RESPONSE: ‘God Who Wasn’t There’ is must-see for different reasons
By Dimitri Plikas
Chameleon Staff Writer
I say it is a must-see for entirely different reasons.
Granted, it highlights a number of key objections to Christianity that I will address.
But it also needs to be said that for someone who has not thoroughly done his research, Flemming has created a film that more so serves to whet the appetite as a sensational, exaggerated, one-sided representation of several issues and objections to Christianity rather than an open and shut case.
If Flemming geared his film toward Christian and non-Christian alike, he should have included both sides.
Instead, “The God Who Wasn’t There” has the feeling of a relatively higher quality homemade movie rather than an airtight assault on Christianity.
According to Andrew, however, this documentary, if seen, would cause us to “have a national conversation about a topic which would change, and perhaps discredit, much of the mainstream religious debate.”
I disagree, so let’s dive in and see what this documentary says and does not say.
As a former “fundamentalist” Christian, Flemming certainly raises good objections. One of his biggest critiques is that we have gaps and oddities in our knowledge about early Christianity.
He alleges that we have a four decade gap between the crucifixion of Jesus and the writing of the first gospel.
For the sake of space, though, I hope to address the historical, textual case in the future.
Flemming—and Andrew in another previous article—go on to assert the idea that, in Andrew’s words, “What Paul knew about Christianity came from what appears to be a schizophrenic apparition on the road to Damascus.”
Unfortunately they end it at that.
They both fail to mention the fact that Paul met John, Peter (Cephas)—one of Jesus’s three closest disciples and also the first of the twelve disciples to acknowledge Jesus as the messiah (Matt. 16:16)—and James, the brother of Jesus, in Jerusalem (Gal. 1:18-19; 2).
Also, James, Peter, and John accepted Paul’s authority (Gal. 2:9). From a historical standpoint, it would make sense that Paul would have picked up some significant insight into the life and ministry of Jesus from his own disciples, family, and friends.
Next, let me expound on a curious theory on how Paul viewed Jesus. Some Jesus-as-myth theorists claim that he never even considered Jesus to be a historical figure, let alone a recent contemporary of his, because he did not write much about the life and ministry of Jesus.
Some say Paul thought Jesus to be a sort of cosmic savior figure from the distant past.
In many ways, the Jesus-as-myth theory is a ludicrous anachronism put to serious scholarship only in the last two hundred years or so.
It assumes that early Judeo-Christians cherished pagan myths to the point where this Jesus figure somehow sprouted out of yet another anachronistic belief that Jewish culture also cherished writing and distributing fictional stories.
Jewish culture was committed to keeping strict records and extensive textual accounts of its own history and genealogy.
When words were put to paper, it was not to mass market the newest Tom Clancy novel or to pen a new fantastical, heroic, Disney love story, let alone a story written to praise the paganism that the Hebrews outright rejected.
Rather, they used writing to record more earnest works. Even the very fact that writing materials and literary education were hard to come by reduces the chances of fringe theologies creeping into Judaism on such a great scale. The learned who penned their texts would recognize such foreign thoughts.
Additionally, the Jewish people were deeply monotheistic. How do we come to the belief that deeply monotheistic Jewish culture would have permitted polytheistic, pagan stories to seep into their theology to the point where an alleged mythical savior could eventually take root?
Legendary Jesus theorists seem to overlook a particular problem in their argument, namely that these Jews would not have abandoned their strictly monotheistic upbringing on a whim to commit blasphemy in their religion by following a lowly messiah who claimed to be God and who guaranteed persecution for doing so (Matt. 24:9) if this messiah was not who he claimed to be.
It must also be noted that the Jewish people were expecting a conqueror messiah, not a humble Jew who rode donkeys and let himself be crucified.
What Jew would betray his or her deeply-rooted religious beliefs and submit his or her life over to this messiah if he were not a historical figure whose claims about being divine were true?
There must have been something pretty spectacular about Jesus for his people to believe him.
On top of that, the Jesus movement spread so rapidly in the ancient world that it only goes to show how eagerly Jews and Gentiles adopted this new theology of Jesus as God.
Why would Jews raised to reject anything other than their traditional monotheistic beliefs so eagerly accept Jesus as their messiah if they had any suspicion that Jesus was a pagan-inspired myth?
It would be as if Americans nationwide and in droves willingly gave up their long-held beliefs in individuality, rights, and freedoms during the Cold War because one American man decided to spend a couple of years preaching about the truth and beauty of the Soviet way of life.
Via this analogy, I am neither saying that Jesus created something worse nor am I making any political statement whatsoever.
I am simply saying that it would have been absurd and on a certain level “blasphemous” to the American people for them to not only have given up their previous ideology of rights and freedoms willingly, but to also submit to the words of one man, let alone a man who supposedly never existed in the first place.
First-century Jews objected to the idea of men claiming divinity. They went so far as to purge their society of blasphemous symbols, including demanding to rid their currency of any human representation as it violated their second commandment.
How much more would they reject a man explicitly claiming to be God himself?
Now, in the case of the apostle Paul, why would he undergo such a radical change from initially persecuting Christians to becoming inarguably one of Christianity’s most influential believers?
Remember, he was a “Hebrew of Hebrews,” a Pharisee and not just a layman, which makes his conversion even more peculiar and counterintuitive to the Jesus-as-myth theory.
He went from overseeing Christians die to putting his comfortable life to death…for a mythical Jesus? I think not.
To pose the possibility, that if there were a God, I believe there would be stories, legends, and myths pointing in his direction.
If a yearning for a relationship with the divine was so deeply rooted in our hearts—and not because it was some naturalistic, physiological, neurological conundrum involved with the evolution of our species—I would think there would be expressions of this desire revealed in similar ways in all aspects of human cultures.
In many ways the legendary Jesus theorists are beating a dead horse. Their theory has largely been debunked by scholars.
I am defending the “traditional” side, namely that Jesus was a historical figure whose claims about himself were true. He was not another Mithras, Osiris, Dionysus, or Flying Spaghetti Monster.
So when Andrew claims that anybody “that admires the virtue of reason and rationality are forced into this conclusion” that the Gospels were conveniently spliced together as a hodge-podge potpourri of stories meant to justify an ancient culture’s beliefs about “a divine spaghetti monster in the sky foreshadowing the sending of his son,” I contend that reason and rationality should take him in the opposite direction.
I disagree with the claims by Dawkins, Harris, and the like that religion and rationality are diametrically opposed. It is a false dichotomy.
I am still not convinced of Andrew’s sufficient reasoning through the evidence.
To contact Dimitri Plikas, email him at email@example.com.