If I placed my bets right, then someday I’ll be a partial biblical literalist. Yeah, I’m going to have to explain how that works. I think there may be an interpretation of the miraculous and supernatural claims in the Bible that renders them into naturalistic claims, and that this interpretation may be the one originally intended by biblical authors.
It’s not a confession I make lightly, or often, and always only for effect. The more correct statement would be that I could be a biblical literalist, if my preferred theory of the origins and development of Abrahamic religions is eventually shown to be the best fit for the historical and archaeological record.
Today, Chris Hallquist at FTB touched the tip of the entheogenic iceberg with reference to, “the possibility that Paul and other people who claimed to have seen Jesus after his death were hallucinating (or otherwise deluded).”
First of all, we know that hallucinations, false memories, and so on seem to be an important source of religious and paranormal beliefs ….
Biblical scholar Dale Allison makes a similar point in his book Resurrecting Jesus. Allison brings together a huge number of reports of visions and apparitions to show that the reports of Jesus’ post-mortem appearances aren’t terribly unique.
I mention Hallquist’s tip-touching in part because it’s unusual for atheists to cite academically marginal biblical theories or theorists. We tend to stay in the main stream in our lit searches because when arguing with theists it’s not helpful if they get hung up on a citation to a controversial scholar — and it’s not necessary since most theistic arguments are so bad to begin with.
And yet here is this steady growth in literature over the course of half a century — including endorsement by luminaries like Joseph Campbell and Huston Smith — that supports the thesis that the “God the Father” of the Bible was, quite literally, an hallucinogen. Probably a magic mushroom. Meanwhile there has also been steady growth in literature that supports John Allegro’s thesis that “Jesus was a mushroom”, probably the same kind.
What I’m saying is that if this were true, then many of the miracles and visions have a natural, not supernatural, explanation, and the Bible has to be interpreted accordingly. It gives a completely new meaning to some passages, and diminishes God’s claim to moral authority, all without touching on the historicity of other claims.
That is: the historical claims in the Bible could be completely fabricated, and Jesus could still turn water into wine. It inverts the trustworthiness of the two classes of claims, historical and miraculous. IF Jesus is an Amanita Muscaria mushroom, then it is factually true that adding dried crumbled Jesus to water will mix up an intoxicant, a “new wine” for your wedding party. Whether or not there was a Roman census for which a Joseph and Mary had to travel to Bethlehem is entirely beside the point — that’s just storytelling to act as medium for underlying facts available only to initiates.
Reference to initiatory tradition is a central feature of entheogenic theories of religious development, whether we’re talking about Gordon Wasson’s well-received analysis of Soma, the Vedic Hindu deity, or Dr. Carl Ruck’s recent analysis of Mithra, the Roman deity, the existence of initiatory traditions surrounding these mythological figures was already well-documented long before either scholar began their work.
Similarly, one needn’t accept the entheogenic theory to acknowledge the evidence for strong initiatory traditions amongst Judean Jews (i.e., the in Temple priesthood), and early Christians, (i.e., the Gnostics). This is where, inevitably, skeptics begin to lose interest as the theory ranges dangerously into subject areas that are generally the domain of conspiracy nuts. If God was a mushroom, how did they keep that secret for so long? And where’s the evidence if they didn’t keep the secret?
Answering these sorts of questions is precisely the point of these scholars’ research, and their answers may surprise some skeptics, but sometimes finding the right scholars is itself kind of tricky. I don’t recommend Terrance McKenna’s Food of the Gods, for instance, but I do recommend Persephone’s Quest by Wasson, et al (although it is an earlier work in the field, and recent research methods are more sophisticated). Here’s how I differentiate the scholars VS sensationalists: if the author is glamorizing the “drug” aspect, you’re probably reading woo. If it’s so dense and thick with citations and illustrations that it puts you to sleep, read on.
It might surprise atheists to know that, for instance John Allegro had little respect for the “drug cult” he studied. If God is a mushroom, what moral authority did it have to sanction war and genocide? To dictate human behavior? To bind history with it’s metaphysics? Such scholars are atheist’s natural allies — if their claims are true.
Perhaps most interestingly, though, is that IF Jesus is a mushroom — “the hidden manna”, “a white stone with a new name written upon it” (Rev. 2:17) — then the Apocalypse, literally “the revelation”, takes on a new, less sinister role in history. It’s not the End of the World, it’s just the end of godly gravy train upon which worldly authorities have long relied. It’s knowing God made flesh, and discovering that ‘He’ was a fun guy the whole time.