2014-01-03

What R. Joseph Hoffmann Does Not Want (Anyone) To Believe About Me

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by Neil Godfrey

R. Joseph Hoffmann on his blog The New Oxonian has been complaining about “the language and style” of “mythticists” — those he, Hoffmann, calls “disease carrying mosquitoes” and “buggers” — saying that they, the “mythticists”, lower the tone of the debate. In support of this assertion he has Tim O’Neill along calling mythicists’ arguments “conspiracist gibberish and pure bile”. I would love to ask Hoffmann to give examples of his own (and O’Neill’s) style of insulting language in any of Earl Doherty’s or Robert M. Price’s or Thomas Brodie’s books, but I don’t think he likes me very much and he is very selective about what comments of mine he allows to appear there.

For example, he begins his blog post by saying that this blog, Vridar, is some sort of rallying point for “a clutch of historical Jesus deniers” (deniers??) and that the reason for my role has something to do with my “conservative Christian background”. He was referring to my years in the Worldwide Church of God (WCG) though much of the 1970s and 80s. He and his fellow “Jesus Prospect” participants — he once posted a long list of these but to my knowledge only two others have ever posted anything on his blog: Maurice Casey and Stephanie Fisher. I don’t know any of them personally but all three have psychoanalysed me and concluded I have been left as some sort of twisted mental and emotional cripple from my years in the WCG.

I at first thought this to be a perverse and tendentious reading of everything I have ever published on my experiences with the WCG and how I left that cult and how I managed my life and readjustment after it. So when Hoffmann re-posted the same article I tried to briefly point out to him and his readers that he was being very one-sided in his view of me.

Hoffmann and Casey have attacked my character and person viciously in recent years. That’s a pity, because Hoffmann once complimented a post of mine in which I discussed an article about the “history of Jesus” over the past two millennia. And there was much I liked in his thesis on Marcion. So there was once hope we could hit it off. But I spoiled it by pointing out his inexcusably false accusation of Earl Doherty in one of his print publications on Goguel. I do hate it and am always enraged when I see public intellectuals abusing their status by telling outright porkies. (Some scholars have interpreted this as meaning I am somehow “against all scholars”. Do some really think they are all liars by profession?)

Hoffmann has from time to time continued to go out of his way to direct some insult this way, but I decided this time to try to correct the record when he recycled his year old post. I wrote:

LOL. Oh Hoffy, you are hard up for material, aren’t you. Firstly, I was brought up in a very liberal Methodist church and was most happily in an even more liberal Anglican one before I decided to abandon faith altogether. So what is my theological agenda now that I have posted and support the views of Thomas Brodie who is one of several Catholic scholars who have acknowledged that Christianity can indeed survive without an historical Jesus? Sorry to disappoint you if I am not an angry atheist hell bent on attacking Christianity as you seem to need me to be doing.

Stephanie Fisher (she’s a doctoral student of Casey’s so we must presume she really does have fundamental reading comprehension ability when she tries) jumped in with this:

From minimal research into various Christian cults I would describe the WCG (Worldwide Church of God) as a particularly terrifying fundamentalist Christian cult and one which would take great strength and support to get out of, even leaving one quite bereft and possibly emotionally injured. I would not include ‘happy’ and ‘liberal’ if describing a devotee.

Er, yes, the WCG was certainly not liberal but what did Steph’s comment have to do with what I said?

My pre-atheist and pre-Vridar background

So I wrote the following to try to explain a few facts. Hoffmann deleted the comment. He did not allow facts to get in the way of a good kick-Neil session. I asked him again to post it but he declined:

If you’d like to know what my religious background was and how it has affected me then simply ask. Or check the many times I have described the experience, and my own experiences both before and after it. I have been completely open about how it all affected me, and how I emerged from it very positive about life and how I turned the negatives of my past into positives. I don’t see myself as a victim and I refuse anyone else’s categorization of me as a victim. That’s baloney. i was and remain responsible for my own actions. I made mistakes. I learned.

