In a previous post on the blog, I proudly and sarcastically claimed the title of a fundamentalist atheist. Sarcastically, because I didn't really think there was such a thing, that it was just another in the list of straw men and flat falsehoods theologians routinely employ when attacking such atheists.
I still think that that list is long, but I might have to take fundamentalist atheism off of it. There does seem to be a well-defined group of dumb atheists, dumb as fundamentalist Christians, with their own well-defined set of myths which they do not question any more than the Christian fundies question their dogma. Both groups gather together for the purpose of telling one another they are right, and to proudly cite people who seem to agree with their myths, and to refer to such people as authorities because of that perceived agreement, and for no other good reason. The biggest superchurch of the atheist fundies is the website jesusneverexisted.com, where they gather to tell each other that Jesus never existed, that Christianity was invented by the powerful as a means to manipulate the masses, that not one aspect of the Jesus myth is original, everything having been borrowed from earlier myths, that in the early first century AD Bethlehem was uninhabited and Nazareth did not yet exist, and so forth. What a huge circle-jerk.
If you opine in his presence that you are not certain whether Jesus existed or not, such an atheist fundie may compare you to people who believe that Bigfoot and Spiderman are real and that pyramids and crop circles were made by aliens, and insist that there is no evidence for Jesus' existence.
Let's start with this last one first. I'm so tired of hearing it repeated over and over that there is no evidence for Jesus' existence. The New Testamentis evidence. If it doesn't convince you of anything, fine, then call it unconvincing evidence. Stop saying nobody wrote about Jesus: the New Testament authors did. Call them deluded or charlatans if you wish, or deluded charlatans, but they were somebody, not nobody. Don't tell me that if Jesus had existed, surely there would be much more written evidence -- you're just telling me that you don't know what you're talking about. Lower-class people like the sons of carpenters weren't written about back then. The Romans did not keep written records of every person they crucified, not even if one of them had all of twelve followers. Twelve followers. Pontius Pilate, who ruled the entire province of Judea at the time, is known mostly from the New Testament. He can't be said to have been better-attested than Jesus until the mid-20th century, when a block of limestone was found in Israel into which Pilate's name had been engraved in the 1st century by all appearances.
And we know, all of us sensible people, that Stan Lee created Spiderman, that pranksters made those crop circles and that picture of Bigfoot, and that Egyptians and Mayans and Incas and other Earthlings made those pyramids. We don't know for sure who might've made up Jesus. It was the powerful! say these turnips. They invented Christianity to keep the masses down!
Well, it seems awfully strange that the powers that were would invent a story of a poor boy, born in a barn and killed 33 years later by crucifixion, a punishment reserved for poor people and slaves, for nobodies, as King of the Universe. That part of the Jesus story was a definite subversion of the prevailing power structure.
It was also original, so much for the meme about everything in the Jesus story having been borrowed from earlier myths. Buddha was a prince, Mithras was either a monarch or a deity, Dionysus was a god, whoops, the Christians didn't steal every part of the story, did they?
A poor person, a nobody from the despised classes which faced crucifixion if they were killed, unlike the stabbings and poisonings reserved for the big muckety-mucks, becoming King of Kings -- that part of the story was revolutionary. And Christianity at first spread mostly among the lower classes and slaves. Emperors tried repeatedly to wipe it out. Diocletian made the most strenuous of these efforts to destroy Christianity, and his successor Constantine then allied himself with it, by all appearances, out of necessity rather than choice. Christianity was invented by the powerful so that after two and a half centuries of pretending to oppose it, then could then cleverly make an alliance to keep the little people down?
That's tinfoil-hat territory, folks.
So is the stuff about Nazareth not existing until centuries into the Christian era and no-one at all living in Bethlehem in the 1st century. Augustus never made that census which would've required Joseph and the pregant Mary to travel to Bethlehem, but if he had, Bethlehem would've been there waiting for them, with people in it and at least one manger and everything. Trust me. Or don't, become expert in the ancient history of the area and make up your own mind who's talkin' smack, me or jesusneverexisted.
No, I don't believe in God, I don't think Jesus walked on water, healed the lame and insane, fed a huge crowd with a small basketful of bread and fish, raised Lazarus from the dead or rose from the dead himself. There are many other parts of the stories in the New Testament besides these that I think are clearly fiction. But I'm not going to dismiss the possibility of any factual core to the story because of obvious mythical elements, any more than I'm about to assume that George Washington never existed just because Parson Weemslied to us all about that cherry tree and the dollar young George was supposed to have thrown across the Potomac.
I don't know whether there was a real person, maybe named Jesus, maybe not, who inspired the New Testament stories, or whether someone else -- my prime suspect would be Saul/Paul of Tarsus -- made the whole thing up.
I don't know. Please don't lump me together with people who are sure on that question, one way or the other. I think that both Christians and others who insist, Of course Jesus existed, and atheists (and a few others) who insist, Of course he didn't! are trying to end investigation into the question. And pardon me, but that's just no fun. I see nothing remotely like convincing, debate-ending evidence either way here.