How Much Does Historicity Matter, Outside History?

This is a question for my readers to discuss as I’m curious to hear different views.

Today I finished reading On Historicity of Jesus by Dr. Richard Carrier. I’ll review the book soon, but before that I wanted to ask a question.

Basically, if you’re not a historian, how much does it matter that Jesus and other prophets existed or not? If you’re already an atheist, you already know it’s mostly a myth, so historical examination will give you evidence that the Bible and the Qur’an are myth books, and that might dissuade some religious people. But except evidence to debunk religion, is there any significance?

Let me put it this way: the myth plays a more significant role in the world and in our lives than the reality. If Mohammad didn’t exist or did, if he was completely different or exactly the same, people are going to read this fiction or fictionalized version of reality and make laws based on it and derive their values and reason based on it. So whether the myth is real or unreal, it’s still very significant as it plays a huge role in how we live our lives.

So, how much of a difference really does it make that these stories are myth? Shouldn’t we be concerned more with their effects on our lives than the fact that they’re not true?

Your thoughts?

About Kaveh Mousavi

Kaveh Mousavi is the pseudonym of an atheist ex-Muslim living in Iran, subject to one of the world’s remaining theocracies. He is a student of English Literature, an aspiring novelist, and part-time English teacher. He is passionate about politics, video games, heavy metal music, and cinema. He was born at the tenth anniversary of the Islamic Revolution of Iran. He has ditched the Islamic part, but has kept some of the revolutionary spirit.

  • http://garyherstein.com/ Gary Herstein

    I’m an atheist, but one of the topics that interests me, and that I hope to address soon on my own blog, is “Making Sense.” This, it seems to me, comes in at least three primary flavors: logical coherence, empirical adequacy, and narrative intelligibility. Contemporary scientism (a term I use in the pejorative) would have us ignore the third piece of the puzzle. Narrative is, of course, that form of making sense where myth and literary imagery come most to the fore. I suspect (but will only state here without argument) that the first two cannot come into being, or exist in any manner, without the third. So while I am an “atheist” (of a kind — yeah, that’s a complicated story in its own right, because I’m also a Whiteheadian http://www.iep.utm.edu/whitehed/) I take narrative and myth very seriously.

    This is not an answer to your question, but only a suggestion of how complicated your question is.

  • busterggi

    Consider that ahistorical beliefs are responsible for much influence on modern culture, law and politics, I’d say historicty should matter much more than it does.

  • https://www.facebook.com/rwahrens Robert Ahrens

    I’ve heard this question asked a lot, mostly from people who are skeptical of Carrier’s efforts. Mostly, they try to answer that it doesn’t, and like you have pointed to the mythological nature of the Jesus we know today in modern American Christian popular theology.

    But, it does matter. Whether the Jesus worshiped today is mythological or not, people believe he was real. They will cite all kinds of ridiculous “proofs”, including some which are totally made up and exist only in their minds.

    Why? Because they’ve been TOLD he existed. Every preacher that stands up in a church in America, except for some more liberal denominations, tells his/her congregation every Sunday that Jesus lived and died for their sins. They describe in vivid detail his death and resurrection.

    Because in America, and especially in the more conservative denominations, he MUST exist, or their religion is based on purely mythological stories, made up out of whole cloth, just like every other religion out there. And they can’t stand that. To say that their Jesus was based on myth and conjecture by ancient Hebrews (e.i., Jews) is an insult and simply cannot be true. It undermines their entire theology, because it is based on the true, historical existence of a man who was born, lived and died in ancient Israel.

    Sure, there are Christians of a more liberal bent who will share your distain of that argument. They are perfectly happy with that mythological beginning, because to them, his story WAS one that happened in heaven or at least not on earth.

    In “What You Don’t Know About Religion (but should)”, Ryan T. Cragun cites numerous amazing and interesting statistics about religion in America. (he is, after all, a statistician.) One of the most amazing stats he posts is on page 64 in a table about the percentages of American Christians with specific religious beliefs.

    Only 55% believe that Jesus was divine and sinless. That means, obviously, that 45% don’t. Do they think he was just a man? Or, perhaps some itinerant preacher whose myths got away from his followers? Who knows?

