Category Archives: Uncategorized


2017-01-03

Guy with a Hobby Versus an Airline Pilot

by Neil Godfrey

Jerry Coyne is at it again, posting stuff guaranteed to upset certain theologians fervidly hostile towards mythicism.

Peter Nothnagle: No evidence for a historical Jesus

Reader Peter Nothnagle sent me the transcript of an Easter talk, “Jesus: Fact or Fiction?”, that he gave last March to a joint meeting of the Unitarian-Universalist Society of Iowa City and the Secular Humanists and the Secular Students at Iowa. I was much impressed with Peter’s success at distilling all the scholarship around the historical “Jesus” (he’s read all the relevant stuff) as well as his ability to present it in a reader (and listener) friendly manner.

Peter’s conclusion is that there is no evidence for a historical person around whom the Jesus myth accreted—something I’ve thought for a long time. . . .

Peter Nothnagle (who describes himself in his presentation as “just some guy with a hobby”) forwarded Jerry Coyne a covering note in which he writes:

I conclude that the figure of Jesus was invented by one faction in a diverse religious landscape in an effort to create an “apostolic succession” of authority – “our priests were taught by priests that were taught by followers of Jesus Christ himself, in person”. But even if I’m completely wrong about that, it is undeniable that the only evidence that exists for a living, breathing, walking, talking Jesus is weak, contradictory, or simply fraudulent. Therefore no one can be justified in believing that such a person existed.

Such blind dogmatism! :-J

Coyne himself comments:

One of the things that’s always puzzled me is the rush to judgment about the historical Jesus by Biblical scholars, nearly all of whom, including Bart Ehrman, are eager to say that a historical (not a divine!) Jesus is probable, despite the woeful lack of evidence. This includes Biblical scholars who aren’t religious. It often seems that they’re being tendentious: trying to arrive at a conclusion that splits the difference between secularists and religious people, trying to offend neither group.

The paper itself, or a Why Evolution is True (WEIT) version, is downloadable at here. (I have not yet read it but will probably comment when I do.)

Interestingly this post appears hard on the heels of staunch anti-mythicist James McGrath comparing Christ mythicists with hypocritical and smug airline passengers who think they can pilot their aircraft better than the trained pilot. He attacks their “hypocrisy” . . .

the hypocrisy of it, as though figuring out what is happening with the climate, or the history of biological organisms, or what happened in the past, involves less training and expertise than flying a plane or performing surgery. All these different skills share in common that there is training and specialization required, and while plenty of people think that they can do them without training, the evidence doesn’t support such assertions.

In stark contradiction to this assertion that anyone doubting the historicity of Jesus is way out of one’s untrained intellectual depth, only 48 hours earlier the same author claimed the evidence for the historical existence of Jesus was so obvious or clear to everyone (by inference even to “just a guy with a hobby”) that mythicists were “morally reprehensible” for rejecting it:

denying that which we have adequate evidence for is more irrational – and more morally reprehensible – than believing that for which we do not have adequate evidence.

(My emphases in the quotations)

 

 


2016-12-31

What a bizarre profession

by Neil Godfrey
Romans 13 has been getting a lot of mention lately. Romans 13:1 was the one biblical text that the Communist authorities in Romania consistently knew. “Submit to the authorities” – the Bible says so! — Religion Prof, Nov 14 2016

The Religion Prof tagged those words with this image:

Meanwhile, another “religion prof” has singled out his research into this same passage for special attention with a title that on the basis of a confusing document from an ancient civilization strangely advises modern readers on their contemporary civic responsibilities:

When to Disobey Government – Quick Look at Romans 13

This post is a recycling of appreciation from a “religion master”, again providing instruction for readers today on how they should relate to political authorities:

How Should Christians Relate to Governing Authorities? Michael Bird Clarifies

How strange. Would anyone today turn to the recordings of the Sibyl Oracle for messages of guidance? Or to Hammurabi’s Code for how to treat a purveyors of faulty goods? Or to Plato or the wisdom of Imhotep? Or to the heavenly influences on human affairs according to Porphyry?

