Sunday, May 3, 2015

I Was So Excited When I First Heard There Was Something Called "New Atheism"

I was so excited, just a few years ago, when I found out that there were people called New Atheists, and started finding online atheist communities. Now, several years later, having read the same several dozen slogans 473,786,365,897,7563,8672,188 times in those online communities, having repeatedly been accused of secretly being a Christian or Muslim and been banned from atheist groups for not agreeing

1) that the Bible was written by Bronze Age goat herders or

2) that Constantine and the Pope re-wrote the Bible or

3) that it's 100% certain that the story of Noah was "stolen" from that of Gilgamesh or

4) that Judaism was "stolen" from Zoroastrianism or

5) that it's certain that Jesus never existed (or

6) for even caring whether there was a non-supernatural Jesus) or

7) that there were newspapers in ancient Jerusalem,

to name only of a few of the more spectacularly stupid mistakes which routinely pass as wisdom in many such communities; and after, several times, having finally, with great effort and tenacity, actually convinced someone that one of 1) through 7) or many more up to 30) or so, was a mistake, was ahistorical, getting the response: "So what?" and having people tell me they were going to go with the mistake anyway because that's what others in the group were doing --

-- after all of that, my enthusiasm has cooled somewhat.

Of course, not everyone in those communities clings tenaciously to all of these historical errors. And of course, not all of them are clearly errors. Some, like Jesus' non-existence and the story of Noah having come directly from that of Gilgamesh, are just premature conclusions. Those assumptions could be correct. But they could be incorrect, too, and we'd be learning much more quickly and effectively, as atheist groups, if we didn't rush to embrace every assumption as fact which would allow us, if true, to score points against atheists. It could also be correct, for example, as is routinely assumed in atheist communities, that there never was a Moses or an Exodus from Egypt to Canaan in the 13th century BC. If there was one it was much smaller than the 600,000 families which the Bible says wandered for 40 years. But try to get a discussion of small-Exodus theories going in atheist communities. Go ahead, try it.

There are just so damn few of us in these groups who, when considering historical topics like these, are actually more interested in knowing what really happened than in framing a narrative which is as unflattering to religion, primarily unflattering to the Abrahamic religions, as possible. Precious little serious historical discussion going on here. It no longer surprises me that historians tend to take such a negative view of movement atheism.

It no longer surprises me that so many movement atheists assume that academic historians, in and out of the fields of Biblical Studies and "the relevant fields," are either believers, or corrupted by the money and power of believers. It still greatly disappoints me, but it doesn't surprise me any more.

I still have exactly the same major problem with the academic mainstream which I had before I ever heard of New Atheists. (I had heard of Richard Dawkins before this, and read 2 of his books on biology, and I thought they were great, and I still do, and just like many historians I wish he would go back to biology, back to something he's good at.) That problem is their refusal, with very very few exceptions, to even consider the possibility that Jesus might have been a mythical character right from the start, and never an historical figure. But compared to all the problems I have with the movement atheists, it's not an overwhelming problem. It's a significant problem, but there's just one of them.

Apparently, one of the very very few mainstream academics who aren't convinced that Jesus existed, Thomas L Thompson, who was a professor of theology at the University of Copenhagen from 1993–2009, who because of his doubts is naturally very popular among the non-academic mythicists, was until very recently unaware that those mythicists existed, because he only read primary materials and peer-reviewed academic material. Last I heard he had no intention to start reading the non-academic mythicists. Ah, what blissful ignorance that must be.

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