2012-04-13

Jesus Agnosticism: Believing vs. Knowing

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by Tim Widowfield

What we can and cannot know

Huxley at about 55, scanned & cropped slightly

Huxley at about 55, scanned & cropped slightly. Note: The photo was cropped, but the sideburns were not. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I confess I have often shown little patience for people who hide behind the label of agnosticism when asked whether they believe in God. It smacks of evasion, since it answers a question concerning belief with an assertion about the state of knowledge. That is, it redirects our attention to the axis of knowing — how much we know or can know — instead of telling us where one stands on the axis of believing.

So you can perhaps imagine how annoyed I’ve become at myself lately for describing my own position on the historicity of Jesus as “Jesus agnostic.” Have I fallen into the same trap as atheistic agnostics, too timid to answer the question that was asked, so I answer one that wasn’t?

Does agnosticism describe anything meaningful?

Most atheists are also agnostics. We lack the belief in God in the same way that we lack the belief in many things we can’t definitively disprove. However, we hold the existence of a supernatural being that fits the description of God to be so unlikely that we operate under the assumption that he does not exist.

Do we actively believe God does not exist? Actually, no. It takes no effort at all to lack a belief. For example, if you grew up as a Christian, you probably lack the belief in the transmigration of souls. Same here. People might reincarnate after they die, but I think it’s extremely unlikely. So I can truthfully say, “I don’t believe in samsara.” But I don’t spend any time thinking about it or actively disbelieving in it.

If by knowledge we mean rational knowledge based on human reason and physical evidence, a good many Christians are also agnostics. They believe without proof — “blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.” (John 20:29b, KJV) They have made the “leap of faith.” Should they claim to have any knowledge at all, they will maintain they possess a knowledge of the heart, a feeling of the divine presence.

So if a great many of us — theists and atheists alike — agree that we can’t know whether God exists, is the term “agnostic” all that meaningful? Well, it is if you mean it in the loose, vernacular way that the popular media often intends it, namely as a description of someone who cannot decide. Perpetual fence-sitters, they simply can’t make up their minds.

Can you really not make up your mind?

I suspect that many educated people who know what agnosticism really means describe themselves as agnostics because they don’t want to deal with the stigma that comes with atheism. C’mon, people — decide!

So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth.
(Rev. 3:16, KJV)

There are two questions on the table:

  1. Do you believe in God?
  2. Do you think you can know for sure whether God exists?

If you can’t answer “yes” to the first question, then you are an unbeliever. Welcome aboard! If you answered “no” to both questions, you are an agnostic atheist — just like the vast majority of atheists.

Am I a wishy-washy Jesus agnostic?

So am I a question-dodging, lukewarm mythicist? Specifically, in telling you that I’m a Jesus agnostic — i.e., that I think the source data for the historicity of Jesus is so unreliable that it precludes our ability to know whether or not he existed — have I avoided the question of whether I believe he existed? Perhaps not.

Consider the difference between a universe in which God exists and one (like ours) in which he does not. They are vastly different, especially if we’re talking about the Christian God — one who manifests himself in the physical world, helping some, hindering others; healing some, ignoring others; saving some, killing others. In one universe I’m damned forever if I don’t believe the right way. In the other universe, it doesn’t matter. It’s a big difference.

But consider the course of history if (1) Jesus did not exist, but is a historicized myth, or (2) Jesus did exist, but is irretrievable under the rubble of New Testament mythology. We pretty much end up at the same point. Apologists will point out a third option that I have ignored so far, namely that the Jesus of history and the Christ of faith are the same guy. I find that possibility so highly unlikely as to be statistically impossible. (Note: Just to be clear, if I thought we could retrieve any reliable history from under the NT rubble, I wouldn’t be an agnostic.)

In the end I’m faced with the two choices above: a complete myth or an unrecoverable, infinitesimally tiny kernel of historicity engulfed in a myth.

Jesus agnosticism: A perfectly rational position

Tom Verenna and several usual suspects in the blogosphere now identify themselves as Jesus agnostics. The evidence fails to persuade them (and me) one way or the other. And as far as I can tell, Dr. McGrath, a staunch defender of the status quo, thinks this position is just ducky. I find his acceptance a little odd, since one of the primary reasons James McGrath and Bart Ehrman sanction the belittling and ridiculing of mythicists as an honorable pastime is that there is allegedly so much positive evidence in favor of historicity.

