EASTER MESS: DEBATING JESUS, EHRMAN Vs LICONA
Last weekend, religious studies professor Bart Ehrman argued with preacher Mike Licona about Jesus for six straight hours, and I watched the whole thing.
In fact, I even paid for it. This was the most excited I’d been about any one-on-one confrontation since WrestleMania (which was two weeks prior).
The topic of the debate was whether or not Jesus actually rose from the dead. That might sound strange, but actually Ehrman debates this pretty often, presumably to make up for something he did in another life.
In case you didn’t catch it, they did not end up proving Jesus’ resurrection; fucking phew, right? Instead they proved something else:
Just how fucked up this country really is.
So aren’t we supposed to be talking about Satanism? What’s with all this Jesus stuff? Stick a pitchfork in that for a second, we’ll come back.
If you don’t know, Bart Ehrman is an esteemed New Testament scholar at the University of North Carolina.
He’s written more books than most people have teeth, he speaks in public about the gospels more often than anyone not actually named Jesus, and as he ages he is visibly metamorphosing into a clone of Stanley Tucci.
Ehrman stands out because unlike almost every other scriptural expert at an academic level, he’s an agnostic who doesn’t believe in god, the resurrection, or that Russian popes wear many concentrically smaller hats underneath their big hat.
Internet atheists love Ehrman, although to be honest few of them seem to share a great deal of insight about his work. Kind of like how your dog doesn’t really care how his steak is cooked.
He ends up debating the resurrection a lot because, believe it or not, many fundies are very invested in the idea that the resurrection is a historically provable fact.
Remember, these are not people who get out a lot; in some polls, 55 percent of Americans believe in angels, but only 39 percent believe in evolution, leaving the rest with presumably no way to explain how angels evolved from dinosaurs.
Now, I am not an esteemed New Testament scholar–I’ll pause for your gasps to subside. But if I were stuck in this debate, my argument would be something pretty close to Ehrman’s: Chiefly, that Jesus didn’t rise from the dead because THAT’S FUCKING IMPOSSIBLE.
Despite what preachers tell you, there’s essentially no historical evidence for the resurrection, and the tale has no real attestation at all.
But it really wouldn’t matter if thousands of people testified to it and it had more witnesses than whatever crimes Ezra Miller is committing right now, because there’s no degree of attestation that would overcome the fact that IT’S FUCKING IMPOSSIBLE.
If you really need empirical proof that nobody ever rises from the dead, there’s a simple experiment that anyone can do:
So yes, it’s quite surreal that an accomplished academic was even posed this question to begin with, much less over and over again, and this time for six hours. But people do still believe it, so here we are.
Which brings us to Mike Licona: He’s also a New Testament scholar, a product of the far-right propaganda/diploma mill Liberty University, and he is the president of something called Risen Jesus Inc, suggesting that he does in fact have no gag reflex.
Despite this veneer of scholarly legitimacy, he’s just another weird American preacher. And that’s what this debate really proved.
It wasn’t any of Licona’s arguments about Jesus or the Bible or the empirical process; those were all pretty bad, but nothing I hadn’t heard before.
But at one point he had some sort of blackout and launched into a rambling anecdote about one of Ehrman’s classes. Not one of his own classes, mind you, but Ehrman’s.
According to Licona, in a class of 400 people, Ehrman only ever has five or six believing Christians left among his students each semester, and he swears to them personally that he will ruin their faith.
This feverish tangent came out of nowhere and completely befuddled everyone. Ehrman, usually the biggest mensch this side of Cyrus the Great, got visibly angry and denied that he ever tried to deconvert anyone since that’s, ya know, not his job.
He also pointed out he’s never had so few as five Christians in a class of 400, because this is North Carolina and that’s FUCKING IMPOSSIBLE, MIKE.
Mind you, Licona and Ehrman are friends; they often pause during debates to mention the fact that they get along famously, despite the fact that only one of them is the cupbearer of Satan. (Hi, Bart.)
But Licona apparently really and truly believes that his pal is a secret God’s Not Dead villain on the side whenever they’re not hanging out.
This was chilling. Because while Licona’s story makes no goddamn sense at all from the perspective of someone who is, you know, lucid, it makes perfect sense from the perspective of an apocalyptic fundamentalist who believes Satanic socialist Critical Race Theory is killing god and molesting your kids in public schools.
And there’s the rub; Satanists, atheists, and other -ists will sometimes call people who believe in god or Jesus or the planet Zeist words like “delusional” or “crazy” or “Dr. Peterson.”
But this is not necessarily true; these may be impossible ideas, but, paradoxically, otherwise rational people can believe them. I don’t really understand that myself, but I have observed it.
I look at theism more as a superstition than a delusion. Delusion, on the other hand, is when you think Bart Ehrman and George Soros are plotting to harvest the baby Jesus’ adrenochrome…or whatever.
Now I imagine some people will argue that superstition makes delusion more likely and easier to buy into. And that may be true, I don’t know.
But the question remains: Why do some people harbor religious superstitions their whole lives but remain otherwise level-headed and rational, while other people turn into…well, Mike?
We will probably never convince everyone that god does not exist; but we can maybe make some progress toward slowing the stumbling march from mere superstition into Licona-grade fanaticism.
The question is: How?