peterson's Review of Hitchens Is Not Great

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Re: peterson's Review of Hitchens Is Not Great

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Physics Guy wrote:
Thu May 07, 2020 5:25 am
I'm not an expert on New Testament by any means, but my understanding is that there are enough points on which Matthew and Luke agree, yet which are absent from Mark, that the existence of a lost written source "Q" has been inferred. So it's not true that wherever Mark was silent Matthew and Luke made things up independently. That sure does seem to have been what they did for the birth narratives but that's not what they did the whole time.

My point is that the gospels are hodgepodges and the two birth narratives are by far the hodgiest parts. To make out that their wild divergence is typical of the whole Jesus story is seriously misleading. The whole story isn't nearly that bad, and there are obvious reasons why the birth narratives would be expected to be much less reliable than the rest.
What's particularly interesting about this is that the specific way in which the birth narratives were made up turns out to be strong evidence that Jesus actually did exist historically. If the whole Jesus Christ myth was not based on a historical figure, the authors would have left out everything about Nazareth and cleanly said Jesus was born and raised in the City of David, as promised. But it's clear that the audience knew that Jesus was from Nazareth, and in order to cast the historical Jesus as the promised Messiah, they needed to make up a story about how he was really born in Bethlehem.

My understanding is that the "Q source" was just a collection of Jesus' teachings and parables, but doesn't actually contain any biographical details of his life. It's an interesting theory, but I have no idea why it isn't just as likely that Luke was based on Mark, and Matthew was based on Luke.

In any case, it seems fair to concede that when looking at the biographical details of Jesus' life, the points where Mark and John agree really happened, or at a minimum were based on an early common source or widely told story. This gets us to Jesus being a preacher from Nazareth who was once a disciple of John the Baptist, that he taught in parables, healed the sick, performed some miracles, and was crucified by Pontius Pilate.

In general, Hitchens skates a bit too close to the Jesus Mythicist crowd for my taste, but even then, he does articulate the Nazareth argument as being strong evidence in favor of Jesus actually existing historically.

Here is another passage that better illustrates where Hitchens is coming from (this is ending a long analysis of the story of the woman who was almost stoned for being "taken into adultery" but was then forgiven because only non-sinners can cast the first stone):

If the New Testament is supposed to vindicate Moses, why are the gruesome laws of the Pentateuch to be undermined? An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth and the killing of witches may seem brutish and stupid, but if only non-sinners have the right to punish, then how could an imperfect society ever determine how to prosecute offenders? We should all be hypocrites. And what authority did Jesus have to “forgive”? Presumably, at least one wife or husband somewhere in the city felt cheated and outraged. Is Christianity, then, sheer sexual permissiveness? If so, it has been gravely misunderstood ever since. And what was being written on the ground? Nobody knows, again. Furthermore, the story says that after the Pharisees and the crowd had melted away (presumably from embarrassment), nobody was left except Jesus and the woman. In that case, who is the narrator of what he said to her? For all that, I thought it a fine enough story.

Professor Ehrman goes further. He asks some more obvious questions. If the woman was “taken in adultery,” which means in flagrante delicto, then where is her male partner? Mosaic law, adumbrated in Leviticus, makes it clear that both must undergo the stoning. I suddenly realized that the core of the story’s charm is that of the shivering lonely girl, hissed at and dragged away by a crowd of sex-starved fanatics, and finally encountering a friendly face. As to the writing in the dust, Ehrman mentions an old tradition which postulates that Jesus was scrawling the known transgressions of others present, thus leading to blushing and shuffling and eventually to hasty departure. I find I love this idea, even if it would mean a level of worldly curiosity and prurience (and foresight) on his part that raises its own difficulties.

Overarching all this is the shocking fact that, as Ehrman concedes:

"The story is not found in our oldest and best manuscripts of the Gospel of John; its writing style is very different from what we find in the rest of John (including the stories immediately before and after); and it includes a large number of words and phrases that are otherwise alien to the Gospel. The conclusion is unavoidable: this passage was not originally part of the Gospel."

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Re: peterson's Review of Hitchens Is Not Great

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Physics Guy wrote:
Thu May 07, 2020 5:25 am
I'm not an expert on New Testament by any means, but my understanding is that there are enough points on which Matthew and Luke agree, yet which are absent from Mark, that the existence of a lost written source "Q" has been inferred. So it's not true that wherever Mark was silent Matthew and Luke made things up independently. That sure does seem to have been what they did for the birth narratives but that's not what they did the whole time.

My point is that the gospels are hodgepodges and the two birth narratives are by far the hodgiest parts. To make out that their wild divergence is typical of the whole Jesus story is seriously misleading. The whole story isn't nearly that bad, and there are obvious reasons why the birth narratives would be expected to be much less reliable than the rest.
As I noted, my argument was narrowly focused on the idea the birth narratives are understandably "hodgepodges" due to their being attempts to describe a period before Jesus had done anything of note. I argue that what we observe occuring with the birth narratives applies just as equally to the most significant claim about his life - that he rose from the dead. I apologize about being insufficiently clear, but with Mark being silent on both counts we see both Matthew and Luke suddenly take off in different, conflicting directions regarding what happened once the women went to the tomb to dress his body. What we have ending Mark makes for a third bit of pseudepigrapha attempting to fill that in later, too.

