Sam Harris interviews Bart Ehrman ("What is Christianity")

Discussion in 'Religion' started by Peripatetic, May 9, 2018.

  1. Peripatetic

    Peripatetic New Member

  2. Jerry Russell

    Jerry Russell Administrator Staff Member

    Hello P, thanks for the link.

    I found the interview on YouTube, where I could open up the transcript and scan through it. Ehrman seems to take Paul's 'Road to Damascus' conversion as a good-faith experience, and believes that Paul's mention of "James brother of Jesus" is to be taken literally, as an expression of a family relationship. He's convinced that the Gospels represent oral transmission of stories told originally by the disciples. And he thinks that the growth of the Christian Church from ~30 CE to the time of Constantine was organically driven (presumably because of Christianity's innate appeal and ethical superiority to other religions of the time??) and would have continued anyhow, regardless of the effects of state sponsorship.

    And, I found the section where Ehrman dismisses mythicist arguments. We aren't exactly mythicists here either: we think there are several historical characters whose lives were reflected in the biblical Jesus character. I have to agree with his belief that the rise of Christianity was caused by actual historical individuals and events.

    But as to our "Roman Origins" theory, I didn't find a word about it. I know he holds it in the utmost contempt, though.

    Now, Ehrman is in the "agnostic" or "atheist" camp with us, and he claims to reject Christianity. So accordingly, I feel more affinity with him than I would with, say, a Baptist minister or Iranian Shiite mullah.

    But on the other hand, his critique of Christianity seems like very weak tea. His view of Christian origins deviates very little from the "official story". Without Roman support, why did the religion grow so quickly? If the NT authors weren't conspiratorial liars, then why would they speak of such miracles? Wouldn't it make more sense to simply believe that the miraculous events, such as the Resurrection, really did happen exactly as the sources claim?

    At any rate, I can understand why Chapel Hill is comfortable to keep him on the staff. His views are not really so threatening to the Christian status quo.
  3. Richard Stanley

    Richard Stanley Administrator

    I like to think of myself with a foot in both camps, albeit I've never been sure what defines a pure mythicist from a heretic.

    If one thinks of Xianity as an imperial Roman project, not only to pacify the nationalistic Jews of the day, but as a means to consolidate all the then existing mystery religions into one universal 'catholic' religion then we can see why so many prior mythic elements were incorporated into the final product. This, while at the same time having an insider joke in making Titus Flavius the encrypted bringer of the Preterist Second Coming, the Son of the god -- Vespasian.

    Here we have to remember that Christianity has its exoteric and esoteric layers. As most see it today, even Ehrman, Christianity is just a bunch narrative tales ostensibly discussing one's personal spiritual redemption from sin and such (whether one believes it or not). But the evidence today seems to show that such as the Flavians were adapts of the esoteric mysteries, their imperial signage of the 'fish and anchor' also becoming the symbols of Xianity centuries before the cross did with Constantine.

    The concept of the Second Coming itself is tied to even older notions about the "end of time". Actually, the cyclic end of time, and the cataclysmic notions communicated seem to be at least one of the reasons this myth was veiled as a mystery to be revealed only to the fully initiated. This aspect of the entire Bible is consistent with the prior 'pagan' mysteries. I'm currently re-reading a book The Mysteries of the Great Cross of Hendaye which discusses the many esoteric aspects of the Bible in this regard, far beyond the Book of Revelation.

    I got interested in re-reading this book after watching the first two seasons of the History Channel's Hunting Hitler show, which demonstrates that Hitler and pals did indeed escape to South America after all. But to what purpose? It seems that the Nazis had their own millennial interpretation, which it appears has the same ultimate origins in the far past as does Judeo-Christian-Islamic eschatology (and Buddhism and Hinduism to boot).

    It seems that all these religions carry the same general encrypted notion that we are inevitably tied to destructive events sourced from somewhere in our galaxy, tied to the Great Year of the Zodiac, and that we are on the cusp of the next cyclical event (the crossing of the galactic ecliptic twice per zodiacal cycle). Is this all because there was indeed one such cataclysm that happened about 13,000 years ago, deeply ingrained into the human cultural psyche? The black stone embedded in the Kaaba is a meteorite fragment that evokes this aspect.

    Imagine if we are all being held hostage today to the memory of an otherwise random cosmicly derived catastrophe that happened 13,000 years ago, and somebody got the bright idea to say it would happen on a fixed schedule. If nothing else, belief in such happening might serve to entrain the approved initiates to serve agendas they otherwise might not.

    Maybe this is why such as Ehrman can retain their otherwise heretical positions, he's keeping some of the sheep from straying too far as Jerry hinted. But also interesting in the context that such as Hollywood has been bombarding us with apocalyptic movies and such over the last few decades.
  4. Peripatetic

    Peripatetic New Member

    You're welcome.

    My recollection from listening to the conversation was that his loss of faith in Christianity and theism more broadly (is this what you meant by "his critique of Christianity"?) was originally due to certain (to his mind) irresolvable internal contradictions within and between the Gospel accounts (e.g., Jesus was at location X before T1; Jesus was at location X after T1, etc.). Upon writing a lengthy, tortuous "reconciliation," his professor at the theological school commented that he did a good job, but wouldn't the simpler explanation simply be that the Gospel writers got it wrong. This shocked Ehrman, and ultimately caused him to lose confidence in the reliability of the Gospel accounts. Once doubt of the inerrancy of the Gospels crept in, he was I take it, susceptible to certain philosophic arguments that cast deeper doubt on the existence of the traditional Judeo-Christian God Himself. In particular, he credits the problem of evil argument with being the origin of his agnosticism/atheism.

