Early Civilizations and Religions, Travel and Influence

One of my earliest interests is that of early religions, their beliefs and mythologies, and how they formed.

Most specifically, what has fascinated me the most are the numerous similarities between religions from diverse societies that were separated by vast distances, separated by oceans and mountains and continents, not to mention separated by languages. In the ancient world when travel could take years from one place to another, these weren’t insignificant obstacles to cross-cultural influence. However, there was surprisingly a lot of travel between the earliest civilizations.

“Such transfers of ideas undoubtedly took place not only at the upper levels of society, but also at the inns and bars of the ports and cities along the trade routes in Greece, Egypt, and the Eastern Mediterranean. Where else would a sailor or crew member while away the time waiting for the wind to shift to the proper quarter or for a diplomatic mission to conclude its sensitive negotiations, swapping myths, legends, and tall tales? Such events may perhaps have contributed to cultural influences spreading between Egypt and the rest of the Near East, and even across the Aegean. Such an exchange between cultures could possibly explain the similarities between the Epic of Gilgamesh and Homer’s later Iliad and Odyssey, and between the Hittite Myth of Kumarbi and Hesiod’s later Theogony.”

Cline, Eric H. (2014-03-23). 1177 B.C.: The Year Civilization Collapsed (Turning Points in Ancient History) (p. 59). Princeton University Press. Kindle Edition.

A millennia before the Axial Age, there were some of the greatest of early civilizations. During this era, the pyramids were already a thousand years old. Then something caused all these interconnected civilizations to collapse.

I wonder how that relates to the later rise of the Axial Age civilizations and the religions that went with them. Did the collapse set the stage for entirely new systems of ideas, politics, economics, and social order?

Thinking Outside the Box: Worlds, Gender, & Games

My friend Jude brought up some thought-provoking thoughts (from Facebook):

Think outside the box” – the synonym for this is “lateral thinking”. I understand the latter but I do not understand the former. I remember I used to understand it though. I do think laterally a lot but I really don’t know where that “box” is. Maybe I have thought outside it so long, it no longer exists to me..hehehe..smh.. I want to re-understand it though.

The following are my comments.

—-

Here is how I would think about it.

Essentially, a box is the world or rather a world… or if you prefer a worldvew, what I’d call a reality tunnel. So, it isn’t necessarily the same as lateral for that would imply a relationship, a lateral relationship between the worldview and the thinking. Thinking outside of the box implies relationship to the worldview is being excluded. With no relationahip anchoring your thinking to the worldview, your thinking is unmoored and you can potentially lose your bearings.

Also, this can be analyzed mythologicaly. A box has a feminine gender, in fact is a term for female genitalia. A box has space within in which one can be enclosed, but it also has space without. When you were born, you literally began thinking outside the ‘box’.

In Indo-European mythology, the box and the square are feminine and maternal. They represent what enlcloses, what embraces and protects us, and also what sets the boundaries for relationships and society.

This relates to two things (board games and card games) which relate to a third thing (the Trickster).

The square of a board game sets the boundaries in which play happens. Likewise, the mother creates the space for play and the child plays. The Trickster is the child who plays, but he also tests boundaries and breaks rules.

Playing cards (originating from Tarot) are in the shape of the Golden Rectangle or what is known as the Golden Door. The door is part of what encloses for it can be closed, but it can also be opened.

Walking through an open door, you enter a new space, possibly even stepping outside of the box you were in. You might not even recognize the box you ere in until you are outside it. So, if you don’t see a box, it probably means you haven’t yet stepped outside to gain perspective. When you are in the game of play, still on the board, you’re drawn in for your life is at stake, this life that you know. A world is always real while you’re in it.

Games have always related to luck and divination, doorways from our world to other worlds. To truly think outside of the box is to open yourself to new visions, new realities even. The ancients saw the wold ruled by the Fates and by fickle gods. No player controls the game in which you play. No one knows what is at the end of the game, what is on the other side of the door.

Chutes and Ladders originated as an ancient Hindu game called Snakes and Ladders. The game is a model of reality with levels that the players ascend. The players are at the mercy of luck, but if you play long enough all get to the end. It teaches the patient theology of Hinduism. When you reach the end, you win by escaping the game and hence metaphorically escaping the world.

The feminine and masculine, the mother and child are opposites that create tension. Thinking outside the box necessitates a box outside of which to think.

—-

Let me stick with mythology and extend my thoughts.

