Review: “The God Who Wasn’t There.”

(Taking another break from reading to bring a documentary review around. Enjoy!)

Part of being a Christian, in my opinion, means dealing with people who claim your beliefs are crap. It’s really a human requirement, too. People are going to disagree with you, and sometimes they’re going to do it so well that you have much difficulty refuting what they say.

Fortunately, I found little difficulty from Brian Fleming’s documentary, “The God Who Wasn’t There.”

I saw this as a suggestion on my Netflix account, claiming that the movie investigated through scholars and research whether or not Jesus actually existed. I won’t lie; I didn’t want to watch it at first.  I tend to take things like this seriously, because good scholars know their stuff and I need to consider what they have to say carefully if I’m going to enter into dialogue with them at all. While a few good scholars did appear in TGWWT (Sam Harris, Robert M. Price, Richard Carrier, and Alan Dundes all gave interviews to this documentary), Fleming himself demonstrated a severe inability to actually make a case for the non-existence of an historical Jesus, instead using good scholars to give his fundamentalist upbringing the middle finger.

Fleming spends about the first ten minutes of TGWWT laying out the story of the life of Jesus, then interviews a few Christians on the street (outside a Billy Graham Crusade) about how Christianity was able to expand.  Of course, none of them give good answers (out of the five interviews shown), so he gives his own understanding of it: Paul (whom he claims had no connection with Jesus at all) rallied people around his own Christ, then the Gospels were written.  To quote him a little more directly, “Jesus lived for thirty years, then for forty years, everyone forgot, and then the gospels were written.” He also holds to the theory that Mark’s gospel was written first, and the other three just drew from that. There’s a brief quote from Hebrews that, if Jesus were on the earth, he wouldn’t be named a priest (Hebrews 8:4) taken horribly out of its context.

Fleming then launches into the hero myth comparison, where it’s demonstrated that Jesus’ story is much like stories such as the myths of Mithras, Osiris, and Dionysius (among others). I’ve heard this comparison before, and it is one I can’t deny.  There are LOTS of stories just like that of Jesus. Obviously, Christians claim that theirs is the only true one, and that the others are just plain false.  I am not educated enough in these areas to make a  scholarly attempt at explaining how Jesus is different, though my limited knowledge can produce a few thoughts, mostly in relation to the teachings of Jesus (presuming his historical existence) not looking much like the predecessor hero myths, such as Osiris or Mithras.

All the same, this marks the departure from any argument regarding the actual existence of Jesus toward a complete bashing of fundamentalist Christians everywhere, calling them militant and extremist (with some good examples, no doubt) and the claim that they are the true believers of God (based on a few quotations from Leviticus about executing gays).  According to Fleming, “moderate” Christians don’t actually agree with the Bible and aren’t real Christians, and only serve to enable the extremists of Christianity. Following interviews with Sam Harris and Richard Carrier, the display turns into a whole talk of how religion is evil and is the cause of all evil in the world, etc. Given that this documentary was made during the rise of New Atheism, I can see why it was so popular.

The last fifteen minutes, Fleming reveals that he was a fundamentalist growing up, and goes to his old school to talk to the current superintendent about the school’s statement of faith, and tries to get him to admit that what he’s doing is wrong.  When the superintendent cuts off the interview, he walks over to the open chapel, looks at the places where he sat and accepted Jesus as his Savior, then holds the camera up to his face, denies the existence of the Holy Spirit, then fade to black.

If that’s not the most petty and childish way to end what is supposed to be an examination of the historical existence of Jesus Christ, I don’t know what is.  The whole hour of talk about how horrible and idiotic Christianity is ended with an axe to grind. Pathetic.

I don’t really care about the Christ-myth theory in relation to this documentary because it wasn’t discussed. If you’re really interested in whether Jesus existed, find the books of the scholars who appeared in this movie (and the books of scholars who think they’re wrong), read them and decide for yourself. People like Brian Fleming claim to support free thinking, so do it! Whatever you do, though, don’t waste your time with this awful excuse for research. It is a disgrace to good, intellectual work and understanding, and it doesn’t even do a good job setting out what it really wanted to do, which was bash Christianity.

Brian Fleming, you owe me an hour of my life back.

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