But at the time I became an atheist I had moved beyond that mistake and was very happily attending Anglican and occasionally other congregations I enjoyed, including a Catholic one. I was a very happy liberal Christian but it was my own ongoing questioning and reflections that led me to atheism.

Some do leave cults in bitterness and as a reaction against bad experiences, but many don’t. That’s not to say some very negative experiences were had, but there were also many positives as I have posted about, too. And one thing is uppermost in most members’ minds if they do contemplate the bad times — it is a sign of spiritual weakness and defeat if one ever lets bitterness take them out of the cult. We lived by faith and looked beyond the experiences like that.

Just sitting back in your arm chair and reading a few web pages about the cult instead of getting to know people who have lived it and come through it with a very positive outlook on life — there are many like me — and then trying to psychoanalyze me and people like me is just arrogant and ignorant, sorry.

I have learned much from the experience. I have established a support group that helped others re-adjust to life outside their similar religious experiences. I have never gone out to “attack” religion. I respect people of faith and I respect their faith — Why wouldn’t I? I once walked in their shoes so I do understand where they are coming from.

But please, do stop this silly nonsense about what a poor crippled soul Neil must be because of his experience with the WCG. Yes, I suffered a lot and I caused a lot of suffering. But I came through it more mature and positive than I may otherwise have been. People can learn and grow from their experiences, you know. Victim be blowed! No way. If you find anything to suggest otherwise in anything I have written then produce your evidence!

Casey has already posted on Hoffmann’s blog that I am reacting against my negative religious experience and am out to attack Christianity by arguing the mythicist case.

This, of course, is fanciful and ignorant drivel, and suggests a very selective reading of sections of my own profile, mixed with a strong dose of hostility.

Meanwhile, he continues to write what poor specimens “mythicists” are because of their lack of decorum and civil language and hostile agendas!

In one sense it is true that my cult experience has indirectly led to this blog. One of the decisions I had to make after leaving it was to decide whether I would, as many do, completely turn my back on all that I had experienced and never visit any of it again, or see if I could salvage something positive from it all and make the most of that with my new life direction. I knew I knew the Bible far better than most, and had a scholarly interest in it, and means of following up some of that, so I decided to share with others what I could see scholars were indeed writing about it — things I thought would be of benefit if more widely known. So in that sense this blog can be attributed to my experience, but who knows really — Maybe this would have happened anyway by some other route.

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Neil Godfrey

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20 Comments

  • 2014-01-04 01:03:05 GMT+0000 - 01:03 | Permalink

    You could, of course, write regular posts endlessly psychoanalyzing why someone who openly affirmed being a “mythicist” as recently as 2007 has become the most virulent anti-mythicist a mere six years later. That is such a strange metamorphosis within a short period of time to require extraordinary explanation.

    You could speculate about the frightening existential crisis that person must gone through at Harvard Divinity School when he realized that his childhood faith was now in tatters, and the searing emotional scars that the experience produced that have never healed.

    You could speculate about his books on the importance of anti-Christian philosophers of antiquity, and early heretics, surely best explained, not as actual scholarship, but merely childlike rebellion against authority.

    You could speculate that it was his realization that chairing the Committee for the Scientific Examination of Religion might have led some to question Jesus’s existence, and therefore he, like Marcion, was a heresiarch who unwittingly helped spawn the modern mythicist movement, and therefore, to atone to academia for this greatest of all sins, he must now destroy all trace of mythicism or else be forever racked by guilt for the untold damage he has caused to Biblical scholarship.

    You could do this, but why? It is neither important nor appropriate to psychoanalyze what it was in a person’s background that lead people to reach positions that actually have a perfectly logical explanation in the present, namely that humans change their minds. It could be that going from a mythicist position to an anti-mythicist position is based on nothing more than that — no psychoanalysis required. That the anti-mythicist will not extend you the same benefit of the doubt is a poor reflection of his character, but not one worth dwelling over.

    • Neil Godfrey
      2014-01-04 01:13:50 GMT+0000 - 01:13 | Permalink

      No doubt these “Jesus Prospect” Three — Hoffy, Morry and Stephie — will crow loudly when Casey’s book appears. He has already published parts of it, apparently, in his blogposts on Hoffmann’s site. Others like O’Neill and McGrath and a few more will rave about it for a while, but somehow I cannot muster normal feelings of common respect for people like Maurice Casey and Joe Hoffmann who have gone out of their way to treat others with whom they disagree the way they do. And Bart Ehrman says “mythicists” are out to “devour” their opponents! The level to which some scholars have stooped is beyond belief.

      • 2014-01-04 05:28:41 GMT+0000 - 05:28 | Permalink

        If they responded in a level and cool-headed manner, people might actually think this is a serious question worth asking! That is a priori horrible! It’s bad enough that they’ve been pressed against the wall and made to deign it with a response in the first place! What about that don’t you understand?!

        • Neil Godfrey
          2014-01-04 07:09:47 GMT+0000 - 07:09 | Permalink

          Sigh. You’re right. I really do have to learn to turn off my naivety button sometimes. I never really could grasp as reality Jimmy McGrath baldly stating that he refused to explain or present mythicist arguments he was attacking lest he lend them any credibility at all. I have never heard of such an approach on the part of “scholars” before. I suppose I should learn to accept that there are many debates in the world that are not really about “the facts”, but about politics, ideology — climate change is one; mythicism another.

          • Tim Widowfield
            2014-01-04 12:36:53 GMT+0000 - 12:36 | Permalink

            We should have expected it from a creationist.

      • 2014-01-04 06:14:18 GMT+0000 - 06:14 | Permalink

        Neil, you’re not “attacking Christianity.”

        What you put here is stuff that deals with some serious questions about the history of Christianity and the realities of the early “histories.”

        There is something Christians may really have to one day get to terms with, that what is claimed the way Christianity started and how it really did start are two entirely separate things.

        One doesn’t even have to be atheist or mythicist to recognize some truly important facts. The first of which is that archaeology and ancient literary evidence CANNOT support the Christian idea of the first century church…because there is no real independent evidence of it.

        It’s a fact I’ve had to come to terms with myself. As you’ve seen on my comments to your posts, it’s the recognition of the fact Josephus pointed us to a wholly different Galilean rabbi who didn’t start “Christianity” but in fact started the most Jewishly-Jewish zealots. That’s just the first piece of independent evidence.

        The idea of a mythical, allegorical Jesus unfortunately fits the actual evidence more. It’s a path that can be seen from the Essenes and Samaritans to the very first of the Gnostics. It’s especially linked with the Alexandrians and what should be clear to anyone who’s read even the most basic description of the church started by Mark is that there isn’t a proto-Catholic near there till at least the late 2nd century…which would also point to the fact the Mark who started the Alexandrian church may also be the one who wrote the Memer Marqe over in the Samaritan culture.

        Christians can believe the New Testament is scripture…but if a certain percentage are only first visible in the late-2nd century…thems the facts. Acts is 2nd century. The pastoral letters are 2nd century.

        And regardless of what we call the New Testament now…the other major fact throwing out Christian beliefs or throwing them into a tail-spin is the whole Marcion/Those of Mark FIRST EVER New Testament. I don’t care the spin Ireneus put on the Marcion thing…he’s by hostile witness still given the Marcion Gospel/Apostle a head-start over the one we have now…since the current canon wasn’t fully fixed till around 395a.d.

