So much for full disclosure. Yada, yada, yada.
Now, you raise the questions that no one in the faith will, namely are the historical foundations of the Christian religion true? You see, Judaism and Christianity claim to be historical faiths, founded on provable facts, events that really happened. Indeed they are backward-looking faiths most of the time, back to the founding event, be it the Law Giving for Jews or the Christ event for Christians. Christianity then looks forward to a ultimate redemption based on that Christ event, ya know, the rewards of the faithful and punishment of the faithless. The kicker is did any of the founding events ever actually happen?
No one I know wants to touch that question - way, way too hot. Indeed that's why evangelical Christianity has retreated into fundamentalism and literalism, because that question is so threatening to the entire faith system. That's why our statement of faith uses the term inerrant, there can be no errors in the Bible, for if there is even one, then the whole thing will collapse like a house of cards in the wind.
So, are there errors in the Bible?
You bet your pretty legs there are. Lots of them, some not so noticeable but some really messy. Like the birth of Jesus narratives: Matthew places it during the reign of Herod the Great, about 4-6 BC, and Luke places it during the rule of the first Roman governor about AD 6. Or the denials of Peter of Jesus, exactly who did he say them to and when and where - each Gospel is different. (One evangelical source thus says that there were 6 denials instead of the 3 prophesied by Jesus to get around this problem.) And exactly who was at the tomb on Resurrection day, one woman or 3 women, and who did they see and talk to, angels, Jesus or the gardener? And what exactly did Paul the Apostle hear and see during his Christ encounter on the road to Damascus? All accounts of it vary a bit. And the genealogies of Jesus in Matthew and Luke are almost totally different yet both purport to be from his "father" Joseph.
I could go on and on, but why? Something is wrong with these books that are supposed to have been written out under God's personal care. For if God really did superintend the writings of such books, why all the problems?
Now the church knows all this. Make no mistake here - I've never met a Christian who had been one for long and was not aware of certain "difficulties" in the Bible. My people come to me often with questions about these issues, they read here and there and note the problems, they aren't dumb. Sadly, what we the church have chosen to do with the questions is think about them very briefly, then stuff them away and ignore them. This is probably a defense method for coping, to ignore this whole problem. In the 19th century the church fought long and hard against ideas such as yours that Jesus was a myth, the faiths historical roots are false and such, and, to be honest, the church lost those battles. We could not "prove" that the faith was "true" no matter how hard we argued it, and indeed we realized that maybe they were right, and it was not true at all. So the church divided into two: modernists who embraced the change and fundamentalists who retreated. My people are part of the fundamentalist wing, and I am a child of that myself. Since we "lost" the culture, a term you will often hear fundamentalist/evangelicals using, we built our own, created our own schools, colleges, seminaries, book stores, music, and everything needed for life. It is possible to be in my sub-culture and never venture out of it these days; one can find everything from jobs to daycare to tire changes within it.
What we really did of importance was retreated from the "Big Questions" about the veracity of the faith and moved to pragmatism, instead of "is Jesus real" we ask "does this work?" Go to any evangelical church today, and you will note the huge emphasis on practicals: how to lose weight Jesus way; manage your money better Jesus way; raise smarter kids Jesus way; coping with cranky husbands Jesus way, etc. etc. Sermons are geared to giving keys to being a better wife or husband or parent, or how to care for yourself better, or how to manage conflict in a "biblical" way. Christians routinely talk about how "studies show that people who go to church are happier and live longer, have better sex, and sleep better than people who do not." The Christian faith is now all about pragmatics, how to make myself better or happier or whatever, self improvement. Oh sure, there are some holdout, some ol' time Baptists and such here and there, but by and large the Christian faith in America is totally pragmatic and practical and has no interest at all in debating history or theology. Look at the rise of Promise Keepers as one piece of evidence of this: an ecumenical organization that has Roman Catholic and Mennonites and Lutherans and Pentecostals in it. Such a gathering would have bee unthinkable 50 years ago. Promise Keepers goes out of their way to avoid historical and doctrinal debates, instead it all about how to be a better man. (In their opinion, I might add.) Thus, the church of today really is no longer about theology or doctrine, but is another self-help group, albeit a religious based one. Thus, folks like you are, as the old saying goes, "preaching to the choir," as Christians don't care anymore to fight these battles and are interested in what works and will make them "happier." I note from your appearances and publishers and all that that you are speaking to the crowd that already believes as you do, with a few exceptions I'm sure.
