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Losing Our Heads

19/01/2015

So a number of people have been posting links to news reports about the public beheading of a convicted child rapist / murderer in Saudi Arabia.

The woman screamed she was innocent just before being executed.

Many of these people are outraged to one degree or another by this news.

I’m just trying to figure out what their outrage is aimed at.

Are they universally opposed to capital punishment?

Well, then we’re in agreement. I would hope we can convince all people, cultures, and governments to abolish capital punishment.[1]

Are they upset that the woman proclaimed her innocence to the very end?

We execute a lot of people here in the US who proclaim their innocence to the very end. I do not know enough about this case to have an opinion on whether or not the Saudi government adequately proved the woman had indeed sexually abused and murdered her step-daughter. I do know there’s ample precedence of step-parents abusing and murdering step-children here in the US, so barring proof there was a miscarriage of justice, I’m going to assume the Saudis know more about the facts of this case than I do.

Are they upset it was a woman that was executed?

Women are as fully capable of committing heinous acts as men, and we’ve executed women for such acts here in the US.

Does the manner of execution bother them?

Beheading is a pretty gruesome way to go, but it is swift and relatively merciful. Certainly swifter and more merciful than repeatedly jabbing a condemned prisoner for 30 minutes in a futile attempt to find a suitable vein for lethal injection, followed by several minutes gasping for breath, fully aware one is dying.[2]

Does the fact that it was a public execution bother them?

The last public execution[3] in the US was in 1936, the last public guillotining in France was in 1939. Photographic evidence indicates public executions in France and Saudi Arabia are comparatively sparsely attended as opposed to the jam-packed spectacles the US used to conduct. Now, if the argument is that public executions are a shameful thing and shouldn’t be conducted, we need to ask why that is so: Because they are unjust? Because they offend our delicate sensibilities? Or because they force us to face the facts about what we are doing to people in the name of justice?

Does it bother them that the execution was carried out by brown skinned non-Christians who aren’t big fans of the US of A?

Well, we had no problem with the French lopping the heads off people up to 1977, and here in America we had more than one death by hanging turn into death by decapitation. It is their land, their culture, their government; if they feel they are justified in what they are doing, how can we stop them? Put pressure on them to change their behavior?

Okay, fine, let’s say we do that. Exactly what kind of behavior are we attempting to change? Killing people, or killing them in public? Do we want the means of execution shifted to something we feel more comfortable with?[4]

We don’t hear a lot of outrage about Asian nations executing prisoners by hangings or firing squads.[5]

Most of the world has abolished the death penalty for common crimes, and many nations for all crimes. The biggest proponents of the death penalty remain Far East Asia, the Middle East, and the horn of Africa.

capital punishment map

I have to ask, is this what fuels the outrage of some? Not that criminals are being executed, but that they’re being executed by people who are…well, let’s put this delicately by using the phrase coined by the late Peter Bergman…not-us ?

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[1] I think all forms of “punishment” are futile, which, as I have noted elsewhere, is not the same as saying people should not be held responsible and accountable for their actions. By all means, take driving privileges away from drunk and reckless drivers, have people who have committed minor offenses pay some restitution in the form of community service or a fine, imprison dangerous and violent criminals so they will not be able to harm citizens during the time they are behind bars, but never ever “punish” because all punishment amounts to is eye-for-an-eye retribution to try to make the offender feel bad for what they have done. They never feel bad; they feel victimized and refuse to accept responsibility.

[2] And, yes, the vast majority of executed prisoners did far worse to their victims. The state is supposed to be above petty revenge and retribution and more about justice. By all accounts it took at least two blows to sever the head of the woman in Saudi Arabia, but the first blow was fatal and severed her spinal chord, so death was probably as instantaneous as that by guillotine. Not to make light of capital punishment, but if the objective is to kill someone as swiftly and as mercifully as possible, the electric chair is the way to go; it makes an awful mess and stench, but it kills the prisoner pretty much instantaneously. That’s the problem with killing people: The swift and merciful ways are messy, the clean ways are slow and agonizing (either physically and / or psychologically).

[3] Rather the last legal public execution…

[4] That’s pretty presumptive of us, isn’t it? How would we feel if they tried to tell us how to dress?

[5] Rather, we don’t hear a lot of outrage about our trade partners executing people by hangings and firing squads; we’ll red ass North Korea all day long.

