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Thursday, April 26, 2012

Backtracking on Ayn

Paul Ryan, author of the Republican budget and frequent promoter of Atlas Shrugged, now says he disavows Ayn Rand. Don't get your hopes up: What he means is that he disavows Rand's atheism. I'm sure he'll also disavow her anti-imperialism if the GOP pushes him in that direction.

The important point about libertarianism is that it's all about giving absolute power to the finance capitalists. Anyone who talks about the other stuff -- "Smoke dope legally, dude!" -- is simply trying to seduce you into supporting Total Wall Street Control.

Ayn's atheism has a certain appeal to smirky young religion burn-outs -- twenty-something pseudointellectuals who are damned certain that Jesus never existed even though they've never read any scholarly works on the subject. But most libertarians will downplay (or, in Ryan's case, disavow) the godless part of the Randroid philosophy in order to appeal to this country's many fundamentalists.

I wonder what Ayn would have said if she knew that Republicans would one day force her into a shotgun wedding with Jesus?
Why would she have a problem with the great rabbi? Werent they both Jewish?

Except that you can't demonstrate Rand's opposition to American imperialism. This was one of the disputes causing rupture between Objectivists and Libertarians.
Ayn would say, like she said when collecting those SS checks, "I do."
Well, the historicity of Jesus is murky, at best. However, as someone who has read a great deal on the subject (from all sorts of scholarly perspectives), I would never be so arrogant as to suggest I know whether the guy was a real person or not. The fact is, no one knows or will ever know. Depending on who you read (scholars who are Christians and scholars who are not), you get different conclusions. But none of them "know" in any real sense. There is very little historical evidence of the guy, and what there is is fairly hotly disputed both ways by respected scholars (of course, scholars know darn well that there is not enough to be certain and probably never will be).

As to Rand, reading about her actual actions in life was enough for me to discard her philosophy. I do find it odd that so many on the right want to have their cake (Rand) and eat it too (Christianity).
Gus, about the historicity of Jesus -- there is no dispute in the scholarly community. None. You have a right to disagree with the scholarly consensus; you do not have a right to misrepresent that consensus.

All Biblical scholars who have academic positions are 100 percent in agreement that Jesus was a real person. The mythicists are all amateurs. A couple of them are very learned amateurs and should be read seriously. But they do not do Biblical scholarship for a living.

Most of the mythicists are doltish sensationalists who inhabit an intellectual sub-basement well below the basement where you find books like "The Da Vinci Code." I'm thinking of people like ArchayaX, who is laughable. Alas, they have managed to fool people like you into thinking that theirs is a respected position -- through the ubiquity, not the strengths, of their arguments.

When you weigh the arguments of the mythicists, ask yourself: Does this writer have the languages? Has he or she published in peer-reviewed journals? Does he or she teach? Has the book been well-reviewed by Biblical scholars? Is this person taken seriously by serious people? Do the citations go toward 19th century sources? Has this person kept up with the large amount of recent scholarship? Does this person engage fairly with counter-argument, as scholars do?

From Bart Ehrman's recent book, "Did Jesus Exist":

"I hardly need to stress what I have already intimated: the view that Jesus existed is held by virtually every expert on the planet. That in itself is not proof, of course. Expert opinion is, at the end of the day, still opinion. But why would you not want to know what experts have to say? When you make a dental appointment, do you want your dentist to be an expert or not? If you build a house, do you want a professional architect or your next-door neighbor to draw up the plans? One might be tempted to say that in the case of the historical Jesus it is different since, after all, we are just talking about history; experts have no more access to the past than anyone else. That, however, is simply not true. It may be the case that some of my students receive the bulk of their knowledge of the Middle Ages from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, but is that really the best place to turn? So too millions of people have acquired their “knowledge” about early Christianity—about Jesus, Mary Magdalene, the emperor Constantine, the Council of Nicaea—from Dan Brown, author of the aforementioned The Da Vinci Code. But at the end of the day, is that such a wise choice?