This newfound pragmatism will be the undoing of the church eventually, as people will sooner or later figure out that they can lose weight with or without Jesus helping, that being a Christian does not mean their marriage will be saved, and that church raised kids go "bad" just as much as non-church raised. See, for all the "studies" that evangelicals like to point to, there are no real differences in actual living between Christians and non: both have similar rates of cancer, death by car crashes, acne, bankruptcy - and, indeed it appears that evangelical Christians even have a slightly higher divorce rate.
So what I think will be the death blow to Christianity will not come from folks who point out the falsehoods in the history, (Christians are pretty immune to that) but from when people realize that they can get just as good a return for their investment of time and money in anything else in the never ending quest for self-improvement.
My question for you is twofold. How can you be so sure that Jesus of Nazareth never existed, and what do you believe about the supernatural?
First off, we really can not be so dogmatic about anything in history, and even then maybe not even I our own lives. What we believe to be true depends a great deal on our worldview, those who wish to credit God with creation will certainly do so, and those who wish to credit Mickey Mouse will do that. No one can actually be certain of anything, for as finite beings we simply do not know. We do not know if Jesus existed, or if even Washington did for that matter. Sure we can point to a great deal of "evidence" but again who we are will make us interpret the evidence in various ways. Like the joke about the blind men trying to figure out what the elephant was, each felt that the part he had in hand was the beings total sum, a leaf, a rope, a snake, and really none of them could see what it was. We are the same in all matters; no one can be certain about anything.
Thus, what I find interesting in your writing is your certainty that Jesus did not exist; for you really ought to say "I don't think he existed, and here is why...." Indeed to go further than that is to be just as dogmatic and dare I even say it fundamentalist as your Christian detractors. There are all sorts of fundamentalisms, and they are typically any belief that is held rigidly and dogmatically. Be careful not to cross over that line. Now what do you believe about the supernatural? Is there any existence beyond the seen? Do we have a spirit or soul that lives on in some form? I realize again that you do not have final answers here, but I'm curious.
Thanks for the thoughtful letter, with all its wonderful candor. As to how we can be certain as to the mythical nature of Jesus, as you say, the church already knows about it and has essentially capitulated, although they keep it hidden from the masses. How can we know about anything? It requires study and scientific examination, as well as intelligence and epiphany. If I know that Jesus Christ is the personification of the sun god revered around the world for thousands of years, which is quite evident from the archaeological and historical record, then I also can know that he is not a real person. If virtually every salient aspect of the Christian fable can be found in older mythologies, then we can be certain we are dealing with myth. This fact I demonstrate in The Christ Conspiracy.
As far as my "spirituality" goes, I don't really believe anything. I have had experiences that are relevant only because of how they affect me and can be implemented in, as you say, a pragmatic, practical way. If I experience something "mystical" such as a vision, it proves nothing, although it may have a life-changing affect on me. If such experiences cannot be translated into practicality, and if they constitute an imposition on the free thinking of other individuals, they are essentially worthless. In other words, if I have a vision of Jesus or Krishna or Buddha, it is NOT evidence of any absolute truth, and it does not give me the right to go around shoving it down everyone else's throats.
Date: Thu, 10 Feb 2000 09:48:16 -0800 (PST)
Subject: Another appreciative mail for the archive (or recycle bin)
To: Acharya S
Although it would appear that you receive a vast number of mails, some appreciative and others dripping with vitriol, I still feel obliged to drop a wee line.
