Thursday, January 14, 2010

An Atheist's Journal: Thoughst on Jesus and Where Christianity is Headed

After nearly three decades of adhering to the Christian faith, only but the last five years of studying the Christian religion intensely, consequently becoming atheist as a natural effect of reaching the best rational position based on the available evidence, I am finding myself starting to move toward a post-theist position.

So basically I will have gone from Christian, to Theist, to Atheist, to Post-Theist in just as much time as it takes the average person of faith to memorize the Ten Commandments (more or less). What an odd, and brief, journey.

The neat thing is I have accomplished what I set out to do... basically, to learn intimately about Jesus Christ, Yeshua, Joshua, the Son of Man, the Son of God, the Nazarene, the Christ and anything else he has been labeled. I wanted to know his person intimately, thoroughly, deeply, and although my knowledge about him is far greater than when I was a believer, and my curiosity of his person is still profound, I have become contented in my knowledge and my journey of getting to know the Jesus of the Gospels in such a close and personal way.

The book "Masks of Christ" (which does a great job investigating the Qumran connection to Messiah veneration in both John the Baptist and Jesus, but also investigates the parallels, mimetic and otherwise, between the two key figures of proto-Christianity) and I find it is like the title suggests, or rather, there is a personalized version of Christ for everyone. He has come to mean so many things to so many people, that the fact that these things are often incomparable or contradictory doesn't so much matter. There is a Christ for every occasion. And now that I have studied how these various interpretations have come about, and traced the roots of these numerous incarnations to their origins the best I could I have less questions about just who and what Jesus of Nazareth really was.

Even so, knowing what I now know, I am forced to agree with the Biblical historian and theologian Robert M. Price when he reflects:

"...if we think there is an ongoing existence of Jesus in the experience (imagination, more likely) of the Pietist believer, this latter becomes "the rel thing" for the believer, overshadowing and outweighing the gospel Jesus, supplanting any historical Jesus."

Looking back as the historical progression of the Jesus Christ figure, a larger than life persona of mythical proportions, I can now make an educated guess on what he likely was. But this won't change the fact that most have a very personalized conception of what he is and means to them personally--regardless of whether or not there understanding is historically accurate or at all viable. It doesn't so much matter to me any more. Although, this dime store variety of Jesus Christ that has been popularized in the last sixty odd years, a retooling of the 17th century resurrection savior surge of Christianity (see Price's book Inerrant the Wind for a look at the historical roots of Evangelical Christianity), it still won't do the real historical version any justice, and in my opinion it certainly won't be as impressive as the legendary and supernatural entity that he has typically been understood by believers throughout the ages. Needless to say, the Jesus Christ of the Bible is far more enticing and fascinating than the Christ most modern Christians are praying to today. And no, they're not at all the same thing.

The Christ I have come to know is far more complicated, intricate, and incredible as he is a composition of various mythological figures combined with Jewish messianic expectations to beget a truly original figure in humanity's litterature. We can investigate the elements which are common to the Mythic Hero Archetype, found in tales all over the world and throughout history, and come to better understand the nature and purpose, the rhyme and reason, for why Jesus Christ has become such a big part of world culture. Jesus Christ is a composite of everything from Hector of Troy and mythemes from the Iliad to a reflection of Adonis, Tammuz, Osiris, Attis, Mithra all infused with elements of Oedipus, Apollonius of Tayana, Asclepius, Hercules, Romulus, Empedocles, John the Baptist, and others. Whether or not there was a historical figure underneath it all is hard to tell, but I am of the opinion that there was. But how much is myth and how much is historical is hard to tell when it all seems to be blatantly overpowered by the potency of the legend.

But who am I to split hairs? Christians who haven't investigated the issue will feel he's none of these. Although this estimation will be grossly inaccurate, since the evidence is obviously in support of Source criticism, Form criticism, Redaction criticism, and exacting exegesis gained via Higher Criticism. But who am I to tell them what to believe? I can only correct their errors when they profess them as fact, but I am starting to get weary of asking them to investigate and learn the truth, because the fact is, they allow confirmation bias and assimilation bias, fueled by dogma, to drive them to the wrong conclusions time and time again. It's vexing, to be sure, but the fact of the matter is, the real truth is readily available for anyone who seeks it.  

