Dispatches from the Creation Wars

Get Ready for the War on Easter

For a nation just recovering from the mass stupidity of the “War on Christmas”, now we’ve got the War on Easter. Only this time, it’s not just an empty catchphrase invented by demagogues to whip up a fake frenzy, it’s a catchphrase invented by a mediocre filmmaker to sell his bad documentary. The filmmaker, Brian Flemming, made the documentary The God Who Wasn’t There, which was sent to me by the distributors several months ago to review but, frankly, it was so badly made that I only made it about halfway through.

And now Flemming is trying to pump up sales by encouraging people to place 666 copies of the DVD in churches around the country. Get it? 666 copies! Isn’t that clever? Well no, it’s juvenile and shallow and a pathetic attempt to increase the sales a video that even a heathen like me found to be incredibly amateurish. It’s the atheist’s equivalent to the “golly gee whiz” apologetics of Josh McDowell on the Christian side, the sort of thing that can only be taken seriously by the ignorant and the credulous. Go away, Flemming, and take your War on Easter and your bad video with you. We get enough of this stupidity from the wingnuts, we don’t need you adding fuel to the fire.

Comments

  1. #1 Scott
    April 11, 2006

    Comment from a fellow heathen – this looks to be incredibly silly and ignorant, to the point of not being worth picking apart …

  2. #2 Pieter B
    April 11, 2006

    I noted recently that the Ann Coulter fans think it’s cute that her new screed, “Godless,” is being released on June 6th. “6/6/06, geddit? Heh heh.” I wouldn’t be surprised if the same people — or Ann herself — get all het up about Flemming’s use of the same number as part of the War on Christians™.

    Oh — Drudge used the perfect word to describe Coulter the other day: “Controversialist.”

  3. #3 Orac
    April 11, 2006

    I got a copy of The God Who Wasn’t There sent out for review as well. I was so disappointed in it that I wanted my money back, even though it was free and came with a presskit. (I had never seen a DVD review presskit before.) My wife didn’t like it either. Dawkins’s The Root of All Evil? was a far better critical attack on religion.

    I never bothered to write a review of it.

  4. #4 Orac
    April 11, 2006

    I noted recently that the Ann Coulter fans think it’s cute that her new screed, “Godless,” is being released on June 6th. “6/6/06, geddit? Heh heh.”

    Nooooo! That’s my wedding anniversary. How dare Coulter sully it by releasing another one of her screeds?

  5. #5 Chance
    April 11, 2006

    Ok, Let me posit another view. Yes the Flemming video was amateurish, he has no budget and few dollars.He’s small time. So given those limitations he did the best he could.

    I don’t find his evangelism any more offputting than the people who go door to door trying to convert you to their brand of thinking. None of it should be taken seriously but you have to at least admire the guys chutzpah and I think he may well eventually tap into what I’ve long thought was the ‘secret’ underground of the USA, the real numbers of rational thinkers that proclaim a religious belief.

    Go away, Flemming, and take your War on Easter and your bad video with you. We get enough of this stupidity from the wingnuts, we don’t need you adding fuel to the fire.

    So he shouldn’t express his view? All the man wants to do is put a counter view into some churches. If he sells a few videos big deal. I’m not sure why we should advocating this man keeping silent when so many that he opposes do not. Maybe fuel on the fire is exactly what is needed.

  6. #6 Caliban
    April 11, 2006

    I was also disappointed with the dvd. It was extremely light and totally lacking in vigor. I did however, enjoy some of the extended interviews on the special features. I saw Daneil Dennet talking about his latest book to a group on cspan for about 15 minutes, and that was much meatier. I wish that guy would put out a video. :)

  7. #7 Ed Brayton
    April 11, 2006

    Chance wrote:

    Ok, Let me posit another view. Yes the Flemming video was amateurish, he has no budget and few dollars.He’s small time. So given those limitations he did the best he could.

    I disagree. It’s not the production values that were amateurish, it’s the level of scholarship. You don’t need more money to present better arguments and more credible scholarship. This was Josh McDowell level apologetics, which is pretty much the bottom of the barrel.

