Christ Myth and the Christian Future

I believe that the greatest threat to Christianity today is its erroneous views about its own origins.

More and more, the Gospel Jesus is looking like, in the words of Julian Huxley, “the last fading smile of a cosmic Cheshire Cat”.

Christ Myth theory has more or less established the absence of a historical, or the Gospel, Jesus from history. Which is to say that mainstream Christianity contains within its own historicist doctrines and traditions the seeds of its own destruction. The end of normative Christianity will have come into sight once Christ Myth theory captures the requisite number of disciplines and minds to tilt the balance, because traditional Christianity utterly depends upon a historical Jesus who died on a physical cross.

Possibly, a “new” or “other” God that could emerge as a Christian form of Christ Myth, but perhaps such a God would in actuality really be the old “alien” God who was believed in by the ancient Gnostic Christians.

Many schools of Christian Gnosticism denied importance to Jesus as material and historical figure, on the contrary conceiving him to be a pure spirit or even a projection (Docetism) from heaven onto the earthly plane – an idea that coincides in its “celestial” nature with aspects of Pauline christology. If any future Jesus devotees wish to remain Christian even while accepting Christ Myth theory, they could possibly seal their survival under one or another Gnostic or quasi-Gnostic umbrella.

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Christ Myth and the Resurrection

Paradoxically, the Gospels’ resurrection account of the stone rolled away from Jesus’s tomb itself argues against the resurrection because Jesus’s resurrection body was above all said to be able to ignore the normal laws of matter – for instance, to rise to heaven on a cloud, to appear and reappear at will, and to pass through solid barriers. The tomb’s stone was a solid barrier, and so Jesus ought to have been able to pass through it. That the stone was found to have been rolled away indicates an all-too-human need on the part of Jesus: he couldn’t pass through the stone barrier and so didn’t have a resurrection body after all; or, perhaps, secret disciples unknown to the women and the disciples moved the stone and removed Jesus in order to revive him (the core thesis of the “Passover Plot”). All factors that contra-indicate the notion of Jesus’s resurrection body.

to “the Apostles” through visions, dreams, and a particular exegesis of Jewish scripture. Mark, the author of the earliest Gospel, was the first to euhemerize the heavenly spiritual Son, and to write a narrative about what his life on our geophysical earth might have looked like, had he actually incarnated as a man on the earthly plane.

In so doing, Mark constructed for Jesus a mission, a temptation, a calling of disciples, as well as healings and exorcisms, parables, teachings on the Law, the Prophets, the Temple, and other biographical details, most of which function as a kind of midrash on the Hebrew Bible.

https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/midrash-101/

Mark gave Jesus a physical, earthly death, just as he had given him a physical, earthly life. After his account of Jesus’s death, Mark then introduced a semi-physical resurrection from a material tomb in order to make his “biography” of an earthly Jesus complete.

Mark then brings on the sorrowing women, whom he says were terrified and said nothing to anyone about the empty tomb and the angelic presence therein. Mark probably did that to encourage his readers to be bold in proclaiming the risen Jesus, and _not_ follow the example of his timid women who fled the tomb in fear and confusion.

Jesus’s original death and resurrection were conceived to have occurred in the lower heavens, where he was tormented and killed by the dark “Powers” after he had been “handed over” (by God or Satan), and where God raised him back up to his original, native state as the Son in heaven. The original death and resurrection were seen as real, but “extraterrestrial”, events enacted for humankind’s benefit. It was only with Mark’s Gospel that they became euhemerized and literalized into the life of the Galilean carpenter-sage with whom our culture is so familiar.

https://www.richardcarrier.info/archives/8161

https://www.richardcarrier.info/archives/10004

In Praise of Dave Kruemcke

For Jodo Shinshu adherents, I would like to recommend Dave Kruemcke and his You Tube channel.

Dave is a forthright Shin Buddhist whose videos are absolutely incisive and frequently salty in expression, especially when Dave outlines his somewhat horrendous family experiences, and the understandable irritation he feels when dealing with samsaric situations and beings.

Dave never forgets that he, and we “Shinners” – are bombus. We are not holy, we are not saints, we are not Buddhas (yet), and we await our Buddhahood only after death and entry into Amida Buddha’s Pure Land, where our “dormant” Buddha Nature will be awakened and we will ourselves become Buddhas.

Dave is very straight on this issue. He pulls no punches when disseminating the Amida Dharma, or when critiquing various “Attitudes” carried by us bombus. Dave can be quite bitingly funny when he calls out the absurdities both within and outside of religion.