The earliest known civilization was in Iraq where comes from the story of Gilgamesh. One thing that always stood out to me is that Gilgamesh’s friend Enkidu was originally a wild man. He only became ‘civilized’ through the wiles of a temple prostitute. That gives a new spin to the so-called oldest profession.

The feminine is a civilizing force. This is true in mythology, but some see it as being true in society in general. A book I’ve been perusing is about American violence (Violent Land: Single Men and Social Disorder from the Frontier to the Inner City by David T. Courtwright). The main reason given for the greater violence in the American South had to do with the cultures created during early immigration.

The Northern colonies (specifically New England and Pennsylvania) attracted whole families and even whole communities to immigrate as a group and settle together. So, they brought community and hence the social structures of civilization with them.

The Southern colonies tended to attract more single men. Also, much of the early Westward expansion into the frontier began in these Southern colonies, especially from Virginia. These settlers developed a very violent society of dueling and vigilante justice. It was a long time for religion to be established on the frontier because single men weren’t drawn to attend church.

A church or temple is a box, with or without temple prostitutes. Any structure of civilization is a box. All of civilization is a box… or else a set of boxes, some overlapping, others exclusive.

—-

The whole world itself is a box or rather a mansion with many rooms.

Any form and this world of form is archetypally feminine. Brahma’s power is infinite potential, but only Saraswati can give birth to form, each and every form, as she takes on that form and gives it substance, gives it life. The Gnostics, of course, would say this is Sophia who fell into the world. But that is the mythologically masculine view to see form as fallen, to see the world as a place of darkness and sin.

A paternalistic God rules from above, above us all, not with us. Was the Goddess fallen or was she cast out? If cast out, who did this? The ancient Israelites, like most ancient people, saw God and Goddess as married. Monotheism originated in Egypt, but the difference was that Egyptian monotheism was a part of a henotheistic tradition where (similar to Hindusim today) all deities weren’t always seen as clearly distinct, sometimes even as expressions of the same divinity.

I became particularly interested in the Egyptian religion when reading Christ in Egypt by D.M. Murdock. In a large section, she went into great detail about Isis. Isis worship was one of the most popular deities in Rome. Murdock argues that Isis was the precursor of Christian Mother Mary. Egyptian Meri means beloved which at first was an epithet for a God but over time became associated directly with Isis and may have become a name for her. The two words were often seen associated, both as Meri-Isis and Isis-Meri.

It was through Isis that this concept of beloved became widespread. Before that time, deities were worshipped with submission. A new type of love came to the forefront, a love of equals, the divine came down onto the level of humanity, the common folk even. The divine was no longer far away in heaven but here on earth (or, as Philip K. Dick would so charmingly describe it, “God in the garbage”). This was part of a long shift during the Axial Age which ended with religions such as Christianity.

—-

To return to the original topic of thinking outside the box, this brings up a number of thoughts.

First, what does the civilizing process mean on the personal level? As a male of the species, what does this mean in relation to the feminine and the maternal? If you feel like you are in no box, then does that mean you aren’t being contained, encompassed, embraced by the feminine/maternal? If you are or identify as a single male, can you internalize the stereotypical/archetypal feminine mode of social interrelationship without fear of loss of self, without fear of deadening conformity?

Second, what does this all mean in this age of complexity and in this world of multicultural globalism? There is no single society that encompasses any of us or necessarily even a single religion or single ethnicity. We find ourselves in many boxes which can create a possibly deceiving experience of being in no box. How do we recognize the box(es) we may be in? What does the possibility even mean to be in a box in an age of instability and uncertainty? Has the world fundamentally changed since the time the ancient mythologies were written?

I don’t know if this relates to Jude’s experience. But from my perspective, I feel like there are always boxes we are in. I feel very sensitized to that which contains us and structures our lives. I’ve wondered for a long time if it is possible to think outside of the box… or do we just jump out of one box and into another? Boxes are like stories. It seems like there is always a story being told, a story we are playing out in our heads, in our lives, and in our relationships. The box is a stage on which the story plays out.

—-

In his most recent comment, Jude tried to explain his view:

Yes, I also think the feminine is a civilizing force in as much as it is for understanding. The receptacle accepts and from that, “training”.

That’s why it is lateral thinking: the ability to think ACROSS boxes. Like the Ghanaian box, the American box, the science box etc.

For me, as a bona fide liminal, I do not respect boxes. On my own, I’m looking for truth, coherence, correspondence, relevance not social or contextual acceptability. To market to the world is a different thing: I need a box otherwise it makes no sense and it won’t be accepted.

