By Douglas Anele
Over two months ago when a colleague of mine, through a mobile phone text message, drew my attention to Femi Aribisala’s rejoinder to my two-part essay in Sunday Vanguard entitled “The Significance of Easter,” I wanted to reply the following week. But at the last minute I changed my mind because I am usually unenthusiastic to defend myself against criticism, especially from religionists who dogmatically believe that a single“holy”book contains all the important spiritual and moral truths in the world.
In any case, since Aribisala’s riposte, “Barrack Obama Does Not Exist,” contains existential fallacies which are the stock-in-trade of Christians that a 100-level undergraduate logic student can easily identify and debunk, and since Aribisala himself and like-minded Christian apologists might believe, falsely, that his rejoinder is a definitive refutation of my sceptical stance on the historicity of the biblical Jesus, it is necessary to point out gaping errors in Aribisala’s reasoning.
To begin with, Aribisala was so eager to parade his “burning bush experience” that he forgot the main thrust of my argument. I did not say that Jesus of Nazareth did not exist, simpliciter.
Instead, I argued that,giventhe irreconcilable contradictions in the Gospels’ narratives about a character named Jesus and the resounding silence about him by notable historians of the period, which strongly suggests that the biblical figure is probably a mythologised version of an obscure insignificant Jewish rabbi who preached unorthodox version of Judaism in the twilight years of the ancient Roman Empire,the foundation of Easter celebrationsis mythological as well.
I even stated in my article that “assuming that there was a religious teacher named Jesus…whose activities were mythologised to create the fictional character in the gospels and who, as some investigators have suggested, did not die on the cross… .” ThereforeI did not rule out the possibility that the Gospels’ accounts are fabricated narratives woven around an actual person. What my essay ruled out is complete veracity of what was written about a certain Jesus in the New Testament.
That said, Aribisala’s parody of Obama being a myth, and his tongue-in-cheek reference to the existence of his wife, are pointless and totally misplaced. Indeed, those areinappropriateexamples, because despite the shenanigans of Donald Trump and others who challenged the American citizenship of Obama, there are authentic verifiable documents that establish the particulars of his birth beyond reasonable doubt, and no one has ever claimed that he performed the kind of incredible superhuman feats credited to Jesus in The Holy Bible.
Moreover, there is no record of Obama resurrecting after death and ascending into heaven to sit at the right hand of a god. Mutatis mutandis, the same arguments apply to Karen, Aribisala’s wife, who I am certain exists because she was my teacher and I see her regularly at the Faculty of Arts building, University of Lagos. It is trivially correct, as Aribisala asserts, that there are conflicting reports about all historical figures.
But the issue is that, even in the case of founders of influential philosophical-spiritual and religious systems in antiquity, such as Socrates, Plato, Buddha, Confucius etc., authoritative historians of the period they lived documented some of their activities. Again, the actual writings of these personages, or verifiable accounts of their teachings and activities written by disciples, have come down to us.
Concerning Buddha, Zoroaster,Mohammed, and other paradigmatic figures around whom legendshave accreted over millennia, there are extant trustworthy records testifying to theiractual existence, and historians generally reacha consensusabout what is fact and what is fiction in available documents about them.But the case of Jesus is on another level altogether.
Even if we ignore contradictions in the Gospels’ account and the incontrovertible fact that the New Testament is definitely not a historical record since the extant copies were written in Greek not earlier than seventy years after the events they purportedly describe by believers who lived in foreign countries, it is very odd that historians of the period did not write about a so-called messiah who performed momentous miracles.
Meanwhile, there is strong agreement among scholars that a small passage in the massive, thirty-two volume historical work of the first-century Jewish priest and historian, Josephus, which mentioned the name ‘Jesus,’is a Christian fabrication.
Of course, Femi Aribisala is neither interested in the question of the veridicality of the Gospels’ narratives nor in the findings of eminent scholars that have painstakingly investigated the historicity of Jesus: like most Christian apologists he is much more preoccupied with maintaining a dogma at all cost.
Anyway, his conflation of objective reality with his own hallucinatory experiences and those of Saul is a typical instantiation of slipshod reasoning characteristic of religious apologists. Philosophers such as Gaunilo, David Hume, Immanuel Kant and Bertrand Russell have definitively demonstrated the error of extrapolating from subjective experiences to objective existence.
The key point here is that, no matter what Aribisala claims to have done with his “living Jesus”and irrespective of the number of “burning bush experiences” he had had in the past or will have in the future, all these are totally irrelevant to the question of establishing the objective reality of the contents of those encounters.
Aribisala’s illogical leap from phantasmagoria to actuality is symptomatic of a mind suffused with illusory consolations of religious dogma and unwilling to entertain the possibility that Christianity is fundamentally mythological.If a well-educated man like Femi Aribisala is unwilling to differentiate between mythology and reality just to defend a dogma, you can imagine the mindset of millions of illiterate and undereducated Nigerians.
Christian apologists would continue to defend acrobatically the mythologies in the New Testament precisely because without myths Christianity would lose its psychological appeal and eventually wither away, thereby jeopardising the easy privileges enjoyed by the clergy and the entire Christian establishment. That is why the demythologising programmeof Rudolf Bultmannwill never be widely accepted by theologians.
If indeed it is true, as Femi Aribisala claimed, that Jesus showed up to him “in person,” I can only remind him that, for most young children during Yuletide Father Christmas or Santa Claus shows up “in person.”Does it then follow that there is an actual Santa Claus?