McGrath loves to compare the mythicist position to young-earth creationism. See the last paragraph of his fawning review of Bart’s book (part one — more apple-polishing to come). If the mainstream position of experts concerning the historicity of Jesus is exactly like the mainstream position of experts concerning the fact of evolution, then he’s right. However, if the foregoing were true, then Jesus agnosticism would be just as untenable as agnosticism about evolution. You would have to ignore a ton of evidence to believe that evolution is an unsettled question.

If the case for historicity were as open and shut as the case for evolution, then fence-sitting would not be an option. But of course it isn’t; otherwise James would treat Tom Verenna with the same honorable mocking and derision that he heaps upon Earl and Neil. If Jesus agnosticism is a tenable position, then mythicism must also be a tenable position — you can’t have it both ways.

In other words if Tom, Vinny, and I contend that we find the evidence insufficient to decide upon historicity, then we necessarily hold open the possibility that mythicism might be true. However, if the notion of the non-historicity Jesus is just as hare-brained as young-earth creationism, then James should let us have it. He should dole out the same venomous prose that he reserves for “fools” and “crazy people” who think Jesus is entirely a myth. After all, how can we ignore that “mountain of evidence”?

Unorthodox anti-heretics

By now I think we all know we’re dealing with an unusual phenomenon here. NT scholars don’t react to mythicism the way scientists respond to “fringe” theories; instead they react the way defenders of the faith respond to heresies. That’s why McGrath can forgive Bart for his many factual errors in Did Jesus Exist. That’s why the guild tolerates abusive behavior toward people who promote mythicism.

For them, “Extremism in the defense of conformity is no vice.” As long as they’re working toward the higher good — namely, stamping out heresy — it’s all right.

Will this full frontal attack on nonconformity persist? Will honorable scholars continue to engage in name-calling? Will Bart and James keep insisting that they can read minds and that they know the nefarious reasons why mythicists think the way they do? I have no doubts on this matter. The mountain of evidence, sadly, is undeniable.

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32 Comments

  • 2012-04-13 15:01:59 UTC - 15:01 | Permalink

    It has always amazed how different the reaction to “I think that Jesus is a myth for all practical purposes” is from the reaction to “I think Jesus is entirely a myth.” It’s alright to believe that the historical Jesus is unrecoverable, but not that he’s non-existent.

    • 2012-04-13 15:09:21 UTC - 15:09 | Permalink

      It still reminds me of creationists who admit that so-called “micro-evolution” exists, but scoff as “macro-evolution” and speciation. It’s just a matter of taking the same processes to their logical conclusions.

      Apparently it’s a respectable position to believe that everything we think we know about Jesus is a myth — except for his existence.

  • Steven
    2012-04-13 22:19:51 UTC - 22:19 | Permalink

    I think the difference between agnosticism with regards to the existence of God or Gods and agnosticism with regard to the historicity of Jesus is how likely new evidence could be discovered that would change your mind. It is conceivable that evidence could turn up tommorrow in some ancient trash heap that show there was a Jesus of Nazareth who claimed to be the messiah. Giving our state of knowledge with regards to the Cosmos etc. I can’t imagine any evidence that could prove that there is a god.

  • 2012-04-13 22:27:45 UTC - 22:27 | Permalink

    It might be worth paraphrasing Thompson: if history is to be meaningful then speculation can never be cumulative.

    This simple edict does not simply support agnosticism; it demands it.

  • Bob Carlson
    2012-04-13 22:53:05 UTC - 22:53 | Permalink

    If one says yes to the question “Do you believe in God?” how does s/he deserve to be congratulated as an unbeliever? Another thing that bugs me about the term “agnostic”: if the g in gnostic is silent, why isn’t it the same way with agnostic?

    Ehrman’s comparison of historicity with evolution is a false one, as has been indicated, but historicity does seem to favorably compare with the evolutionary hypothesis called group selection. Dawkins and Coyne maintain that there is no evidence to support group selection (at least that is my understanding of their position) and that the concept is not needed to explain phenomena like human empathy. There also doesn’t seem to be any evidence to support historicity, and historicity doesn’t seem necessary to explain the phenomenon of Christianity.