I am all for studying ancient documents. I have always loved studying ancient history. But the point has always been to understand how the ancients thought and lived, not how I can learn from them as guiding lights for my own life.

But notice how religion profs and masters take an ancient writing and strain and pull to make it somehow “relevant” as an instruction to readers today:

Consider Stanley Porter’s condition: qualitative superiority. “According to Porter, Paul only expects Christians to obey authorities who are qualitatively superior, that is, authorities who know and practice justice.” (449) The Greek for “governing authorities” (exousiais hyperechousais) seems to suggest this, given that hyperecho carries with it a “qualitative sense of superiority in quality.” (449) Therefore, the only governing powers to which Christians should submit are those that reflect the qualitatively divine justice they’ve been entrusted to bear, enact, and steward.

Woah there! Where to begin?

A raft of scholars have found reason to doubt that the passage in question was even original to the writing addressed to Romans: Pallis (1920); Loisy (1922: 104, 128; 1935: 30-31; 1936: 287); Windisch (1931); cf. Barnikol (1931b); Eggenberger (1945); Barnes (1947: 302, possibly); Kallas (1964-65); Munro (1983: 56f., 65-67); Sahlin (1953); Bultmann (1947). And who was this Paul, anyway? What independent evidence do we have to establish anything for certain? And how does one get from “a qualitative sense of superiority in quality” to modern readers’ concepts of “God” and “divine justice” (whatever “divine” justice is)? What was the original context and provenance of the document — we can only surmise — and what in the name of Mary’s little lamb does it have to do with anything in today’s world?

It would be naïve to suggest this passage is the last word on church/state relations, given that our conception of “state” is conditioned by post-Enlightenment views and the original context for Paul’s instructions came during a time of relatively benevolent and well-behaved authorities.

Amen. But why oh why does it deserve to be introduced into today’s discussion at all? Why not bring in Plato as well?

Bird reasons there are occasions resistance to governing authorities is both required and demanded by Christian discipleship. “Just as we have to submit to governing authorities on the basis of conscience, sometimes we have to rebel against governments because of the same conscience.” (450) When governments misuse their power, sometimes Christians must say, “We must obey God rather than human beings!” (Acts 5:29)

Bird likes John Stott’s summary of this discussion: “Whenever laws are enacted which contradict God’s Law, civil disobedience becomes a Christian duty.”

Deep. Just what everyone instinctively knows and follows. We all acknowledge the need for some form or organization and cooperation. We are social mammals, after all. And we all live this way for the sake of peace and getting along. But of course those of us who have crises of conscience will very often find themselves resisting or evading those causing them such grief. It’s the stuff of thousands of movies and novels and pages of history books. “Christian discipleship” is no exception to the common experience of humanity and living in organized societies. Just dressing up the same conflict in the verbiage of one’s particular ideology makes no difference. My god, Sophocles’ Antigone has remained a timeless classic because of the way it epitomizes the theme of the individual standing up for right against the state.

This human universal owes precious little to a few words written from a vaguely understood context and provenance in a civilization far removed from ours.

And religion careers and publishing businesses are built on the determination to wrestle with problematic Roman era discourses in the belief that they offer something exceptional for initiates into the arcane mysteries.

 


2016-12-30

How Israel Uses (not “Misuses”) The Bible

by Neil Godfrey

Professor of Moral Theology, Daniel Maguire, published How Israel Misuses the Bible few days ago in Consortiumnews.com. I agree with the political point of the article but not the attempt to rescue the Bible as if it has a halo that must be guarded from any blemish. People use holy books to justify almost any agenda they want.

How Israel Misuses the Bible — Some excerpts

Danny Danon, Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, let the theological cat out of the bag.   When the Security Council rebuked Israel for their land thefts (euphemized as “settlements,”) Mr. Danon replied with pious indignation: “Would you ban the French from building in Paris?”

There, in all of it effrontery, is the imperial theology that birthed Zionism. David Ben Gurion said of Palestine “God promised it to us.” Yitzhak Baer wrote in 1947: “God gave to every nation its place, and to the Jews he gave Palestine.”

