Julian Huxley: Why Liberal Theology is Not Enough

John Robinson, the bishop of Woolwich, England, in the 1960’s, was not an ordinary Anglican prelate, not even in a country where Anglican bishops are known as atheists in purple gowns. He first became notorious for suggesting that the D.H. Lawrence novel Lady Chatterley’s Lover was not only not pornographic but a moral book.

Then, in 1963 he ushered in a movement sometimes called “the new divinity” when he wrote a book exploding conventional images of God as false and suggesting that the biblical images of a petulant and fickle God, in particular, were more  a hindrance than a help to the Christian faith.  He challenged British Christians to consider alternatives to the God-in-the-sky model, especially ones being proposed by theologians like the German-American thinker Paul Tillich (God as “ultimate concern,”)  and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who rejected the objective moral values of the Bible.

In a country where “existential”  theology was not popular and German ideas especially suspect, it was no surprise that Robinson’s suggestions did not immediately catch on.

One sympathetic reader of Honest to God was Julian Huxley, a distinguished embryologist in his right and the grandson of Thomas Henry Huxley (“Darwin’s bulldog”) by descent.  He independently distinguished himself as a researcher with his first book, on avian ethology. By 1925 he had become Professor of Zoology at King’s College, London, a position he resigned after less than two years to work with G.H. Wells on The Science of Life.

Rejecting T.H.’s legendary “agnosticism” relative to religion Julian preferred to call himself a “humanist,” emphasizing the positive and progressive goals human beings have achieved in their evolutionary march from simple to complex organziations, made possible through the use of language.  He rejected the notion that this progress was “teleological” in the religious sense, but rejected equally the idea that there was an absolute split between religion and science: As he notes in the essay below, “There is no separate supernatural realm: all phenomena are part of one natural process of evolution. There is no basic cleavage between science and religion;… I believe that [a] drastic reorganization of our pattern of religious thought is now becoming necessary, from a god-centered to an evolutionary-centered pattern.”

Ethics, Huxley believed, was at the heart of the progression;  “it largely overrides the automatic process of natural selection as an agent of change.” (Evolution in action. Chatto & Windus, London, 1953,  p132.)

His commitment to an ethical vision and “humanism”–a term he virtually reinvented and modernized, yet pointing back to the classical and neo-classical usages,  led him to become involved with the founding of the International Humanist and Ethical Union (largely inspired by his work) and with John Dewey, Albert Einstein and Thomas Mann, to serve as a founding advisor to the First Humanist Society of New York.

Huxley however was, if not precisely in the American philosophical sense, a naturalist.  The two great philosophical traditions of Europe, the rationalist and the empirical, each had their own unresolved dualisms and overcame them in separate ways through linguistic and rational critique of the “supernatural.”  But Huxley was not eager to reduce religion to a commitment to supernatural entities and intrusions. He wrote, that the abandonment of the God-hypothesis did not entail the end of piety (in the strict, classical sense of the term) least of all ethics, but merely a recognition of our location of the history of our life on the planet:

“Many people assert that this abandonment of the god hypothesis means the abandonment of all religion and all moral sanctions. This is simply not true. But it does mean, once our relief at jettisoning an outdated piece of ideological furniture is over, that we must construct something to take its place.”

The following essay is edited slightly from its 1964 version in Essays of a Humanist (1964: Chatto and Windus)

The Bishop of Woolwich’s courageous book, Honest to God, is impressive evidence not merely of what he calls our present theological ferment, but of the general ideological ferment and indeed of the revolution of thought through which we are struggling.

This is the inevitable outcome of the new vision of the world and man’s place and role in that world — in a word, of man’s destiny — which our new knowledge has revealed. This new vision is both comprehensive and unitary. It integrates the fantastic diversity of the world into a single framework, the pattern of all-embracing evolutionary process. In this unitary vision, all kinds of splits and dualisms are healed. The entire cosmos is made out of one and the same world-stuff, operated by the same energy as we ourselves. “Mind” and “matter” appears as two aspects of our unitary mind-bodies. There is no separate supernatural realm: all phenomena are part of one natural process of evolution. There is no basic cleavage between science and religion; they are both organs of evolving humanity.

This earth is one of the rare spots in the cosmos where mind has flowered. Man is a product of nearly three billion years of evolution, in whose person the evolutionary process has at last become conscious of itself and its possibilities. Whether he likes it or not, he is responsible for the whole further evolution of our planet.

Dr Robinson describes the current image of God as follows: “Somewhere beyond this universe is a Being, a centre of personal will and purpose, who created it and sustains it, who loves it and who ‘visited’ it in Jesus Christ. But I need not go on, for this is ‘our’ God. Theism means being convinced that this Being exists: atheism means denying that he does.” However he continues as follows: “But I suspect that we have reached a point where this mental image of God is also more of a hindrance than a help. … Any image can become an idol, and I believe that Christians must go through the agonizing process in this generation of detaching themselves from this idol.” He even writes that he heartily agrees with something I wrote many years ago in my Religion without revelation — “The sence of spiritual relief which comes from rejecting the idea of God as a superhuman being is enormous.”

And yet he clings to the essential personal concept of God — “nothing,” he writes, “can separate us from the love of God”; and sums up his position in the following assertion, that “God is ultimate reality… and ultimate reality must exist”.

To the implications of these statements I shall return. Meanwhile let me state the position as I see it. Man emerged as the dominant type on earth about a million years ago, but has only been really effective as a psychosocial organism for under ten thousand years. In that mere second of cosmic time, he has produced astonishing achievements — but has also been guilty of unprecedented horrors and follies. And looked at in the long perspective of evolution he is singularly imperfect, still incapable of carrying out his planetary responsibilities in a satisfactory manner.

The radical evolutionary crisis through which man is now passing can only be surmounted by an equally radical reorganisation of his dominant system of thought and belief. During human history, there has been a succession of dominant systems of thought and belief, each accompanying a new organisation of social, political and economic activities — agriculture with its rituals of rebirth as against hunting with its magic; early civilization with its cities and sacred kings, its written records and its priesthoods; universal and monotheistic religion; later, the scientific, the industrial and the technological revolutions with their corresponding patterns of thought; and now the evolutionary and humanist revolution, whose ideological and social implications have still to be thought out.

What has all this to do with Dr Robinson’s views on God, or indeed with religion at all? The answer is, a great deal. In the first place, religion in some form is a universal function of man in society, the organ for dealing with the problems of destiny, the destiny of individual men and women, of societies and nations, and of the human species as a whole. Religions always have some intellectual or ideological framework, whether myth or theological doctrine; some morality or code of behaviour, whether barbaric or ethically rationalized; and some mode of ritualized or symbolic expression, in the form of ceremonial or celebration, collective devotion or thanksgiving, or religious art. But, as the history and comparative study of religions make clear, the codified morality and the ritualized expression of of a religion, and indeed in the long run its social and personal efficacy, derives from its “theological” framework. If the evolution of its ideological pattern does not keep pace with the growth of knowledge, with social change and the march of events, the religion will increasingly cease to satisfy the multitude seeking assurance about their destiny, and will become progressively less effective a a social organ.

Eventually the old ideas will no longer serve, the old ideological framework can no longer be tinkered up to bear the weight of the facts, and a radical reconstruction becomes necessary, leading eventually to the emergence of a quite new organisation of thought and belief, just as the emergence of new types of bodily organization was necessary to achieve biological advance.

