Sorry I’ve slowed down my writing. I just haven’t been feeling it lately. I’ve got a new job that doesn’t make me hate life, so it’s hard to write about everything wrong with the world.
An atheist friend has shown me a video and asked for a response. He of course claims that the speaker Richard Carrier totally explains everything and debunks Christianity once and for all. So you know about what it’s going to sound like. I’m not really recommending you watch it. I’ve got my commentary below as a kind of stream of conscious.
And notice this guy isn’t making a video debunking Islam in depth. Only the Christians have the courage to take on Islam. Atheists are cowards. They go after low-hanging fruit. Anyone can criticize Christianity and know they will probably be safe. And nobody is bitter at Mormons or Buddhists. Atheists’ obsession with Christ is proof of their thirst for Christ.
Anyway, here we go:
Carrier says the Gospels are fiction and that the word “myth” means the same thing.
This is false. The word “myth” means story. Over time it has become connotated to mean fiction or lie, but in a strict scholarly sense (which seems to be how he wants to be taken), it means story.
For example, World War II is a foundational myth of our society. This does not mean that World War II was a lie. Just that the story of World War II and the way we interpret it has had a major influence on our society.
The Latin equivalent of the Greek word “mythos” is “fabula”, where we get our word “fable.”
So already he has set me up to be doubtful of anything he says.
Carrier talks about “vivid narration”, that if the Gospels give lots of details, then Christians say it must be true but that actually it would mean it would be even more likely to be made up.
Actually the Gospels skip out on a lot of details. Often you cannot tell if the characters are being serious or sarcastic.
For example, Luke 22:36-38:
“But now, he who has a money bag, let him take it, and likewise a knapsack; and he who has no sword, let him sell his garment and buy one. […] So they said, “Lord, look, here are two swords.” And He said to them, “It is enough.”
Does Jesus mean that two swords are enough or that He is tired of the disciples interrupting with mundane talk and misunderstandings? The passage is vague.
When Christian apologists claim that the Gospels are vividly narrated, they are referring to small details like how a fire was made out of coal or the names of background characters. Small things that you wouldn’t think up because they are not relevant to the story.
It’s inherent in having multiple witnesses that they will contradict each other in small ways. One Gospel says that Jesus cursed the fig tree on the Monday before His death, and another Gospel says it was the Tuesday. Which is it? Well, it’s not the point of the story, so it doesn’t matter.
That the Gospels have weird mundane details and then gloss over other details we would like to know and have small contradictions is a strong case that it was written by people who were actually there (or who knew people who were actually there).
Carrier talks about emulation criteria, that the stories in the Gospels sound like other stories in history.
I knew he was going to go there. I’ll break this down real quick and hopefully we can skip over this section when he goes into detail. This argument is painfully tiring.
Throughout ancient history and ancient mythology, there are numerous similarities. Atheists say that these prove that the Bible just adapted myths from other cultures.
For example, most cultures have a flood myth. The atheist could say that Genesis stole this myth from a neighboring culture. More likely, there was actually a major flood in the ancient world, and different cultures remember this in different ways.
I wrote a paper in college about how the Iliad was based on history and was just exaggerated over time. There was a mighty warrior named Achilles who fought against Troy, who had a mighty warrior named Hector. And Achilles killed Hector and it was assumed that he was invincible. Then he was shot in the foot and died. Everyone thought it was kind of funny that the greatest warrior of all time was killed in such a way, and they told the story over and over until it was embellished into the myth we know today.
In the late 1800s, there was a German self-taught archaeologist named Heinrich Schliemann who was convinced that Troy was a real place. At the time, every respected scholar in the world believed Troy was fictional and would laugh you out of the room for suggesting otherwise. Schliemann used the Iliad as a kind of map, and based on the geography in the book, he found a place on the coast of Turkey to start digging. And he found a city underneath. And as it turns out, there are nine layers of city underneath. So then the academic world said, “Okay fine Troy is real, but everything else in the Iliad is just a story.” And to this day most scholars still consider him to be a lunatic even though he was right.
I think they are just jealous that Schliemann truly adored and internalized these stories that they had sucked the life out of. Nietzsche said that literature is a vast field of grain and academia is like sitting in a dark silo trying to crush each kernel with your fingers.
Sometimes atheists claim that earlier myths from other cultures talk about specific things about Jesus. There are three possibilities here.
1) The myth is a coincidence.