So I highly recommend Dave Kruemcke to all who are interested in Shin particularly, and in Buddhism generally. Dave’s videos can be found at:

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCIv_qywIHhymPfMi9PE4MzQ/videos

Jesus did not die for our sins


Traditionally central to christology is the conception of Jesus’s atoning death on the cross. However, in probability, Jesus didn’t die for anyone. If he even existed, it seems from the Gospels that Jesus never intended to replace Judaism with a “new” covenant or a “new” testament in his blood. That was a Pauline-Johannine notion that was borrowed by the Gospel authors in their construction of a Passion narrative.

As with the Jewish prophets before him, Jesus said that reconciliation with God is a matter of repentance and performance of good works. Most of the Gospels’ salvation methods don’t even mention belief in Jesus as Son of God and in his salvific death as a requisite for salvation. With his Jewish contemporaries, Jesus already had a system of repentance and atonement (which, by the way, was not wholly dependent on the Temple and priestly sacrifices). This system had been created by the Jewish god and was to last forever, never to be replaced by the murder of an innocent man.

Judaism already possessed all that is needed for salvation for those who believe in the Jewish god. Nothing else was needed, desired, or expected.  Repentance, forgiveness and atonement did not depend on the Temple, although of course the Temple was a worship center and conveyor of blessings to the people. But, following an initial act of repentance, Jews could atonement outside of the Temple system by practicing good works and/or making offerings of flour and other such “unbloody” gifts.  This fact is illustrated by history. When the Jews lost their Temple in CE 70, they carried on with the religion as it was before the Temple was built, with a fresh input from the post-war rabbinical center in Jamnia.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Council_of_Jamnia

The notion that Judaism is imperfect because it is only a stop-gap, inadequate system that doesn’t have the “perfect sacrifice of the God-Man” is incorrect and a bit anti-Semitic to boot.

Fortunately, Shin adherents do not need to worry about a salvation constituted by the death of God Incarnate, done to satisfy his own sense of justice. Not, however, that there is no divine sacrifice in Shin. On the contrary, we only need to think of Amida Buddha’s great work, extending over many kalpas, performed in order to create the perfect Pure Land where all processes work together to fulfill our original aspiration for Buddhahood. Nor do we forget the sacrifices of Monk Dharmakara, whose long trek through samsara and his learning from a transcendent being brought him to the point of making his Bodhisattva Vow. Our faith is in Amida. It is created and sparked within us at every moment by Amida. We are embraced, never to be let go, by Amida. No blood was shed to gain our salvation, and our perfect faith of Shinjin is Amida’s pure, unearned gift of saving grace.


Christ Myth II

As a fan of the Christ Myth theory, I doubt that the Gospel/historical Jesus existed as a flesh-and-blood human person. So for me, the Gospels are probably “all myth” when they talk about Jesus the Galilean carpenter-sage-Son of God (although, of course, the Gospels’ settings are more often than not historically real places and their “Big People” like Pilate were real people).

However, I do keep the historical Jesus hypothesis on the back burner in case I turn out to be wrong – if, in the unknowable future, the archaeologist’s spade should uncover evidence from Jesus himself, or some writing or artifact that points directly to his historical existence.

Following the work of the late New Testament scholar, Marcus J. Borg, I think that the basic Gospel Jesus-depiction could be boiled down to a few plausible religio-social traits, e.g.,

1) Jesus as a reform movement founder (“Jewish Christianity” in Jerusalem/Galilee, Judea and Syria)

2) Jesus as a social prophet (one who not only predicts oncoming events, but who also functions as a sharp social critic, speaking to his/her peers “in God’s voice”)

3) Jesus as an exorcist, shaman, healer and magician (recall that we don’t need to believe in such things in order to acknowledge the existence of the ascribed _social roles_)

4) Jesus as an enlightened sage (“spiritually enlightened” like the Buddha, Bodhidharma, Lao Tzu, Ramana Maharshi, etc.)

5) Jesus as “Kingdom agent” who taught the present in-breaking of God’s Kingdom here-and-now on earth (“the Kingdom is within you and among you”)

6) Jesus as transformative sage (one who leads followers on a “Path” toward spiritual growth/fulfillment)

7) Jesus as divine union mystic (one whose self-perception and experience(s) lead him/her to claim a deep sense of union and communion with God – e.g., “the Father and I are one”)

8) Jesus as parabolic teacher (one who teaches symboliccally in parables, analogies, allegories, analogies)

9) Jesus as a re-interpreter of his culture’s spirituality, scripture and traditions

10) Jesus as a martyr to his own beliefs about himself, his relation to God, and his message about the Kingdom of God

That, in my view, is a plausible perspective and condensation of the Gospels’ portraits of Jesus as a historical person. The list is not long, and most holy people, shamans and sages typically perform most of the listed items before breakfast on any given, ordinary day. So it’s not a question of “how could Jesus or any other single person wear so many ‘hats’?” The hats come with the territory. We always have plenty of historicist Jesus theory to consult should Christ Myth theory be invalidated.