 

 

 

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SNOWPIERCER: The Best 40 Years Late 70s Corman Movie

13/01/2015

Snowpiercer reiterates a point I brought up regarding Captain America: Winter Soldier: It tries too hard to look too real and ends up undermining its own strengths.

It’s a goofy, nonsensical story wrought with allegorical significance, lifting its big shocking reveal[1] from William F. Nolan and George Clayton Johnson’s Logan’s Run by way of Norman Spinrad’s Bug Jack Barron and Ursula K. LeGuin’s “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas”.

Well staged / well directed / well acted with lotsa cartoon villains to hiss and Bruce Willis School Of Long Suffering Machismo heroes to cheer.

It’s all bullshit but it’s
entertaining bullshit.

This is precisely the sort of movie Roger Corman was producing in the 1970s, the original Death Race 2000 being the primo example of the sub-genre[2]Smart enough to fire the imagination, dumb enough to plow past “oh-come-on!” moments, fast enough & funny enough to be entertaining.[3]

Compare this poster…

snowpiercer-poster

…with this poster & tell me
which movie you wanna see.

death_race_2000_poster_01(Yeah, I thot so…)

Had Corman (or Peter Watkins or Robert Fuest) made Snowpiercer, they probably wouldn’t have come to several repeated jarring stops along the way as it dawdled over some new car on the train, making sure we were all acutely aware of the overwrought symbolism drenching the screen before lurching forward again.

And they certainly wouldn’t have given us time to think about what we were looking at and the logic (or lack thereof) in what we were seeing.[4]

There are only two ways to approach cinefantastique:
Either make what one sees onscreen absolutely 100% plausible looking, or else use a stylized approach that doesn’t try to convince the viewer so much as ask them to play along.

When the former approach works, it works very, very well but it typically takes a lot of time and effort (read budget) especially in the script and performances.

The latter approach is more forgiving, basically telling the audience, “Pretend this papier-mâché boulder and painted backdrop is an alien world and we’ll tell you an entertaining story.”

This is why Star Trek: The Original Original Series[5] and early (i.e., no later than Tom Baker) Doctor Who shows grab my interest and attention far better than their glossier descendants.

Mind you, there’s a lot of
exceptionally fine work in
those slicker, more realistic
episodes and much to be
recommended, but the real
magic is in the early episodes.

When you try to make the unreal real, you better come out high steppin’ or you’re cruising for a fall. Audiences will accept felt cloth Muppets with delight but fight tooth and nail against the original 1986 Howard The Duck’s attempt to convince us a bird could talk.

Snowpiercer has a lot to recommend it,
and isn’t a total waste of time, but it
tries
 too hard to convince us and just
barely
 enough to entertain us.

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[1] Seriously, who didn’t see that one marching down the avenue at the 10 minute mark?

[2] Though there were copious films of the same style produced around that time by others: The Gladiators a.k.a. Gladiatorerna a.k.a. The Peace Game, Punishment Park, and The Final Programme a.k.a. The Last Days Of Man Of Earth being of three many that immediately spring to mind.

[3] Oh, and lots of nudity. Lots and lots and lots of nudity. I don’t want to watch an R-rated movie and find out it’s just a bunch of swearing.

[4] This is surprising because Snowpiercer makes a lot of really smart leaps in story and exposition, allowing audience familiarity with various tropes / clichés / stereotypes of the genre to fill in gaps that otherwise would have been filled with talk-talk-talk.

[5] Not the re-released version with amped up spfx that jar with the style of the original show.

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The Enemy Of The Surreal Is The Real

11/01/2015

I finally caught up with The Avengers movie and Captain America: Winter Soldier.

Verdict?

I liked ‘em.

The Avengers is the best half hour Saturday morning superhero cartoon episode ever made, and while Captain America: The First Avenger remains the best superhero movie ever made, Captain America: Winter Soldier is a damn fine sequel, mega-entertaining, tons o’fun, and really well executed.

It’s also the death knell for the genre,
but it’s going to take a while for the body
to die so expect another couple of sequels
before we’re all done.

The Avengers, as much fun as it was, failed to fully engage me the way Captain America: The First Avenger or the Iron Man movies did for this reason: With all the characters scheduled to appear in various mega-budget movie sequels and TV spinoffs and toy and apparel merchandising, there was no way any of these characters were ever in danger.