"Serious historians of the early Christian movement—all of them—have spent many years preparing to be experts in their field. Just to read the ancient sources requires expertise in a range of ancient languages: Greek, Hebrew, Latin, and often Aramaic, Syriac, and Coptic, not to mention the modern languages of scholarship (for example, German and French). And that is just for starters. Expertise requires years of patiently examining ancient texts and a thorough grounding in the history and culture of Greek and Roman antiquity, the religions of the ancient Mediterranean world, both pagan and Jewish, knowledge of the history of the Christian church and the development of its social life and theology, and, well, lots of other things. It is striking that virtually everyone who has spent all the years needed to attain these qualifications is convinced that Jesus of Nazareth was a real historical figure. Again, this is not a piece of evidence, but if nothing else, it should give one pause. In the field of biology, evolution may be “just” a theory (as some politicians painfully point out), but it is the theory subscribed to, for good reason, by every real scientist in every established university in the Western world."
Joseph, just because you keep saying it doesn't mean its true. There are plenty of people in the scientific community who either don't believe Jesus existed or just are not sure.
Kyle: you're wrong.

Or rather -- if there are people in the scientific community who doubt Jesus' existence, then we are talking about people who are not experts in the relevant disciplines. A biologist is not an historian of first century Judea.

Ehrman's survey of the mythicist literature is probably unmatched. He notes that only two of the mythicist writers even have graduate degrees that are in any way relevant to the discussion!

The mythicist position is precisely analogous to the positions held by global warming denialists, or by creationists. It's a position people hold because it makes them FEEL good, not because there's any evidence or scholarship behind it.

I know that people like Richard Dawkins have bleated about mythicism. You should know by now that Dawkins has a bad habit of making grand pronouncements about matters in which he has done only a little (VERY little) light reading. Young smirky jerks hew to his words because he makes them feel all smug and superior, not because he has any fucking idea as to what he is talking about.

The fact is that all -- not most: ALL -- Biblical academics agree that Jesus was a real historical figure. There is far more evidence for his existence than there is for, say, Josephus, or for many other famous figures from the classical world.

People like you do not want to admit this because you think that to concede Jesus' existence is the same as conceding his deity or conceding the existence of the supernatural. That's the kind of false dichotomy one should expect from modern pseudo-hipster dolts who refuse to do any difficult reading and who refuse to see more than two possibilities.

For pseudo-hipsters, all controversies come down to "my team versus your team," shirts versus skins. They don't care about truth, about the weighing of evidence and the fair engagement of argument.

You see this phenomenon a lot in politics. The Free Republic and Daily Kos boards, for example.

It probably fries the brains of most mythicists -- and most fundamentalists -- to hear that many (perhaps most) New Testament scholars are agnostics or atheists, yet they still concede Jesus' historicity. That fact doesn't fit in with the shirts-versus-skins mentality of our modern world.

But it is a fact nonetheless.

I'm going to have to more about the "Jesus myth" theory later. Right now, your best bet is to grab hold of Ehrman's "Did Jesus Exist?"

I would also suggest you get Price's pro-mythicist "The Christ Myth Theory and its Problems" -- yes, it is pro-mythicist, despite the title. I recommend that book because it is the most learned pro-mythicist book I've seen -- nevertheless, it is SO fucking stupid it made my head spin. Honestly, it was so annoying I couldn't finish it. (I'll try to do so.) I've seen UFO books that were more well-reasoned!

The mythicists simply make things up. Time and again. You must understand that key point -- nothing they say can be trusted, because they have an ax to grind, just as the fundamentalists do.

For example: I've run into mythicists who said that Osiris was, in myth, born of a virgin and and crucified to save humankind. No, he wasn't. Nobody in ancient Egypt ever said any such thing.

The mythicists are -- to a man (or woman) -- myth-MAKERS.

They don't even understand what a myth IS. Without any exceptions that I can think of offhand, all myths take place outside of human history, in a timeless never-neverland. When did Hercules live? When did Odin lose his eye? When did Baal and El have that housing dispute? What year did Krishna and Arjuna have their big chat in the battlefield?

I know when Jesus lived.
There's basically no evidence for Jesus outside of the gospels, and there's good reason to believe that most of what is said about Jesus in those gospels is made up. So it's really a dispute between whether the entire story was made up or whether almost all of it was made up. I don't see any obvious way of settling the question, or why it matters.

