Cameron seemed so polite when making first contact with my blog that I thought, Hey, this is gonna be a nice reasonable guy. How can David Fitzgerald, author of Nailed: Ten Christian Myths That Show Jesus Never Existed At All, be reasonable and still have issues with such a polite Cameron? Well, Cameron responded to my critique of his blog post and now I know why. Cameron’s politeness does not extend to any efforts to suss out personal acquaintanceship — written words, regardless of literal meanings, are interpreted and critiqued in whatever way will serve best the hostile anti-mythicist brigade. So I quote here Cameron’s remarks (indented and coloured) and I add my 2 bits as we go along.
Here is Cameron’s blog post titled “Neil Godfrey’s lousy defense of Christ-myth hypocrisy“, with my point by point responses.
If you’ve seen Expelled, you know the content of Neil Godfrey’s response to my last post. There’s allusion to a conspiracy and lots of self praise for standing up to the intellectual establishment for their unwillingness to consider mythicism. In sum, Godfrey falls neatly into the hypocrisy I accused the Christ-myth crowd of engaging in. As one reader on my blog put it, “It boils down to ‘were [sic] not hypocrites because we’re right while creationists are wrong and everyone who disagrees with us has an ulterior motive but our motives are pure.’”
Allusion to a conspiracy??? What, pray tell, does Cameron mean by this and where is his perceived allusion? I have been a long-time opponent of any sort of conspiracy theory resolution to any difference of opinion, so I would ask Cameron to refer to his evidence for my having alluded positively to something I have always opposed.
Self Praise for standing up to the intellectual establishment??? What what?? Where, again, do I praise myself for standing up to anything? I can highly respect people who are part of an establishment and who are paid by an establishment and who earn their reputation by acceptance of an establishment paradigm, but any odd bod or amateur who speaks his own opinion that happens coincidentally to not be expounded by ‘an establishment’ can hardly be faulted for “self praise for standing up to” any sort of establishment.
His comments in quotes, followed by my responses.
“Biblical studies is probably the most ideologically oriented of all academic disciplines. Hector Avalos has shown that clearly enough in The End of Biblical Studies. R. Joseph Hoffmann remarked on this blog that the reason the Christ myth theory is not given more attention among scholars has more to do with conditions of academic appointments than common sense.”
Because of all his anti-Christian blustering, I’m not surprised to see a vocal atheist like Hector Avalos whine about the state of biblical scholarship. Of course, we could dismiss his own efforts to undermine Christianity by the standards he applies to other scholars. The End of Biblical Studies, Fighting Words, The Christian Delusion and other counter-apologetics material Avalos has contributed to should all be ignored because he clearly has an agenda. But assuming Avalos is correct about biblical scholarship for the moment, consider this scenario. Academia is largely composed of non-religious people. Is it fair then to conclude that the evidence for Christianity is unfairly suppressed by the most educated among us?
Anti-Christian blustering???? What, specifically, have I expressed in my critique that might be construed as “anti-Christian” or “blustering”? Cameron unfortunately does not explain. He simply asserts. No evidence cited. I have never waged an anti-Christian vendetta on this blog. I have many criticisms of Christianity, but unless Cameron himself is what we call in Australia “a fundamentalist”, (is this a “conservative” in America?) he will search long and hard and not, I suggest, find any “bluster” or even a “vendetta” against Christianity.
Then there is Cameron’s assertion that “Academia is largely composed of non-religious people”. “Academia”??? Hang on! Aren’t we supposed to be addressing ‘biblical studies and theology’? Of what use is a study that points to the entire spectrum of “academia”? Does Cameron really expect us to simply assume as a fact that that “biblical studies” will be populated by the same ratio of non-religious types as we find across the entire board of “academia”?
Methinks Cameron is trying to spin something here.
I’m equally unconvinced by Hoffman’s argument; it’s literally the same line delivered by every gadfly in the academic world. Ask a creationist, climate change denier or anti-vaccine advocate why his ideas don’t make headway in intellectual circles, and you’ll get the same answer every time: the “establishment” has it in for him. I don’t deny that people with contrarian views face heightened scrutiny from their peers, but might we consider that is so because their ideas are flawed? By itself, the fact that most scholars scoff at the Christ-myth and its proponents certainly isn’t evidence that the latter actually have a good case.