    But, obviously, the revelation that there was no historical man behind the biblical stories that supposedly support his existence would hit many of those people hard, and the affect on that 55% would probably be worse. There are huge numbers of Christians leaving Christianity literally in droves every year, much of that driven by a variety of things.

    But mark my words, let word get out that biblical scholars are beginning to think there was no Christ, and no mangy preacher behind the myth, and those numbers would skyrocket.

  • http://www.advocatusatheist.blogspot.com Tristan Vick

    “So whether the myth is real or unreal, it’s still very significant as it plays a huge role in how we live our lives.”

    This is pretty much the thesis behind Joseph Campbell’s entire career. His book Myths We Lie By captures some of the most insightful essays on how myth impacts our everyday lives, from politics to popular culture, and yes, even religion.

    I’ve been of the mind for quite some time now that the only reason Christianity is such a potent religion is because it is mainly mythical, and that speaks to people on such a deep level that they are pretty much unwitting participants in a great overarching narrative that fulfills their deepest desires to be a part of something greater than themselves.

    Islam has this to a degree as well, but the narrative is clunky, and where it fails to be meaningful in the same way one might say the Christian narrative in meaningful the radicals feel the lacunae with death threats so that savvier minds won’t brave to doubt the obvious fabricated elements of the religion.

    Other religions have powerful myths to live by as well, and the funny thing is that they are all very familiar to one another, most likely because they are all manmade and represent the same fragile psyche searching for its place in the universe.

  • http://www.ranum.com Marcus Ranum

    That’s sort of like asking if it matters whether The Tooth Fairy is real. Well, once you know there is no Tooth Fairy, you can get on with your life accordingly. If jesus never existed, or never did all the things he certainly never did (creating zombies? rising from the dead?) the whole mythical structure of christianity is left hanging on the value of whatever philosophical teachings christianity offers. Which is a problem because – for all intents and purposes – there are few. In case nobody noticed, there’s really pretty slim pickin’s in there, as far as history, useful moral lessons, political science, recommendations for how to lead an examined life, or discussion of what is the good life. There’s a lot of authoritarianism, which taints and corrupts the whole exercise – whether or not jesus existed or whether or not he was really a god.

  • Dave White

    For me, there is a slight curiosity, but it would make little practical difference. I already reject the divinity of the myth, so any details of its history and formation are a secondary concern.

    Judging by the claims of lots of folks who deny evolution, making the “fall” mythological is unacceptable. I would guess that making the “savior” mythological is an even bigger no-no. Maybe admitting having a personal relationship with a myth is just too much.

  • Ed

    As a thinking, curious person, I can’t help having some interest in which stories set in the past are reasonably verifiable and which are more likely to be myths or legends. In many cases the answer may never be completely resolved.

    When it comes to the Jesus of Christianity there are obviously so many mythical elements worked into the story that if he was a real man, he wouldn’t recognise most of what we think of as his biography. It would actually be awkward for orthodox Christians if, assuming Jesus existed, there were contemporary documents acceptable to historians about him.

    What if he did not claim equality with God (strangely, even the accepted religious Gospels are unclear on this), or held other views about himself that most churches consider heretical? What if he was an anti-Roman rebel crucified for violent insurrection?

    Then they would be in a position of having to claim that the contemporary observers who reported these things were liars (even if this was improbable).

    Or they would have to argue that the Jesus, itinerant religious leader from Nazareth, crucified under Pontius Pilate written about in the historical record was a real guy alright, but wasn’t THE Jesus whom they worship. He was just someone with a similar name and story. Maybe Jesus was the most popular name in Nazareth at the time and “Messiah” was the most common occupation. :)

  • http://www.ranum.com Marcus Ranum

    Maybe Jesus was the most popular name in Nazareth at the time and “Messiah” was the most common occupation.

    Messiah was a common occupation. There were assloads of them running around at the time. Many of them raised the dead and cured lepers, too. It was a good time, in those days, to be dead or a leper, with all the messiahs running around waiting for people to keel over so they could heal them.

