started with him.  I also posted my comments in my blog here in the post titled About Canonizing Acts of Paul.  The comment here was originally intended to be posted in his blog, but I decided I no longer wanted to continue my dialogue with him as I didn’t see it going anywhere interesting.  Also, I figured this comment could use its own post. 

My discussion with Dunn reminds me of my discussions with Bedard.  The difference is that, even though Bedard was also a New Testament scholar, he overtly identified himself as an apologist and so was open about the fact that his scholarship served a purpose of apologetics.  Bedard even gave his blog the title of Apologia.  So, I knew what kind of discussion I was in the moment I commented to his posts.  Interestingly, I don’t think Bedard made religious claims in his blog but rather always kept the discussion on the level of facts and logic.  Like Dunn, Bedard presented himself as rational, even claiming his beliefs were based on his rationality.  To say the least, I had immense doubts about whether his rationality was actually greater than his faith, but at least he seemed more or less open about his bias. 

The peer-reviewed article of Bedard’s that I read was high quality scholarhip and so I had respect for his intellect… even though it served a purpose of apologetics which I consider far from worthy.  The ironic part of it was that objectively speaking his article easily could’ve been used as evidence in support of my criticisms of his religious beliefs.  It is rather odd how some people have objectivity in terms of their professional career, but can’t appreciate the obvious implications to their personal life.  That is what in psychology is called compartmentalization.  Maybe Dunn has compartmentalized in a similar manner, but it is far from obvious.

I must say I’m not a fan of apologetics and I’m outright critical of apologetics when it’s conflated with scholarship.  I sense enormous problems that are created when belief and rationality are mixed.  The danger is that there is a thin line between rationality and rationalization.  The purpose of scholarship is to lessen bias, and so scholarship that is intentionally biased seems blatantly wrongminded.  I’d even go so far as to say it’s a moral issue.  To me, the role of academic is a noble calling.  The role of professional scholar represents the human capacity for rationality and more importantly represents the ideal of truth.  If even academics lack the ability to see past their biases and lack the ability to seriously consider different perspectives, then there is even less hope for the average person.  An academic spends years training their intellectual faculties and analyzing difficult issues.  Society looks to them as authorities on the subject of their expertise.  Also, academics act as teachers.  In particular, acadmics at a college level are some of the most influential people in the world as they help to form the minds of society’s youth.  We should hold scholars to a very high standard.

However, in the past, fields such as biblical studies were used to support orthodoxy and it’s only been in recent decades that this field has come into its own as a secular endeavor.  Part of the reason for this is because the discoveries of many non-canonical texts only happened very recently.  The church spent great effort over the centuries destroying and suppressing these texts, and many of them were considered entirely lost.  Even once these texts were once again available, the first scholars read them through the bias of what the heresiologists had written at the beginning of Christianity.  New Testament scholarship had been meshed with orthodoxy for so many centuries that scholars initially had great difficulty studying the heretical texts without bias, and many scholars still today are still heavily influenced by the orhtodox criticisms of ancient heresiologists. 

Dunn seems a good example of this.

 – – –

Here is the aforementioned comment:

“I do believe that the New Testament as it came down to us is inspired and is a faithful guide for the church and witness to Jesus Christ.”

When I first commented, I was only making a point about an academic issue.  I wasn’t thinking in terms of religious faith and beliefs, and especially not in terms of orthodox doctrine.

However, reading your response, I’m not certain if this is an academic discussion or a religious one.  You spoke of which texts you considered inspired and which texts you considered inspiring.  It’s not surprising that you don’t find inspiring texts that you don’t believe to be inspired, but either way it has nothing to do with a scholarly discussion. 

My determining what we’re actually discussing is complicated by the fact that you started your response by declaring your belief in the orthodox canon as being an inspired witness to Christ.  OTOH you present this blog as a scholarly endeavor.  So, I’m confused by your using it as a platform for declaring your personal religious beliefs and defending orthodoxy. 