Is Hoffmann a mythicist? Is he complaining about his own personal views not making headway? This is what Cameron suggests. But I suggest Cameron take a step back and ask Hoffmann himself about his statement and his own views (try “The New Oxonian” as a Google search term). I could quote much more from Hoffmann that would only synch with what other scholars know is said in board meeting rooms, etc.
Furthermore, I’m doubt that biblical scholars are willfully ignorant of ideas they don’t like. Contrary to the suggestion that the field is an apologetics club, Bart Ehrman points out in Jesus, Interrupted, that many students upon first entering seminary are truly blindsided by the Historical-Critical method. Such a fact is not shocking, but it certainly doesn’t fit well within Godfrey’s frame job. If students are surprised to learn that critical study of the Bible is simply good scholarship, it doesn’t follow that the field is a bastion of evangelicalism.
I quote a range of scholars who have a long-term familiarity with the field and Cameron thinks to undermine all of that with a quote from a single scholar. But look at his assertion about the views of this one scholar. There is nothing said here that I disagree with or that invalidates my point . Of course fundamentalist and conservative students entering the field learn to fine-tune their old faith commitments. Of course many lose their literal frame-set when reading the Bible. So? That’s not what we are talking about. ALL of them — even the liberals — still cling fast to the one point at issue here, that Christianity was spawned by a single man, a historical person we identify as Jesus.
That leads me to reiterate one argument I raised in response to David Fitzgerald. What of the scholars, such as Ehrman, who clearly have no desire to defend Christianity but still reject the Christ-myth? They’re employed by prominent universities and publish in reputable journals. They’re trained historians, not theologians, yet they don’t share the enthusiasm for the faith expressed by many scholars. How is their skepticism to be explained?
Er, we are not talking about a defence of Christianity. The historicity of Jesus is important to many people of faith, obviously, but it is also important to many people who have invested their lives, their careers, in studying such an entity. How can we expect one who has spent a life-time studying, exploring, investigating, points within a paradigm that itself entirely hangs on the historicity of Jesus simply turn around and say, Gee, silly me! I never thought to test my most fundamental assumptions before embarking on my career!
Godfrey concluded his post with a softball response to this question: “…it is also a simple fact that Jesus does not belong exclusively to the devout believers or spiritually inclined. He is a central cultural icon for many through many of our cultural institutions and practices.” Idiotic. How can that possibly include scholars who are otherwise hostile to Christianity? They’re willing to attempt to dismantle everything about the faith, except the historicity of Jesus. And this is because he still tugs at their heartstrings. Pardon my skepticism, but how can Godfrey know that? It’s certainly a damning charge if true, so I doubt any mainstream historian has admitted it to him. Additionally, why would any skeptical scholar hesitate to embrace the Christ-myth if it were valid? As a number of biologists have pointed out to the young earth crowd, uncovering evidence overturning Evolution would provide quite a career boost.
Cameron’s polite intellectual rejoinder to my reasoned point is to shout “Idiotic”. How so? Cameron follows up by asking “How can that possibly include scholars who are otherwise hostile to Christianity?” Well, first of all, I would like Cameron to identify those scholars he believes are “hostile to Christianity” and the evidence he has for his assertion.
Secondly, I would ask Cameron to consider the argument of a real “anti-Christian”, John Loftus of the blog “Debunking Christianity”, who has made it explicitly clear that he does not support mythicist arguments because that would run counter to his agenda for attacking and undermining Christianity. Mythicism, John Loftus has said, turn potential Christian audiences off immediately. John Loftus wants to undermine Christianity so he avoids mythicist arguments. They are too tough for vulnerable Christians to swallow. He has said as much. So anti-Christian John Loftus answers Cameron right there.
My own interest in mythicism only took root long, long after I had left Christianity behind and gave not a hoot whether Jesus was a real figure or not. I had always assumed he was. My interest in mythicism is entirely a product of interest in an historical explanation for Christian origins. I don’t even see why mythicism should undermine Christianity if it is a spiritual faith based on spiritual and heavenly beings.
“But the vast majority of biblical scholars specializing in the New Testament, in particular Christian origins or the historical Jesus, are not trained historians but theologians. The lack of awareness and understanding among these theologians of the nature and practice of history as it is understood among “real” history faculties is sometimes addressed by a few of these theologians themselves.”
