2012-06-24

Hoffmann’s Ersatz Response to Mythicism

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by Neil Godfrey

The opening publication of R. Joseph Hoffmann, the leader of “The Jesus Process: A Consultation on the Historical Jesus”, is a curious puzzle of blended words and concepts that have the power to overwhelm his choir with the sense that they are listening to a view so original, unique and erudite that they are bound to think:

Now here is our prophet! I do not understand what he is saying but it is clearly incomprehensibly deep. I must bookmark this and tackle it again another day when I will not feel so intellectually incompetent if I do not understand his every word. Till then, I will highly praise and recommend it to others . . . .

Unless I have misunderstood Hoffmann’s publication (he speaks of his blog post as an “essay” “now published!” along with much terminological pretentiousness such as “Process”, “Consultation”, copyright insignia) he almost entirely avoids the question of whether or not Christianity began with an historical Jesus. That appears not to be his intention at all. For Hoffmann, the historicity of Jesus is a given. Hoffmann describes his essay

as a preface of sorts to a more ambitious project on the myth theory itself and what we can reliably know – if anything — about the historical Jesus.

The question of what we can know about the historical Jesus has been the starting point of all hitherto quests we have seen for the historical Jesus. Necessarily it begins with the assumption that there is indeed an historical Jesus to know about.

Hoffmann sums up the myth theory itself as

largely incoherent, insufficiently scrupulous of historical detail, and based on improbable bead-string analogies . . . . [guilty of] methodological sloppiness with respect to the sources and their religious contexts . . . . [and] almost entirely based on an argument from silence, especially the “silence” of Paul.

One has to wonder why any such theory is deserving of any scholarly attention at all or how Hoffmann himself can ever justify his own history of support for the mythicist team.

If the fear is that a misguided public are ignorantly being persuaded by arguments so inept, then why not present a simple and direct point by point exposure of the sham? Hoffmann would respond to this question by declaring that such point by point exposures have been published since 1912 —

  • S. J. Case, The Historicity of Jesus (Chicago, 1912)
  • F. C. Conybeare, The Historical Christ (London, 1914)
  • Maurice Goguel, Jesus the Nazarene, Myth or History (London 1928; rpt. Amherst, 2008)
  • R. T. France, The Evidence for Jesus (London, 1986)
  • Morton Smith, “The Historical Jesus,” in Jesus in History and Myth, ed. R.J. Hoffman and G.A Larue (Amherst, 1986)

Yet bizarrely the same R. Joseph Hoffmann who writes in his Jesus Process essay that Goguel’s arguments are a “clear refutation” of mythicism, and who in the Introduction in a reprint of Goguel’s book wrote that

Goguel poses real challenges to the theory that Jesus never existed (p. 35)

also wrote on this blog two years ago that Goguel’s arguments were “weak and dated“, that the reprint of his book had “historical interest” but was otherwise “pretty insignificant“, that to demolish his arguments, as Doherty has done, is nothing worth mentioning, and that the myth theory is kept at arms length from academia for reasons other than its intrinsic merits:

The work is of some historical interest, but I agree that his arguments are weak and dated, but deserve exposure and examination for that reason. I don’t think it a particularly valorous or useful act to “demolish” them; but you may have other reasons for calling this pretty insignificant reprint to task. Anyway, I highly recommend the fruitfulness of having a look at the succession of French scholarship, beginning with Renan and Loisy even, but certainly including Guignebert (Loisy’s pupil for awhile) and the Protestant Goguel. I should also mention that the biggest reason for the shyness of scholars with respect to the non-historicity thesis had/has to do with academic appointments (as in security thereof) rather than common sense. As a middle-of-the road Hegelian like Strauss discovered.

Hoffmann also wrote in the same Introduction that

Goguel is by far superior to other defenders* of historicity . . . . (p. 32)

His footnote to “defenders” singles out only one name: Shirley Jackson Case. So one must wonder why Hoffmann sees fit to post a chapter of Case’s book given that he has written that Goguel’s arguments, “weak and dated” and easily demolished today though they are, are nonetheless “far superior” to anything Case has written!

