Chapter one of The Christ Conspiracy (review)
November 7, 2012 in Entertainment
Chapter one of The Christ Conspiracy [CC] is titled, reasonably, “Introduction”. In this chapter Murdock (known at the time as Acharya S) discusses history. Now my primary love as a student was history. I am still buying and reading books on history — ancient, medieval, modern, western, eastern, global, local. When I travel I often spend ages in a museum presenting the history of wherever I am. I have visited and lived among peoples of diverse races, languages and cultures. I also have a fascination for how the animal kingdom works. I love watching and learning about any number of other species. What I find so educational are the many similarities between us and other species. We are not alone when it comes to violence, savagery, love and sacrifice. Nor, I believe, can anyone isolate beliefs alone as a motivator of human behaviour. Beliefs, rather, may be used to rationalize or excuse behaviour, both good and bad.
Religious beliefs are, we have to face it, as much a “human universal” as are language, jokes, toilet training, tool-making and conflict itself.
So when anyone isolates and blames a single cultural factor, religion, for our crimes I just don’t buy it. Blaming religion alone, even primarily, as a cause of violence, is demonstrating a very shallow, one-dimensional view of human nature.
Sure there are times when religious belief is pernicious and destructive. I like to think we would all be better off without religion. But as Tamas Pataki reminded us, can we be sure that by killing off all the pests in our gardens won’t upset the entire ecosystem?
So when in chapter one of CC Acharya blames religion for the world’s violence and cruelty I cringe a little. Chapter one is nothing but a diatribe against the evils of religion and an identification of religion with evil. Religion is responsible for the inhumanity, the violence, the tortures, the deceptions of this world.
So in this chapter Murdock writes:
no ideology is more divisive than religion, which rends humanity in a number of ways through extreme racism, sexism and even speciesism.
In history classes as early as high school I learned the difference between “religion” and “ideology”, so this sentence confuses me. But she will go further and target Christianity in particular:
Few religions of any antiquity have escaped unscathed by innumerable bloodbaths, and, while Islam is currently the source of much fear in the world today, Christianity is far and away the bloodiest in history.
Murdock wont even let the Communists and Nazis escape the bile of religion. Lenin and Marx were “(religious) Jews”. Hitler was a Roman Catholic. Stalin an Eastern Orthodox. (She doesn’t tell us what Mao or Pol Pot were.)
The events of WWII, in fact, were the grisly culmination of a centuries-old policy, started by the Church and continued by Martin Luther, as was well known by Hitler.
As I read this sort of thing I am rapidly losing confidence in the ability of this author to make any balanced assessment of historical evidence in the coming chapters. I am being conditioned to expect that any datum that can be found to fit into a thesis will be made to do so, and no time or trouble will be wasted trying to understand its nature and function in its own right.
But Hitler and the Church’s behavior was not an aberration in the history of Christianity, as from its inception, the religion was intolerant, zealous and violent, with its adherents engaging in terrorism.
From its inception?
While blessing peacemakers and exhorting love and forgiveness of enemies and trespassers, the “gentle Jesus” also paradoxically declares:
Do not think that I have come to bring peace on earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s foes will be those of his own household. (Mt. 10:34)
Jesus further states that “nation will rise up against nation, and kingdom against kingdom”; thus, with a few sentences, Jesus has seeded extreme division, sedition and enmity wherever Christianity is promulgated. In thus exhorting his followers to violence, however, Jesus himself was building on centuries-old Jewish thought that called for the “extermination” of non-Jews, i.e., “unbelievers,” in Christian parlance.
So we know what to expect when she reaches Paul:
The apostle Paul was a violent zealot who as a Jew first persecuted the Christians and as a Christian subsequently terrorized the Pagans.
Now I am recollecting why I was never able to read more than a few part pages here and there when this book first arrived. How can anyone have any confidence in an author who writes that the apostle Paul terrorized pagans?