    OK that last part was me being silly. But the bit about there being lots of messiahs is true. In fact, Monty Python’s “Life of Brian” is pretty close to the bone about the historical attitudes of the time. All except the part with the alien spaceship. And there really was no Roman named Biggus Dickus. *snicker*

  • Ed

    The Search for the Historical Biggus Dickus.

    The Gnostic Gospel of Brian.

  • dukeofomnium

    What makes historicity important to a non-historian is this: if Jesus never existed, then he couldn’t have died for your sins. This is unlike, say, Buddhism: if Siddhartha was a fiction, “his” teachings might still have validity. Islam, of course, seems to represent something of a middle ground, but if Muhammed were definitively shown to have been a fiction, then I suspect that there would be fewer Muslims.

    So, what makes Christianity unique is that Jesus was not just a teacher or a prophet, but a godling who had to die to make christianity true.

    • http://www.ranum.com Marcus Ranum

      Buddhism: if Siddhartha was a fiction, “his” teachings might still have validity

      Not really. Because one of the founding premises of buddhism is that siddartha was a wise enlightened person and… therefore what he says should carry special weight. If you actually examine the supposed teachings of the buddha, they’re not a philosophical world-view that can stand on its own; they are authoritarian hand-me-downs from on high. Buddha’s teachings are not accepted because they are supported by rigorous argument and socratic reasoning. So, if you don’t accept that siddartha existed, then there never was a super-wise enlightened teacher to hand down those teachings, which means they’re just the maunderings of mortals and aren’t any more likely to be significant than the philosophical ramblings of the barista at Starbucks.

      if Muhammed were definitively shown to have been a fiction, then I suspect that there would be fewer Muslims

      There shouldn’t be any muslims, if that were the case. Again, the claim is that the teachings were handed down from an angel to muhammad, therefore they are perfect and right and true. If there’s no muhammad, there’s no angel, and there’s no rightness and truth to the teachings. Again, like with christianity and buddhism (and any other authoritarian religion) the “teachings” don’t come through defensible argument, they’re accepted as fact, without question.

      This is the critical difference between philosophy and religion: philosophy can stand on its own because it’s based on (presumably) defensible argument that produces a constructive world-view. If David Hume had never existed and his works had, in fact, been written by Shakespeare, they’d still be just as important and interesting — because they don’t depend on David Hume’s being special other than in the sense of that Hume was really smart, clever, and a good writer. Shakespeare could have ghost-written Hume entirely and we’d be fascinated as historians of philosophy but the philosophy would stand on its own. (This is also why Shakespeare fans properly don’t care if Shakespeare existed at all; the plays are the thing!) Whereas if the idea was that Shakespeare’s plays were great because Shakespeare was inspired by an angel then the question of historicity would really be crucial.

  • exi5tentialist

    All consciousness depends on living people. Dead people are only relevant to the living people who remember their lives. The historicity of the forgotten has no bearing on our lives. All religion is based on idolising the long dead. That is one reason why atheism is so often categorised as a religion: they idolise eg Darwin, as if erasing the artefacts of Darwin would render us incapable of inventing our own accurate observations about evolution. Evolution is our idea, not his.

    As Robert Ahrens @3 says, the belief that historical figures matter, matters. But the historical figures themselves don’t matter. Darwin, Watt, Ampere, Kelvin, Newton are all dead consciousnesses. They have disappeared. Nothing remains.

    Jesus? Zero relevance. I don’t know why Richard Carrier bothered.

    • http://www.facebook.com/michael.w.busch michaelbusch

      Carrier has described several different reasons that he bothered to write his book:

      1. He is a historian. He studies the past, especially ancient religions and the origins of Christianity, and enjoys doing so.

      _

      2. He has an interest in encouraging rigorous and evidence-based methods of studying history, and wants to correct the problem of secular historians being unduly influenced by Christian dogma and traditions that are not based in fact.

      _

      3. He was given a research grant that paid for him to write the book.

      Carrier also is of the opinion that discussing the historicity of Jesus is not a particularly good strategy when arguing against the religious claims of Christianity e.g.: http://freethoughtblogs.com/carrier/archives/6084 . He is quite correct that there are many direct disproofs of those claims, which hold regardless of if a person we could justify calling a historical Jesus existed or not.

