I’ve been preoccupied by preparations to give a presentation on Biocentrism and Idealism to my Freethinkers Meetup Group. But I have not stopped thinking about my Raised Catholic “project.”
Today, I was visited again by a Jehovah’s Witnesses door-to-door delegation. The leader of the group apparently was very appreciative that I’d listened politely to her on her previous visit two or three weeks ago, during which I politely conversed about her subject — briefly mentioning in the process my doubts about historical Jesus. She returned today with “evidence” — in the form of an old issue of “Awake!” that is devoted to the question, “Did Jesus Exist?”.
I was gratified that the ladies listened respectfully and with apparent interest as I grounded my take on the subject and gently rebuffed the arguments put forth in their magazine, which were the usual ones offered by Christian apologists. I hope they will return to try again, but I won’t be surprised if they don’t.
Recently, I commented, on the Facebook page of Commonweal Magazine, about an article about pushback against Pope Francis’s church reformation attempts. The article was titled, “Open to Opposition.” (Commonweal comments are on their Facebook page only.) I’ll go ahead and reprint my comments below — in context — just to say I have posted something on this blog.
The article focuses on conservative opposition to Francis’s attempts to loosen the rules restricting divorced and remarried Catholics from receiving Communion at Mass.
Al Cannistraro The big stink over communion for the divorced seems so arcane to me, as one who has recently discovered reasons to doubt the historicity of Jesus and to reject the Gospels as historical — as opposed to purely theological — documents.
Christianity is in need of fundamental reframing in light of what can now be discerned (or cannot now be discerned) objectively regarding its actual origins.
Tradition, in my opinion, is overrated.
Modern, open minded and appropriately skeptical scholarship leads at least some to yearn for a modern rethinking of the entire enterprise. This level of freethinking should be permitted rather than repressed.
Intellectual honesty will be necessary in order to preserve the best of the rich legacy of Christianity.
Gretchen Pritchard Why preserve the “rich legacy of Christianity” at all if you truly don’t believe Jesus was even a real historical person?
(And by the way, that hypothesis is far from new; it has been around since the early Enlightenment, and keeps coming back from the dead.)
Al Cannistraro What I “truly believe” is that it is not possible to prove at this time, to an objective and appropriately skeptical inquirer, using objective evidence, that there was an historical Jesus. Neither is it possible to prove to a believer (or to any objective inquirer) that there was (not) an historical Jesus. So Christianity is a matter of faith through and through. Within the domain of religious faith, it is possible to reframe the Jesus character itself as an icon of God’s presence in the world and in human history, as has been suggested by now-silenced Dominican bible scholar Thomas L. Brodie.
A purely secular modern scholar, Richard Carrier, has presented a persuasive case from the perspective of a committed atheist that there is good reason to doubt the historicity of Jesus.
Fr. Brodie draws a parallel with the revolutionary view of the cosmos associated with Copernicus and Galileo, with which the Church his only come to full closure in recent years.
Another point in response to your question:: Christianity’s rich legacy is what it is, independent of its actual origins and very early history. I’m just saying that it’s just a matter of time before, as in the case of the outdated view of an earth-centered universe, the Church will have to stop pretending that there certainly (objectivity) was a historical Jesus, and that the Gospels contain biographical information about Him. The best that can truthfully be said is, nobody knows, but this is what we have traditionally believed. Now some are moving on with modern beliefs that are less inconsistent with what can be known objectively about what we used to insist was objectively historical.
Al Cannistraro Correction. What I meant to say was:
Neither is it possible to prove to a believer (or to any objective inquirer) that there was NOT an historical Jesus.
George Watson Al, most historical figures from ancient times rely upon one or two manuscripts from the 10th century AD. Few of them left monuments to themselves. So are to just say that most of the people who lived before Modern Times probably did not exist.
George Watson Saint Paul was no fool, Saint John was not a fool, Origen, who probably should be a Saint, was the most intelligent person who lived between Aristotle and Augustine. He is the greatest of all Bible Scholars and he had not problem with Christ being an actual human being. Why do you ? You are only going back to Protestant Theology of the 1800’s which culminates in the theory that we just have to believe in the Ethics of Jesus – there is no need to search for a Historical Jesus. Karl Barth demolished that view in the 20th century – why do you seek to revive it ?
Al Cannistraro George Watson Perhaps others in the past have been able to objectively connect the dots to an historical Jesus — based perhaps on literature that was available to them in their own times. But when I sought to do that I came up short.
I don’t deny historical Jesus, I just say it’s a matter of faith in sketchy, circumstantial evidence — plus a lot of faith in tradition and, for many, the “authority” of the Church.
As to St. Paul, his seven “authentic” Epistles, which many scholars take to be the earliest surviving writings about Jesus, don’t clearly describe a living and breathing human. His Jesus — about whom he actually says very little — could very well have been a celestial deity or sub-deity or whatever.
And he does say that he learned all he knew about Jesus through “revelation.” And he also implies that the other apostles received their knowledge of Jesus the same way.
One hypothesis that I am open to says that, by the time of the Gospels and other later writings, the story had somehow evolved into one about a living human. One motivation for this, according to some, was to reframe temple-centric Judaism in light of the temple’s destruction, replacing temple sacrifices with good works and the other practices of the sect that later would be blessed and elevated by Constantine .
It’s very easy to se the Jesus biography as a process of embellishment — beginning from early Paul, then Mark, then the rest.
And we know there is a tremendous hole in the literary record — one that we reasonably can infer or suspect was a result of not preserving writings that were inconsistent with what became the orthodox narrative — naturally and quite understandably.
Thomas Brodie sees the Jesus narrative as 100% derived from Old Testament writings.
Richard Carrier and others see St. Paul’s celestial Jesus as being just another iteration of pagan deities that were typical in the region at that time.
It is the lack of objective evidence that makes the above speculations plausible.
Was there a Jesus? I don’t know. Nobody really knows. But there is reason for doubt (and room for faith).
No matter. Christianity is a two-thousand-year-old evolving “thing” in its own right, regardless of its actual roots. And there is room to rethink it theologically even in the possible absence of a historical Jesus.
Just the current opinion of one curious older guy who was raised Catholic and who continues to search for answers to his simple questions.