Sunday, April 09, 2006

Creating a New Jesus

Dear Internet Diary,

Now that questioning the Gospels is mainstream and big business, atheism will naturally follow, won't it?

I'm not so sure.

There's been a lot about Jesus on tv lately, and it isn't the stuff I remember from Sunday school. There's the DaVinci Code, where the story goes that Jesus got with Mary Magdalene (it only took about 20 years to remember that part from the Scorcese film). There's the short-lived tv series "the Book of Daniel," where Jesus is a kind of little pocket pal. There's the A&E special, where we see what Jesus "really looked like," the Jesus Ice Walk, and the new Gospel of Judas that everyone's talking about, where Jesus asked Judas for his betrayal. It would seem that this kind of "getting creative with the gospels" would let people's minds be allowed to think in different ways than dogma would allow.

Unfortunately, there might be another effect. I think people, who, after all, don't read or think, will see it as science and history confirming the existence of Jesus, the moral teacher, who is just a little bit more like them. Take this angry letter from a young girl to Normal Bob Smith
by the way how you ever read the DAvinci code? there is proof that Jesus did exist, but had a life with Mary magdalene and bore a child

What proof do you, personally, have to show that my God is not real

The more folks "hear things" about historians and archaeologists asking questions, making clay heads of what Jesus really looked like, and plotting weather patterns in 30 CE, it means, to them, that science is proving Jesus. They don't know what the proof is, but as the young girl pointed out, "there is proof."

In all this confusion, will there ever be room for the mythicist position?

Last Friday night, I heard Brian Williams on NBC Nightly News literally lament about the news stories of the week of April 3-7. News stories like the prayer study, the Gospel of Judas, Tiktallik and the hypothesis that Jesus walked on ice, not water. He was genereous enough, thank goodness, to let America know that it was still ok to have faith. I sure hope America thanks Brian Williams for his generosity.

It's the ice story, absurd as it is, that should shake the faith of the "believe-everything-on-tv" crowd. If it were true, that Jesus walked on ice, it would make him an absolute fraud, or at the most, an entertainer. That would undermine Jesus' morality--the only part of him that matters, or is real --to a great number of moderate and liberal Christians. Yet the effect of this story, in my opinion, does not undermine Jesus at all. What it does, as with the other stories, is confirm Jesus' existence with science. The originator of the ice hypothesis was an oceanographer, which makes him a scientist. Therefore, to the believer,Science proves Jesus yet again.

For the optimist, I will allow that this may be part of an extremely long process of making God smaller. Maybe a smaller God is a less dangerous God. But don't hold your breath. As long as there's someone there to take responsibility for one's actions, it doesn't matter how small he is.

Thanks for listening.


Mark Plus said...

The "Judas Gospel" reminds me of fan fiction somehow. People didn't have a lot going in the way of entertainment back then, so I can see how someone could have written stories like this to show their favorite characters in situations not covered by the "official" canon, much as people today make up stories about their favorite characters from Star Trek, Harry Potter novels, soap operas and the like.

I do have to wonder if our culture has reaching some kind of "paradigm shift" in its view of Jesus, however. Otherwise I don't understand the popularity of Dan Brown's pseudohistory and the willingness of the major media to run stories about legitimate research into christian origins that argues for interpretations at odds with the traditional ones.

The Science Pundit said...

Actually, the interpretation in the "Judas Gospel" is not exactly new (to our society, I mean). As someone who read The Power of Myth when I was younger, I can tell you that Joseph Campbell came to that exact same interpretation based only on his reading of the canonical gospels.

Of course Campbell was a scholar of ancient and primitive mythologies that predated Christianity. One of his works (The Hero of a Thousand Faces) detailed a generic mythology based on elements that almost all mythologies have in common.

Based on his studies, he thought that Judas got a bad rap and that his treatment in modern Christianty was a huge departure from standard mythological design.

Hellbound Alleee said...

It's a good point. But of course, the accepted gospels themselves are fanfic as well. They're just 100 years away from the supposed events. We would have to report on the tales of a child of a child of Joseph Smith. I may have some Smith in my ancestry, but I can't really make up anything that's accurate. I can only report on the hearsay from my family history.

Hellbound Alleee said...

Yes, I remember Joseph Campbell saying this. Only as I've remembered it, it was God that made satan "go into Judas" as he did with Pharaoh. Of course Judas had to do what he did in the story.