My point is not that there are no boxes. I, me, do not recognize them

I say he tried to explain for I don’t know that I understand. I do at least understand the ability of thinking across boxes. That seems like a fair way of describing lateral thinking.

Even so, it still doesn’t get at my own view. There aren’t just boxes next to boxes. Rather, there are boxes within boxes within boxes, maybe all the way down or all the way up as the case may be.

—-

Here is what I see as the key difference.

Jude sees the boxes (worldviews, reality tunnels, etc) as external things, external to himself, separate from and not essential to his personal reality. But to me the most basic box is humanity collectively and our humanity individually. We can’t escape the box that we are (and, in his own way, Jude would agree with this general notion). More importantly, who we are is tied up with what the world is. We aren’t separate from the world. We can’t step outside of the world.

To be in liminal space says nothing about that space being outside a box. I suspect that misses the point of the liminal which is simply that you can’t be certain about where you are or aren’t, what you may or may not be within. The liminal as related to the Trickster is yet another archetypal/mythological box. It may be a more spacious and flexible box, but still a box. Every archetype is a box, shades and shapes the world accordingly.

What does it even mean to not recognize the ‘world’ you exist within? Does ‘reality’ care if you respect it? Where would the hypothetical non-box position be located that is objectively above all boxes, i.e., all subjective and intersubjective worldviews?

I’m not actually arguing that one can’t hypothetically get outside of all boxes. I’m not arguing for or against that because I’m not sure what it would mean. As a statement, it doesn’t seem to make ‘sense’. I might even argue that to make such a claim is to forfeit making sense… which is fine as far as that goes. Even if you could get outside of all boxes, it’s not clear to me how you would know this was true for you would have no context or persepctive to know anything for certain, much less communicate what you think you know.

When people speak of thinking outside of the box, I never got the sense that they meant thinking outside of all boxes, just thinking outside a specific box. To think outside all boxes would be the mythological correlate to the God of heaven being above and separate from the Goddess of earth. But like yin and yang, how can they be separate?

—-

None of this is intended to discredit Jude’s personal experience. I’m not holding myself above Jude in challenging his claim, but he is holding himself above the boxes of others, the boxes of the world. At times, I can also hold myself above certain other boxes. It just never occurred to me that it could be possible to hold myself above all boxes.

Jude’s perspective isn’t necessarily wrong, refusing to be part of the herd. Maybe it is wise to hold oneself above, at least in attitude. I do think when possible that it good to strive to be above average on the self-awareness scale. The problem is if you’re self-deluded you generally don’t recognize your own self-delusion. That is just human nature, for all of us.

I find myself being more of a Buddhist perspective of “no escape”. For Buddhists, there is no escape for the ego is essentially the one and only box. However, only the ego is likely to make any claims about not being in a box. Ken Wilber has noted that it is easy to fall into the Pre/Trans Fallacy. He emphasizes that the shift in human development is transcend and include, not transcend and exclude.

I’m pretty sure that like me Jude isn’t an Enlightened Master. It is as a normal ego-bound mortal that I wonder about his claim of being in no boxes. Still, I completely support Jude’s desire to not be trapped in any boxes. More power to him.

Authors Connected?

I’ve been repeatedly mentioning several authors in my recent blogs. While I’m at it, I want to bring in two other authors that I haven’t mentioned in a while. The two other authors are George P. Hansen and Patrick Harpur. I wrote about them when I was thinking about the paranormal and they influenced my ideas in my blog about the Enactivism Symposium. I was thinking about these two specifically in reference to Victoria Nelson and Eric G. Wilson.

The connection might not be obvious even for some strange person who spent their time closely reading my blog. Hansen and Harpur write about the relationship between “reality” and the paranormal. Nelson and Wilson write about the relationship between culture and religion. The connection between them revolves around the mythological and the archetypal.

There is a reason I wanted to bring in Hansen and Harpur. They both speak to what the spiritual means in terms of our actual experience and our attempt to objectively know reality. I admire the insight of Nelson and Wilson, but speaking in terms of culture can put a distance to the ideas. Wilson does resonate with my personal experience fairly well. The main limitation to his writing is that he is so focused on certain traditions… even if they’re traditions that I’m attracted to.

Harpur, maybe more than any of them, has helped me to understand what exists beyond our physical senses and rational knowledge. The concept of the imaginal is centrally important to me.  It gives a point of reference to understand where both atheists and theists can go wrong in their beliefs. The imaginal also gives a point in between story and reality, the source of mythology.