Martyrdoms of Christians in the early years are rightly said to have been not so widespread as often claimed, but “Christians” are all lumped as a single unit when it comes to evil:
The author of Fourth Maccabees goes on to describe the most foul torture imaginable, including the infamous “racks” being used to tear limbs from the body, as well as the flesh being stripped off and tongues and entrails ripped out, along with the obligatory death by burning. These techniques were later adopted with tremendous enthusiasm by the Christians themselves, who then became the persecutors.
There is only one side to history:
These “conversion” methods by Catholics against men, women and children, Christians and Pagans alike, included burning, hanging and torture of all manner, using the tools described in Fourth Maccabees. Women and girls had hot pokers and sharp objects slammed up their vaginas, often after priests had raped them. Men and boys had their penises and testicles crushed or ripped or cut off. Both genders and all ages had their skin pulled off with hot pincers and their tongues ripped out, and were subjected to diabolical machinery designed for the weakest parts of the body, such as the knees, ankles, elbows and fingertips, all of which were crushed. Their legs and arms were broken with sledgehammers, and, if there was anything left of them, they were hanged or burned alive. Nothing more evil could possibly be imagined, and from this absolute evil came the “rapid” spread of Christianity.
So far this despicable legacy and crime against humanity remains unavenged and its main culprit unpunished, not only standing intact but inexplicably receiving the undying and unthinking support of hundreds of millions, including the educated, such as doctors, lawyers, scientists, etc.
Visiting the torture museum and crossing Charles Bridge with its statues of proud clergy standing atop tormented prisoners behind bars beneath is sobering and sickening enough. But one does not have to dig deep to soon learn that “religiosity” played second fiddle to political power interests. Gold, God and Glory — without lust for gold and power I don’t think God would have been much of a solo act.
The fact is that too much trauma and bloodshed have been caused throughout the millennia strictly on the basis of unfounded faith and excessive illogic . . .
“Strictly on the basis of [religion]“? Certainly “faith” and poor reasoning have a lot to answer for. But it would be difficult, I believe, to say that the world’s horrors have been caused “strictly” by these. I am getting the impression that our author is enthusiastic enough to overstate her case and blindly, with little thought or understanding, marshal anything she thinks she can fit into her case.
So this is why Murdock is writing this book:
It is for these reasons, among others, including the restoration of humanity, that we hope the oppressive and exploitative conspiracy behind religion in general and Christianity in particular will be exposed. . . . It is thus imperative that these all-important matters of religious ideology and doctrine be thoroughly explored and not left up to blind faith.
The point is clear. This book is written as an attempt to expose the evils of Christianity, and to expose the evil core of Christianity itself, and no argument will be spared — nor thought through too deeply — in making that effort. We are about to read a polemic.
I decided to review this book after encountering commenters on this blog strongly asserting that Christian origins must be found in “astrotheology”. I had to confess I had never read Acharya S’s or D. M. Murdock’s book arguing for this position, The Christ Conspiracy, completely from cover to cover. I did, however, attempt to point out where the comments presenting this case here were logically fallacious. Each time, however, or at least very often, I was assured that there was “much more” to the argument. So I thought it might be a good idea — at least for the benefit of curious bystanders — to have a closer look at the book that I understand propelled a renewed interest in the apparent astrotheological roots of Christianity.
Unfortunately, the responses of both those earlier commenters, Murdock herself and other of her supporters, have been uniformly maliciously hostile towards me personally. I was regularly chastised for even deciding to review this book at all since it was an “old” book and Murdock has written other things since 1999, in particular Christ in Egypt. But as far as I can see Christ in Egypt does not address, at least not directly, the arguments for astrotheology as the basis of Christian origins. Moreover, that recent book refers its readers more than once (pp, vi, 575, and it is referenced in the index 20 times) to The Christ Conspiracy without any sense of embarrassment. So I think it is fair to say CC still has relevance.
As for the accusations that my reviews are riddled with personal insult and abuse towards D. M. Murdock, I leave it up to disinterested readers to decide their validity. What comes across to me is that Murdock’s supporters and Murdock herself interpret any criticism of their arguments, or any point at all that they deem not to be wholeheartedly supportive, even lighthearted irony and humour, as psychologically deranged personal attacks. Their leader has apparently even called upon them to find all the dirt they can about me — beginning with my past association with the Boy Cubs, or was that my childhood fantasies about Santa Claus? — no, no, I remember now, it was my time spent in the Anglican and Uniting churches after I left a cult, or was it the time I spent in the cult itself, or was it that cult-exit support group I started up for a while afterwards? Anyway, they apparently have my tortured past and my supposedly twisted psychological makeup all sorted out among themselves as a result of these reviews. (I now routinely divert their comments to my spam bin.)
