Last weekend I watched Tim O’Neill present his arguments against the idea that there was no historical Jesus. I said I would respond in a post to his points and expected to cover it all in one or two sessions. But time is getting away from me this evening so here I will address just one point, Tim’s opening claims.
Tim begins by arguing that mythicism is appealing because it pulls the rug out from Christianity.
- I don’t know of any evidence to support that claim, the claim that, in general, people who are attracted to the mythicist viewpoint do so because they are motivated by some anti-Christian animus. No doubt. In fact, the evidence that I have been able to collate suggests that this is not true. Some mythicist authors have in fact expressed the deepest respect for Christianity (e.g. Francesco Carotta, Paul-Louis Couchoud, Hermann Detering, Timothy Freke and Peter Gandy, Tom Harpur, Edward van der Kaaij, Robert M. Price).
- Some mythicists have even remained Christians after embracing mythicism and it is through acknowledgement of Jesus as a “mythical” creation they find deeper meaning in their faith (e.g. Thomas Brodie, Tom Harpur, Timothy Freke and Peter Gandy).
- I do not recall reading a single scholarly mythicist work that attacks Christianity as a faith. One of the most prominent warriors against Christianity is John Loftus and he has said that arguing mythicism would be the worst way to try to turn someone away from Christianity. I have posted the same thoughts here. Tim O’Neill tells us that Richard Carrier has said the same. So I don’t know if anyone is seriously attempting to attack Christianity by means of arguing that Jesus did not even exist. (No doubt there are some less well informed people who do this sort of thing, or I assume there must be in a universe as vast as ours, but I am speaking throughout of those who are focused on the scholarly arguments for mythicism by such authors as Brodie, Carrier, Doherty, RM Price and RG Price, Detering, Lataster, Fitzgerald, Ellegard, Wells, Parvus, Onfray and such.)
- Further, if many who are attracted to mythicism are already atheists, then it hardly seems likely that they are motivated by a desire to find pretexts to undermine Christianity. I suppose some atheists are on a vendetta against Christianity, but not even the New Atheists like Richard Dawkins or Christopher Hitchens used mythicism as a deadly cudgel. They did nothing more than refer to its possibility in passing and with some diffidence. They certainly held back from using it as serious weapon.
- I do know many atheists who have acknowledged that it makes no difference to them personally if Jesus existed or not.
- And I don’t know of any atheist or anti-Christian who has taken up mythicism as a cudgel to try to deconvert or disillusion Christians. Maybe some have somewhere out there, but they do not have a large enough critical mass to have registered with me at least.
See my list of names and their religious backgrounds at WHO’s WHO: Mythicists and Mythicist Agnostics. This table was originally put together when I was attempting to establish the grounds for some belligerent attacks on certain mythicists by Emeritus Professor Maurice Casey (and later Bart Ehrman). The table demonstrates the baselessness of Casey’s assertions that most mythicists are somehow in rebellion against early fundamentalist experiences.
Further, I know of others who, as I was for a while, are undecided about mythicism and remain on the fence. It seems unlikely that they are motivated by an anti-religious vendetta if it takes them some time before deciding. Many of us who were once mixed up in fundamentalist type cults or worse are very wary about being swept up in another false belief and are perhaps more cautious than most. They are all too well aware of just how easy it is to be wrong.
In other words, I see no reason to think that Tim’s lengthy attempt to impute a hostile anti-Christian bias among mythicists is anything but fanciful conjecture without any clear or significance evidence.
Ye olde ad hominem
That would not be so bad if that’s all it was, but unfortunately the baseless charge also appears to be an attempt to poison the well, to impute illegitimate motives as the primary factor in any person who is persuaded by or argues for a mythical Jesus.
Finally, one might feel permitted to wonder if it does make sense that the motives and character of mythicists would come under attack if “historicists” felt their work and beliefs of a life-time were coming under scrutiny and certain arguments exposed them to feelings of vulnerability.
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