Saturday, December 11, 2010

Being an Atheist Doesn't Mean You Don't Have to KEEP Thinking Rationally

So you've figured out that God is a fairy tale and that Jesus didn't walk on water. Congratulations. But that was a pretty low hurdle you just cleared, Sparky. Also, the rise of "new" atheist authors like Dawkins and Hitchens and Harris, their spending more and more time on the bestseller lists and TV, makes it less and less likely that you cleared it on your own. In short, as the public presence of atheism spreads, so does the visible presence of dumb atheists.

They state flatly that Jesus never existed. Now, I'd be with them if they'd said that the stories of Jesus multiplying loaves and fishes and walking on water were just as fictitious as stories of Harry Potter flying and casting spells. But that's not what they're saying. They're saying that Jesus is as fictitious as Harry Potter, not allowing for the possibility that someone named Jesus really did preach, for example, the collection of bad advice and farfetched promises which has come to be known as the Sermon on the Mount, and really was crucified in Jerusalem on Pontius Pilate's watch. I don't know if there was such a man. I certainly don't know that there wasn't.

They say that the earliest records of His life appear 70 years after His alleged death. No. The Gospels, according to most experts, date from AD 70 and later, which would be 70 years after Jesus's alleged BIRTH, Sparky, which would be 35-40 years afters His alleged death. And they forget, or more likely didn't know, that the writings of St Paul are the earliest known writings about Jesus, pre-dating the Gospels, beginning to appear within 20 or 25 years of His alleged death.

But some of these atheists are even dumber, and insist that the Bible was written around AD 400 at the Council of Nicea under Constantine's supervision, ignorant of the facts that 1) the Council of Nicea took place in AD 325, not in 400, 2) Constantine had been dead for 63 years in AD 400, 3) Constantine didn't care much what was in the Bible, he just wanted the bishops to stop squabbling among themselves and for a unity of the Church to mirror the unity of the Empire, 4) that manuscript fragments of the New Testament pre-dating Nicea by over a century have been found -- just generally really spectacularly ignorant.

"Gnostic" has become a buzzword. Today's atheists have learned that Gnostics were opposed by early Christians, and apparently that's enough for their approval -- the enemy of their enemy is their friend. These atheists have not gone to the trouble of finding out anything about the Gnostics, or Arians, or other dualists, whose teachings, in fact, were even crazier than those of conventional Christians, and who were often viciously antisemetic, claiming that the Old Testament represented the imperfect, evil world of the Demiurge which was to be wiped away by the new and perfect spiritual world of Jesus -- see Steven Runciman's book The Medieval Manichee: A Study of the Christian Dualist Heresy.

One self-satisfied atheist bonehead I've run across recently points out triumphantly that the lack of video and photography in Jesus' time, and the practice of reading intestines and tarot cards, are relevant to the quality of historical statements about the period and that therefore the Magi are fictitious. (I couldn't make this up. Well -- I wouldn't. I didn't.) Neither video nor still photography existed in the time of George Washington or Christopher Columbus. Does this guy think that therefore nothing can be said about Washington or Columbus? (He might. I wouldn't be surprised.) Intestines were read in the Roman Senate -- does he think therefore that Julius Caesar is a fictitious character? Does he think tarot cards were read in the time of Caesar and Jesus? If so, he's off by over 1200 years. I mention this atheist not because he is a rare bird, but because, on the contrary, he does NOT stand out from the mass. He's TYPICAL.

It would be nice if we could transition from an age of discourse among believers to an age of reason. But I think we may be overly-optimistic if we believe that this is already occurring. All too often conventional religion is being traded for beliefs which are equally unsound, resting in an equally uncritical way upon equally unsound authority. I'm not saying there are no bright atheists who think critically and do serious research into historical subjects before pontificating upon them. I just wonder whether there are very many of them, or if typically second-hand reliance on one set of authority has merely been exchanged for equally unthinking acceptance of other authorities.

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