The potential bias of Richard Carrier
The well known atheist and Jesus myth proponent Richard Carrier recently admitted to being polyamorous. This means that he has openly admitted to having sexual relationships with multiple people at the same time.
This admission and Carrier’s lifestyle have implications for his historical Jesus scholarship. This admission now gives Carrier a reason to find Jesus as a myth. He has revealed himself no longer a “neutral” observer just ‘examining the evidence’ (if that is even ever possible).
The Christian perspective on marriage fairly clearly states that a polyamorous lifestyle is wrong. Jesus made it pretty clear that marriage was for one man and one woman, e.g. Matthew 19:4-6,
“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ 5 and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? 6 So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”
It could be that Carrier has made his assessment of the evidence and concluded that Jesus is a myth and therefore lives a life contrary to Jesus’ teachings. But crucially Carrier’s admission has now given him powerful reasons to not find Jesus historical. Carrier has clear motivation for bias.
Would you immediately believe an argument raised against abortion from a pro-life advocate? You’d be immediately suspicious. Now, their ‘bias’ doesn’t invalidate their argument, but we do need to investigate their arguments with greater scrutiny (I acknowledge that I haven’t done any analysis of Carrier’s specific arguments in this post. I did want to say that I am aware of some of his work and my reaction was that it was full of non sequitur arguments. Yet a review of Carrier’s work is beyond the scope of this post. If readers would like me to do that, I’m happy to do that, yet I feel that other eminent scholars like Bart Erhman have already done reviews of Carrier’s work and found it unconvincing.)
Unlike most areas of academic research investigation into Jesus does have moral implications. This is because the figure of Jesus makes moral demands on our lives. For example, Jesus claims to be the light, which is more than an illuminating sense, ‘the light’ also contains a moral dimension in the sense of exposing ‘evil’ (see John 3:19-20). Here Jesus predicts that people will reject him because of their moral inclinations.
So unlike other areas of research, say for example, scientific research, the outcome of the research rarely has moral implications for the researcher. Yet researching Jesus does have moral implications for the researcher, because if Jesus was who he claimed to be (as recorded in the Scriptures) then it means I would have to change something about my life. My investigation of Jesus may actually say something about me i.e. I might have to repent of certain moral actions. I’ve shared a couple more stories about that here. Therefore when so much is at stake, I think it’s extremely difficult to be completely ‘neutral’ and detached when investigating Jesus.
There is a very real sense in which our perceptions and interpretations of ‘evidence’ is impacted by our moral judgements and our life experiences. The connection is often clouded and unclear, we may not even know our own motivations. Pascal once said, ‘The heart has its reasons of which reason knows nothing.’ For example I know one person who has faced personal moral trauma and has begun simultaneously doubting their Christian faith. He had the honesty to admit that he would be naive to say that the two weren’t linked in some way. How precisely they were linked was unclear, but his intellectual judgements on the person of Jesus have been impacted by his personal experiences. So the impact of our ‘biases’ may be difficult to discern, they may not be obvious or overtly intentional, but I’d suggest we’d be naive to say that they cannot in some way impact our assumptions and judgements over ‘evidence’. We are complex and our personal experiences affect our opinion of the person of Jesus in some way.
Woody Allen justified his relationship with Soon-Yi Previn, a woman over 35 years his junior by saying, ‘The heart wants what the heart wants.’ Thomas Cramner famously stated, ‘what the heart loves, the will chooses, and the mind justifies.’ He continued by showing how the mind is ultimately captive to the heart, ‘The mind doesn’t direct the will. The mind is actually captive to what the will wants, and the will itself, in turn, is captive to what the heart wants.’ There is a very real sense that our moral inclinations impact our perception of truth.
Richard Carrier does make some interesting and thoughtful suggestions on how to understand the historical Jesus. But now when assessing them, it is important to remember that he does have reasons other than his scholarship to conclude the way he does.
NB This post has been updated from the original