New York Times touts tired old Christian theology

Well, this Sunday is Easter, and so it’s time to hear about how and why Jesus died for our sins, and why. Here we have an answer in The New York Times, penned Peter Wehner, a man identified this way:

Peter Wehner (@Peter Wehner) a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, served in the previous three Republican administrations and is a contributing opinion writer, as well as the author of the forthcoming book, “The Death of Politics: How to Heal Our Frayed Republic After Trump.”


The crucifixion and Resurrection, as the central myth of Christianity, have always been a mystery to me, for it seems bizarre that God would have used such a tortuous scenario to convince us of his presence and his love. And I am not all that convinced that there was even a real person on whom the Jesus myth was modeled. But I am as certain as can be that any such person was not divine, was not the son of God/incarnation of God, and was not resurrected.

Yes, the crucifixion and resurrection could be a metaphor for eternal life: something that reassures Christians that this brief span on Earth is not all we have, for Jesus himself, who was part human, did come back to life. But Wehner says that it’s more than this.  It actually happened, and the fact that it happened brings Wehner enduring peace as an “interpretive prism.”

But there’s the rub, for if it’s more than a symbol, and actually happened, then for Wehner there must be evidence for it. He considers himself a skeptical person riddled with doubts, and yet he accepts the whole megillah without doubt.

Yet even if it happened, there are still questions.  Why, if God wanted us to believe and be saved, hasn’t he sent Jesus back to us? After all, he said (in Matthew 16:28): Verily I say unto you, There be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom.  Did the Son of man come into his kingdom when we weren’t looking?

I won’t belabor this article, which is nothing more than one fervent Christian saying how inspired and moved he is by the death and resurrection of Jesus, but also recounting the same old reasons why it happened. So Wehner trots out the same old explanations. These quotes come directly from his article:

  • “Perhaps the aspect of the crucifixion that is easiest to understand is that according to Christian theology, atonement is the means through which human beings — broken, fallen, sinful — are reconciled to God. The ideal needed to be sacrificed for the non-ideal, the worthy for the unworthy.”
  • “’I could never myself believe in God, if it were not for the cross,’ John Stott, one of the most important Christian evangelists of the last century, wrote in The Cross of Christ. ‘The only God I believe in is the One Nietzsche ridiculed as ‘God on the cross.’ In the real world of pain, how could one worship a God who was immune to it?’ From the perspective of Christianity, one can question why God allows suffering, but one cannot say God doesn’t understand it. He is not remote, indifferent, untouched or unscarred.”
  • “Scott Dudley, the senior pastor at Bellevue Presbyterian Church in Bellevue, Wash., and a lifelong friend, pointed out to me that on the cross God was reconciling the world to himself — but God was also, perhaps, reconciling himself to the world. The cross is not only God’s way of saying we are not alone in our suffering, but also that God has entered into our suffering through his own suffering. . .What God offers instead is the promise that he is with us in our suffering; that he can bring good out of it (life out of death, forgiveness out of sin); and that one day he will put a stop to it and redeem it. God, Revelation tells us, will make ‘all things new.’ For now, though, we are part of a drama unfolding in a broken world, one in which God chose to become a protagonist.”

But all this blurs the distinction between the cross as a symbol of God as a savior and the cross as something on which a divine Jesus person (aka God) was really crucified. Is it really important that the story actually happened, or is its use as a symbol sufficient? The purpose of Wehner’s article—which, I admit, isn’t really clear to me except as a way to tout his beliefs all over the editorial pages—appears to be that it really happened, and that despite his admitted doubts, he has a “settled belief” that the crucifixion and resurrection were real.

But perhaps I don’t get it, as I’m not a Christian. I can’t get past the question, “If God is loving and powerful, why didn’t he just cut out the middleman and dispense with Jesus, saving people directly? Why go to all the trouble of making himself human and getting himself nailed to a cross?”

Please read the following and tell me what the sweating writer is trying to say. Emphasis below is mine:


Worshiping a God of wounds is a little strange, as my friend said. For some, it is grotesque and contemptible, a bizarre myth, an offense. But for others of us, what happened to Jesus on the cross is profoundly moving and life-altering — not just a historical inflection point, but something that won and keeps winning our hearts. As individuals with wounds, flawed and fallen, we cannot help but return to the foot of the cross.

The most important moment in my faith pilgrimage was when the cross became my interpretive prism. What I mean by this is that I was and remain a person with a skeptical mind and countless questions. There are parts of the Bible I still find puzzling, difficult and troubling. (That is true of many more Christians than you might imagine, and of many more Christians than are willing to admit.)

But I did arrive at a settled belief that whatever the answer to those questions were — answers I’m unlikely to ever discover — I would understand them in the context of the cross, where God showed his enduring love for people in every circumstance and in every season of life. I came to treasure a line from an 18th-century hymn by Isaac Watts that I have replayed in my mind more often than I can count: “Did e’re such love and sorrow meet, Or thorns compose so rich a crown?”

In response to his fictional P.R. person’s claim that using the cross as a symbol for faith would be mad, Malcolm Muggeridge replied: “But it wasn’t mad. It worked for centuries and centuries, bringing out all the creativity in people, all the love and disinterestedness in people, this symbol of suffering. And I think that’s the heart of the thing.”

It is the heart of the thing. Where some see the cross as superstitious foolery or a stumbling block, others see grace and sublime love. For us, the glory and joy of Easter Sunday is only made possible by the anguish of Good Friday.

