I don’t believe in the Christian God, the Jewish gods, or any of the manifold Pagan gods. I am an atheist. I was raised on religious dogma. I was forced to attend Sacred Hearts School for four long years. During my youth, as a reluctant Catholic, I was told what to believe. I was indoctrinated into a religion by the authoritative figures in my life, people I trusted: my parents, nuns, priests, relatives, and friends. When I finally left the Church, I felt a freedom that can hardly be explained.
I am not a theologian. I don’t have a degree in religion or religious studies. What I do have is a doctorate in organizational leadership and, more important, a quarter-century of contending with the reality of life as a police officer in New Hampshire. I have honed, both intentionally and unwittingly, a perverse sense of pessimism and skepticism.
The “truth” has always been more important to me than most anything else. Truth, Sophocles said, makes the best argument; so over the course of time, I tactfully questioned all alleged truths. I arm myself with as much knowledge as I can retain: I read voraciously; I attend lectures, seminars, and conventions, and I watch educational television. My interests include history, religion, and science. While I am surely far from being the smartest person around, I have groomed my evolutionary gift—my brain—to separate fact from fiction, despite what I have been told to believe.
I took umbrage with a recent article by Bill Cooke, titled “Why Secular Humanists Should Abandon the Myth Theory of Jesus” (FI December 2016/January 2017), simply because Cooke, for whom I have the deepest respect, has resorted to a tactic that I detest: He is telling me to believe that Jesus was an historical figure. Disregard all the nonsense he says—the fact that Jesus was born to a virgin, killed and reanimated his playmates, cured the blind with spittle, raised the dead; walked on water, converted water to wine, died for our sins, and was raised from the dead himself and then ascended into heaven—because there was a lesser-known human being by the name of Yeshua ben Yosef who was the model for the savior of the New Testament. Cooke himself admits “there are few reliable facts about his life,” yet he insists that this apocalyptic prestidigitator is the real Jesus. Yeshua, according to Cooke, antagonized the Romans and was therefore crucified, like so many thousands of others.
To dismiss mythicists—those who deny the existence of Jesus as a historical or religious figure—out of hand is a mistake. Galileo, as I recall, promoted an Earth that revolved around the sun, which was so unacceptable at that time that he was shown the tools of torture and forced to recant. Similarly, Alfred Wegener’s early twentieth-century notion of continental drift was widely ridiculed and outright rejected. Both were eventually proven to be correct. To imply that the supernatural and clearly nonexistent character known to us as Jesus, the son of God, was based on a real person named “Yeshua” reeks of desperation. Clearly, they are two separate and distinct persons. We can all agree on that, despite indisputable evidence that Yeshua may have existed; there were probably hundreds, if not thousands of street-corner prophets heralding Armageddon in those days, but why would we care? The contention of mythicists is that the biblical Jesus is unhistorical. Meanwhile, though Jesus’s identity may not be directly linked to any particular pagan god, he clearly shares a variety of attributes with a slew of imaginary beings whom humankind unquestionably manufactured. No one believes in the historicity of Romulus, Mithras, Dionysus, or Horus, so why make the exception for a demigod named Jesus?
I’m in a unique position to draw comparisons between a nonfictional figure in history and a protagonist in a fictional story. As a police officer, I apparently had made quite an impression on a teenager named John Pollono, who subsequently left New Hampshire to fulfill his dream of becoming a playwright. One of his first successful plays was Lost and Found, which concerned a family living in Boston. One of the roles in the play, I learned, was modeled after me. “Keith Cagnetta” was a police officer played by Darren Capozzi. The fictional Officer Cagnetta was described by Pollono as a young cop living in Medford, Massachusetts. One reviewer called him “goofy,” although Pollono’s preferred description was “not a deep thinker.”
The character Cagnetta was in a long-term relationship with a woman he did not fully appreciate. Before settling down, he was bent on fulfilling his hedonistic desires. On the police force, he was one of the guys, a sycophantic rookie constantly seeking the favor of veteran officers. Although I am fun-loving, that is where the comparisons between Keith Cagnetta and me end. Clearly, he was not an historical figure, despite the fact that I, a living, breathing human being, was the model for his character.
Jesus had no contemporaries. Conveniently, he couldn’t write. No DNA evidence will ever be found to verify his existence, because he was the spawn of the Holy Ghost. Also, opportunely, he left no trace of himself behind, because he rode a cloud back to his place of origin, heaven. The New Testament provides fictional accounts of Jesus that are peppered with interpolations, contradictions, errors, and forgeries. Although they contain some factual tidbits, they are, following suit with the Old Testament, mostly drivel. There is nothing historical at all.
At a recent debate between bestselling religion scholar Bart Ehrman and noted mythicist Robert M. Price, the former intimated that the historical Jesus was an apocalyptic prophet, sans the magical powers ascribed to him in the Gospels. He insisted the stories were quasi-factual as they were passed on orally for generations. The Gospels, according to Ehrman, are sufficient proof to qualify his contentions of Jesus’s historicity. Such evidence would never be entertained in a court of law, so why should we indulge theologians who find it compelling? Not only is hearsay irrelevant, we all know the consequences of the telephone game. Price astutely pointed out that the Jesus-Yeshua comparison could easily be dismissed by another, albeit more comical, comparison: Clark Kent and Superman. Without the Superman persona, Price posited, no one would have cared about Kent, an insignificant reporter for the Daily Planet. Yeshua, meet Mark and Clark!
Paul was the first to write about Jesus, and his Jesus was mythical. As the Gospels progress, Jesus morphs back and forth from a mere human to a demigod and, finally, to a pagan god-like being. It is undeniable that Paul was the founder of Christianity. No one will ever know what Paul’s intentions were, but, to me, a layperson, it is clear that from the beginning Paul knew there were fortunes to be made if his new religion succeeded. He fully expected his followers—his fellow Christians—to support his lifestyle. He wrote letters of instruction. He appointed bishops to handle the tithes. These were typically married men, because Paul felt they were more trustworthy, having families and roots in the community.
So, as Cooke states, the vast majority of theologians reject the Christ-Myth theory. These are men who rely on the historicity of Jesus to provide a living for themselves and their families. This simple fact alone provides ample reason to insinuate an historical Jesus, even if he is real only in the form of an obscure Jewish prophet who is buried deep in the rubble of biblical scholarship. Yeshua, however, is no more Jesus than I am Keith Cagnetta. The Jesus of the Bible, in a world explained by physics, chemistry, and biology, can only be described as a myth. No amount of coaxing to believe the alternative is necessary. No one can tell me differently.