Not so much as a chipped nail or a stray hair.
Nope, The Avengers were solid and they knew it
and we knew it.

So there.

While there are a lot of fun-filled crowd pleasing moments in The Avengers[1] there was never a moment of suspense.

animated hulk smash

We all knew they were all going to come through unscathed, safe and sound with not one iota changed so they could appear in the next movie and the next movie and the next movie and the next movie and when you announce a slate of 14 – 15 – 16 big-big-big budget seasonal tent pole movies with McCrappy meal tie-ins maybe everybody knows you aren’t going to take any real chances or do anything that will put a hiccup in that master Marvel marketing plan and gosh-a-rooty, know where that leaves us?

It leaves us with a really, really good episode of a really, really well made 1980s Saturday morning superhero show.

But it really is really, really, really good.

Captain America: Winter Soldier brings a whole new set of problems to the genre because comic books and cartoons have one thing in common and that’s so long as you can draw it, you de facto make it believable, and while brightly colored naked people flying and fighting are absurd in reality,[2] they translate quite well to comic book panels and cartoon pixels.

Which is why trying to make a realistic superhero movie is self-defeating, the way making a giant monster movie any more serious than the original Godzilla or Gorgo[3] is self-defeating.

City stomping is fun but if you’re serious about your city stomping then you’re going to have a million and one personal tragedies playing out and all of a sudden…

…it ain’t fun any more.

Captain America: Winter Soldier has wild gunfights erupting on busy, crowded city streets in broad daylight using explosives and heavy caliber weapons with vehicles flying through the air engulfed in huge balls of fire…

…and no civilian casualties.

The target of all this mayhem is Nick Fury hizzowsef, and there’s where all plausibility flies out the window.

Imagine, if you would, that the head of the CIA is nearly assassinated in DC by a cadre of well armed / well trained combat personnel disguised as civilian police officers.

The city — hell, the whole country! – would go apeshit and security would slam tight around Washington as US troops are moved in to secure the capital.

None of which happens in
Captain America: Winter Soldier.

Oh, they talk about it as part of Hydra’s great plot to take over the world, but you’d think if that was their intent then maybe there should’ve been some nod in that direction.

Everything keeps meandering along until the baddies can put their Final Plan into motion.

That plan entails a huge duke out between (among?) three huge helicarriers, each of which costing into the trillions of dollars or so and all of them getting destroyed in a glorious spfx orgy.

C’mon, granted it’s a movie based on a comic book, nonetheless it tries to present itself realistically enough that one recognized Cappy & Co have just destroyed the economic wealth of the US by wiping out those three helicarriers.

Granted they were destroyed to prevent a horrible holocaust from happening, but the fact is their destruction just wiped the GNP clean and left America with nothing to show for it.

And this is not getting into the huge cost of collateral damage as the three helicarriers wreck a big hunk of DC before destroying themselves.

In a real world — a world which the Marvel movies carefully try to evoke — there would be trials and courts martials and an immediate deep and lasting mistrust of all superheroes.

But it just gets shrugged off in the movie.

Now, you can get away with that sorta stuff in a comic book because the very nature of the comic book medium — like its cousin, the animated cartoon — forces a certain suspension of disbelief. The very method used to tell the story — the staging and pacing and the very strokes of the pen and brush used by the artist/s – force the reader to put aside thoughts of how reality works and accept the highly stylized worldview of comics.

And there’s nothing wrong with that;
that’s what makes comics so much fun.

But eventually it’s going to undermine the genre. Right now there’s the thrill of seeing stuff done onscreen that we’d only seen in comics and cartoons before, but eventually that will wear off and audiences will find themselves strangely dissatisfied with films and characters that had delighted them a year earlier.

Marvel, with its thousands of characters, can roll with the punch for a while. When — not if — Iron Man and Hulk and Captain America and The Avengers grow tiresome, there are lots more to choose from.

But the genre itself is eventually going to burn out, and trying to make the movies more real — “better” as it were — is only going to hasten that moment.

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[1] The movie could have been just two hours of Hulk bitch slapping Loki and it would have made as much money.

[2] As are talking animals.

[3] Both of which are great examples of their genre and better than Pacific Rim or the recent Godzilla remake or the Godzilla remake before that or Cloverfield. Ghu, yes, better than Cloverfield

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Playing Dominoes With Terrorists

9/01/2015

The difference between terrorism and state sponsored terror is this:
State sponsored terror is simply low grade warfare, typically directed at those populations directly under the state’s control.  It is a bully’s weapon — the powerful inflicting pain, suffering, and deprivation on the weak — but it is backed up with genuine force.