But it’s still a symbol!

This to me seems close to the populist but naive theology of C. S. Lewis. I always scratch my head when I read this famous passage from C. S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity, perhaps the most popular work of Christian theology ever:

I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to. … Now it seems to me obvious that He was neither a lunatic nor a fiend: and consequently, however strange or terrifying or unlikely it may seem, I have to accept the view that He was and is God.

I’m going for one of the non-divine explanations: that Jesus, if he did exist (and I’m not at all convinced of that) was an apocalyptic, itinerant, and deluded preacher, i.e., a poached egg. It’s not at all obvious that Jesus wasn’t a lunatic.

In his book Lewis demonstrated, as does Wehner, that it’s only religion that can turn a thoughtful and intellectual person into a babbling, superstition-soaked idiot. And why the New York Times would publish a guy doing garden-variety witnessing for Jesus? What’s new here?



  1. rickflick
    Posted April 19, 2019 at 10:26 am | Permalink

    Lewis, after narrowing our choices to two or three unpleasant extremes, then says, “…or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God.”
    This is a rhetorical trick. He offers a head scratching puzzle, or, he suggests we take the easy way out and stop thinking about it. Just go with the masochism of accepting helplessness at the feet of a totalitarian father figure. It sure removes the unpleasantness of holding complex and contradictory ideas in mind. I think this is what Christopher Hitchens found most troubling about the religious impulse. Better to keep your skeptical thought processes running.

    • Posted April 19, 2019 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

      It doesn’t make me scratch my head. Whenever a Christian puts the Lewis trilemma to me, I say “liar” with a dash of “lunatic”.

      Although, I actually think he was more lied about than liar.

      • Doug
        Posted April 19, 2019 at 10:19 pm | Permalink

        He was either a Liar, a Lunatic, or the Lord.

        Actually, those three choices don’t exhaust the possibilities. Keeping with the alliteration, he could be a Legend [he existed, but didn’t say everything he was quoted as saying] or Literary figure [pure fiction].

        • rickflick
          Posted April 19, 2019 at 10:35 pm | Permalink

          Yes indeed. All part of the rhetorical fraud.

      • rickflick
        Posted April 19, 2019 at 10:35 pm | Permalink

        But you were already a philosophical skeptic. What about the humble people of the earth? 😎

  2. Jon Gallant
    Posted April 19, 2019 at 10:29 am | Permalink

    Those of us who worship the Flying Spaghetti Monster remain skeptical about some forms of pasta. But, fortunately, we are able to understand reality through the prism of a deity who took on Himself the need for shredded parmesan cheese.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted April 19, 2019 at 10:37 am | Permalink

      I have been thinking about the symbology of firefighters, guided enfolded and protected by the Noodly Appendages. There’s a metaphor in there, struggling to get out.

    • EdwardM
      Posted April 19, 2019 at 10:46 am | Permalink

      Blasphemer! The cheese was finely grated.

    • Nicolaas Stempels
      Posted April 19, 2019 at 10:48 am | Permalink

      Parmesan cheese should be shaved, not grated (Thanks 007).

    • Jenny Haniver
      Posted April 19, 2019 at 11:35 am | Permalink

      Flying Spaghetti Monster or Jesus as pasta?
      I can’t decide.

  3. gravelinspector-Aidan
    Posted April 19, 2019 at 10:30 am | Permalink

    Yes, the crucifixion and ressurection could be a metaphor for eternal life: something that reassures Christians that this brief span on Earth is not all we have

    I occasionally wonder why Christian theology doesn’t have a story equivalent to the horrible warning of Tithonus, spending eternity babbling endlessly in a locked room, abandoned by his immortal and eternally youthful former lover. If they want an eternal torment in hell, just being alive, knowing you’ve been rejected, imprisoned in your own body, and knowing that there will be no end … if that was a torment juicy enough to get Sappho’s poetic juices flowing, how come the sadists (and masochists) of Christian theology haven’t cottoned onto it for tormenting their flocks with?
    Huh, priests – not even imaginative in their torments.

    • darrelle
      Posted April 19, 2019 at 11:53 am | Permalink

      Lack of imagination among Christians does seem to be so common as to darn near be a defining characteristic.

    • JohnH
      Posted April 19, 2019 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

      I can’t recall what references they use (if any) but some preachers do uphold the idea that hell is first, the rejection by God at the time of judgement, then ejection from heaven, and finally existence in His absence for all eternity.

  4. ploubere
    Posted April 19, 2019 at 10:42 am | Permalink

    ok, so we must accept that he’s god, or god’s son, whatevs.
    God: “Here’s my son for you to murder, so that I can forgive you.”
    Rational humans: “Um, what?”

  5. Frank Bath
    Posted April 19, 2019 at 10:52 am | Permalink

    I remember reading ‘Mere Christianity’ in my late teens in an attempt to give religion another chance. It made no sense and atheist I stayed.

  6. Randall Schenck
    Posted April 19, 2019 at 10:53 am | Permalink

    I believe the entire story, regardless of how you see it, has worked for 2000 years for one reason. It is the biggest money making story on the planet and will continue to be as proven with the burning over in France. Already they have enough donations to rehab the place. Nothing impresses people more than money and religion is all about money. They will shovel it out by the handfuls this weekend just to keep their place in the line to heaven.