      Incidentally:

      Your claim that “all religion is based on idolising the long dead” is very much not true. Religions are defined by making claims of the existence and properties of supernatural entities. Idolising/revering/etc. long-dead humans is a part of many currently-popular religions, but it is not a requirement for all of religion.

      • exi5tentialist

        Your claim that “all religion is based on idolising the long dead” is very much not true. Religions are defined by making claims of the existence and properties of supernatural entities. Idolising/revering/etc. long-dead humans is a part of many currently-popular religions, but it is not a requirement for all of religion.

        Well I’m sure it would be an interesting academic exercise to name the religions that don’t idolise the long-dead, but the judeo-christian root of western culture does, and that’s the dysfunctional behaviour that is replicated by debating the historicity of JC

  • https://www.facebook.com/harry.ray.946 screw dog

    I agree with Robert Ahrens @ 3. A consensus of scholars agreeing that Jesus never existed would, probably in a generation, shift Christianity from mainstream religion to fringe belief. Christians would have to either become so liberal that they are indistinguishable from “spiritual” people, or so fundamentalist that they’ll become like the Ken Ham’s of the world.

    On the other hand, I could see it emboldening Muslims since the historicity of Mohammed is so clearly established that they would use that as an evangelising tool. Of course, it’s irrational to think that proving Jesus ahistorical somehow helps Islam, but I can see them taking it that way.

    • jacobfromlost

      It is part of Islam (in the Koran) that Jesus existed and was a prophet–just not divine, not a savior, and never died on the cross. The Koran explains how he was swapped out for a look-a-like, and the look-a-like is the one who died.

    • http://www.ranum.com Marcus Ranum

      the historicity of Mohammed is so clearly established

      Actually, it’s pretty thin and far between, too. The difference is that if you challenge that publicly, you may trigger violent responses from mohammed worshippers; the jesus worshippers have calmed down a bit though sometimes they’re still dangerous.

      Mohammed, as a person, doesn’t really appear in history much more than jesus did. Similarly to jesus, the main document attesting mohammed’s existence is the koran, which was compiled in a manner similar to the bible – long after his death, once the oral tradition had expanded hugely, it was then compiled and edited down (Same for siddartha, FWIW) There’s a severe recursion problem similar to the biblical moses or biblical jesus (the only reason anyone believes moses existed is because supposedly he wrote the pentateuch, including the bits about his own death and burial…) There are non-muslim historical sources regarding mohammed but they’re – again – roughly comparable to Josephus’ histories. Like with jesus (and siddartha) there is an extremely suspicious lack of contemporary documentation regarding his flying around on a horse, going to Georgia and playing fiddle against the devil, and whatnot. The koran also suffers from artifacts that conclusively show it not to be divinely inspired – namely, plagiarisms from judaism, zoroastrianism, and christianity.

      Showing jesus is ahistorical is crucial because it helps us explore the structuring of religious foundational myths. The similarities between the creations of these religions are worth exploring because they encourage us to question the nature and value of received “wisdom” This applies whether we’re talking about buddhism, mormonism, or supply-side economics.

  • abear

    Marcus Ranum @5:

    And there really was no Roman named Biggus Dickus. *snicker*

    Damn you Ranum, you just gave away the ending to Carrier’s next book!!

  • Seven of Mine, formerly piegasm

    I think the impact of Carrier’s book is more in the realm of how biblical historians (and historians in general) arrive at their methodology rather than the specific question of the historicity of Jesus. I think it’s broadly very important to do everything we can to circumvent all the cognitive errors we know we’re prone to.