      • 2014-01-06 09:00:08 GMT+0000 - 09:00 | Permalink

        It’s also just plain easier, tactically, to address competency than to address evidence itself. The evidence is based in reality, but reality is messy and will leave the reader in doubt about the highly polemical fashion in which you (Neil Godfrey) “should” be treated, given the conclusion you have reached (skepticism regarding the historicity of Jesus). An argument concerning competency isn’t intended to persuade those already sympathetic to the target, but it does have two other functions.

        (1) Placebo rebuttal. Reading people who disagree can cause cognitive dissonance. Working out why they should not be taken seriously can make the world a tidier, safer place once again. Whether this takes the form of a nasty direct comment, a generalized comment made in another context not even naming the intended target, or the elaborate form of the placebo rebuttal blog post, the mere act of contradicting the source verbally and visibly helps reduce cognitive dissonance. (Exactly why do you think people make hundreds of stupid little comments on Youtube videos they don’t like, when they will disappear in a few weeks and be forgotten forever?)

        (2) Shaming. People have power to influence others regarding their perception of what is and is not within the normal range of acceptable behavior or praiseworthy endeavor. This power is exercised habitually when negative comments about a person’s behavior or work are made publicly. This goes for everything, of course, not just the rarefied world of biblical scholarship. By expressing their disapproval, people are making it known to others that something is unacceptable, and others take notice when that isn’t challenged by someone else with more convincing social proof of their authority.

        The authenticity of Paul and the historicity of Jesus are two premises that certainly are protected in this way, no matter what you want to say about the balance of evidence on each of these questions. And it is not hard to see why: they stand at the foundation of the two major theological projects of the past couple centuries, a theology of the New Testament (and for scholars, the canon within the canon there is Paul, as to be seen from Wright’s magnum opus) and a quest for the historical Jesus (which always morphs into one of two things in the epilogue: a repudiation of traditional Christian theology or the beginning of a larger argument for traditional Christian theology, as founded in history).

      • 2014-01-07 10:25:41 GMT+0000 - 10:25 | Permalink

        I meant to quote Niels Peter Lemche here:

        http://www.bibleinterp.com/articles/Conservative_Scholarship.shtml

        “However, having misunderstood- a ‘misprision’ as the late Robert Carroll would have phrased it-my remark, Long proceeds to discuss the merits and lack of merits of his bogus victim. Positing that my lack of interest in the ancient Near East has prevented him from truly understanding the character of ancient Israel in its near eastern context, Long has no trouble in creating an image of a scholar who does not know his stuff. It can be done in a gentle way, as in Long’s introduction. It can be sharpened as in the quote by J.K. Hoffmeister, cited in Long’s introduction, or it can be rude as found in several publications by W.G. Dever and other scholars on the same line like G. Rendsburg. The meaning is the same: do not discuss the points made by these people; just say that they are incompetent.”

        Now, of course, there’s another great part about this kind of tactic. It’s an insistent attempt to drag the discussion down to the one unequivocal point that is in his favor, that the polemicist has the consensus on his side. By bringing it up, the polemicist invites it to be “countered” as if it were a piece of evidence as strong as Josephus or Tacitus or whomever. In reality it is less important than the facts, but in the course of discussion it can loom larger than all the details of the evidence in question. By forcing a response, the polemicist induces in the target the same kind of stock-in-trade replies that have always been made to the question of whether a consensus or an authority can be wrong about something. By getting these responses, the polemicist can proceed to compare the target to anyone who has ever had to find recourse in such rhetorical strategies, and of course the world has seen that _anyone_ who has ever disagreed with a consensus has adopted similar rhetorical strategies in response to the appeal to consensus and authority (it’s almost absurdly obvious put that way, isn’t it?): including the dreaded creationists, holocaust deniers, etc.

        At that point the discussion has gone off the rails entirely. It has ceased to be. All that is left is a bunch of name-calling and other shameful behavior.

