A week ago James McGrath posted Earl Doherty as Christian Reformer in which he expressed a point I have been making for some years now and especially since Thomas Brodie “came out” as not believing that there was a historical Jesus. Approvingly citing Matthew Green, McGrath writes
if mythicism did turn out to be true, all that would likely happen would be a shift to focusing on learning what the celestial Jesus rather than the historical one taught. Indeed, for many Christians Jesus is a celestial figure who still speaks to them in the present day. For atheists to try to use mythicism as though it were an argument against Christianity makes no sense.
Exactly! And the point has been most clearly demonstrated by Thomas Brodie who has continued to be a Christian believer. See posts #22, 23 and 24 linked in Vridar’s Brodie Files for Brodie’s explanation of why he believes the Christ Myth theory is not incompatible with Christianity.
I have for some years even been quoting Albert Schweitzer who indicated a very similar possibility when he wrote that Christians needed to get away from their focus on the historical Jesus:
[S]trictly speaking absolutely nothing can be proved by evidence from the past, but can only be shown to be more or less probable. Moreover, in the case of Jesus, the theoretical reservations are even greater because all the reports about him go back to the one source of tradition, early Christianity itself, and there are no data available in Jewish or Gentile secular history which could be used as controls. Thus the degree of certainty cannot even by raised so high as positive probability.
. . . . Seen from a purely logical viewpoint, whether Jesus existed or did not exist must always remain hypothetical. . . .
. . . Modern Christianity must always reckon with the possibility of having to abandon the historical figure of Jesus. Hence it must not artificially increase his importance by referring all theological knowledge to him and developing a ‘christocentric’ religion: the Lord may always be a mere element in ‘religion’, but he should never be considered its foundation.
To put it differently: religion must avail itself of a metaphysic, that is, a basic view of the nature and significance of being which is entirely independent of history and of knowledge transmitted from the past . . .
Schweitzer was not a Jesus mythicist and that is all the more reason Christians ought to seriously think about what he said here (from pages 401f in The Quest of the Historical Jesus).
Part of the problem in some circles seems to be a fear or ignorance of atheists and atheism. There seems to be an assumption among some believers that atheists are programmed to seek to attack and destroy Christianity.
McGrath is by no means the only one to dismiss “mythicists” because they are atheists and therefore have a motive to find Jesus did not exist. The point is thought to be to undermine Christianity.
That is nonsense. No doubt some atheists somewhere do scoff at Christianity and claim they don’t believe Jesus existed anyway. But at least among the serious writings I have read arguing for a mythical origin of Jesus not a single one has expressed a hostile or subversive Christian agenda.
Indeed, atheist John Loftus (of Debunking Christianity) made the point I myself had also expressed: the worst possible way to undermine Christianity and turn people away from being believers is to try to say Jesus did not exist. See Is the Christ Myth a Threat to the Christian Faith? (If not, what is?)
But atheists also believe
I have posted about several Christ Myth advocates from past years who have even been very pro-Christian, expressing admiration for the faith, despite not being Christians themselves. Paul-Louis Couchoud was one, if memory serves.
Today there are a number of mythicists who are also favourably disposed towards Christianity. Consult the Who’s Who table for details.
I can see no reason why an atheist would “want” to believe Jesus did not exist. The Jesus atheists believe existed was just another Jewish prophet or miracle worker or whatever. The only reason I could imagine an atheist might want to believe that there was no Jess is if he or she thought Jesus really was god, too. But that makes no sense!
So I am very mystified to learn that another atheist would write the following in her review of Richard Carrier’s On the Historicity of Jesus:
What did surprise me was Carrier’s claims to indifference as to the historicity of Jesus and his professed lack of vested interest in the matter, which in my opinion rests somewhat uneasily with his confessed atheism . . . .
Yet I am assured today that the reviewer, Christina Petterson, is indeed an atheist. That makes no sense to me, either.
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