Do you see your role as an academic or as an apologist?  If your scholarship is merely in service of orthodoxy, then I don’t have much interest in continuing dialogue.  I could try to offer a rational response, but there is no rational response to a profession of religious doctrine.  Belief and reason are simply two different issues. 

The problem is that scholarship necessitates this division to be kept clear, but orthodox religion requires scholarship to serve doctrine.  Ultimately, a person can’t both be a scholar and an apologist at the same time.  The moment scholarship is constrained by or conformed to doctrine, it ceases to be scholarship and becomes apologetics.  This isn’t to dismiss religious belief, but it’s simply to say it has no validity in the context of scholarship and instead lessens the objective value of that scholarship.

I’ve yet to see evidence that you clearly separate the two.  If you did clearly distinguish them, then you wouldn’t have brought up your faith in a format supposedly dedicated to academic scholarship.  In having a discussion with you, I’d have to try to make distinctions between your beliefs and your scholarship.  However, this would ultimately be impossible as you’ve mixed them together in your comments.

You seem to be an intelligent person.  I don’t doubt you can make logical arguments supported by evidence.  Nonetheless, your strong religious faith seems to imply that your beliefs are conclusions that precede your arguments.  Before perceiving the situation to be otherwise, I’d have to see evidence of your willingness to change your beliefs to fit scholarly evidence and hence a willingness to consider evidence that contradicts your beliefs.

C.S. Lewis and Myth

C.S. Lewis believed the pagan myths were mere creations of man and so conveyed the truths of men, but that Christianity was a true myth.  Lewis was convinced of the Christian story as real because of an atheist he knew who accepted Jesus as having historically existed.  This is strange that he put so much validity to this atheist’s claims while he apparently ignored the conclusions by others who contradicted historical proof.  Whatever his reasoning, Lewis seemed to have made the leap that historical reality equates to divine reality. 

Two things must be forgiven Lewis for his knowledge was limited.  First, the doubts about Jesus having historically lived have only continually grown stronger since that time.  Even during Lewis’ lifetime, there were plenty of intellectuals doubting the supposed historical proofs of Jesus, but Lewis was ultimately looking for any reason to believe.  He simply wanted to believe.  Second, either he wasn’t knowledgeable in the field of mythology or else certain issues weren’t well known among scholars of his day.  Anyways, his assumption that the Christian myth was the only one claimed to be historical is utterly false.  The rational framework (i.e., the apologetics) of Lewis’ Christian beliefs fall apart under the careful scrutiny of contemporary knowledge.  These arguments still are powerful though partly because ignorance of such matters is still immense.  One can still find biblical scholars who seem ignorant or dismissive of the fact that other religious myths have been claimed to be historical, but I suppose that is simply the danger of academic specialization in particular when in service of dogma.  The question that comes to mind is that even if Lewis had more knowledge would this have changed one iota his desire to believe and hence his ultimate conclusion of belief.  If his desire was strong enough, he could’ve found other ways to rationalize his belief.

I should point out an important factor.  Lewis was attracted to pagan mythology.  It affected him in a way that the Christian myth initally didn’t.  His intellect got in the way of his appreciating Christianity.  He wanted to rationally understand how Jesus life could have influence on him now besides merely being an example (which wouldn’t be enough to support conversion).  Tolkien helped Lewis to realize he was putting Christianity on a different level than Paganism, and that he needed to approach Christian myth in the way he did with Pagan myth.  Tolkien’s more poetic mindset helped Lewis understand his own intellectual bias.  Christianity was myth as well, but it was true myth… the Word of God incarnate.

This is all fine and dandy, but doesn’t make for good apologetics.  By this, I mean that it wouldn’t convince anyone that isn’t already a Christian or isn’t already looking for a reason to believe.  His dismissal of pagan myths as merely human stories hints at a tremendous lack of insight and understanding.  The Pagans were similarly inspired by divine visions when creating their stories.  Also, like Christians, many Pagans conflated mythology with history.  His separation between Christianity and Paganism is artificial and unhelpful.

