Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Responding to Trent Horn’s “Four Reasons Why I Believe in Jesus”

In his recent article “Four Reasons I Think Jesus Really Existed,” the American theologian/apologist Trent Horn listed four reasons why he believes in Jesus in response to the mythicist movement which claims Jesus never existed. He also proudly made mention of the fact that these four reasons needn’t rely on the Gospel account for their defense. Well, we should hope not, since that would merely make his defense predicated on the logical fallacy of circular reasoning. 

His four evidences are: 4. It is the mainstream position in academia [that there was a historical Jesus]; 3. Jesus’ existence is confirmed by extra-Biblical sources; 2. The Early Church Fathers don’t describe the mythicist heresy; 1. St. Paul knew the disciples of Jesus.

I will address all four points as briefly as possible.

Regarding #4.

It is the mainstream position of most Biblical scholars. But since most Biblical scholars are Christian anyway, there is no big surprise here. But I think it is as the mythicist Robert M. Price, a man with not one—but two—PhDs in religion (theology and NT criticism), answered this very question in his book The Crhist-Myth Theory and Its Problems, when he stated, “"If we appeal instead to "received opinion" or "the consensus {30} of scholars," we are merely abdicating our own responsibility, as well as committing the fallacy of Appeal to the Majority."

Also, the appeal to authority isn’t in itself a proof for the existence of the historical Jesus. It is merely that, an appeal to authority. And the authority can still be mistaken, which is why Price’s warning that we should perhaps reconsider a position that has been widely held exclusively by people who were already predisposed to hold such a position to begin with, isn’t such a bad idea after all.

Regarding #3.
Actually, no it’s not.

I’ve written in detail on this subject, so I won’t rehash everything. But briefly. We have nothing written about Jesus by anyone who knew him while he was alive. All the Gospels are pseudepigrapha, meaning that they were falsely attributed to authors who didn’t actually know the historical Jesus, should he have existed. Moreover, the authors get basic historical details wrong: e.g., Luke’s incorrect census information, for starters, different authors giving Pontius Pilate different titles, oops!, different and discrepant endings to the same story, not at all fiction, wildly different accounts of the resurrection event, did I read that right... zombies? 

Not only this, but there is a basic lack of geographical information, so much so that it is clear that the authors were not familiar with the geography of the region. The times it takes from any of the NT characters to go anywhere happens practically overnight. Sepphoris isn’t even mentioned even though Jesus would have had to pass through the capitol every time he went home to Galilee, or to Jericho, and back to Jerusalem again. Speaking of missing towns, there isn’t any archaeological evidence that Nazareth even existed in Jesus’ day (see Rene Salm’s work: The Myth of Nazareth: The Invented Town of Jesus).

The only possible near *contemporary authors who could have written about Jesus were Josephus Flavius, Philo of Alexandria, and Tacitus. Philo makes no mention of Jesus. None. At all.

Josephus’ comments about Christians is primarily in regard to their beliefs in a messiah, and mentions as much in his Antiquities. The problem is, however, the part that mentions Jesus Christ is a demonstrable interpolation.

A brief comment on why modern historians tend to discount the reference to Jesus Christ in Josephus. Two things to keep in mind:

1) Josephus was a Jewish historian writing in the first century (circa 37-70 C.E.), and so he would have never referred to an Ascetic Jewish Prophet who had died leaving prophecy unfulfilled as the Messiah, let alone a *divine prophet, and so he could not have referred to Jesus as the Christ. No orthodox Jew of antiquity believed Jesus was the chosen messiah, nor would any Jew have considered Christ to be divine—in any sense of the word—since the Jews continued to hold the covenant with Yahweh believing him to be the one true God. As such, Josephus would *not have called the Jewish messiah by the Greek "Christos." As Christ's divinity would have been seen as blasphemous to any first century Jew—but not to later Christians—it's a strong bet that this Christos business is a later Christian theological consideration. Josephus' utilization of the Greek “Christos” and not the Hebrew "messiah," at the time of his writing, seems to be out of place, and thus a likely denotes a later addition.