If it wasn’t, those terrorized would rapidly
rise in revolt and overthrow the state.

Terrorism in the modern sense is a weapon of the weak against the strong.  This is not to be misconstrued as a moral endorsement.  Terrorism as practiced today is an insidious device, but its aims are not as straightforward and direct as them seem.

The object of terrorism is to provoke a massive and unjust reaction by the target against the group the terrorists are trying to motivate.

Terrorists simply don’t possess the resources to wage a direct one-on-one war against their enemies (perceived or real).  To get those resources they need the support of their particular group, be that group ethnic, racial, cultural, political, or religious.

Typically their group is not openly at odds with the target.

Oh, there are doubtlessly friction points, and quite often neither the target nor the terrorists’ group as a whole want anything to do with the other, but that kind of live & let live attitude is anathema to the terrorists.

While they may have other ulterior motives, their primary aim is to get their group motivated against the target.[1]

So the purpose of terrorism is less the actual destruction of targets of values[2] but rather the generation of outrage against their own group which in turn will lead to their group joining the fight against the target.

It’s as if your kid sister goes to the neighbors next door, pees on their dining room table, then runs back with them in hot pursuit; her hope is that the family will protect her against the neighbors, not listen to what they have to say and administer justice on their own.

Terrorism differs from civil disobedience, nonviolent protests, and passive resistant in a very key, crucial manner:  Civil disobedience is aimed at creating a disruption and irritation to the daily operation of the target, until they finally get fed up and stop doing whatever it is the protestors are protesting.

The object of civil disobedience is not to create lasting harm; quite the contrary, civil disobedience only works when it can be stopped with a single word and everything goes back to normal.

You want African American riders to stop
boycotting your busses, tell them they can
sit wherever they want.  They’re climbing
back on the busses in less than five minutes.

Terrorism is not that.[3]  There are no states or groups capable of being intimidated by terrorism; if they were, they would have already been taken over by a tougher ruling cadre that won’t capitulate.

The recent attacks on the Charlie Hebdo offices and other targets in France are not aimed at intimidating the French into capitulation.[4]  Rather, it’s to provoke them into a stupid and senseless reaction against the terrorists’ group, so that the group will rally together against the target.

The terrorists are willing to kill dozens of the target so that thousands of their own group will die so that their group will be sufficiently provoked and enraged to go to war against the target.

It’s a row of dominoes, and the only way to keep them from tipping over the last one is to intercept a domino before it topples.

And the easiest way to do that is that when the terrorists’ topple their first domino…

animated toppling dominoes prevented

…refuse to let the next one fall.

Oh, the macho bullshit chickenhawks will throw their little hissy fits — they always do when they aren’t the ones who have to march off to blood and disaster – but don’t listen to them.

Listen instead to common sense and common decency.

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[1]  And if in so motivating them, the terrorists also become recognized as the group’s leaders, well so much the better.

[2] That’s nice, but purely a bonus.

[3]  Renegade elements of the Irish Republican Army tried a bizarre hybrid of terrorism and civil disobedience after the bulk of Ireland gained its independence.  They planted bombs but called the local authorities to alert them to evacuate the area before they detonated, causing disruption and no small amount of property damage, but studiously avoiding human casualties.  The idea was that the British would never been sufficiently outraged to react in a large scale, and would eventually get worn down to the point where they’d agree to the IRA’s demands in order to stop the attacks.  Unfortunately, it took only one bungled phone call to wreck that plan, and the wrath of the scepter’d isle came down hard and fast on the emerald one.

[4]  It’s a popular trope that the French are cowardly cheese eating surrender monkeys who will give up at the first sign of danger.  The truth is they have a long and blood military history, one that includes being on both ends of the invaders’ bayonet, and they are reluctant to take up arms on a large scale if they can’t see an obvious benefit or a valid exit strategy.  One is foolish to mistaken caution in getting involved in every fight that comes down the boulevard with an unwillingness or inability to fight if needed.