The speculated on Q-source and even more speculative sayings source apparently did not include that period, either. It's interesting, if nothing else, that the resurrection narrative is one of the more divergent pieces in the New Testament.

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Re: peterson's Review of Hitchens Is Not Great

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honorentheos wrote:
Thu May 07, 2020 8:48 am
...I argue that what we observe occuring with the birth narratives applies just as equally to the most significant claim about his life - that he rose from the dead. I apologize about being insufficiently clear, but with Mark being silent on both counts we see both Matthew and Luke suddenly take off in different, conflicting directions regarding what happened once the women went to the tomb to dress his body….
It turns out this is exactly Hitchens's point (great minds evidently do think alike!).

Immediately following the quote above about the inconsistencies of Jesus's miraculous birth, Hitchens goes on to say:

This is, all of it, quite evidently a garbled and oral-based reconstruction undertaken some considerable time after the “fact.” The scribes cannot even agree on the mythical elements: they disagree wildly about the Sermon on the Mount, the anointing of Jesus, the treachery of Judas, and Peter’s haunting “denial.” Most astonishingly, they cannot converge on a common account of the Crucifixion or the Resurrection. Thus, the one interpretation that we simply have to discard is the one that claims divine warrant for all four of [the gospels].

Dr. Peterson quibbles with biopssically removed words in this (e.g. he says the consensus of even secular biblical scholars is precisely the opposite of his claim [that they are based on oral reconstructions). Disregarding the fact that Dr. Peterson misses the point of the specific issue he quibbles with (i.e. it was the written accounts that were based on oral accounts), the bigger issue is how he ignores and draws attention away from the big point Hitchens's was making--that the four gospels are not four independent eye-witness accounts as Mel Gibson pretends they are in his movie; they all contain fantastical things that were obviously made up.

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Re: peterson's Review of Hitchens Is Not Great

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The New Testament is a hodgepodge, and there are bits like the famous John 8 passage that somehow didn't make it into the oldest manuscripts even though it's one of the best Jesus stories and seems in several ways like the kind of thing Jesus might have said. That cuts both ways. Maybe something like the episode did really happen but it was left on the cutting room floor for the first popular editions because it had Jesus condoning adultery. Or maybe it just managed to attach itself to the gospel of John because it was a good story that seemed to fit.

I agree that it's astonishing that the gospels differ as much as they do on significant details, but the most astonishing thing is just that the discrepancies were not simply edited away at an early stage. I believe it's a standard point that this astonishing discrepancy is a strong point in favor of the basic authenticity of the gospels. Nobody saw fit to harmonize them. The generation of early Christians that put these things together had so much respect for whatever traditions they were trying to collate that they simply let all these discrepancies stand.

The resurrection accounts are poster children for this. Obviously no possible ancient text no matter when it was written or what it said would be convincing evidence of a resurrection. But it's remarkable how far short the gospel accounts fall from even trying to stake an unambiguous claim. There's nothing about anyone actually seeing the dead body start twitching. Many of the accounts include the awkward detail that people didn't recognize Jesus at first.

The gospels certainly don't read like newsreel documentaries shot in real time. With a few exceptions of which the birth narratives are the most egregious, however, they don't read like deliberate fabrications, either. They read like compilations of traditional accounts that undoubtedly got garbled and re-spun to some extent but that were also treated with a lot of respect by whomever compiled them.

And it sounds as though Hitchens may have agreed with that. I've never read his book, or Peterson's review of it, so I'm not trying to kick Hitchens at all. I was just reacting to what looked like a misleading critique of the New Testament gospels based on extrapolating from outliers. I reacted because it's related to one of my personal anecdotes, an eye-opening experience I once had that makes me alive to this issue.

Even eye-witness testimony to recent events can be surprisingly divergent on details. I was involved in a minor military summary trial once, that ended up taking place about a year after the episode at issue. A number of participants testified clearly and several of them supplied vivid items of corroborating detail. None of the accounts agreed with each other. The crucial issue was the exact trajectory of a certain glass object, namely whether it had been thrown at an officer, but one guy made the object a mug and another a bottle, one guy had pieces falling on his lap at the table while another swept them up in a distant corner of the room. No two of the several accounts could possibly both have been true.

I hadn't been there myself at the time but I knew the place and I knew all the people. I really didn't think that any of them were deliberately trying to spin their accounts. None of them liked or hated the accused enough to do that. Their memories just weren't reliable on detail, even when the memories were detailed and vivid. We gave up hope of figuring out what exactly had happened but on the other hand we were firmly convinced that sufficient shenanigans had gone down to make the guy guilty of a lesser charge. Once we got over our surprise at how unreliable the details were it seemed quite easy to discern a robust general story, even though it was a little bit fuzzy.

It's by no means clear that anything in the gospels was recorded within a year by eye-witnesses. I'm just saying that a certain amount of garbling and discrepancy isn't evidence of fabrication. On the contrary I think it's good evidence against fabrication, at least up to a point.

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Re: peterson's Review of Hitchens Is Not Great

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As I systematically go through Dr. Peterson's critique, I'm anxious to find something he is right about so that I can demonstrate I'm being fair. Unfortunately, this passage doesn't contain anything like that. Dr. Peterson says:

He is also mistaken in his claim that all of Jesus' disciples were illiterate. Presumably he is making this claim in order to lessen their value as witnesses; presumably illiterate people are stupid and can’t recognize what they see or record it or remember it accurately or dictate it to anyone accurately. In fact, there is no evidence for their illiteracy, and in fact considerable evidence against it. There are lots of cases of their writing letters, of Jesus reading for example. That the early Christian movement was dominated by illiterates is simply unsupported in the sources.

