Old Lives and New Delusions: Responding to Criticism

I just don’t have the time to respond to all my critics.  I wish I did have the time because I am a firm believer that some criticisms are useful and can help guide us all on a journey towards honesty and introverted reflection.  In fact a good amount of criticism is what made me deeply consider where I was headed on my previous path and has successfully steered me in the right direction.  Not all criticisms are equal, however, and some criticisms are just plain stupid.  By that I mean people can believe silly things and as a result they will say silly things.   I would get nothing done if I spent all my time worrying about who said what and why.  As a result, I just can’t find the time between work and class and blogging and writing and researching to respond to every problem people want to take up with me.   But occasionally I do find something that deserves a response.

Many of you know that I once went by a pseudonym and had a radio show. Well it seems that some people cannot let go of the past.  Nor can they seem to distinguish reality from their own mythic versions of the past (and present).  My former co-host and friend, Brian Sapient, appears to suffer from this very problem.  He seems to not recall certain events or instances where I’ve been explicit with him about my reasons for leaving, why I have changed my attitude, where I stand on various issues, and so forth.  The only reason I am bringing this up now is because there seems to be some discussion about my ‘behavior’ and lifestyle changes that have come about on his message board recently (thanks to the person who brought this to my attention).  Both Brian and another individual, who goes by the name Reverend Wells, would rather psychoanalyze my personality than simple send me an email.  If anything, this shows their inability to engage critically the events over the past few years–it demonstrates their inability to deal rationally with the world outside their comfort zone of ‘extreme atheism’.

For starters, neither of them can let go of their delusion about who I am and what I believe (and why I believe it).  Brian, for example, suggests that he was ‘baffled’ (really?) by my ‘conversion to Thomas Verenna’ (seriously? ‘Conversion’? That’s what you’re going with?) and that when I used a pseudonym, I was ‘more right’ than ‘Thomas Verenna’ (seriously?!).  Reverend Wells seems to think I am a mythicist because I believe in the ‘need to question the historicity of Jesus and the New Testament’ (which he seems to think is how ‘mythicism’ is defined) and that I ‘continue to post articles and help write books about it (mythicism-ed.) to this day.’  And that I’m just coping-out of my apparent atheism by calling myself a deist because, as Wells believes, I’m just playing the semantics game.  What is most amusing is this line from Brian:

It’s more important to be true to yourself, than do what you think others want.

Did you catch that?  Brian is arguing the point that we have to be true to ourselves, so that is why I should go back to being who I was when I was not myself, but when I was using my pseudonym!  Yes, don’t kid yourself, that is exactly what he’s suggesting.  He believes that my use of a fake name, with beliefs I no longer hold, with perspectives I feel are irrelevant,  with arguments which are no longer valid (or sound), is more ‘right’ than who I am now.  This, my readers, is delusion.

My name–my real name–is Thomas Verenna.  At one time, I used a (as in one, single) pseudonym due to many reasons–personal safety, as a radio show personality, as a means to say securely what I thought might one day ruin my chances at a real life beyond all of the hype of my youthful discretions (of being an activist).  But when I became serious about redirecting my life, that pseudonym went away.  I didn’t waste any time, and Wells is right that I fell off the earth.  But that is the point.  I got serious about life–my life–and my future; so I stopped acting like some naive kid and grew a pair, accepted responsibility for the words I used.  I made a huge mistake–mainly due to my own youthful ignorance–when I claimed I was an expert.  I wasn’t an expert.  And it was wrong of me to say that.  But I rectified that; I enrolled in college  in 2009 and now am attending Rutgers University.  I’m working towards a career; I’m taking seriously the profession of which I want to be a part.

Brian then writes:

I could play arguments of himself against himself.  I’ve got plenty of text and audio of him ripping on deism.  And even more of him ripping in to Christ as a man.

But this is beyond arrogant.  The fact is, those old arguments are meaningless now.  It isn’t that I just one day forgot what I said and what I argued.  No one does that–unless they suffer from some form of mental illness where memories just vanish (I do not, for the record).  I changed my viewpoints when those arguments failed to convince me any longer.  I am a Possibilian, and that may bother a lot of people who want to remain in their comfort believing (falsely) that an atheist cannot change their tune.  Brian would argue that believing in a god makes you intellectually weak or proves you to be a poor critical thinker.  I disagree.  Frankly, I don’t care enough about the question of god belief to give a damn either way.