So in this hallucinatory theology, just as God gave Paris to France the Zionist deity gave Palestine to Jews including the right to build whatever they want wherever they want it. If the Zionist god posted a “Jews only” sign on Palestine, the presence of non-Jews is a sacrilege and their land claims are specious. If nothing is intelligible outside its history, as the Jesuit paleontologist Teilhard de Chardin put it, Ambassador Danon’s French allusion can only be understood against this theological backdrop.

. . . . .

Zionist ersatz theology imagines a capricious god who is into real estate distribution, a god who hands out eternal deeds to people of his choosing. It is the will of the Creator that all others be cleansed and their property rights be negated.

Misunderstanding the Bible

Zionist theology depends on a fallacious exegesis of the Hebrew Bible. The two key words for properly understanding the Bible are descriptive and prescriptive. Many of the texts of the Bible describe the horrors of a barbaric time. They are not normative or in any sense admirable. The Bible is revered for its prescriptive texts which imagined with classical excellence a whole new social order where “there shall be no poor among you,” (Deut 15::4) and where swords will gradually be melted down into plowshares as violent power is subdued. In the prescriptive texts we see the beauty of Judaism which Zionism violates.

The Zionists don’t know the distinction between descriptive and prescriptive. They take ugly biblical descriptive texts and use them to make imperial policy. Texts such as this from Deuteronomy: “When Yahweh your God brings you into the land that you are about to enter and occupy, and he clears away many nations before you – the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Amorites, the Canannites, the Perizzites, the Hivites … and when Yahweh your God gives them over to you … you must utterly destroy them. … Show them no mercy.” (7:1-11, 91-5, 11:8-9)

Following the “logic” of such texts, the Palestinians are now the new Hittites, Girgashites and Canaanites to whom no mercy is to be shown or property rights to be honored. Zionist theology dishonors Judaism.

The worst of mad men, said the poet Alexander Pope, is a saint gone mad. Ironically Jews should know the horrors that religiously motivated people can wreak. Nothing so animates the will for good or for ill like the tincture of the sacred. Christian animus against Jews unleashed slaughters, pogroms, segregation and influenced the anti-Jewish venom that Nazism mechanized with genocidal force.

The survival of Israel living in accord with international law, alongside a Palestinian state, is the goal that has no need of obstructive faux theology. Mr. Netanyahu like the High Priest is rending his garments in outrage, threatening to smite all nations that would challenge Israel’s manifest destiny to build in Palestine like the French can build in Paris. A bit of curative theology is needed to correct this brutal and ignorant madness. The Security Council gave the cure a jump start.

Daniel C. Maguire is a Professor of Moral Theology at Marquette University, a Catholic, Jesuit institution in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He is author of A Moral Creed for All Christians and The Horrors We Bless: Rethinking the Just-War Legacy [Fortress Press]).He can be reached at daniel.maguire@marquette.edu  — Consortiumnews.com December 27, 2016

I have omitted some rather controversial historical details from the original article because I want the focus to be on the political and popular manipulations of sacred texts. I want to follow up with a very positive post about the future of Israel, and the last sentence quoted above is an excellent segue into that — notice the word “cure”!

 

 

 

 


2016-12-24

From the “War against Christmas” to “Christmas as a war against. . . . “

by Neil Godfrey
It is not really until the second century and the rise of Christian gnostics who asserted that Jesus had not been present in an actual physical form — that he had been spiritual only — that Christian thinkers realized that they’d have to start emphasizing Christ’s bodily origins. And so they have to talk about the registration at Bethlehem, they have to talk about the cradle, and even the swadling clothes become an article of faith. So it’s after about a hundred years that Christians decide to start thinking seriously about the nativity, and so the next question for them is when to mark it.

Bowler, Gerry. 2016. The Persistence of Christmas: A Conversation with Historian Gerry Bowler. Accessed December 25. http://www.albertmohler.com/2016/12/19/christmas-gerry-bowler/

If you are thinking, “But but … weren’t the nativity stories written in the first century?” then have a look at Marcion and Luke-Acts.