By presuming to know Hitchens's point, Dr. Peterson demonstrates that he Isn't a skilled mindreader or a skilled book reader. Here is whar Hitchens said in context:

His illiterate living disciples left us no record and in any event could not have been “Christians,” since they were never to read those later books in which Christians must affirm belief, and in any case had no idea that anyone would ever found a church on their master’s announcements. (There is scarcely a word in any of the later-assembled Gospels to suggest that Jesus wanted to be the founder of a church, either.)

His point isn't that illiterate people are too stupid and gullible to be believed. His point is that we don't know what they believed since they didn't leave any first-hand accounts. I don't think Hitchens's point here is all that strong--I think Peter does in fact deserve credit for starting the religion. But rather than arguing from that angle, Dr. Peterson misrepresents Hitchens's point and argues that they wrote letters.

The only epistle that even claims to be written by a disciple is 2 Peter, and is is obviously fake. And yes, the disciples were illiterate. Speaking about that in general and on whether Peter could have written the sophisticated prose in 2 Peter, Distinguished Professor Bart Ehrman said, "In short, Peter’s town was a backwoods Jewish village made up of hand-to-mouth laborers who did not have an education. Everyone spoke Aramaic. Nothing suggests that anyone could speak Greek. Nothing suggests that anyone in town could write. As a lower class fisherman Peter would have started work as a young boy and never attended school. There was, in fact, probably no school there; if there was a school, he probably didn’t attend; if he did attend it would have been in order to receive a rudimentary training in how to read Hebrew. But that almost certainly never happened. Peter was an illiterate peasant."

https://ehrmanblog.org/were-first-centu ... and-write/

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Re: peterson's Review of Hitchens Is Not Great

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Physics Guy wrote:
Thu May 07, 2020 3:52 pm
The New Testament is a hodgepodge, and there are bits like the famous John 8 passage that somehow didn't make it into the oldest manuscripts even though it's one of the best Jesus stories and seems in several ways like the kind of thing Jesus might have said. That cuts both ways. Maybe something like the episode did really happen but it was left on the cutting room floor for the first popular editions because it had Jesus condoning adultery. Or maybe it just managed to attach itself to the gospel of John because it was a good story that seemed to fit.

I agree that it's astonishing that the gospels differ as much as they do on significant details, but the most astonishing thing is just that the discrepancies were not simply edited away at an early stage. I believe it's a standard point that this astonishing discrepancy is a strong point in favor of the basic authenticity of the gospels. Nobody saw fit to harmonize them. The generation of early Christians that put these things together had so much respect for whatever traditions they were trying to collate that they simply let all these discrepancies stand.

The resurrection accounts are poster children for this. Obviously no possible ancient text no matter when it was written or what it said would be convincing evidence of a resurrection. But it's remarkable how far short the gospel accounts fall from even trying to stake an unambiguous claim. There's nothing about anyone actually seeing the dead body start twitching. Many of the accounts include the awkward detail that people didn't recognize Jesus at first.

The gospels certainly don't read like newsreel documentaries shot in real time. With a few exceptions of which the birth narratives are the most egregious, however, they don't read like deliberate fabrications, either. They read like compilations of traditional accounts that undoubtedly got garbled and re-spun to some extent but that were also treated with a lot of respect by whomever compiled them.

And it sounds as though Hitchens may have agreed with that. I've never read his book, or Peterson's review of it, so I'm not trying to kick Hitchens at all. I was just reacting to what looked like a misleading critique of the New Testament gospels based on extrapolating from outliers. I reacted because it's related to one of my personal anecdotes, an eye-opening experience I once had that makes me alive to this issue.

Even eye-witness testimony to recent events can be surprisingly divergent on details. I was involved in a minor military summary trial once, that ended up taking place about a year after the episode at issue. A number of participants testified clearly and several of them supplied vivid items of corroborating detail. None of the accounts agreed with each other. The crucial issue was the exact trajectory of a certain glass object, namely whether it had been thrown at an officer, but one guy made the object a mug and another a bottle, one guy had pieces falling on his lap at the table while another swept them up in a distant corner of the room. No two of the several accounts could possibly both have been true.

I hadn't been there myself at the time but I knew the place and I knew all the people. I really didn't think that any of them were deliberately trying to spin their accounts. None of them liked or hated the accused enough to do that. Their memories just weren't reliable on detail, even when the memories were detailed and vivid. We gave up hope of figuring out what exactly had happened but on the other hand we were firmly convinced that sufficient shenanigans had gone down to make the guy guilty of a lesser charge. Once we got over our surprise at how unreliable the details were it seemed quite easy to discern a robust general story, even though it was a little bit fuzzy.

It's by no means clear that anything in the gospels was recorded within a year by eye-witnesses. I'm just saying that a certain amount of garbling and discrepancy isn't evidence of fabrication. On the contrary I think it's good evidence against fabrication, at least up to a point.
You make some fair points here. We now know in some detail about how people remember their personal narratives about their lives and no the actual events that take place. And I agree that there was some clear integrity among the people who compiled the gospels and didn't try to harmonize them.