    I was looking briefly at religious education in the place I live just the other day and just like money in every other part of religion it is here in a big way. Approximately one fifth of the school age people in Wichita go to private religious schools. That is over 10,000 out of 51,000 students thru the grades. The average cost per year, per student is about $10,000. That is not only a lot of money, it is a big investment to insure the myth lives on.

    • A C Harper
      Posted April 19, 2019 at 11:47 am | Permalink

      Even if Jesus really existed (hah!) “as an apocalyptic, itinerant, and deluded preacher” he was an apocalyptic preacher for the Jews.

      That he became the mascot for Christianity Inc. was a matter of marketing for people seeking a unique selling point. Reducing Jesus to a mascot – and a mascot is far harder to criticise than an actual person.

      • Randall Schenck
        Posted April 19, 2019 at 11:54 am | Permalink

        Whether mascot or person there is no evidence for either. And whether Jew or Christian what makes it last is money.

  7. Posted April 19, 2019 at 10:58 am | Permalink

    Basically, what he is saying is “This story of God taking human form, getting himself crucified for our sins, and then coming back from the dead is so ludicrous that it must be true. You couldn’t make it up.”

    • Taz
      Posted April 19, 2019 at 1:00 pm | Permalink

      The Chewbacca defense.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted April 19, 2019 at 1:09 pm | Permalink


  8. Nicolaas Stempels
    Posted April 19, 2019 at 11:08 am | Permalink

    Even if there were a Jesus person (and I fully share our host’s skepticism) that was crucified and laid in a grave for dead, in coma, he recovered in less than 36 hours (Friday evening to Sunday morning), not probable, but far from impossible or miraculous.
    There is no there there. 🙂

    Om a different note, I’ve also read some explanations that were completely astrological, the Cross being the Southern Cross (just visible then in the Middle East), the three Magi being the three stars in Orion’s belt and a lot more. They make a reasonable case, I’d say.
    I can’t find that really good link now, but I hope this will do. (I’m far from convinced, but still interesting)

  9. Bruce Lilly
    Posted April 19, 2019 at 11:09 am | Permalink

    In fairness, the URL clearly contains “/opinion/”, the word “Opinion” appears prominently at the top of the page when the link is opened (at least in every browser I tried), and the following text appears before the author’s identification:

    “The Times is committed to publishing a diversity of letters to the editor. We’d like to hear what you think about this or any of our articles. Here are some tips. And here’s our email:”

    While the opinion piece is published in the New York Times, it does not necessarily reflect the opinions of its editors.

    • Posted April 19, 2019 at 3:42 pm | Permalink

      Frankly, I don’t care whether or not this reflects the editors’ opinions, and I hope I didn’t imply that this reflected some kind of general stand of the NYT. My point is that this “op ed” says NOTHING NEW, but is simply the journalistic equivalent of someone standing up in the pulpit and witnessing for Jesus.

  10. Robert Bray
    Posted April 19, 2019 at 11:27 am | Permalink

    ‘Isn’t it pretty to think so?’
    Jake Barnes, with acidic irony

    Cognates of this sermon will be preached throughout the U.S.A. today and Sunday. Each and all will be more or less the same in tone and topic: NICE. Congregants can sing a hymn or two, repeat a credo they don’t even have by heart, hear the stale old story from the pulpit, shake the rev’s hand and go home to Sunday roast.

    Like the average Easter-season sermon, this fellow’s lucubrations are as far removed from the story’s drama (I choose Mark sans the later-added resurrection passages) as the VIA CRUCIS is from an express elevator to the summit of Calvary. If you want to be what you say your mangod was, Mr. Wehner, (and, yes,’worshipping a god of wounds is a little strange’), why, then, do what a few real men do in Latin America: first build and carry your own cross, get yourself nailed to it, be erected, and take hours to suffer and die in great agony–as you claim you believe really happened to a quasi-historical Jew a long time ago in a galaxy far away.

    YOUR crucifixion! Now THAT would be atonement for what you say is humankind’s ‘broken, fallen, sinful’ nature. And in paying your personal debt for having been yourself you’d have perished in an infantile expectation of eternal life.

    But no: you’re very probably one of the NICE Christians. All you have to do is believe and occasionally show up for church. Much easier than crucifixion, this, or, for that matter, than serious thinking.

  11. Ken Kukec
    Posted April 19, 2019 at 11:33 am | Permalink

    I’m always surprised and disappointed when an ostensibly reasonable and educated person starts spouting religious piffle. The latest for me is the rising new star in the Democratic Party firmament, South Bend’s “Mayor Pete” — a Harvard grad, Rhodes scholar, former Naval intelligence officer serving in Afghanistan, and the first openly gay man to toss his feather boa, er, I mean hat (I kid, Mayor Pete, I kid!) into the ring for a major party presidential nomination.

    I like what I’ve seen of him so far, a lot. But when young Pete goes off on a rant about the crucial role his Christian faith has played in his life, it gives me the willies (though, gotta admit, I get a kick out of his calling out the Scriptural hypocrisy of his fellow Hoosier, VP Pence).

    As appears to be the case with Andrew Sullivan, a deep need to harbor supernatural beliefs seems to have lodged itself early in life in Mayor Pete’s lizard brain, where it resides, immutable to logic and evidence.

    • Randall Schenck
      Posted April 19, 2019 at 11:59 am | Permalink

      There you go bring up the main flaw I see with young Pete – he does like his religion. I wonder if the gay angle makes him more noisy on the religion. Kind of depressing.