Chapter 2. The Quest for Jesus Christ
D. M. Murdock (she used the name Acharya S on the book) points out the way Jesus Christ has been interpreted and reinterpreted in different ways to meet changing cultural needs. She writes: “Burton Mack says in The Lost Gospel of Q” — the actual title is The Lost Gospel: The Book of Q and Christian Origins — that before Constantine Jesus was mainly seen as a good shepherd yet after Constantine as a great victor. Murdock updates this with a wide range of popular images of Jesus today. I have posted on Dieter Georgi’s in-depth study of these changing images of Christ: see How Jesus has been re-imaged through the ages to fit different historical needs.
But none of this supports the case that Jesus himself was a mythical figure. The argument is a non sequitur. There are several different versions of Australian history and the ideologies or myths about our past I was taught in school have been replaced by quite different ones today. That does not mean that Europeans never encountered indigenous peoples in Australia, but that changing political and social trends mean we come to interpret our past differently. How our famous/infamous bushranger Ned Kelly is imagined depends very much upon whether one has a stake in the tourist industry of Ballarat, is a descendant of one of his victims, or is a member of his surviving extended family. How a person is portrayed by others, especially in later times, in itself has no bearing on the question of the historical existence of the person.
Murdock then segues into the wide spectrum of views among scholars about what the historical Jesus was really like. This has more relevance to the questions of methodology of historical Jesus scholars and the elusive nature of their various views of what constitutes the “evidence” for the historical Jesus. Murdock does not discuss this aspect, however, and lumps the widely divergent views of Jesus — both pop cultural and scholarly — into the one basket and concludes:
Despite all of this literature continuously being cranked out, it is obvious [sic] that we are dealing not with biography but with speculation . . .
The rhetoric the author uses reminds me so vividly of the rhetoric used by some past cult leaders I have known in their efforts to grab attention and stun audiences into listening to their words as authoritative. How like the old Armstrong-style is this:
Whereas this [the debate over Jesus' divinity] is the raging debate most evident today, it is not the most important. Shocking as it may seem to the general populace, the most enduring and profound controversy in this subject is whether or not a person named Jesus Christ ever really existed.
It was turns of phrases like this — “Shocking as it may seem . . .” — that made it difficult to continue reading the book some years ago. The author is evidently not laying out a case beside alternative views, but is about to dogmatically push one view alone as the only sane one. And that impression is confirmed with what immediately follows. Murdock then proceeds to present the debate over Jesus’ existence as falling into three rival views: two of these she will portray as ridiculous and the third she will describe as the only intelligent one. (I would never think to enter a discussion on the historicity of Jesus by painting my opponents as stupid and my view as the only one with any smarts, but Murdock is not fazed by such an approach.)
The “truth”, Murdock says, has been sought out by “many seekers of truth over the centuries to research thoroughly this important subject from an independent perspective”. These “seekers of truth” have produced “an impressive body of literature” that has been
hidden, suppressed or ignored . . .
(I can’t help but remark that Murdock recently said I myself had over the years “suppressed or ignored” her work as if I was part of some wider effort to hide her work from view.) Their works certainly have been for most part ignored among scholars of the New Testament. But to suggest it has been “hidden” or “suppressed” is taking it too far. Much of it is still readily available to the public despite its relatively small reading market.
The three groups active in the debate are “the believers”, the “evemerists” and the “mythicists”.
These are those who believe the Bible. These are those who believe
that a male God came down from the heavens as his own son through the womb of a Jewish virgin. . . . in a remote area of the ancient world and spoke the increasingly obscure language of Aramaic as opposed to the more universally spoken Greek and Latin . . . . that there is now an invisible man of a particular ethnicity omnipresently floating about in the sky. . . .