But, if you go back far enough, their is obviously some story telling going on. There are some contradictions that can't be ascribed to people misremembering. Quoting Bart Ehrman, "if Matthew and John were both written by earthly disciples of Jesus, why are they so very different, on all sorts of levels? Why do they contain so many contradictions? Why do they have such fundamentally different views of who Jesus was? In Matthew, Jesus comes into being when he is conceived, or born, of a virgin; in John, Jesus is the incarnate Word of God who was with God in the beginning and through whom the universe was made. In Matthew, there is not a word about Jesus being God; in John, that's precisely who he is. In Matthew, Jesus teaches about the coming kingdom of God and almost never about himself (and never that he is divine); in John, Jesus teaches almost exclusively about himself, especially his divinity. In Matthew, Jesus refuses to perform miracles in order to prove his identity; in John, that is practically the only reason he does miracles."

https://www.npr.org/templates/story/sto ... =124572693

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Re: peterson's Review of Hitchens Is Not Great

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Billy Shears wrote:
Fri May 08, 2020 12:01 pm
But, if you go back far enough, their is obviously some story telling going on. There are some contradictions that can't be ascribed to people misremembering. Quoting Bart Ehrman, "if Matthew and John were both written by earthly disciples of Jesus, why are they so very different, on all sorts of levels? Why do they contain so many contradictions? Why do they have such fundamentally different views of who Jesus was? In Matthew, Jesus comes into being when he is conceived, or born, of a virgin; in John, Jesus is the incarnate Word of God who was with God in the beginning and through whom the universe was made. In Matthew, there is not a word about Jesus being God; in John, that's precisely who he is. In Matthew, Jesus teaches about the coming kingdom of God and almost never about himself (and never that he is divine); in John, Jesus teaches almost exclusively about himself, especially his divinity. In Matthew, Jesus refuses to perform miracles in order to prove his identity; in John, that is practically the only reason he does miracles."
Sure, but now I'm not sure what the point is. Every story told has story telling. In most biographies of recent historical figures everything that is presented as fact is thoroughly documented, and yet different biographers select and emphasize differently, to produce very different takes on their subjects.

At the level of detail there are rival accounts that differ irreconcileably, and at the big-picture level of what it all means, there are radically different interpretations. This isn't a problem with the gospels, however. It's a problem with everything.

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Re: peterson's Review of Hitchens Is Not Great

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That's not what we see in the Gospels, though. We seem to have a primary source narrative in the Gospel of Mark. It starts with the ministry of Jesus and ends with his death. The author shows his subject to be concerned with the immanent arrival of the God of Israel's champion to free his people from corruption within and without. This Son of Man is not clearly Jesus, but Jesus clearly views himself as proclaiming him and the need to prepare.

This source is used by the authors of Luke and Matthew for different purposes. Matthew appears to have been a champion of the law and Judaism. Luke is more aligned with Paul's mission to the gentiles and gentrification of the promise to be Gods chosen people through Jesus rather than by birth. The author of John is clearly anti-Semitic, likely influenced by the revolts and propoganda against the Jews, and treats Jesus as a Caeser, a divine being come to earth, disdainful of the Jews and their ways of life.

Those aren't narrative choices. Their repurposing of a story and apparently appealing movement gaining in popularity...and three of countless others circulating at the time that are barely known or largely lost due to their lack of appeal or ability to be incorporated into a standardized, sanctioned canon when the movement jumped to mainstreaming.

They share a common story due to direct copying of the story, and it is no more meaningful than is the general common cores of mythologies told in ever culture. Familiar stories maintain consistent ekements for reasons, and among those sharing the Christ myth about Jesus orally they would be familiar.

We can see Jesus' brother James was the true heir to the movement Jesus fronted after Jesus' death yet Peter was moved forward and the narratives edited. Paul makes it clear Peter is subordinate to James in two places, for example. What became Christianity has almost not ties to whomever the historical Jesus might have been than his name and seeds of discontent against authority and the state of the world in which one lives.

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Re: peterson's Review of Hitchens Is Not Great

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I found the resurrection stories interesting in their differences and contradictions. Bart Ehrman has spoken about this problem in his debates with evangelical scholars
https://docs.google.com/document/d/1vkn ... 7dBbU/edit

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Re: peterson's Review of Hitchens Is Not Great

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Perhaps the longest section of Dr. Peterson’s review is about the historicity of the gospels. Dr. Peterson says:

He also describes the Gospels as late. Because they are late, of course, they can’t be trusted as history.

Unsurprisingly, this accusation has nothing whatsoever to do with Hitchens’s actual point. Hitchens’s argument is not that the gospels can’t be trusted because they are late. His argument is, once again, given by this quote:

For concision, I shall again defer to a finer writer than myself and quote what H. L. Mencken irrefutably says in his Treatise on the Gods: The simple fact is that the New Testament, as we know it, is a helter-skelter accumulation of more or less discordant documents, some of them probably of respectable origin but others palpably apocryphal, and that most of them, the good along with the bad, show unmistakable signs of having been tampered with.

Nowhere in the entire book does Hitchens say or imply anything to the effect of “because the gospels are late, they can’t be trusted as history.” Yet, that is the strawman that Peterson attacks and attacks and attacks.