    • Historian
      Posted April 19, 2019 at 12:31 pm | Permalink

      Jimmy Carter was and is deeply religious. I don’t think they affected his policies as president, except perhaps in a positive way. In other words, he was able to keep his religious beliefs and his public policies compartmentalized.I suspect Mayor Pete would act the same way if the unlikely event happens and he wins the presidency. That is, I don’t think we should be scared of the religious left. They don’t try to foist their religious delusions on others. This is what is important. All religious people are not like Jerry Falwell, Jr.

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted April 19, 2019 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

        Hunter Thompson, who got to know Jimmy Carter back when he was a peanut-farming Georgia governor whom nobody that was anybody ever thought about pushing for president — and who wrote an extended piece about him, with many complimentary things to say, early during Carter’s run for the 1976 Democratic nomination — once said he was saving a couple of hits of acid to offer Carter if Jimmy ever started laying any nonsense on him about bringing Jesus into his life.

        That’s pretty much how I feel about Pete Buttigieg. I’d be a lot more comfortable with him if he’d stop spouting Jesus-loving gibberish, but, should the opportunity someday present itself, it wouldn’t stop me from voting for him (any more than it stopped me from voting for Jimmy Carter twice).

    • rickflick
      Posted April 19, 2019 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

      The thing is, as far as I can see, Pete is a very attractive candidate but probably unelectable because of his orientation. The emphasis on religion could very well be his way of counteracting his deficit.

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted April 19, 2019 at 1:41 pm | Permalink

        This nation has come a long way in a short time on gay issues. And I don’t think “his orientation” would stop anybody from voting for him that wasn’t going to vote against any Democrat anyway.

        There may be legitimate questions to raise regarding his age and experience, but there’s no call for his sexuality to enter the equation.

        Run, Pete, run! As far as your talents and qualifications may take you.

        • rickflick
          Posted April 19, 2019 at 10:40 pm | Permalink

          You are right to say the nation has come a long way. But in order to be elected president, you have to garner a majority in all the swing states. These states have vibrant populations with highly motivated biases and prejudices induced, largely, by local preachers. The thing is if he loses the Christian right, he has to make it up with big majorities among other constituencies. tough job.

  12. FB
    Posted April 19, 2019 at 11:40 am | Permalink

    Jesus went to the temple in Jerusalem in the week before the Passover to fight with the money changers and the people selling animals for the sacrifice. He knew the penalty for that kind of foolish and irresponsible behavior: crucifixion. That God needed to die to save us doesn’t make sense, but that he needed to behave badly to do so is preposterous.

    • Posted April 19, 2019 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

      E.P. Sanders and Paula Fredericksen — both who presume the existence of an historical Jesus — have shown how the temple-cleansing scene is flat-out impossible.

      • FB
        Posted April 19, 2019 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

        I don’t believe it happened, I’m just saying that the story in the Gospels is ridiculous: best I can do is go to the temple myself the week before the Passover and fight with the merchants. What an idiot.

        • rickflick
          Posted April 19, 2019 at 10:24 pm | Permalink

          I like the way you refuse to pander.

    • Posted April 19, 2019 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

      I don’t think that such behavior would necessarily bring about crucifixion. These lands were under Roman rule after all. Some Romans even took pleasure to openly violate and mock Jewish rules and customs. I find it unlikely that Romans were punishing people for violating Jewish laws.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted April 19, 2019 at 1:29 pm | Permalink

        Romans also tended to take a hands off approach when it came to local customs. It’s the whole symbolism of Pilate washing his hands; it’s standard practice of local Roman officials.

        • Posted April 19, 2019 at 1:50 pm | Permalink

          Josephus and Philo tell us that Pilate was too brutal even for the Romans.

          The hand washing incident described in the Gospels – that probably never happened because Pilate would have seen Jesus as a trouble maker and would probably not have hesitated to send him to his death – is pure antisemitism. The gospels spin the story so that the Jews living in Jerusalem are responsible for the death of the Christian saviour. By the time the gospels were written and disseminated, the majority of Christians probably weren’t Jews but were Romans.

          Reading that back, I see lots of occurrences of “probably”. A lot of this is conjecture because we can’t be sure there is any historical accuracy in the gospels.

      • FB
        Posted April 19, 2019 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

        I don’t know what the penalty was for committing violent acts at the temple days before the Passover, but I suppose it was very high. The Roman garrison was on high alert during that week, and the Romans crucified even thieves.

  13. darrelle
    Posted April 19, 2019 at 11:49 am | Permalink

    One day in 1996, in the small conservative town I had just moved to, I had a very creepy experience. A colleague and I had been out at a meeting somewhere and were headed back to the office around lunch time so we decided to stop for lunch. There was a little local joint that looked like it had been around for 50+ years that I had been meaning to try.

    We walked into the place to find it very full, but rather quiet. There was a single empty table directly in the center of the dining area. The atmosphere was odd. Something like a twist on a Norman Rockwell diner scene that instead of bright and nostalgic is grim and gray. All of the other diners were elderly. All of them were grim faced. For the number of people and the venue, a restaurant, it was eerily quiet. I’m beginning to feel I’ve become caught up in some sort of real life Twilight Zone event. I feel like the outsider in a horror movie that has come unwelcome to a small town and the locals have surrounded me with dead stares bent on scaring me out of town or worse.

