This book, published by Red Door, will make a few waves I suspect. The title The Christian Fallacy recalls Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion and Christopher Hitchens’ God is not Great, but this book goes even further than Dawkins’ or Hitchens’ book, particularly where Christianity is concerned because it attacks its founding principle, the one on which all of Christian doctrine rests: Jesus.
Paul McGrane, an Oxford University academic, hopes to do for Christianity what The God Delusion did for religion in general, and having read his book one would expect him to succeed. The Christian faith was founded on the life of Jesus Christ; Mr McGrane maintains that Christ as we know him, did not even exist. Therefore since all we are left with is a fiction or a myth, we may as well substitute the Bible for Homer.
The premise of this book: that the story of the life of Christ was invented to gratify a need, will shock many people. Of course, there is no hard and fast evidence, but there is no hard and fast evidence behind the Gospels either, as McGrane damningly maintains. Worse still, the Gospels are apparently riddled with errors, misconceptions and falsehoods. If, writes McGrane with reference to the Bible,
“we are told that God will consign humanity to eternal bliss or damnation on the basis of what these texts say, (…) the least He could do is make sure they are clear and unambiguous and free of mistakes. A perfect God cannot (presumably) endorse a less than perfect revelation.”
The Gospels then, are not historical truth or any truth at all, and should not be read as such. We have been, for the past 2000 years, “mistaking fiction for fact”. The argument that the New Testament has been basically mostly plagiarised from the Old Testament is convincingly put. Sometimes, as McGrane demonstrates, even the story of Moses appears to have been re-hashed to fill in the fiction of the story of Jesus, its details cobbled together to satisfy the variety of contradictory ‘prophecies’ in the Old Testament relating to the Nativity. And all done so effectively that “we still have our children re-enact the story every Christmas without pausing to notice how completely unlikely the whole narrative is.” But what about the teachings of Jesus, believers may ask; what about the Sermon on the Mount? McGrane, in typically dry tone, delivers the reality check. The Sermon on the Mount, he writes, owes much to pagan influences. The fictitious Jesus was not so much delivering fresh ideas as reusing old Greek ones. The material was there, waiting.
But all this does not mean that McGrane refutes the existence of a man called Jesus. According to his analysis of sacred texts the character of Jesus was modelled on a Jewish priest who lived some four hundred years before the Jesus Christ of the Gospels – although he was not the Son of God and he did not die on a cross. To find out why the real historical figure called Jesus became the Jesus of the Bible, you will have to read Mr McGrane’s book. For atheists, it will be a vindication, but those whose faith runs deepest will be the most upset by it. McGrane’s justification for the paradigm he exposes, however, is undeniably right. In his preface he says,
“With the rise of religious fundamentalism of all kinds, that threatens to curtail the hard-won liberal freedoms that we all enjoy, we need secularism in our societies now as never before. Only that way can those of religious faith and those with none, live and work together in mutual tolerance and peace.”
So much of the chronology and historical accuracy of the Bible is called into question that the implications for the Christian Church are jaw dropping. But what is particularly fascinating is the way McGrane takes the Acts of the Apostles to pieces; as he tries to shift past the allegorical meaning back to the real sense (even though at times the Acts are so muddled that analysis is a painstaking challenge), it is hard not to see his point: the Gospels were written by people who needed to believe in the fiction they created. It was not, he maintains, that they were “setting out to deceive people right from the start, but ‘unfortunately, for more than 2000 years, that is what (they) did.’ As McGrane succinctly puts it: “Isn’t it about time we woke up?”
Any Cop?: Not always an easy read, and not quite as witty as Hitchens, but often darkly funny.