(Ed. Note: This is the 32nd post in Frank Zindler’s Speaking Frankly About Jesus blog which is dedicated to the thesis that Jesus of Nazareth never existed. This is part X of a mini series debunking “The Myth of the Mythical Jesus” of which we have reached the end.)
Lies: So short in stating, so long in negating!
We now have finished our deconstruction of “The Myth of the Mythical Jesus,” an “anxiousbench” blog posting written by the apologist Philip Jenkins. In that blog, Jenkins haughtily attempted to prove—without any evidence at all, as it has turned out—that Jesus of Nazareth was an historical figure and that Mythicists such as I are not competent scholars. Throughout my critique of Jenkins’ blog I have been careful to avoid committing the ad hominem fallacy of informal logic—attacking my opponent instead of his arguments. I did, of course, have occasion to point out a number of examples of cleverly disguised ad hominem arguments concealed in Jenkins’ blog. In my final post critiquing Jenkins’ arguments, however, I promised that I would end my anti-apologetic efforts with a post answering the question, “Just who is Philip Jenkins?”
Since the present essay deals with my opponent largely apart from his arguments, a strict logician may fairly claim that it is in its entirety an ad hominem argument. I plead guilty. Nevertheless, it is important that my readers have factual information about the man behind the arguments that I have been analyzing—the better to infer the motivations behind his apologetic efforts. Because this is a risky—indeed, unscientific procedure—I have left presenting Jenkins’ personal data until after I had completed my critique, and I shall leave the inference of Jenkins’ motives to my readers.
So. Just who is Philip Jenkins?
According to Wikipedia [accessed 6/12/16], Philip Jenkins was born at Port Talbot (Wales) on April 3, 1952—the year I entered high school as a freshman. Exactly when Jenkins was born again is not noted, although it is noted that he converted to Anglicanism from Roman Catholicism. Wikipedia notes that he
“studied at Clare College at the University of Cambridge, taking double first-class honors in both History and Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic Studies. Jenkins then studied for his PhD [claimed to have been awarded in history in 1978, but I can find no title for his dissertation in the University of Cambridge Newton Library Catalogue of theses awarded since 1970] under the supervision of Sir John Plumb among others. Between 1977 and 1980, Jenkins worked as a researcher for Sir Leon Radzinowicz, the pioneer of criminology studies at Cambridge. In 1979, Jenkins won the BBC quiz show, Mastermind.
“In 1980, Jenkins was appointed Assistant Professor of Criminal Justice at Pennsylvania State University, which marked a change in his research focus. Jenkins has forged a reputation based on his work on global Christianity as well as on emerging religious movements. Other research interests include post-1970 American history and crime.
“He conducted a study of the Quran and the Bible in the light of the September 11 attacks and accusations that the Quran incites violence. However, he found that ‘the Bible contains far more verses praising or urging bloodshed than does the Quran.’”
I find myself in complete agreement with Jenkins on this point, but I am at a loss to understand why he has not disavowed and rejected the Christian scriptures as a consequence of his discoveries. I suspect, however, that an explanation may be found in his 2010 interview with National Public Radio as reported by Wikipedia. “The Islamic scriptures in the Quran,” he noted, “were actually far less bloody and less violent than those in the Bible.” In that NPR interview, we are told, he “cites explicit instructions in the Old Testament calling for genocide while the Quran calls for primarily defensive war. Jenkins went on to state that Christianity, Islam, and Judaism had undergone a process that he refers to as ‘holy amnesia’ in which violence in sacred texts became symbolic action against one’s sins. Islam had until recently also undergone the same process in which jihad became an internal struggle rather than war.”
So, it appears, Jenkins still clings to the Scriptures because those genocides are actually symbolic: sins, not races, should be exterminated—and eliminated utterly! Who knew? Still, it is hard to understand the disproportionality between sins and populations. Are there really so many types of sin that the metaphor of genocide is realistic? Shouldn’t the Bible have talked about serial killings instead of genocide? Jenkins is an authority on serial murders—in 1994 he published a book entitled Using Murder: The Social Construction of Serial Homicide—and one would think that he would see that genocide is over-kill when it comes to eradicating sins!