2016-12-21

Jesus Lives and therefore Lived — If You Believe

by Neil Godfrey

What a hoot! Bart Ehrman is listed alongside Richard Carrier as an authority citing reasons to doubt the historical existence of Jesus! (For those not in the know, Ehrman has expressed deep loathing of Carrier and has written a book arguing that anyone who thinks Jesus did not exist is bonkers.)

http://bigthink.com/philip-perry/a-growing-number-of-scholars-are-questioning-the-existence-of-jesus

That’s in the Big Think article by Philip Perry, A Growing Number of Scholars Are Questioning the Historic Existence of Jesus, the same article Breitbart’s Thomas D. Williams views as an attempt by Jesus mythicists to undermine that foundation of Western values, Christmas.

A review of Philip Perry’s articles indicates that he has a gift for framing eye-catching topics. In his article under the heading “growing number of scholars questioning the historic existence of Jesus” he addresses the views of

  • Reza Aslan (who argues Jesus was a revolutionary leader; several mainstream biblical scholars have scoffed at Aslan’s work partly on the grounds that it did not consider more recent scholarship on the historical Jesus)
  • Richard Carrier
  • Bart Ehrman
  • Joseph Atwill (who argues the gospel Jesus was a conspiratorial creation of the Roman political and military leaders; Perry adds a video link to Atwill’s views)

And David Fitzgerald even gets a mention with his book, Nailed.

How could Ehrman be listed here under the title indicating he is one of the “mythicists”?

Ehrman focuses on the lack of witnesses. “What sorts of things do pagan authors from the time of Jesus have to say about him? Nothing. As odd as it may seem, there is no mention of Jesus at all by any of his pagan contemporaries. There are no birth records, no trial transcripts, no death certificates; there are no expressions of interest, no heated slanders, no passing references – nothing.”

And some online critics of Ehrman have pointed out that he fails to follow through on the logic of some of his own arguments.

But Perry does have a point when he writes in conclusion: read more »


Breitbart’s War on Jesus “Mythicism”

by Neil Godfrey

America’s alt-right news site, Breitbart, has lumped anyone questioning the existence of Jesus in with those seeking to destroy Western civilization by finding excuses to eradicate the celebration of Christmas from our cultural landscape.

Thomas D. Walker

The author is Catholic theologian Thomas D. Walker PhD (follow the link to his homepage).

Walker begins as follows:

Anti-Christmas grinches have upped the ante in the annual war on Christmas, moving beyond opposition to Nativity scenes and Wise Men to denying the very existence of Jesus.

A new article in Big Think claims that more and more, “historians and bloggers alike are questioning whether the actual man called Jesus existed.”

Trendy atheists like Richard Dawkins and the late Christopher Hitchens also dabbled in the denial of the historical Jesus, with Dawkins asserting that it is possible “to mount a serious, though not widely supported, historical case that Jesus never lived at all, and Hitchens averring that Jesus’ existence is “highly questionable.”

Walker’s main counter arguments seems to be . . .

Perry fails to note the very obvious fact that we actually have very little evidence for anyone in the ancient world, especially if the person wasn’t an emperor, general or aristocrat.

As one more sensible atheist has written, we possess “about as much evidence for Jesus as we have for other, analogous preachers and prophets of his time. In fact, we have slightly more for him than most.”

And who is that “sensible atheist” upon whom Walker relies? Why, none other than Tim O’Neill:

Atheist scholar Tim O’Neill notes that almost all non-Christian scholars fully accept evidence from Tacitus and Josephus, “as being evidence that Jesus was, in fact, a historical figure.”

“The mentions of him by those writers are exactly what would we expect if someone like Jesus existed,” he observes.

Anyone not aware of Tim O’Neill in this context can observe his level and style of argument in responses to an article by Valerie Tarico questioning the historicity of Jesus and published on several websites. I have also had several encounters with Tim on this blog and elsewhere and have invited him to a serious discussion of the question in any forum on one condition: that he refrain from abusive language and insult. He has evidently found the condition too onerous to take up.