    I venture a quick look around and suddenly I notice a grim faced woman across from me has a dark smudge in the middle of her forehead. I think it odd. A few moments later I venture another look around and notice another person with a nearly identical dark smudge on their forehead. I quickly look down thinking WTF? This is getting creepier by the second. I screw up my courage to take a longer look around. Every single person I look at has a big dark smudge in the middle of their forehead! The creepiness factor is hitting the top of the scale.

    I lean close to my colleague and whisper, “Everybody in here has a big dark smudge in the middle of their forehead, and they all look pissed. WITAF is up? He looks up from his menu and looks around. Then he laughs out loud! He then explains that it’s Ash Wednesday and what that means. Damn, people are nuts.

  14. Diana MacPherson
    Posted April 19, 2019 at 11:52 am | Permalink

    I never understood the potency of the Christ symbol and perhaps it’s because it doesn’t appeal to me as a non Christian, literate person growing up post Enlightenment with a wealth of more potent symbols of self sacrifice to draw from and a much richer literary tradition from which to pluck inspiration.

    I tend to see the suffering of Christ more as a commentary on the intolerance of the majority toward the others, an interpretation many Christians tend to ignore as their track record toward the other is not a good one.

    • Posted April 19, 2019 at 1:16 pm | Permalink

      Well said!

    • rickflick
      Posted April 19, 2019 at 9:33 pm | Permalink

      Thanks for elucidating and clarifying this idea. The Christ story, in my experience, becomes a maudlin farce compared to Shakespeare. Even as mythology it’s pretty mediocre.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted April 19, 2019 at 9:52 pm | Permalink

        There are even better, older stories…the stories the original Christ audience would have been familiar with – the trials of Herakles, the Odyssey, the stories of Isis collecting the pieces of her husband all over the world, Perseus, Bellerophon….the list goes on. But I have real life heroes like Dr. Morgentaler and Norman Bethune too.

        • rickflick
          Posted April 19, 2019 at 10:49 pm | Permalink

          You’ve got me convinced. I’m a true believer. 😎

  15. Historian
    Posted April 19, 2019 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

    Peter Wehrer is a longtime Republican operative and conservative, but he is anti-Trump. In the past, the NYT has published several of his op-eds criticizing the current Republican Party and Trump. So, in a marriage of convenience, I consider him a temporary ally in the joint effort to get rid of Trump (through the next election if not sooner), of which there is nothing more important. I just ignore the religious drivel.

  16. Posted April 19, 2019 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

    It’s almost physically painful to see someone contort himself into knots trying to reconcile his credulity with a semblance of rationality.

    By the way, many Christians won’t accept a “part man, part god” Jesus, they say he’s 100% human and 100% god. These people have literally had logic indoctrinated right out of them.

  17. Posted April 19, 2019 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

    On this issue, much confusion in both the NY Times reporting and in Wehner’s article stems from a cavalier and largely interchangeable use of the terms “metaphor” and “symbol.”

    With a metaphor, the statements must be taken figuratively. An example would be Shakespeare’s “But look, the morn, in russet mantle clad, Walks o’er the dew of yon high eastern hill.” These lines can’t be taken literally, since the morning doesn’t wear clothes and doesn’t walk over hills.

    A symbol can be taken either literally or figuratively, depending on the reader’s inclination. It works either way. For example, in Robert Frost’s poem “Stopping by Woods on A Snowy Evening,” the reader can take the whole poem to be literally about a single person stopping by a woods and being tempted to pause longer except that he has “miles to go before I sleep.” Period. It works fine this way—the woods are woods and sleep is sleep. But one can also take the lines figuratively, in which the woods and sleep become symbols of death. Works fine this way too.

    When Wehner refers to the cross as “this symbol of suffering,” he’s not raising the question of whether the crucifixion literally happened but rather the question of whether it has any meaning beyond one individual, historical Jew being crucified. That is, can this isolated incident be extended to be symbolic of human suffering broadly, much as the meaning of Frost’s poem can be extended beyond one individual’s encounter to be symbolic of humanity’s universal encounter with death?

    Much confusion in discussing issues such as this could be avoided if people simply used the terms “literally” and “figuratively.” Once they start throwing around “metaphor” and “symbol” interchangeably, they’re just asking for trouble.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted April 19, 2019 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

      Good points and examples.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted April 19, 2019 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

      Good points and examples.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted April 19, 2019 at 12:37 pm | Permalink

        Oops, my hand did a stutter.

        • rickflick
          Posted April 19, 2019 at 10:23 pm | Permalink

          …a stuttering, a stuttering.

      • Jenny Haniver
        Posted April 19, 2019 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

        May I appropriate this one to say that “I second that emotion”? That way, the redundancy won’t go to waste.

        • Ken Kukec
          Posted April 19, 2019 at 3:55 pm | Permalink

          Only if your name is Smokey Robinson.

          • Jenny Haniver
            Posted April 19, 2019 at 4:29 pm | Permalink

            Smokey Robinson and the Miracles. Those were the days. Here’s a video of them performing that song – performing because it’s from a live performance and they’re fly and stylin’. Even though this video records only one verse, I think Smokey’s rendition here is top-notch.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted April 19, 2019 at 3:58 pm | Permalink

      Very nice explanation.