Given these words of Hoffmann from June 2010, we must conclude that our scholar has been undergoing some struggle with his deconversion from mythicism. The same words may further help explain Hoffmann’s often logically and factually flawed and incoherent attacks on mythicism, his vicious personal assaults against Carrier, Doherty and yours truly, and some of his less than comprehensible arguments for historicism.

Strange description of the “Christ-myth” thesis and the threat it poses

Hoffmann writes that mythicism is “an argumentative approach to the New Testament” that is “based on the theory that the historical Jesus . . . did not exist.”

This essay is in part an attempt to clarify procedural issues relevant to what is sometimes called the “Christ-myth” or “Non-historicity” thesis—an argumentative approach to the New Testament based on the theory that the historical Jesus of Nazareth did not exist.

Does Hoffmann really mean this? Does he really believe that mythicism is itself an assumption that Jesus does not exist that is seeking to justify itself by “an argumentative approach” to the New Testament? If so, he is not giving himself any room for honest engagement with mythicist arguments. To declare your opponent as merely being “argumentative”, or seeking to rationalise an assumption, from the start is to declare that you have no intention of taking seriously anything your opponent has to say. Shut down the debate. Shirley Jackson Case has said it all.

Hoffmann approvingly quotes Morton Smith’s response to mythicist G. A. Wells faulting him for supposedly arguing “mainly from silence”. In the original chapter Smith did not dispute the silence but, as far as I am aware, nor did he address the arguments of Wells that Paul was not silent about what he did believe about Jesus. When mythicists point out that the Christ myth is attested in the pre-Gospel literature — the epistles (not only Paul’s), Hebrews and Revelation — historicists, Morton Smith included, reply that absence of evidence is not evidence of absence of an historical Jesus. Silence is something to be explained, says Morton Smith. The historicist theory must hold despite the silence.

Hoffmann sees his own role as leading the scholarly guild to its salvation, a position thrust upon him since he appears to be the only one capable of the task:

I have come to regard this thesis as fatally flawed and subject to a variety of objections that are not often highlighted in the academic writings of New Testament scholars. The failure of scholars to take the “question of Jesus” seriously has resulted in a slight increase in the popularity of the non-historicity thesis, a popularity that—in my view—now threatens to distract biblical studies from the serious business of illuminating the causes, context and development of early Christianity.

Framework

Hoffmann begins his essay with by presuming Jesus’ historicity and the assurance that the New Testament itself is the most extensive evidence for this “fact”:

While the New Testament offers the most extensive evidence for the existence of the historical Jesus . . .

So here the door appears to be shut in the faces of anyone — New Testament scholars included — who has argued that the Gospels are literary and theological fictions.

Hoffmann continues:

. . . the [NT] writings are subject to a number of conditions that have dictated both the form and content of the traditions they have preserved.

That is, he begins with the conventional assumption that the NT writings are preserving historical traditions. It is this assumption that mythicism questions. But Hoffmann ignores the question as if it doesn’t exist and crashes on through:

These conditions did not disappear with the writing of the first gospel, nor even with the eventual formation of the New Testament canon. They were expressly addressed by Christian writers in the second and third century who saw an incipient mythicism as a threat to the integrity of the message about Jesus.

This will be news to many of Hoffmann’s peers who have always insisted that one of the arguments against mythicism is that there never was any controversy at all over whether Jesus was mythical or not in the early history of the Church.

But Hoffmann is only warming up. He moves on to argue that the early Church writings were both preserving and separating the received traditions about Jesus, or what was “known” about Jesus, from what was “believed” about him and from “the corrosive effects of a pervasive salvation myth” that had become attached to him.

Hoffmann believes that the Gospel authors were never completely overwhelmed by salvation myth or credulity and thus were able to record in their works

a stubbornly historical view of Jesus . . . reliable information about his life and teachings.

Future essays by Hoffmann will no doubt inform us whether his views of what content is historically reliable coincide with the passages voted red by the Jesus Seminar. Hoffmann does appear to be disagreeing with his peers who have argued that the Christ of the Gospels is a Christ of faith (only) and that any historical content has to be recovered from “beneath” the text by means of various criteria.

The historical Jesus, Hoffmannn believes, was a teacher —

like dozens of other Hellenistic teachers.

The difference was that Jesus lacked “sophisticated ‘biographers’ to preserve his accomplishments”. The “only” reason Jesus is distinct from the others in the record is that his memory was perpetuated though the ritual and worship of the cult that formed around him. On the other hand, other ancient figures who were worshiped through their own cultic following are known to us “through literary artifacts”. Jesus only had “texts” to preserve his memory alongside his cult.

Jesus is distinct only because the cult that formed around him perpetuated his memory in ritual, worship, and text, while the memory of other attested personalities of antiquity, even those who enjoyed brief cultic popularity like Antigonus I, Ptolemy I and Demetrius of Macedon are known to us mainly through literary artifacts.

Hopefully follow-up essays by Hoffmann will explain the difference between “texts” and “literary artifacts”. Does he mean that the “texts” perpetuating the memory of Jesus were influenced by the ritual and worship of Jesus while other “literary artifacts” were not because the “cultic popularity” of other figures was only “brief”? But Hoffmann has also said that the “texts” contain “reliable information about [Jesus’] life and teachings” and a “stubbornly historical view” of him.

Hoffmann’s essay continues with a discussion of “The Literary Matrix” of the gospels. I may or may not address that section in a future post. Those efforts may be brief, however, since I find it difficult to see their relevance to the mythicist debate. They are also based in part on some factual errors about ancient historians such as Livy.

21 Comments

  • ROO BOOKAROO
    2012-06-24 11:25:15 UTC - 11:25 | Permalink

    This is a comment I posted on the “The Three Brusque-Fakirs — The Jesus Process© Hits the Web” by Tim Widowfield (May 29, 2012), in the midst of a discussion about Hoffmann’s peculiar literary style. Only because I was unaware of today’s coming post. I repeat it here, only because it belongs more appropriately in today’s discussion.

    Interestingly, here is an evaluation of Hoffmann’s style by a Biblical scholar. This is by C.P. Bammel, reviewing Hoffmanns’ book on “Marcion: on the restitution of Christianity” (1984) in JTS 39 (1988), p. 227-232
    “His writing bears the mark of an insufficiently pruned dissertation (e. g. rather involved and tortuous argumentation, overloaded and often irrelevant footnotes, copious background information of a rather elementary variety, the attitude that any assertion can be made so long as a footnote follows…Hoffmann’s work is marred by misunderstanding and misinterpretation of the sources referred to…Hoffmann makes elementary howlers…Misprints are too numerous to list in full here, but they involve many proper names as well as errors in Greek, Latin and German quotations, and on occasion render the English text meaningless.”

    Quoted by Sebastian Moll in “The Arch-Heretic Marcion” (Tübingen, 2010), with a whole section devoted to Hoffmann’s book on Marcion, p. 6-8. Hoffmann is described as having “bold vision”, but lacking “a readiness to check any such new insight by careful attention to the detailed evidence.”
 Hoffmann then managed to undermine his own work further when he tried to defend it by stating that he simply “intended to argue a case (hence the very deliberate use of the word ‘essay’ in the subtitle) rather than to reach firm conclusions”. p. 7

  • Billy
    2012-06-24 13:51:50 UTC - 13:51 | Permalink

    To be honest.. my guess is that Richard Carrier so angered Hoffman over the “Sources of the HJ..” controversy that it made him blow a circuit. And now Hoffman is so hysterical inside that he is on a Jihad against ALL mythicists.. that’s the impression i get anyway.

    • 2012-06-24 22:29:20 UTC - 22:29 | Permalink

      He certainly comes across as a troubled soul. The Jesus Process (C) appears to be a most unhappy, lonely, pretentious and desperate trio.

      • ROO BOOKAROO
        2012-06-25 01:44:54 UTC - 01:44 | Permalink

        The more so that the “Jesus Project” ended up in fiasco, and the “Jesus Process” no better.
        Selecting this strange crew for this new effort was also puzzling. He could not interest anybody more meaningful or believable?
        He might have done better going it alone. But their shenanigans created controversy, commotion, and traffic.
        There’s something of the showman in Hoffmann, more interested in making a splash, impressing and dazzling than desirous to inform, instruct or convince.
        The hermetic language is part of the act. The avalanche of notes as well. Proposing far-out projects that don’t deliver also.
        Overall, an intriguing character.

    • Billy
      2012-06-25 09:13:10 UTC - 09:13 | Permalink

      yah.. honestly, my feeling was that between Hoffman, Casey and what’s her face(?) there was more axe grinding going on than anything. I’m more of a hobbyist at these matters so I didn’t feel competent to weigh in on their blog posts… although I did see alot of overly pretensious jargon and questionable reasoning. Hoffman appears to pretend to be so subtle and refined in his views that he is difficult to pin down by lesser minds.. although this image he is trying to cultivate is obviously a charade without much substance behind it, i suspect. His wordy and overly cryptic style reminds me of people like Derrida…. which is petty transparent, annoying, and ultimately highly vacuous.

      • 2012-06-25 23:55:24 UTC - 23:55 | Permalink

        “Orwell saw the destiny of the human species, and he put forth a convulsive effort to wrench it off its path. Orwell’s weapon was clear writing. Orwell knew that muddled language is muddled thinking; he knew that human evil and muddled thinking intertwine like conjugate strands of DNA:

        ‘If you simplify your English, you are freed from the worst follies of orthodoxy. You cannot speak any of the necessary dialects, and when you make a stupid remark its stupidity will be obvious, even to yourself.’ “

  • Blood
    2012-06-25 02:30:18 UTC - 02:30 | Permalink

    “Hoffmann sums up the myth theory itself as ‘largely incoherent, insufficiently scrupulous of historical detail, and based on improbable bead-string analogies…'”

    As if the “historicist theory” was not all of those things! A dozen or more proposed “historical Jesus” models are hardly the mark of coherence. Crossan is the only scholar honest enough to admit that the situation is an embarrassment.

  • 2012-06-25 05:19:32 UTC - 05:19 | Permalink

    “Now here is our prophet!” Indeed a prophet, as the samaritan prophet is the historical Jesus. John [48 KJV] Then answered the Jews, and said unto him, Say we not well that thou art a Samaritan, and hast a devil? [49] Jesus answered, I have not a devil; but I honour my Father, and ye do dishonour me.”

    Well, we knew that already, much since Josephus told Jesus´ story in his Antiquities of the Jews, book 18, chapter 4: “1. BUT the nation of the Samaritans did not escape without tumults. The man who excited them to it was one who thought lying a thing of little consequence, and who contrived every thing so that the multitude might be pleased; so he bid them to get together upon Mount Gerizzim, which is by them looked upon as the most holy of all mountains, and assured them, that when they were come thither, he would show them those sacred vessels which were laid under that place, because Moses put them there (12) So they came thither armed, and thought the discourse of the man probable; and as they abode at a certain village, which was called Tirathaba, they got the rest together to them, and desired to go up the mountain in a great multitude together; but Pilate prevented their going up, by seizing upon file roads with a great band of horsemen and foot-men, who fell upon those that were gotten together in the village; and when it came to an action, some of them they slew, and others of them they put to flight, and took a great many alive, the principal of which, and also the most potent of those that fled away, Pilate ordered to be slain.” Blindfolds on and look another way now, all christian scholars.

    But if you venture on a quest to find out more about the historical person behind the Christ mythos, including the story if the resurrected Christ, you have to turn your eyes to James the Just. As long as scholars haven´t reached the insight of separating Jesus and the Christ their quest will forever just be a game of vanity preserving christian traditions and keeping the public in the dark about the true origins of the christian folksaga of Jesus Christ.

  • 2012-06-25 10:53:46 UTC - 10:53 | Permalink

    On the subject of Hoffmannic Antics, I’ve been trying to track down the earliest use of the word “mythtic.” So far I’ve found a Scrooge McDuck comic book from 1961 (republished in 1969), in which Donald, Scrooge, and the three great-nephews — Huey, Dewey, and Louie — appear in the great “Mythtic Mystery”!

    http://www.ebay.com/itm/UNCLE-SCROOGE-34-BARKS-MYTHTIC-MYSTERY-1961-VG-/220541273368#ht_500wt_925

    http://www.ebay.com/itm/Walt-Disneys-Uncle-Scrooge-82-FN-6-5-Mythtic-Mystery-/270342018775

  • 2012-06-25 13:04:02 UTC - 13:04 | Permalink

    Hoffman needs an intervention. In his latest Processed Cheeses outing he used a kappa instead of a chi and came up with this gem:

    “Insofar as Paul cares anything about real time, it is God’s time in relation to a historical event he cares about, the pleroma tou kronou (Gal 4.4-7).”

    I think the best translation of that phrase would be “the fullness of Saturn.”

    Of course, he meant to write: τὸ πλήρωμα τοῦ χρόνου . . . or “to plērōma to khronou (or chronou)”


    Update:

    According to Google translate: “τὸ πλήρωμα τοῦ κρόνου” == “the crew of Saturn” or “Saturn’s crew”

    • Billy
      2012-06-25 17:08:00 UTC - 17:08 | Permalink

      given what a hard ass Hoffman is on other people, i have to admit that when he slips up like that it is enormously funny!

      • 2012-06-25 17:31:06 UTC - 17:31 | Permalink

        I suppose it would be unfairly “piling on” to mention that jealousy and envy are two different things. It appears, however, that a certain super-genius doesn’t know that.

        [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=STeVTzWelns]

        Wile E. Hoffmann. Super-Genius.

    • 2012-06-25 19:43:59 UTC - 19:43 | Permalink

      Hofmann’s words immediately preceding his remark about the crew of Saturn are: “It is superficially clear that Paul understands this crucifixion as a real event, not as an historically ambiguous “moment” that happened once upon a time—his time, or someone else’s time.”

      One reads this sort of thing fairly frequently among those thinking to oppose mythicism. They are simply not paying attention or have never stopped to think about the issues. Of course Paul understands the crucifixion as a “real” event. It’s as if they think mythicists are arguing that Paul thought of Jesus as a myth in the same sense as a modern who knows myths are not real. It’s bizarre how often one encounters this sort of “rebuttal”.

      What has happened to Joseph Hoffmann? His latest tirade does not even attempt to grapple with any mythicist argument I know of. Is Carrier right? Has he lost his mental balance?

    • 2012-06-27 01:15:00 UTC - 01:15 | Permalink

      Errm, not to nitpick, but Kronos is the Titan; father of Zeus. Saturn is Kronos’ Roman equivalent.

  • 2012-06-25 23:58:24 UTC - 23:58 | Permalink

    absence of evidence is not evidence of absence

    I have to disagree.

  • ROO BOOKAROO
    2012-06-26 05:49:50 UTC - 05:49 | Permalink

    ALERT! This is a 2,000 word comment.
    But for us, who are used to devouring 10,000-word and even 28,000-word articles by our friend Doherty, this is nothing to be afraid of.

    Hoffmann’s visceral hatred of mythicists is astounding.
    Can it be explained by his irrational attachment to his beloved Jesus?
    With him, we are confronted by powerful emotional investments, not with purely objective, abstract analyses of language and meanings.

    As Thomas Edison and Robert Ingersoll suggested, is Hoffmann’s attitude due to his early exposure to Catholicism during his youth? A psychological entanglement he’s never been able to discard? Is he still haunted by a “lost in a distant past” Catholicism?
    Is Hoffmann a lapsed Catholic? Or just a secular disguised one?

    His frequent defense of the Catholic Church and his fascination in the Catholic Church are undeniable. Plus, there’s the melancholy that surfaces here and there in some of his innuendoes bemoaning that the Catholic Church has lost some of its original integrity and “purity”, etc…Is Hoffmann another crusader for the restoration of genuine Catholicity?

    Let’s look at some of his recent writings, to see if we find any clue.

    Catholics and the Contraceptive Conscience » R. Joseph Hoffmann

    “The Church as church has every right to its doctrine and its view…The Catholic Church has lost significant moral persuasiveness in recent years by preaching on stage its gospel of life and sermonizing about the rights of the unborn, while behind the curtain abusing the born, the vulnerable and the old as “human weaknesses” that the laity should learn to comprehend and forgive. The denial of contraceptive rights to women as a fundamental part of health care is just another example of this malignant behavior…

    Because of its antiquity, the rules and pronouncements of the Catholic church are not often compared to those of other denominations; after all, in addition to being the world’s largest owner of private hospitals it is the world’s most ancient monarchy. To a large extent, its theology has defined both the institution of marriage, the nature of the family, and the conflicting duties individuals face in their religious life and as citizens.

    The church has argued and will continue to argue that the City of Man is the imperfect representation of the City of God–to which the church stands nearer because of its privileged position as guardian of timeless truths. Once again, the Church is free to believe this. It is not anyone else’s duty to accept it as true…
    But the church as an owner of corporations is not acting in the same role as the Church as the avowed dispenser of God’s grace through teaching and the sacraments. Its ecclesiastical privileges cannot extend into its social involvements and projects.

    What the Church claims to do for the salvation of souls is one thing: if you believe it, and it doesn’t hurt animals, by all means continue to do it.”

    Here, we feel that Hoffmann is trying to salvage both sides of the fence: on one side, limiting the Church to its spiritual mission, and on the other safeguarding the principles and values of the modern secular world of America.

    Hoffmann may not be an apologist of Catholic doctrine, of course, but he certainly is a secular defender of the ancestry and fundamental importance of the Catholic Church institution.
    His fondness for Jesus, and his vacillations about historicity are a most salient marker.
    There are more…

    Genetics 101 » R. Joseph Hoffmann

    “Atheists have, theoretically, the ability to become believers. Believers have the power to become atheists. I know people who have gone in either direction and swing, like me, both ways. That’s the routine.”

    Hoffmann does clearly admit to having been a believer (in his youth).

    What an Unbeliever Believes: A Prelude to Winter in a Secular Season

    “I am happy to call Christmas and not “the Holiday season” or “Winterfest” or “Solstice.”

    I have a weak spot. I actually love religious music. Bach and Handel spun the most amazing cantatas and oratorios out of the Christian myth. They are irreplaceably wonderful.

    Beyond that, the sheer melodic simplicity of “Silent Night” (perhaps the best song ever written) and the shivering loneliness of “In the Bleak Midwinter” stir the poet in any human soul. “Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone.”…

    No one should object to a little religious indulgence. If you feel guilty, work it off at the lab.

    I don’t believe that Jesus, if there was one, was born in a manger, but I think the idea of pure, naked, vulnerable–even unwelcome–humanity as expressed in religious nativity art and poetry is humbling and moving. And I think the end of the same story, as an allegory of our humanity, naked and vulnerable at the end, is not a contradiction of dignity but an acknowledgment of mortality…

    Humanists need constantly to remind themselves that non-belief is not the same as living well or facing death courageously. I think, personally, that mangers and crosses are as relevant to my humanity as the visions of Apollo and the pleasures of Dionysus. They are what matter. They are balance and proportion, 阴阳, yin and yang, not that which is opposite, but that which cannot be measured in ordinary terms.”