First, Dr. Peterson makes an argument that Luke was written in the early 60’s “at the latest.” I won’t litigate his arguments here, but suffice to say that according to the Distinguished Professor Bart Ehrman, “The standard dates that most scholars seem to agree on, based on all this, is that Mark was written around 70 CE; Matthew and Luke 80-85 CE; and John 95 CE.” Dr. Peterson says the arguments of “most scholars” on this point are ‘very, very weak.” He can argue that, but he shouldn’t pretend he is the one who has the backing of mainstream scholarship while doing so.

To illustrate his point and impress his audience, Dr. Peterson says:

We may be looking at documents that are written as early as within roughly 20 years of the death of Christ. And how does that compare to secular historiography from the ancient world? Hitchens seems to be under the impression that we are just awash in ancient documents that were written by eyewitnesses to many of the events that we talk about in ancient history. But listen to this the earliest surviving biography about of Alexander the great by Diodorus dates to nearly three centuries after Alexander’s death. Livy's account of the campaigns of Hannibal was written over a century and a half after the death of that general in 182 BC. Tacitus wrote his annals about AD 115. His book covers imperial Roman history from AD 14 to 68, meaning that he wrote about 50 to 100 years after the events he describes….

Dr. Peterson continues attacking this straw man with examples of Suetonius, Herodotus, Diogenes Laertius,and Plutarch, all of whom provided histories with a larger lag than the lag between when Jesus lived and Mark was written. He says, You get the point here? By the standards of ancient world, the Gospels are amazingly close… Hitchens clearly has no understanding of ancient historiography. If we were to go by his standards, we could know essentially nothing about the ancient world. All ancient history as it’s taught, apart from the Gospel, secular history would have to be tossed.

Again, this strawman has absolutely nothing to do with Hitchens's actual arguments, so I can’t quote anything directly from Hitchens in response to this. But I would suspect that in the hypothetical case of Hitchens being alive to defend himself and thinking that Dr. Peterson somehow merited a response, he might say something like the following:

First, the problem with the gospels is not that they are late. Unlike the other examples you provided, they do have the following problems:

1- We don’t know who wrote the gospels. No clue. So we have no clue on the authors’ reliability.
2- The gospels are full of contradictions on important, fundamental things. This strongly indicates that the authors were willing to make things up for their contradicting religious-based agendas, which indicates they aren't reliable witnesses.
3- The gospels were then transcribed over and over again for nearly 300 years by people who weren’t professional scribes but by amateurs who often did have the means, motive, and opportunity to add, delete, and modify the stories to better reflect their own religious sensibilities. It wasn’t until the 4th century when professional scribes took over.
4- The miraculous nature of these stories just isn’t plausible.

Of course Dr. Peterson might respond that point 4 is merely begging the question. But if we are trying to do a real-world analysis of what happened and what didn’t happen, plausibility matters. On the other three points, mainstream scholarship backs up Hitchens 100%. That is why there are scores of books by preeminent scholars with titles such as Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why, while there are not books with titles such as Misquoting Plutarch. When evaluating the reliability of ancient documents to tell accurate history, the lag between when the events took place and when the histories are written isn't the only consideration. It isn't even the most important one.

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Re: peterson's Review of Hitchens Is Not Great

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On pages 8 and 9 of the transcript, Dr. Peterson sets out to provide some evidence of his thesis that according to Hitchens, “anything that’s good is secular, anything that’s bad is a believer, a faithful person.” Of course that is Dr. Peterson’s straw man, not Christopher Hitchens’s point. But Dr. Peterson does attempt to support this point by providing several examples of people who are both moral heroes and believers, and then showing (how well and honestly we shall see), that Hitchens either denies that they are believers or denies that they were good. Let’s look at all of the examples he cites:

Example 1: he admires Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German theologian who died as a martyr against Hitler in 1945, just shortly before the end of World War II. Bonhoeffer was a pastor, a radical Christian, who believed in radical discipleship of Christ and that led him into opposition to the Nazis. So Hitchens says that he wasn’t really a believer, that he was motivated by a vague humanism.

This is false. Hitchens says that Bonhoeffer was a brave Lutheran Pastor (page 12), and later says we revere his memory for being a believer who acted in accordance only with the dictates of conscience (page 414). Dr. Peterson’s accusation that Hitchens says Bonhoeffer was not a believer is a lie. Hitchens categorizes Bonhoeffer as a believer, using that specific word.

Example 2: Karl Barth who was another prominent opponent of Hitler, who is probably the most prominent Protestant theologian of the 20th century, is omitted altogether even though he is the principal author of the principal Protestant statement denouncing Nazism, okay? Because that doesn’t count, that doesn’t fit the narrative that he is trying to tell.

WTF?. First, I’ll give Dr. Peterson some credit for actually saying something about the book that is true; it is true that Hitchens doesn’t mention Karl Barth anywhere in this book. But it is a strange point. Does Dr. Peterson think that the number of conscientious Christians in World War II were so few in number that Hitchens should have discussed all of them?

Example 3: Martin Luther King whom he greatly admires, turns out not to have been a Christian at all. Now that would have been a shock to King who got a theology doctor at Boston University and whose speeches are just laden with biblical imagery, but no he wasn’t a believer either.