Despite his conversion from Roman Catholicism to Anglicanism/Episcopalianism, Jenkins still seems to have a soft spot in his limbic system for the priests of his youth. Again, according to Wikipedia,
“In 2002 Jenkins, who is a Catholic-turned-Episcopalian, discussed the Catholic sex abuse cases by asserting that his ‘research of cases over the past 20 years indicates no evidence whatever that Catholic or other celibate clergy are any more likely to be involved in misconduct or abuse than clergy of any other denomination—or indeed, than non-clergy. However determined news media may be to see this affair as a crisis of celibacy, the charge is just unsupported.’”
It might be a bit difficult, however, to explain to all the victims of predatory priests that the problem is really a fault of “the news media,” not the Catholic Church. It may also be difficult to explain why we should rejoice over the “fact” that sexual abuse by non-Catholic clergy is just as bad as that of Catholic clergy!
Jenkins is the author of at least 25 books—certainly an impressive achievement. These cover a fairly wide range of subjects involving history, criminology, and religion. In fact, without realizing just who Jenkins was, several years ago I read with pleasure his 2010 book Jesus Wars: How Four Patriarchs, Three Queens, and Two Emperors Decided What Christians Would Believe for the Next 1,500 Years (Harper One). Now that I know that Jenkins is an Evangelical apologist, however, I will have to go back and re-read that book more carefully!
To complete the information provided by Wikipedia:
“Philip Jenkins… is in 2013 the Distinguished Professor of History at Baylor University in the United States [who knew Baylor was in the U. S. of A.?], and Co-Director for Baylor’s Program on Historical Studies of Religion in the Institute for Studies of Religion. He is also the Edwin Erle Sparks Professor of Humanities Emeritus at Pennsylvania State University (PSU). He was Professor (from 1993) and a Distinguished Professor (from 1997) of History and Religious studies at the same institution; and also assistant, associate and then full professor of Criminal Justice and American Studies at PSU, 1980–93.
“Jenkins is a contributing editor for The American Conservative and writes a monthly column for The Christian Century. He has also written articles for Christianity Today, First Things, and The Atlantic.”
This all seems rather impressive, especially his association with Penn State. However, his closer association with Baylor University is, I think, more significant for understanding just who—and what—Philip Jenkins is. Consequently, I have mined Wikipedia to see just what sort of puddle it is in which Jenkins is so big a fish.
Founded when Texas was still a republic, Baylor University is a Baptist university (an oxymoron?) located in Waco, Texas. According to the 2016 rankings of U.S. News & World Report, Baylor ties for 71st rank in the national universities category. (Does this place it below all of the 50 state universities in America? I don’t know.) Its law school tied for 56th rank in the nation, and its business school tied for 58th.
In fairness, it must be noted that the undergraduate engineering program tied for 12th best in the nation—a genuine achievement. But it is well to point out that engineering is applied science, not the sort of science that discovers what is true about the world. Engineering is perfectly suited to the religious personality in that it is no threat to the “truths” of one’s religious beliefs and simply adds a number of scientific “laws” to the number of commandments one must obey and apply. As a consequence, engineers are still strongly represented among creationists. Indeed, one of the major generals in the “Intelligent Design” war against Darwinian evolutionary theory has been Baylor’s Dr. Robert Marks—Distinguished Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering! Moreover, a second major general in that war, William Dembski, “was the director of Baylor’s Michael Polanyi Center for Complexity, Information, and Design until he was removed in 2000 for his support of Intelligent Design as a legitimate academic pursuit,” according to Beth Mull, the Managing Editor at the Institute for Creation Research.
I have not had opportunity to research the facts of Dembski’s removal from the Baylor faculty, but it surely is an irony that a major flap about “academic freedom” should have resulted from a case in which a Baptist flagship institution is alleged to have been discriminating against religion instead of against science! This would seem to violate the faculty policy manual (DUTIES–ACADEMIC FREEDOM, BU-PP 701) where it warns faculty that:
“Baylor University is an institution of higher education controlled by an all-Baptist Board of Regents and is operated within the Christian-oriented aims and ideals of Baptists. It is affiliated with the Baptist General Convention of Texas, a cooperative association of autonomous Texas Baptist churches. Therefore, a member of its faculty is expected to be in sympathy with the University’s primary objective—to educate its students within the framework of a Christian culture. The rights and privileges of the instructor should, therefore, be exercised with discretion and a sense of loyalty to the supporting institution.”