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los angeles: a love song

7/01/2015

Los Angeles postcard

driving down the sinuous dusty snake we call sepulveda it is easy to understand why we love los angeles sunbaked unreality cut loose from the present an eternal time an internal rhyme over forever linked to past and future but never to now aging hipsters ancient hippies all the way back to hollywood nature boys this place this land this zeitgeist called to us all in our sleep in our dreams it beckoned us with a beguiling voice calling us with this siren song you’ll never be home till you’re here till you’re here till you’re here you’ll never be home till you’re here

and we came in cars in jitneys in jalopies in jets in jest in just what we had on our backs whatever it takes to find our way here find this time this place this land so hot and dusty and magical it must be a fever dream where every possibility is a reality waiting to be uncovered this is where we belong

this is our home
this will always be our home
this always has been our home

we walk its canyons of cactus and concrete sit in its cool temples both sacred and profane and we ask why are we here

we know we are supposed to be here but why?

some come for fame and some for fortune but if that is what you want you take it and leave soon enough you were never one of us you never belonged here and we can see it in your eyes smell it on your soul and we bear you no animosity and we say go with the grace of God…

…but go

a thousand failures are our family but you we don’t know

we come to build and make but many times we know what we build but not why our great white elephants rear back and stretch tusk and trunk to the sky
why do we do that
why would anybody do that?

because we can and
because we can then we must
we can not let los angeles go unimagined we must call forth
a thousand foolish fantasies from
a thousand fantastic fools and we must
shape the unreality the ur-reality and make it concrete give voice to the dream that beguiled us revitalize it and send it back into the world to find our brothers and sisters and bring them home

los angeles you are my home waiting for me from before my parents were born you hold secrets for those who love you secrets you reveal and they will share with the rest of the world

not everybody will hear the music or
get the joke but those that do
they will be here
they will come
they will be part of us

dusty canyons dreaming streets dazzling days starry nights of neon and wonder blocking the real stars in the sky dazzling us with galaxies imagined by man and woman some big some small some petty some grand but all reflecting the same unreal city and land that calls us here that makes us welcome

to the desert!  to the skies and snakes and scorpions, to sunbaked sunblasted sunbleached suncursed vistas of melting stone landscape, we come

to the sea!  great prehistoric monsters of steel and gray writhing above the waves hiding behind phony palm trees only to fall to very real surfers knights of the sea skating slithering sliding safely between the legs of the giants to deliver themselves born whole like venus onto the nirvana of the beach, we come

to the studios!  playschool playhouse playacting a thousand lives a million scenarios an infinite range of possibilities playfully tossing back to the world what the world cast off, we come

we come without fear and oddly without hope because hope is uncertain and we all know we are the chosen one we are the one destined to set the night ablaze with unquenchable glory, we come

and so
here we are
what are you
going to do
about it?

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text © Buzz Dixon

 

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Asbestos

28/12/2014

The people who originally built the house my parents ended up buying put asbestos insulation in the walls and ceiling.

It seemed like a good idea at the time.

Luckily, the asbestos was imbedded in plaster or other material so it didn’t get loose and into the air.

However, it led to one very big problem…

Once people understood just how dangerous asbestos was, you couldn’t make any significant changes to my parents’ house.

Oh, you could slap on a fresh coat of pain and change the faceplates on the electrical switch and sockets and even lay down new carpeting or linoleum…

But swap out the bathtub?  Knock down a wall to enlarge a room?  Even something as simple as adding shelving?

Un-unh.  Forget it.  That would require deploying a haz-mat team literally dressed in spacesuits to enter a tented out that filtered the air to keep any asbestos particles from entering the atmosphere.

asbestos-removal-2

The house was built as a starter home for a young family, or a retirement home for an older couple:  Awkward layout, two small bedrooms, huge basement area.

Without exaggeration the upstairs was not much bigger than a large trailer home, while the downstairs offered little in the way of amenities (though the furnace and the washer and dryer were down there, freeing up some room upstairs).

The house was not built with cable in mind.  Heck, it wasn’t even built with a plethora of rechargeable devices in mind, either.  Socket space that was adequate back in the day now requires power strips to offer enough plug-in space for phones, tablets, TVs, etc.  And while the original wiring could handle the load, it’s getting old and the insulation is getting brittle and sooner or later it will have to be replaced.

Just as sooner or later the plumbing will need to be replaced.

Or the various support beams will need to be treated for termites or mold or any of a thousand other problems.

And when that time comes,
it’s gonna be expensive.