Such major organizations of thought may be necessary in science as much as in religion. The classical example, of course, was the re-patterning of cosmological thought which demoted the earth from its central position and led to the replacement of the geocentric pattern of thought by a heliocentric one. I believe that an equally drastic reorganization of our pattern of religious thought is now becoming necessary, from a god-centered to an evolutionary-centered pattern. Simplified down to its bare essentials the stepwise reorganization of western religions thought seems to have proceeded as follows. In its early, paleolithic stage religion was magic-centred, based on the ideas of magic force inherent in nature, in personages such as “medicine men” and shamans, and in human incarnations, spells and other magic practices, including witchcraft. This type of belief developed gradually into animism and so to polydaimonism and polytheism; while with the coming of agriculture a new pattern was imposed, centering on the ideas of fertility and rebirth, and leading to the rise of priest-kings and eventually divinized monarchs. The next major revolution of religious thought came in the first millennium B.C with the independent rise of the monotheist and/or universalist religions, culminating in Christianity and later branching off into Islam. The last two thousand years have seen the development of elaborate monotheistic theologies; but in the process their single God has broken into many, or at least has assumed a number of distinct and indeed sometimes actively hostile forms; and their nominal universalism has degenerated into competition for the possession of absolute truth.

Of course a great deal of magic survived into the polytheist priest-king stage, and some persists in thinly disguised form in Christian and Mohammedan practices and ideas today. Similarly, elements of polydaemonism and polytheism persists in the nominally monotheist religion of Christianity, in the doctrine of the Trinity (with the virtual divinization of the Virgin in Catholicism), in the multiplication of its Saints and Angels, and in so doing has increased its flexibility.

But to come back to DR Robinson. He is surely right in concentrating on the problem of God, rather than on the resurrection or the after-life, for God is Christianity’s central hypothesis.

But he is surely wrong in making such statements as that “God is ultimate reality”. God is a hypothesis constructed by man to help him understand what existence is all about. The god hypothesis asserts the existence of some sort supernatural personal or superpersonal being, exerting some kind of purposeful power over the universe and its destiny. To say that God is ultimate reality is just semantic cheating, as well as being so vague as to become effectively meaningless (and when DR Robinson continues by saying “and ultimate reality must exist” he is surely running round a philosophically very vicious circle).

Dr Robinson, like Dr Tillich and many other modernist theologians, seems to me, and indeed to any humanist, to be trying to ride two horses at once, to keep his cake and eat it. He wants to be modern and meet the challenge of our new knowledge by stripping the image of God of virtually all its spatial, material, Freudian and anthropomorphic aspects. But he still persists in retaining the termGod, in spite of all its implifications of supernatural power and personality; and it is these implifications, not the modernists’ fine-spun arguments, which consciously and unconsciously affect the ordinary man and woman. Heads I win, tails you lose: humanists dislike this elaborate double-talk. The ambiguity involved can be simply illustrated by substituting some of the modernists’ definition of God for the plain word [I think it should read world, not word — Fredrik’s comment] itself. I am sure that many opponents of freer divorce use the phrace “whom God has joined together, let no man put asunder”. If they were to proclaim that “whom universal reality has joined together, let no man put asunder”, it would not carry the same weight.

Today the god hypothesis has ceased to be scientifically tenable, has lost its explanatory value and is becoming an intellectual and moral burden to our thought. It no longer convinces or comforts, and its abandonment often brings a deep sence of relief. Many people assert that this abandonment of the god hypothesis means the abandonment of all religion and all moral sanctions. This is simply not true. But it does mean, once our relief at jettisoning an outdated piece of ideological furniture is over, that we must construct some thing to take its place.

Though gods and God in any meaningful sence seem destined to disappear, the stuff of divinity out of which they have grown and developed remains. This religious raw material consists of those aspects of nature and those experiences which are usually described as divine. Let me remind my readers that the term divine did not originally imply the existence of gods: on the contrary, gods were constructed to interprete man’s experiences of this quality.

Some events and some phenomena of outer nature transcend ordinary explanation and ordinary experience. They inspire awe and seem mysterious, explicable only in terms of something beyond or above ordinary nature.

Such magical, mysterious, awe-inspiring, divinity-suggesting facts have included wholly outer phenomena like volcanic eruptions, thunder, and hurricanes; biological phenomena such as sex and birth, disease and death; and also inner, psychological phenomena such as intoxication, possession, speaking in tounges, inspiration, insanity, and mystic vision.

With the growth of knowledge most of these have ceased to be mysterious so far as rational or scientific explicability is concerned (though there remains the fundamental mystery of existence, notably the existence of mind). However, it is a fact that many phenomena are charged with some sort of magic or compulsive power, and do introduce us to a realm beyond our ordinary experience. Such events and such experience merit a special designation. For want of a better, I use the term divine, though this quality of divinity is not truely supernatural but transnatural — it grows out of ordinary nature, but transcends it. The divine is what man finds worthy of adoration, that which compels his awe.

Much of every religion is aimed at the discovery and safe-guarding of divinity in this sence, and seeks contact and communication with what is regarded as divine. A humanist evolution-centered religion too needs divinity, but divinity without God. It must strip the divine of the theistic qualities which man has antropomorphically projected into it, search for its habitations in every aspect of existence, elicit it, and establish fruitful contact with its manifestations. Divinity is the chief raw material out of which gods have been fashioned. Today we must melt down the gods and refashion the material into new and effective organs of religion, enabling man to exist freely and fully on the spiritual level as well as on the material.

What precise form these new agencies of religious thought will take it is impossible to say in this period of violent transition. But one can make some general prophesies. The central religious hypothesis will certainly be evolution, which by now has been checked against objective fact and has become firmly established as a principle. Evolution is a process, of which we are products, and in which we are active agents. There is no finality about the process, and no automatic or unified progress; but much improvement has occured in the past, and there could be much further improvement in the future (though there is also the possibility of future failure and regression).

Thus the central long-term concern of religion must be to promote further evolutionary improvement and to realise new possibilities; and this means greater fulfilment by more human individuals and fuller achievement by more human societies

Human potentialities constitute the world’s greatest resource, but at the moment only a tiny fraction of them is being realized. The possibility of tapping and directing these vast resources of human possibility provide the religion of the future with a powerful long-term motive. An equally powerful short-term motive is to ensure the fullest possible development and flowering of individual personalities. In developing a full, deep and rich personality the individual ceases to be a mere cog or cipher, and makes his own particular contribution to evolutionary fulfilment.

In a way most important of all, an evolution-centered religion can no longer be divided off from secular affairs in a separate supernatural compartment, but will interlock with them at every point. The only distinction is that it is concerned with less immediate, less superficial, and therefore more enduring and deeper aspects of existence.

Meanwhile, religious rituals and moral codes will have to be readapted or remodelled. Besides what Nietzsche called the transvaluation of values, we shall need a transfiguration of thought, a new religious terminology and a reformulation of religious ideas and concepts in a new idiom. A humanist religion will have to work out its own rituals and its own basic symbolism.

In place of eternity we shall have to think in terms of enduring process; in place of salvation in terms of attaining the satisfying states of inner being which combine energy and peace. There will be no room for petitionary prayer, but much value in prayer involving aspiration and self-exploration. A religion of fulfilment must provide bustling secular man with contacts with all that is permanent and enduring, with the deeper and higher aspects of existence; indeed, with every possible opportunity of transcending the limitations not only of his day-by-day existence in the equivalents of shared worship, but of his little secular self in acts of meditation and self-examination and in retreats from the secular world of affairs. It will of course continue to celebrate the outstanding events of personal and national existence (already in some countries there are humanist wedding and funeral ceremonies). Furthermore, it will enlist the aid of psychologists and psychiatrists in helping men and women to explore the depths and heights of their own inner selves instead of restlessly pursuing external noveltry, to realize more of their mental and spiritual possibilities, to utilize even their repressed and guilty urges, and to transcendent the limitations and the internal conflicts of the unregenerate self in a constructive wholeness and a sense of achieving contact or union with a fuller reality.

