Remsberg: Is He Credible?
Chris Chatfield

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From: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To: "Chris Chatfield"
Subject: Re: Remsberg
Date: February 09, 2002 1:58 AM

Tektonics is just one person, James Patrick Holding, a librarian who appears to be obsessed with eventually making a living by countering the work of the modern Skeptics and by piling similar stigma upon Mormons, the good-natured and wholesome-living members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. My favorite J. P. Holding quotation happens to be an assessment of his fantasy of what he thinks I think of his motives:

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Mr. Walker, who knows me and my motives intimately, is quite right. I am in this for the money; that is why I have set the goal of replacing my salary as a librarian (it's $28,000) in order to enter into fulltime ministry. That is why I spend almost all of my spare time off from work at a computer terminal; why I spend half to three-quarters of my lunch hour on a terminal in the public library where I work ...

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It takes next to zero in the way of intimacy or even smarts to accurately surmise why anybody would degrade their web site with a rather large amount of money groveling and other "opportunities" involving the transfer of funds in the webmaster's direction. What's most humorous about this (what gives us the clearest clue of all regarding what role personal slander plays in Holding's game plan) is that I never once offered an opinion as to why Holding seems to be playing the begmeister. Not once!

So James Patrick Holding did a rant about me! Can you dig that? (And it starts out with -- you guessed it! -- an involved and somewhat lengthy money hustle!) How come I have such a tough time imagining anybody going to Holding to find out what Cliff Walker thinks? It's enough of a head-scratcher thinking that people would try to figure me out by pouring over the work posted on PAM! -- well, except my little sister, perhaps. You see, she loves me, and doesn't see me very often, and so whe'd have a valid reason for checking out what her big brother's been up to lately. Hi, Cher! Hi, Mom!

This, I think, shows Holding's sheer desperation: most Christian apologists wouldn't bother even drawing attention to what I have to say. If they've read very much of my work at all, then they know that I'm much more interested in developing cordial, productive relationships with Christians and other theists than I am in seeing even one of them deconvert to atheism. James Patrick, however, appears to be so tightly wrapped up in himself that he felt compelled to launch a tirade against me. It's not as if one of his readers asked about me, or even mentioned me. No. James Patrick Holding was sitting around one night entering his own name into the search engine! This is how he discovered that his attempts to misrepresent the Jesus Myth movement had been good for a couple of laffs in one of my less-interesting comedy sketches, something I did while I'd been waiting for the snoring down the hall to die down so I could go in and do something productive with one-third of my life.

I checked out his tirade for two, maybe three minutes. I could easily see, before I even got to it, that it would not be worth reading all the way though: the sheer prevalence ofmoneygrubbing and the grandiosity of it all made it clear that I would not be able to relate to this person at all. At all. I can find much more accurate and infinitely more interesting assessments of Cliff Walker's opinions here on PAM if that's what I wish to spend my time reading! I mean, even some the hostile readers who write in and try to take me apart at least have some of my personality quirks pegged! If Holding thinks an organ that has direct links with the work of Gandhiji is rightly described as "a peanut-level venture," then it is not my burden to straighten him out on what I think. This led to the funniest showcase of one of the most pathetic attempts to pull on over on me that I've ever done on the Forum (in my opinion), "What Was Not Being Said."

When his readers get curious about the real me (and Holding will have played right into my hand with that one, because he at least gives lip-service, in a couple of places, to checking things out for yourself), they'll come over here and see the difference between what he says about what I say and what I actually say. If anybody decides they've had enough with the "jot and tittle" style of Christian theology that attracts the likes of Holding, perhaps they'll be able to make the transition to one of the more sophisticated expressions of that religion. But if hey "give up before the miracle," as the Twelve Steppers say, and think they need help "coming down" from that wild ride altogether, perhaps they'll come here and see that their best bet is to do this whole thing on their own, without my help, without Holding's help, without anybody's help, for that matter!
 