    Once he came to the realization that the Gospel stories were filled with discrepancies, written by men, and that God as traditionally conceived was unlikely (or impossible) to exist, he was then open, I take it, to examine in a more objective light additional problems for the entire Christian project. Not the least of these would be the time gap problem from purported event occurrences to their much later first non-oral recording (much later by at least 40 years or more). There is quite a bit of talk between Harris and Ehrman on these issues. Harris seems particularly interested in the time gap problem.
    Last edited: May 10, 2018
  5. Jerry Russell

    Jerry Russell Administrator Staff Member

    Ehrman's progression is very logical, and shows great intellectual integrity. In general, fundamentalists never seem to realize that the 'infallibility' doctrine forces them to engage in mental gymnastics, while twisting the meaning of the Biblical text until many passages are interpreted to say the opposite of their clear intent. And, for the fundamentalists, there isn't any "time gap problem" because they assume that the Gospels were eyewitness accounts -- and that their anticipation of the Jewish War and the destruction of the Temple was genuine prophecy.

    It seems to me that the problem of evil should be plenty good enough reason for anyone to reject Christianity or Judaism. The Scripture clearly states that God creates Evil as well as Good. And, God's evil nature is graphically illustrated in so many instances.

    But, what puzzles me about both Ehrman and Carrier, is their visceral hatred of the Roman Origins view. In the NT, Paul is always name-dropping his connections to the Roman royal court. The connections of the Flavians to 1st century Christianity are not just a matter of legend, there's also archaeological evidence. And I don't see how it could be more obvious that Josephus is full of satirical references to Christianity.

    What is wrong with them? They certainly don't present anything that looks like a reasonable argument. They say Roman Origins is impossible a priori, because the Romans couldn't be that smart. Really -- not as smart as Jewish peasants?? Then they add some ad hominem insults, and finish up by claiming that no one has a right to express an opinion unless they have PhD level training in Greek and Hebrew.
  6. Peripatetic

    Peripatetic New Member

    Not invented here. So, it can’t be true.

    Author doesn’t have approved intellectual pedigree.

    Intellectual arrogance. I don’t know either of the two individuals personally, but I do know and I have had many personal interactions and relationships with academics in a very closely related field at a number of universities over a fairly long period of time. This attitude, unfortunately, is the rule not the exception.

    Religious adherence to the Law of Parsimony: the rational procedure is to adopt the theory that makes the fewest assumptions. A conspiracy theory asks us to make additional assumptions. QED.

    The cardinal sin: conspiracy theory. Neither would deign come within an intellectual mile of being at all remotely associated with a “conspiracy“ theory. They would be the laughingstock of their colleagues—a fate worse than death in their mind. But what’s better: they can be above the fray, sophisticated, adult, in the know, refuting simple minded conspiracy theories.
    Last edited: May 13, 2018
  7. Peripatetic

    Peripatetic New Member

    Lack of approved credentials + intellectual arrogance = contemptuous dismissal.

    Not mentioned above, but perhaps the most significant and deepest cause: epistemological and methodological corruption. Graduate school in the humanities generally trains one to think by a very corrupt method. It also tends to attract those who are already predisposed to think in such a fashion. It’s not my field but I’m told that history (Carrier) tends to dominated by by both methodological empiricism and rationalism. Theology and Bible Studies, particularly theology, is methodological rationalism par excellence. This combination will often result in the inability to see the obvious truth staring you in the face as well as giving you the tools to easily “disprove” any of your opponent’s positions that you “know” must be wrong a priori.
    Last edited: May 13, 2018
  8. Richard Stanley

    Richard Stanley Administrator

    Yes, such arrogance is a typical hubristic "sin of pride", but as well the 'modern', secular university system as initiated by England's German King George II in 1734 at Gottingen also contributed to institutionally amplifying the problem via its use of such as its 'thesis advisors' steering their new scholars into 'acceptable' avenues of research and away from the opposite. The respective prize or punishment for conformity, or the lack thereof, being such as gaining a diploma (or tenure) or being denied same. The advisors then take their cues from their superiors who ...

    The old saw is that "history is written by the winners" and it seems to me that this might as well be applied to organized Religion as well. But the problem for all, except the 'insiders', is exactly what is being hidden in the narratives?

    Theology is also particularly prone to 'special pleading', the expedient fabrication of imaginary and/or abstract mechanisms of causality where none exists, in order to justify the desired result of the hierarchy. For example, the debate over the Trinity settled politically by the Council of Nicaea, otherwise an existential threat to the imperial ordained Church.

    As I was alluding to before, such as the old school alchemy adepts would be ironically amused about the contemporary debates between scientific rationalists and the religious (especially the fundamentalists) as they would see most 'scientists' and the like-minded as being yet another sort of 'fundamentalist' via their literalist interpretations of the alchemist's 'science' veiled behind purposely inscrutable language, including the metaphorical aspects of religious texts. Doubly ironic because it was the alchemists' efforts, like Isaac Newton's, that led to what we now know of as contemporary Science.

    Ironic too that the then new scientific university system gave us its very first product, that of the emotion driven Romantic Movement, that justified racial ranking, of which we are still suffering the social consequences - besides the Nazis' extreme version.

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