Christianity is a universalist and monotheist religion of salvation. Its long consolidation and explosive spread, achieved through a long period of discussion and zealous ferment, released vast human forces which have largely shaped the western world as we know it. An evolutionary and humanist religion of fulfilment could be more truly universal and could release even vaster human forces, which could in large measure shape the development of the entire world. But its consolidation and spread will need a period of discussion and ferment, though with modern communications this is likely to be much shorter than for Christianity.

The evolutionary vision of man’s place and role in the universe which science and scholarship have given us, could be the revelation of the new dispensation. Dr Robinson’s article is evidence of its effectiveness in changing ideas. What we now need is a multitude of participants to take part in the great discussion and to join in the search for the larger truth and the more fruitful patterns of belief which we confidently believe is waiting to be elicited.

46 thoughts on “Julian Huxley: Why Liberal Theology is Not Enough

    • churchmouse: But, what do you make of Jesus Christ — true God and true man?

      Or delusion?

      Step one for the atheist – ditch theism – the great ‘god delusion’

      Step two for the atheist – ditch JC – the great ‘historical delusion’

      OK – I’ll run now before Joseph brings down the curtain…..

      Seriously, though, there cannot be any forward movement towards humanism while that figure on the cross is believed to be the very epitome of what it means to be human – the seat and the wellspring of Christian morality. This final roadblock to a humanist world needs to be bulldozed to the only place where it can have any rational expression – as a symbol of intellectual evolution. Mind and Matter – the two elements of our humanity – function according to two very different codes – one moral and the other amoral.

      • I’m not sure about churchmouse’s personal faith, but I don’t think all Christians think that the Jesus of history is quite the same as the Christ of faith. For many Christians, ‘Christian morality’ lies more in the teachings attributed to him. The Christianity you seem to be representing is fundamentalist which is contrary to the beliefs of masses of theists who do not believe in a God who subjected ‘his son’ to the most appalling and agonising death in order to achieve salvation. Theistic perceptions of God are very broad and complex and sometimes seemingly vague. Therefore I don’t think Christians have to have their theistic beliefs ‘bulldozed’ in order to be humanists. Over time in a truly humanist society beliefs will probably dissolve. A truly humanist society can encourage people to adopt reason and find spiritual, or life fulfillment in things like nature, the arts, and human relationships. When religion is personal, humanism can make progress inclusively. We all share common values anyway.

      • Oh my, steph – your not surely suggesting a Christianity without ‘salvation’ – a Christianity without it’s reason raison d’être….? Christianity minus theism is one thing (as proposed by Lloyd Geering) but Christianity without it’s ‘christ of faith’, the dying and rising figure on the cross – no way, that is neither Christian theology nor is it Christian anything.

        Christian morality is the cross – the very cross that millions of Christians see as the symbol of their faith – and keep it nice and close by hanging it around their necks. How on earth can you have anything remotely Christian without giving homage to the figure on the cross?

        Sure, a humanist society can function without the figure on the cross – but if we want to include as many of our fellow humans as we possibly can – then we have to make some attempt to understand the figure on the cross in other than a moral context. Side-stepping this issue is bizarre. Christianity has built it’s salvation theology upon the belief that a historical JC was crucified – albeit a miscarriage of justice. However, building a salvation theology upon a miscarriage of justice is a monstrous idea. Consequently, we do those early Christian writers a serious injustice were we to maintain that that is what they did do. I have more faith in their rationality than that…..

        “…beliefs will probably dissolve.” Wishful thinking I’m afraid. Ideas, especially ideas that have been around for a long time, don’t go to their neither-land without a struggle. The glory days of their youth have not prepared them for the inevitable – it’s a case of ‘rage, rage, against the dying of the light’….

        The “Jesus of history’ – steph, go back to school and get out a history book – start there and then come back to me….

      • This is your view Maryhelena. It is a very narrow perspective of what many Christians believe. I’m glad you’ve read Professor Lloyd Geering. He was one of my undergraduate teachers. I later assisted Dr Jim Veitch in research for a post doctoral thesis on Lloyd’s ‘heresy’ trial.

        You don’t seem aware of scholarship on the Jesus of history, especially that of non believers such as Michael Grant and more recently Maurice Casey and James Crossley.

        I’m surprised by your rude comments insulting my education and intelligence. It’s generally only a habit of aggressive atheists who despise religion. We clearly have quite different world experiences.

      • This reminds me of that fable about the sun and the wind and a man wearing an unbuttoned coat. The wind challenged the sun to make the man take his coat off, and said he could do it more quickly than the sun. So the wind blew but the man buttoned and tightened his coat and wouldn’t take it off…. when the sun tried, she glowed warmly down and it wasn’t long before the man undid and peeled off his coat.

        It is unrealistic to expect ‘bulldozing’, ridicule and abuse to convince believers to let go their faiths. The billboards and blog rhetoric for example, have only achieved antagonism from fundamentalists (while more accommodating believers couldn’t care less), entertainment for the campaign creators and supporters, and whether it’s increased or relieved their anger with religion, it’s hard to tell. Fundamentalist believers will often react by putting up more defensives, uniting and becoming stronger.

        You have to create something attractive in religion’s place and that is what Huxley suggests: “religious rituals and moral codes will have to be readapted or remodelled”. He wasn’t talking about throwing everything out. I think only by constructing a secular (humanistic) education in the sciences and logic as well as the arts including histories of atheism, humanism and religious beliefs can encourage people to let go their faith. The structure of society, and politics must be freed of religion. That has to happen before we can hope to get rid of fundamentalist belief.

        Religion is more diluted where democratic government and education are free of religion and belief is personal. There is no overnight remedy for places like America where government, education and society is saturated with religion, particularly in the south. There needs to be a cooperative effort to adapt, remould and build a better structure and then progress can be made.

      • Steph: “I’m surprised by your rude comments insulting my education and intelligence. It’s generally only a habit of aggressive atheists who despise religion. We clearly have quite different world experiences.”

        No rude comments at all. I responded to your post in which you made an unfounded assertion – and I called you on it. Your words: “Jesus of history’: I suggested that you find yourself a history book and get back to me – that suggestion still stands. Quoting other names as though these names have any relevance to my suggestion to you, that you consider a history book before you make such unfounded statements, are irrelevant.

        Steph, don’t throw scholarship at me – I’ve been an ahistoricist/mythicist for well over 25 years – so don’t try telling me to read books by scholars trying to prove the impossible – it can’t be done. I’m not here to debate the ahistoricist/mythicist position on JC – been there, done that and moved on and now have no interest in such elementary discussions. It’s the world beyond the assumped historical JC that interests me. And don’t try comparing me with either Doherty or Wells – or whoever, for that matter. I blow my own horn – just so you know…

        And Steph, cut the talk about “aggressive atheists who despise religion” – if I was such a one as you seem to want to suggest – let me tell you something – I would not be posting here.

        Hopefully the above has now cleared the air…

      • Steph: “It is unrealistic to expect ‘bulldozing’, ridicule and abuse to convince believers to let go their faiths. The billboards and blog rhetoric for example, have only achieved antagonism from fundamentalists”.

        For heavens sake Steph, go back and read the paragraph from which you have taken the bulldozed expression. I was talking metaphorical not literally. Adding the words “ridicule and abuse” as you have done, to my metaphorical use of bulldozed is not only bizarre it is unworthy of rational communication. The context is ideas – the context is not people.