    On his blog, Choice in Dying, Eric McDonald wonders why people who are certain that Jesus is not divine and did not rise from death are concerned about the issue of historicity vs. mythicism. Perhaps it is fair to compare the question with that of group selection. Some people, such as D.S. Wilson, seem to stake their entire reputation on the concept. E.O. Wilson also advocates group selection, and although his reputation rests on a whole lot more than that, he still thinks it an important concept to support. Same with historicity and folks like Bart Ehrman and James McGrath. In saying that the historicists don’t have the evidence to prove their case, aren’t Earl Doherty and Neil Godfrey in the same position that Richard Dawkins and Jerry Coyne are relative to the issue of group selection? It is a matter of wanting to know the truth of the issue, although I don’t suppose that either issue is going to be settled any time soon (and perhaps never in the case of Jesus historicity).

  • 2012-04-14 01:02:02 UTC - 01:02 | Permalink

    I consider myself a Jesus agnostic too. But I never thought about the completely inconsistent approach that McGrath has towards agnosticism and mythicism. You’re right; if McGrath is so confident about the evidence for Jesus’ existence, he should heap all sorts of scorn on both agnosticism and mythicism. Since he doesn’t, there has to be some ulterior motive.

    • Jer
      2012-04-14 01:45:35 UTC - 01:45 | Permalink

      “Ulterior motive” I guess is technically correct, but the phrase sounds like McGrath might be intentionally hiding something. It’s fairly easy to see why McGrath would have a particular dislike of the whole idea that Jesus might not be a historical figure – the man is a believing Christian! Even the liberal believing Christians must believe that there was a guy named Jesus who preached in the Galilee area sometime during the first century AD and spread some teachings that have been preserved, in some fashion, in the writings of the Gospels and the Letters. If you don’t believe these very basic things, you can’t consider yourself a mainstream Christian at all. You can doubt the Resurrection and still live your life by “Christ’s teachings” and call yourself a Christian – heck in some ways it makes it easier to be a liberal Christian because you can always write off any of the teachings that sit uncomfortably on your modern sensibilities by saying “well, Scripture has been corrupted and that’s not what Jesus really said“. But that is a loaded justification – if there was no Jesus – if the figure of Jesus didn’t really say anything and if it core beliefs of the religion were a syncretic combination of Jewish, Greek and Persian thought – then there’s no way to use that justification for anything. And if the religion that is at the core of your identity (so much at the core that you went into New Testament Studies because of it) can’t be justified as anything but a historical case of syncretism that’s going to sting. A lot. So much that I can’t actually fault McGrath for having such a visceral emotional reaction against the very idea of mythicism – it goes so far against his core beliefs that I’d be more surprised if he could give it an open hearing.

      Agnosticism doesn’t push the same buttons. Just like in the atheism arguments. Tell a liberal Christian that you’re an atheist and you’re very likely to get pushback. Tell a liberal Christian you’re agnostic and they don’t care. The first is confrontational to them – you are telling them that you think that their beliefs ARE wrong. The second is non-confrontational – you’re telling them you think they might be right. Or they might be wrong, but reasonable people can agree to disagree. Agnosticism doesn’t cut to the core of their beliefs, atheism does. Likewise, agnosticism about a historical Jesus figure doesn’t cut to the core of their beliefs, mythicism does.

      • KevinC
        2012-04-14 04:09:07 UTC - 04:09 | Permalink

        I think liberal Christians could adapt to mythicism pretty easily, as long as they were willing to shift their basis from “history” to mystical revelation. Consider: the book A Course in Miracles is presented as a channeled revelation of a spiritual “Jesus” exactly the way the original would have gotten started if the mythicist model is correct. No one, including the human authors of A Course in Miracles attempts to argue that ACIM can be found in seven independent Aramaic sources, or that it was ever preached or written by a historical Jesus living in Roman Judea. Yet, ACIM has a fairly large following within the New Age movement.

        If liberal Christians could “shift gears” mentally, to accept their favorite “sayings of Jesus” as channeled revelations from a purely spiritual Christ, they could have a “non-debunkable” Christ of Faithtm without having to own the embarrassing failure of the Gospels and the Christian record in general to provide a firm historical foundation for their beliefs.