I will, however, give credit where it’s due.  Lewis did come to a middleground position that no Christian fundamentalist could ever accept.  He didn’t simply dismiss pagan myth.  He had studied myths for himself and he realized they held powerful truths, but ultimately the apologist in him had to limit this insight.  He required that a myth be absolutely true or else just a story.  As I see it, the point of myth is that it can never be clearly defined.  Clear definitions are of man and not of the divine.  The intellectual desire of apologetics in trying to prove Christianity ultimately undermines the very value of Christianity… not that ignorance is the answer.  Whether or not Jesus (or any mythological character for that matter) actually lived is ultimately insignificant.  The teachings that are claimed to be from Jesus had been spoken before by others.  They’re either true or false based on their value.  Besides, God could just as easily speak through any mythological character or actual human as through Jesus… and Jesus never claims otherwise.  Plus, even if Jesus had existed, it proves absolutely nothing.  First century teachers and prophets making astounding claims (such as being Christ, Messiah, Son of God and Son of Man) and having astounding claims made about them (such as healings, miracles and salvation) were dime a dozen.

Basically, if Lewis (like any other Christian) wished to believe, then he was free to have faith.  But such faith is at best a spiritual experience and so rationality is besides the point.  Anytime rationality is used to support faith it inevitably fails as it becomes mired in rationalization.  Lewis, of course, became aware of the limitations of rationality.  But, differently than Tolkien, he had a stronger tendency towards relying on intellectual understanding.  He necessitated an initial “belief” in a rational groundwork for Christianity (i.e., belief in the historical Christ) before he could embrace belief on its own terms.  His problem was that he couldn’t imagine Christianity as being respectable or worthy without this initial claim of proof.  To me, this puts the whole edifice of Christianity on rather shaky ground.  For one, it can’t be proved by secular standards of historical and scientific scholarship.  Secondly, even if it were true, there is no way to distinguish it from all of the other historical claims of equal validity.  Why not be Jewish, Muslim, Manichean or Buddhist instead of Christian?  All of the founders of these religions have been claimed to be historical.  Furthermore, many early Christians outright denied Jesus being historical.  They actually believed the historical claims undermined his spiritual value.  Whether or not you agree with this assessment, it demonstrates that a Christian almost two thousand years later has no reason to feel secure in historical claims when the earliest Christians couldn’t even agree.

The problem for Lewis’ apologetics comes down to a single factor.  All myths have to be judged on the same level.  Claims of historical proof or divine status aren’t original or exclusive to Christianity and so can’t be used to distinguish it.  Even the theology of Christianity mostly isn’t original and exclusive.  I don’t mean to dismiss the truth of Christianity, but I’m only trying to convey that Christians will have to dig a bit deeper to find it.  Lewis intuitively sensed a truth in Christianity and that is what is important.  The problem comes when a person believes what intuitively makes sense to them must be absolutely true for everyone.  I do suspect there are something like universal truths, but even so I doubt they exist on the surface level of any given story or doctrine.  Lewis maybe should’ve stayed closer to his actual experience rather than looking for a Christian explanation.  Instead of trying to bring his personal truth into the context of collective religious myth (i.e., orthodox Christian doctrine), he might’ve found even more insight by following it into the depths of the poetic imagination, the spiritual substratum.

I shouldn’t be so critical of Lewis.  I respect a person who struggled with trying to understand such difficult issues.  He did have a very questioning attitude.  He was as openminded as someone could be and still retain some connection to orthodox Christianity.  He has helped many Christians to have a more open relationship to traditions outside of Christianity.  Along with Carl Jung, Lewis aided the interfaith dialogue and helped lay the groundwork for the for the contemporary interest in comparative mythology.  Lewis represents the beginning of a transition from traditional apologetics towards a more sophisticated analysis of religion, but ultimately Lewis is still an apologist even if above average in intelligence.