This dogmatic stance in effect represents cultural bigotry and prejudice. All in all, in blindly believing we are faced with what can only appear to be an abhorrent and ludicrous plan on the part of “God.”
These include many others — general public and scholars (Murdock places the word scholars in quotation marks) — who reject the “irrational beliefs and prejudicial demands” of the believers and
maintain that behind the fabulous fairytales found in the gospels there was a historical Jesus Christ somewhere . . . .
Why do they believe this? Murdock makes it clear that it is not because they have studied the question or seen clear evidence, but because it is a “commonly held” opinion.
This “meme” or mental programming of a historical Jesus has been pounded into the heads of billions of people for nearly 2,000 years, such that it is assumed a priori by many, including “scholars” who have put forth an array of clearly speculative hypotheses hung on highly tenuous threads . . . .
Murdock cites three arguments of mythicist G. A. Wells to knock their views out of the arena. (The arguments of the historicists themselves are not laid out and addressed.)
- Pre-gospel Christian documents do not portray Jesus as a political agitator
- If Jesus had been a political rebel, and the evangelists had no interest in explaining his political views, then what was the motive his followers believing in him?
- If the cleansing of the Temple had been a political act, why is it not mentioned by Josephus and why does Tacitus say there were no disturbances at that time?
She quite rightly recognizes that the primary weakness of the historicists’ arguments is that once the mythical trappings in the story of Jesus are eliminated the very ordinary human that is left is hardly one to have inspired a new religious movement.
This group has consisted of a number of erudite and daring individuals who have overcome the conditioning of their culture to peer closely and with clear eyes into the murky origins of the Christian faith. . . .
its brilliant work and insight have been ignored by mainstream “experts” in both the believing and evemerist camps.
I might agree with some of this to a point, but to belittle mainstream scholars by referring to them as “experts” in quotation marks, and to write as if there have been no bad mythicist literature at all, does not help an objective reader to take Murdock’s words as anything other than a polemic.
Murdock then argues that the early Christian debates over the nature of Christ — was he a spirit in the form of flesh only? — are an early version of the mythicist debate. She quotes Robert Taylor’s Diegesis asserting that the first Christians were docetists or those who believed Jesus did not have a literal human body — those who “denied Christ came in the flesh”. Thus Murdock is able to claim:
[T]he mythicist argument has existed from the beginning of the Christian era.
I doubt that there are many mythicist arguments today or in recent years that have argued the Docetic view — that Jesus appeared on earth as a spirit and only apparently in real flesh and blood.
Murdock has missed a good opportunity to ask how such a view of Jesus could have emerged so early if Jesus had indeed been an historical person. That would have been a more convincing argument.
[T]he mythicists’ arguments have been too intelligent and knifelike to do away with. Of course, the works of the mythicists have not been made readily available to the public, no doubt fearfully suppressed because they are somewhat irrefutable, so we cannot completely fault the “experts” for having never read them.
This is conspiracy-theory nonsense, of course. Murdock fails to provide any evidence that the mythicist literature has been “suppressed”. I suggest normal market forces are at work regarding the publication and availability of their works. Scholars are certainly not interested in the mythicist viewpoint and have undoubtedly ignored it, but that’s not the same thing as “suppressing” it.
Murdock objects to scholarly claims that mythicists apparently overlook the Jewish aspects of the Gospel (inferring that Jewish details must be historical) by saying that “anyone can interpolate quasi-historical data into a fictional story”. These scholars, says Murdock, should themselves pay more attention to these Jewish aspects of the Gospel narrative since they are frequently “erroneous, anachronistic and indicative of a lack of knowledge about geography and other details”.
Murdock concludes with another quotation by Gerald Massey to say that Christianity existed before “the Personal Christ”, and that the New Testament could be called “Gospel Fictions” and “the Christian religion could be termed the “Christ Conspiracy.”
So we are seeing an extension of the polemical style that, in my view, would be of little interest to those seeking to engage with the arguments as clearly understood from all sides. One hopes by the time we reach the arguments for astrotheology the tone of the book will mellow and we will indeed see sound and valid arguments.