        I think that historicism is actually more difficult to reconcile with any Christian faith worthy of the name than a rebooted mythicist Christianity would be. It is the Divine Logos, the Savior who sits at the right hand of the Father in Heaven, who can offer forgiveness of sins and entry into everlasting life that really matters to Christianity. Who really cares about some fairly ordinary guy who took a crap every day, and very likely masturbated to thoughts of the pretty girl who lived a couple houses down when he was twelve? So he managed to emit a handful of pithy sayings and parables, so what? Chicken Soup for the Soul–or for that matter, ACIM–offers whole giant buckets of pithy goodness as quotable if not more so than the “red letter” parts in the Gospels.

        One of the core arguments of mythicists is the striking degree to which “the man Jesus” as a man is so irrelevant and unworthy of attention even to his own devoted followers. This is a fact of the early Christian record regardless of whether or not “James, the brother of the Lord” is sufficient evidence for an historical Jesus. Even the Gospels themselves focus almost entirely on the last week of Jesus’ life. For their authors, the most important fact about Jesus isn’t that he lived, but that he died, and putatively rose from the dead. The amount of preserved (alleged) teachings of Jesus pales in comparison to the preserved teachings of Paul. How could this be, unless “the man Jesus” is basically dispensible in the Christian mind, then and now?

        In a nutshell: a neo-mythicist (“spiritualist” or some other term not including the word “myth” would surely be preferable) Christianity offers believers a way to claim all of the most important tenets of historic Christianity, plus shelter from any fact-based debunking by atheists. Once Christians are freed of the perceived need to base their beliefs on “historical fact,” the whole conflict between Christianity and science all but disappears. In a choice between that and clinging to whatever tiny, pitiful scraps of Christianity that can still be rested on the shoulders of some obscure apocalyptic prophet who was wrong about the one thing he actually had to say (if Ehrman is right), how could any believer not prefer the former?

        On the other side of the coin, atheists with axes to grind and “nefarious motives” (per McGrath’s telepathic revelations) would be better off joining the historicist camp.

  • 2012-04-13 18:36:38 UTC - 18:36 | Permalink

    It’s good to see that hard-nosed evolution scholars (the sort with whom some theologians like to compare themselves vis a vis rational and authoritative status) can see right through the question-begging and flim-flam and pompous bluff from which the historicist arguments are so often constructed. Jerry Coyne has a healthy approach to the subject on “Why Evolution is True”, not least with his latest post Eric MacDonald on the historicity of Jesus. And that ex-theologian, Eric MacDonald, sums it up with his post, Did Jesus Exist? MacDonald has a more recent post showing another prominent clergyman misrepresenting Darwin for apologetic ends, too.

    The world is starting to look a healthier place with such rational people seeing through the vacuity of certain theologians who try to pass themselves off as “historians”. (Dr McGrath has striven in vain on both blogs to bend both Jerry Coyne and Eric MacDonald and their readers to the theological way of thinking, but cleary in vain.)

    • 2012-04-13 23:23:38 UTC - 23:23 | Permalink

      Neil: “Dr McGrath has striven in vain on both blogs . . . “

      He has once again drifted into the deep water without his swimmies. I see it didn’t take him long to start blaming others for not explaining himself.

      McG: “Expecting an academic question to be settled on a blog, especially when there are denialists who will not accept any evidence, is silly.”

      In other words, he came to state his conclusions and got upset when people asked him for evidence. How rude!

      Haven’t we seen this happen before? He wanders away from his wading pool and starts playing with the big kids. But they start splashing water on him. He protests and they laugh. He gets cranky and upset, and eventually leaves.

      • 2012-04-14 07:59:28 UTC - 07:59 | Permalink

        Dr McGrath clearly has expected to be able to settle the question of mythicism on his blog. To retreat by saying now it is an “academic question” that cannot be settled on “a blog” puts himself into a “denialist” position. As you point out, he says the reason a blog is not an acceptable is because the evidence presented is unacceptabe as evidence to some. Well, I guess the academics have to go back to their ivory towers and cut themselves off from the common sense and rational abilities of the educated layperson — laypeople who can grasp the evidence for evolution and that demonstrates they have sense. So of course the only come-back McGrath and such must turn to is demonisation of those who don’t see things his way.

