'Did Jesus exist?' vs. 'Did God exist?'

In the beginning was the word, and the word was, like all words, a human invention, to label something that humans want to label. This gave shape to a concept that eventually led to an ontological fallacy (God-the-greatest-thing-I-can-imagine does indeed exist as a concept - that's the whole point - but that doesn't mean that God-the-greatest-thing-I-can-imagine also exists) ...

Whether a word represents 'the truth' is beside the point - labelling something tells us nothing about the thing itself (thank you, poststructuralism), but it may well tell us something about the labeller. In this case it tells us that the lebeller was concerned with conceptualising a higher force who might provide some explanations and relieve some of the responsibility of his/her existence.

In the not-beginning, i.e. since the conceptualisation of 'God', many other words have been spun, whose provenance is almost constantly the subject of furious debate in this forum and many others. I have vented my spleen about these debates before (see my final word here, sorry to all you promoters of non-self-promotion), but have only recently crystallised precisely what it is that bugs me about them in its simplest form:

Pondering questions such as 'did Jesus exist?' or 'how/why/when/where/by whom was the Bible written?' distract from a simple truth: God does not exist. Writings about 'him' are incidental to this fact, and discussions about religious sources are at best tangential to the more important questions, like 'God does not exist - why do people believe in him anyway?'

That is why I find that the 'historical approach' is of limited use when debating with theists; it is merely a curiosity that avoids the real issues. Of course it is interesting as an example of various aspects of religion, but the heated debating of 'facts' tends to miss even those points - such as the factors contributing to the development, codification and development of religious ideas and practices...
I'm not suggesting that there is anything 'wrong' with debating these matters, but the venom with which they are addressed never ceases to amaze me. An understanding of the Bible is in no way necessary for an atheist - indeed one might say more generally: religion is tangential to atheism, and affects it in no way whatsoever.

To return to 'the word' - surely questions such as 'what was it based on?' and 'who wrote it?' are insignificant compared to 'why does it exist at all?'

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Comment by Jo Jerome on September 30, 2010 at 11:02pm
LOL Glen!

Diana - as we're still deep into genetics in one of my Anthro classes, it was the first analogy that sprang to mind. Truly though, like going back into one's family tree, the further back you go the more influences you can find and the more tangled the web becomes. Comparative religions professor made that point first thing, first day: That we so often trace back to try and find the 'root' of a religion, when in fact the roots often just get wider, more complex, and more expansive.

But once more, that I find is the fun in exploring religion and mythology. Find similarities and wonder who influenced who, what concepts tend to arise independently, different cultures' takes on the same event, etc.

My final project in Comp Religions was to design a religion. I did three in one. Took one natural disaster and each of my little stone-age groups developed a unique belief system based on their perception of the event and how it affected them. I had two that clearly borrowed from one another, one group saw the event as a blessing, one as a curse, etc.

Really fun thought experiment!
Comment by Frankie Dapper on September 30, 2010 at 8:21pm
In pedigree analysis of thoroughbreds I evaluate siblings. It tends to offer more value because it is slightly hidden. It is amazing how frequently first time starters show ability similar to their full brothers and sisters. Also the sire and dam have greater influence on ability than grand sire and maternal grand sire.
I encourage atheists to go to the track and learn how to handicap. If you are truly analytical it will show in the bottom line. God will reward you for your inciteful apostasy. Really. Now I have to get back to doping the seventh race at Charles Town.
Comment by Diana Agorio on September 30, 2010 at 8:05pm
Jo, you got it. But, your brother or sister has even more in common with you.
Comment by Jo Jerome on September 30, 2010 at 7:46pm
Diana - Makes sense to me. I come from my mother who in turn comes from my grandmother. It is inaccurate for me to say my grandmother has nothing to do with who I am. Less so than my mother probably, but nothing? Hardly.
Comment by Jo Jerome on September 30, 2010 at 7:28pm
Ahhh, I see now the error of my keyboard ways.

Comment by Diana Agorio on September 30, 2010 at 7:28pm
LOL, Glen. It is funny that jc is such a serious topic on A/N.
Comment by Frankie Dapper on September 30, 2010 at 7:04pm
I was just trying to interject some humor after all the serious jc talk. You said tenants when you meant to say tenets. Only this and nothing more.
Comment by Diana Agorio on September 30, 2010 at 7:01pm
Imagine that 2,000 years from now, the only survivors from American Christianity were the Mormons and the Branch Davidians. Imagine that the Branch Davidians became as widespread in that future as Christianity is in our time, and the Mormons were the future equivalent of Judaism. From their writings and the surviving history of their origins, the historians of the future would sense an ancient animosity between those groups and the rest of contemporary Christianity. But, to deny their relationship to the rest of Christianity and to claim that the Branch Davidians were a derived from the Mormons, would be a very inaccurate description of their history. That analogy fits my understanding of the inaccuracy of describing 1st century CE Judaism and Christianity as unrelated to the rest of paganism.

As I said before, Judaism was just a variation on the same themes as in the rest of West Asian religion. If you want to believe that Judaism was exceptionally different from other ancient religions, than you turn a really blind eye to the descriptions of their rituals, the layout of their temple, and their theology, in comparison to that of their neighbors.

I don’t see you producing detailed evidence supporting your claims. You just claim that “everybody knows” what you know; so, it must be right. Just about every blog I write touches on some aspect of the relationship between Christianity, Judaism, and the rest of ancient religion. And, I wrote a whole book about it. But, I can’t be your personal tutor. You are welcome to be happy with your favorite description of Jesus. Or, you can explore further and seek out a richer understanding of his story. I don’t care what you do. But, I really don’t understand why you are so upset about 1st century CE Judaism and Christianity described as religions, just like all the other dumb religions of their time.
Comment by Jo Jerome on September 30, 2010 at 6:49pm
--- Glen Rosenberg comments ... Having read so many of your posts, and come away with the impression that you are intelligent, thoughtful and introspective, I am surprised to see you reveal your bias. Not all christians and ex-christians are tenants. Some christians are owners, some are homeless and others are peripatetic farm workers and hermits.

Huh? Sorry, not following.

- Jo Jerome: Homeless, hermit ex-Christian.
Comment by Matt VDB on September 30, 2010 at 5:27pm

"If you were more familiar with 1st century CE paganism in Palestine, your perspective would be very different. Your understanding skewed because Judaism is still an active religion today. It is one of those cases of history being told by the victors. And, it is a view that is very much swayed by modern Christian and Jewish theology and their respective romance stories about the origins of their religions."

You can keep asserting that all you like, but that doesn't make it true. You can also keep assuming what I do and don't know, and that won't make it true either. And you can keep saying that this is a case of history being written by the victors (though strangely, many non-believers and liberal christians alike often come to pretty much the same conclusions), but that also... you get my drift.
Unless you actually produce the evidence that - despite what the evidence suggests, certainly at face value - Sadducees, temple authorities and apocalyptic prophets were actually very happy with pagan influences and incorporated them into their theology, even though their works and followers don't mention anything about this and emphasize the Jewishness of the message (like the gospel of Matthew).

Examples from the New Testament would do nicely too. If that's not overly derailing the thread, that is.



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