A Concise Summary of the Inconsistency in Atheistic Views about the Non-Existent Jesus

In doing a little research, I came across a long article on Answering Infidels which reviewed Richard Carrier's book, Sense and Goodness Without God. The article, Good ‘n’ Senseless Without God: A Critical Review of Richard Carrier’s Sense and Goodness Without God by David Wood, covers several pages and points out numerous flaws in Carrier's thinking.

One chapter of the article deals with Carrier's views on Jesus' resurrection. I will leave Woods' article to speak for itself because it makes its point very nicely.

In his debate with Mike Licona, Richard laid out his case against the resurrection (in more detail than we find in Sense and Goodness). His case may be summed up as follows. Jesus died on the cross. His disciples, longing to make sense of the tragedy, searched the scriptures and concluded that his death had meaning. Several of Jesus’ followers experienced grief hallucinations, in which they saw visions of the risen Christ, telling them that everything was okay. For some reason (Richard never explains why), these disciples concluded that Jesus had been resurrected without his earthly body (a radical concept for first century Jews). When Christianity began to spread, Saul of Tarsus, a devout Pharisee, attempted to destroy Christianity. Nevertheless, he also experienced a hallucination in which Jesus told him to convert to Christianity. Strangely, Paul also adopted the radical view that Jesus’ earthly body wasn’t resurrected. A few decades later, some Christians made up the empty tomb story to illustrate their belief that Jesus’ body was empty of his spirit, but they forgot to tell everyone that it was only a story. Later Christians took the invention seriously and concluded that there really was an empty tomb, and that Jesus’ body must have been involved in his resurrection (the normal Jewish view). Thus, the followers of Christ came full circle, believing first in the Jewish idea that the body that dies is the same body that rises, second in the unorthodox view of a completely different, spiritual resurrection body (Note: given the Jewish understanding, a “spiritual resurrection” was practically an oxymoron), and third in the Jewish idea that the body that dies is the same body that rises. That seems problematic, considering the overwhelming amount of evidence against such a position. (For more on this, see my review of the Carrier-Licona debate.) Nevertheless, Richard’s problem is far greater than mere evidence, which he is free to twist to his liking. The main problem with his view is that it is completely inconsistent with his belief that Jesus never existed.

Prior to his debate with Licona, Richard said, “Jesus might have existed . . . But until a better historicist theory is advanced, I have to conclude it is at least somewhat more probable that Jesus didn't exist than that he did.”[ix] Then, at the debate, Richard argued:

There are many theories contrary to what Mr. Licona has argued, but there isn’t time tonight to look at them all. I will instead present the one theory I think is most probably correct, which I only have time to summarize. Shortly after the death of Jesus, his disciples prayed, meditated, and searched the scriptures for some meaning to justify the tragedy and some way to preserve and promote the noble program of moral reform Jesus had died for. As a result, some had prophetic dreams or visions in which Jesus appeared to them, reassuring them, and telling them just what they wanted to hear.[x]

Since the debate, Richard has again argued that Jesus never existed.[xi] Thus, we have a problem. Richard believes that Jesus probably never existed. He also says that the theory he thinks is “most probably correct” is that Jesus’ disciples experienced visions of him after he died. Putting these views together, we arrive at Richard’s true position on the resurrection of Jesus. As incoherent as it may seem, he apparently believes something like the following:

Jesus never existed. Nevertheless, he had close companions who did exist. (If you’re wondering how a person who didn’t exist could have followers, you may be forgetting that nonexistent people can be very, very crafty.) These followers became extremely distraught when Jesus (who didn’t exist) was tortured and crucified by Roman soldiers (who did exist). Jesus (who didn’t exist) may or may not have been placed in a tomb (which may or may not have existed). In light of the death of their nonexistent leader, the minds of these followers were so overcome by emotion that they soon experienced grief hallucinations, in which they saw visions of the risen Jesus (whom no one had ever seen to begin with). Strangely, these disciples came to believe that Jesus was resurrected without his body (probably because nonexistent people don’t have bodies). This caused them to become bold evangelists of the risen Lord they had never seen. James (who did exist), the brother of Jesus, also experienced grief hallucinations when he heard that his brother (who didn’t exist) had been nailed to a cross (many of which did exist). James joined the other followers, and the group became so bold that it attracted the attention of a man named Saul (who did exist). While Saul wanted to destroy Christianity because it went against everything he believed in, he was overwhelmingly attracted to its humble message of social reform. Thus, in the midst of a murderous rampage against Christianity, Saul also hallucinated and experienced a vision of Jesus (who never existed). The Apostle Paul (who previously existed as Saul) later met with Jesus’ followers to make sure that his teachings were in line with those of Jesus. He was pleased to learn that his teachings indeed matched up with the words of the non-existent Jesus, and he continued to spread Christianity throughout the Roman world.

Yeah, that sums it up pretty nicely.


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