        Trying to convince “believer to let go their faiths” – that’s not my game plan at all. People change when they feel the need to do so. My plan is to push the boundaries of NT interpretation – and for that I need to be able to disregard popular or consensus positions and get the bulldozer out…

        Yes, ideas that stay beyond their sell by date need to be ‘bulldozed’ out of the way. They need to be exposed for their irrationality, they need to be stripped bare, hung, if you like, on that Calvary cross, exposed to the elements. That’s intellectual life – and has nothing at all to with communication between individuals. Context, Steph, context – Mind and Matter…

      • I made no unfounded assertions. The “Jesus of history” is someone I will never be absolutely certain about. The point I was making was about what some Christians believe and the way they pick out the human bits in the tradition, like a human being teaching, and leave the supernatural bits to myth, ie the so called Christ of Faith, the dying, rising martyr and miracle worker. The scholarship is not ‘proving’ anything, it is demonstrating theory. And of course I know ‘bulldozing’ is metaphorical. I can’t understand how you could possibly think otherwise. But ‘bulldozing’ implies aggression, and sits alongside things like abuse and sarcasm. The latter at least is bossily littered through your replies. That’s OK, you’re entitled to your opinions.

      • I should add that I appreciate your contribution and even your tone, Maryhelena. I like to keep in touch with continuing debate in scholarship and in the public sphere. I therefore thought the scholarship I identified might be of interest to you, including those authors promoting very ‘radical’ non theistic Christianity. I like to keep up with the most recent scholarship from different perspectives in order to keep critical and never be dogmatic, and be flexible enough to change my views. My views continually evolve and have slid backwards and forwards as I continue to do research.

  1. Note to Christians: Do not pass Go, do not collect $200, but go directly to the gospel of Matthew and verse 6:13. Then take a pair of scissors and cut out all the verses from 6:13 and following through to 7:29. You will then have what’s called “The Sermon on the Mount,” which is the Christian moral philosophy. And that’s all you really need to be a good Christian. Now, you can throw away the rest of the bible. It’s really just confusing and is superfluous anyway; it’ll be like a smaller version of the Jefferson Bible.

    Now, read those verses every day – or more often if you need to (and many Christians do) – and pledge that you will follow those teachings every minute of every day and apply them to all of the activities in your daily life — from family to work to play to politics. Just think of how much better the world would be if Christians, all 2.1 billion of them, did this.

    We now return you to the regularly scheduled program.

    • That’s beautiful Herb. It’s pretty much what some millions of Christians do. Without the scissors maybe. They just read the ‘good’ bits – the sermon is about it – and ignore the rest or just see it as story. Sometimes it might seem as if the Jesus Seminar does a bit of that. I imagine them selecting all the appealing bits, painting them red, and brushing out the rest with black and grey. Jesus the cynic philosopher, a witty and gentle man. He’d be welcome in our twenty first century homes. What good company too – he LOVES his wine!

      • Oh, my…..responding to the admonition of Herb that ‘The Sermon on the Mount’ would, if implemented by all, make the world a better place…” Steph says:

        “Jesus the cynic philosopher, a witty and gentle man. He’d be welcome in our twenty first century homes. What good company too – he LOVES his wine!”

        Great imagination there Steph….For myself, I’d say that any man, or woman, who takes up the sermon on the mount as a philosophy or moral code for living a rational life within a social context – is neither a philosopher, witty or gentle – and I’d not give him the time of day, let alone sit down with such a man for a glass of wine – but maybe that’s just it – too much wine and his head is just so full of bull……

        OK, lets start with Matthew 6:14: “For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you” – and so on – and if you don’t forgive others then the heavenly Father will not forgive you.

        Apart from the fact that any rational atheist should have their crap detector on high alert when admonition such as this is coming from high above in outer space – the admonition itself needs to be subject to the reality of living a real life in the here and now.

        Forgiveness – well, I’ll lay my cards on the table – for me, it’s a case of it being rather like a red flag to a bull….

        My own crap detector went on red alter just over 10 years ago. I was sitting comfortably in front of the TV – and on comes Oprah and Dr Phil. The young woman as their guest had a problem – some years previously her father had been murdered – and the man responsible was still in jail. Her problem – she could not bring herself to forgive him. So, Dr Phil to the rescue. Up comes the murdered man’s picture on the big screen – and Dr Phil does his pop psychology bit – and then the young woman stands in front of the picture of the man who murdered her father – and with tears running down her face – forgave him…

        Rather than throw a shoe at the TV – I sent off emails to both Oprah and Dr Phil – no reply. Bottom line here, of course, is that theology has infiltrated psychology. However, there are concerned people out there:

        Before Forgiving: Cautionary Views of Forgiveness In Psychotherapy.
        (edited by Sharon Lamb and Jeffrie G. Murphy).

        Getting Even: Forgiveness And Its Limits
        (Jeffrie G Murphy)

        Forgiveness And The Healing Process: A Central Therapeutic Concern.
        (edited by Cynthia Ransley and Terri Spy).

        Murphy and Lamb are based in the US. Murphy is a philosopher and Lamb a psychologist.

        Ransley and Spy are based in the UK – both are psychologists. (one a Christian, the other an agnostic).

        The Christians do have an escape hatch for their literal, social contract, reading of forgiveness – sinning against the Holy Ghost merits a pass on forgiving….

        So, Steph, if wise men, and women, today, in this 21th century, are advocating caution re the whole forgiveness idea as a psychological necessity for human wellbeing – then, lets not go ascribing such a questionable teaching to any lst century wise man……Come on now – the historical context from within which the NT springs – a historical conflict between Jewish nationalism and Roman imperialism – forgiveness would be tantamount to treason. So – it’s not a moral code that is being advocated in the sermon on the mount – it’s an intellectual, amoral code, where ‘forgiveness’ of old ideas is a rational action in order to move on to the next idea….”Father forgive them for they know not what they do”. When you know better you do better – the old ideas had their rightful place but eventually they become tired and lack the necessary energy to move forward – so you ‘forgive’ them for their mistakes, their inadequacies, and embrace the new….(which of course, as with all ideas, are always indebted to the old…..)

        Fay Weldon: Female Friends.

        “Understand and forgive, my mother said, and the effort has quite exhausted me. I could do with some anger to energize me, and bring me back to life again. But where can I find that anger? Who is to help me? My friends? I have been understanding and forgiving my friends, my female friends, for as long as I can remember……Understand and forgive……Understand husbands, wives, fathers, mothers…….Grit your teeth, endure. Understand, forgive, accept, in the light of your own death, your own inevitable corruption.”

        “Oh mother, what have you taught me? And what a miserable, crawling, snivelling way to go, the worn-out slippers placed neatly beneath the bed, careful not to give offense.”

    • Herb

      Thanks for the suggestion. True Christians read and study the entire Bible, particularly the New Testament. (Christ freed us from the 613 tenets of Mosaic Law but not from the Ten Commandments.) Yes, it would be nice if we could cut and paste the verses we’d like to keep, but that would be a superficial and carnal desire. So, we need to study all of it (God’s preparation of His Chosen through to the Messiah’s birth, Crucifixion and Resurrection). We also need to obey Jesus’s harsher teachings about sin and redemption.

      Love thy neighbour and love God above all? That can prove difficult in everyday life.

  2. Christian morality is the cross – for millions. You’re absolutely right. I love simplicity, frugality, occam’s razor and clarity. Formula’s however, while simple, concise and nice, compromise complexity and ultimately clarity. For other millions, who are also ‘Christians’, Christian morality lies in Jesus’ teachings and even common human values. Furthermore, there is no biblical theism. Millions of Christians who identify as Christians have faith positions which are more agnostic and skeptical and even atheist on non theist. Liberal Christianity in New Zealand for example, is personal, non intrusive, a bit wishy washy and seemingly vague. Liberal Christians advocate a secular society and social justice. ‘Christians’ like Lloyd Geering are popular with Christians, so is Jim Veitch, Bishop Spong, Bishop Robinson, Bob Funk, Dom Crossan and there are loads more. I love school. We all continue learning, evolving, changing our minds, hopefully, until we die.