  • dhall

    I’m not exactly impartial, as I am a historian, and I won’t say anything much about Jesus, real or myth. But, when it comes to a more general take on whether or not historical reality is more important than historical myth, there’s more than one way to judge importance. I’d guess that around three quarters of Americans have been taught all kinds of crap (myths, if you prefer) about the founding of the US, why the Revolution was fought, causes of the US Civil War, etc. Kids in the US are still taught that Columbus proved the world was round, that Washington had wooden teeth, that the poor oppressed Pilgrims came here for religious freedom and all sorts of other rubbish. Until and unless they take college courses in US history, they don’t really get much of a look at the persecution and genocide of the Native Americans, and African slavery is also skimmed over. They’re not taught about the US-engineered political turmoil in Central and South America, the CIA-engineered overthrow of the Iranian PM, or any of a ton of other less than edifying things. As a result of the whitewashing of US history and the omission of the unpleasantness or mistakes, Americans have a seriously skewed perspective of the US vis a vis the rest of the world and truly believe that the country is exceptional, rather than anything but. Too many do not understand why the US is seen as full of hypocrites and regarded with mistrust. Since the mistakes are not taught to any degree, the US persists in making the same mistakes over and over too. So sure, the mythological history is bloody influential. But isn’t actual history more important if you want to ground yourself in reality?

  • johnwolforth

    I think we have to, to a strong degree, take people at their word. And people say that the truth of the resurrection of Jesus matters. If it matters to them, then it being true or not matters. It won’t change the past, but it will change how the story of Christ is viewed in the future.

  • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

    I spelled out my views last fall. Short version: there are countless slam dunk arguments against Christianity and mythicism will probably never be as conclusive a kind of argument to make. Putting excess emphasis on the debatable question of whether Jesus existed is a historical, as though this matters much to figuring out whether Christianity is true, banks too much on one of the hardest things to nail down conclusively. It’s much more straightforward to hold the strong line that irrespective of whether there was a historical Jesus, there’s absolutely no reason to think he was the Son of God. Evidence against Jesus’s very existence is an extra point of doubt but not one to overemphasize. If we overemphasize it, then many Christians will feel vindicated in their entire faith if they can simply find reason to doubt mythicism. They already look for ways to turn the barest possibility into plausibility into likelihood. This exacerbates that problem to give them an issue where a push on the evidence is highly possible.

    For my fuller argument (which Carrier himself endorsed), see my post On Atheists Attempting to Disprove the Existence of the Historical Jesus.

  • R Johnston

    Historicity matters. The belief that the Jesus of the bible was some sort of historical figure is not just bad history; it’s anti-intellectual. The “proofs” given are ridiculous, and would equally well “prove” Harry Potter, Moses, and Moroni to be historical figures. The only way to make a historical Jesus reasonably likely–though still far from assured–is to define it in such a way that the historical Jesus is utterly meaningless.

    Were there itinerant Messiah wannabe’s wandering around Jerusalem and environs 2,000+ years ago? Sure, though given how small a place the world was back then I don’t know what that has to do with a conversion scam run by Paul and the gospel writers many years and miles away from the fact. Even if some specific figure were the inspiration to Paul for his writings, that figure would have been nothing but a myth to the people being preached to. Other than knowing that Jerusalem exists, none of the marks would have had any information allowing them to distinguish between fictional and non-fictional elements of the Jesus story.

    Setting Jesus in the somewhat recent past in a known but distant city might as well have been setting him a thousand years earlier for all the people being preached to could have legitimately determined. Jesus was set in the time and place he was precisely because it makes the con work better: it felt more contemporary and believable than a story set in the distant past in an unheard of land, but it wasn’t. None of the initial flock had any way to verify or independently examine any alleged evidence that Jesus existed. The Jesus of the new testament is exactly the Jesus a smart con-man would create, and outside of the con-men there is no evidence that he existed, merely the plausibility that the con-men, as all con-men do, drew upon and embelished some facts they believed to be true when those facts were useful.

    Compare the case of the historical Jesus to the case of the historical Mohammed. There’s an easy way to define a historical Mohammed such that he’s a relevant figure that existed: He’s the primary author of the Koran. Whether the story told in the Koran is really the author’s or not doesn’t change the fact that it is a story that someone put down on papyrus.

    • Folie Deuce

      “Compare the case of the historical Jesus to the case of the historical Mohammed. There’s an easy way to define a historical Mohammed such that he’s a relevant figure that existed: He’s the primary author of the Koran. Whether the story told in the Koran is really the author’s or not doesn’t change the fact that it is a story that someone put down on papyrus.”