  • KevinC
    2012-04-14 12:39:16 UTC - 12:39 | Permalink

    I guess I don’t follow enough of McGrath’s comment threads to have seen him acknowledging that Jesus agnosticism is acceptable. In the comments I’ve read, he keeps using the Mainstream Scholarly Consensus as a mantra and asserting the historicity of Jesus with such certainty that one might thing he had video of the Sermon on the Mount taken from a certain British police call box that happened to be in the area.

    Can anyone provide a link to a thread or post where he expresses sanction for Jesus agnosticism? As distinct from merely failing to accuse some particular HJ agnostic of being a flat-earth Creationist Holocaust denier. Also, if Thomas Verenna is a genuine member of the scholarly guild, that might be the reason for more respectful treatment, if he can’t easily clobber him for being a “musician” or whatever.

    Heh, just now I had a mental image of McGrath, dressed as Leonidas from 300 shouting, “SCHOLARS! WHAT IS YOUR PROFESSION?!”

    “OO-RAAAH-OOO!” 😀

    I find myself in the odd position of thinking the historicists are probably right (at least about some fairly minimalist cult leader named Jesus who was James’ brother and ended up being turned into a God-man when his cult retconned his crucifixion by adding in the mystical “divine intermediary” ideas mythicists point to as the source of Christianity), while having a lot of problems with the way they argue their case.

    • 2012-04-14 14:47:15 UTC - 14:47 | Permalink

      KevinC,

      I don’t know whether I could find the exact point where I noticed it, but when I first participated in the discussions on McGrath’s blog I would ask questions in the form of “Might we not consider Jesus to be mythical in same way that Romulus or King Arthur is mythical because whatever historical person existed behind these stories is no longer recoverable?” This always got me lumped in with Doherty. Then I started asking my questions more in the form of “Are the sources really sufficient that we should think we can know anything with certainty about a historical Jesus?” As long as I made it clear that I wasn’t claiming that it was most likely that Jesus didn’t exist, I found that my questions got a much better reception from McGrath although not always from the other commenters. I don’t think my questions ever changed much though. It has always been Paul’s silence that I found most troubling.

    • 2012-04-14 14:47:53 UTC - 14:47 | Permalink

      I can indeed. In comment #23 in the Fear of Mythicism thread (http://vridar.wordpress.com/2011/08/08/fear-of-mythicism/?preview=true&preview_id=21158&preview_nonce=983b94b045#comment-18184) Dr McGrath wrote:

      I have always said, it is not unreasonable to entertain doubt that Jesus existed.

      But given the context of other things McGrath said in the same discussion I was wondering if what he meant was that it was okay be have doubts if one was a complete novice but that once one was shown the arguments for the historicity of Jesus there was no longer any excuse to be an agnostic.

      So I sought clarification from Dr McGrath a number of times:

      http://vridar.wordpress.com/2011/08/08/fear-of-mythicism/?preview=true&preview_id=21158&preview_nonce=983b94b045#comment-18186

      Do you mean this in the same sense that it is not unreasonable to entertain doubt that the earth is round? Or that Churchill existed?

      If not, in what sense do you mean it? What analogies are there to clarify your meaning?

      http://vridar.wordpress.com/2011/08/08/fear-of-mythicism/?preview=true&preview_id=21158&preview_nonce=983b94b045#comment-18216

      You write, “it is not unreasonable to entertain doubt that Jesus existed”.

      Do you mean this in the same sense that it is not unreasonable to entertain doubt that the earth is round? Or that Julius Caesar existed?

      Or rather in the sense that Hillel existed? Or that Socrates existed?

      If not, in what sense do you mean it? What analogies are there to clarify your meaning?

      http://vridar.wordpress.com/2011/08/08/fear-of-mythicism/?preview=true&preview_id=21158&preview_nonce=983b94b045#comment-18219

      And P.S. — it would be very helpful if you could give some analogous questions to help us understand what exactly you mean when you say “it is not unreasonable to entertain doubt that Jesus existed” — as I have asked above.

      http://vridar.wordpress.com/2011/08/08/fear-of-mythicism/?preview=true&preview_id=21158&preview_nonce=983b94b045#comment-18227

      Can you give some analogous questions to help us understand what exactly you mean when you say “it is not unreasonable to entertain doubt that Jesus existed”? Thanks.

      http://vridar.wordpress.com/2011/08/08/fear-of-mythicism/?preview=true&preview_id=21158&preview_nonce=983b94b045#comment-18233

      My question is:

      But one sentence . . . . needs clarification in the light of what you have explained so far. You write, “it is not unreasonable to entertain doubt that Jesus existed”.

      Do you mean this in the same sense that it is not unreasonable to entertain doubt that the earth is round? Or that Churchill existed?

      If not, in what sense do you mean it? What analogies are there to clarify your meaning?

      I know you have a repertoire of stock questions to use to debunk mythicism, but I am trying to understand how you understand the way history works, the nature of history, and how being a historian informs your understanding of the historical Jesus. Above all, I would really like to know what you mean when you make this statement.

      If I were to rely entirely on your arguments against mythicism that you gave in your preceding comment, then I would be forced to conclude that an analogous statement would be:

      “it is not unreasonable to entertain doubt that Churchill existed”.

      After all, we do have evidence that on at least one occasion it was not Churchill but a hired actor who delivered a radio speech everyone believed to have been spoken by Churchill. So in the strict sense we can’t be absolutely certain — we cannot say it is impossible — that tomorrow someone will turn up evidence that every appearance and speech of Churchill’s was done by an actor.

      If I have misunderstood you then can you give an analogous question that does justice to your statement?

      Or is your question in relation to Jesus unique, without any analogy? Is there any other person you can think of in ancient history, comparable to Jesus in status, about whom you could equally say “it is not unreasonable to entertain doubt that X existed”?

      http://vridar.wordpress.com/2011/08/08/fear-of-mythicism/?preview=true&preview_id=21158&preview_nonce=983b94b045#comment-18256

      May I ask again. You wrote, “it is not unreasonable to entertain doubt that Jesus existed”.

      Do you mean this in the same sense that it is not unreasonable to entertain doubt that the earth is round? Or that Churchill existed?

      What analogous questions are there to clarify your meaning? Can you give a clear analogous question to illustrate the sense in which you meant this?

      http://vridar.wordpress.com/2011/08/08/fear-of-mythicism/?preview=true&preview_id=21158&preview_nonce=983b94b045#comment-18265

      May I ask again:

      You wrote, “it is not unreasonable to entertain doubt that Jesus existed”.

      Do you mean this in the same sense that it is not unreasonable to entertain doubt that the earth is round? Or that Churchill existed?

      What analogous questions are there to clarify your meaning? Can you give a clear analogous statement to illustrate the sense in which you meant this?

      http://vridar.wordpress.com/2011/08/08/fear-of-mythicism/?preview=true&preview_id=21158&preview_nonce=983b94b045#comment-18285

      I keep asking you for an analogous statement to illustrate the sense of your meaning when you say that it is not unreasonable to entertain doubts that Jesus existed. I have to conclude that there is no analogous statement that you want to admit to. So your statement sounds like one of those PR jobs that is designed to make its claimant sound tolerant and reasonable on the surface, but the subtext is quite different: no real tolerance for the question is entertained. Anyone who asks it will only prove their reasonableness by quickly assenting to Jesus’ existence as a fact — just as it is theoretically reasonable to ask if the world is really round but one’s reasonableness will only be evident if one almost as quickly admits the question is nonsense in the face of the evidence. Is this the sense in which you meant your statement. It seems so to me.

      If I am wrong then all you need to do is provide an analogous statement to illustrate your meaning.

      http://vridar.wordpress.com/2011/08/08/fear-of-mythicism/?preview=true&preview_id=21158&preview_nonce=983b94b045#comment-18291

      Is my summing up of what you meant by “it is not unreasonable to entertain doubts about the existence of Jesus” correct?

      http://vridar.wordpress.com/2011/08/08/fear-of-mythicism/?preview=true&preview_id=21158&preview_nonce=983b94b045#comment-18297

      No comment from you on how I understood your statement that is it not unreasonable to entertain doubt that Jesus existed. So I am correct on that, too?