Tim is not a historian, by the way, any more than I am. We are both amateurs and I think I have more training in historical methods and certainly more knowledge of the methods and philosophies of historical inquiry and writing than he. His degree was in medieval literature, I believe.

And an examination of Thomas Walker’s website indicates he has no background studies in history at all.

I have not yet read Perry’s article, but will do so as soon as the chance arises. No doubt I’ll post more soon on both Perry’s and Walker’s articles.

 

 


2016-12-20

Miscellany

by Neil Godfrey

Some of my recent reading . . . .

On an alternative historical Jesus

— Once more from Lena Einhorn, an interview with Mythicist Milwaukee: Who Was Jesus? w/ Lena Einhorn

.

On a tiresome Christian (or any religious) trope

— From Valerie Tarico: Why It’s Time to Call Bullshit on Prayer Requests

.

More to discover in Qumran

— From Haarez: New Dead Sea Scrolls Fragments Found in Judean Desert

.

Identifying those time-wasting tricks

— From Jeremy Sherman @ Alternet: People Who Will Say Anything to Win an Argument: The art of deciding when you’re talking to a brick wall (See how many academics, not just lay folk, you find deploying these tactics)

.

And something important

— From Will McCants: Donald Trump’s sharp contrast from Obama and Bush on Islam has serious implication (Sam Harris tweeted that he found this piece “obscurantist”. He appears to have forgotten some of the moves towards understanding the issues in his book co-authored with Maajid Nawaz.)

 

Updated: I forgot to include this one earlier. . . .

Mehdi Hasan in The Guardian: We accept that Russian bombs can provoke a terror backlash. Ours can too

 


Rise of Religion Worldwide and Belief in God in Australia, Europe

by Neil Godfrey

God belief in Australia

The 2009 Australian Survey of Social Attitudes conducted by the Australian National University found that 67 percent of Australian adults believed either in God (47 percent) or in something they preferred to call a ‘higher power’ (a further 20 percent). A less nuanced Nielsen/Fairfax poll in the same year reported simply that 68 percent believed in God. (To put his in a historical context: in a 1949 Gallup poll, 95 percent of Australians declared their belief in God.) The figures for Australia almost exactly match those for New Zealand and the European Union. (Hugh Mackay 2016, Beyond Belief, Kindle loc 2280)

Unfortunately in the Introduction to the same book we read:

According to John Micklethwait and Adrian Woolridge in God is Back (2009), ‘the proportion of people attached to the world’s four biggest religions — Christianity, Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism — rose from 67 percent in 1900 to 73 percent in 2003 and may reach 80 percent by 2050’. (Kindle loc 66)

We’ve had predictions of the demise of religious belief before: around the turn of the last century, I think, and then in the 1960/70s, yes?

 


2016-12-19

The Relevance of the Historical Jesus for Christian Faith and Theology

by Neil Godfrey

Nils Alstrup Dahl

It is easy to think that scholarly interest in the historical Jesus stands independently from the Christ of faith and theological preferences. Don’t theologians “doing history” on the “historical Jesus” come up with a figure who does not align with the Jesus of their faith? Don’t theologian-historians deserve to be credited with hard-nosed intellectual integrity for “discovering” such a real-world Jesus?

My views [that the historical Jesus’ disciples believed he was the Christ before his death] are based on the scholarship of one of the great New Testament of the twentieth century, whom most of my readers here (possibly all of them!) have never heard of, Nils Dahl, a Norwegian scholar who taught for many years at Yale University.  Dahl was an amazingly insightful scholar who preferred writing essays to writing books.  When I was in graduate school I and all of my colleagues were heavily influenced by Dahl’s insights (e.g., in his book The Crucified Messiah). . . . (Bart Ehrman, Jesus the Messiah Before the Resurrection)

Bart Ehrman and Larry Hurtado have reminded us of the influence of the Norwegian theologian and Yale professor Nils Alstrup Dahl so I have been following up their notices to learn more about the sorts of things he taught. One of Dahl’s chapters in The Crucified Messiah is “The Problem of the Historical Jesus”. What he says about the importance of the study of the historical Jesus for theology and faith is interesting.