Harpur refers to Hillman’s polytheistic psyche, and Hillman would be opposed to Campbell’s Monomyth. I, however, don’t feel certain of any conflict. There is an autonomy of archetypes that can’t be unified in a simple manner, but neither are archetypes exactly like Platonic ideals. Still, archetypes are all related. I’d even argue that archetypes are primarily relational before anything else. Its this relational dimension that grounds archetypes in stories. Also, for whatever its worth, it brings to my mind the Buddhist notion of dependent co-arising.

* * *

I’m starting to confuse myself. That is fine. I’m sure it all makes sense somehow.

I think that my mind as of late is a bit split between two lines of thought.

First off, part of me wants to make some sense out of what I at times perceive as a hellish world. Horror isn’t really a genre. Its an experience that you’ve had and understand… or else not.

Secondly, I’m just fascinated by stories and myths. This relates to suffering but isn’t limited to it. We use stories to make sense of suffering it is true. Stories wouldn’t make any motivating force without suffering even if only on the level of basic conflict. If there is no antagonist, there is no story. However, I don’t think this is what attracts me to stories. Stories can make me forget suffering, make the world seem to have some kind of purpose or order… and sometimes a really good story (such as The Fountain) can offer a deeper insight.

These two aspects conflict. Stories represent enjoyment and meaning. Suffering, when experienced deeply enough, undermines any sense of order or insight that a story might offer. However, is this problematic. We’re all drawn to stories about characters (real or fictional) like Jesus, but in our suffering we feel drawn beyond the story itself.

I don’t know. Does that make sense?

* * *

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 DevelopmentMyth, Religion, and Social Development

Books about Culture by Christians

I’ve been recently looking at books written about mythology and culture.  In particular, I was looking at books that look at the mythology of movies.  But, in the past, I noticed a similar trend in books about Jungian typology.

One thing I notice is that books that have a Christian slant often aren’t as interesting or insightful as those that have a more general or universal slant.  This is partly just my personal bias, but I think others might agree with me.

Its not that Christianity is itself a weakness in analyzing deeper truths within culture.  Instead, the problem is that many Christians who write about mythology in culture(movies, chidren’s novels, etc) use mythology as a proselytizing device rather than taking mythology as a serious field in an of itself.   I certainly don’t mean to imply that Christians lack insight, but someone who tries to see the entire world through Christian theology has a limited view through which to express what insight they may have.

I’m not criticizing Christianity in general, but I am criticizing proselytizing.  Even so, my criticism is slightly wider than simply preachy didacticism.  Often these Christian category of books suffer from the same superficial quality that many self-help New Age books have.  As such, there can be a lack of detailed analysis and objective discernment… which can too often translate into a lack of deep insight, or at least a lack of deep insight outside of the Christianity.

Why I bring this up is because it annoys me, but it doesn’t annoy me because it comes from Christians.  I look for spiritual perspectives and I appreciate the Christian perspective, but few of the Christian books that flood the market are worth reading.  Of course, there are lots of junk writing being published from more than Christians, and, so, my criticisms are applicable to writers of other persuasions.  The reason I’m picking on Christians is because when looking for spiritual views on culture I tend to find a slew of Christian books.

Plus, I think that what I’m pointing out demonstrates a real trend that exists within mainstream Christianity itself.  I went to hear a Christian author speak(I don’t remember her name) and she spoke about the relationship Christians should have towards secular culture.  She pretty much said that Christians should use art to communicate the Christian message.  She was saying that Christians should try to effect culture all the while not letting themselves be influenced in return.  That seems a rather condescending and manipulative attitude.  It seemed that the only purpose she saw for art was as propaganda.  She was a nice and intelligent person, but she saw the world as an us vs them conflict.

This Christian author was speaking at the University library and there was also an exhibit of Blake’s work there.  After the talk, I perused through Blake’s writing.  Blake demonstrated how art and religion can inform eachother rather than either one controlling/manipulating the other for its own purposes.  Also, unlike the Christian author, Blake had genuine insight that anyone could learn from… no matter what the religious belief or lack thereof.

 

18 minutes later

Nicole said

looks like a good thread starter on the God Pod – what thinkest thou?

 

about 20 hours later

Marmalade said

There is two other points I want to add.