2) The myth is a foreshadow of Christ.
3) The atheist is fake news.
He says the Gospels don’t look like normal histories. Yeah, that’s the point. The purpose of the Gospels isn’t to answer every question and give you something to write a dissertation on. The purpose of the Gospels is to teach you how to live life. It’s a different genre.
He says the Gospels don’t name their sources but most ancient histories do. Two problems with this.
1) The Gospels were either eyewitness accounts or were by someone who was around the disciples. The source is implied.
2) Most ancient histories do not citate their sources. I think Pliny the Elder did. But it’s pretty rare. Ancient historians were more like rumor collectors. Nobody discounts Livy, even though we know a lot of it was myth and a lot of it was political propaganda.
It reminds me of my Ancient Philosophy class in college. The professor was talking about how the synoptic Gospels and how there must have been a prior source we don’t know about because the three writers weren’t witnesses. I said that Matthew was there. He laughed and said that of course Matthew was not present and then continued on without explaining. You can see why I don’t take atheists seriously.
Richard Carrier is clearly a cut rate internet scholar who knows just barely enough to make himself sound authoritative. In fairness, so are most pastors who think they understand Greek.
I can tell that I’m going to have to stop the video every thirty seconds if I have to respond to everything. So I’m going to gloss over a lot of things and just hit the highlights that stick out to me. You know how people say that if you were to respond to everything that Anita Sarkeesian gets wrong in a one-hour video that it would take you days? Well this is one of those.
Carrier talks about how Jesus walks up to Peter and Andrew and within a few minutes convinces them to drop everything and follow him.
Obviously, the Bible is not telling the whole story because the Bible is not intended to be a regular history. Peter and Andrew already had some knowledge of who Jesus was. The narrative doesn’t tell the backstory on that, because it’s not important. The point of the story is about how following Jesus is more important than your day job.
It’s odd that Carrier is in some sense more of a Biblical literalist than any Christian.
Carrier says that the disciples are dumber than a bag of hammers because they continue to fail to learn.
Yeah, that’s a major frustration of Jesus. He’s spent three years explaining things to them over and over, and they still do not understand even the basics. They have no faith. They only want Him for the status He provides. Jesus’s hour of death is approaching, and the disciples are totally unprepared.
This isn’t a plot hole. It’s a core concept of the narrative.
You would think that if the disciples intended to write a fictional biography of Jesus, they would make a point to make themselves look good. How are you supposed to lead a cult if you paint yourself to be an idiot?
I feel like Carrier just skimmed through the Gospels but didn’t actually read them. Like he did a once-over but was just looking for ammunition and then plagiarized from a real scholar. He starts with the premise that the Gospels are silly, and from there he makes no attempt to understand the characters’ motivations.
Carrier says that many stories of Jesus are just updates from the Old Testament and are therefore false. I’m kind of surprised. I genuinely thought I had heard every atheist argument in existence.
Of course the story of Jesus parallels Old Testament stories! That’s the point! The Epistles even make a point to elaborate on it, because the core concept of the Old Testament is to point to Christ. They aren’t merely historical stories.
The name “Jesus” is just the Greek version of “Joshua.” Joshua crosses the Jordan river and begins trying to establish the state of Israel. Jesus is baptized in the Jordan river and begins his ministry trying to establish the Kingdom of God.
Judah sells Joseph — an innocent man and the future ruler of them all — into slavery for 20 coins. Judas sells Jesus — an innocent man and the future ruler of the all — into slavery for 30 coins. Do you see a parallel? Is that a coincidence? Is it plagiarism? Like a dog whistle that you are supposed to both be fooled by and totally pick up on?
Things can be both allegorical and historical. Those are not mutually exclusive categories. God guides history.
There are countless sermons throughout history explaining how the Old Testament points to Christ. This isn’t a new insight that destroys the foundations of Christianity. It’s always something that’s been in plain sight.
Why, it’s almost like the writers of the New Testament totally understood the Old Testament and weren’t just inventing a new religion. And again, the Gospels were not written to be a regular point-for-point history.
This applies to what he says a little later about how the Gospels are internally cyclical.
He says it’s weird that a woman anointed Jesus for burial days before He was killed. (Matthew 26). Yeah, the woman understood Jesus’s message. She knew that He was going to be killed. The disciples couldn’t understand it because they were full of pride. But this unnamed woman who was an outsider came to Jesus to worship. She came to give, not to demand. That’s the point of the story. Why, it’s almost like Jesus had been saying this for three years.