Yes, of course.Their eyes would be opened if they just had the right training. But many evangelical scholars have training both in theology and history, so it’s hardly fair to suggest that all of them simply don’t know how history is done. I wonder how Godfrey would dismiss the work of people like (these are just a few examples) Bruce Metzger, Daniel Wallace or Ben Witherington? Yes, they’re Christians; they’re also respected New Testament scholars. Are they to be ignored? Perhaps the experts aren’t ignorant; they’re just not convinced by the arguments put forth by Fitzgerald and Godfrey. That’s probably the best explanation, and it also appears that it’s not even a consideration for the folks over at Vridar.
I must ask here how many theologians have really “trained in history”? Cameron makes an assertion that contradicts what Christian scholars themselves say, such as Scot McKnight, who deplores the lack of training in history among theologians. Cameron mentions notable NT scholars but none who are “trained in history” as far as I am aware. I have discussed the works here on this blog of many highly respected NT scholars, and with nothing but favourable tones. So I wonder what is Cameron’s point. Cameron seems to by side-stepping the issue of the historicity of Jesus here.
“Cameron here has misread or overlooked what I wrote. I did not say we accept evolution because scientists have given us a lot of material progress.”
Yes, he did. If not, I wonder what Godfrey meant when he said “That one discipline is the foundation of all our modern progress and the other is a Mickey Mouse course…”?
What Godfrey meant was that the sciences have given the world material proofs of their veracity by tangible spin-off and concrete benefits. Theology has given us, by comparison . . .??
“We accept evolution today because scientists have been able to give us clear public demonstrations of its proofs. That is the critical point. Scientists make available all the proofs we could ask for. If we have questions we can find them answered simply and directly and unequivocally.”
I agree. I think the same is true of biblical scholars. Many maintain blogs, publish books aimed at lay audiences and are willing to correspond with people through email. The field isn’t off limits to non-specialists. All it takes is the ability to read and the desire to learn.
Cameron needs to bring himself up to speed with serious challenges to blog posts of biblical scholars who claim to rebut mythicist arguments.
“Historical Jesus scholars do not act like that at all. Very much the opposite. One reason probably quite a few of us ever came to embrace mythicism was indirectly through the defensive and offended responses of historical Jesus scholars themselves. Many such scholars simply do not know what the mythicist arguments are, or only have a poor superficial idea of some of them, so they fail to give adequate responses to those who come to them with questions after reading works like those of Doherty, Price, Wells, Ellegard, Zindler, and others. That would not be so bad. The problem starts when the inquirer finds the mythicist has already addressed the pat answers of the theologians and challenges them. That’s when the theologians very often show they have nothing more to offer, and some will attempt to try to hide this by an unfortunate display of hostility or ridicule.”
Attend one of Richard Dawkins’ lectures or book signings sometime. Let me know how receptive he is to creationist arguments. I don’t hesitate to say that Doherty et al. have been dismissed because their arguments are garbage. I know that because I’ve read the work of scholars who have analyzed the mythicists’ books and found them lacking. So, for the third time in this post, maybe they’re hostile to the hypothesis because it’s pseudo history, not because of any deficiency on their parts.
So Cameron responds with a “you too” fallacy. Richard Dawkins has published volume after volume of answers to Creationist arguments. He answers them with cool logic and evidence. He does not rely upon the only sorts of responses one reads from biblical scholars: sarcasm, ridicule, abuse — all without any accompaniment of reasoned responses to the actual arguments of mythicists. Cameron’s sweeping assertions do not disprove this.
“The more widely I studied the more I came to see the cracks in the whole historical Jesus position. And unfortunately the more I came to see how the theologians had precious little to plaster those cracks apart from ridicule, insult and indignation.”
Whatever. The Christ-myth has been demolished time and time again, often by the same people mythicists rely on for information about Christianity. That’s what makes the hypocrisy I initially mentioned so entertaining. The Christ-mythers very cutely fit the sore loser profile, even down to the rhetoric that they could have lifted right out of a creationist tract.
This is Dr James McGrath’s ploy, and the argument of so many anti-mythicists for generations. Yet ask them to actually pin-point where they or others have even once “demolished” the mythicist argument and they flounder. No, New Testament scholars, as Dr Mark Goodacre and others well acknowledge, tend to sweep under the carpet or simply ignore uncomfortable arguments and move on. The Dutch radicals were scarcely refuted. They were simply ignored. Ditto with mythicism.
I challenge Cameron to be specific in his criticisms and cite direct evidence for each of his assertions. My own arguments for mythicism actually are not directly related to mythicism at all. They are neutral of mythicism or “historicism”. Historical methodology has no validity if it has a built in conclusion — except “the most likely or probable fact”.
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