When I feel trivialized, I think I done with religion. But I'm not quite finished yet with my preoccupation with religion just yet, although the end is near. Even as such, I still love the history, the mythology, the sociological impact, the apparent memetic evolution and transmission of religious beliefs, and all the various facets which comprise faith, but I'm starting to get bored with the simplistic attitudes and unsophisticated views, that is to say ill informed, of the faithful. Even as I recognize the elitist tone, it's more of a sincere sentiment akin to disconcerting realization that believers care less about the authentic truth than I do, rather than a bald face form of snobbery. I wish more believers knew what I now know, but the sad part is, most believers don't even know what it is they truly believe in. They can give you a run down of their personal testimony, their personal convictions, and recite the devotional creed, but if you asked them to seriously consider what it is they espouse they either look shocked, or retreat to a rehearsed rhetoric to get around the issue of having to face the inevitable, that being, the faith they have made for themselves is nothing like the brand-name faith they have so vehemently subscribed to. That is to say, their variety of Christianity is nothing like the Christianity of fifty years ago, and that is nothing like the Christianity from a hundred and fifty years ago, which is not at all like the Christianity of yesteryear.

It seems at every juncture, Christianity has evolved along with the Christians. Price elucidates further, informing:

"Here, ironically, is the answer to our earlier question as to whether, after two thousand years of conscious human awareness, Jesus' mind would have changed, and so on. apparently so, as the pious imagination continues to attribute its fancies and judgments to the Jesus it imagines to be speaking to it, a risen Jesus who is still available. If there was a historical Jesus, he is long lost in the shuffle."

Christianity has frequently transformed and mutated, split and spread, been re-assimilated into new and different cultures, only for it to be influenced by them and the process repeats itself. Again and again, throughout the course of history, Christianity has been everything and so can't really be defined as anything in particular. With each new variety of Christian faith their has been yet another variety of Jesus to subscribe belief to.

Faith describes it well, because to be a Christian, you have to have faith that your version of Christianity is the right one. Personally, I would say Christians need to have more faith in this than in Jesus, otherwise they couldn't even profess a belief in Jesus, as the majority of Christian thought is antithetical to the very character of Jesus.

Certainly I don't expect Christians to be able to defend the most nebulous, arcane, or perplexing natures of their theology, multiply varieties of faith, and sporadically amended, mistranslated, re-translated, preselected, poetry and prose which comprises the archaic religious texts. But I am getting to the point where it seems that I've gone just about as far as I can go.

Maybe my preoccupation with advocacy for reason, rationality, skepticism, critical thinking, free thinking, free inquiry, freedom of speech, human rights, science and the like will keep me busy. Admittedly, religion isn't going anywhere anytime soon, but for me, I see the world slowly moving beyond religion. As the adage goes, if you dwell on the past too much, you'll only ever live in the past. I see humanity growing beyond their need for religion, slowly but surely, reaching new-found echelons of enlightenment. Who knows what the future holds?

I'd like to think that we're on the cusp of a dawn of a new awakening, where we have shed our dependence of superstitious beliefs and have become fully actualized humans. Maybe we will evolve into something else entirely. Homo novus, the new humanity--and maybe in this rebirth we will have a fresh start in a world in which religion is just a bit of interesting trivia marking our races infancy, a flirtation with the divine, but accompanied by the realization that we are so much more--and that the sky is the limit.

My atheism is a positive one, filled with hopes, and dreams, and goals and aspirations. It's not an empty or hopeless void of despair and nothingness, as so often misportrayed and misrepresented by religious apologists and propagandists. No, my atheism is one of inspiration and a genuine thirst for knowledge. Where I find myself in an infinite cosmos filled with wonderful things to learn about and more to discover each day, the task of learning it all impossible, the grandeur of the revelation daunting, I see a world where we can progress to a better place free from the oppressive ideologies of outmoded religious tenets.

Can you imagine it? A world where man is free to boldly go where no man has gone before--and explore the great unknown with nothing but his whits and reason to guide him! What an adventure that will be! Yes, take me to the future, but first, let's fix this world so the future will at least be enjoyable. Where is Christianity headed in the long run? The short answer, wherever it wants to take itself. Orthodoxy aside, it's not exactly a fixed idea, and today's Christians are the best proof of that. However, the way I see it is, Christianity will have to undergo several more incarnations in order to salvage its doctrines and reconcile them with our growing understanding of the world and universe we live. Indeed, I would venture to guess the Christianity in fifty years will be just as foreign to today's Christians as today's Christianity would have been to Jesus Christ himself. And if the Christian God should ever dwindle away into nothing, then we can all rest assured, Atheism will remain unchanged.

Advocatus Atheist

Advocatus Atheist