But the biggest give away is the second fact:

2) The earliest Christian writers, such as Origen and Justin the Martyr, frequently quote Josephus but often quote from an earlier version which lacks any reference to Jesus being the Christ. And since their account of Josephus is from an earlier source than the one modern Christian apologists love to quote mine from, we can reasonably be sure that the later addition of Jesus being referred to as the Christ, at the very least, suggests a Christian forgery from no earlier than the third century.

So what can we make of these facts?

Well, we can say that in the 1st century of the common era there were Christians who believed in a man named Jesus which they deemed the Christ. But all the evidence is the same in that it's all merely accounts of what Christians believed, not actual hard evidence for the historical Jesus.

It’s strange that Trent Horn ignores other possible extrabiblical evidences such as Tacitus’ comments about Christian belief in a messiah and the Babylonian Talmud, but he may simply be unaware of these examples. Even so, I’ve critiqued them elsewhere and offered sound explanation why they are untrustworthy as evidence (which you can read about here).

Regarding #2.
Basically Trent Horn dismisses all Christian heresies as false, because the Church deemed them false long ago. But TH might want to look up the meaning of heresy. It literally translates to: a difference of opinion. Never mind that the supposed heresies which were stamped out were by an Orthodox Church which came two-hundred years after the facts. Bart D. Erhman has a good book entitled Lost Christianites, and one of the things he points out is that early Christian beliefs were quite varied. There was no such thing as a “Christian heresy” in the first century of Palestine, because no orthodox Christianity had been established yet. Gnostic Christian beliefs were equal to that of Pauline Christian beliefs. It is only after a long series of events that Pauline Christianity wins the favor of the majority, and so the alternative Christian beliefs recede as they grow less influential over time. But that doesn’t mean they were in anyway “false” beliefs. They were held as equally viable as any other form of Christianity.

But I can see why TH would be quick to dismiss competing views which go against his orthodox views. Because they add the challenge of him having to defend his views against so-called “heresies” minus any evidence to prove his beliefs more or less accurate—and when it comes to the question of the historicity of Jesus—this poses a big problem. This is the real gist behind the Mythicist argument. We’re not saying that anyone view of Jesus is correct, we are merely saying that no one view can be validated, and as such, belief in one over another is simply a confirmation bias invoked by the fact that most today’s Christians adhere to the orthodox view of Christianity without ever questioning it. When confronted with the challenge to question these beliefs, many, like Trent Horn, simply dismiss them since, after all, they’re just heretical views and so don’t count.

Regarding #1.
Trent’s last argument for the existence of Jesus is that most scholars, including secular ones, agree that Paul was a real person. Since we have Paul’s letters which attest to the existence of Jesus, and the disciples, then how could we possibly be in doubt?

Well, many of Paul’s Epistles are forged. Bart D. Ehrman writes in depth on this fact in his book Forged. After all is said and done, however, very little relates back to the historical Jesus and his disciples. In fact, other than a meeting with James and Peter, there is literally nothing in Paul’s writing that attests to a historical Jesus. In fact, it does just the opposite. Paul speaks of an apparition, a visage, of Jesus which he experiences in a vivid waking dream on the road to Damascus. Such visions are not usually considered valid evidence for encounters with real historical figures of antiquity, and well, this is basically all Paul has to offer us.

Other obvious questions, like why James (the supposed brother of Jesus) never considered Jesus divine is ignored.  It’s only important to TH that Paul met James. Never mind that James the Just is a much more complicated historical figure than most Christians even realize. 

Now, if you want to know more about why the Gospel Jesus likely didn’t exist, then you might want to read my article “Literary Jesus: Ten Reasons that Show the Gospels to be Works of Fiction.”

If you’re up for some heavier ended scholarship, then you may like to read Robert M. Price’s The Incredible Shrinking Son of Man and Deconstructing Jesus, Gospel Fictions by Randal Helms, The Jesus Puzzle by Earl Doherty, and Not the Impossible Faith by Richard Carrier. Although not an exhaustive sample of competing views, they are a good place to start if you want to begin considering the critical position with regard to the popular consensus in academia. I for one think it’s well worth your consideration.  

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

There's Never a Right Time Part 2: Further Reflections

Before this unexpected tragedy, I always felt that suicide was a selfish act, that it was a cowardice way out, and that it somehow denoted a weak character on the behalf of the person who killed themselves.

But my father was none of these. He was no coward, his character was moral and upright, and he wasn't selfish (although he was extremely introverted). He simply lived his life without ever having the urge to ever make anything about him. He was content to stay out of other people's hair, and all he desired was that they'd do the same and respect his privacy.

When I heard of my father's suicide, all the stereotypes of what suicide is and means fell to the wayside. In fact, I can't even allow myself to be angry, because there is nothing to be angry about. I only feel pity for my father's situation, I feel regret for not knowing before hand how dire things had gotten for him (as he hid it so well from everyone), and I can't help but feel in a perpetual state of confusion. Simply put, my father wasn't the type of person who'd ever commit suicide. But he did.

The hardest part isn't coming to terms with the loss of my father. People die. That, believe it or not, is the easy part. The hard part is feeling like something was taken away from me prematurely, and that I somehow let my father down (even though I know it wasn't my fault). In the back of my mind is the nagging feeling that, somehow, I should have known. Instead, I got blindsided. We all did. 

And that just makes me sad. Dealing with the death is the easy part, but it's the broken heart that hurts the worst. It's picking up the pieces, like shards of broken glass, that is the more difficult. Now that I hold the broken pieces in cupped hands... and gaze numbly out at the world from behind swollen watery eyes... I wonder what to do with them.

Where did my father go?

Saturday, June 8, 2013

There's Never a Right Time: On My Father's Passing

My parents and I (me at 6 months).

We're all stories in the end.

This one ends with a bang.

A bullet.

And a broken heart or two.

First, I should tell you all that my father's last request was that we have no funeral of any kind. Maybe he didn't want to seem weak. Maybe he didn't find himself all that important. I am forced to agree with my dear friend Jenny Webb that the saddest thing of this whole ordeal was that my father didn't know how many people truly cared for him and how many loved him.

After his passing, his home was filled with family and friends. Some of whom we hadn't seen for years. I even met his father's brother John--who I previously didn't even know existed. People flew in from out of state just to give their condolences. Now, I know this much, you don't do that unless you really cared for someone. And to think that this gathering occurred without any notice of death apart from a handful of phone calls from my younger brother and I to close friends and loved ones.

I'm going to share with you how I found out about my father's death. I do so only because keeping it inside is slowly eating away at me, and I can't stop breaking into sobs at random thoughts. I don't know if sharing this will help with the sadness, but perhaps it will help with the closure I need. After all, someone dear to me was torn from me. Now all that I can do is put back together the pieces of a shattered heart.

It was May 28th here in Japan, where I work as an English teacher in public schools, and I received an urgent message from my wife informing me that I needed to call my brother immediately.

It was only ten minutes before first period (8 a.m. here in Japan) and so I was contemplating holding off. But my brother rarely contacts me for anything trivial, and so I felt I should at least call to see what was so pressing.

After he picked up all I heard were sobs, and I asked what the matter was, and he replied, "I need you. Dad's dead."

Now my dad had been struggling with type-2 diabetes for several years now, and he was in a lot of chronic pain from a stress fracture in his lower vertebrae, an injury he refused to have surgery on as the operation had a high risk factor of paralysis. This made it so he couldn't be as active as he once was, and coupled with diabetes, I  figured that his illnesses had finally got the best of him.

In a way they did.

I don't know how much you know about my father's passing, but I feel I should inform you that it was a suicide.

As we understand it, he had grown severely depressed after having settled a lawsuit with his company several years prior. This stress forced him to have further health related issues and so he took early retirement a few years ago to try to relieve some of the emotional stress in the hopes of regaining his physical strength.

 his diabetes worsened however, due to the aforementioned combination of health issues, his blood pressure eventually grew out of control and he went into the doctors to get treated. He was instantly started on a new medication.

The medication for lowering his blood pressure had the unwanted side-effect of insomnia. As I understand it, he couldn't sleep. His fridge was stocked full of NeuroSleep, a drink loaded with Melatonin and other ingredients to help you sleep better. 

None of this seemed to help, however.

Eventually he was experiencing mild delusions (at least we think so). He thought that the lawsuit was still going on (although we haven't found any evidence of any ongoing suit--the case he always spoke of had been settled long ago), and for some reason he felt that it was against him personally (even though we can only find evidence of it being with the company he no longer worked for). But on top of this feeling of persecution, and feeling that people were out to get him, he couldn't sleep and soon came to the point of exhaustion.

I should mention that during the lawsuit there were some despicable actions made by some of the people involved and my father was frequently harassed. We know who these people are, although they, along with their poor characters, will soon be forgotten. My father, on the other hand, will live on in the memories of all those he touched.

Feeling worse for wear, my father went to the doctors to get new medications, for both diabetes and depression, but one of the possible side-effects of these new medicines was depression.

Now, if you know anything about depression you'll understand that depression x depression does NOT equal more depression. It equals suicidal.

My father, unable to sleep, suffering from chronic pain, a bout of paranoia, on top of exhaustion, proceeded to overdose on ALL of his medications. He then drank two bottles of wine and a six pack of beer. My father never drank--so this we assume was only to thin his blood to make the poison work faster and to bleed out quicker. He then called 911 to inform them of a suicide in progress. After which, he went into his garage and strung up a noose from the ceiling. He fastened it securely around his neck, put his Browning 380 to his head, and pulled the trigger. If the bullet hadn't done the trick, the snapping of his neck certainly would have.

My brother was on his way to see my father that very day. They were going to go watch the new Star Trek movie together. The movie is titled "Into Darkness." Our entire lives were thrown into darkness on May 27th, the day my father killed himself. He would have turned 61 in October.

I kept the bullet that, ultimately, did my father in.

This is the bullet that killed my father.

I know, it's a strange thing to want to keep. But for me it symbolizes the period at the end of the sentence. The final point at the end of his life's story.

After all, we are all just stories in the end.

The thing is... and I won't be able to stress this enough... I loved my father very, very much.

Although the bullet that killed him symbolizes the end of his own story, the ending isn't the part I care to remember. The part which matters most to me is the person he was and the legacy he left behind in all those who were privileged enough to have known him while he was alive.

I try to explain to people that this is different than regular death. Having a loved one die is never easy. Having them TAKEN from you, by someone else's hand or their own, is much harder. It's having your heart ripped out, crushed, only to be left with nothing but a smoldering hole in your chest. It's having unanswerable questions, the most damned of them being "Why?"

But as hard as it is, we have to pick up the pieces, we have to put back together our memories of the person, and we have to make something of their life's story. Screw the why. There are too many questions and not enough answers. So let's talk about the man instead.

Let's talk about who my father was as a person. As a human being.

As a person my father never broke a promise. At least not that I'm aware of. 

In my entire life he never once didn't do something he said he'd do. He made ALL of my track and field events, every weekend, for all four years of high school. All except for once. In which he had a surprise board meeting--which wasn't his fault. I specifically recall this incident as he called me to let me know how sorry he was. I can't imagine why he felt it was so important to come to every single one of my track and cross country meets, but perhaps it was one way in which he expressed his love. Needless to say, my teammates came to know him well enough. 

My father always showed up at the same time the bus dropped us off, no matter what town we were in, and he'd be there, with his trademark hot coffee in hand. One time he didn't have a coffee, and as the team was getting off the bus one of my mates shouted out, "Hey, Mr. Vick, where's your coffee?" 

To which my father replied, "I drank it already!" 

By the time the race was about to begin, he had somehow managed to scrounge up another cup of coffee and was watching by the side of the starting line, as was his habit. My father drank way too much coffee, as you might imagine. A few years ago he bought a Keurig instant coffee maker. Within three years he had worn the darn thing completely out. That, my friends, is the true sign of a coffee addict.