  3. Just a brief comment on the post: I love Julian Huxley, the work of his I’ve read and things I’ve been told about him. My friend Maurice attended his lectures in Durham and says they were very impressive. He was a clear and compelling lecturer and he is remembered distinctly. I love Huxley’s truly humanist ideas, retaining a sense of divinity without the ‘Almighty’. In a sense he seeks to preserve the humanist aspects of religions, the sense of wonder and awe, the beauty of ceremony. These are the things that humanly spiritual passions led humans to create religions in the first place. These aren’t compromised when the unnecessary ‘other’ is left out. The gods were created to take away responsibility for genuine human enquiry. Yet there is every reason to continue loving learning and enquiry within a truly humanist society, with a passion for life and making it fulfilling.


  4. Steph: “I made no unfounded assertions. The “Jesus of history” is someone I will never be absolutely certain about.”

    Glad to hear that….
    Perhaps so as not to cause confusion – when referencing the gospel JC figure – it’s best to correctly identify what one is in fact referencing…- the gospel JC figure. That way people can read into the reference what they, themselves, understand that figure to be. Once one goes with the ‘history’ reference – then it’s a whole different ball game. People can believe that JC was a real figure, a figure of flesh and blood – that’s possible but, to mind, highly improbable. What they can’t do, and no amount of scholarly theory should be appearing to be doing, is to use a sleight of hand procedure — substituting theory and interpretation for historical reality. So, best to keep away from any use of ‘history’ as an identifier re the gospel JC…

  5. Steph – I’m quite ready to read any new research – if someone can point me in that direction. I’m not interested in reading old news – scholars repeating themselves with the same tired arguments in support of a historical JC. I believe Bart Ehrman is supposed to be writing an ebook against the mythicists – so lets see – methinks he might just be about to shoot himself in the foot…

    Actually, I’ve not read books by either Doherty or Wells, for that matter. Just a bit on Doherty’s webpage and the same for Wells on internet infidels. I came across a reference to Wells and wrote to him over 20 years ago – he did send me a photo-copy of an article – which I seem to have lost. The book that got me going was The Myth of God Incarnate, edited by John Hick. Up until then I had been reading theological stuff – Hans Kung and a few others. But after the Myth book – theology was sidelined.

    So, yes, I’m open to new ideas – bring them on – but please not any scholars rehashing yesterdays news…

  6. “Jesus the cynic philosopher who loves his wine” is not a product of my imagination. It is a product of the Jesus seminar as you will realise from reading much of their published work. Personally I think it’s completely anachronistic and the theory is fundamentally flawed. I assure you there are million of Christians who read selectively what they believe feels comfortable and humanistic from teachings attributed to Jesus without taking the biblical theism on board. As to your own learning, I think there is no point for any further suggestions or discussion as your opinions are dogmatic and your mind firmly set. I hope you continue to enjoy reading only what you agree with and dismissing the rest. For myself, I prefer not to criticise new scholarship until I have read it for myself. As always it’s been fascinating reading your strongly opinionated comments.

  7. Maryhelena: I have always been deeply suspicious of most things and have never believed in any supernatural faiths. I appreciate growing up in an environment where I had the freedom to choose my own way. I was surrounded my many various flavours of several different religions and probably more non belief and variations of agnosticism. I am also deeply suspicious of some of the arguments of scholars whose work I respect most. I wonder what your background is. I am very interested in your opinion of the work related to humanism by Julian Huxley, and in particular the essay printed in this post. Maybe we might share a common appreciation of his values.

  8. Steph: My growing up environment was Irish Catholic. So, rather a constricted view of things…I married a non-Catholic but with ideas of talking him around to the RC way – which never happened. He remained a believer in God until the end – while I eventually became an atheist. On her deathbed my mother told me that the worst thing a daughter could do to her mother was to leave the Church she had been brought up in….(the morning after travelling from SA to the UK – she apologized the next day….)

    Re the blog post on Julian Huxley: Overall his position is to be recommended. My main nitpick would be that his view of religion is perhaps rather narrow:

    “But, as the history and comparative study of religions make clear, the codified morality and the ritualized expression of of a religion, and indeed in the long run its social and personal efficacy, derives from its “theological” framework.”

    Scott Atran has a deeper perspective:

    “The cognitive perspective I have chosen for this book is a biological and scientific perspective that focuses on the casual role of the mind/brain in generating behaviour. From this vantage, religion is not doctrine, or institutions, or even faith. Religion ensues from the ordinary workings of the human mind as it deals with emotionally compelling problems of human existence, such as birth, aging, death, unforeseen calamities, and love. In religion, these ‘facts of life’ are always inherent problems of society, caused by the very same intentional agents that are thought to constitute society. For religion, there is always an intentional, socially relevant reason for this particular person to have been born a man rather than a woman, for a wave to have knocked over and drowned a person at a specific place and time”. (page viii). ‘In God’s We Trust: The Evolutionary Landscape of Religion’.

    “..not doctrine, or institutions, or even faith….” now that’s a great insight on religion….. . Religion is a far more involved phenomenon than can be equated with xyz theological ideas.

    (the quote is available on the Amazon book view – I’ve now received the book and it’s waiting to be read….Oh, Amazon book view is also available for some books of Wells – so I have read a bit of his books that way….)

    I liked Huxley’s, “Mind” and “matter” appears as two aspects of our unitary mind-bodies.

    Also: “Meanwhile, religious rituals and moral codes will have to be readapted or remodelled. Besides what Nietzsche called the transvaluation of values, we shall need a transfiguration of thought, a new religious terminology and a reformulation of religious ideas and concepts in a new idiom. A humanist religion will have to work out its own rituals and its own basic symbolism.”

    “…a reformulation of religious ideas and concepts in a new idiom.” And that is generally what I try and do. I’m not throwing out the NT – I’m endeavouring to re-interpret it to our modern understanding of who and what we are as human beings. Sure, trying to understand Paul and his theological/philosophical musings, according to whatever we might think was the current state of 1st century thinking, might be of interest – but it could also be useless for our day. Words are often inadequate to express what we really mean – and limited by the science of the 1st century, NT writers did what they did with what they had….

    So, like I did with that forgiveness idea – perhaps it’s necessary to turn things upside down – the whole Mind and Matter context. Ideas that we once thought belonged to Matter should instead be assigned to Mind. Or in more simple terms – what we need is a New Heaven before we can think about that New Earth..

    Huxley: “Eventually the old ideas will no longer serve, the old ideological framework can no longer be tinkered up to bear the weight of the facts, and a radical reconstruction becomes necessary, leading eventually to the emergence of a quite new organisation of thought and belief, just as the emergence of new types of bodily organization was necessary to achieve biological advance.”

    (I do have two books by John Robinson, ‘Honest to God’ and ‘Exploration Into God’ – but years since I opened them….)