David Strauss had written a book undermining the historical plausibility of many of the accounts of Jesus in the gospels. Dahl addresses the significance of Strauss:

The crisis called forth by Strauss led to an even more intensive preoccupation with the historical Jesus. Thereafter the Life-of-Jesus research not only stood under the aegis of the struggle for freedom from dogma, but also under that of the apologetic defense against Strauss. In the period of empiricism there was also the desire to erect a secure historical basis for Christian faith.  It was assumed that the necessary basis in the sources had been found by means of the Marcan hypothesis and the two source theory. (p. 51)

What lay behind the critical investigations into the historical value of the gospels is also of interest.

The Life-of-Jesus research, in its classic period of the nineteenth century, was in the main a gigantic attempt to get free from the [Chalcedonian] christological dogma of the church, but at the same time to maintain the uniquely religious significance of Jesus. (p. 50)

Hence,

All the liberal biographies of Jesus shared the conviction of having in the historical Jesus an ally in their efforts toward a modern theology and a broad-minded Christianity. Accordingly, the historical Jesus was modernized. (p. 53)

Albert Schweitzer saw right through this dogmatic agenda of historical Jesus studies when he wrote:

He is a figure designed by rationalism, endowed with life by liberalism, and clothed by modern theology in an historical garb. (p. 56)

That particular historical Jesus had to some extent been influenced of the “history of religions school” with its close attention to other dying and rising gods in the Greco-Roman world. More conservative scholars reacted as follows:

The conservative theologians showed a preference for the Jewish background in order to find a support for the historical credibility of the gospel tradition. (p. 57)

But there was a looming threat. Radical criticism could take Jesus right out of the church altogether and comparisons with other ancient religions led to the very questioning of the historicity of Jesus himself:

At first it appeared that the radical Gospel criticism and the history-of-religions school would lead to the assumption of an unbridgeable gulf between Jesus and the church; in this situation it is quite understandable why outsiders proceeded to deny the historical existence of Jesus. (p. 82)

So it was imperative that the study of the historical Jesus be kept in “godly hands”:

The curiosity which underlies all science will certainly lead to a continually new treatment of the problem. If we theologians ignore this task, others will undertake it. Even if the question should be theologically irrelevant (more of this later), we cannot call it illegitimate. The scientific ethos requires that we do not avoid it, but rather work at it in all sincerity, for God’s law lies behind the scientific ethos. The historical critical concern with the problem of the historical Jesus is at least an honorable task which is subject to the distress and promise of every honorable profession, and certainly to the Pauline hos me (“as if not”) as well. (pp. 62-3)

Although god-fearing scholars should be the main body of researchers it was also necessary to include a non-Christians (even Jews!) as well for the following reason:

Scholars with different starting points co-operate and are able mutually to correct each other. For that reason also, it is not desirable that non-Christian scholars remain aloof from this work. In certain respects even antipathy can be illuminating; Jewish scholars, e.g., can have a clear eye for what is characteristic of Jesus. (pp. 63-4)

But is there not a risk that some historical Jesus findings will stand at odds with the Jesus of religious beliefs?

Dahl is not perturbed. Most believers would scarcely be aware of the scholarly studies or if aware of them they could safely ignore them:

It is obvious that the Christian faith and the church would have only a very limited interest in such a presentation of what actually occurred, even if it could be given with a very high degree of historical probability. . . . The believing community could therefore tranquilly disregard the historical description of Jesus’ death and his previous life for the sake of holding to the Gospels and to the rest of the New Testament writings. Once more it would be clear to the church that only the resurrection of Jesus from the dead and the witness of the Holy Spirit through the apostles disclose the meaning and the significance of Jesus’ death and his previous life. It will therefore firmly maintain that in the New Testament and nowhere else is it revealed who Jesus really was — without being required to contest the results of historical science. (pp. 75-6)

But what of the theologians themselves? They could scarcely ignore the research. Besides, a communications revolution has happened since Dahl wrote and the academic research has no longer been well hidden from lay believers. The benefits of historical Jesus studies for the faith of theologians (and since Dahl, for the better informed lay Christians) are most remarkable indeed . . . . read more »


2016-12-18

Atheism, Vridar and Blogging Research in Religion, History, Politics, Science. . . .

by Neil Godfrey

With Vridar’s addition to the Top 30 Atheist Blogs it is apropos to discuss my position on atheism and religion.

