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Mythicism

June 5, 2017 3 comments

Mythicism is the belief that person: Jesus of Nazareth, was not a real person. Now, every atheist rejects the notion that Jesus was anything other than a regular guy. The belief that a figure named Jesus may have existed, who was also a an apocalyptic preacher may be accepted. However, to restate the definition, there are those who think that the actual figure was just a character alluded to by a handful of individuals trying to create a new system of belief.

I, am not sold on Mythicisim. My belief tends more strongly along the lines of real person/real preacher guy than likening Jesus in the same vein of Harry Potter or Gandalf. The reasons for this are many, but to be clear: I reject the notion that there is any supernatural aspect to the figure as I reject all supernatural aspects to anything.

Possibly this is due to my Catholic upbringing wherein I, for nearly half of my life accepted that Jesus was not only real but divine. There might a vestigial attachment that I am unwilling to reject. On the other hand we must get into what it means if the Mythicist position it true: and it would be a conspiracy on a grand scale.

Outside of the blogging, I am a PhD candidate in Philosophy. I teach at a college in NY, and the class that I teach the most is a course on conspiracy theories and skepticism. While I spend most of the semester going through informal fallacies and pseudo medicine, the first few weeks of the course are spent in defining conspiracies and how, prima facie, most of them couldn’t be true. The reason? People, in large numbers, are untrustworthy, fickle, and terrible at keeping secrets.

Not one person mind you. You can always find one person that’s good at maintaining secrecy. You can also find one person that can keep a consistent story in their head. Add another? It gets less likely, and with each person the secret gets less likely to be kept secret. In fact, if enough people know a thing, by definition, it’s no longer a secret. All of that being said, I find it unlikely that the figure of Jesus would be an entire fiction. There’s got to be at least some historical persona that the stories are attached around, or else, why would they be so contradictory?

Let’s assume, for the sake of falsification, that the mythicist position is true. What, exactly does that imply? First off it implies that the entire religion is based on a lie. Ok, fine, I’m an atheist and in some respect that’s true of all religions. However, that’s not what I’m driving at. That the religion is a lie, would mean that the central figure for whom the religion is based on is foundationless. This would be perplexing for a number of reasons. The first, and perhaps most important, is that it is completely unnecessary to base the religion on a figure in the first place. Daoism, while based on the teachings of Lao Tzu, doesn’t rely on the character of Lao Tzu for its teachings, it relies on the teachings themselves. Judaism, doesn’t rely on the fact that Moses wrote the laws, or brought the law to the people of Israel, but rather that the law itself is derived from God. You don’t need a “Jesus” for a religion, you just need a message that people are willing to believe, maybe you dress it up in some spirituality and a promise of extra-life reward, but the central preacher character need not be central to it.

Secondly, it seems that if a group of people got together to fabricate this character in order to create a religion, why wouldn’t they do a better job of it? Jesus does some pretty contradictory stuff in the tales of his life on Earth. He talks of peace, but then of bringing a sword. He talks about turning the other cheek, but raises his fist to those that he feels have defiled the temple. Everyone is saved, but there are those who are not. If a conspiracy is a foot, they didn’t do a great job of it. The first gospel is dated at around 70CE while the only contemporary writings are from Paul and he admits none of it comes from eye witness accounts but from “revelations.” So if this thing is being made up, perhaps have “Paul” put in a reference to when they were hanging out together. Conspiracies of this magnitude wouldn’t leave clues to the lie, despite what internet sleuths say regarding the moon landing, JFK, or 9/11. We might also have stories of his childhood, or something like that: cool stuff with dragons and raising birds back to life or whatever.

Finally, and this is probably my weakest assumption: where is the documentation of the argument over this character? Unless there was a guy in the second century named Jesus, who just backdated a bunch of stories with his name on it, there would have to be some kind of conflict over what that person did. Now maybe this is an explanation for the contradictory stuff, but I’m going to apply Occam’s razor and just say, “while contradictory, the multiple stories are best made up by individuals dressing up stories they heard from a guy who knew a guy who dated their third cousin.”

All of that is premise to my introduction to a series I’m going to do whereby I read through a book titled, “Jesus By a Preponderance of the Evidence” by Robert Palaszewski. This book is going to prove the divine Jesus and the truth of Christianity. The summary on the back says that it’s for “seekers and open minded skeptics alike.” This entire post’s point has been to show that while I’m an atheist, I’m also not susceptible to an argument just because I want it to be true…and believe me nothing would warm the cockles of my heart more than finding out the entire thing was based on what a couple of guys made up way back when.