Firstly, the attitude of this kind of Christian is that they’re trying to justify something.  If they like some pop culture product such as Harry Potter, they feel a need to justify why a Christian can morally appreciate a movie about magic.  So, they feel a need to justify their enjoyment to other Christians, and they feel a need to justify their Christianity to other fans.  All of this can distort their view of what they’re analyzing.  They’ll look for Christianity in something the creator may never intended as Christian art.

The other thing is that the reason all of this is happening is because Christianity is no longer the center of mainstream culture.  This makes life more challenging for a traditional Christian who wants to solely devote themselves to their Christian tradition.  The fact of the matter is that most mainstream entertainment and culture isn’t Christian.  Beyond this, even Christians are less Biblically literate because the younger generations spend less time reading the Bible.  Nowadays, much of what Christians know about the Bible comes from movies and tv.

Biblical exponents realize the younger generation is focused on popular culture.  So, they try to use popular culture to explain Christianity, but they do so warily.  In the process, what they use to communicate Christianity comes to alter how Christianity is understood.  They realize that Christianity no longer plays as dominant a role and is now being influenced in return by the culture it exists in.

Personally, I see this two-way influence as a good thing.  Christianity has survived not only in its power to influence but also in its power of relevance by its ability(and willingness) to respond to changes.  Christianity spread so widely because its adaptable, and because its able to hold onto its core truths while adapting.

 

1 day later

Nicole said

good, and i also want to expand on the wider Christian community ie Catholics, liberals… will do so in God Pod. light and peace

 

8 days later

debyemm said

I ended up reading here because I started at your subsequent blog post, which referred to this and so, I felt I needed to read this to put that one into context.  So, still not having read it, I do understand the disappointment you express here.

Agendas are the reason, in my opinion.  So, if the writing or art is a means to an end, to convert you to the author’s point of view, or as you point out, justify the author’s interest in a topic as not violating the author’s Christian ethics, then I think the writing betrays it’s agenda and so, to a reader intent on discovering quality content worthy of their time, it may appear to their mind as shallow or diluted, or as not originating in thoughtful contemplation, or inauthentic and deceptive.

I believe that the best Christian writing, which express a depth of insight, would be expressed by an author who utilizes their core values as the foundation for their discussion or contemplation of a topic, even a non-Christian one.  It would also be possible to utilize these same values as measured critical or analytical tool for questioning beliefs, theirs or some others, or for expanding upon them in a novel way.

While your main criticism – proselytizing – is a characteristic of unquestioned or strongly defended beliefs (as in my way is the only way to truth and salvation); I believe the fault lies in the total lack of inquiry into their validity, as well as in the overall quality or skill of the writing itself.

Even an author whose intent it is simply proselytizing has a right to publish.  There are no rules as to who can write what or for what purpose and being Christian or writing about Christian topics does not change that fact.  The burden is on the reader to discern whether the writing appeals to their personal bend of mind and to put aside those writings that do not.

Deborah

 

8 days later

Marmalade said

Deborah, you said:
“I believe that the best Christian writing, which express a depth of insight, would be expressed by an author who utilizes their core values as the foundation for their discussion or contemplation of a topic, even a non-Christian one.  It would also be possible to utilize these same values as measured critical or analytical tool for questioning beliefs, theirs or some others, or for expanding upon them in a novel way.”

I agree with that.  Certainly, its not that a Christian has core values that is the issue.  Core values can give a reference point for insight, a lense through which to discern meaning.

“While your main criticism – proselytizing – is a characteristic of unquestioned or strongly defended beliefs (as in my way is the only way to truth and salvation); I believe the fault lies in the total lack of inquiry into their validity, as well as in the overall quality or skill of the writing itself.”

I don’t think I meant proselytizing to be my main criticism.  Its just one of the more obvious factors.  The behavior of prosyletizing is an external sign of a general attitude… and, as you said, a defended/unquestioned belief system.  Everything is secondary to the belief system including the quality of writing.  As long as God’s Word is communicated, it doesn’t matter the author’s words used to do the communicating.

However, this level of proselytizing is an extreme.  Many people can have a desire to communicate their beliefs all the while being able to question, but the stronger the beliefs the more difficult it is to question them.

“Even an author whose intent it is simply proselytizing has a right to publish.  There are no rules as to who can write what or for what purpose and being Christian or writing about Christian topics does not change that fact.  The burden is on the reader to discern whether the writing appeals to their personal bend of mind and to put aside those writings that do not.”

