Friday, August 15, 2008

Secular hagiographa

Thus far I’ve been sitting out the debate over T-stone’s post on “Xavier and the Evolution of Legendary Miracles”:

In the course of his post, he makes some of the following claims:

I regularly encounter pseudo-skepticism -- reflexive doubt in response to criticism of credulous belief -- on the question of how the legend of Jesus could have developed in the period between Jesus' death and the writing of the synoptic gospels. Many Christians just don't see how or why such fantastic inventions arose from the crushing disappointment of the crucifixion of the man they supposed the Messiah (assuming here, arguendo, the historicity of Jesus and his crucifixion by the Romans at around the time commonly supposed)? "Why would these people die for a lie?" goes a common retort.

(And indeed, this is precisely the kind of narrative we might expect as a later bit of legendary embellishment)…the tendency to mythologize and embellish real people and events …in which he details the progression and development of legends -- miraculous legends -- about Xavier in the aftermath of his death.

Notice the paradigm he’s using: “evolution,” “progression,” “development,” “later embellishment.”

He also quotes Andrew Dickson White to illustrate and corroborate his thesis.

Let’s now remark on the utter ineptitude of T-stone’s argument:

i) There’s his charming gullibility in the use of White. If he’d done a modicum of research, he’d know that White is not a reliable historian. His work is riddled with historical blunders:

Ironically, T-stone is guilty of the very thing he faults Christians for. In his secular credulity and naïveté, he piously hands down the urban legends popularized by White.

Nothing better illustrates the deficit of critical thinking skills than T-stone’s uncritical use of White.

ii) Catholic hagiographa deliberately parallel Biblical miracles. That’s not a folkloric embellishment. Rather, pious fraud is integral to the hagiographic genre. The saints are expected to perform thaumaturgical feats. That’s what makes this “inspirational” literature.

But that doesn’t begin to cast doubt on the historicity of the Biblical exemplars, for Catholic hagiographa are inherently derivative and imitative.

iii) T-stone fails to distinguish between someone who acquires a numinous reputation because he’s already famous, and someone who becomes famous because he acquired a numinous reputation.

Jesus isn’t Elvis. Jesus and his Apostles didn’t start out as 1C celebrities who later acquired a numinous reputation. They became celebrities because of their of their numinous reputation (as miracle-workers, or associates of a miracle-worker).

iv) A numinous reputation doesn’t require any legendary embellishment over time. A man (or woman) can acquire that reputation in his own lifetime. Take the case of Padre Pio, the celebrated stigmatic. He became famous in his own lifetime. And this is regardless of whether you think his reputation was bogus or genuine.

Indeed, T-stone later tweaks his original paradigm by admitting that “For most, and possibly all of the miraculous accounts given later, there doesn't even seem to be the "seed" used for later embellishment, but a kind of ex nihilo creation of a miraculum vitae for Xavier.”

But if most or even all of the miracles attributed to Xavier are spontaneous ascriptions rather than later legendary embellishments, then his paradigm-case doesn’t fit his paradigm. He has to abandon his evolutionary framework the moment it makes contact with the very example he chose to illustrate his theory.

v) To say the miracles of Christ are “fantastic inventions” simply begs the question against miracles. If you presume that reported miracles are fantastic inventions, then you’ll have to concoct an alternative explanation to account for these reports. But that is predicated on the very thing you need to prove in the first place: miracles don’t happen; ergo, there must be some naturalistic explanation for all reported miracles.

vi) Notice the desperate attempt to parallel “the crab returning Xavier's crucifix resonating with Paul's miraculous survival of the viper's bite on Malta in Acts.”

The fact that T-stone must resort to such strained analogies betrays the weakness of his hand.

vii) Reported miracles in church history don’t cast any doubt on reported miracles in Bible history. For one thing, why should we dismiss all reported miracles in church history? Some are better attested than others.

In his post, T-stone didn’t begin with the evidence. He began with his preconceived theory, which he imposed on the evidence—in spite of the evidence. He’s giving us a splendid specimen of secular hagiographa. The only difference is that he prefers impious fraud (White) to pious fraud (Xavier).

1 comment:

  1. Looks like that thread has a lot of junk comments. Is the discussion still about the White stuff?

    For over 2 weeks now I've been in a debate with Dawson over at concerning the legend theory of G.A. Wells. He recently accused Geisler/Turek of being dishonest and circular in one of their books, so I responded.

    Theres are a couple of epistemological issues that came up which you fellows seem more able to address than me. Feel free to contribute.