How Mythicism can Lead to Trump Support

Before anyone suggests otherwise, let me emphasize that I am not claiming that mythicism always or even regularly leads to support of Trump. Most people manage to keep their problematic reasoning compartmentalized.

But as William Clifford warned long ago, once one believes something on insufficient evidence in one area, one is setting oneself up to do so in others.

And so it is no more of a surprise to me that Robert M. Price, the mythicist, is also a Trump supporter, as he indicated both on Facebook and in a recent YouTube discussion which you can listen to here:

YouTube Preview Image

Price has not merely aligned himself on the Right politically. He has done so because he accepts the conspiracy theories propounded on that side of the ideological spectrum, such as that climate change is a hoax.

While certain kinds of shoddy thinking tend to be more popular at one end or the other of the ideological spectrum, the truth is that, once you are open to explaining things in terms of conspiracies and cover ups when the evidence points to a simpler explanation, there is nothing to stop you from embracing conspiracies of any sort.

The important lesson here is not “don’t become a mythicist, you might end up voting for Trump.” That combination is pretty rare. The point is not to embrace any sort of denialist viewpoint that appeals to conspiracy to support it, since whether you follow up with still more conspiracies on this or that side of the aisle, you’ll be promoting problematic approaches to knowledge, society, learning, politics, and much else.

Robert Price Climate Change Facebook

Robert Price Trump Facebook

 

Stay in touch! Like Religion Prof on Facebook:
  • wannabe

    Mythicism is illogical. After all, we know that despite relatively difficult travel and communications in the first century, the early Christians easily confronted and refuted all the nay-sayers. And in modern times communication is so much easier: Truth wins! That’s why Mormonism and Scientology have no adherents today.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

      Mythicism is at least as illogical as your comment, which notices how Christians, Scientologists, and Mormons ignore counter-evidence to their viewpoints, but fails to notice the same exact way that mythicists prove impervious to the collective weight of scholarship on the question of the historicity of Jesus of Nazareth.

      • bibleandbeeswax

        I totally agree with your conclusion that we shouldn’t embrace denialist positions, but I disagree with the idea that there is some “collective weight of scholarship” about the “historic” Jesus. Scholarship is variegated about that issue. But, even within those differences in scholarship, when you assume naturalism, you can only arrive at a few conclusions.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

          You must not be well acquainted with what historians and other relevant scholars have written on this topic, then. Or are you doing what creationists do with biology, and saying that, since there are lots of different views about the details of evolution, therefore there is doubt about evolution itself among scientists?

          • bibleandbeeswax

            I am acquainted with what historians and scholars have written on “the historical Jesus”, and there are indeed a diversity of opinions. While they all assume naturalism at the get-go, they do conclude in a variety of ways. One of my favorite summaries of these studies is that historical-critical scholars have looked down the long well of time and have seen only their own reflections at the bottom. To me, it’s not surprising that if one assumes naturalism, you will conclude with a Jesus who looks remarkably like you (feminist Jesus, liberation-of-races Jesus, Marxist-Jesus, social-do-good Jesus, Zealot-Jesus-or-some-other-Jewish-class-Jesus, apostolic-community Jesus).

          • arcseconds

            Are you surprised then when people conclude he is a failed apocalyptic prophet? This is a fairly common opinion in biblical scholarship, and I don’t think there are that many scholars who are themselves failed apocalyptic prophets….

          • bibleandbeeswax

            No, that isn’t surprising to me. Why would that be surprising? [edit–okay I get your point: because of my statement about how they ‘see only themselves at the bottom’. Obviously many scholars are trying to be objective about it, but generally I do think the aforesaid statement is accurate.]
            Jesus’ statements about the immanence of His return are rather blunt and unsettling. That said, I understand the argument from guys like Schweitzer, but I don’t agree with their conclusions about Jesus’ or John the Baptist’s eschatology. Scholarly work on “inaugurated eschatology” provides a much more sensible answer to the tension in Jesus’ apocalyptic statements.

          • arcseconds

            Well, Bart Ehrman, Paula Fredriksen, E.P. Sanders, John P. Meier, and our own host James McGrath all seem to think that Jesus was an apocalyptic prophet. My understanding is that this is in fact the plurality view in contemporary New Testament scholarship, if not the majority view.

            John Dominic Crossan and a few others think of him as a non-apocalyptic Cynic-like sage, but I don’t think Crossan thinks of himself as a Cynic-like sage, does he?

            Which scholars in particular are you thinking of who propose a Jesus who looks like them?

            I’m not disputing that once you move beyond mainstream New Testament scholarship you find a lot of wishful thinking, but I wouldn’t characterize this as ‘finding themselves’… I don’t think Carrier thinks of himself as existing solely in a heavenly realm, or Atwill thinks of himself as a creation of a powerful state to placate the masses…

            And it seems to me that people who endorse the supernatural are at least as guilty of finding what they want in the Gospels. In particular they’re prone to find things like the Trinity and penal substitutionary atonement in there!