As for the figure of Jesus, Wells is completely wrong.  My old posts on mythicism disgust me.  They aren’t at all useful and most contain a lot of misinformation (again, out of ignorance).  Also his definition of mythicism (given above) is rather narrowed and vague.  A lot of scholars find the historical value of the New Testament to be abysmal, but that doesn’t make them mythicists.  Also, who said I’ve helped write books on mythicism?  I know of none.  I’ve co-edited a volume of essays on the question of historicity in New Testament, some of the contributors are mythicists, and my article does diminish the role of Paul in the question, but the book is not on mythicism, nor do I or Thomas Thompson accept the label ‘mythicist’ as it just doesn’t describe us.  We’re minimalists; Wells would do well to learn the difference.

Also, there is a distinction between being a mythicist and being an agnostic (read).   I’ve written on this more times than I want to count (link to an article published in the online journal Bible and Interpretation dealing with Ehrman’s book on mythicism).   My older articles don’t compare to anything I’ve published or written recently; I used to be very polemical, very aggressive, made lots of baseless, unverified claims (visit link for additional links); these were symptoms of my mythicism–my denialism.  Thankfully, I’ve moved beyond this.

Unfortunately, Brian has not.  And some of his posters have not either.  I have asked them before to remove all my old content there.  It is not factually true, it is misleading, it makes people dumber for reading it.  It would be akin to publishing an average high school freshman term paper on biology in an academic journal.  There is no reason to keep those posts there.  No reason to keep defending them.  They’re wrong.  The only reason to keep them up is to satisfy some form of nostalgia or to reinforce some misguided notions one might have.  If you want to read decent articles on the subject of historicity, I have a number of published papers along with dozens of blog posts here that are much more articulate and contain better, more solid research.

As for my leaving the radio show and activism and atheism in general, I’ve discussed this a great deal.  I did not support Blasphemy Day and had expressed my displeasure with the atheist movement as far back as 2009.  This is nothing new for me.  It has been years.  I was annoyed with the fractious nature of the community and the hypocrisy latent within the organizations.  I was tired of the drama, of the whining, of the leadership’s failure to take personal responsibility for some of the problems that plague them.  I grew tired of the constant apologetica, the sectarianism growing within the activist groups (the Dawkinites, the Harrisians, the American Atheist Empire vs. the Atheist Alliance International Republic, and yes even the Rational Responders).  I found them all to be avenues towards isolationism–you had a pick of which group to join and thus isolate yourself from the other groups (and clearly I’m not alone; a new discussion appears to be happening in the community which proves all of my points).  I reevaluated my role in it, found it all to be philosophically weak.  So I left.

And by that I mean the whole ‘atheist’ thing is just weak.  I’ve even written a (very) brief autobiography on my rejection of atheism as a label and a personal identifier.  If I define myself in any way, it is that I’m a humanist and a secularist and an existentialist.   That doesn’t mean I don’t have an edge.  What it does mean is I just find labels to be useless.  Even the labels I used above have connotations that I don’t agree with or don’t think best describe me (which is why I list three and not one–four if you include my Possibilianism).

In the end, I don’t agree with that person I was in 2007.  I don’t like that person.  I loathe that person.  Because that person was an isolationist, a denialist, a hypocrite, an intellectually weak person.  I’m proud of myself for distancing myself from such a person, whose ideals were as thin as a sheet of paper.  Wells is quite wrong when he suggests that I am somehow shrugging off my past; I do not “ignore and deny it for a length of time”.  I’ve never denied it.  Ever.  I just don’t care for it.  Thinking about those years leaves a bad taste in my mouth, like I had been chewing on Thallium (which would be very, very bad, by the way–don’t ever do that).

If this thread on this forum is any indication of what the community is like now, I made the right choice to leave it.  Clearly some people cannot stand the fact that I’ve legitimately changed.  Apparently, thinking differently than they do is a bad thing (enough to find it ‘baffling’ that I’d not want to be included in the community!  What nerve I must have!).  Indeed, it is quite arrogant to presume that the answers can be found in atheism.  Or theism.  Or any brand.  And it is a real shame that Brian has to react like this to my departure.  By that, I don’t mean to suggest he was rude or ridiculing (in fact, his response was cordial and respectful), but his words betray an underlying ignorance about his own shortcomings and delusions, even if he doesn’t want to admit them.  He can believe whatever he wants about me, and so can Reverend Wells for all I care, but now he has no excuse to claim ignorance.  The facts about me are right in front of his face.

%d bloggers like this: