2012-08-20

A little biographical footnote

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by Neil Godfrey

Sometimes it seems important to others who are hostile towards anyone who even offers a platform for a presentation of mythicist arguments to label them as extremists or weirdos, the evidence being that some of them once belonged to “an unusually weird religious background“.

For what it’s worth, in my own case, my formative religious years were in a relatively liberal (we were allowed to play cards and dance) Methodist church. I did opt to spend too many years in a religious cult but was eventually renounced by that cult. My sin was that I was always seeking to understand and question a little more deeply — no problem with that so long as it is kept private — and that this eventually led me to compile a bibliography that I posted (snail mail) to multiple scores of fellow cult members. That bibliography was a list of sources that members could turn to in order to learn “the other side of the story” about our cult.

You see, members are protected from information that helps them understand the full story of what they are a part of. I made it possible for many to locate that information if they so wished.

For my efforts I am proud to say that I was publicly denounced from pulpits throughout Australia as being “in the bond of Satan”. I am told that members were instructed to burn any letters from me or hand them in to the ministry unopened.

So what did I turn to?

Support group

After my departure I decided to try to turn my lost years into something positive. I placed a small advertisement in the local paper inviting anyone else who had been a cult member to join me in some sort of informal “talk-it-through” “support group”. I had read much about cults, the psychology employed, the experiences common to so many of them, and found some very helpful professional literature that offered guidance on rebuilding one’s life after the experience. A small group of us came together from various backgrounds — most of them were ex-Mormons (though one turned out to be still regularly attending the Mormon church). What was therapeutic for us, I think, was coming to see that not one of us was alone, that our experiences were not unique. That was an important step to regaining self-respect and a clearer understanding of what we had been through.

Beyond diversity, enriched by diversity

My religious life after that was essentially a return to my earlier Methodist outlook, which was fairly bland. Only this time I felt quite at home attending Baptist, Anglican and Roman Catholic church services. I liked the variety. The specific formats and differences were beside the point of what I felt “true religion” to be. I think, maybe, I even enjoyed the differences like someone fascinated by the diversity of human cultures.

It was only afterwards that I eventually moved to atheism. And quite a bit later still that I even heard of the Christ myth theory.

Attention to issues of this world

I became much more interested in social activism. This often involved us working with local churches — and I came to respect the contributions of certain local Catholic leaders in working with a bunch of socialists for social and political justice causes.  It was a time of political polarization in Australia and the rise of an extremist politician who was fanning racial and anti-Muslim prejudice. One of my responses was to contact the state leader of the Muslim community and to begin to arrange a series of public information sessions so that people could hear from Muslims themselves what they believed and what they were really like.

So . . .

So when scholarly mud-slingers resort to their labeling of me as an ex-cultist or such, as if that defines my outlook or mind-set ever since, I can only smile at their ignorance and misguided efforts to so label me.

I did not move from cultism to “mythicism”. That is an ignorant misrepresentation and nothing but an attempt to poison others against Christ myth arguments by means of a well-known logical fallacy.

If you are interested any further in how an “ex-fundie” might think, do read Tim’s post, How I Escaped Fundamentalism — 5 Myths about Ex-Fundies. One of the major points I share with Tim’s thoughts is how my past wayward religious experience has taught me humility — and just how easily I can be so wrong. So when I hear anyone today talking rhetoric I am very keen to keep my ear open for the evidence for their claims and what they say are “the facts”.

31 Comments

  • 2012-08-20 09:42:58 UTC - 09:42 | Permalink

    I feel like this pleasant comment from “commenter Fisher” is relevant to this “biographical footnote”:

    “As a member of the Worldwide Church of God [Godfrey] could not cope with the Jewishness of Jesus, and when he converted to atheism this did not change. As N.T. Wrong astutely observed, ‘Once a fundie always a fundie. He’s just batting for the other side, now.’ “

    • 2012-08-20 09:57:36 UTC - 09:57 | Permalink

      That is so funny! The Worldwide Church of God was always seen as a Jewish-Christian sect. We kept the Jewish holy days and food laws. We outfasted the Jews on many occasions. We even out-tithed them. We taught and exalted the Jewishness of Jesus! After leaving the cult I attended a local production of The Fiddler on the Roof and immediately felt a twinge of homesickness. I seriously thought about converting to Judaism for some time after that.

  • Blood
    2012-08-20 10:17:11 UTC - 10:17 | Permalink

    It’s also rich that it’s only been the latest generation of NT scholars who have become aware of “the Jewishness of Jesus.” One searches in vain for pre-1950s
    scholarship on the subject, as seemingly all Christian scholars prior to that time mindlessly repeated and defended the evangelists’ anti-Jewish poison.

    • 2012-08-20 10:30:20 UTC - 10:30 | Permalink

      I don’t buy the line that theologians were generally guided by anti-semitism. No doubt some were but we always have all kinds in any sizeable group. I think what has happened is that since the Second World War there has been a pro-Jewish reaction that has sought to undo sins of the past, and that this has led to a bias against scholarship that really did have very good scholarly grounds for stressing Hellenistic influences in early Christianity. We now have attempts to not only stress the Jewishness of Jesus (note the presumption of historicity, of course) but even to rehabilitate Judas. I think there’s been something of an overreaction that has led to some scholarship being trumped by ideology. But that seems to be slowly turning around now — especially among those scholars who are looking primarily at a literary explanation for the Gospels.

      • mP
        2012-08-20 11:47:50 UTC - 11:47 | Permalink

        But the NT itself is very much anti semitic, it blames ALL jews for killing the Messiah. When we encounter a Roman character they are always just, honest, fair and other good attributes. Take a look at the apostles, they are by their names and actions painted as violent, Peter and the slashing against the slave, the Sons of Thunder, Judas Iscariot (Sicarii) and so on. Does this stereotyping show some bias from the authors ? How can the Jews be blamed for killing Jesus, when in actuality, the actual criminal case was done under a Roman system. We also have Paul taking away other elements of Jewishness by opening up Jehovah to everybody else and removing many of their practices. We can see the apostles particularly Peter being particularly angry at having this taken away from them.

        I know motivations such as greed are the real answer for the many pogroms that the unfortunate Jews suffered over the last 2000 years, but the reason almost always given as killing Jesus. The NT has been the source of much anguish and pain, i cant help but wonder how different the world would have been for them if this blame had not been introduced. This has been the worst possible curse for them. If the Romans wanted to curse the Jews for being rebellious surely this has been a mighty revenge.

        • 2012-08-20 12:04:05 UTC - 12:04 | Permalink

          The anti-semitism in the New Testament cannot be extrapolated and applied to scholars who study the texts.

          • mP
            2012-08-20 14:14:48 UTC - 14:14 | Permalink

            Of course not, but surely it adds support to overall idea of Jesus being a Roman creation and thus be that extension myth inspired.

  • Niels Peter Lemche
    2012-08-20 13:04:36 UTC - 13:04 | Permalink

    hm!

    This is a sick business and has always been. Just remember Melanchton’s talk about the rabies of the theologians. There are good reasons for why theology is scorned by people in other scholarly environments. Take the maximalist – minimalist debate as an example and now this about mythicism and the study of a certain 1st century Jew. Apply some good old logic to the argumentation and leave the field with disgust.

    Neil’s story is telling. Never shared anything like it. Grew up in a quite wealthy home north of Copenhagen, in an absolutely non-religious environment. The first theologian in the family was a minister of the Danish church who married my cousin (much older than me), and he didn’t have time for the evangelical variety of religion. Studied theology because I was told that I could do whatever I liked, and so I have ever since.
    But getting into biblical studies and seeing the kind of arguments used in a so-called scholarly debate, that is simply disgusting.

    This is not to say that there is no meaningful debate possible, but my advice, ignore the sick attacks from fundies. Look at what happens when religion distorts the viewpoints of otherwise sensible people: Kenneth Kitchen is a good example: A fine egyptologist feared for his sharp criticism of other egyptologists, and still the author of 100% (James Barr) fundamentalistic books of the Old Testament..

    • 2012-08-20 18:12:03 UTC - 18:12 | Permalink

      “Apply some good old logic to the argumentation and leave the field with disgust.” — as I understand Bruno Bauer did.

      Rabies theologorum, rabid fury of the theologians — nothing has changed, has it.

      Thanks for the thoughts. They’ll serve me well.

  • Niels Peter Lemche
    2012-08-21 00:55:50 UTC - 00:55 | Permalink

    But you also see how it works: because I showed that the principal logic in biblical studies is circular, meaning that it is illegitimate, people seem to have decided to ignore my 2008 book. Practically no reviews. Not that I did not imagine it differently. But things are accepted in our field which in other fields would cause the offender to be banished.

    • Grog
      2012-08-21 03:08:53 UTC - 03:08 | Permalink

      Interestingly, the one-star review reads more like an endorsement:

      “If interested in exploring the mind-set of way-out theoretic rationalists who form an avant-gard movement away from the time-honored faith, this is a representative source. The author’s declaration that “God is and will remain an assertion” and not present in history (page 341) reveals his own assertive disposition. A reader unprepared for the challenges of 21st century “knowledge falsely so-called” (I Timothy 6:20) should access sources responding to the assertions of modern minimalists exemplified in this book. ”

      Added to my wish list.

    • 2012-08-21 16:35:59 UTC - 16:35 | Permalink

      Now that’s one book of yours I have overlooked. Will have to remedy that and perhaps discuss aspects of it here, too.

  • 2012-08-21 08:27:24 UTC - 08:27 | Permalink

    Oh my goodness! What can I say! 🙂 Here is Dr Joseph Hoffmann’s response to my above post: — he won’t say it here, of course. But it does look like he’s trying to tease me into some sort of provocation by writing outright falsehoods about this blog, all the while avoiding the fundamental theme and message of my post. (He has said my blog came to his attention in the first place because I called him out on his publication of a demonstrably dishonest claim about Earl Doherty.) I have to re-post it here because it really does need to be kept on record as a classic instance of “anti-mythicist” vacuity:

    http://rjosephhoffmann.wordpress.com/2012/08/19/the-jesus-problem-liberal-scarecrows-shadows-and-atheist-internet-experts/#comment-8839

    I am not sure there is anything in this piece about offering platforms; is it the case that the Meister of Vridar has not occasionally offered his views and tried to contravene others? Why the simpering innocence? There is nothing wrong with facilitation. At the same time, a platform that energetically puts Earl Doherty, Dorothy Murdock/Acharya S., Kenneth Humphreys and their few zealous supporters up as a scholarly front has, in my view, a long way to go. It isn’t just that their views are mutually and internally inconsistent, and thus no better than the worst liberal scholarship (in fact far worse), it is that you promote the fantasy that somehow these views all fall into place under a master theory. You can add Carrier (who has grown suspiciously tenatative, probably to avoid being piled on in public), Price, and Thompson to your stage, but I am not sure that would not simply complicate the picture further. Perhaps you see my point, that to facilitate what you faciliate actually makes the myth theory increasingly untenable because you have no apparatus for sorting out the sensible from the ridiculous and no voices who are doing the job convincingly.

    And to echo the falsehood and nonsense we have the inevitable Steph Fisher who demonstrates an equal incapacity to read. Having pointed out the nonsense of her accusation that my experience somehow led me to have a problem with the Jewishness of Jesus she now suggests that her point was that being too sympathetic to Jewishness means I must be anti-Muslim — despite what I wrote about my work with the State of Queensland’s Muslim community leader, not to mention other posts on this blog. (One also is reminded why I at one time had to ban Steph from commenting on this blog for breaking the fundamental rules of civil discourse.)

    From http://rjosephhoffmann.wordpress.com/2012/08/19/the-jesus-problem-liberal-scarecrows-shadows-and-atheist-internet-experts/#comment-8851

    “my past wayward religious experience has taught me humility” No it hasn’t. It taught him dishonesty. And perhaps not only to others, but also to himself. Taught him humility? If it had he should have realised this post isn’t about him. He isn’t even mentioned. Humble generally goes with truthful. He’s neither. As for supposed accusations of anti Jewishness – he doesn’t get it at all. It’s nothing to do with being ‘anti Jewish’. It’s the fact that the mythicist flaw is to reject historicity, and to do that it must first ignore any humanity as a Jewish human being. The mythtical flaw is to reject the image of a godman, which is a later Christian creation of the myth of the Christ, a myth that critical scholars refuted years ago. Fundamentalist Christians aren’t anti Jewish. Many fundamentalist Christians though, particularly in certain parts of the world and especially post 2001, are anti Muslim. They generally know nothing about Islam. Those fundamentalist Christians will support Israel in its war with Islam which demonstrates even more that fundamentalist Christians are not anti Jewish. Nobody is accusing anybody of being anti Jewish let alone Godfrey of being anti anything except a historically plausible figure.

    Ironically his simpering innocence and pretentions of humility in his post all about himself (with reference to Tim), responding to a post which isn’t about him, is called a biographical note. It is not. It is self centred autobiography – and far from convincing.

    These people are clearly simply spiteful. There is certainly no interest in any facts about me that contradict their fantasies. There is no argument. No interest in getting to know a fellow human being who espouses ideas they apparently find threatening. No scholarship. No honesty. Rabies theologorum.

    Others are right. They do not deserve a response. Anyone not in their choir can see them for what they are.

    Since writing the above I have since heard that Steph is saying she did not imply I was anti-Muslim. That’s nice to hear. (Maybe she’d also like to explain why she didn’t tell me that I had misunderstood her post.) I will have to try to avoid reading her comments so I don’t get confused about what she is saying in future.

    • Grog
      2012-08-21 10:53:04 UTC - 10:53 | Permalink

      RJH is demonstrably a hypocrite. I write him off these days as blowhard crank. Steph’s a groupie. That’s it. Wouldn’t bother with them to much, if I were you. You do us all a great service by maintaining this resource.

    • steph
      2012-08-21 21:29:57 UTC - 21:29 | Permalink

      Just a note for you Neil – I don’t like to intrude here again. I didn’t tell you directly because that would mean I had to come onto your site which is for the most part ‘hostile’ towards me and my colleagues (see Grog, Blood, Buckaroo, Steve etc) but fair enough – you suggest above that I should have told you directly although I thought you would know I wouldn’t want to come here. I don’t really want to ever have to comment here again. First I never accused you of being anti-Jewish in the first place. There is nothing further from the truth. You aren’t and neither are you ‘anti Muslim’. Obviously. Neither of us are or ever could be. The implication was that mythicists ignore a historically plausible figure, which given the gospel context of Jewish first century culture, would have been a Jewish human being. There is no accusation of being ‘anti-Jewish’ any more than there is an accusation of being ‘anti-human’ or ‘anti-men’. It’s a historical figure that I’m talking about. Mythicists focus on a godman, the myth of the Christ figure, which we all know was a later development of Christian tradition and not a realistic figure but something that never existed in reality at all. And the anti Muslim accusation? How so that interpretation?! Both you and I have independently been involved in positive ways in our own countries with Muslim groups and communities. I suggested that some Christian fundamentalists vote in favour of the state of Israel and support the Israeli government against Iran. I said ‘in some parts of the world’ – as an indirect reference to American Republicans in particular. The point of that was to reinforce the obvious, that I wouldn’t even accuse a fundamentalist Christian of being ‘anti-Jewish’. What I said was “Nobody is accusing anybody of being anti Jewish, let alone Godfrey of being anti ANYTHING, except a historically plausible figure.” – something you seem to have overlooked.:)

      • 2012-08-21 22:05:29 UTC - 22:05 | Permalink

        Steph, you did say “As a member of the Worldwide Church of God [Godfrey] could not cope with the Jewishness of Jesus . . .” — which I point out is absolute nonsense. It implies anti-semitism whichever way you try to look at it.

        You subsequently did speak of religious groups similar to the one of my past being anti-Muslim, and for that reason I understood you to be making an inference about me.

        In your other comment you accuse me of many other things. But if you read my post with any care you will see I am writing about Hoffmann’s article as being ‘about me’ — I am merely pointing to a phrase in his post to illustrate something that is found very often in anti-mythicist ad homina.

        When I point out some facts of my life that belie the accusations you and others level against me that I somehow flipped from cultism to some other extremism, never forsaking ‘cult-think’, you show you are not the least interested. You do not want to hear any facts that get in the way of your false fantasies about me.

        Why not try to be civil, even to someone sympathetic to mythicism? It won’t kill you. And coming here under the regular cover of some sort of victim-syndrome does you no credit either. If you come here to challenge others than be bold enough to do so but without calling everyone a liar or dishonest etc. Without your rabies theologorum. You may find others are more kindly disposed to you. But if you mix with scholars who are mud-slingers you will not learn better ways yourself.

        • steph
          2012-08-22 03:57:04 UTC - 03:57 | Permalink

          It is not ‘Jewishness’ specifically – it is an inference to humanity to distinguish from a divine godman. Fundamentalists generally consider Jesus as a divine figure, distinct from us, rather than as a human being no different from other human beings. I specifically said ‘some fundamentalists in some parts of the world’ assuming it was understood by people worldwide that post 2001 American fundamentalist Republicans are generally ‘anti Muslim’ (and generally without any understanding of Islamic history, culture or Muslim people and what they do and don’t believe). Why would they have anything to do with your past Christian group or you? Or me? I can’t believe you can misunderstand especially when I specifically said, nobody is accusing YOU of being anti anything except historically plausible human identity which I had implied in my original essay. . . . .

          [Neil: I have deleted the remainder of Steph’s lengthy reply because it broke several of the rules for comments on this blog that Tim had posted recently. Steph recently asked for evidence where the rules are applied here — she now has the evidence.]

          • 2012-08-22 05:26:10 UTC - 05:26 | Permalink

            Steph, you said that it was AS A MEMBER of the Worldwide Church of God that I could not cope with the “Jewishness” of Jesus. So your attempt to claim you did not mean Jewishness “specifically”, but a more general “humanity”, simply does not wash.

            Your further explanation only gets you deeper into ignorant accusations. The WWCG also taught the complete, total 100% humanity of Jesus — in contradistinction to other fundamentalist sects. It also taught that Jesus had another nature, but that this divine nature took nothing away from the complete, full humanity of Jesus. (He gave up his “godness” totally at the incarnation.) It also taught that we all had the same other nature that Jesus had, too, once baptized. The only bottom-line difference between Jesus and us was that Jesus prayed more and tried harder. Jesus had to struggle with his nature in exactly — exactly — the same way we all did.

            The WWCG was often attacked by other religions, fundamentalists included, for its “heretical” teaching on the nature of Jesus. So your attempt to say you meant “humanity” and not “Jewishness” “specifically” makes your attempt to extricate yourself with anything less than an apology less than satisfactory.

            You have accused me of a mindset based on what you have imputed into a sect or cult about which you know absolutely nothing. You simply stereotyped me and, along with Hoffmann and Casey, you have indeed said that I am still in “cultist” or “fundamentalist” or such mode of thinking now — “once a fundie always a fundie” is the expression I have heard that captures your (and your colleagues’) accusations. Getting hung up over semantics like whether “flip” is the correct word to use is merely a red herring.

            Coming here and attempting in some measure to sound civil after you have just posted outrageous personal attacks on me on another blog does not impress me with your sincerity, either.

            Your accusations are simply false and libelous. Trying to explain you meant something else now is only putting you into a deeper ditch.

  • 2012-08-21 13:18:41 UTC - 13:18 | Permalink

    Any comments directed specifically at Steph’s or Joe’s comments are best placed on the oxonion (sic) blog — if Hoffmann has a mind to he will let them be posted there. I would rather not let this thread turn into drawn out spotlighting of every contradiction and misreading from these TJP(C) reps.

  • 2012-08-22 12:31:58 UTC - 12:31 | Permalink

    Neil, you are a very good writer. It is not just that it is very clear what you mean to say, but you say it very well. If only others could at least live up to the former.

