This is our truth, tell us yours
I tend to avoid talking to atheists, and articles like this in Salon are part of the reason why. Faith is a feeling, a belief, a function of the heart. which is not to say that you cannot also have reason in debates about the bible, religion or interpretation of texts, but it is like being in love and having someone come and tell you how the endocrine system works.
To take that analogy a step further, sometimes we love someone our friends disapprove off. This can be for good reasons, they are abusive or harmful, or it can be that they perceive them differently to us. It’s a different type of relationship but I am reminded of when I first met Carter. I have a habit of attracting white knights, men who wish to rescue me, they did not like Carter at all. Oddly the very things they disliked attracted me. White knights remove a womans personhood, reducing us to to trophies to declare how saintly they are. Part of respecting other humans is respecting they may believe things differently to you, and not be wrong.
So, back to the Salon article, with its strange mixture of things every educated Christian knows, strawmen, and “but he must be a wrongun his eyes are too close together” arguments. I suppose, for the sake of not repeating myself I should address these, arguments, for no doubt an athiest will be along soon claiming victory if I don’t.
1. No secular evidence
The first thing that struck me was the “non jewish”. It seems the atheism of the author extends into the murky waters of anti-semitism, since the works of Jospehus are simply ignored as they are written by a Jew. I can barely comprehend that level of dismissal of an entire body of writing due to someones religion, however I suppose Jewish people face it daily. Before I digress to far into a history of anti semitism though lets look at this piece of ridiculousness.
There are no birth records, no trial transcripts, no death certificates; there are no expressions of interest, no heated slanders, no passing references – nothing.
Oh wow, an itinerant working class preacher, from the edge of the Roman Empire, who had a handful of followers and lived a mere 33 years didn’t have a birth certificate! Hang on, neither did my ancestors living in the northern forests of Britain, I must be a myth!
2. The earliest New Testament writers seem ignorant of the details of Jesus’ life, which become more crystalized in later text
This is just odd. The history of the infighting in Jerusalem is well-known, the Jews only versus the convert the gentiles factions of early Christianity. Its recorded faithfully, and with acknowledgement that the rifts almost tore the early church apart, hardly the actions of people trying to create some mythos as far as I can see. But the biggest problem with this objection is it ignores what Paul wrote. Not content, but intent. Paul is not ” refusing to disclose” autobiographical details, he is not writing a biography, he is writing letters to the early churches. That’s why they are called letters. (The writer seems to have missed this, so it is worth repeating it). We do not have the other side of the correspondence, but each letter we do have is written with a specific purpose, usually to address a problem one of the communities is facing. This is no surprise, letters were rare, hard to deliver and only sent in what was a largely oral culture, when necessity demanded it.
To criticise Paul for not mentioning the virgin birth, a feature of one denominations faith irrelevant to the teachings of Christ, or the three wise men is basically saying your knowledge of Chritianity it based on Christmas cards. Paul was sending advice, encouragement and chastisement, including a life of Christ primer in the letters would not only be odd, it would be suspicious. He was writing theology, not biography, not even the totally inaccurate biography the author of the Salon piece seems to remember from their school nativity.
3. Even the New Testament stories don’t claim to be first-hand accounts.
No, they don’t, nor is Herodotus, Bede or Thucydides your point is?
4.. The gospels, our only accounts of a historical Jesus, contradict each other.
Well, since you ignore Josephous, as a lying Jew, or whatever, they are the only first hand accounts. But they contradict each other? Really? Does Mathew say Christ started a revolutionary war, or Mark claim He taught guerilla tactics to his followers? Guess what when you get different people giving accounts of the same events, the accounts differ. Part of this in due to the audience the author is writing for. Mark for example was aiming at a Romanized audience, his account is fact paced, with little Jewish theology or prophecy. His travels with Paul meant he belonged to the preach to the gentiles party of early Christianity, and he wanted to put the tales he had heard about Jesus into a form his peer group would appreciate.
Mathew had a very different intention, as someone well versed in Jewish Law and prophecy he wanted to highlight how this new faith did not contradict his own, was not blasphemy (a capital offence). Given their different audiences they will have focused on different parts of the contemporary accounts they were recording. Think this is somehow odd or duplicitous? Here is a Daily Mirror report on the aftermath of the Glasgow bin lorry tragedy, and here is one from the Scottish Herald. Guess what, they are not identical, nor would we expect them to be.
Add on to this the fact witnesses rarely give identical accounts of the same event, indeed it is considered suspicious if they do, and the fact the gospels are not identical not only adds to their authenticity but fits with everything we know about the unreliability of first hand accounts.
5. Modern scholars who claim to have uncovered the real historical Jesus depict wildly different persons.
This is another exceptionally odd one. The writer dismisses accounts written within 50 or so years of Jesus’ death, accounts which are in agreement on the substance, on the personality of the man they portray, accounts which depict a coherent person. However people with books to sell writing over 2000 years later are apparently a reliable source.
So we have apparently a huge conspiracy to create a mythical figure, one which coordinated its writings, while not bothering to ensure they agreed on every detail, or a group of first century Christians writing their truth, and trying to explain what they saw, heard, believed. Occam’s razor anyone?
Of course all these words are actually irrelevant, because of the opening paragraph. I love someone, atheists who attack that love, try to claim that my love is somehow a fact, not a feeling, seem to think that they can out wit me into stopping loving. The fact they chose to attack the love rather than the harms and abuses that have been perpetuated in the name of the Church throughout the ages says more about them than me.