      Will this be on the midterm, Mr. Miranda? 🙂

      • Posted April 19, 2019 at 4:48 pm | Permalink

        I don’t know whether or if there’s going to be a mid-term, or, whether or if there is, whether or if this will be on it. I do know, however, that Sister Perpetua (or was it Felicitas?) would have expected little Kenny to learn the material regardless. 😊

        • Ken Kukec
          Posted April 20, 2019 at 7:28 pm | Permalink

          I’ll try my level best to complete next week’s reading assignment on metonomy, synecdoche, and allegory, teach. 🙂

  18. Jon Gallant
    Posted April 19, 2019 at 12:18 pm | Permalink

    Easter celebrations by a group I founded a number of years ago, are recounted at:

    Example: “My own group is Kosher Goyim, a Christian Faith Fellowship which believes that the best approach to the mysteries of the Holy Trinity is through Jewish food. Our talisman is the traditional Christian symbol of the fish, although in our case it is, of course, a gefilte fish. In our celebration of the Eucharist, we replace the bread and wine with motza balls and chicken soup.
    …On Ash Wednesday, we did not join our Christian colleagues in handing out ashes to the faithful. Instead, our volunteers were everywhere, distributing motza brei in shopping centers, train stations, hospital waiting rooms, and traffic queues. To our friends in the evangelical churches, we say: one smeck of our kugel, and you will be born again, again. In fact, one of our teaching films shows Jesus Christ Himself, smacking his lips and exclaiming: “That’s the Last Supper that we’ll have without extra rugelach.”

  19. Lorna Salzman
    Posted April 19, 2019 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

    Just when you thought David Brooks was taking a break along come Wehner. Nothing like mora lectures along with your morning coffee. Here’s a thought: what would have happened if the emperor Constantine had not converted to Christianity? Talk about contingencies. We might still have paganism! What a loss….

  20. Posted April 19, 2019 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

    My guess about the origin of this myth is simple: Jesus was a real person, he had some real disciples, they really believed he was the messiah, Jesus really did get crucified and died, and then the disciples experienced severe cognitive dissonance. This could have led them to really experience hallucinations of their messiah as a result of their high expectations and desperate psychological state, having just seen their messiah killed. Most of the biblical accounts of the post-resurrection Jesus have a hallucination-like quality. They themselves must have puzzled over how their messiah could have been crucified, and I think these crazy convoluted rationalizations for why their messiah would have died were just made up on the fly. They don’t make any sense at all.

    • Posted April 19, 2019 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

      I agree. Plus, much of the convoluted rationalizations come from Paul who, by his own admission, had never seen Jesus.

      • Posted April 19, 2019 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

        And Paul, who by his own admission only saw hallucinations of Jesus, seems to equate the apostles’ way of seeing Jesus with his own type of hallucinatory experience.

    • Ben Murray
      Posted April 19, 2019 at 2:18 pm | Permalink

      That’s basically the explanation of mainstream scholarship as put forth by (for example) Bart Ehrman.

    • rickflick
      Posted April 19, 2019 at 10:21 pm | Permalink

      I think your hypothesis is vastly over complex and very improbable. “cognitive dissonance…led them to really experience hallucinations of their messiah as a result of their high expectations and desperate psychological state, having just seen their messiah killed.”

      This gives the myth an undue level of exoticism.

      So, a dozen men have a similar hallucinogenic delusion? Not likely. It is far likelier that people familiar with the events simply exaggerated after many telling of the tale. Those who much later wrote down the stories took the tallest tales, and elaborated them for effect. This is a very common scenario in human events, whereas, hallucinations are probably much rarer and usually singular rather that communal.

      • Posted April 20, 2019 at 11:58 am | Permalink

        Undoubtedly the tales got taller in the telling. But it is at least plausible that the initial stories got their start with hallucinations or misinterpretations of sounds or sights. As I said, some of the post-resurrection sightings don’t read like tall tales but like weird psychological events, for example seeing “Jesus” but not recognizing him immediately.

  21. Posted April 19, 2019 at 12:42 pm | Permalink

    I came away thinking that a significant part of Jesus is the ancient Adonis cult, or some earlier idea. The myth is concerned with the blossoming and death of nature, or the cycle of seasons, which must have filled our ancestors with great anxiety. When they settled down and cultivated the fields, they must have gotten the feeling that their harvest kills the Vegetation God. In revenge, the God retreats to the underworld, and they have to endure the harsh, dead winter. But at some point he emerges again, starting a new cycle, and all is forgiven.

    Since later germanic cultures also celebrated the coming of spring, it seems plausible to me that early Christian rituals in the post-Roman Empire had to compete with folk beliefs, which already featured copious symbology of dawn, new beginning and fertility. I don’t know how old the rabbit-and-egg symbology is, but it intuitively makes sense (some caution is warranted, for some allegedly old traditions are romantic inventions). How such blends of dawn and spring work is discussed by cognitive scientists Fauconnier and Turner (people blend together the cycle of days with the yearly cycle, so that spring is dawn and night is winter). That’s how the melange of Christian and Adonis myth could blend together easily with germanic folk beliefs, what it has to do with the east (sun rise) and Easter. That means, Easter obviously is a spring and fertility festivity, that has little to do with Christian theology.

    Evidence for this view is in discussions on the Adonis myth, though what I read stopped short of implicating Jesus (with no reason given, it seems people who study this are often believers and their faith is in the way).

    Another piece of evidence, independent from myths and apparent symbology, is that by sheer happenstance, Jesus alleged birth place, the Nativity Church used to be a site of Adonis-Tammuz worship. What a remarkable coincidence! See sources below.