    I don’t find his evangelism any more offputting than the people who go door to door trying to convert you to their brand of thinking.

    I don’t either. I find it equally absurd and equally annoying. Responding to annoying people by being equally annoying is still annoying.

    So he shouldn’t express his view? All the man wants to do is put a counter view into some churches. If he sells a few videos big deal. I’m not sure why we should advocating this man keeping silent when so many that he opposes do not. Maybe fuel on the fire is exactly what is needed.

    Of course he has the right to express his views. And I have the right to tell him he should shut up because he’s an amateur ideologue with an axe to grind and not someone who should be taken seriously. I think we should advocate not responding to ignorance with more ignorance. We can’t criticize the other side for doing it and then use their behavior as an excuse to do the same thing, that’s hypocritical. The fact is that this all a trumped up project for him to make more money. When Jerry Falwell does that, I condemn it. I’m gonna condemn it when someone opposed to Falwell does it too.

  8. #8 Chance
    April 11, 2006

    I disagree. It’s not the production values that were amateurish, it’s the level of scholarship. You don’t need more money to present better arguments and more credible scholarship. This was Josh McDowell level apologetics, which is pretty much the bottom of the barrel.

    Thats a fine point but I think it misses the fact that you don’t need alot of scholarship to point out the obvious absurditities in a religion. I don’t think Fleming set out to do a uber serious documentary. Just to point out some basic ideas. I’m not an apologist for Flemming and my review would be similiar to yours but I never went it thinking it was meant to be anything but an expression of an alternative view.

    I don’t either. I find it equally absurd and equally annoying. Responding to annoying people by being equally annoying is still annoying.

    The one difference as I see it is that this nation badly needs balance. It needs balance for several reasons.

    Of course he has the right to express his views. And I have the right to tell him he should shut up because he’s an amateur ideologue with an axe to grind and not someone who should be taken seriously.

    What axe does he have to grind other than to present another view that happens to be athiestic? Why should what he says not be taken seriously? He is attempting to point out the silliness of a religion.

    I think we should advocate not responding to ignorance with more ignorance.

    I agree, I just don’t seem what he is doing as overtly ignorant. Aggressive perhaps, but not ignorant. He is trying to get people to think. I don’t see how that can be bad.

    We can’t criticize the other side for doing it and then use their behavior as an excuse to do the same thing, that’s hypocritical.

    Yes and no. If many are thinking one thing your going to have to go out and spread the other side somehow. You can’t expect everyone to find you. Thats a huge and primary difference. Now calling it the ‘war on Easter’ is idiot but he has a little circus showman in him. He is not advocating showing his video in schools, but rather placing it in the very places the people he wishes to reach frequent.

    The fact is that this all a trumped up project for him to make more money. When Jerry Falwell does that, I condemn it. I’m gonna condemn it when someone opposed to Falwell does it too

    The difference is when Flemming sells a few hundred copies he probably makes little money, and I’m sure his wealth doesn’t increase in any way that isn’t marginal. When JF begs for funds he builds colleges that continue the spread of idiocy.

    Having said that if someone wants to give JF their money they are free to do so.

    BTW, the commentaries on the dvd are the best part, WAYYYYYY better than the actual video.

  9. #9 Ed Brayton
    April 11, 2006

    I still maintain that it’s no better to engage in lowest common denominator atheist apologetics than it is to engage in lowest common denominator Christian apologetics. And claiming that Jesus never existed at all is not an atheist argument, it’s an historical argument. The vast majority of atheists still recognize that there was a historical Jesus who had followers during the 1st century in Israel and that he caused trouble and was put to death. You don’t have to buy into the non-existent Jesus notion to be an atheist. Jeff Lowder, co-founder of the Internet Infidels, argues strongly for the existence of an historical Jesus (while denying much of what is written about him, of course). So does virtually ever atheist or agnostic Biblical scholar.

