Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Reason For the Season

I am going to go off on a little atheist rant for a moment. First, I love Christmas. Who doesn't like gifts, and cookies, and eggnog, and Santa? All kinds of awesome there. However, DO NOT say that I don't have a right to celebrate the holiday if I am not Christian. The holiday itself has become a cultural celebration. If you choose to put religious significance fine, but don't harsh my groove with your religious indignation. Just to throw my pot of piss in to your campfire let us look at the Christmas holiday and figure out what is truth and what is fabricated myth.

First and foremost, it is unknown when and where Jesus of Nazareth was born. There is no record of his birth. Being born 2,000 years ago in to a peasant Jewish family in a time where only the wealthy and royal had their births recorded, this is not surprising. The origins of Christmas trace back to, like most things in Christianity, Roman Emperor Constantine. Constantine was a pagan. He worshiped the old Roman gods. However he found religious tolerance of the new Christian religion would be to his benefit. So, after a while he held a council at Nicaea to bring the different sects of Christianity in to a cohesive whole. From this council most of Christian tradition propagates.

Constantine wanted to unite his empire under one religion, to give the people a sense of shared culture. It also solidified his rule, as kings rule under divine providence. If you say you received the right of rule from one set of gods, the followers of the other set of gods say those gods are false, therefore we don't recognize your rule. Thus the incompatibility of religious tolerance and monarchy. Anyway...

Constantine wanted to blend the two religions as closely as he could. And the pagans had a winter solstice celebration every year. How can you celebrate an old religious holiday, while practicing another? You just say that your new holiday happened on the exact time as your old one! SWEET! You can have your cake and Santa too.

So, in actuality Christians, you are celebrating the Pagan holiday of the winter solstice, not the birth of Christ.

As an added note, the only record of Jesus being born in Bethlehem, the slaughter of the innocents, the exodus to Egypt, the Magi, and all of the other things that were supposed to have happened at that time are only found in the Bible, and conflict with one another. The simple fact is that, at the time Jesus could have been just another peasant religious nut who had delusions of grandeur. The only historical record we think we have on him is... was.... well... There aren't any historical records. Conveniently the Christians say all of the Roman records were burned up in Nero's fire. Understandable you say, it was a long time a go. BUT the Romans were perhaps the best record keepers in the ancient world. We know EVERYTHING about them, because they wrote EVERYTHING down. Seriously, they did. Yet no record survives about the hugely influential person of Jesus? You know who didn't get recorded? Unimportant people. Normal people. If Jesus existed at all, and was as influential as the Christian accounts say he was, there would have been something down on paper about him. There simply is not.

So, is it better to Celebrate the birth of a man that may or may not have existed, or to celebrate a time where we look to the best in people and express a desire for peace and freedom for all people?

11 comments:

LouCan said...

OK Matt, so I'm confused about your stance. Are you now saying that you are an atheist, or that you just don't believe Jesus is the son of God?

aegix said...

...also couple that with *amazing* missing information about much of Jewish presence in Egypt in the time of Moses. Of course, apologists will say that the stunning defeat at the Red Sea, Passover infanticide and anything attributed to Moses (being the adopted brother of a pharaoh, no less) will have been wiped away from the records in a sort of 1984-ish history revisionism...

NattoNinja said...

I am a functional Atheist. My veiws very closly follow Ludwig Andreas von Feuerbach. Jesus, if he existed, was no more than another religious nut with delusions of grandeur.

My stance here is that I don't want Christians to harsh my good Christmas groove because I am not a christian. I celebrate the holiday as a cultural expression, I need not the lectures on why we celebrate Christmas because the Christians are functionally wrong about when and why they themselves are celebrating.

c0ach said...

Why don't you enter Josephus' Antiquities or the Bible into the discussion as historical evidence?

LouCan said...

Wow, I'll bet Christmas with your family in Ne is an interesting day.... =)

NattoNinja said...

c0ach!!! Very good points. The thing is, the bible was written very much before, and after the life of Christ. Would you use the poem of Beowulf to prove the existence of the Grendel? No you would need multiple instances of contemporary documents or other such to prove the existence of someone. We do not have this, and we should, because the Romans were such good record keepers.

