Friday, September 30, 2005

The bizarre legacy of Robert Funk

It's been four weeks since the death of Robert W. Funk, the founder of the controversial Jesus Seminar, which called into question New Testament miracle stories and the authenticity of many of the statements attributed to Jesus. Funk, age 79, died Saturday, Sept. 3rd at his Santa Rosa, Calif., home of lung failure. He had undergone surgery in July to remove a malignant brain tumor.

In a Sept. 9, 2005 syndicated Los Angeles times article in the Boston Globe, entitled "Robert Funk, founder of Jesus Seminar," Larry B. Stammer writes:
After many years in academia, Dr. Funk rose to public recognition after he founded the nonprofit Westar Institute in Santa Rosa in 1985 to promote research and education on what he called biblical literacy. Its first project, the Jesus Seminar, renewed the quest for the historical Jesus.

In the course of those studies, the think tank stirred controversy among conservative Christians even as liberal Christians applauded its scholarship for making Christianity believable and relevant in the postmodern world.
Please note what, according to Stammer, "makes Christianity believable and relevant in the postmodern world":
Among the Jesus Seminar's assertions was that many of the miracles attributed to Jesus never occurred, at least in a literal sense. The Jesus Seminar concluded in 1995 that Jesus did not rise bodily from the dead. The scholars also agreed that there probably was no tomb and that Jesus' body probably was disposed of by his executioners, not his followers.
Okay, so what makes Christianity believable, according to Stammer and the Jesus Seminar, is that it's traditional claims can be admitted to be false. In other words, what makes it believable is admitting that it isn't. But if you think the matter ended with this garden variety atheism, think again. Here's what you find in the next paragraph:
But scholars -- who included Burton Mack, Marcus Borg, and John Dominic Crossan -- also concluded that the religious significance of Jesus' resurrection did not depend on historical fact.
Now where have you heard that before? Why of course, these are precisely the sentiments echoed by our own hot tub religionist, proto-gnostic existentialist, and heretic extraordinaire, Fr. Joseph O'Leary. The really bad part was O'Leary's remark that among his fellow seminarians it was a question whether or not it would have made any difference to the Christian Faith whether Christ's body had been found buried somewhere in Jerusalem. These sentiments are echoed by Daryl Schmidt, a professor of Greek and New Testament at Texas Christian University in Stammer's article. Arguing that this is precisely what is taught in most seminaries, he says:
The single most important thing for those of us who had anything to do with (Funk) was his insistence that we do what we do in public. We didn't make any of this up. Anyone who's been to seminary knows this, but this [was] the best-kept secret.
Thank God this isn't taught in all seminaries. But it's true this poison legacy of Protestant Liberalism and its anti-supernaturalist tradition of historical-criticism has found its way into nearly every nook and cranny of biblical scholarship, including much of mainstream liberal Catholic biblical scholarship.

Jesus, according to Funk, was "one of the great sages of history," but not the man portrayed in a "surface reading" of the New Testament -- the kind of reading he would ascribe to Christian tradition. He writes:
I do not want my faith to be in Jesus, but faith in the really real ... in some version of whatever it was that Jesus believed ....
And what would that be, pray tell? The faith of the pink beads or of the red beads? O what a sad and skeptical glass bead game! The faith of the Gospel of Thomas? The faith of Bar Kochba? How hollow and sad, the faith of Funk!

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