2010-10-13

What is the difference between a religious bigot and a hostile anti-mythicist?

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by Neil Godfrey

L’esprit d’escalier. In my earlier post I should have explicitly mentioned religious tolerance instead of subsuming it beneath general human tolerance and acceptance of differences. (Listening to another Late Night Live podcast last night, this one on being Moslem in America, brought this to mind.)

We would never think to publicly denigrate someone who had investigated various faiths and decided to embrace, say, Catholicism or Mormonism.

We love the idea of free speech. Some of us even take it seriously and do actively live by the principle:

I disagree with what you say but will defend to the death your right to say it.

The principle goes back to the Enlightenment thinkers such as John Locke who argued that truth will win in the free exchange and airing of ideas.

So why do we find public intellectuals, even some adhering to a religious faiths that boasts of love and tolerance, denigrating those who are persuaded by or even consider plausible the idea that Jesus Christ never historically existed? Some actively incite public ridicule and scorn.

One academic, a doctor of divinity who specializes in christology, is on record as even insisting, repeatedly, that mythicists do not deserve to be heard. It is perhaps instructive that one whose professional speciality is in such a nebulous meaningless area should be the one to practice opposition to the values of the Enlightenment. (It is also instructive that the earliest Christ Myth theorists came out of that same Enlightenment.)

John Locke's A Letter Concerning Toleration he...
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Neil Godfrey

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0 thoughts on “What is the difference between a religious bigot and a hostile anti-mythicist?”

  1. Is it safe to assume that you aren’t referring to me, since I don’t have a Doctor of Divinity degree and, no matter how much I think your views are problematic, have never once suggested that your blog should be shut down?

    If you cannot take ridicule, you might want to stop propounding and defending ridiculous claims. But I would absolutely fight for your freedom to blog whatever you like, for what it’s worth. If you let me know what Doctor of Divinity said otherwise, I’ll gladly say this to him directly.

    1. Neil did not say anyone “suggested [his] blog be shut down.” However, he did say that many public so-called intellectuals “incite public ridicule and scorn” and that they repeatedly insist “that mythicists do not deserve to be heard.”

      On September 22, you wrote, “I ask because mythicists (who deserve to be ignored)…”

      On many occasions you have been unnecessarily derisive, haughty, arrogant, and dismissive. You’ve compared mythicists to proponents of Intelligent Design and Creationism, claiming they present “the usual repeated half-truths and misconceptions” and that they are “sure Jesus didn’t exist but have not read the earliest sources and have only a vague idea of what they contain.” You accuse mythicists of trying to rig the game by changing the rules (where those new, repulsive rules include requiring primary evidence to call something a “fact”). Your condescending and contemptuous reviews of Robert M. Price’s writings show a disturbing lack of knowledge of Ancient Near Eastern mythology, let alone modern critical methods.

      So while you may be innocent of possessing a D.D., you still stand accused of the other two charges. I invite anyone to visit your blog and search for the term mythicism, and reach his or her own verdict.

      1. McGrath’s seizing on an extraneous point (and sometimes treating it with blatant dishonesty) in order to avoid the central argument is typical of his review of Price’s chapter and many of his responses to anything I or others have written either in their own right or in exchanges with him.

        I have referred to one of his habitual tactics as the smugness fallacy. He avoids the substance of Price’s chapter and concludes with a smug invitation to people to read Price’s piece, because they will of course find it pitiful or whatever. When he is out of his depth and has no argument, he resorts to this smugness game.

        He used the same smugness fallacy in his post on the Wikipedia article on Historical Methods, declaring that readers should read that article and more importantly, read the source books for that article, since, he inferred, they would support all he has been saying about historical methods. Of course we know that one of those sources on which several major sections of that Wikipedia article was based is a Catholic apology for the validity of the supernatural in history. He has never shown any remorse or embarrassment over his original claim, but only gone on the attack against those who have exposed how smugly shallow he really is.

        Similarly he has said that he hopes people do read my blog so that they will see how ridiculous mythicism is. Given his track record with his smugness fallacy I take encouragement from that remark of his. He himself has never addressed the arguments I have made. He denies this of course, but he will not — cannot — point to where he has played anything but the avoidance and smugness games with them.

    2. You have a Bachelor of Divinity, sorry. Doctor of Johannine Christology. I hope you soon have an opportunity to read the recommendations I offered you after you requested such a list on the philosophy and methods of historical research, written by someone with no connection to Biblical studies. Divinity and Christology are no preparation for realities of historical methodology, so I remain curious why you describe yourself as a “historian”.