    The humanism defined here by Hoffmann is a secular version of Christian values, not Protestant, but definitely Catholic.
    Again, this essay and the feelings and aesthetic sensibility disclosed in there could not have been written if Hoffmann had not been a believer in his youth, and I would bet, a Catholic believer. This sensibility was trained in childhood. This is not something one acquires reading books on biblical studies or taking classes for a degree.

    More generally, from a stylistic viewpoint, as we’ve often noticed, Hoffmann’s love of ambiguity is usually a mark of Catholic writing, rarely of Protestant writing.
    I have read too much of both not to spot the difference. Granted, it’s a subjective assessment, but it has value.

    But, as we’re about to see, the evidence does get clearer.

    Religiophobia » R. Joseph Hoffmann

    “Yes, it does sound just like the nun who told you to give up looking at dirty magazines during math class. Or maybe I have given away too much of my eighth grade year at St Joseph School…

    Is this a teenage anger pathology that comes from a passive fear of the gods? A bad church experience that stems from the awakening that Pastor Bob (or Sister Mary Therese) lied to you about…everything? The possibility that despite social approval of your atheism, your private doubts sometimes clash with that approval and put unreasonable and seductive thoughts in your head–a hankering for a ten o’lock sermon or a quick Mass at St Aloysius?…

    Until the day that happens and the First Amendment is repealed, which is what the solution would require, reading Seneca and a little Marcus Aurelius or Lucretius on the gods would help: They had this phobia mastered long before Christian thinkers like Boethius took up the question.”

    Of course, Hoffmann never mentions the iniquities and monstrous policies of the Catholic Church in the past. He does not mention that Seneca, Marcus Aurelius, Lucretius were writing at a time when there didn’t exist any Catholic fury of destruction and persecution.
    He does not mention the indignation and disgust expressed by Voltaire or d’Holbach in the 18th century, when they stood so much closer to the totalitarian power of the Catholic Church and had to watch our for their skins.

    To recapture the horror felt during the Enlightenment, it’s enough to skim through Baron d’Holbach’s “Christianity Unveiled” (1761) or his “Letters to Eugenia” (1768) where he denounces the damage done to society with Christian morality, which in fact, results in the totalitarian control of mankind by the intolerant clergy of a despotic government.

    Catholic Choice: The Politics of No – R. Joseph Hoffmann – Open Salon Nov. 18, 2009

    “In 1960 everyone able to vote in my Catholic family voted for JFK because Catholics (like most Jews and African Americans) were Democrats. Catholics believed in the Trinity, going to confession, the rosary, and the special license of nuns to inflict bodily damage on adolescent knuckles.

    There was a “thing” called Catholic Culture, preserved in parish schools, loosely enforced by diocesan bishops, reinforced by the anti-communist television sermons of Bishop Sheen in Life is Worth Living…

    There was a picture of John XXIII in my eighth grade classroom, positioned close to the crucifix, close enough to encourage the belief that perhaps he had lived at the same time as Jesus.
    That’s when Paul VI spoiled our theory of the non-existence of the pope by publishing Humanae Vitae forbidding Catholics to take advantage of new techniques of contraception—the pill. It was a tough year to be an undergraduate dating a liberal Episcopalian…

    Sad, that when this consensus broke down, Catholics by and large were forced into an ethical corner– forced to choose between church and conscience, between a kind of laissez faire allegiance to the principles of Catholic teaching and a strangely robust “moral” voice coming from a church in liturgical disarray and sacramental crisis.

    But the real problem in all of this is one our culture doesn’t yet have its head around. It is the way in which the Catholic Church has forced some of its most loyal sons and daughters, especially those in political life, to leave home.”