 

Christ Myth I

Some Christ Myth folks think that there was a pre-Christian mystical Jewish sect that reverenced a celestial Christ-figure.

Apparently some people in this sect were claiming to be receiving revelations from the heavenly realm – revelations and visions that told them that the celestial Christ had undergone a journey from the highest to the lowest heaven, where he suffered, died, and rose again back to his original position at God’s right hand in the highest heaven.

Supposedly, “the Apostles” were chief among these Jewish cultists, with Peter/Cephas apparently being among the first to receive the new revelation that the heavenly Son had sacrificed himself for humanity. “Saint” Paul apparently had – or at least, claimed – a similar experience and boldly added himself to the list of “Apostles”. Paul was the first – as far as we can tell – who wrote about the celestial Christ’s suffering and sacrifice.

So Paul was the first to write – but not to preach about – the celestial Jesus. Others had done so before him, according to Paul’s own testimony. And – if one’s theology is not averse to taking Paul at his word – one could conceive that it was the celestial Christ who was speaking through Paul, making His own self-revelation through Paul’s writing. But I do understand your meaning about the data arising with Jesus or someone else.

Without access to time travel, I don’t know how we could ever ascertain such an issue. As I mentioned in my other post, it is within the realm of probability that Jesus, had he existed, could have left something about himself behind – or at least some first-generation disciple could have written about a real historical Jesus. Such a discovery would be as close as we could get to time travel.

But judging from the glaring fact that Christianity’s earliest writings – Paul and some of the other Epistles – virtually ignore the Gospel Jesus and/or a historical Jesus, I would venture to guess that there was never a historical Jesus who could have written about himself, and there were no disciples to write about such a man.

There were probably plenty of disciples who preached about the _celestial_ Jesus, and wrote about him (if, of course, they were lucky enough to be literate and wealthy enough to afford writing materials). But I doubt that there was any individual or group who could write about a historical Jesus – because there was no historical Jesus on whom they could write, or from whose life-example they could derive edifying examples and citations.

 

Not by “Hope Alone”

Recently an Internet religious discussion forum hosted the question of hope’s power to sustain faith. The following is my somewhat modified reply, in which I deny the notion of

"Spe enim salvi facti sumus unum" [Wiki translation] or the principle which, like Luther's "sola fide", 
proposes that hope alone is or can be the basis of faith.

Depending on a religious person’s perspective, I do suppose that some few people can sustain their faith on the principle of “Hope Alone”.

However, from my own perspective, faith should only be a secondary interpretive tool which helps the intellect delineate a primary, “foundational” religious experience. Without that kind of hands-on, immediate spiritual encounter, faith is just empty words about a doctrine, or else about some other person’s experience (e.g. a founder of a religion, a saint, a guru, etc.), but not one’s own experience, which is the only decisive matter to those for whom “faith” is equally “gnosis” or “knowing”.

So, for me, one’s interpretation – one’s “faith-in” or “faith-about” – of a core spiritual experience or experiences must be based on that initial and initiating experience of the Sacred Transcendent … or it will be absent its most cogent and driving factor – spiritual experience – and it will consist of nothing but mere words combined with wishful thinking – wishful thinking being one aspect of “Hope”. So a faith and/or a hope that is not based on a liberating sacred experience is bound to be nothing but a shell whose missing core is its central, crucial, essential “gnosis” – at best an empty faith and a pointless hope.

This issue is illustrated in Jodo Shinshu/Shin Buddhism’s teaching of Shinjin – Amida Buddha’s sheer, unearned gift of “perfect faith” – a faith that is at one and the same time “gnosis” because the gift of faith is itself the living experience of the living Buddha’s activity in oneself. In the reception of Shinjin, spiritual faith is conveyed in-and-as spiritual knowing. And so is spiritual hope, which is based on the received experience. But sayings like, “Our hope is in Amida Buddha delivering us to His Pure Land”, while emotionally true, still don’t cover the experiential nature of Shinjin.

Yes, Shin people are hopeful about their ultimate destiny of being transformed into Buddhas in the Pure Land, but that hope, because it is based on the prior experience of Shinjin, is far more than “mere” hope as cheerful, blissful anticipation. On the contrary, because it is based in the Shinjin experience, Jodo Shinshu “Hope” is expressed in the adherent’s own perception of the Shinjin-mind and the state of non-retrogression, both of which preclude a “falling-back” into pre-Shin modes of thinking and living. Once embraced by Amida, the Shin person is never let go. And that security, of course, extends far beyond both the secular and the standard religious connotations of Hope. Shinjin permits us to actually, in this life, step aboard “the Raft from the Other Shore” – the “vessel” which will safely transport us over the storm-tossed ocean of samsara to the shore of the Pure Land, where Faith and Hope together merge into Amida’s infinite compassion and find their true original nature in Buddhahood itself.