Yep, they have a right to publish.  I have absolutely no criticism of Christians writing.  In fact, I’ve been recently reclaiming my own sense of Christianity.

Discernment of the individual is paramount, but mass of superficial and uninsightful writing out there still annoys me.  I’m a writer and love to write.  I’d love to be published some day, but I would only want to be published if I had something to say that was worthy of being said and hadn’t been said many times before.  Even when I  blog, I try to add something that is meaningful or helpful or kind.  There is enough meaningless words on the web.

Of course, what seems worthy is different for different people.  Those Christian books that annoy me probably seem quite wonderful to many others.  Even if only a minority of people like your work, its worthy of being published.  Even if nobody appreciates your work, maybe its worthy.  Many artists weren’t appreciated in their own lifetime.

Blessings,
Marmalade

 

9 days later

debyemm said

Yes, I sensed all along that your love for good writing is why the kinds you outline bother you.  Like you, I try to add something meaningful or helpful or kind.  Otherwise, it does seem pointless to me.  Noise to hear myself chatter.  I have to keep that at bay enough as it is.

Who has time for meaningless words?  Well I guess someone does obviously.  But you and I, while recognizing equal right of access for all, still like the cream, do we not?

Deb

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…

Book Review: The Secret Life of Puppets by Victoria Nelson

This book is one of the best I’ve ever read. My copy is heavily underlined and well-thumbed. There are few authors that connect the topics she does in the way she does it, and there are even fewer who do so with such insight. It’s a hard book to describe as it includes much: puppets and humanity, reality and imagination, philosophy and religion, film and fiction, high and low culture. It’s a fairly large book at around 300 pages of text and also there are useful notes in the back. Even though her ideas may be above the head of the average person, her writing style is easy to follow. If you’re a somewhat curious and minimally intelligent person, then what you’ll probaby enjoy about this book is learning new ideas and discovering new authors. I’m very well read and I came across a number of things I’d never heard of.

Two topics Victoria Nelson covers that are of particular interest to me are Gnosticism and Noir. If you like these topics, then another book you’d like is Eric G. Wilson’s The Melancholy Android: On the Psychology of Sacred Machines and Secret Cinema: Gnostic Vision in Film. Wilson is directly influenced by Nelson. There aren’t many books that look at the religious aspects of Noir, but another one is Thomas S. Hibbs Arts of Darkness: American Noir and the Quest for Redemption. Somewhat oddly, a major connection for these authors is that they all discuss Philip K. Dick who is a favorite author of mine. Dick was mainly a fiction writer, but also wrote non-fiction about what it is to be human in terms of philosophy, religion, and science (in particular the subjects of Gnosticism and androids). If you read Philip K. Dick’s non-fiction, it will give you a richer perspective on the meeting of high and low culture (which is an emphasis of Nelson and Wilson)and on the dark quest for redemption (which all of these authors touch upon). Two Philip K. Dick books I’d recommend are The Shifting Realities of Philip K. Dick: Selected Literary and Philosophical Writings and In Pursuit of Valis: Selections from the Exegesis. If you want a clear overview of Philip K. Dick’s philsophical and religion thoughts, then you should read Pink Beams of Light from the God in the Gutter: The Science-Fictional Religion of Philip K. Dickby Gabriel McKee.

Some of Nelson’s best insights revolve around the notions of imagination and reality, sanity and insanity (which are typical Philip K. Dick topics in both his fiction and non-fiction). This is where she discusses various genre writers (for example, Poe, Lovecraft, Schultz and Kafka) and where she explores the connection between psychology, spirituality and creativity. If you’re intellectually fascinated by imagination and creativity, then there are some truly awesome books out there that would give even greater context to the already large context that Victoria Nelson provides. I’d guess that much of the groundwork for Nelson’s thinking comes from the Jungian tradition of thinkers and she references Carl Jung a number of times (but she also discuses Freud). If you’re interested in further reading about the imagination, then check out these other books: Dream & the Underworld by James Hillman, Imagination Is Reality: Western Nirvana in Jung, Hillman, Barfield, and Cassirer by Roberts Avens, Daimonic Reality: A Field Guide to the Otherworld by Patrick Harpur, and The Trickster and the Paranormal by George P. Hansen.

Besides my mentioning a number of related books, I’d consider The Secret Life of Puppets to be very unique. There are many books out there about these kinds of topics, but she brings it together in a very compelling way. These ideas easily could’ve become lost in abstract intellectuality if handled by a lesser writer.

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.