I’ve done no pre-reading, and will only prepare as much as necessary for each post. Ill be posting these on the first Monday of every month. Starting now (by that I mean this is post 1).

 

A New Gospel

March 27, 2017 Leave a comment

I’ve gotten into a lot of arguments in the last ten years or so concerning the mixture of politics and religion. My consistent position is that politics and religion should not officially mix. I stress “officially” because it would be wrong to prevent a religious person from entering politics, but their should be no official religious position of the government. What irks me is the faux oppression they try and brag about. “I don’t know why people hate us just for worshipping Jesus,” or “They just¬†hate us because our conservative views are just like Jesus.” Or some variation of that theme.

Let’s clear the air, no one hates these people because they are Christian, what I hate is the sheer blatant hypocrisy of the religious right’s position. I mean, they can’t stand up and talk about how the country is going to hell because we’re abandoning religion while they vote, or tell others to vote, in a manner that is completely contradictory to the very words of the book that allegedly instructs their entire life. A frequent rejoinder in the podcast “God Awful Movies” is that the people who are trying to end war, feed everyone, and cure disease are portrayed as the villains (especially in the apocalypse movies) who must be stopped at all costs. Despite the gospels explaining that feeding the sick, ending war (sort of), and curing illness is the duty of the Christians. I’m obviously not a religious person, but if there is a god, I doubt it appreciates the lip service instead of actions.

Issues such as poverty and healthcare the self-proclaimed, most religious, seem to have the position that the poor should starve and the sick die unless they can find a way to help themselves. Refugees and those in dire situations need to be turned away unless we can 100% certify that they are not dangerous. Both of those positions are in absolute stark contrast to the teachings of the bible, and apparently it’s up to an atheist to elucidate this (to be fair I’ve mentioned the various Christian groups that have come out publicly against the immigration bans).

With all that in mind, I’ve decided to undertake the task of rewriting some of the stories so that Christian theocrats, the ultra right, and the oddly named “freedom caucus” can have a biblical basis for their political views. We’re starting with “The Good Samaritan.”

Luke 10:25|And, Behold, a certain lawyer stood up, and tempted him, saying, Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life? (26) He said unto him, What is written in the law? how readest thou? (27) And he answering said, Thou shalt love the Lord they God with all they heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all they mind; and thy neighbor as thyself.” (28) And he said unto him, “Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live.” (29) But he, realizing that he hadn’t read the law because there was a lot of it, and the answer he gave isn’t actually in there, sought clarification, “And who is my neighbor?” (30) And Jesus answering said, “A certain man went from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, which stole his raiment, wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. (31) And by chance there came down a certain priest that way: and when he saw him he thought, “meh, that’s probably someone else’s problem and I have these scrolls to pass out to all of the farmers so that they become aware of the crime of planting two different crops in the same fields.” (32) Likewise a Levite, when he was at the place, came and looked on him, and passed by on the other side thinking, “I will tell the first Legion I see, but for now I must protest those natural philosophers who are claiming that rabbits don’t chew their cuds.” (33) But a certain Samaritan as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him he thought, “This person is in great need of care, probably due to a vicious assault. I should help that person.” (34) As he was getting ready to help, another Samaritan approached and lo, he did ask, “What are you doing?” (35) The man did answer, “helping this man who was attacked.” (36) The second man did answer in reply, “You know not what you do, for this man could be a robber himself, he could be a murderer, or beggar. Do you know this man, of where he is from, or wherefore he ends up lying in this road?” (37) “I do not, he is to me as you are.” (38) “Then must needs, leave him be. For these questions we know the answer not, and the risk be too great if we bring him to our hearth. No, better to leave him to help himself, rather than he learn to live on the charity of others.” (39)¬† Jesus finished asking, “Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbor unto him that fell among the thieves?” (40) And he said, “All save one, the first thus because his errand was to spread the law, the second as to dispute teaching contrary to the law, and the fourth thus for making sure that the injured person was no threat.” (41) Teacher, the lawyer replied, “what about the third?” (42) “The third only invites calamity unto his house. For is it not written in the law that one should take care with those in whom thy charity lies?” (43) Now it came to pass, as they went, that he entered into a certain village: and a certain woman named Martha received him into her house. (44) And she had a sister called Mary, which also sat at Jesus’ feet, and heard his word. (45) Martha, was busy with the serving, and came to him, and said, “Lord, dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone? Bid her therefore that she help me.” (46) And Jesus answered and said unto her, “No.”

 

An Atheist’s Perspective: The Lesson of Doubting Thomas

February 26, 2014 1 comment

One of the strangest and most infuriating experiences of changing from one belief system to non-belief (or any other belief) is the look back to the lessons of that a person just accepted because they were told. Realizing that most of the time I was not permitted to make any kind of judgment about the lesson. I was told at the outset what the conclusion that I was supposed to draw was, then given the lesson. There was a system to it. Take Noah’s Ark, the lesson was that god would never destroy the people of the earth again and that is a good thing. I was never permitted to ask or even try to understand how it was that every single person on the planet was so evil, so wicked, that divine wrath was the only way out (this is ignoring the logistical problems which make the story extremely improbable to the point of being impossible). The story of Job is taught to reflect the value of faith and dedication first. It’s never taught whether or not it was immoral for god to even make the bet with Satan. One of the more subtle stories of my religious education was that of Doubting Thomas.

The title of the story gives away the lesson that you are supposed to learn, that doubting is somehow a stigmatizing characteristic which given the communication of all the other lessons means that doubting is bad. Right before I even heard the story my young self was drawing the conclusion that I did not want to be Thomas with his doubt. This is also the only time we ever hear of Thomas aside from a roll call test in which I was supposed to be able to name all twelve of Jesus’s buddies. He simply only exists for this one purpose.

Revisiting the story now, it is tough because like most New Testament stories it seems so much bigger than it actually is. It’s actually tucked away in the back of the gospels…only it’s not there either. The problem is that doubting Thomas only doubts for John 20: 24-29, five verses and an entire group of people…I’m getting ahead of myself.

The story is, and this will be probably longer than the actual story, that Jesus dies on the cross then comes back to life. He makes a collection of appearances and at one point he appears to eleven of the apostles. See, Thomas is out on a beer run or whatever and he misses it. The other apostles tell Thomas what they have seen and he doesn’t believe it. He tells the others that he needs to not only see Jesus but also put his fingers in some wounds, only then will he believe. Eight days later (this is so important that it gets mentioned specifically unlike most of the details that gospels leave out), Jesus reappears to the Apostles and Thomas gets to see the wounds, touching them and believing. Jesus comments that Thomas is good for believing, but true goodness is for those that believe without evidence. Forever now, Thomas is a bad person.

If, however, the story is looked at objectively is Thomas really wrong for doubting? What he is being told is that a friend of his, someone that he knew for a couple of years and was publicly executed was now walking around having beaten death. He has done what no person in the world, aside from Lazarus who disappears from history has done. It would seem that wanting evidence some kind of evidence would be necessary.

It’s important to remember that the other Apostles didn’t believe without proof either, they are eye witnesses. They saw Jesus, so Thomas isn’t the only person that believed without evidence. It’s a curious fact that gets dropped from all of the lessons that I was given as a kid. We just accepted that the other apostles were better than Thomas without considering that they already had the evidence Thomas was asking for. He only doubted because he hadn’t been with the others when they had seen.

The lesson of the story is that belief without evidence is a virtue. If that is the case then why are we taught the lesson at all? If belief is more important than knowledge, than why as a young kid was I given the knowledge of the story? Shouldn’t they have just let me try and believe without having any of the story or is there some kind of line where the evidence is sufficient but beyond that line the evidence is begins to lessen the virtue of the belief?

Ultimately the story serves to demonize doubt and skepticism. IF you question you are a worse off than someone who just believes everything that they were told no matter how preposterous. The story that Thomas is being told is preposterous, in modern parlance that would be like someone telling me that my car all of the sudden was a silver Aston Martin. I would need to look, because coming back from the dead is just as incredible as my car turning into a Bond mobile. I would think that if, like Ken Ham suggests, rationality is a gift from the divine then shouldn’t it be a virtue to actually engage it? The story serves to make to drop a final nail in the coffin of questioning. It’s a simple story that attempts to end the idea that some stories need evidence, they need support before they are relegated to being nothing more than fairy tales. Which is how we know that this story never happened.