It’s a game of hot potato: 
Sooner or later somebody is going to have to address the problem of the asbestos laced walls and ceiling.

There are three strategies one can employ:

Bite The Bullet – hire a team, pay the money, tear out the old asbestos and replace it with modern, safer fireproofing and insulation; upgrade the plumbing and wiring; make whatever structural changes one desires because the framework and the foundation are still good enough to last.

Play Catch As Catch Can – wait until disaster strikes, then hire a team and pay the money to tear out and replace the old asbestos only in those areas immediately affected by whatever problem has struck; somewhat cheaper in the short run, much more expensive in the long run, but less of an inconvenience to those in the house.

Apres Moi, Le Deluge – don’t do anything until the house finally deteriorates to the point where it starts to collapse; at that point, walk away and let the neighbors and the local community take care of it; it’ll cost them money and quite possibly the framework and foundation will be too compromised to be saved so they might as well tear it down and start again; they won’t remember the house or its inhabitants too fondly.

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Why, yes, this is a post about
racism in American culture.

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My Christmas Wish For Our Troops

19/12/2014

Haddon Sundblom - soldier at home coke ad

I wish they are never sent in harm’s way just so some rich guy can get even richer.

I wish they are never put in a position where they have to take human lives needlessly.

I wish when they come home they get all the help and support they are entitled to.

underlying art by Haddon Sundblom

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Thinkage

17/12/2014

“A majority of nearly every group — non-whites, women, young adults, the elderly, Midwesterners, suburbanites, Catholics, moderates, the wealthy — said that torture of suspected terrorists can be often or sometimes justified.

“A majority of only one other group beyond liberals and Democrats disagreed: people with no religion.” — Emily Badger, Washington Post article “From moderate Democrats to white Evangelicals, nearly every demographic group believes torture can be justified”

Christian Please Jesus-Facepalm

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A Message From On High…

17/12/2014

guardian angel no kamikaze cap

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Mythologizing Jesus

16/12/2014

ron cobb jesus

art by Ron Cobb

In recent days a lot of people on all sides of the equation have been getting their tunics in a twist over what the popular press reports as a “controversy” over “mythological Jesus.”

What the evangelical atheists and the common sense denying fundamentalists all fail to acknowledge is that nobody with two brain cells rubbing together thinks the Jesus depicted in the Bible is a complete and accurate picture of the man in the sense that modern histories and biographies offer a well documented portrayal of their subject.[1]

Lemme explain it as clearly as possible:  Acknowledging that the person we know of today as Jesus of Nazareth has been subjected to hagiographic reporting and analysis that have created a popular conception of who he was, is not / never has been / never will be the same thing as saying that person did not exist, or that teachings and sayings attributed to him are the product of a committee of literary / theological hoaxers.

Let’s walk through the time line, shall we?

Sometimes circa 33C.E. an eccentric rabbi preached a message considered heretical[2] by the religious leaders of his day.  He was executed under trumped up charges, just like several hundred / perhaps thousands of other Judeans of his day.

Between his death and 72C.E., a new religious movement arose among and from his followers.  Internal and external evidence indicates this new religion spread far outside of Judea and the Jewish culture it sprang from.  During this period of time his disciples wrote a series of letters to various local groups of followers, discussing finer points of their theology, debating what certain teachings meant, and establishing protocols for worship.  While lacking any solid biographical data on the eccentric preacher, these letters do indicate a formal and well articulated religious belief based on his teachings existed at that time.

They also indicate they are not the product of a literary hoax.  In 72C.E. the Roman empire eradicated Judea from existence, all the way down to their maps by renaming the land Palestine in the process.  There is no mention of this, no hint of it in the various letters left behind by the disciples; had they been hoaxers attempting to “salt the mine” they would have been sorely remise not to include prophesies about the single most traumatic event in Judea’s history up to that point.

Lemme ask you this question point blank:  If you are a 21st  century faker trying to fabricate a prophetic Jewish religious leader who lived in 1920, would you fail to have him “predict” the Holocaust in your forgeries?

I thought not…

So before the fall of Jerusalem in 72C.E. and the scattering of the Judean people, the beginnings of a new religion were clearly underway.

