'Did Jesus exist?' vs. 'Did God exist?'

In the beginning was the word, and the word was, like all words, a human invention, to label something that humans want to label. This gave shape to a concept that eventually led to an ontological fallacy (God-the-greatest-thing-I-can-imagine does indeed exist as a concept - that's the whole point - but that doesn't mean that God-the-greatest-thing-I-can-imagine also exists) ...

Whether a word represents 'the truth' is beside the point - labelling something tells us nothing about the thing itself (thank you, poststructuralism), but it may well tell us something about the labeller. In this case it tells us that the lebeller was concerned with conceptualising a higher force who might provide some explanations and relieve some of the responsibility of his/her existence.

In the not-beginning, i.e. since the conceptualisation of 'God', many other words have been spun, whose provenance is almost constantly the subject of furious debate in this forum and many others. I have vented my spleen about these debates before (see my final word here, sorry to all you promoters of non-self-promotion), but have only recently crystallised precisely what it is that bugs me about them in its simplest form:

Pondering questions such as 'did Jesus exist?' or 'how/why/when/where/by whom was the Bible written?' distract from a simple truth: God does not exist. Writings about 'him' are incidental to this fact, and discussions about religious sources are at best tangential to the more important questions, like 'God does not exist - why do people believe in him anyway?'

That is why I find that the 'historical approach' is of limited use when debating with theists; it is merely a curiosity that avoids the real issues. Of course it is interesting as an example of various aspects of religion, but the heated debating of 'facts' tends to miss even those points - such as the factors contributing to the development, codification and development of religious ideas and practices...
I'm not suggesting that there is anything 'wrong' with debating these matters, but the venom with which they are addressed never ceases to amaze me. An understanding of the Bible is in no way necessary for an atheist - indeed one might say more generally: religion is tangential to atheism, and affects it in no way whatsoever.

To return to 'the word' - surely questions such as 'what was it based on?' and 'who wrote it?' are insignificant compared to 'why does it exist at all?'

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Tags: Bible, Jesus, atheism, historical

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Comment by Glen Rosenberg on September 23, 2010 at 12:45pm
Sigmund I agree with your ideas. History is useful in debating a theist regarding religion's impact, not as useful in the question of existence of God. I agree with Diana and imagine that the nascent origins of religion tens of thousands of years ago involved males using their magic to gain power over the group and over women.
Comment by Diana Agorio on September 23, 2010 at 12:06pm
Your perspective is refreshing after all of the myopia involved in the typical 'did Jesus exist?' debates. I think the history of Christianity is important because it was and is a big part of Western culture; but, the venom involved in the Jesus question is really silly, particularly amongst atheists.

You identified a fascinating question: 'why does it exist at all?' Since we have commented back and forth before, you know that we share an interest in ancient religions. I see all religon, old and new, as business ventures with political ambitions. By following the money, you can identify changes in religious philosophies and practices. Changes in political and economic environments were and are the primary forces in the evolution of religious cults.

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