I'm clueless as to Acharya, having never encountered any of that person's work.

Remsberg was among a somewhat tight-knit group of women and men during the tail end of Freethought's heyday in America. He and several others (but he in particular, and in this book) took the complex and somewhat inaccessible work of Strauss and Renan and placed that information into a format that "us regular folks" had an easier time grasping (at least that's my assessment of one of the many roles he played). He's no Lecky or Lea, to be sure, but then, most of his work in The Christ is straightforward. Neither is he Strauss or Renan; however, I dare even the typical college graduate to have an easy time with any of them. With Remsberg's The Christ, we're not dealing with the controversies into which historians got themselves embroiled, but rather a fun, interesting, accessible, very readable work.

Some of what he said in his Six Historic Americans has been challenged by certain Evangelical Christians, but when I compare what Remsberg says about what I do know and can test with what these others say about what I know and can test, I can only wish that the Evangelicals would clean up their own acts so that we all would have an easier time figuring out what the truth really is. I can only wish that we had what it would take to verify or refute Remsberg's more controversial original claims.

In short: the poor scholarship of his critics does not automatically make his controversial material more trustworthy.

Much of the material in The Christ is stuff you can check yourself, such as Bible contradictions and absurdities, simple science, and straightforward, noncontroversial history -- and this one has some original humor in documenting one of the numerous Christian absurdities:

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255

    While Jesus was at Jerusalem there came a voice from heaven. For what purpose was the voice sent?

    John: For the sake of those who stood by. "Jesus answered and said, This voice came not because of me, but for your sakes" (xii, 30).

    Of what benefit was the voice when those who heard it were unable to distinguish it from thunder? "The people therefore, that stood by and heard it, said that it thundered" (29).

    The Evangelists relate several instances of celestial voices being heard. As there is, in nearly every instance, a disagreement in regard to the message conveyed, it is probable that an electrical disturbance inspired the voice, while a vivid imagination interpreted its meaning. Regarding these voices, the Duke of Somerset says: "A belief in these heavenly voices was a common superstition among the Jews."

(page 132 of the Prometheus edition)

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Since a lot of it is along these lines, it's pretty hard to go wrong with The Christ. But what the Hell? It's just a book! Read it and take what you read with salt, just as you would with any book. Absorb what you think you can trust (or at least hold on to it for comparison and further investigation) and purge the rest from your spiel (or whatever it is you call what you do with what you have learned). It's not like anybody has a 100 percent accuracy rate, so all you can really do is decide whether reading itself is worth your time and money.

The main thing to remember about Remsberg is that he wrote this thing almost 100 years ago. Naturally, a few of the things that he thought were true have been discovered to be false. Material that has been written more recently, however, has the advantage of (perhaps) having had at least the more glaring mistakes that scholarship has made filtered out. If your goal is to follow truth wherever she may lead, then you want to check anything you read in an older book against what people are saying about it today: check the arguments for retaining it against those for putting it to bed.

Back to my point, which is that many things that once were the leading edge of scholarship have been rendered passé, and other things that were the foundations of a broad base of sciences have been shown to be inaccurate or even false. The best science is subject to revision, and that's what makes it the best science. And history, done properly, resembles science in its approach to tossing aside any claim to knowledge that does not withstand the toughest scrutiny.

This is the way with science and with history: every claim to truth, every so-called fact, is always up for grabs. No claim to knowledge is infallible. Any time I think I've come up with something, the first thing I'll do is either post it on this Forum or send it out on the e-list and submit it to the scrutiny of the others. Those who respect and honor this principle tend to win my trust in the long run, and those who don't tend never to gain my trust in the first place! Every so often someone who goes against this principle will happen to prevail, but this doesn't mean I should trust their methods. And those who go along with this principle already take it for granted that their best knowledge will be replaced as newer and better evidence comes along.

Cliff Walker
Positive Atheism Magazine
Six years of service to
    people with no reason to believe

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