This is false. Hitchens does in fact greatly admire Dr. Martin Luther King (Why, pray tell, does Dr. Peterson merely say Martin Luther King rather than Dr. Martin Luther King? I wouldn’t have even thought about it had Dr. Peterson not derided Hitchens for referring to Dr. William Albright as merely “William Albright”). Hitchens approvingly quotes Rabbi Abraham Heschel as saying, “Where in America today do we hear a voice like the voice of the prophets of Israel? Martin Luther King is a sign that God has not forsaken the United States of America.”

If I wanted to bend over backwards to be generous and fair to Dr. Peterson here, it is true that at one point Hitchens gets on a roll and juxtaposes how vengeful Jesus was (e.g. threatening non-sycophants to everlasting fire) with Dr. King’s pacifism. He then pays the complement to Dr. King of In no real as opposed to nominal sense, then, was he a Christian. So if one took that literally, he said Dr. King was merely a nominal Christian. Hitchens never said that Dr. King wasn’t "a Christian at all", much less wasn't a “believer” as Dr. Peterson also falsely accuses, so at most, Dr. Peterson gets a quarter of a point on this one.

Example 4: John Brown, you might have heard of him, John Brown was this militant Calvinist preacher who opposed slavery, it turns out he was a secularist too according to Hitchens.

This is False. Hitchens said John Brown was a fearsome and pitiless Calvinist who he credits with admitting freethinkers into his his tiny but epoch-changing army that prepared the way for the Emancipation Proclamation. Hitchens did not say or imply he was a secularist.

Example 5: There is no mention of William Wilberforce.

WTF?. Dr. Peterson said another true thing about the book—Wilberforce isn’t mentioned. But again, does Dr. Peterson think there are so few Christian heroes that fought to end Christian slavery that every single one of them should have been mentioned in this book? If not, what is his point?

Example 6: John Newton is not mentioned.

WTF?

Example 7: There is no mention in his account of the End of Slavery of the Underground Railroad, what’s the significance of that?

This is misleading. The underground railroad began by Quakers in what is now the campus of Guilford College in Greensboro, North Carolina. Hitchens gave them credit when he said, In the eighteenth century, a few dissenting Mennonites and Quakers in America began to call for abolition.


Examples 8-10: Or Sojourner Truth or Harriet Tubman or The Battle Hymn of the Republic or Harriet Beecher Stowe.

WFT?

After these ten examples, Dr. Peterson summarizes his point thusly: No mention of them because religious people can’t ever do anything good.

I would suggest there is no mention of them because there is only so much you can say about slavery ending in America in only five pages. Dr. Peterson deliberately creates the impression that Hitchens represents the ending of slavery in America as a battle between secularist Yankees and Christian rebels. But that isn't his point. At all. One is forced to ask whether Dr. Peterson is a bald faced liar, didn’t read the book, or has zero reading compression skills.

Rather than trying to rephrase Hitchens’s point, I’ll snip together some passages that make the point and accentuate that he is saying anything but “religious people can’t ever do anything good.” Hitchens said:

Taking the memorable story of black America as our instance, we should find, first, that the enslaved were not captives of some Pharoah but of several Christian states and societies… In the eighteenth century, a few dissenting Mennonites and Quakers in America began to call for abolition… the Almighty managed to tolerate the situation while several generations were born and died under the lash, and until slavery became less profitable, and even the British Empire began to get rid of it. This was the spur for the revival of abolitionism. It sometimes took a Christian form, most notably in the case of William Lloyd Garrison, the great orator and founder of the Liberator. Mr. Garrison was a splendid man by any standards…

It was the escaped slave Frederick Douglass, author of the stirring and mordant Autobiography, who eschewed apocalyptic language and demanded instead that the United States live up to the universalist promises contained in its Declaration and its Constitution. The lionlike John Brown, who also began as a fearsome and pitiless Calvinist, did the same…

The Confederacy adopted the Latin motto “Deo Vindice” or, in effect, “God on Our Side.” As Lincoln pointed out in his highly ambivalent second inaugural address, both sides in the quarrel made that claim, at least in their pulpits, just as both were addicted to loud, confident quotations from holy writ…

The very most that can be said for religion in the grave matter of abolition is that after many hundreds of years, and having both imposed and postponed the issue until self-interest had led to a horrifying war, it finally managed to undo some small part of the damage and misery that it had inflicted in the first place.


Hitchens does make the point less directly that humanist ideals unequivocally show that slavery is wrong while antebellum Christianity was schizophrenic about it. But he makes it clear that there weren’t very many non-Christians on any side of the issue. Saying that both sides of the debate about the merits of slavery were dominated by Christians is a far cry from Peterson’s dishonest straw man, “religious people can’t ever do anything good” and "anything that’s good is secular, anything that’s bad is a believer, a faithful person."

Gadianton
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Re: peterson's Review of Hitchens Is Not Great

Post by Gadianton »

Another good round of points. He sure reads in a lot of things.
Hitchens never said that Dr. King wasn’t "a Christian at all", much less wasn't a “believer” as Dr. Peterson also falsely accuses, so at most, Dr. Peterson gets a quarter of a point on this one.
That's generous. I might have gone an eighth of a point.

From what you cited, it seems our reviewer prohibits psychoanalysis in principle, but Ironically, our reviewer is himself an over-the-top, heavy-handed psychoanalyst. For instance, he's known to say that atheists are often moral despite their atheism -- they aren't consistent. They may say they act according to some materialist calculus, but since minds can't be reduced to the mechanics of wheels and gears, they really make their choices by the divine sense (besides, a correct understanding of materialist calculus shows the answer is always to rape, pillage, and plunder, yet atheists don't always do that).