Frankly though, if there were any real evidence that Jesus existed you would just point to that evidence, rather than relying on argument by authority. The fact that "all the experts agree", where "expert" is defined as someone who went to divinity school as Ehrman did, probably doesn't mean much more than that people who think Jesus never existed aren't inclined to spend their lives studying the Bible. If we expanded the definition of expert a bit to include PhDs in fields like classics or ancient history more generally who had a solid knowledge of the main languages involved (say Greek, Latin, and Hebrew), I suspect you could find a lot of people who think there's little proof that Jesus was a real person.
This comment has been removed by the author.
As always, the anonymous comments are the most annoying.

Kid, you have no points to make that were not familiar to me long ago -- probably before you were born.

There is, in fact, a fair amount of non-Gospel evidence for the existence of Jesus. Not nearly as much as we would like, true. And all of that material can tossed aside, if you're the sort of person who enjoys making strained arguments.

But all ancient sources, including hostile ones, stipulate his existence. By contrast, there is no evidence for the existence of (say) Josephus, outside of his writings. Yet no-one doubts that Josephus was real.

The sources for the existence of Apollonius of Tyana also are an admixture of supernaturalistic tales (including a really wild story about a Greek vampire) and much more credible stuff. Moreover, we have far less material on Apollonius than on Jesus. Yet no-one doubts the existence of Apollonius.

Before Quicherat (in the mid-19th century) collected the documentation on the life of Joan of Arc, her biography had become a mixture of fact and legend. The presence of legendary material doesn't mean the woman was herself a fiction.

Do you really think that Ehrman -- an "agnostic bordering on atheism" (to use his own words) -- was brainwashed by a divinity school? You're a fool. Why don't you read about the guy before spouting off in such an ignorant fashion? It was higher learning that knocked the religion clean out of him.

Your infantile belief that academia brainwashes students into a pro-religious position is at a 180 degree variance from reality. Fundamentalists often dissuade their young from taking classes on NT scholarship at a "good" university because they know (or sense) that Ehrman's case is hardly unique. Scholarship usually doesn't sit well with faith.

Your premise is, in short, simply laughable.

Your display of inanity points to a larger problem. What is wrong with our citizenry that we have developed such a phobic reaction toward expertise?

Nearly all scientists agree that global warming is real. VOOM! Half the country veers toward those very few who say it is not real.

All scientists agree that Darwin was right (at least in general terms). VOOM! Half the country veers toward creationism.

Regarding Jesus: All -- without exception: ALL -- academics who specialize in NT studies (many of whom seem to have a personal grudge against Christianity) -- agree that the mythicist position is baloney. And VOOM -- tons of pseudointellectual ninnies like you embrace mythicism.

In times past, we developed the cult of the expert. Now we live with the cult of anti-expertise.

Some weird gravitational force compels modern Americans to head toward the fringe position.

Look, I can -- and probably will -- devote another post to the demolishing the mythicist position. I can do that task because I've done the reading.

You haven't. I've given you the title of a good book to start with. I know damn well that you won't read it. Unlike, say, my humble self, you refuse to read any scholarly book that does not flatter your preconceptions.

My advice: Study before spewing.

You may THINK you know what you are talking about, but you don't. You just don't.
One last thing:

"Frankly though, if there were any real evidence that Jesus existed you would just point to that evidence."

Have done just that. Repeatedly. Since the argument is book-length, I've pointed to a book. If you refuse to read it, you are an idiot.
Sorry, Anonymous -- from now on, if you want in, follow the posted rules.
In fact, even if you follow the rules, don't expect to see your inanity show up here. FIRST STUDY, THEN SPEW.

If you aren't going to read the book, fuck you.
Joseph, thanks for challenging my preconceptions.

I have studied this issue in depth, but not probably in more than 10 years. So my information is out of date. Though I did read a book a few years ago by a biblical scholar, James D. Tabor, discussing the whole "Jesus Dynasty" idea. He didn't come to any solid conclusions, only that there wasn't any solid (archaeological or biblical) evidence that he could find that Jesus had any offspring (perhaps seems obvious, but he was interested in the notion and was working on a dig of the so-called "Jesus family tomb"). He took as given that Jesus was a real person and repeats some of the evidence for this.

I guess all I was saying is we don't have solid, irrefutable proof, like DNA evidence or archaeological evidence. As you point out, this is not an unusual circumstance for historical figures that everyone (or nearly everyone) takes for granted were real people. So your point is taken, and I will definitely read the book you reference here. I have no axe to grind, so I'm not at all averse to digging into this further. I'll be interested to read your future post on this topic.
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