What kind of faculty are Jenkins’ colleagues at Baylor University, apart from the fact that they must all be sympathetic to Baptist-Texan parochialism and cultural prejudice? It is instructive that one of Jenkins’ close associates in the Baylor Institute for Studies of Religion is the notorious Rodney Stark. Jenkins, Stark, and other associates of the Baylor Institute for Religious Studies collaborated to produce a video-recorded symposium entitled “End of Religion?”—concluding, of course, that Christianity was alive and well even in England and Western Europe. Jenkins and Stark seem to be closely allied in a cooperative effort to produce what I call “soft apologetics”—book-length arguments for religious tradition which do not directly engage the arguments of scientifically oriented scholars but rather create vast clouds of disinformation and distorted data that leave the reader feeling that somehow secular-scientific arguments have been overthrown. The apologetics of such books is “soft” also in the sense that trying to refute them is like boxing with marshmallows.
Jenkins’ colleague Rodney Stark is the author of such conservative, soft-apologetics classics as The Rise of Christianity: How the Obscure, Marginal Jesus Movement Became the Dominant Religious Force in the Western World in a Few Centuries; Cities of God: The Real Story of How Christianity Became an Urban Movement and Conquered Rome; and the shocking The Victory of Reason: How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism, and Western Success.”
The Rise of Christianity simply assumes the truth of the New Testament book of Acts, despite the fact that scholars have known for almost a century that Acts is a “foundation myth” and is virtually useless as a source of historical information. (A marvelous summary of this evidence is to be found in Richard I. Pervo’s 2008 The Mystery of Acts: Unraveling Its Story.)
According to a dust-jacket blurb, Cities of God “is essential reading for anyone seriously interested in exploring how statistical methods might illuminate important questions about ancient religious movements and their world.” We may recall Disraeli’s comment that “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.” Stark’s vaunted use of statistical methods allows him to make sociology an apologetic equivalent to the misuse of biology in “creation science.” Among the many distortions of historical reality is Stark’s claim that the Mithraic sacred meal “was reported to be remarkably similar to the Christian Eucharist. Bread and wine were shared in the belief that members were thereby reborn, and perhaps the words consecrating the ‘meal’ were quite similar to those used by Christians. (Given when the cult began, this sacrament easily could have been copied from Christianity.)” Clearly, Stark is seriously—perhaps, deliberately—in error as to when Mithraism “began.”
Finally, The Victory of Reason is so outrageously absurd in its apologetics that I need to quote the front flap of the dust jacket, lest readers think I’m making things up:
“Many books have been written about the success of the West, analyzing why Europe was able to pull ahead of the rest of the world by the end of the Middle Ages. The most common explanations cite the West’s superior geography, commerce, and technology. Completely overlooked is the fact that faith in reason, rooted in Christianity’s commitment to rational theology, made all these developments possible. Simply put, the conventional wisdom that Western success depended upon overcoming religious barriers to progress is utter nonsense.
“In The Victory of Reason, Rodney Stark advances a revolutionary, controversial, and long overdue idea: that Christianity and its related institutions are, in fact, directly responsible for the most significant intellectual, political, scientific [!!!], and economic breakthroughs of the past millennium. In Stark’s view, what has propelled the West is not the tension between secular and non-secular society, nor the pitting of science and the humanities against religious belief [!!!]. Christian theology, Stark asserts, is the very font of reason: While the world’s other great belief systems emphasized mystery, obedience, or introspection, Christianity alone embraced logic and deductive thinking [as opposed to inductive reasoning interacting with the world of reality?] as the path toward enlightenment, freedom [!!!], and progress [!!!]. That is what made all the difference.”
Thus does a Jenkins colleague hurl the authority of a 71st-ranking university and a Baptist apology against the feeble scholarship of Harvard, Berkeley, Yale, Stanford, and Chicago—as well as Oxford, Cambridge, Paris, and Heidelberg! I suspect that Philip Jenkins could not have said it as succinctly. That he is in complete agreement with his Baylor buddy cannot be doubted. “Birds of a feather / Flock together.” “Guilt by association” is not always a fallacy.
Frank Zindler is the past interim President of American Atheists, a member of the American Atheists board of directors, the chief editor of American Atheists Press, and an esteemed academic and activist.
(Photo credit: Eric Lin via Flikr; https://www.flickr.com/photos/phonescoop/214501602/)
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