The Feedspot site Top 30 Atheist Blogs And Websites Every Atheist Must Follow updates atheist blogs regularly. From the site:

The Best Atheist blogs from thousands of top Atheist blogs in our index using search and social metrics. Data will be refreshed once a week.These blogs are ranked based on following criteria

  • Google reputation and Google search ranking
  • Influence and popularity on Facebook, twitter and other social media sites
  • Quality and consistency of posts.
  • Feedspot’s editorial team and expert review

The name Vridar originated as a pseudonym for the American writer Vardis Fisher who explored his personal journey from Mormonism to atheism in the two part novel Orphans of Gethsemane. From Wikipedia:

This is a book about what has led us to be the way we are, and makes sense of our male-dominated, Judeo-Christian western society, its families, its values, and its wars. The book is semi-autobiographical. The work is divided into two parts – For Passion, For Heaven and The Great Confession. The first novel deals with the Western, pioneer influences and especially the sexual evolution (and psychological implications) for ‘Vridar’ (Vardis). His actual life was tragic with divorce and suicide. The second book describes an intellectual journey, in particular the research, reading and discussions undertaken before writing the Testament.

Since I identified with so many aspects of the life portrayed in the first part of that novel and then again with his intellectual journey in the second, I chose the author’s fictional name, Vridar, for a blog where I discuss my own intellectual journeys, including lessons drawn from a religious background. (Thanks to Earl Doherty for introducing me to Vardis Fisher’s work, especially his Testament of Man series.)

Like Vardis Fisher what interests me is an exploration into what the scholarly research seeks to uncover about the nature of religion itself and why people embrace religious ideas. Simply attacking religion in today’s world “because it is irrational and bad” does not strike me as a carefully thought-through plan. Rather than react viscerally to religion I am inclined to believe that a more productive exercise is to find out what we can “know of our enemy”. That means serious engagement with the specialist research. That’s why I find myself so often at odds with Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Jerry Coyne and others: they demonstrate over and over that they have not done their homework and instead of contributing towards public enlightenment they are doing more to fan public ignorance and bigotry. But don’t get me wrong. There’s certainly a place for exposing the dangers of particular religious groups and arguing for a more enlightened world, but let’s do it with some genuine understanding of what we are talking about and the psychology involved.

For a brief while after leaving religion and still raw with the pain I had both experienced and observed I was feverishly hostile to the very idea of any religious faith. My bias was obvious to others and I could scarcely ignore it myself. A more productive path, I soon enough decided, was to try to understand why people embrace all kinds of religious ideas. It was not enough to simply say faith and beliefs in unseen powers are irrational and therefore stupid and dangerous. If religion is the opiate of the masses as Marx wrote then it is difficult to accept that every religious person is partaking of the same doses. Some are best described as being on mild aspirin, others on heavy narcotics. There is a range. Does a single explanation really cover it all?

As for the posts on the Bible, ditto. There’s nothing “anti-Christian” or hostile about any of those studies. Again, what does the research tell us about the origins of our Judea-Christian heritage? That’s what interests me.

Then we have politics, history, science — all from the same perspective of wanting to understand what’s going on. I have learned enough about history and the media to know that news reports very rarely provide an understanding of the issues. News reports tend to act more like buttons that switch on public prejudices. National identities are often grounded in myths, the exposure of which can have the potential to foster more civil societies. To understand what’s going on and how we got to where we are is the main preoccupation of this blog.

I’m looking forward to a personal change in circumstances soon that will enable me to devote more time to reading and blogging ideas that should not be confined to the limited readership of academia.

 


2016-12-14

Top 30 Atheist Blogs And Websites

by Neil Godfrey

Vridar is proudly ranked high among Feedspot‘s “Best Atheist Blogs List

Feedspot explains:

The Best Atheist blogs from thousands of top Atheist blogs in our index using search and social metrics. Data will be refreshed once a week.

