Monday, December 13, 2010

The Christmas Myth and the rest

Andrew Sullivan adds to the controversy of the "You Know it Is a Myth?" billboard in the US. I think this entry is an excellent example of why Sullivan is so hard to read sometimes. He comes across as a lucid, thinking conservative (a rare and endangered species in the US) but then he says something that is so monumentally absurd and contradictory that I just don't know why I bother reading him. To wit:
The Christmas stories in the Bible - and they are multiple and contradictory - are obviously myths. They are obviously not to be taken literally.
So far so good. Then it goes off the rails:
They are meant as signs to the deeper, profounder truth that Christians hold to: that the force behind all that exists actually intervened in the consciousness of humankind in the form of a man so saturated in godliness that merely being near him healed people of the weight of the world's sins.
How to begin? First of all, there is no "force behind all that exists" in so far as a god or Deity is concerned. Certainly there is no evidence for one, so there is no reason to make the assumption that one exists. This "profound truth" is no truth at all, as there is no evidence to support it, which makes it Orwellian newspeak. It is only an assumption, one that is perpetuated in this 21st century by intellectual dishonesty.

It is a good thing that I am reading God is not Great at the moment, as this sort of thing is covered in chapter 10: The Tawdriness of the Miraculous and the Decline of Hell. One point in this chapter is to show how events that were considered miracles thousands of years ago are looked upon now as just cheap magic tricks that any stage conjurer could perform.
This is so enormous and radical an idea that it is not suprising that
early Christian writers told stories to bring it more firmly to life.
If the christ-the-miracle-worker and son-of-god (doncha know) incarnating on this Earth is such an enormous and radical idea, why would it need a fictional embellishment? To do so is to cheapen it and debase it. Or maybe as at that time and place "miracle workers" were to be found on every street corner and market place, to make this particular myth more outstanding it had to be given the whole special effects routine to make it stand out and give it mass-market appeal.

But they were stories, telling of a deeper more ineffable truth. If only contemporary Christians could let go of the literalism in pursuit of the far more extraordinary fact of the Incarnation.
How can a false story told as a true story tell a deeper truth?

The serious problem with this is the lack of intellectual consistency. If the Christmas story is "obviously" a myth, why does the rest of the stories about Jesus get a free pass? If part of the story is complete fabrication, the rest of the stories have to be suspect as well. At what point does the myth become fact, and how can we determine where that delineating point is? It would be more intellectually honest to acknowledge that it the more miraculous the tale, the more of a myth it becomes. This sentence "If only contemporary Christians could let go of the literalism in pursuit of the far more extraordinary fact of the Incarnation." should really read "If only contemporary Christians could let go of the literalism in pursuit of the far more extraordinary myth of the Incarnation." If that truth were told, however, the point of the whole exercise would be lost. Maybe 2000 years ago the admonisment to be nice and charitable and forgiving had to be clothed in the cheap trinkets of magic tricks and fabulous tales to get the illiterate and uneducated masses to follow it. But now we live in a more enlightened, advanced world that, I hope, has learned something new in all that time, and that we can get along and live meaningfull lives without the baggage of supersition and myth-dressed-as-fact weighing us down.

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