An evil DCP (or would he be good?) from a parallel universe would criticize this DCP, saying that Peterson is really calling such atheists Christians. (taken to its extreme, even atheists who do always rape, pillage, and plunder, as their doctrine dictates, might be consistent with the doctrine, but due to the impossibility of mind-as-gears, are still not caused by the doctrine, and so they too, could still be said to be Christians, from this bent that we aren't allowed to separate psychoanalysis from the individuals own reports).

Billy Shears
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Re: peterson's Review of Hitchens Is Not Great

Post by Billy Shears »

Gadianton wrote:
Tue May 12, 2020 8:34 pm
That's generous. I might have gone an eighth of a point.
LOL. What Dr. Peterson said was blatantly false and totally misunderstood the point Hitchens was making, so in that sense he didn't score a point at all. But, this was one of the rare occasions when there was at least a superficial relationship between what the book said and what Peterson claimed it said, so I wanted to give him some recognition of that. I'm setting the bar really low here.
Gadianton wrote:
Tue May 12, 2020 8:34 pm
From what you cited, it seems our reviewer prohibits psychoanalysis in principle, but Ironically, our reviewer is himself an over-the-top, heavy-handed psychoanalyst. For instance, he's known to say that atheists are often moral despite their atheism -- they aren't consistent....
I've definitely seen that on the reviewer's blog, but curiously, he doesn't really do that in the book review. Instead, he blatantly ignores what the book says and attacks a straw man of an atheist who is as immoral and stupid as his audience would expect an atheist to be. Perhaps he's ignoring the book and attacking what he imagines Hitchens really thinks?

I can't help wonder what's going on here. When I called him out on this in the comment section of his blog, he said he stood behind this review. Is this simple dishonesty? A cynical calculation that his audience won't call his bluff and see for themselves? Or is it some sort of inability to comprehend what he reads?

I hesitate to psychoanalyze him myself, but my suspicion is that he finds the topic of the book so abhorrent that he reacts in an emotional knee-jerk that precludes him from concentrating on what it actually says. An essential part of reading comprehension is the ability to have empathy with the writer and a willingness to see the world as he sees it. Maybe the reviewer just doesn't have the confidence and emotional fortitude to try to earnestly attempt to understand this particular atheist. And maybe he is subconsciously aware of this, which is why it continues to gnaw on him. After all, he has been attacking this book for almost as long as his "malevolent stalker" has been attacking him.

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Re: peterson's Review of Hitchens Is Not Great

Post by Gadianton »

i've definitely seen that on the reviewer's blog, but curiously, he doesn't really do that in the book review.
Right. My point was awkward, but what I meant was that if DCP reviewed himself elsewhere with the same logic he's applying to Hitchens, he would need to accuse himself of calling atheists Christians.

Elsewhere, not in the book, he claims that atheists (sometimes) make good moral decisions despite claiming a framework where such decisions do not follow from the framework. This reflects Hitchens' claim that Christians make good decision, decisions sub-consciously rooted in humanist reasoning, despite the fact that they see themselves as following scripture or the pope, or whatever, and identify as Christians.

To say that Hitchens' critique amounts to denying Christians of their Christianity, would be the same as saying that his own criticisms of atheism elsewhere deny atheists of atheism, which is clearly not what he is trying to do elsewhere.

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Finer Wonders

Post by Billy Shears »

I continue to comb through the article looking for any valid and significant criticisms of this book and failing to do so. This next section is interesting, because it really comes across like Dr. Peterson not understanding the plain (and precious?) words of the text. I don’t know how to respond more than that, because for my part, I don’t understand Dr. Peterson’s complaint.

For this section, I’ll provide a brief background on the topic and will begin by quoting Hitchens. I will then list the possible hypotheses of how Dr. Peterson is apparently interpreting this passage. I’ll then quote Dr. Peterson so the reader can see what he actually said. The reader will then be invited to weigh in. What in the heck is Dr. Peterson trying to say?

The topic is whether it requires hubris to come to the sweeping realization that all religion is made up, and what life is like after you accept this fact. Can one intellectually, emotionally, and dare I say spiritually, appreciate great works of scholarship and art that were inspired by religion even after you know the religion in question is actually false? In Hitchens’s words:

It takes a certain “leap” of another kind to find oneself asserting that all religion is made up by ordinary mammals and has no secret or mystery to it. Behind the veil of Oz, there is nothing but bluff. Can this really be true? As one who has always been impressed by the weight of history and culture, I do keep asking myself this question. Was it all in vain, then: the great struggle of the theologians and scholars, and the stupendous efforts of painters and architects and musicians to create something lasting and marvelous that would testify to the glory of god?

Not at all. It does not matter to me whether Homer was one person or many, or whether Shakespeare was a secret Catholic or a closet agnostic. I should not feel my own world destroyed if the greatest writer about love and tragedy and comedy and morals was finally revealed to have been the Earl of Oxford all along, though I must add that sole authorship is important to me and I would be saddened and diminished to learn that Bacon had been the man….

A moment in history has now arrived when even a pygmy such as myself can claim to know more—through no merit of his own—and to see that the final ripping of the whole disguise is overdue. Between them, the sciences of textual criticism, archaeology, physics, and molecular biology have shown religious myths to be false and man-made and have also succeeded in evolving better and more enlightened explanations. The loss of faith can be compensated by the newer and finer wonders that we have before us, as well as by immersion in the near-miraculous work of Homer and Shakespeare and Milton and Tolstoy and Proust, all of which was also “man-made” (though one sometimes wonders, as in the case of Mozart).
(page 258-260)

Now, one would think that even if the reviewer disagrees about whether we now know that religion really is false, he would at least be grateful that Hitchens has a deep appreciation and even reverence for "the great struggle of the theologians and scholars, and the stupendous efforts of painters and architects and musicians to create something lasting and marvelous that would testify to the glory of god [sic]". If Hitchens can read Paradise Lost as literature and feel deeply moved by it, isn’t that at least something that he and, presumably, the reviewer have in common? Isn’t that common appreciation something to be celebrated?

That’s what I would think, at least. But Dr. Peterson thinks this passage is humorous and interprets it very differently, as we shall see. I don’t understand what he is thinking, but I have it narrowed down to the following four possibilities. Which of these things best represents how Dr. Peterson interprets the passage above?

Hypothesis A: When Hitchens says atheists should immerse themselves into “the near-miraculous work of Homer and Shakespeare and Milton” etc., what he is saying is that these works must all be sanitized so that all references or allusions to anything religious are completely removed.

Hypothesis B :When Hitchens says atheists should immerse themselves into “the near-miraculous work of Homer and Shakespeare and Milton” etc., what he is saying is that under no circumstances are atheists to read these things or feel or recognize any redeeming feature of anything associated with religion; these works must be destroyed and replaced with new things inspired by secularism.

Hypothesis C: When Hitchens says atheists should immerse themselves into “the near-miraculous work of Homer and Shakespeare and Milton” etc., he is saying that these works are safe for atheists to read, because their authors were all dedicated atheists and these works of art never make any allusions to anything religious whatsoever.

Hypotheses D: When Hitchens says atheists should immerse themselves into “the near-miraculous work of Homer and Shakespeare and Milton” etc., he is saying something that is impossible to do, because atheists are morally and intellectually incapable of appreciating anything that has to do with religion.

Pretty bizarre, right? Here is what Dr. Peterson said in his own words.

Here’s another amusing part of what he has to say. “The loss of faith,” he says, “can be compensated by the newer and finer wonders that we have before us, as well as by immersion in the near-miraculous work of Homer and Shakespeare and Milton and Tolstoy and Proust, all of which was manmade.” Now Homer without religion? What do you make of his story – well anyway. You lose about half of it right there. Tolstoy without religion? He would have been shocked by that. But the one that really gets me is Milton without religion. Here are the opening lines of Paradise Lost: “Of man's first disobedience, and the fruit of that forbidden tree, whose mortal taste brought death into the world and all our woe, with loss of Eden, till one greater man restore us and regain the blissful seat, sing heav'nly muse, what in me is dark illumine, what is low raise and support; that to the heighth of this great argument I may assert Eternal Providence, and justify the ways of God to men.”

That's the purpose statement of Paradise Lost. So, you know, get rid of religion, but read your Milton.

Imagine Dante without religion! I have tried to imagine Chaucer's Canterbury Tales without religion. Pilgrimage to what? Where are they going? Sort of reminds me of the joke, you cross an athiest or an agnostic with a Jehovah’s Witness, what do you get? Someone who goes door to door for no obvious reason. Remove religion from Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and where they are going to go? Well, but he asks us to contemplate a world without religion. I ask you – I invite you to contemplate that same world. Imagine a world without Bach's St. Matthew Passion, without Handel's Messiah, without Mozart's Requiem, without Stravinsky, without John Tavener, without John Coltrane - heck, even without Brian Wilson, without cathedrals, without the Blue Mosque in Istanbul. I mean, it's all gone. You cannot imagine that you can just get rid of all the bad parts of religion and you are still going to have all the good things. You get ride of it at all, what are you left with? Instead of the cathedral of Chartres maybe a Quonset hut, something purely functional.


There is a perfect term to describe the merits of Dr. Peterson criticism here: it isn't even wrong.
Last edited by Billy Shears on Fri May 15, 2020 6:21 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: peterson's Review of Hitchens Is Not Great

Post by moksha »

Hitchens wrote:... though I must add that sole authorship is important to me and I would be saddened and diminished to learn that Bacon had been the man….
I have to agree with Dr. Peterson when he observes, "Besides suspecting Bacon, we much also think of collaborative efforts with Le Tuce, Tom Mato, and Mayo. However, just thinking of Hitchens makes me so angry that I could thrash him with a Miracle Whip."

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Re: peterson's Review of Hitchens Is Not Great

Post by Philo Sofee »

moksha wrote:
Fri May 15, 2020 3:44 am
Hitchens wrote:... though I must add that sole authorship is important to me and I would be saddened and diminished to learn that Bacon had been the man….
I have to agree with Dr. Peterson when he observes, "Besides suspecting Bacon, we much also think of collaborative efforts with Le Tuce, Tom Mato, and Mayo. However, just thinking of Hitchens makes me so angry that I could thrash him with a Miracle Whip."
:lol: :lol: :lol:

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