        Some people seem to think that reasoned and fruitful discussion that can shed real light on the subject under examination “just happens.” If two people are talking about it, they are debating it. If they are debating it, the truth of the matter is coming out. Of course that is completely ridiculous! When the “discussion” is nothing more than a pissing match resembling a spat in a bar more than an attempt of each person to understand the other and the subject in question, then we are learning nothing of value. In such cases it is only the character of men that is on display.

  • 2014-01-04 07:51:13 GMT+0000 - 07:51 | Permalink

    I think Hoffman’s Jesus Process has gone the way of McGrath’s attempts to provide a web page refuting mythicist arguments.

    Much fanfare, and blowing of their own egos and then – nothing. Hoffman and McGrath like the sound of their own voices , but produce little.

    At least Maurice Casey managed to write his book, It remains to be seen what is in it.

  • 2014-01-04 12:26:16 GMT+0000 - 12:26 | Permalink

    I am being a tattle-tale. In an article about a Thunderf00t video, someone linked to Tim O’Neil’s site about David Fitzgerald. I linked to the first article on the debate on this site and said O’Neil was “being eviscerated”. He responded with:

    *chuckle* If by “eviscerated” you mean “relentlessly nitpicked at by an obsessive weirdo with a personal grudge”. Neil Godfrey is a known loon. Ignore.

    http://debunkingchristianity.blogspot.com/2013/12/no-question-about-it-bible-debunks.html?m=1

    • Neil Godfrey
      2014-01-04 14:56:11 GMT+0000 - 14:56 | Permalink

      I saw him make the same comment — “nitpicking” — about my demolition of his criticism of Rene Salm’s arguments and Nazareth. As David Fitzgerald pointed out, if one slips up then Timmy pounces and will accuse one of everything from stupidity to dishonesty. But if one secures a point well then Timmy mocks the effort as “laboring mightily”.

      When one demolishes his arguments with facts or logic then one is “nitpicking”. I do invite him to respond here to any of the points I have made but on one condition — that he refrain from insult and ridicule. Of course he never has taken up that challenge and I would be surprised if he ever did.

      His little “chuckle” is all he has left. You can bet anything you want that if he suspected he could defend his argument against a mere “nitpicker” he definitely would. But of course he will simply say the effort is “beneath him”. 🙂

      I have no idea why he thinks I’d have a “personal grudge” against him. That’s a bit of over-inflated sense of self-importance on his part. One gets the impression he does not know how to handle anyone who does not take him seriously and who also takes the trouble to point out his many ignorant errors.

      • Tim Widowfield
        2014-01-04 15:15:00 GMT+0000 - 15:15 | Permalink

        Man, I wish we didn’t share the same first name. Maybe we could call him “Toenail” or something else besides “Tim.”

  • Daryl
    2014-01-04 19:49:28 GMT+0000 - 19:49 | Permalink

    As a mostly lurker and only occasional commenter here and at other websites when the historical Jesus subject is discussed, my opinion hardly carries much weight, but I’m disgusted at the ad hominem nonsense Hoffman and Casey spout. As people with Phds their behaviour is deplorable. I’m sorry you have to deal with such things.

  • 2014-01-04 22:26:02 GMT+0000 - 22:26 | Permalink

    Hoffmann was a mythicist until he discovered the Internet, and realized a lot of people agreed with him. That unleashed the rage that he had suppressed since his crisis of faith. The only people allowed to agree with him on mythicism are fellow disillusioned divinity school graduates who spent 30 years of their lives expending every possible effort to salvage the historical Jesus, but failed. His rage is at the loss of this elitist intellectual privilege, not really Neil or mythicism itself.

    • Neil Godfrey
      2014-01-04 22:40:37 GMT+0000 - 22:40 | Permalink

      Surely this is right. I only mentioned here one of my comments that Hoffmann refused to allow a space on his blog. Actually there are a few more that I sent that he refused to let through — though I must confess in some of them I did remind him of his most comical attempts to maintain his argument that Galatians 4:4 is proof that Paul knew Jesus was a bastard.

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