  10. #10 Chance
    April 11, 2006

    I still maintain that it’s no better to engage in lowest common denominator atheist apologetics than it is to engage in lowest common denominator Christian apologetics.

    I agree with you but see one major difference between the two. The religious angle always begins with assumptions(presumptions actually). The atheistic side doesn’t. It’s more of a default position. I don’t think the two are flip sides of a coin. I mean not to be laborous but is it a ‘lowest common denominator apologetic’ not to think aliens inhabit our body as per scientology?

    I also don’t think the mythical position is the ‘lowest common denominator’ it raises some legit questions for which there are no ready answers.

    And claiming that Jesus never existed at all is not an atheist argument, it’s an historical argument. The vast majority of atheists still recognize that there was a historical Jesus who had followers during the 1st century in Israel and that he caused trouble and was put to death.

    I agree with you here. But that doesn’t make them correct. This is a difficult area of study for alot of reasons. Ingrained thought, culture, etc. The evidence is scanty and even the historians have trouble cutting and pasting every angle of the argument.

    You don’t have to buy into the non-existent Jesus notion to be an atheist. Jeff Lowder, co-founder of the Internet Infidels, argues strongly for the existence of an historical Jesus (while denying much of what is written about him, of course). So does virtually ever atheist or agnostic Biblical scholar,/blockquote>

    I agree with you. But it should be mentioned that a growing number of scholars are beginning to question this aspect. The borrowing is pretty obvious and in some ways is explained better by a mythical theory. I do not hold it myself however.

    This doesn’t diminish Fleming and his attempts to open an avenue of different thought.

  11. #11 Ed Brayton
    April 11, 2006

    I’d love to hear who those “growing number of scholars” are. I’m only aware of a very few and they aren’t taken terribly seriously even by atheist and agnostic classical scholars and historians. I suspect the “growing number of scholars” who think there was no historical Jesus at all is akin to the “growing number of scientists” who reject evolution. I don’t have any problem with someone trying to argue for such a position, but it can be argued in a scholarly manner or it can be argued in an amateurish, lowest common denominator manner. Flemming chose the latter and that is why I think his movie was lousy. And I think following that up with this ridiculous idea of putting 666 copies of it in churches – “Oooh, let’s pick 666 because that’ll scare all the fundies” – makes him look far worse. It’s juvenile. It’s as contrived to whip up controversy as Marilyn Manson’s carefully crafted public persona. It’s every bit as bad as Bill O’Reilly or Tom DeLay trumping up a contrived controversy to get attention and bring in money. I’m not going to softsoap my response just because this guy is allegedly on “my side”.

  12. #12 Chance
    April 11, 2006

    I still maintain that it’s no better to engage in lowest common denominator atheist apologetics than it is to engage in lowest common denominator Christian apologetics.

    I agree with you but see one major difference between the two. The religious angle always begins with assumptions(presumptions actually). The atheistic side doesn’t. It’s more of a default position. I don’t think the two are flip sides of a coin. I mean not to be laborous but is it a ‘lowest common denominator apologetic’ not to think aliens inhabit our body as per scientology?

    I also don’t think the mythical position is the ‘lowest common denominator’ it raises some legit questions for which there are no ready answers.

    And claiming that Jesus never existed at all is not an atheist argument, it’s an historical argument. The vast majority of atheists still recognize that there was a historical Jesus who had followers during the 1st century in Israel and that he caused trouble and was put to death.

    I agree with you here. But that doesn’t make them correct. This is a difficult area of study for alot of reasons. Ingrained thought, culture, etc. The evidence is scanty and even the historians have trouble cutting and pasting every angle of the argument.

    You don’t have to buy into the non-existent Jesus notion to be an atheist. Jeff Lowder, co-founder of the Internet Infidels, argues strongly for the existence of an historical Jesus (while denying much of what is written about him, of course). So does virtually ever atheist or agnostic Biblical scholar,/blockquote>

    I agree with you. But it should be mentioned that a growing number of scholars are beginning to question this aspect. The borrowing is pretty obvious and in some ways is explained better by a mythical theory. I do not hold it myself however.

    This doesn’t diminish Fleming and his attempts to open an avenue of different thought.

  13. #13 chrisberez
    April 11, 2006

    Are Earl Doherty and Robert Price not taken seriously? I agree that Flemming’s documentary will only preach to the chior, and I agree that this stunt of his is just stupid, but it when you read Doherty and Price’s work, they seem to raise some pretty good arguments. It didn’t strike me as amateur apologetics. Richard Carrier has reviewed and defended Doherty and Price’s work as well. If you can point to the serious atheist and agnostic scholars that refute the arguments made by Doherty and Price, I’d like to know who they are. And I’m serious about that, I’m not trying to be pissy or argumentative here.

  14. #14 Ed Brayton
    April 11, 2006

    My sense of it is that Price is taken seriously, Doherty is not. But it’s certainly true that their position is a very small minority among historians, even atheist and agnostic ones. And I personally just don’t find it persuasive. But that’s really neither here nor there. I don’t have much interest in debating the issue because, frankly, I don’t much care either way. Whether there was or wasn’t a man named Jesus who had followers and was crucified isn’t going to convince me of his divinity or the claims of miracles or anything else about the story. Even if someone is capable of making a credible, scholarly case for the position, Flemming certainly didn’t achieve that and this stupid little stunt only makes me think much worse of the whole thing.

  15. #15 J. J. Ramsey
    April 11, 2006

    “My sense of it is that Price is taken seriously, Doherty is not.”

    That’s about right. Here’s a piece of an old post on the academic Crosstalk discussion list about Doherty:

    “However, I’m not averse to throwing in an original observation of my own: An even greater error Doherty commits throughout his discussion of Paul is in his reading of the term “sarx” with respect to ‘soma.’ It’s quite clear that he either doesn’t understand or doesn’t recognize the distinction between the two, and certainly does not understand the signification of ‘sarx.’ He’s making it all up as he goes along; a short visit to the Perseus Project, which is by no means what I’d call “deep” research, is more than enough to establish that the term ‘sarx’ was in common use among the very philosophers Doherty supposes influenced Paul’s thought, but with a very limited signification precisely antonymic to that Doherty claims. In fact, Doherty cannot produce a single instance in which the tern ‘sarx’ is used with the signification he claims Paul uses. Again, it would be interesting to see Doherty defend his reading in a forum populated by people who are capable of evaluating it. I don’t expect that to happen, since on his website Doherty says that those of us who were foolish enough to waste years of our lives in graduate school only succeeded in closing our minds to the otherwise obvious truth he discovered. So why would he waste time with us?

    “It’s interesting to note that Crossan in BOC [that is, Birth of Christianity] mentions precisely the same point, but having done his homework Crossan reaches the diametrically opposed conclusion: That the term “sarx” and its derivatives denote a “fleshly” and physical existence. Crossan’s discussion is, of course, in a different context.”

    http://groups.yahoo.com/group/crosstalk2/message/12204

    Price is a bit more respected, but these are a couple snippets of a review of his book Deconstructing Jesus:

    “To be sure, the time between Jesus and the New Testament could have produced (and did) a largely fictional story–as Price contends–but could it have produced multiple, independent fabrications from unrelated groups? Evidence from analogous cases from the first century–such as the fantastical stories surrounding Vespasian, or Apollonius of Tyana both of whom apparently really lived–would suggest not.”

    “Price also gives too much credence to the idea that the gospels were written later than is generally supposed (e.g. his contention that Marcion included an earlier version of Luke into his New Testament rather than a redacted version of the canonical Luke). The evidence provided by the last couple of centuries seems too firm to allow this. This resort to late composition also implies sloppiness in the effort to validate the mythological Jesus, for if one posits the conflation of Simon/Peter and the other apostles as independent messiahs into the figure of Jesus based on late composition, one must also address obvious problems, such as how John the Baptist’s story survived relatively intact. On the other hand, that the New Testament writers distorted the Jesus story is nothing new, as we see in the recent work of scholars such as Boyarin, Ehrman, not to mention the work of the Jesus Seminar (of which Price is a member). These scholars cogently argue that the evidence we have is a distorted image of Jesus without resort Jesus’ nonexistence. Certainly, this book would have benefited with a closer conversation with such work.”

    You can find the rest of the review here: http://www.bookreviews.org/bookdetail.asp?TitleId=805&CodePage=805

  16. #16 chrisberez
    April 11, 2006

    Thanks for the info. I had thought that Doherty had some credibility, despite the errors in his book “The Jesus Puzzle”. Richard Carrier’s review of his book led me to believe that Doherty’s book was pretty well researched. I’m glad to see that Price is more respected.

    Is there a good consensus on who the top biblical/new testement scholars are considered to be? I really do like reading that sort of thing.

    Again, though, I do want to emphasize that I agree that Flemming’s stunt is stupid. It’s the sort of behavior that only gives more fuel to the “all atheists are arrogant assholes” crowd.

  17. #17 J. J. Ramsey
    April 11, 2006

    “Is there a good consensus on who the top biblical/new testement scholars are considered to be? I really do like reading that sort of thing.”

    If you nose around the biblioblogs ( http://biblioblogs.com/ ), you’ll find out pretty quick. E. P. Sanders comes to mind, as do J. D. Crossan or Bart Ehrman. Here’s a good resource:

    http://ntgateway.com/

  18. #18 Leni
    April 11, 2006

    I didn’t see the movie, although I did see some of the commentaries and enjoyed them. They weren’t hard hitting or anything, but I liked them. Especially the comments made by the PhD student, whose name I don’t remember, about the universe really being far better suited for black holes than it is for life.

    I got a good laugh out of that.

    That said, I’m assuming the War on Easter amounts to about the same thing as an Improv Everywhere “mission”. And the 666 thing would be a juvenile attempt at mocking the superstitious idiocy that is rife in so many churches. I think saying that it’s an attempt to “scare the fundies” is a bit of an overstatement…Unless I’m missing some crucial detail and it really is more than a prank. As far as stupid stunts go, I really don’t see this as being on the same scale as the “Passion of Tom DeLay” fiasco.

  19. #19 Caliban
    April 11, 2006

    While i too thought that the scholarship could have been better presented, i think some of the people he interviewed for the film had worthwhile things to say despite Flemming’s obnoxious “South Park” style.

    Having said that, i think this prank (which isn’t exactly up my alley) can’t really compare with the sustained poltical assualts on american history, science, and our pluralistic democracy that the religous right has been waging for decades now. In contrast to that, this rather silly easter prank is ridiculously minor in comparrison.

  20. #20 JeffB
    April 12, 2006

    It’s probably worth pointing out that Price doesn’t deny a historical Jesus. He claims to be agnostic about the issue.

    Other good NT scholars: Helmut Koester (his introduction to the NT is excellent), Burton Mack (very liberal, but still mainstream, I think), James Robinson, and Raymond Brown (conservative and very well respected). Mack and Koester are retired, I think.

  21. #21 SkookumPlanet
    April 12, 2006

    If I’m making a horse’s ass of myself, so be it. I’ve not seen the film but have reviewed the website and followed this discussion. My point is about process, not Flemming’s film per se. It’s a review, as it were, of the Left. I’d agree with Ed but that would associate him with the following rant.

    This story directly touches on something I’ve been trying to discuss for about 6 weeks. I despair.

    Flemming is exactly the type of amateur political moron performing exactly the type of amateurish political moronic behavior that plagues the left and feeds the far right’s 24/7/365/35-years-and-counting, highly successful, ongoing campaign to control, then remake, all important U.S. political and social institutions. Biggest political campaign in Earth’s history. Flemming apparently hasn’t noticed.

    STUPID! STUPID! STUPID!

    We face a highly sophisticated, unprecedented “disinformation” campaign, using Americans’ utter dependency on media to inform them about reality, to manipulate into being a “mental reality” in American minds conducive to the right’s goals. Actual reality won’t matter. The left seems clueless about how this is done and how to counteract it. Anybody left of the far right who has contact with this imbecile, his film, or his 12-year-old-geek’s-idea of promoting it should rag him and it up one side and down the other until the idiot’s ashamed to show his face in public — for years.

    STUPID! STUPID! STUPID!

    Just in case the preceding paragraph wasn’t clear, let me rephrase it. By allowing cretinous nincompoops like Flemming to believe they are on our side doing our work we deserve to be parsed into a plethora of political and social interest groups and then one by one fed to the piranha of the radical right, leaving only our bones for future scienceless generations to puzzle over. As is currently happening.

    I’m not addressing his right to express his views. His activity is self-indulgent, destructive to the efforts of many people, and reinforces the so-called war on Christianity. The latter, a mini-lesson on their success, is smart strategy to keep the right’s base in voting booths casting ballots. Flemming puts wingnuts in office with his neurotic, self-deluding outreach temper tantrum. This may rank into the left’s pantheon of political witlessness.

    Eventually, the far right will covertly fund lefties with encephalitic brains to produce similar rightwing-motivational material. But why buy what’s now pro bono? Actions have consequences. Put DVDs into churches? We’re that self-destructive? Wake up people! Be Smart!

    His film plus juvenilia achieve world-class ignorance. Achievement noted.

    Many such stunts will have wingnuts laughing in our faces.

    This farce will have them doing so in private.

    Nothing good can can come from this.

    Flemming, you’re a moron.

    Politically myopic.

    Self-centered.

    Ignoramus.

    Stupid.

    Clear?

  22. #22 Leni
    April 12, 2006

    And Flemming is the problem.

    Case solved.

  23. #23 SkookumPlanet
    April 12, 2006

    Flemming isn’t “the problem”. The problem is we live in a real world with real people with real threats. This isn’t junior high anymore. Fleming is just a self-important moron.

    The problem is the Left refuses to change a stereotype in it’s head about how human beings make decisions. It’s an irrational fantasy. Therefore they can’t figure out what the right is doing to people’s minds — they literally won’t believe it. Thus they can’t begin to develope effective counter measures.

    I’m in a very long series of posts on Chris Mooney’s blog. I talk about this all along, but the better stuff is the last three of mine, and untitled one first line :Well I go from treatise to rant to bed [momentarily], followed by Led To War By Proximity Soundbites, and after that by Who Da Foo’?

    I’ve already written detailed deconstructions of similar clueless failures in approach on the Kerry campaign’s inept defensive preparations for his “swiftboating”, the right’s hanging “Hollywood values” on the left without opposition, the Democrat’s “death tax” debacle, the myopia of the campaign to restore Hetch Hetchy valley, and a pro-gay-marriage group’s fiasco of a project in last fall’s election. I’ve got incomplete drafts of many more examples. This goes beyond “low-hanging fruit”. The ground is littered with this crap!

    Any part of the consitution is amendable. Another decade of Dem-left stupidity and we’ll have handed the far right the power to do with the Constitution as they wish. Why? What for? The right is beatable if the left would just deal with reality. Obviously we can’t. The fantasies in our heads are more compelling.

  24. #24 blogista
    April 12, 2006

    Oh, and by the way, little detail, it’s actually “616″, truth be told. Not “666″:

    “One feature of particular interest is the number that this papyrus assigns to the Beast: 616, rather than the usual 666. (665 is also found.) We knew that this variant existed: Irenaeus cites (and refutes) it. But this is the earliest instance that has so far been found.”

    From the Oxyrhynchus Papyri project

  25. #25 Matthew
    April 12, 2006

    Has no one seen the series on this on the Colbert Report? The opening graphic featuring Jesus using the stone over his tomb as a shield while engaging in a gun fight has to be seen to be believed. It’s pure comedy.

  26. #26 Matthew
    April 12, 2006

    That is, about the “war on easter” not this guy’s film.