    • 2012-08-22 12:55:01 UTC - 12:55 | Permalink

      Thanks. I’m glad all my years studying and practicing effective teaching has left me with some ability to make certain complex issues relatively clear. At least when I am not over-tired or rushed.

  • Dennis Biggins
    2015-07-06 03:06:35 UTC - 03:06 | Permalink

    I note that David Ashton contributes to Vridar. He had a letter in the Sydney Morning Herald’s July 4-5 edition, to which I replied, but my letter was not published.
    My central point was that the problem of natural evil — all the suffering that afflicts mankind, from natural disasters to disease, contra-indicate God’s existence. If he is omniscient, omnipotent and all-loving, why did he create the world that exists?
    It may be that this point has previously been made on this web-site — I’ve only recently discovered it.

    • Neil Godfrey
      2015-07-06 10:43:19 UTC - 10:43 | Permalink

      Richard Dawkins summed it up with a line in River out of Eden:

      The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference.

    • David Ashton
      2015-07-06 11:01:21 UTC - 11:01 | Permalink

      I know nothing about this Australian letter, presumably by someone else with the same name. I live in Norfolk, England.

      As it happens, I also agree that natural evil, especially animal pain and predation, contra-indicates the existence of an all-loving God as we might understand the term “love”. As a boy I was struck by the unwitting irony of a Catholic apologetics handbook which triumphantly cites, of all things, the sandworm that lays its eggs inside its deliberately paralyzed victim as decisive proof, against blind evolution, of the existence of a Designer! Darwin took precisely the opposite view. Theodicy arguments from Thomas Aquinas to Peter Geach have left me unmoved.

  • David Ashton
    2015-07-06 11:12:48 UTC - 11:12 | Permalink

    PS. This is the paradox. Neil Godfrey, Richard Dawkins, David Ashton and millions more human brains are part of this pitiless and purposeless cosmos which is apparently wondering why it exists and what should be done about it.

    • Neil Godfrey
      2015-07-06 11:22:01 UTC - 11:22 | Permalink

      Nope, not wondering “why it exists”. 🙂 It just does. Like a rock. It’s just there. No reason. No purpose. It just is.

      • Giuseppe
        2015-07-06 12:25:29 UTC - 12:25 | Permalink

        A new suggestive answer comes from New Realism.

        http://www.amazon.com/Why-World-Does-Not-Exist/dp/0745687563

        The World doesn’t exist, therefore a creator God doesn’t exist.

        • David Ashton
          2015-07-06 16:33:59 UTC - 16:33 | Permalink

          Bertrand Russell once manage to produce three reasons from inside the box that proved the box did exist after all, and on another occasion three reasons why “I think, therefore I am” was a fallacy. Both articles were printed in the BBC weekly “The Listener” which no longer exists in our dumb-downed World of instant pix. Does “Guiseppe” (a big dick in Indian slang) really exist, or is he just someone in a bad dream?

          • Giuseppe
            2015-07-06 17:28:06 UTC - 17:28 | Permalink

            But it seems that this time someone has very just proved the not-existence of the box in question!!?! 🙂

            See this guy.

            • David Ashton
              2015-07-06 18:16:34 UTC - 18:16 | Permalink

              Sorry about accidentally misspelling your name – can we get an Edit facility here, please?

              I wish enough life remained to read and discuss all that now interests me, and my starting point as in history, biology and philosophy was at their present stage of research instead of when I was a youth, as we cannot take what we might yet know with us when I go. Eat, drink and take the tablets, for tomorrow we ponder, for example, “The Runes of Evolution” by Simon Conway Morris & “Superintelligence” by Nick Bostrom. What shall it profit a man (yes, or a woman or a transgender) to amass a ridiculous library and then walk under a bus?

  • David Ashton
    2015-07-06 11:48:44 UTC - 11:48 | Permalink

    Yes, but we are produced by “it” – we are part of “it” – you, me, Frank Tipler, Alvin Plantinga, Alasdair MacIntyre, Martin Heidegger, Gottfried Leibniz and Old Uncle Tom Aquinas an’ all. (Sung to the tune of Widecombe Fair – Waltzing Matilda, won’t do.)

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