Once upon a time, a friend handed me a copy of Robert Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land, and I finally found an author who could echo my disillusionment with (specifically) Christian orthodoxy and yet veil it in a shroud of science fiction palatable enough for those who need to be coddled into such thoughts. The more linear thinking, "intellectual" friends onto whom I tried to push the novel often found it to be entertaining, but not straightforward enough for their tastes. I have spent quite some time seeking an adequate source to vindicate my often vehement opposition to organized religion and have finally found it on your site. The fact that you can correlate your ideas with reliable sources, not the least of which is your own impressive list of credentials, makes it difficult to refute your arguments without resorting to the intellectual apathy that is blind faith. Thanks so much. Now, instead of attempting to explain myself to others without insulting them TOO badly (I do not have a gift for diplomacy) I can simply point them to your site. :-)
[signed He who feels that the only deities worth worshipping are Bacchus and J.R. "Bob" Dobbs
To: Acharya S
Date: Thu, 10 Feb 2000 12:58:00 -0500
Greetings from The Ancient One.
My compliments on your website. ...I am a psychic/metaphysical practitioner in Canada. Your site was very interesting and entertaining. I wish you success in all endeavors.
FOREVER IN PEACE
Date: Thu, 10 Feb 2000 19:58:29 EST
To: Acharya S
hey, pleased to be talking to you. can i just say, i think what you are writing is some of the most important literature ever published. At 17, it is quite a kick in the balls for me to discover that my belief has been in a lie, but i guess i figured that out a long time ago when i began to ask why i'm living in a house with oil heating and someone in Ethiopia is dying because of it. i still believe in God, but i know religion, or organised religion, is a crock of shit. i live in Northern Ireland, and with my band, Julian's Boyfriend, i have incorporated some of your ideas into my lyrics.
i just wanna say cheers for the inspiration.
Date: Fri, 11 Feb 2000 11:01:53 -0500
To: Acharya S
"The world is a spiritual kindergarten where millions of children are trying to spell god with the wrong blocks."
This is a paraphrase of an Edwin Arlington Robinson quote I first encountered 32 years ago as a high school freshman. I pull it out periodically when confronted by those who think they have all the spiritual answers. Most 'Christians' ignore the fact that their path is not the only 'Way' available to the human animal.
I still rant about the dubious nature of organized religion and its followers, and I am so pleased to find one as articulate as yourself fanning those same fires of skepticism.
I recently added a copy of The Christ Conspiracy to my 'Library of Doubt' and am quite anxious to get started on it.
To: Acharya S
Subject: THE HIRAM KEY
Date: Mon, 14 Feb 2000 00:55:04 -0500
Fascinating website, with intriguing details about your book. Will have to read when I get the chance.
It's been ever since first reading Spong's books about the Bible's not being literally true that I was hooked. But it's gotten much deeper than that, to the point where I begin thinking there's something more than just some people in the past writing neat little stories for us to read and learn for, that some later people have abused. I couldn't help but see that so many things could either only be literally and miraculously true, or else the same conspiracy has written them over generations to make something seem so incredible we'd be too afraid to challenge it.
It's like the religion IS the actual beast that religion warns us about, and we run to the shark yelling "Shark!" only to be eaten rather than protected.
I was wondering if you've read and know of the writings of Christopher Knight and Robert Lomas, and their definite findings of Freemasonry (Or early forms of it) in Christianity's making? Their book, entitled THE HIRAM KEY, was the first time I'd ever heard of secret society and understood what they were capable of.
I'll try to read your book as soon as I possibly can. Thanks for thinking freely!
To: Acharya S
Subject: Christ Conspiracy
Date: Wed, 16 Feb 2000 15:59:11 PST
I found your web site today and wanted to let you know how much I enjoyed it.
I am a former Christian who is converting to Judaism, and I've recently been doing a lot of reading and research regarding the history of Christianity and the historical Jesus. It's been an enlightening experience for me. What has been of particular interest is the history of Christian anti-semitism, and how it was incorporated into the very teachings of the Church. All of this research further cements in my mind that the Jesus depicted in the bible never existed.