    Another astonishing coincidence is when he was killed and rose again: From all seasons of the year, Jesus rises and forgives exactly in the very season that is also in pagan traditions about new beginnings.

    Such evidence and “coincidences” must be considered in addition to the sheer implausibility of Jesus stories. They are of course assailable on a dozen other grounds.

    Jesus and Adonis (archeology): radio report /

  22. A C Harper
    Posted April 19, 2019 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

    According to Wikipedia Hitchens famous quote “What can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence” is based on an earlier Latin proverb “quod gratis asseritur, gratis negatur” (“What is asserted gratuitously may be denied gratuitously”).

    And really that’s all that need be said.

  23. Steve Pollard
    Posted April 19, 2019 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

    The Gospel accounts were written decades after the events they purport to describe. The earliest Christian writings – the six or seven “genuine” epistles by the individual known as “Paul” – contain almost nothing about the life, death or ministry of Jesus. Most Christians know very little about the Bible, and they certainly don’t read much of it, outside the passages approved or directed by their priests.

    • Steve Pollard
      Posted April 19, 2019 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

      And I am amazed that anyone still takes Lewis’s childish comments (I won’t say ‘arguments’) seriously. There are of course any number of alternative answers to his little riddle: maybe Jesus was honest but mistaken (lots of people thought they were the Messiah in 1st-century Palestine); or he was swayed and misled by his fervent disciples; or, most likely of all, that he never claimed anything of the sort, and the words were put into his mouth decades later by the fiction-writers of the Gospels.

    • Posted April 19, 2019 at 7:19 pm | Permalink

      None of the Pauline epistles are authentic. They first appear out of nowhere c. AD 150, produced by the ‘heretic’ Marcion. While they may contain some original Pauline material from the AD 50’s & 60s, they’re mostly comprised of material dealing with 2nd Century disputes between assorted christian sects, with many layers of redaction as those sects fought back & forth to insert their beliefs in the manuscripts.

      So, to your point: as late as the mid-2nd Century, there are no written accounts describing Jesus’ life and ministry. (The few references in the Pauline epistles are easily-recognized interpolations.)

      • rickflick
        Posted April 19, 2019 at 9:29 pm | Permalink

        You know, from what I’ve read over the years, this is about it. Thanks for filling out some of the framework whereby the bible was made late and fraudulently.

        • Posted April 20, 2019 at 9:42 am | Permalink

          For anyone interested on learning more about the Pauline epistles as 2nd Century forgeries, I recommend Hermann Detering’s The Fabricated Paul (a bargain on Kindle). Robert M. Price’s The Colossal Apostle Paul also breaks down each epistle, outlining the origin of the many patchwork pieces therein.

          • Steve Pollard
            Posted April 21, 2019 at 5:11 pm | Permalink

            Matt, agreed; but I’m not yet so sure that Detering’s thesis is waterproof. A number of other radical sceptics, including (I believe) Carrier, are prepared to accept the core of the Pauline 6 as authentic and early.

            Hermann Detering sadly died last autumn. There will no doubt be a concerted effort by the theological academy to try to silence his voice. If it is of any interest to anyone, Rene Salm is endeavouring to record as many of Detering’s writings as practicable on his website:

            • Posted April 21, 2019 at 6:54 pm | Permalink

              Detering’s thesis builds on a lot of solid work by the Tübingen School and the Dutch Radicals, and is buttressed by work by Price, Eisenman, Dykstra, and others. I, for one, am persuaded by his dating of all the epistles to the 2nd century, and his identification of Paul as Simon Magus.

              I hope that Detering’s work will be more appreciated over time, and René Salm’s efforts are much appreciated.

              Carrier accepts the seven so-called “undisputed” epistles as authentic because Doherty does, and Carrier lifts everything but his Bayes’ nonsense from Doherty.

  24. Jenny Haniver
    Posted April 19, 2019 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

    This is all a bunch of gobbledygook and I’m too old to risk destroying my synapses trying to make sense of it (making sense doesn’t equal believing).

    In addition, I cannot separate the Crucifiction*, from the demonstrable need since time immemorial of homo sapiens (and perhaps other hominids) to engage in human sacrifice.

    *At first a typo, then I realized Jesus brought that to me as a gift, because (that’s what it is) and if I hadn’t been reflecting on all this inanity, I’d never have made that slip of the pen. It’s a miracle!

  25. CAS
    Posted April 19, 2019 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

    “The crucifixion and Resurrection, as the central myth of Christianity, have always been a mystery to me, for it seems bizarre that God would have used such a tortuous scenario to convince us of his presence and his love. And I am not all that convinced that there was even a real person on whom the Jesus myth was modeled.”

    The crucifixion falls into the class of costly acts which are used in many societies in transitions to manhood or to show commitment to a tribal group. They serve as proof of a deeper assurance than can be expressed in words, since you can lie. Maybe they evolved with language and lying for just this purpose.
    Guilt is also important in Christianity and god suicide should surely make you feel guilty and unworthy, always useful for manipulation!

    • Posted April 20, 2019 at 5:46 pm | Permalink

      Good points. What I find deeply creepy is the idea that by taking God’s punishment for sins, Jesus gets us humans off the hook (provided we believe). The idea of punishing one victim for someone else’s crime wasn’t exactly new to Christianity – see “scapegoat”. But really, that’s an idea whose time has gone. Or should be gone.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted April 20, 2019 at 6:09 pm | Permalink

        I’m pretty sure that it violates article 33 of the Geneva Convention.