          • bibleandbeeswax

            You’re right that a number of scholars do attempt to do good history about the matter. I wasn’t saying everyone is uncontrollably given over to bias in the quest for the “historical” Jesus. At the same time, I’d have to break out some old notebooks of mine to give you a list of the varying Jesus-is-such-and-such views and scholars, but I do recall a plethora of them. If you’re very serious about it I will get my notebooks out, but they’re in a moving box right now (no joke).

            Also, I think we can all admit that we have biases, even the best historians do. Whether a person concludes that Jesus is divine or merely an apocalyptic prophet, a zealot, or a humanistic teacher does betray a certain level of bias. Two examples: 1. If Jesus is divine, then this entails certain things–like the necessity of repentance from sin, of faith in Him alone, etc. But, If He is merely a prophet (who failed), then nothing is required of Him. I think there is a certain level of convenience behind not wanting to see Jesus as divine. At the same time, I see the flip-side of that. 2. Like you pointed out, some people want the beliefs they were instilled with as children to be seen everywhere in order to assuage themselves that they are right. I believe that is called confirmation bias? Both groups of people need to recognize their biases and try to fight against them as they seek to understand the Scriptures.

  • Michael Wilson

    I thought at first that Trump and Price were odd bedfellows. I know Vridar was rabidly left wing and so it seemed most other mythicist. But I have noticed since Bush a number of formally anti Republican entities are now anti Democrat. Assange and Wikileaks and Alex Jones and RT were all virulently anti bush, anti America but are now all in the Trump camp. Here I think is a an odd Intersection of anti Facistgovernment conspiricy types and anti American radicals. Of course Russia Television, Wikieaks and Putin like Trump because he will work to his goal, screwing up America. Infowars follows along because they are fans of Wikileaks and Hillary is the most unradical candidate. My guess is Price sells a lot of books to the big government conspiracy Zeitgeist set who are probably turning Trump since Bernie is out and Hillary is clearly in pockets of walstreet, Constantine the great and Christianities religious opiate.

  • arcseconds

    It strikes me that knowing that Price has a strong tendency towards crankish and conspiracy-theoretical kinds of beliefs and modes of reasoning that the most plausible story is that both the mythicism and the Trumpism stem from that cognitive trope of his.

    Which means it would be incorrect to say that mythicism has caused the Trumpism, which is what ‘leads to’ suggests.

    I suppose I tend to think that these sorts of things are generally manifestations of a more deeply rooted way of approaching the world. There seems to be plenty of examples of this sort. Another common one is dogmatism persisting over quite radical changes of belief (Christian to atheist, marxist to libertarian), perhaps resulting from an underlying psychological need for certainty.

    I suppose it’s possible that he wasn’t at all tempted by way-out theories until mythicism came along, and that altered his thinking across the board somehow. Is there anything in his biography that would suggest this is the case?

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

      I confess that I don’t know his biography sufficiently to say. But you are right, it is hard to distinguish without more information between a disposition towards fringe beliefs that leads one to more than one, and embrace of one then making one more inclined to embrace another. Presumably the answer in many if not indeed all cases will be that both are true, since without some predisposition to accept at least one fringe viewpoint, perhaps that first such belief would never have been adopted.

      • arcseconds

        Whenever I’ve attempted psychological explanations from my armchair for this, and I’m pretty sure also whenever I’ve seen such explanations for others, what is appealed to is always traits that one would expect to be pretty settled in a given individual.

        One that’s often appealed to is a desire or a need for a kind of epistemic control: that events in the world make sense, and perhaps most importantly make sense according to a theory understood by the person involved. So wars and election victories and so forth aren’t the result of a highly complex web of different factors which is beyond human comprehension in all its details, and only partially comprehensible by experts by dint of considerable effort, but rather a result of some shadowy group of people exerting or vying for secret domination of the entire world. It’s a theory that can be understood and ‘investigated’ by a layman, who can feel that they’re the expert in this area.

        Another possibility, which I’m inclined towards in the case of David Irving, and is a possibility with Price (he has two Ph.D.s and an important-sounding experty job, so I would guess that he has less need to feel he’s an expert than a lay crank) is a desire for notoriety and to be transgressive.

        My supposition is that by the time you’re an adult you either have these traits or you don’t, and it’s the traits that are doing most of the work here in most cases. If that’s true, then someone finding themselves adopting a second conspiracy theory after the first, may have more discovered that they are the sort of person who likes conspiracy theories, rather than been altered into this sort of person by the first conspiracy theory. Perhaps cognitive habits are already in place and some inhibitions already done away with, but one doesn’t get the impression that conspiracy theories are only adopted at first with difficulty by those who hold them, in fact quite the reverse.

        People often believe pretty much whatever their peers believe also, on the other hand. I think most conspiracy theorists, or at least most vocal and active ones, are also people who are prepared to break ranks with their peer-group, but perhaps there are a number of people who aren’t particularly predisposed towards conspiracy theories who are just going with the flow. That seems plausible in the case of things like climate change denial, where it’s often a whole community or subculture that buys into it (or a big segment of a whole community or subculture). But here it’s the falling in with a particular group that does most of the work, not the conspiracy theory per se.

        This is just partially informed armchair-speculation, mind…