I’m continually amazed by the lengths people will go to in trying to create a rational structure for irrational beliefs. As an engineer, I’m embarrassed when I find other engineers doing it. I guess that I should remember that engineers are just people, too, but it’s tough sometimes.
The situation that brought this to mind involves an internet marketer and top notch Ad Words guru that I’ve followed for years. Recently he decided to start a blog on his opinions about religion and marketing, and invited any of his followers who were interested to join in the discussion.
Well, since I’m very interested in both business and spirituality, I looked his new blog over. To my great surprise, he turned out to be a Bible literalist, fundamentalist Christian. I also found that he was drawing on information from a variety of junk “science” sources to validate his belief in the Bible’s historical accuracy.
That’s very much what an engineer would do – can’t just say he believes it, he’s got to have some support to make it seem rational to his engineering mind. Of course, since there’s little or no real science or scholarship to support him, he’s got to be creative.
I was interested in this not only because I was a fellow engineer, but because I had just finished teaching a class on the first 400 years of Christianity, focusing specifically on the widely divergent theologies that various groups taught as well as the multiple forged documents written in the names of various apostles.
A selection of these forgeries ended up included in the New Testament. In fact, only 9 out of 27 NT books were actually written by the person whose name is on them – 7 letters of Paul (out of 13 attributed to him) and the books of Luke and Acts. But since we know Luke wasn’t an original follower of Jesus, and neither was Paul, we know that the NT books were not written by anyone who knew Jesus personally.
What is the basis for my claims about this? Over 300 years of careful scholarship by many, many qualified academic researchers, carefully archiving and cataloging all the known early writings related to Christianity. That includes all the writings of early Christian authorities, all the surviving writings of their opponents, and the writings of Greek and Jewish historians from the early period.
From that we have a consensus among the scholars as to the approximate times different documents were written, why they were written, and who did or did not write them. You can pretty much ask any academic in this field about these things and get the same answers. Unless, of course, the academic is from a fundamentalist school where the inerrant Bible is worshiped and scholarship is marginalized.
So how does this apply to my internet marketer and his blog? Well, I entered into the discussion on the comment stream, and pointed out some of the dating and authorship issues mentioned above. Mark’s gospel not written by Mark and not until about 70 CE, Matthew 10 years later, not written by Matthew, etc.
He replied to my comment by saying that the dates I had for the NT documents had been shown to be wrong, and they were actually written much earlier, and by the apostles whose names were on them. His authority for this statement? A book written by Anne Rice!
Yes, Anne Rice of the famous vampire books, the fundamentalist Catholic author of a fictionalized account of Jesus childhood. Somehow Anne Rice is smarter than 300 years of academic scholarship.
To me that’s a flagship example of the lengths people will go to rationalize their beliefs. I know if he picked his mentors and authorities for his business that way he wouldn’t be a guru, he’d be broke. Now I don’t want to pick on him, because it can happen to us, too. The challenge for all of us is to see ourselves clearly so that we don’t fall into this trap.
I call this the “Fox Mulder” syndrome. If you’re an X Files fan you remember the poster Mulder had in his office. “I Want To Believe!” We all do. That’s why regular reality checks are so important.