  9. Oh, come off it steph – are you really going to be telling me that you find some benefit in reading books by creationists….This is a ridiculous argument. If a historical gospel JC floats ones boat – then read everything any scholars wants to put out there. I personally find such an idea useless. The idea is stagnant – stagnant as far as any investigation into early history goes – and that is surely what is of interest. One does not progress in understanding by keeping a million and one ideas floating around in ones mind. One has to learn not only to let go but also to use some ideas as a basis upon which to build. And that is not being dogmatic – it’s simply a realization that one has to have some foundation upon which to build. Sure, one’s foundation can have cracks and might need to be re-built – but one will get nowhere without using some foundation stones…The only thing my mind is set upon is the ahistorical position re JC – and after 25 years of using this foundation stone – things are looking pretty good…. while the opposite idea is continuing to go around in circles…

  10. I was interested that you come from an Irish Catholic background. Thank you for sharing that. I guess it must have been difficult to free yourself from such a dogmatic faith. I thought it must have been something dire. It’s good you have some sympathy for so much of the work of Julian Huxley. I have not however seen Scott Atran’s book, which sounds interesting.

    I did read books by creationists when I was an undergraduate, but do not do so at present because it does not fit in with my current research. I have recently read and critiqued quite a lot by Christian apologists, including Ben Witherington, Scott McKnight, William Lane Craig and the Pope. I also read and critique alot of scholarship which is affected by Christian bias, eg. John P Meier, Fitzmyer, Dale Allison, NT Wright etc. If they are the only sort of people you come across on the historical Jesus, it’s no wonder you have your prejudices confirmed and imagine scholarship on this subject is all going round in circles. Then of course there is the secular scholarship which is also flawed mainly a consequence of ex Christian fundamentalist background eg Bart Ehrmann and Robert Price. Michael Goulder was an exception – his expertise and honesty is transparent. I drew your attention to recent scholarship not going around in circles which I recommend you read first hand for yourself. I am also involved with much new independent academic research with new methodologies in progress in various parts of the world. Thank you for your thoughts.

  11. Thank you for sharing that. I did read books by creationists when I was an undergraduate, but haven’t recently because they don’t appear in my current research area. I have recently read and critiqued quite a lot by Christian apologists, including Ben Witherington, Scott McKnight, William Lane Craig and the Pope. I also read and critique alot of scholarship which is affected by Christian bias, eg. John P Meier, Fitzmyer, Dale Allison, NT Wright etc. Then of course there is the secular scholarship eg Bart Ehrmann and Robert Price. Michael Goulder was an exception as an ex Christian and atheist – his expertise and honesty is transparent. I drew your attention to recent scholarship which I thought you might like to read first hand. I am also involved with new independent research with new methodologies in progress in New Zealand, Australia and the UK.

  12. I should add that my current objective in research is not to prove or disprove the existence of any person in Christian literature. My objective is merely to demonstrate that a single written Greek document hypothesis is totally implausible. This is the conclusion I have reached after far too long studying the so called ‘synoptic problem’. Also the creationist theories I have read were generally written by scholars with degrees in the sciences(!!!), not by biblical scholars. Plenty of Christian apologists I have read recently have been accused of being creationists but I can’t prove whether they are or are not.

  13. My “prejudices confirmed” on the assumed historical JC because of certain apologists that you name? And as for “prejudices” re the whole JC argument – what on earth has ‘prejudice’ got to do with it? I have come to a conclusion – no historical gospel JC – and that conclusion is, seemingly, by your thinking, supposed to make me prejudiced against the work of scholars who write about this topic. Steph, I really don’t know where you are coming from here…I’m not prejudiced against the historical JC idea – I have looked into this idea and found it to be wanting….Aiming ‘prejudice’ at me re the JC idea is nonsensical….

    “An adverse judgment or opinion formed beforehand or without knowledge or examination of the facts.”

    OK, so I’ve not read the latest offerings by scholars, either apologists or agnostics. You know what – if anyone of them is able to produce something new – and glory be – actually provides some historical evidence for what they claim re the gospel JC figure – then don’t you think that great news would be on every news channel 24 hours a day. And the lucky man, or woman, would be in line for next years Templeton million pounds – and even a Nobel might be waiting…So, as of now, looks to be I’m not missing anything…

    Michael Goulder: I wrote to him in 1983 (28 years ago) after reading the Myth book. (a short while before I became an ahistoricts re JC).

    “You have certainly done some thinking, away on your own: and what you need, in order to make progress, is a university course in Theology. It is sad, but the whole area is such a minefield that someone on their own needs constant supervision so as to avoid the upsets of the last 200 years”.

    Well, I decided to avoid that minefield….

    I did read, or rather wade through, Edward Schillebeeckx’s two books: Jesus: An Experiment in Christology, Christ: The Christian Experience in the Modern World.

    When the proverbial penny dropped that there was no historical gospel JC – I reached for a history book. (Israelite and Judean History, Hayes and Miller).

  14. As you suggest Michael did made those remarks in 1983. The Michael I knew later, was a great advocate of new scholarship. I only gave you a few examples of the sort of scholarship you might have read, not an exhaustive list (and I’m very under impressed by the work of Dunn including his most recent work – I’d include him in the circle I suggested). You also suggested you had not read any recent work and I gave you a couple of examples which are not going round in circles. There is much recent independent work, particularly by secular scholars, with new methodologies and new approaches to enquiry. I am involved with such scholars in New Zealand, Australia nad the UK. However I did not wish to engage in debate over historicity of ancient figures in Christian literature and if you have made up your mind, it really doesn’t matter. I’m more concerned that new generations should be encouraged to learn and enquire. My initial point was that there is a much greater diversity amongst the beliefs of self identifying Christians, than you concede. You may be surrounded by conservative literalists, but there are many more Christians of varying degrees of dilution in what they believe. And even if they believe Jesus existed, a belief which is not disproved, and some of the basic teachings attributed are part of their moral structure, there is nothing harmful. Christian liberals are advocates for social justice, gay rights and they are opposed to war. They are also opposed to fundamentalism. I see nothing to ridicule or ‘bulldoze’ and if you disagree, we’ll have to agree to differ.

  15. You say Michael suggested theology and then despaired at the state of theology. That would have been true then but now there are more innovative studies in theology around, some of which is written by people who greatly appreciated his work and much of which is secular. I never studied it formally. I’ve read myself into it. I’m interested in the history of theology rather than ‘the knowledge of nothing’ itself as I’ve never believed there was any God to know. However I believe the debates about God should be continued for the benefit of those who still believe in a God and I am interested in them but do not wish to engage in them myself. My training has been in world religions and then biblical studies. I’m interested in the history of spirituality and creation of religions. I suggest the study and understanding of history is important in order to understand the present and make progress, instead of repeating historical mistakes.

  16. Steph, why is it that I get the impression from your reply to my posts that you seem to want to undermine my position – that my lack of interest in modern scholarship is somehow suspect, that it betrays some inadequacy on my part, that my use of the ‘bulldoze’ expression means that I want to “ridicule” modern scholarship. That I don’t see any value, for me, in spending time reading about modern scholarship regarding the assumed historical JC – does not mean that I am endeavouring to ‘ridicule’ the work such scholars do. Working from the assumption of a historical JC they will only produce arguments related to that assumption. I find it very strange indeed that anyone could suggest that once one has rejected an argument that one must continue to be engaged in any new twists and turns that advocates of the argument can conjure up…..beats me, I’m afraid….

    So, I’ll leave Huxley the final word on this one…

    Huxley: “Eventually the old ideas will no longer serve, the old ideological framework can no longer be tinkered up to bear the weight of the facts, and a radical reconstruction becomes necessary, leading eventually to the emergence of a quite new organisation of thought and belief, just as the emergence of new types of bodily organization was necessary to achieve biological advance.”