In my interp, it not only exonerates Judas, it exonerates Satan. I've sort of spread the theory that, in the bible, there's nothing any particular Satan does that isn't willed or ordered by God.

The Science Pundit said...

I also am of the opinion that Satan got a bad rap. I was taught in Catholic school that Satan was an Angel that was cast out of heaven for presuming to sit on God's throne while (the Omnipresent?)God was out. I was also taught that Satan and the fallen Angels hated humanity because God had elevated us above the Angels by giving us free will.

Well Holy Mother of God! If Angels don't have free will that means God made Satan take his seat then punished him for it. It also means that everything Satan does is actually God's will (remember, Satan has no free will).

Geez! Is it any wonder that Catholic school turned me into an atheist?

The Atheist Messiah said...

I don't see the trend of showing investigative reports on jesus or Christian "history" as anything but bad. Like you've already said, it lends an air of legitimacy to their religion simply by giving it the time of day.

Some of the channels they've paid to air these psuedo-scientific shows on are not inspiring as well. There (can't remember the titles)have been shows on the History channel, Discovery, PBS, A&E, etc.

These stations were supposed to be reputable sources of information, but now they are pandering in different degrees to a religious audience for ratings.

It would be different if these shows tried any real approach to finding any facts that suport or deny the "historical" Jesus or the history of Christianity, but they don't.

They are veiled attempts to support Christianity in one way or another. Most of them never even call into doubt the possible non-existence of Christ. They operate on the assumption he existed from the get-go.

It's completely dishonest pandering for money and for support of beliefs that are not justified or are at the very least questionable.

Mark Plus said...

You'd think christians would pick up on the fact that according to their own "world view," when some of god's first creations got to observe heaven first hand, they concluded that they didn't like its management and thought they could either run it better or go into business for themselves. So why do christians want to go to heaven, sight unseen, when they have an independent and negative opinion about it coming from satan?

Mark Plus said...

The icy Sea of Galilee theory sounds like something the Mythbusters could investigate.

Hellbound Alleee said...

Science Pundit, it's very interesting that you brought up the fallen angel thing. I have written about this quite a bit.

The fact is, the bible does not say that Satan was a fallen angel. The only mention of a Lucifer character is a dis on the dethroned Babylonian King, called a fallen morning star, because of his own religion which was known to the author, and probably everyone else. Lucifer was not a "bad demon" at all, but a Persian god who tried to usurp his brother's heavenly position. Lucifer, the morning star, of course. Not only that, but the King James is the only version that even uses the name of lucifer. And then, only once. It's not the bible, but the church that teaches that there is one satan, one devil, and one lucifer that is somehow the one king of hell. The satans and devils of the bible are always changing roles. It is only later when priests start adding to the bible with "glosses" that Satan becomes the Beast we think we know today.

The Science Pundit said...


I learned long ago that the things I was taught in Catholic school as doctrine were not necessarily in the Bible. I was shocked to find out that many of these things were just made up. Of course I came to realize that it was all just made up. A lie is still a lie whether it was written 2000 years ago by an apocalyptic prophet from the latest cult sensation, or whether it was written more recently by a rich Italian who wears funny hats.

Nowhere in the Bible does it say that Mary Magdalene was a prostitute (she also has her own Gospel).

I was also taught in Catholic school that the disciple Peter "the Rock" was the first Pope. (I later learned that somewhere in the second or third century AD, the bishop of Rome won out over the other bishops in a power struggle for supremacy) I guess this was to show a "legitamate" succession of power coming down from Jesus himself. But exactly which years was Peter Pope? (or did he pick a peck of pickled peppers?)

Speaking of Peter, I remember watching this biblical scholar on TV talking about what a wonderful piece of literature the Bible was. As an example, he noted that Jesus was one of the first great punsters when told Peter he was "the rock upon which my Temple will be built." (and a Greek pun none the less) He seemed to anticipate my retort because he went on to say that someone as educated as Jesus (who read scriptures in the temple) would surely be fluent in Greek--which was the official language of the eastern empire.

But then isn't "INRI" LATIN??? Actually, is "INRI" even in the Bible? I wouldn't know. I threw out my copy long ago.

Hellbound Alleee said...

...and puns are part of "great literature" on what planet?