Josephus was a contemporary to the destruction of the second temple, not of Jesus. Josephus was in fact born seven to ten years after the death of Jesus. Of his works only is "Jewish War" is considered authoritative. The work that you cite "Antiquities of the Jews" attempts to put a historical twist on the ancient Jewish people. This work is not authoritative, and his mentions of Jesus are, in fact, in dispute as to if Josephus even wrote them at all. You see only Medieval translations remain, and, like most books at the time, it is suspected that parts about Christ were inserted.

So again we are left with doubt.

c0ach said...

"The thing is, the bible was written very much before, and after the life of Christ."

The book of Galatians and Thessalonians have been dated between AD 49 and 51.

The Gospel of Mark is usually placed between AD 65 and 72 (sometimes as early as the 50's AD).

Matthew and Luke are both placed in the First Century AD.

In the classical world--that's some great manuscriptural evidence right there.

Considering that the earliest extant works we have from Plato date to 700 years after his death--there is more historical evidence for Jesus than any other historical figure.

As for your stance on Josephus, it seems a harsh stance to discount his works because he wasn't a contemporary of Jesus. If I were to apply the same standard to you I would say that everything you write on this blog about Marx and von Feuerbach are in doubt because you weren't alive at the same time. :)

What is your litmus test for determining that a classical work is to be considered historical evidence?

NattoNinja said...

Litmus test is the same used by normal scholarly methods.

First and foremost, I am not a scholar. I do not expect you to take anything I note here as scholarly proof.

Let us take the examples of Marx and Feuerbach. As I am not a contemporary I do not know if they are made up people or if they existed at another time. So I have to look back in to verified record to see if there are contemporary resources that mention these people. For these two, there are multiple sources, both government and otherwise.

Let's go back further, and apply the same test. Molly Pitcher was a hero of the Revolution. She worked as a water barer for her husband who was an artilleryman. When her husband was killed, Molly took up the ram rod and continued the fight in her husbands place. Many stories are written about Molly. BUT was she real? We have no historical record of her. There was a Mary Hays who followed her artilleryman husband William Hays around. We know this because of the pay records, and government registries. But was she Molly Pitcher? Most likely Molly Pitcher was a good bit of propaganda that was given life after a time.

Let's go back further. I am not a contemporary of Julius Cesar, however there are multiple records of Cesar around we absolutely know that he was knocking around. There are multiple records from many sources.

As for Jesus... All of the records for his existence show up well after his death, and are produced by his followers. We have records for Pontius Pilate, but none on the execution of Christ.

Your statement that there is more evidence for the existence of Jesus than any other historical figure is only true if you take in to account religious text as historical fact. If we do that, then there is "historical" evidence of the Roman, Greek, Shinto, Hindi, and other gods as well. All of those religions have, at one time, had demigods that walked the earth, and were written about extensively.

All this said, I do not doubt for a moment the the man Jesus existed. I also believe that he was crucified for destroying booths at the temple. However our shared belief in his physical existence does not make it a verifiable fact.

c0ach said...

Great dialogue Matt. I'm glad you've turned comments back on because I've tried to leave comments in the past to tell you how much I've enjoyed your take on politics and your European trip.

"As for Jesus... All of the records for his existence show up well after his death, and are produced by his followers. We have records for Pontius Pilate, but none on the execution of Christ."

This is where I think you'd find it helpful to research the documentary evidence for Jesus. Did you know:

* There are 5,664 known Greek New Testament manuscripts in existence? The books of the New Testament (at the time they were mainly letters and individual gospels) were widely disseminated while Jesus' eyewitnesses were still alive. This is a time when the early followers of Jesus could have been discredited in the public square--especially when there was much incentive to do so. The Jewish leaders did not want Jesus popularity to linger after his death.