      He never did explain his view. But ya gotta admit I did try! 😉

      • 2012-04-15 01:23:13 UTC - 01:23 | Permalink

        MCGRATH writes
        ‘But in response to the questions, there are a few things about which we can be confident beyond reasonable doubt – an individual named Jesus, whose followers believed him to be the Messiah, and who was crucified. ‘

        CARR
        There you are. I look forward to McGrath explaining why agnosticism flies in the faith of ‘reasonable doubt’.

        • 2012-04-16 05:13:52 UTC - 05:13 | Permalink

          McGrath’s statement: “- – Jesus, whose followers believed him to be the Messiah, – -‘ only indicates that MxGeath formes his image from the writings of the NT which picture the Christ myth figure. Neither Jesus nor his earliest folowers thought of him as Messiah.This is what they, the Christ cult said about him, as recorded in the wrtings of the NT.

        • 2012-04-18 05:05:05 UTC - 05:05 | Permalink

          To say that there was a guy named Jesus who was crucified doesn’t really help out. And as far as I know, Jesus didn’t start getting called the messiah (i.e. gaining his lordship) until his resurrection.

          So to say that the historical Jesus is just a guy named Jesus who was crucified is to analogously say that the historical George Washington was just a guy named George who was in the Army. How many people fit those two criteria? It’s not like either the name Jesus or getting crucified were exceptionally rare in antiquity.

          Another argument for agnosticism, I guess.

      • KevinC
        2012-04-16 07:03:00 UTC - 07:03 | Permalink

        When I read the first post of his that you linked to, Neil, I got the impression that what he meant was, “Oh, suuuuure, a reasonable person can entertain doubt about the existence of Jesus if they wanna get all philosophical about it. I mean, there’s no way to prove we’re not all living in a Matrix simulation that was created last Tuesday. But…

        “MAINSTREAM CONSENSUS, I INVOKE YOU!” *thunderclap*

        “Therefore, historical Jesus.”

        Wading through the rest of the thread didn’t do much to clarify his position in my understanding, but that’s the impression I got from the fact that he brought up things like doubting one’s own existence and The Matrix at all in that context. He’s hyperbolically placing doubt in the existence of a historical Jesus in the same category as hyper-skeptical doubt about one’s own existence, the validity of the senses, and the like. So, instead of expressing potential tolerance for people who doubt the existence of Jesus, he’s actually making the opposite point: that doubting the existence of Jesus is on a par with brains-in-vats philosophy-wanking. Or at least that’s what it looks like to me.

        • vinnyjh57
          2012-04-16 07:41:46 UTC - 07:41 | Permalink

          Wading through the rest of the thread didn’t do much to clarify his position in my understanding,

          That’s not surprising since his position is somewhat murky. I generally ignore the hyperbole and try to keep my comments and questions specific.

          • 2012-04-16 15:22:05 UTC - 15:22 | Permalink

            Vinny wrote: “I generally ignore the hyperbole . . .”

            Thereby saving a great deal of valuable time.

            • vinnyjh57
              2012-04-17 00:20:51 UTC - 00:20 | Permalink

              Saving time and getting more responses as well.

              • 2012-04-17 00:37:48 UTC - 00:37 | Permalink

                “More responses,” perhaps — but he still chooses carefully which questions he will actually answer. One of Neil’s “nefarious tactics” is to continue to ask him the same question. McG’s refusal to answer is “explained” by calling Neil a fool, a liar, and a crazy person.

                Right now I’m waiting for his answer to my recent question: “Should I infer from your question that you disagree, [with my take on the purpose for the epistle to the Romans] and instead think the main point of Romans has something to do with rules about what Gentiles should do in order to convert?”

                Maybe if somebody else asked him as well . . .

              • vinnyjh57
                2012-04-17 01:02:13 UTC - 01:02 | Permalink

                “More responses,” perhaps — but he still chooses carefully which questions he will actually answer.

                Quite true. To me the challenge is to pose a question in the right way and the right time such that he is uncomfortable letting it go unanswered. I am disappointed when he doesn’t respond to what I think is a good question, but rather than challenge him be repeating it, I like to wait for another opportunity to raise the issue again. I don’t consider Neil’s tactics “nefarious” and I have used them myself in other forums that deal with other subjects. I have just chosen a different approach on this one.

        • 2012-04-16 08:26:43 UTC - 08:26 | Permalink

          There was a time McGrath attempted to sound accommodating at least towards a scholarly peer who might be completely new to the debate, but yes, I agree, that is what he meant behind his facade. I was trying to get him to admit it or deny it.

          But I’m not the only one who has observed Dr McGrath is always careful with his words and will never let himself be pinned down. Or if he does on rare occasions slip up he will simply walk away or accuse one of misrepresenting him.

  • 2012-04-17 11:59:23 UTC - 11:59 | Permalink

    I yet dare to ask of any reader of my above comment, from whatever his/her sense perception:: Might it not at least say that mysticism, the claim that “one can exxperience the Absolute for oneself” has siignificient historical, legitimate, intellectual standing?

  • JesusMysteriesForum (@JM_News_Updates)
    2012-04-17 23:21:15 UTC - 23:21 | Permalink

    A very long time ago the topic of agnosticism regarding the question of the existence of God came up at Xtalk. I posted an example of what it’s like to be agnostic where decision has nothing to do with the stance. Consider the question as to precisely how many people are living on this planet at this moment. We don’t and can’t ‘know.’ If we take a leap of faith and say that we ‘believe’ there are 6,277,410,139 we’d be wrong.

    The did-Jesus-exist agnosticism is different because we have the evidences of ancient texts and historical silences. Earl Doherty (and others, of course) can be sure that Jesus was/is not historical because he has been able to arrange and organize the cumulative flow of evidences and silences through his years of questioning and examining the data. Agnostics haven’t reached the point of MJ or HJ decision because they haven’t been able to do that and might not ever, even with a pure desire to know.

    But, how can we know whether or not Earl has hit upon the correct conclusion? There might be other ways but one is by scrutinizing his work for holes in his arguments, a hefty process. Conversely, the same can be done with HJ material. Would there still be a hint of doubt? We’d have to ask Earl. Knowing Earl, his answer would be honest.

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  • Sam Hampton
    2012-06-13 03:36:43 UTC - 03:36 | Permalink

    Some YouTube videos an Atheist, with a sense of humor, may enjoy

  • Teleile
    2015-06-12 22:34:59 UTC - 22:34 | Permalink

    Thirty years ago, when I started meditating, I was startled to see a figure standing behind everyone. Well, everyone I knew, I can’t say whether everyone in the world. He stood behind and a bit taller than them, looking down sadly. I knew it wasn’t the person’s guardian angel, as each person’s angel looks a bit different, whereas this figure was always the same. I felt: It’s Christ. He looked nothing like the bearded picture we all get shown from childhood, though!

    Some years later, I was fascinated to see the wooden model of Christ made by the clairvoyant, Rudolf Steiner. He looked exactly like the figure I see.

    http://tinyurl.com/pfbsamf

    He has blue eyes and reddish-brown (auburn) hair.

    The handsome bearded man is a kind of chinese whispers misrepresentation which, because it’s been repeated so often, people believe must be true. When people have visions of Jesus, it’s not that they’re wrong. He is there, but they’re seeing Jesus’s appearance as their minds think it should be. The real Jesus Christ is not handsome. “He hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him.”

    He stands behind people, knocking at the door, sadly, because they won’t let Him in.
    Christ’s voice is the conscience; at first it’s not an audible voice, it’s just the faint thought you have, for instance, that you should stop and give that homeless man something. Every time you ignore it (you walk on by, ignoring the hungry man), you put up another layer between you and Christ’s voice, until you don’t even have the faint ‘thought’ any more.
    When you listen to your conscience, you become able to hear it more and more clearly, until it becomes an actual audible voice; not heard in your head, or ‘around’ you in space, but located in your chest in the heart area.

    When people listen, then Christ, instead of standing behind someone, moves into and merges slowly with them: ‘Not I, but Christ in me.’ He sups with you, and you with Him. He gets to share in your life, and helps you with even your most mundane problems and questions. He now has a pair of arms and hands – yours – to work on Earth. And you share in His life; you experience the joy of living in the spiritual kingdom, while you are here walking around on earth.

  • David Ashton
    2015-06-12 23:12:57 UTC - 23:12 | Permalink

    My wife and I once had a local Baptist minister in our home who told us in all seriousness that he had Jesus riding with him literally and physically on the back of his motorbike. You cannot make it up, or perhaps you can.

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