So today is Easter, and as such we are subjected to an onslaught of news stories from two camps. The first group starts out with the headline "10 Facts that Prove Jesus Never Existed." The second group's headlines claim "Evidence of Jesus' Life Found."
Both sets of headlines are complete bullshit. Further, both sides completely miss the point.
However, before I address that story, I need to address the issue of mythologization and how it relates to the Jesus Myth. I also want to point out here the actual meaning of "Myth," which means a story that reveals a Truth, regardless of whether it is actually factual. In no way am I insulting Christianity by claiming it to be a mythology. ALL religions are mythologies because they reveal Truth, and define the method by which Man is connected to Man, Man to Himself, and Man to God.
Basically the process of Mythologization, when it relates to an actual person goes through several stages: heroism, villianization, propaganda tool, legend and finally myth. (If you want a more complete description of these stages, please read my blog post "The Deconstruction of Falling Stars.") I will briefly outline it here before proceeding. Great and important people start out as heroes, then typically at some point, often during their lives, but also sometimes after their death. This is an attempt to kill their message. This villianization often leads them to then become a propaganda tool, either in a positive or a negative manner.
This propaganda begins to detach the real person from their message and their ideology. It can be used negatively to become a symbol of despite, or it can be used positively, as a paradigm to illustrate. In either case, the person's actual message gets twisted to fit a very specific end.
After propaganda comes legend, when the actual person is subsumed by the propaganda. The individual is no longer even able to be separated from the story. Further, their name becomes a metaphor for an entire concept. Think of what the name Robin Hood evokes; it creates very specific concept for anyone who knows the legend.. At this stage, we know a story about the person, but we have very few facts.
The final stage is mythologization, where the person becomes symbolic of not just an idea, but an entire ideology. At this stage, all facts are lost, not because they are forgotten, but because they are no longer important. Hence the fact that the Gospels all tell a different story about the life of Jesus. It does not matter that they can't be reconciled, because the facts are utterly unimportant. What has become the prime mover is the concepts and the ideas that found the myth.
Which now brings me to the point of this post. The actual fact of Jesus does not matter.
I know this sounds radical, and probably offensive to many people, but let me explain. Faith is either obliterated or strengthened by fact, but not in the way that people expect. In fact, proof that Jesus never lived will do nothing but strengthen the faith of Christians. Similarly, proof that Jesus lived will kill the religion, because of the actual nature of faith.
So first, let's look at the "Jesus Was Not Real" side. Many people on the atheist side believe very strongly that they can kill Christianity by proving that there was no actual Jesus, and he was created out of whole cloth by a bunch of first century writers. Their point is, "if it can be proven that Christianity is founded on a falsehood, essentially a 2000 year old lie, that it will rapidly fall apart.
Before I address why this view is incorrect, I will grant that they have a number of strong facts in their favor. There is no actual historic record of Jesus in the way that we have of Muhammad. You would think for all of his revolutionary preaching, he would have been at least mentioned in Roman records, or possibly in Greek or Egyptian accounts of the region. Even if he isn't named, it stands to reason that such a charismatic person would have drawn the attention of someone outside of
Add to this all of the contradictions found in the Bible, and the fact that, when you read the Gospels and Paul chronologically, the story of the Life of Jesus becomes increasingly elaborate and fantastic. And just to state, the actual order chronologically is: all of Paul, in the 50's; Mark, in the 60's; Matthew, in the 70's; Luke, no earlier than the 80's and possibly as late as 110; and John, written between 90's and 150. The conflicts and contradictions show that much of the Bible was written legend and story, not first hand accounts.
However, in the interest of fairness, there are some rebuttals to these points. First, it was not a mass media world, and very few people wrote anything. What was written and preserved was generally the most important things. A rebellious leader of a small sect in an very troublesome province of the Empire probably wouldn't warrant a lot of accounts. For all we know, the Governor of Judea sent weekly reports to the Emperor that have been lost to time. The Romans would not have had any reverence for Jesus, and would not have seen any reason to preserve any missives about him.