  26. JohnE
    Posted April 19, 2019 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

    The age of Donald Trump has only reinforced my awareness of the astonishing scope of human credulity — the fact that people can be convinced to believe absolutely anything. Some vast number of people believed (and some still believe) that Hillary Clinton ran a child sex ring out of the non-existent basement of a Washington, D.C. pizza parlor. Vast numbers of people believe that the U.S. government blew up the World Trade Center. Vast numbers of people believe that the Earth is flat and that the moon landing was a hoax. And vast numbers of people throughout history have embraced the religious mythology of the particular culture into which they were born, all of them foolishly believing that they just happened to have the amazingly good fortune to be born into the “right” religion.

    So which is the right religion? Any truly objective examination of the issue — divorced from wishful thinking — inevitably leads to the conclusion: “None of the above.”

  27. Roger
    Posted April 19, 2019 at 2:18 pm | Permalink

    (That is true of many more Christians than you might imagine, and of many more Christians than are willing to admit.)

    Gosh such a candid admission. Hero of the Internets! Maybe try having a god that isn’t an idiot.

  28. Roo
    Posted April 19, 2019 at 2:56 pm | Permalink

    The crucifixion and Resurrection, as the central myth of Christianity, have always been a mystery to me, for it seems bizarre that God would have used such a tortuous scenario to convince us of his presence and his love.

    I think the literal interpretation (which I do not subscribe to,) is more or less that he had to undo a sort of curse that Adam laid down in the book of Genesis. I don’t think Christians would frame it in such superstitious terms, but really, if he wasn’t reversing a curse, then God could have just forgiven mankind and moved on.

    I think the more symbolic representation (which may be mine alone, although I assume I absorbed this somewhere,) is that Christ overcame all corporeal desires to the point where he would rather be killed than harm anyone. Which is a good, pacifistic message, albeit one that is not often reflected in Christian history in practice vs. theory. One of my main beefs with Sam Harris’s “beliefs matter” theory is that, judging by history, beliefs often don’t matter regarding what people actually do. Islam talks about defending the faith and Christianity says to “put away your swords”, and both had markedly similar results in terms of actual warfare over the years.

    • Posted April 20, 2019 at 5:47 pm | Permalink

      +1. Beliefs matter, except when they don’t.

  29. Torbjörn Larsson
    Posted April 19, 2019 at 5:21 pm | Permalink

    For me the problem is that two unlikely stories converge. I am not sure that any mythical religious founders at the time were real persons, and I am not sure that any mythical crucifixions at the time were real events.

    If crucifixions were somewhat common social events they left no archaeological or historical traces. There are two non-myth text sources. One was Titus Flavius Josephus, but he related century old myth. Another was Appian on Spartacus uprising, but he wrote an alternate story among many other historians. Josephus wrote on myths in an area that was traumatized by the Hellenistic conquest, where it is historically sourced – two independent sources – that thousands of people were killed by being roped to X’s of logs at Tyre. And Appian wrote in the early Christian Rome, already subjected to the myth.

    As for the modern known practice of hanging, it is hard to find archaeological evidence. The WEIT article the other day had the three biased “christian archaeology” evidences, a spike through a leg bone into likely fresh tree piece and two spikes through hand bones, all found in graves. (And a third non-traceable claim.) All inconsistent with the myth – wrong positions, not load bearing – and all bent suggesting failed reuse of expensive material. Perhaps iron spikes and tree bits were used to prop body positions up before burial, making at least one competing explanation.

    To sum up, this is a hard piece of man made myth to swallow as somehow relating to actual events.

  30. Posted April 19, 2019 at 7:09 pm | Permalink

    The crucifixion and Resurrection, as the central myth of Christianity, have always been a mystery to me, for it seems bizarre that God would have used such a tortuous scenario to convince us of his presence and his love.

    The original concept, found in Paul and the gnostic apocrypha: the Highest God’s ‘son’ (an emanation) descended incognito down through the seven heavens, tricked the archons (evil lesser gods who created this prison planet world) into killing him, thus becoming a sacrificial ransom to free the divine sparks within us so they can return again to be one with the Highest God.

    Somewhere along the line, some folks got it into their head that this sacrifice took place on earth, but only by a Christ who took on the appearance of a mortal man for a few hours. Some time after that, some folks got it into their head that Christ was Jesus had been a real human born of a woman who then grew up.

  31. Posted April 19, 2019 at 7:16 pm | Permalink

    I could never believe in God if it wasn’t there. Which it ain’t – so I don’t.


  32. Posted June 15, 2019 at 10:42 am | Permalink

    Why would anyone follow a myth? Lewis and Paul are 100 percent correct. Either Christ was real and really did come back to life, or faith in him is in vain. Why spend time arguing that it is myth if you don’t believe? Do you spend time arguing against the Easter Bunny existing too?

    • Posted June 15, 2019 at 10:47 am | Permalink

      Dear anonymous coward,

      Take a number, get in line, and . . . .

    • Roger
      Posted June 15, 2019 at 11:14 am | Permalink

      Why spend time arguing that it is myth if you don’t believe? Do you spend time arguing against the Easter Bunny existing too?

      Have you not heard of the google? Because that’s one of the top most asked pretend-gotchas ever. (Therefore one of the most answered.)

%d bloggers like this: