Monday, July 28, 2014

No, really, I don't care about Jesus

Richard Carrier noticed that I had tangentially commented upon his new book, On the Historicity of Jesus, and commented upon my comment. It seems that some people aren't quite clear on the fact that, no, really, I don't care about Jesus.

Now, Carrier seems to get it. If the contents of his blog post accurately reflect his views, he pretty much gets it in total. The fact is, I just don't care whether Jesus existed or not because the only reason I think the question is relevant in any way other than being somewhat interesting trivia (given the impact that character has had on the Western world and thus the whole world) is in the religious context that follows from it.

Particularly, had some Jesus 100% certainly existed at the right time and place, itinerant preacher of radical Jewish thought, or whatever, but the cult of Christianity hadn't taken off, Jesus would be a historical footnote of hardly any more interest except in niche corners of first-century Near East history than the question of whether or not there was some historical figure of Hercules/Heracles or Achilles. (Were they just legends, or are they based on real historical figures? Why doesn't any one really care? Chew on that for a minute, and you'll see exactly how I feel about Jesus.)

On the other hand, if 100% certainty applied that there was no Jesus or anything like a historical Jesus but some cult of Christianity, maybe starting with the Apostles and maybe starting with Paul (or maybe starting some other way entirely), did arise, and Christianity took off from there, we're pretty much in the same place we are now. The only difference to Christianity, which seems substantial but probably isn't if we think about how religious beliefs actually work, is that Jesus would be yet another metaphor for something divine.

There are, of course, people who would have their faith shaken by a discovery that switched us from a state of generally accepting that Jesus may have/probably did exist to (a hypothetical) one of Jesus not existing, but as Carrier notes correctly, to put it into other words, it's really a case of majoring in the minors. If religions were really concerned with accepting facts, they'd have died out at least a century ago.

There are also, of course, as Carrier astutely points out, ancillary benefits to the broader investigation of history to put so much attention on the question of Jesus' alleged existence, and given the role Christianity has had on shaping the world, there is bound to be worth in digging into some (maybe much) of that via the historical methods. On this, Carrier makes it very clear, we agree pretty much in total. Of course, I will note that digging deeply into any significant historical figure will bear similar fruit (with significance only mattering in the sense that it provides enough focus to do the thing, really), and I note this to point out yet again more of why I simply don't care about the case of Jesus in particular.

Just as an aside, one thing Carrier does get wrong about me is that I also do not care about counter-apologetics, effective or otherwise. I did, don't get me wrong, but I don't any longer. This, like my statement about historians and their activity pursuing questions like that of Jesus' existence, isn't to dissuade people from doing it if they enjoy it or think it serves some purpose. It's simply to say that I do not actually care about it, which is to say that for the purposes I am aiming, I don't find it particularly useful (these are not, as some suggested, ideas that have anything to do with mathematics or physics).

I've mostly written these posts about not caring for two purposes in fact: (1) to state that I, personally, do not care about the historicity of Jesus (along with why), and (2) to encourage other people to see the endeavor in the same context that I see it, "majoring in the minors," something like what John W. Loftus called "icing on the cake" in a blog post about the death of philosophy of religion just today. What I especially hope to convey with this line of thought is that I don't think that the matter of the historicity of Jesus (or counter-apologetics, for that matter) are big parts of the push toward becoming a post-religious society. They may fulfill important or even necessary roles, but I don't think they're big ones, and I don't think people should get caught up putting more stock in them than they're worth. I could be wrong, but I think Carrier agrees with me on this point.

So, this is to say, I really don't care about the historicity of Jesus, and I'm saying that speaking as someone deeply interested in pushing the cultural conversation toward becoming post-religious. The reason is that, for a number of reasons, I think it's pretty much irrelevant. So no, really, I don't care about Jesus, or rather whether or not a historical figure behind that character really existed, like really don't care.

(Note: And that, what a historical figure behind the Jesus character existing means, is something I'm still not satisfied about, even after Carrier's reply to that, though to be fair, I didn't read the chapter in his book where he explains what he means by a historical Jesus. As I tried to explain in my previous post on this topic, part of the problem is that when it comes to religious beliefs like we often deal with, it doesn't matter much what someone says they mean by ideas like "historical Jesus" or "theism" so long as someone can cobble together something else that they can mean by that and not feel too out-of-sorts about their beliefs. When it comes to these kinds of beliefs, either the beliefs or desire to believe comes first, probably from cultural context, and much of the rest is cobbled together after the fact to support it, I think.)

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