    That, steph, is where NT research is at – or where it should be….-…. tinkering just won’t do any more…

    • Is that a question? I don’t know why you get that feeling. I never said any of that, and I only repeated your use of ‘bulldoze’ in the context of religious belief. You said scholarship goes round in circles and you haven’t read any recent scholarship, so I gave you a couple of examples of recent scholarship that doesn’t go round in circles… It is of no importance to me whether you choose to read them or not. And innovative, new independent scholarship is in agreement with Huxley. We learn from history and learn not to repeat those ‘old ideas’ and flawed methodologies. But not having read recent scholarship, I don’t really think you’re in a position to say where it is ‘at’. On the other hand, you’re free to express your opinion and as I have already suggested, I am only concerned here, with defending the many varieties of belief among Christians today.

  17. Steph: “…..there are many more Christians of varying degrees of dilution in what they believe. And even if they believe Jesus existed, a belief which is not disproved, and some of the basic teachings attributed are part of their moral structure, there is nothing harmful. Christian liberals are advocates for social justice, gay rights and they are opposed to war. They are also opposed to fundamentalism. I see nothing to ridicule or ‘bulldoze’ and if you disagree, we’ll have to agree to differ.”

    Steph, oh steph – it’s not a question of some Christians not being ‘harmful’ – so leave them alone in their diluted versions of Christian theology or morality. Intellectual evolution is no respecter of people’s comfort zones – it marches on to it’s own drumbeat….Don’t get waylaid by those New Atheists who want to kick religion to the gutter and use ridicule, mockery and distain as their weapons. Don’t imagine that if their rhetoric could somehow be cooled down that the ‘assault’ upon Christian beliefs would simultaneously cease. That’s not going to happen. It’s not a case of hating religion or hating Christianity – it’s a case of moving things along…..

    While one can perhaps think that Robert Funk’s twenty-one Theses on The Coming Radical Reformation did not go far enough – at least he appreciated the degree of change that is necessary – radical. Yes, I have empathy for those Christians who are doing the best with what they know – but change is a wild and unpredictable animal and nobody can soften it’s impact. The Jews survived the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple in 70 c.e. – they picked up the pieces and moved forward – should we think less of Christians if their spiritual temple falls? And should we think that Christianity is somehow immune to such a possibility?

  18. Maryhelena oh Maryhelena, despite your lengthy and fascinating comments, I don’t really see your plan. I’m interested in a plan which involves education. Perhaps we have different priorities. Whatever it is, it doesn’t really matter.

  19. I never said “so leave them alone”. I have suggested education, and the implication is radical reformation of education to include things essential to humanism (and eliminate creationism!!). I do not think ‘bulldoze’ is an appropriate metaphor and you haven’t offered any alternative useful plan to “move things along”. The analogy of the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple does not quite fit the contemporary situation. You can’t feasibly rip away belief without educating believers into rational thinking instead. You can rip away physical structures but you can’t rip away emotional dependencies of the mind. The destruction of the Jerusalem temple encouraged Jews to unite, establish their faith more strongly and become less variegated.

  20. Ps. Bob Funk’s 21 theses represent the contemporary liberal Christian faith I’ve been discussing above and also the Christianity of the self identifying Christian fellows within the Jesus Seminar at the time. He defines it accurately.

  21. Maryhelena: Robert Frost was one of mum’s poets. I like him too but I have always loved this poem, for obvious reasons. You might know it… “The Peaceful Shepherd”.

    If heaven were to do again,
    And on the pasture bars,
    I leaned to line the figures in
    Between the dotted starts,

    I should be tempted to forget,
    I fear, the Crown of Rule,
    The Scales of Trade, the Cross of Faith,
    As hardly worth renewal.

    For these have governed in our lives,
    And see how men have warred.
    The Cross, the Crown, the Scales may all
    As well have been the Sword

  22. Robert Frost (1874-1963) identified as “an Old Testament Christian” but his belief fluctuated throughout his life. He questioned belief much like many Christians today. He is acknowledged as a critic of the orthodox Christianity of his time, and it is said “For most of his life, Frost vacillated between belief and skepticism, piety and irreverence, submission and rebellion. ‘He tossed the idea of God up and down like a ball,’ said critic Alfred Kazin.” He was another Christian for whom Christianity was not the cross.

    • The “leave them alone” are my words, in response to your point re the Christians who are not “harmful” re their diluted beliefs. I was under the impression that if they are not “harmful” then let them be….OK, so you want to education them. Humanism? So they stay with their non harmful diluted Christian beliefs? – beliefs to which they have emotional dependencies.

      Old ideas are like an old pair of shoes – very comfortable! Wearing in new shoes can certainly be uncomfortable for a while – but sooner or later it just has to be done. Sure, one can’t ‘rip away emotional dependencies’ upon certain ideas – one has to offer different ideas, better ideas. The new ‘shoes’ need to be so attractive that the few days of pain are deemed to be worth their purchase. So, before that New Earth, there has to be a new Intellectual Heaven. Ideas become us – they colour our perceptions and our emotions.

      Re the Jerusalem analogy – that’s a matter of perception I’m afraid. A Radical Reformation needs new radical ideas, not simply a tinkering of present ideas. So we differ there. As to suggesting an alternative plan for ‘moving along’ – Well, steph, I think maybe I have – ditch the assumption of an historical gospel JC. The repercussions of such a ditching are immense – all the way from psychology to political ideology. The theology of the cross is very insidious – the French Revolution might have desecrated the churches – theology simply jumped ship – it’s coat of many colours allowing it safe haven in many at unsuspecting harbour…

      • Thanks steph, for the poem – and , no, I don’t know it. Looking past the cross, the crown etc that’s great poetry and it can give one some sense of peace – but the cross remains that symbol of Christianity; that cross is right there in the gospel storyline – and in order for that peaceful state to be achieved – that cross has to be re-told in other than a literal meaning, ie in other than a flesh and blood historical context. And yes, Wells has a good idea here – he separates the gospel crucifixion storyline from his Galilean preacher figure – thus opening up the possibility that the gospel crucifixion storyline can be considered in a non-historical context. So, that could be considered as step one in the ditching of a historical gospel JC…..

        Anyway, that’s not what I’m here for….

        As to poems – here is something I put together some years ago – it’s about Ireland, but it’s also about a type of connection that we all feel to our earthly home, “the ‘ground beneath our feet’. (it’s just that the Irish have sung their praises of their land perhaps more than most…)

        Of this land its many songs have sung
        But sure they are only a message
        Of something that’s beyond all the saying
        There’s a voice without words that is smiling here
        It draws and binds all those who hear it
        To Ireland for time and a day.

        The voice of this land is a sound so sweet
        It’s the sound of melodies sacred and pure
        O’er its fields and its lakes an air is becoming
        It’s breath is the nectar my spirit adores
        For Ireland’s voice it is calling all people to share
        A joy of belonging to this land so fair.

        From the mists of it’s lakes and it’s valleys
        A voice that is pure and sublime
        Meets our heart in a moment of gladness
        Oh the beauty of our tie to this land
        ‘Tis life’s greatest union of reverence
        Between spirit and reality.

        Ireland’s gift to the world it’s for sure
        A voice once heard it will always be
        Mystically, magically, inexplicably
        Music of a connection that’s sacred and pure
        To a land that is soft and yielding
        Where our heart and our spirit embrace.

        Ireland’s voice oh it’s so compelling
        Our lives it crowns with joy
        For where in the world can such music be heard
        That voices man’s feelings so great
        For connection, for belonging
        To the ground beneath his feet.

  23. I think you missed the point about radical education reform and humanism, and educating children and adults out of the need to appeal to supernatural belief. You also missed the point about a plan. To ‘ditch’ is not an articulated plan. You also missed the point that for millions of Christians, Christianity is not the cross (and neither was it for Frost) and it does not include supernatural beliefs. And you also missed the point about the falsity of the Jerusalem analogy. And perhaps a mythicist view, that there was no human Jesus, is an assumption. Neither view can be proved and I have found no mythicist hypothesis convincing. I’m more persuaded by very recent historical arguments – but who knows – and that is not what this post is about, so it really doesn’t matter anyway.