As mentioned, there was internal debate among the disciples over exactly what the various teachings of their eccentric rabbi really meant.  We have no direct evidence that copies of his teachings and sayings had been collected by 72C.E.[3]

We do have evidence sometime between 72C.E. and 100C.E. that the teachings and sayings were collected into the form we recognize as the Four Gospels:  Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.[4]

Why these four gospels were written then can be deduced by the disciples letters and by known historical events:  The earliest followers not only believed their rabbi had been resurrected after his death but also felt he was going to return in their lifetimes to establish a heavenly kingdom on earth.  When that didn’t occur and as eye witnesses to the events circa 33C.E. began dying off, people saw the wisdom in writing down everything they could remember their rabbi teaching and saying and doing.

Had they been hoaxers, they were putting the cart before the proverbial horse:  Logic would say you establish the bonafides of your bogus religious leader with an official hagiography, sell the rubes on that first, and only then do you begin hashing out purely academic debates about your wholly imaginary religion.

What the early church did was to see the commentaries written first, and only after they were already well established did anyone think to get all the important stuff written down for future generations.

A lot of evangelical atheists will want to dismiss this all right now, but they can’t do that.  This may not be the best evidence we might desire from a historical perspective, but it is the only evidence we have, and the evidence points away from a deliberate hoax and fabrication and more towards a theology that grew organically from a single point.[5]

And this is important because while it agrees that the sparse historical image we have of Jesus of Nazareth has doubtlessly undergone a certain degree of hagiography or “mythicalization”, it is absolutely not the same thing as saying it is entirely false, a myth made up by hoaxers for no discernable reason and with no discernable reward for the perpetrators.

The number of first, second, and third century Christian writings, not to mention their widely spread origins, indicates that if the religion was based on a hoax, it was a hoax with an enormous number of co-conspirators who had nothing to gain through their hoax nor any means of seeing if their hoax was successful or not.

You get the occasional doctored fossil or forged historical document in the real world that manages to pass immediate scrutiny, but they only succeed when they are isolated incidents not open to wide public examination.  When there are thousands of faked fossils, or dozens of bogus documents and they are all open to view, the forgeries become transparently obvious.

Further, when we compare the letters written by the various disciples with the gospels themselves, it’s pretty clear the former represents a wide variety of insights / opinions / writing styles while the four gospels offer a remarkably consistent moral philosophy expressed in a unique and inimitable personal style.

This is not the product of a committee of forgers, but rather the expression of one single, remarkable mind.

There are those who claim the glove maker turned theatrical impresario is not the true author of Shakespeare’s plays but rather some other person wrote them instead.[6]

Fine, let’s play that game:  Whoever that person was who wrote Shakespeare was Shakespeare.

And whatever we may think about Shakespeare the glove maker turned theatrical impresario, it doesn’t alter the fact that some literary genius whom all the existing evidence points to as being a glove maker turned theatrical impresario wrote the impressive body of works we refer to as Shakespeare today.

Whoever the real Jesus was, whatever his real biographical data, that person was the author of some of the most profound moral / ethical / spiritual teachings in human history.

Which pretty much makes him…Jesus.

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[1]  And even with scrupulous documentation, copious eyewitness accounts, audio and visual records, even the subjects speaking in their own voice, there’s still huge debates over exactly who these people really were or what the events really mean.  Look at how many differing interpretations exist of Harry S Truman the man and the presidency; or the brief presidency of John F. Kennedy; or the enormous complexities of Johnson and Nixon.  If we can’t agree on the particulars of people and events that occurred under intense scrutiny in our own lifetimes, why is anyone surprised that much of the ancient world is even less clear today?

[2]  i.e., threatened to cost them money.

[3]  Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, as the old saw goes, but we can only play the cards we are dealt, and those cards offer no documentation of the teachings and sayings being recorded at length prior to the fall of Jerusalem.

[4]  There are fascinating articles on how these gospels may have been compiled and in which order, as well as a possible source document for three of them, fragments of other gospels, “sayings” gospels that included various teachings but no linking narrative, and other accounts of the rabbi’s life and teachings that were considered either redundant or at odds with the four main gospels.  That’s what Google is for, folks…

[5]  Skeptics are more than welcome to point out logical holes in the evidence; they won’t find anything believers didn’t discover millennia ago and have been debating ever since.  What the skeptics can’t do is dismiss the only records that exists without offering equal or better proof that those records are fake.  Without contrary evidence, the existing records are the only evidence we have.  Wishing them away will not make them go…

[6]  This is based on the premise that plebians are just too fnckin’ plebian to write Shakespeare.

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