Also, the conflicts in the Books of the Bible are also not any sort of proof, as almost all serious Biblical Scholars recognize this, and do not feel that there is any sort of a problem with the facts not aligning. They understand that the New Testament was written many years after Jesus, by a number of different authors, and for very different political and religious purposes.
For example, Matthew was written for a congregation mixed between Jews and Gentiles, and therefore Matthew 20:9 "And when they came that were hired about the eleventh hour they received every man a denarius..." refers to the dissention of how could people who were not Jewish and came to Jesus late should receive the same heavenly reward.
Now to return to the point, that if the atheists can prove there was no Jesus, it will kill the religion, and by extension, destroy the idea of religiosity. This actually is not how the brain works. First of all, neuroscientists are discovering that faith and belief is hardwired into the human brain. In other words, even if by some chance we destroyed Christianity, another faith would spring up to take its place.
But beyond that, there is another quirk in the human psyche. If you attack a person's deeply held belief, you don't kill it, you actually make it stronger. It is essentially a human reflex, and the more the belief is attacked, the more intransigent it becomes.
An interesting aside to this is a study done a number of years ago with medical students. The devoutly religious students counted different numbers of ribs for men and women, and no matter how many times it was tried to prove to them that there is actually no difference, they could not count the same number of ribs on male and female skeletons. The more the researchers pushed, the more angry and distraught the religious students became.
So, in the end, the more that people try to disprove the existence of a historical Jesus, the stronger the belief in Him becomes for the Faithful.
This leads to the other situation where Biblical Archeologists work very hard to prove the actual existence of the "real" Jesus. They discover Ossuaries, uncover buildings and other artifacts or proofs of Jesus.
However, these actions are completely antithetical to faith.
Faith is founded in a belief that transcends facts. In fact, faith is destroyed by proof, because once there is proof, faith becomes fact. Further, once something becomes fact, all of the mystery and discussion dies. There might still be respect and reverence, but something essential has left the picture.
It illustrate this, lets examine how kings and queens are treated. Queen Elizabeth is a fact. We know she is real, that she exists outside of the stories about her in books and papers. Many people revere the Queen, they respect her and consider her a symbol for everything British. But that is where it ends. They do not worship her, and if they invoke her in prayer, it is to ask for her to be blessed, not to ask for Her blessing.
And this goes further back. I am not trying to offend anyone, but Muhammad was an actual historical figure. There are many accounts of his life written contemporaneously with his time on this planet. There are also many legends that were later attributed to him, but he is a unique religious figure (in the West at least) in that there are many known facts about him.
Now, while the Muslims revere him, and hold him in the highest esteem, they do not actually pray to him. (And you question this, or think I am being offensive, please read this Salafi webpage on this) The Muslims worship only Allah, and recognize that Muhammad was a man and a prophet. And on a side note, they believe that Jesus was also a prophet, not himself Divine. Further, this was a belief held by many Gnostic Sects, and a number of early Christian communities.
But the point is, it is all but impossible to worship fact. You can revere it, and hold it in the highest esteem, but when a person becomes fact, their nature fundamentally changes. If Jesus were proven to be fact, much of the text of the New Testament would come into question, especially the miracles and other direct manifestations of God's power through His Son.
If he was proven to be a real person, and, for example, his bones recovered, the Resurrection would become, in the best case, metaphor. In the worst case, it would become a grand Santa Claus lie in many peoples' eyes. In any case, the underpinning of faith that is the necessary foundation of religion and myth would be undermined.
Because of this, the conversation of whether Jesus was actually "real" not is irrelevant. Jesus transcends fact. The truth is that the religion founded in His name completely altered the course of the ancient world, and has been a positive influence in the lives of many for almost 2000 years. It has also been the cause of many deaths and much horror. The actual facts of His life are not really important, no more than they are in any myth. The myth IS the meaning.
But in the end, if the Atheists want to kill Christianity, they should be trying to prove that Jesus was real, and if the Christians want to make their faith even stronger, they should be trying to prove Jesus never was an actual person.
And that is yet another perfect irony.