    Including Hoffmann, hence his existential sadness.
    Hoffmann shows how concerned and obsessed he still remains by the problems of Catholicism and the Catholic Church, from his present “secular humanism” stance, more forced on him than spontaneously selected.

    One curious thing about Hoffmann is why he’s spent so many years teaching abroad.
    There are so many PhDs in the US, manufactured every year in such huge numbers that they can’t find decent jobs in US universities, except lowly-paid assistant positions, with little hope of tenure.
    This may be a likely reason why Richard Carrier has embarked on his vocation of a free-lance historian of Christianity. At least, religion discussion arouses interest everywhere, and can find an enormous market in the US. And Carrier is young, not (yet) one of those fuddy-duddies in departments of Religious Studies, and he does attract a huge, young crowd of followers.

    What’s in a name?

    What does this enigmatic R. stand for in Hoffmann’s name? Does anybody know? Why is it never revealed?
    Hoffmann insists that his is a German name, and gets flustered when it is (as too often) misspelled. He reminds us that authentic German names in “-mann” take two “nn”s (remember Thomas Mann?), while Jewish-derived names are more often written only with one “n”, like “Hoffman”.
    Which makes him sore about all those misspellings. The way to get under his skin is simply to call him “Joseph Hoffman”.

    So, from all this compiled evidence, there’s little doubt that Hoffmann’s immediate background is Catholic, his sensibility and affections are Catholic, his writing style is Catholic, and his way of thinking is marked by his Catholic upbringing. I occasionally wondered: was he ever exposed to the Jesuits?
    Even his ambiguity, his vacillations between one position and its opposite are inspired by a dee[ Catholic feeling of ambiguity. Historicism or mythicism? Too hard to decide for a convinced flip-flopper, never completely sure about his final position. Believer or non-believer? How about “agnostic”?
    Hoffmann seems to like projecting an impression of uncertainty and haziness behind an avalanche of complex, brilliant-sounding sentences, like floating in some mental cloud. He loves what the French call “le flou”, the vague mist where shapes are not clearly distinguishable. Not for him the harsh brightness of a Greek sunlight where ideal shapes and sharp contours immediately stand out, and bright Platonic ideas seem to emerge so naturally.
    There’s a lot of the showman in Hoffmann. He seems to have a need to dazzle and impress, much more so than to inform, instruct and convince. Clarity of communication is not his priority.

    So, in short, we have to call Hoffmann a secular, disguised, Catholic rather than a genuinely lapsed one. Still, he remains an intriguing, tantalizing, character, promising a lot, but offering much less in final account.

    • R J Hoffmann
      2012-06-26 09:39:11 UTC - 09:39 | Permalink

      I love the turquoise; I prefer taupe but if I were going to choose a colour to reduce gravitas when argument failed me, it’d be turquoise. I am really unclear however why general posts on religion fro NO are being used to connect to TJP. Wouldn’t your time be better spent looking at the details of the gospels than at the details of my punctuation?

      And then there are riveting moments like–
      ” Hoffmann insists [where?] that his is a German name, and gets flustered [where?} when it is (as too often) misspelled. He reminds us [where?] that authentic German names in “-mann” take two “nn”s (remember Thomas Mann?), while Jewish-derived names are more often written only with one “n”, like “Hoffman”.
      Which makes him sore about all those misspellings. The way to get under his skin is simply to call him “Joseph Hoffman” [really, where?].

      The enigmatic R stands for Raimund, my father’s name. What does your name sand for, I wonder?

      • 2012-06-26 10:47:28 UTC - 10:47 | Permalink

        If your opening paragraph is referring to my post, the colour is teal, not turquoise. Maybe you need to re-calibrate your monitor. But this is only a blog and what I write is only a post formatted with a few cheap tricks to make it easier for general readers (you know, those you call mosquitoes from the slums) to grasp quickly the argument’s flow and structure. But if you are speaking to me about my post you may need to be reminded that I was commenting on your original TJP(C) post, not some unrelated general post. I will leave the rest for Roo’s response.

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