      No, Muslims don’t claim that Mohammed is the author of the Koran and his name appears in the book only 4 or 5 times. The claim is that the angel Gabriel revealed the story to Mohammed and that his followers wrote it down. If one rejects the myth, than there is no reason to believe Mohammed is any more real than the angel Gabriel unless you can demonstrate Mohammed’s historicity through other evidence.

  • Kevin Kehres

    It’s an Overton Window moment when in debate with a Christian apologist. If you don’t concede that there was even a “real” person named “Jesus”, then they’re already on the defensive.

    I don’t think anyone would be converted or de-converted if the issue were definitively settled. If the existence of Jesus were to be corroborated through contemporaneous eyewitness accounts (which is my standard challenge in such situations), then as Hitchens once declaimed — “all your work is still ahead of you.”

  • Uncle Ebeneezer

    It’s as important as any other piece of evidence. To diehard believers it won’t matter much. To people who don’t give evidence much weight (which most diehard religious tend to be), won’t matter much. But to people who are already questioning/on-the-fence, I think it’s a pretty important point. It’s one more straw on the camel’s back that also fits right into the pattern of mythology.

    Also when I’ve asked Christians why they don’t believe in Odin, Osiris, other mythological characters, they often respond “because THOSE are myths.” Whereas Jesus’ story may be full of exaggerations but it’s based on a real person/true story. So even the most devout view myths differently than historical truths, they just draw their line in a different place. They don’t think Jesus walking on water is a myth, they think it really happened. So while they definitely worship the myth, it’s not a myth to them. Anything that chips away at that is a good thing.

  • Friendly

    While *I* don’t consider the historicity of a human being named Jesus, the purported founder of the Christian religion, important to *me personally*, I nonetheless consider it important in terms of how discussions about Jesus are framed. Far too often, the *default* position — the bedrock assumption — is that Jesus was a real person. (“Did the man Jesus exist? Of course he did. Everyone knows that. There’s no disagreement about that.”) Having conceded that point, one must also concede that during his lifetime, he did (and probably said) things. And from there it’s only a short step to “Isn’t it conceivable that he was actually responsible for at least some of the words and deeds attributed to him in the Gospels?”, and from there to “Isn’t it more intuitive to posit a Christian religion coming into being in response to the examples of Jesus’s words and deeds and leadership than otherwise?”, and from there to “If one accepts that Jesus Christ said and did religion-founding things, shouldn’t one be willing to give credence to the divine claims that the New Testament records him making about himself?” I insist on calling shenanigans on that predetermined line of argument and making the starting point of the discussion be, “Anyone who wants to talk about the attributes of Jesus Christ or about the things he is supposed to have said or done needs to first present convincing evidence that there ever *was* such a person.” Maybe that evidence is out there somewhere; regardless of whether it is or isn’t, I don’t agree to accept the foundational principle of the historical reality of Jesus Christ without it.

  • lpetrich

    Politics also involves lots of pseudo-historical myths. Here are some from the United States.

    The early Anglo settlers wanted religious freedom. They did, but only for themselves, and not for those with different opinions. Several of the colonies denied Catholics the right to vote and/or to hold public office, on the ground that “Papists” are idolators who are loyal to a foreign power. The Puritans of New England did not even like celebrating Christmas, because it was Catholic and quasi-pagan to them.

    The Founding Fathers wanted a limited government. Limited in what way? But that issue aside, a big objection to the US Constitution when it was proposed was that it gave the Federal Government *too much* power. Its supporters proposed it as an alternative to the Articles of Confederation, which specified a loose, EU-ish association.

    The Founding Fathers wanted a Christian nation. This is usually argued by references to “the Lord’s day”, “excepting Sundays”, and the like, because it’s hard to find it in the Constitution or the writings of the Constitution’s supporters like the Federalist Papers. They did not exactly put in a lot of references to “the most holy Trinity” and “our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ”. Look at Iran’s Constitution for how a constitution can endorse religion.