As a father, he defied the stereotype of divorced parents. 

My best friend Mike More said to me the other day that my parent's' post-divorce relationship forced him to re-evaluate the stereotypes of divorced couples.

"He was always over at your house," Mike informed. "And your parents talked to each other. And I never saw them fight."

My father made some mistakes in his life, sure. But that's not how I am going to remember him. We all make mistakes. But as Mike observed, my father did a hell of a lot of things right. The fact is, he was perpetually trying to atone for past sins. In his Herculean battle against the course of fate, he grabbed a hold of the reins of his destiny and shifted the meandering river back on to proper course. 

My father never lied. At least not to us. Not to family. I think it's because he lied once and it destroyed his family, and he wasn't going to make the same mistake twice. 

That's no small feat, by the way. Learning from our past mistakes isn't always necessarily easy. But my father made it look easy. In fact, he showed how mistakes could be turned around so that one would never have to repeat the same experience. But it also goes to show the strength of will-power my father exhibited, in his ability to keep himself steadfast.

He was a good story teller. Some of his stories were dry. Some of them were really funny--but told dryly. My personal favorite is the story he told about the noisy college kids who moved in next door. And how he bought his neighbor's house out from under them, and happily evicted them, giving them a proper 30 days notice.

He had other stories as well. He spent time in Poland helping the government get a proper telecommunications system running. Only recently did I find out that my father had enrolled both my brother and I into Polish public schools and that my father was thinking of staying permanently. In the end he decided not to uproot his family, but to come home, to Montana, and work harder.

That's the type of father he was. He put family before work.

He was a person of high moral character and integrity. It pained him to see the legal system so abused in his final days. So much so he didn't want anything to do with it anymore. As such, he focused his remaining years, not as a lawyer, but as a savvy business man. He made a middle-of-nowhere telephone co-op a million dollar business  Without his guidance, the company has since been torpedoed, but that's a much slower suicide they will have to endure for so mistreating the person that once made them great.

My father loved technology. His hobby was creating CGI animations on his computer at home. I kept the print of the one he was most proud of. It's an image that made the cover of Renderosity magazine, back when it was still a print edition.

Solara riding the rocking horse her grandpa Wayne made.

The image is a picture of a girl reading a book by candlelight in an armchair, with a mouse looking over her shoulder, as the things of fantasy and fairy-tale float off the pages and fill the room. More recently he had completed a 3-D piece of a dirigible for my brother's SteamPunk photography project, which can be seen in Dark Beauty Steampunk magazine.

My father had a great imagination. It was one of those imaginations that was matched by an equally impressive intellect.

There was nothing my father couldn't do. Last Christmas he gave my daughter Solara, his granddaughter, a wooden rocking horse that he had hand carved from scratch. 

My father supported my brother and I every single day he was alive. I know there are fathers out there who don't show their children any affection, rarely support them, and who often only feel the need to offer the advice of "Grow up. You're an adult now." Not my father. As long as we were his children, he'd do anything for us.

Some people have said that my brother and I were spoiled. And maybe we were. But that's not the sort of thing you just point out unless you are deeply jealous. But you know something? My father never let us want for anything. We never had to steal. We never got into trouble. Because he was there making sure we always had the means and the opportunity to try the things we wanted. And if, in the end, we changed out minds, well, he supported us. 

My father never forced us to do anything we didn't want to do, except perhaps to eat all our vegetables. But as far as life lessons go--he wanted us to have all the opportunities of anyone else, if not more. For that I will always be grateful.

Just to share an example. Last year my computer broke. Actually, I broke it. But I was in the middle of completing my first novel. My father sold his old sports car, a Mazda RX7, just so he could get my brother and I new computers so we could keep working. I don't know of many fathers who'd sell their beloved sports car, just to support their kids' dreams.

My father did. He did that. For us. That's how he showed his love for us.

Although tears are streaming down my face as I write this, just know, that my father was a great man and an even greater father.

That's how I choose to remember him.

Dad, I like you and love you. Always. And I miss you.

Advocatus Atheist

Advocatus Atheist