These blogs are ranked based on following criteria

  • Google reputation and Google search ranking
  • Influence and popularity on Facebook, twitter and other social media sites
  • Quality and consistency of posts.
  • Feedspot’s editorial team and expert review

Thank you, Feedspot! This is all the more unexpected given that for the past month we have been in a relative hiatus made necessary by everything associated my own major move interstate and miscellaneous special family occasions. Looking forward to returning to “normal” very soon.


2016-11-17

No place like the Holy Land . . .

by Neil Godfrey
Religious practice in the Land of the Bible tends to encourage exclusivity and discrimination rather than love and magnanimity. There is no place like the Holy Land to make one cynical about religion.

.

In this land of turbulence and wars there have always been oases of tranquility and peace where monks have been able to hide themselves away, never bothering with the worldly events taking place outside their door. This perhaps was the only saving grace of religion in the Holy Land.

.

Both quotes come from Raja Shehadeh, Palestinian Walks: Notes on a Vanishing Landscape — Winner of the Orwell Prize 2008. (pp 141, 154)

palestinianwalks

 


2016-11-14

Bible Heroes in Heaven Before They Came to Earth

by Neil Godfrey
300px-leloir_-_jacob_wrestling_with_the_angel

Jacob Wrestling with the Angel, by Alexander Leloir

Looking beyond the books of the Bible and into other ancient Jewish writings containing some very different views of biblical heroes can be a most interesting experience.

Have a look at The Prayer of Joseph (1st or 2nd century CE):

[1] “I, Jacob, who is speaking to you, am also Israel, an angel of God and a ruling spirit.

[2] Abraham and Isaac were created before any work.

[3] But, I, Jacob, who men call Jacob but whose name is Israel am he who God called Israel which means, a man seeing God, because I am the firstborn of every living thing to whom God gives life.

[4] And when I was coming up from Syrian Mesopotamia, Unel, the angel of God, came forth and said that I had descended to earth and I had tabernacled among men and that I had been called by the name of Jacob.

[5] He envied me and fought with me and wrestled with me saying that his name and the name that is before every angel was to be above mine.

[6] I told him his name and what rank he held among the sons of God.

[7] ‘Are you not Uriel, the eighth after me? and I, Israel, the archangel of the Power of the Lord and the chief captain among the sons of God?

[8] Am I not Israel, the first minister before the face of God?

[9] And I called upon my God by the Inextinguishable Name.”

Even Moses appears to have had a pre-existence in heaven before he appeared on earth to deliver the Israelites from Egypt: read more »


2016-11-13

Proof for the Resurrection

by Neil Godfrey

My my, here it is …. bona fide scholars in the field of biblical studies can actually post arguments like the one found at The Bible and Culture:

The parts of the New Testament that really prove the resurrection are not Mt. 28, Mk. 16, Lk. 24, and John 20.21. These are the stories of the first Easter. . . . But taken in themselves and on their own, . . .  they could be deliberate fiction, invented to bolster up a case.

I like the word “deliberate” in there. If the resurrection accounts are indeed fiction they must of course be “deliberate fiction” — such diabolical cunning!

So what is the “proof” for the resurrection? (Actually the title header for the post did not speak of “proof” but of “evidence”. Can’t appear to be too dogmatic to the general reader. But read on if you are of a like mind and you will not find that word “evidence” repeated anywhere. Only the word “prove” (twice).)

The proof is the gospel narratives themselves, from chapters 1 right through. No room to even contemplate the possibility of fiction if we look at them whole. (After all, “fiction” can only be born of devilish malice.) The “proof” of the resurrection, says Ben Witherington, is found in this:

If nothing had happened at the first Easter, if Jesus had simply stayed dead in the grave, he should never have had these stories of his life and teachings. . .  It is because Jesus rose from the dead that we have the Gospel records. In other words, the risen Christ is the historical Jesus and there is no other.

What sort of academic field tolerates the inclusion of such utter nonsense in its ranks?