    The Founding Fathers were demigods. That’s the impression one often gets from certain people. They were fallible, and that is evident from parts of the Constitution not being as well-written as one might want. In fact, many of their colleagues considered it incomplete, and soon added the Bill of Rights, ten amendments, to it. They were split about slavery, the Southern ones wanting slaves counted for determining how many Representatives, and the Northern ones not. They decided on a compromise of 3/5 of “other persons”. Likewise, the smaller state delegations got two Senators per state instead of proportionality, as the House got. That ended up making smaller states “rotten boroughs”, to note a similar districting problem the UK had once suffered from.

    The Confederate states seceded because they wanted more states’ rights and a smaller national government. That is flatly contradicted by the statements of many Confederate politicians about how indeed it was about slavery, statements including the secession statements of the Confederate states. South Carolina’s one contained an objection to some Northern states passing laws that interfered with the recapture of slaves that escaped to them. Support of slavery was not just rhetoric. Southern politicians supported expanding slavery into new states, though they were willing to compromise with the North in 1820 in the Missouri Compromise: one free state, one slave state at a time.

    Further evidence is in the Confederate States of America’s Constitution. It is a word-for-word copy of the US Constitution of back then, with a few changes here and there. Some of the changes were for explicit support of slavery and prohibiting states from restricting or outlawing it.

    Southerners fought for their country, not for slavery. A common argument is that many Confederate soldiers had not owned slaves. But even if they did not, they were sons of slaveowners, employees of slaveowners, sons of employees of slaveowners, and otherwise supported by slaveowners. In fact, support for the Confederacy was strongest where there were the most slaves, and weakest where there were the fewest. Western Virginians seceded from the rest of their state because they did not want to fight for slaveowners, thus making the state of West Virginia. Eastern Tennesseans also wanted to do so, but the Confederacy stationed troops there to keep them from doing so. The Confederacy also did that for northern Alabama.

    The North fought the Civil War to end slavery. Some Northerners yes, but many Northerners did not make it a very high priority, if they cared about the issue at all. In fact, just before the war, some politicians in mid-Atlantic states, where North and South met, had toyed with the idea of a “Central Confederacy” separate from New England and the Deep South states, a nation that was neither militantly pro-slavery nor militantly anti-slavery. It was the Confederacy’s attack on Fort Sumter near Charleston, SC that provoked the North into uniting and fighting.

  • http://www.skepticink.com/tippling Jonathan MS Pearce

    Might just have to check out Dan Fincke’s article.

  • Pingback: Does Mythicism Matter? | A Tippling Philosopher

  • http://wrog.livejournal.com wrog

    Having read the book, I’d say it’s value is in offering a real explanation for where Christianity came from. In order to do that you have to get the history straight, to try to get some kind of handle as to what was actually going on behind the myths, even if we’re doomed to never be totally certain because we’re dealing with pretty much THE most compromised body of evidence ever (given that the Christian church of the late Roman and medieval periods had SOLE custody of nearly all of the relevant historical documents and was not shy about messing with them).

    Even if the versions of Christianity that prevail today are based largely on mythology, an understanding of the particular box that the Jews of 1st century Judea were in — specifically the dependence on a physical temple run by a corrupt priesthood and being a conquered people with no realistic hope of overthrowing Roman rule — and the solution that some of them came up — i.e., to posit a (nondisprovable) narrative describing a purely spiritual “victory” (Jesus sacrifices himself somewhere below the orbit of the moon and in so doing defeats Satan’s sky demons) that specifically removes the Temple from the loop (the sacrifice replaces the Yom Kippur and Passover rites) without incurring the wrath of Rome (the way the rest of the Jews did when they attempted an actual military rebellion some 30 years later) — with provides insight on the general question of how such religions arise amongst oppressed peoples (the key point being that given access to the scriptures available circa 1AD you could most likely predict in advance 99% of the content of Christianity),

    … insights that may still have some relevance today (how many places around the world do we have oppressed peoples in hopeless situations turning to radical modifications of their existing religion? might we be able to predict what these religions are going to look like?).

  • Pingback: Book Review: On the Historicity of Jesus: Why We Might Have Reason for Doubt


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