If all of this poetic ring structure is designed to be mere literature, why did the writers intend for it to be taken literally? Why were they willing to die for their story? Because Carrier seems to claim that they not only just made it up but wanted the reader to understand it was made up.
Carrier claims that John was Jesus’s erotic lover because he refers to himself as “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” Not really worth responding to, but it reminds me of a deeper point I’ve made before.
It goes back to my point that in our society, “love” is another word for orgasm. It has nothing to do with closeness, vulnerability, or deeply caring about the others’ interest. No, it’s just a rush of physical pleasure. Love at first sight. The highest Truth possible.
Again, never take atheists seriously. I can count on one hand the number of atheists I’ve met that I respect as intellectuals.
Carrier says that our Gospel of John is an edit and not the original. Of course he doesn’t explain how he knows that. And he doesn’t even say it’s a guess — just that it’s absolute fact. And you the viewer should be dumb enough to trust him with full blind faith
He after a few minutes of this, he finally gives the big reveal of how he knows it. You can tell by the way the text seems to reflect other parts of the text. Yes, it’s just a big conspiracy theory, but it’s actually true this time, because Carrier has a PhD and a lecture tour. Christians are the ones who believe everything without evidence, but atheists have the intelligence to piece together disjointed magazine clippings and come up with the real story.
Didn’t Carrier criticize the Gospels for not citating their sources? At least he makes a point to say that being peer reviewed is a worthless criterion. Academia is dead. If your book has Ivy League approval, I’m more likely to dismiss it as Pravda.
Carrier touches on an important point. Some scholars have tried to cut away the supernatural in the Gospels and create what was the historical Jesus. And they discovered that it was impossible.
Yes, exactly. The Bible is meant to be taken as a whole. You can’t pick and choose what you don’t like. Jesus absolutely did not intend to be taken as “just a good teacher who was all about love and tolerance.” Either the New Testament is entirely true or is completely ridiculous, but there is no middle ground.
(The Old Testament is like that to a lesser extent. On one hand, most of the historical narrative is written rather plainly and is plausible even from a secular perspective. You can tell by the attention given to numbers, lineage and geography. At the same time, the intervention of the supernatural is so pervasive that it is hard to make a narrative of what happened without the supernatural.)
And really, if you think the Bible is ridiculous, why are you spending your life studying it? I may read the Koran or the Book of Mormon in order to debunk it, but I don’t devote my life to it. I don’t write a dissertation on the literary elements and how passages reflect each other. I don’t pour try to connect all the possible dots within the text as though there’s a hidden richness that I’m thirsty to discover.
As I said above, the atheist is obsessed with Christ because he is thirsty for Christ but has no way to connect to Him except through dry academic study. I’ve met a few atheists who think religion is stupid but otherwise don’t care, and I actually respect that on some level.
After an hour Carrier finishes his presentation and takes questions from the people. I’ll just make some quick notes on some of the things he says.
1) Carrier claims that he will exclude any scholar who believes the Bible is “literally true” (which I realize that’s a loaded term, but we’ll take it at face value for the sake of the argument).
It must be easy to be an atheist when you can just write off any evidence or argument that doesn’t fit your worldview. How are these people any different from the fundamentalists they hate? They just took the same psychology and inversed the ideology.
2) Carrier starts talking about the Greek of the Old Testament (more on that below) and how clearly the authors were educated in Greek schools (and I suppose therefore came from money instead of being poor fishermen).
I don’t know if I have told you guys this yet, but I minored in Classical Greek in college. It really annoys me when people start talking about Greek who know nothing about Greek. Maybe at the most this guy took a couple semesters of baby Greek in undergrad. I devoted three years to real Greek and even learned to write in it.
Luke and Paul were well educated, though perhaps not in Greek literature. The other writers, no of course not.
The First Epistle of John is like the Green Eggs and Ham of the Bible. Less than fifty words and like two and a half sentence structures yet explains complex philosophical ideas in a way that anyone can understand. I bet you couldn’t do that.
He both claims the Gospels are brilliant and also claims they are full of obvious holes. It’s almost like Carrier just hates the Gospels for the sake of hating the Gospels.