    Your poem is pretty. My ancestry is Irish too – Maguire – so all the family stories have that suspicious flavour of heavily romanticised embellishment – as all great storytelling and gospelling does – and mum sang all the old songs. But as a Kiwi I’m fairly immune from feelings of loyalty to any particular land or patriotism, although I love NZ’s natural environment and diversity. I would like more of the world to be that way.

    • Steph: “I think you missed the point…….”

      Oh, dear – looks like we are unable to communicate…..

      Education: How about putting a copy of one of the books by Wells in every school library – great for an introduction to critical thinking on the gospel JC question; how about offering adult classes for an alternative view of Christianity; how about Humanist documentaries extolling the virtues of a cross free psychology and morality. Too easy, steph, to do this on the quite – nicely nicely so as not to upset those with traditional Christian views. That the Gnu atheists are fighting fit for their world without religion – that should not excuse ‘old’ atheists from their own responsibility to man the barricades for a rational, Humanist, social environment. And, no, it cannot be done on the cheap…

      OK, so along with my ‘bulldoze’ you don’t like my ‘ditch’….

      The millions of Christians, steph, that you mention, those who don’t hold the cross and supernatural beliefs as their own – then by golly, steph, then they are more than ready to ditch the assumed historical crucified JC. And are then, the ‘old’ atheists letting them down? Those atheists NT scholars who are happy to go on tinkering and thinkering – for no avail and for no ready made audience anyway – their audience of thinking Christians has already jumped the traditional ship….

      “…the falsity of the Jerusalem analogy..” I’m afraid I’ll leave that one to history….

      “…..no human Jesus, is an assumption”. Maybe read some of the arguments by Wells – once Wells made the split between his Galilean preacher, who was not crucified, and the gospel crucified JC figure – no human, flesh and blood, gospel JC is possible. That is a great starting position. In other words, Wells, by ditching a historical flesh and blood crucified gospel JC – has opened up the way for a non-crucified figure, a flesh and blood figure, to be relevant to the development of early Christian ideas. OK, Wells can’t prove any of that – and that’s because it’s history that is needed not just ideas, however rational they may be….

      (Yes, Doherty also, not withstanding his own rhetoric and writings, has something to offer – but that is perhaps not so easily discernible…..and anyway, the man and I are not on ‘speaking’ terms…..

      June 2010
      “I am going to bow out on any further discussion with Maryhelena. Our respective thought processes simply don’t cross at any point. It is futile from my point of view to try to get her to understand me, or me to understand her. That sometimes happens, and one simply moves on to other things. Thanks, anyway. Earl Doherty”.

      February 2001
      Mary, I have a feeling that we could spend an unlimited amount of time talking around each other. I truly do not understand what you are getting at. At the very least, it’s murky. But that may be just my
      mindset. In the end, I don’t think it matters. We are approaching this subject from two different points of view, maybe even from two very different mindsets. It’s possible they are both potentially productive,
      in one way or another. I suggest that we both express ourselves as we see fit. I’m not going to pursue this discussion further, since I don’t think it will resolve itself. And it is simply too time-consuming.

      I, also, do not like to feel that I am talking past someone. Yes, we are each coming to this topic of the historicity of Jesus of Nazareth from two different perspectives – let us not then, unnecessarily, seek to
      devalue a perspective that we are not, ourselves, familiar with. For my part, while I applaud your work I do not think it goes far enough.”)

      Ireland, yes, I know, I do romanticise it all. Early conditioning and all of that. However, I do think that those who don’t have strong ties to their place of birth – perhaps because they are children of mixed marriages and emigration – do miss out on something of value. Of course, they have other more inclusive values – but specific values, values related to identity, to being, do, by their nature, require a stronger baseline. (my own daughter feels no connection to her part Irish ancestry – born in Kenya and lived most of her life in SA.)

  24. Pingback: Reflections on the Crucifixion « Churchmouse Campanologist

  25. Hi Maryhelena: I see you have posted a very long personal internet conversation (although maybe that is an oxymoron) between you and Doherty. I’m not sure why it is of interest here.

    You say I suggest millions of Christians “don’t hold the cross and supernatural beliefs as their own”, which misrepesents what I actually said. They don’t believe the fundamentalist view that no-one can be ‘saved’ if they don’t accept the necessity of the fundamentalist view of the nature of salvation, and the burning of anyone who does not believe this by the devil in eternal hellfire according to the commandment of God. I never said they didn’t have personal theistic or supernatural beliefs.

    Joe Hoffmann wrote: “There is no reason to villify God and religion, historically understood, for excesses that, as humanists, we slowly recognized as human excesses and finally learned to combat.” I agree with this completely and also see no reason to villify religious people’s personal unintrusive beliefs. There is far too much constructive and positive work to be done, together, as we share so many common values (social justice, secular society, only but two).

    It is interesting you accept the historicity of the destruction at Jerusalem. The argument and evidence for my analysis of early Judaism comes from writings of the time, but there is no evidence I am aware of for the scenario you suggested. In particular, mythicists generally end up with some view of Christianity originating as a Hellenistic cult, which makes the Jewish culture and Aramaisms in the earliest parts of the synoptic Gospels impossible to explain. I do not see how you can appreciate this if you will not read the most recent work by non-religious NT scholars.

    • Steph: “It is interesting you accept the historicity of the destruction at Jerusalem. The argument and evidence for my analysis of early Judaism comes from writings of the time, but there is no evidence I am aware of for the scenario you suggested.”

      I don’t have a clue what you are trying to say here. What on earth should be ‘interesting’ re my acceptance of ‘the historicity of the destruction of Jerusalem”. Would you care to enlighten me? What “scenario” are you talking about?

      “And now the Romans set fire to the extreme parts of the city, and burnt them down, and entirely demolished its walls. War 6.ch.9.

      AND thus was Jerusalem taken, in the second year of the reign of Vespasian, on the eighth day of the month Gorpeius [Elul]. It had been taken five times before, though this was the second time of its desolation; for Shishak, the king of Egypt, and after him Antiochus, and after him Pompey, and after them Sosius and Herod, took the city, but still preserved it; but before all these, the king of Babylon conquered it, and made it desolate, one thousand four hundred and sixty-eight years and six months after it was built. War. 6.ch.10.

      NOW as soon as the army had no more people to slay or to plunder, because there remained none to be the objects of their fury, (for they would not have spared any, had there remained any other work to be done,) Caesar gave orders that they should now demolish the entire city and temple, but should leave as many of the towers standing as were of the greatest eminency; that is, Phasaelus, and Hippicus, and Mariamne; and so much of the wall as enclosed the city on the west side. This wall was spared, in order to afford a camp for such as were to lie in garrison, as were the towers also spared, in order to demonstrate to posterity what kind of city it was, and how well fortified, which the Roman valor had subdued; but for all the rest of the wall, it was so thoroughly laid even with the ground by those that dug it up to the foundation, that there was left nothing to make those that came thither believe it had ever been inhabited. This was the end which Jerusalem came to by the madness of those that were for innovations; a city otherwise of great magnificence, and of mighty fame among all mankind”. War 7.ch.1.

      Now, if you happen to have some evidence that Josephus was telling tall tales – then bring it on. I’m more than open to such evidence…

      (the Doherty reference was simply to demonstrate that you cannot know anything about my thinking by assuming I follow Doherty’s ideas….that’s all….)

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