  2. Once again the good doctor demonstrates his mastery of the avoidance game. Not one reference to his personal public denigration of, and inciting of ignorant bigoted attitudes towards, mythicists. Except to defend his right to ridicule.

    McGrath, let’s see you lift your standards of civility and encouragement of civil public discourse. Dr Schweitzer was not at all impressed with the tone in which the debate was conducted in his day. You are still stuck in the ignorant and boorish attitudes of early last century.

    You are a public intellectual and the public deserves more from you.

    If you cannot take this criticism, or Schweitzer’s, then maybe it is you who should get out of the kitchen.

    Added post posting:
    Further, you might note that it is in defence of others (not myself) that I have posted this and other remarks along a similar vein, but more importantly, it is in defence of the values of civility and rational discourse.

  3. MCGRATH
    Is it safe to assume that you aren’t referring to me, since I don’t have a Doctor of Divinity degree and, no matter how much I think your views are problematic, have never once suggested that your blog should be shut down?

    CARR
    I can understand James McGrath being upset at having his words quoted in a post. I would feel the same way, if I was him and knew that whatever I wrote would be quoted.

    But I see McGrath cannot help resorting to spreading disinformation.

    No such words as ‘shut down’ ever appeared in Neil’s posting.

    MCGRATH
    If you cannot take ridicule, you might want to stop propounding and defending ridiculous claims…

    CARR
    This is from the historian who claimed that ‘no matter how inauthentic’ something was, he would use it.

    ‘Even fabricated material may provide a true sense of the gist of what Jesus was about, however inauthentic it may be as far as the specific details are concerned.’

    McGrath certainly lives up to his reputation of using inauthentic material and calling it true.

    James can expect his words to be quoted whenever he tries to persuade people that he should be taken seriously.

  4. I do have to say, that while I enjoy looking though quack theories and even collect old books on such topics, I can understand why some one would say an idea deserves to be ignored. There are always folks out there who unhappy with the reception there idea has recieved and irrationaly conviced of it’s truth will start to fantasize about conspiricies an prejudise that prevents the wider acceptance of the theory. But often it is the theorise genuine lack of merit that keeps it from wider expert discussion. So while 30% of America may beleive in ghost, the evidence is not promising and so it “deserves to be ignored” by scientist, no offence to the 30% beleivers. While a mythic theory may be possible, and holding at as a hunch is completly acceptable, I see no conspiricy in the lack of acceptance any of the mythic theories have. There are sever hurdles that it needs to overcome in terms of evidence and it hasn’t provided it. Maybe someone will find the long lost mythic gospel in the desert sands, but until then I think it premature to start assuming tha NT history is is a department full of fools.

  5. No one has started “assuming that NT history is a department full of fools.” There are many NT historians I learn much from, and I have posted on some of their works on this blog.

    You might like to consider this observation:

    McGrath loves to compare what he thinks are mythicists with creationists.

    Yesterday I was browsing in a bookshop the many shelves of books about evolution (or “life sciences” — but most books were about evolution). I was slightly amazed how many of those books were scholarly publications that their cover blurbs explained were addressing Creationists or Intelligent Design proponents. Every one of those that I opened up was a serious, respectful, direct and fact-based book explaining the evidence for evolution and addressing Creationist’s objections and arguments. All were written by scientists.

    Not one was a ridicule or derogatory put down of Creationists or their arguments.

    Now I believe that Creationist arguments should not be taught in public schools. I am sure most of those scientist authors would believe the same. But it was obvious that they also believed that those arguments “deserved to be heard”. Why else would they write respectful books about them?

    What we have from the likes of McGrath and others is no argument but only sophistry and insult. If you can point to a single argument of McGrath’s that is not an exercise in sophistry (ignoring the substance of an argument and seizing on extraneous points in the presentation of an argument instead) or avoidance then I would be interested to see it.

    In place of argument he uses sophistry, straw-men and insult. He has avoided answering me unequivocally when I have asked if he has actually read Doherty’s books. I noted a few days ago that he is now posting with a link to a web-page from Doherty’s site that is many years old. I think it is safe to say he has been making a fool of himself for over a year now attacking Doherty without ever having read Doherty. (His not very old post about “mythplacing firmaments” was a classic illustration. It demonstrated not only his ignorance of Doherty’s argument, but even ignorance of the status of Aristotle’s cosmology at the time. I think he just relied on some blog comments for his info about Doherty and a high school text book for his understanding of the place of Aristotle at that time.) He does not even know what he thinks he is arguing against!

    He likens mythicists to creationists. I tend to think of creationists as being the ones who do the ridiculing and play the avoidance games and latch on to side-irrelevancies, and of the scientists being the ones who engage in a serious, direct, respectful, evidence-based argument.

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