3) I more or less agree with what he said about Revelation, that it was more about their contemporary times and that it is very easy to read into it what you want. Really, I think it was a double prophecy, both about John’s contemporary world and the end of the world centuries later. However, it’s best not to think we can line up our own events with Revelation and just know what it’s talking about. The book was obviously designed to be a mystery.
4) He says that on the sermon on the mount, it is alluding to the Septuagint, which is the Greek Old Testament. He says this as though it’s unique that the Bible refers to the Greek instead of the Hebrew. When in actuality, usually the New Testament is quoting the Septuagint instead of the Hebrew or another language. That was the norm. Hebrew was a dead language and is difficult to interpret, and the Septuagint was clear and commonly available. Everyone had a basic knowledge of Greek (even though the Septuagint is written in a very weird form of Greek).
Sorry to burst your bubble, protestants, but your Biblia Hebraica isn’t the golden key. You cannot understand the Greek New Testament without the Greek Old Testament, because that’s where the allusions come from. It’s amazing how this is totally glossed over in protestant seminaries. They teach classes called Biblical Greek that ignore over half of the Greek Bible!
5) At mark 1:17:00, Carrier talks about the Q, that there is an unknown source that the synoptic Gospels were based on. I mentioned this above. It’s a dumb theory, but whatever. I point it out, because he straight up admits that there isn’t very good evidence at all. As in, non-existent except for our conspiracy theory.
What?! But I thought atheists only believe things that are proven like evolution and global warming and gender fluidity.
And yes I realize he says he thinks it’s false. But it’s still a very common theory and is considered reputable in his precious peer reviewed literature. Many well respected scholars consider it to have been a real thing.
6) He says that some atheists will say that Jesus didn’t exist, and then Christians will say, “But the mainstream consensus says he did,” thus shutting down the argument. And then he says that you can tell them, “The mainstream consensus says that Jesus was nothing like you claim he was,” and then demand they be consistent with appealing to the mainstream consensus.
No, you tool. We make the argument that the mainstream consensus says Jesus existed because we are defeating your argument on your own terms. We don’t actually care about the mainstream consensus. The point is that even people who think that Christianity is totally ridiculous will agree with us on this point.
Well, that was horrible. I had to fight myself to keep listening and paying attention. The whole thing was a collection of circular logic.
For kicks and giggles, I looked him up on Wikipedia. He has a PhD in Ancient History, specializing in the History of Science. Hmm, not quite a Biblical scholar, is he?
Oh, and this shouldn’t surprise anyone:
Carrier announced in 2015 that he and his wife had ended their 20-year marriage. He also revealed that he is polyamorous, and that the last two years of his marriage had an open relationship agreement, after informing his wife of his extramarital affairs.
Once you get rid of God, there’s really no morality. Even the social contract “do no harm to others” special pleading seems to be a weak artifice. Atheists can claim they can make a workable morality out of ex nihilo, but practically it rarely turns out to be anything more than convenience. There’s a reason atheists used to not be allowed to take an oath in court (which I intend to do more research on in the future).
And yes, Carrier’s sexual deviancy is relevant to his argument. What one believes about the nature of the world affects how he interacts with the world. The aspects of a person do not exist in isolation from one another.
Atheism is terrible, if for no other reason, than that it is destructive to society.
Another interesting thing:
In his contribution to The Empty Tomb, Carrier argues that the earliest Christians probably believed Jesus had received a new spiritual body in the resurrection, and that stories of his old body disappearing from its tomb were developed later.
That’s just ridiculous. Christianity is the only religion that is disprovable. By that I don’t mean that Christianity is disproven. Only that it has a criterion to disprove it. If you went to the ancient Greeks and told them that Zeus doesn’t live on Olympus, they would say, “So what?” Islam is full of glaring holes, and most Muslims don’t really know anything about it. Hinduism is just a collection of folk traditions, and Buddhism is often atheistic and more concerned with self-mastery.
But in Christianity, if the resurrection is just a metaphor, then it is all worthless. Without the resurrection, Christ is not God. And without Christ being God, there is no reason to build a religion out of him anymore than one would build a religion out of Plato. There would be no reason for the Romans to kill Christians, nor would Christians desire to be killed. There would be no reason for the Sanhedrin to put Jesus to death for blasphemy.
You can make the argument that the resurrection did not happen, but you absolutely cannot claim that the early Christians thought it was just a lovely story.
And uh, I guess here would go some kind of summary concluding paragraph about how Richard Carrier is a teenage hack or something. Whatever.
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