* The works of the Roman Historian Tacitus (AD 56-AD 117) have only partially survived. His first six books exist in only one manuscript, which was copied in the year 850 A.D.

* We only have nine Greek manuscripts of Josephus' work /The Jewish War/, and these copies were all written in the 10th-12th centuries. (There is a Latin translation from the fourth century, however).

* Homer's /Iliad/ is the runner-up in the Ancient Manuscriptural Olympics. Compared with the 5,664 NT manuscripts, the 650 we have of Homer's Iliad (the Bible of the Greeks) pale in comparison...and none of those 650 manuscripts were copied fewer than 700 years than when they were originally written in 800 B.C.

I believe the evidence for Jesus is overwhelming.

"Your statement that there is more evidence for the existence of Jesus than any other historical figure is only true if you take in to account religious text as historical fact."

And herein lies the rub. You and I have two different worldviews. We are both arguing from different planets. We are talking past each other.

I have a system of beliefs and you have yours. My set of axioms or presuppositions (worldview) accepts the Bible as truth, yours doesn't. Because I accept the Bible as truth, I can make sense of the world. (Hear me out!)

Forgive me for assuming here, but as you are an atheist/materialist--I assume your world consists of only matter and energy. There's no abstract non-materials like "goodness" or "evil" or "moral laws." Consequently, abstract immaterial "things" like laws can't exist in the materialistic worldview.

How can laws of nature exist in a materialistic world? They aren't matter and they aren't energy, so they can't actually exist. Laws of nature don't comport with the atheistic worldview.

Consequently, how would you set about proving that nature is uniform without appealing to Induction? Induction assumes nature is uniform, so to appeal to your experiences is to beg the question!

How do laws of logic exist in a materialistic, atheistic worldview? You can't stub your toe on the Law of non-Contradiction, so why would you insist that it actually exists and governs rational dialogue?

Matt, laws of logic and nature can exist and comport with the Christian Theistic Worldview. The Bible speaks of a God of logic and one who made the world uniform. These abstract (immaterial) universal absolutes make sense and can exist inside the Christian Theistic Worldview.

On the other hand, the materialistic worldview cannot make sense of laws or thought or nature. The atheist, when he argues by appealing to Science and Logic must borrow from the Christian Theistic Worldview (where these laws can exist) in order to reason.

But there's the irony: The atheist who continues to reason when his own worldview cannot account for laws of logic and science becomes his own refutation.

c0ach said...

"Your statement that there is more evidence for the existence of Jesus than any other historical figure is only true if you take in to account religious text as historical fact."

And herein lies the rub. You and I have two different worldviews. We are both arguing from different planets. We are talking past each other.

I have a system of beliefs and you have yours. My set of axioms or presuppositions (worldview) accepts the Bible as truth, yours doesn't. Because I accept the Bible as truth, I can make sense of the world. (Hear me out!)

Forgive me for assuming here, but as you are an atheist/materialist--I assume your world consists of only matter and energy. There's no abstract non-materials like "goodness" or "evil" or "moral laws." Consequently, abstract immaterial "things" like laws can't exist in the materialistic worldview.

How can laws of nature exist in a materialistic world? Laws of nature don't comport with the atheistic worldview.

Laws of logic and nature *can* exist and comport with the Christian Theistic Worldview. These abstract (immaterial) universal absolutes make sense and can exist inside the Christian Theistic Worldview.

On the other hand, the materialistic worldview cannot make sense of laws or thought or nature. The atheist, when he argues by appealing to Science and Logic must borrow from the Christian Theistic Worldview (where these laws can exist) in order to reason.

But here's the irony: The atheist who continues to reason when his own worldview cannot account for laws of logic and science becomes his own refutation.

NattoNinja said...

I guess we will have to agree to disagree here.

Logic developed well before the Bible, and independently in other cultures. It does not need Christianity to exist.
Logic is also independent of Mater and Energy, but is required to learn the existence and nature of mater and energy.

Moral law is simply a construct of the culture that spawned it, and changes as the culture changes. It is far from absolute.