Thursday, May 18, 2006

Zoroastrianism, Jesus, and History is All Lies

Dear Mr. Supposed Philosopher:

I hope you're having a good break so far. Mine's been a bit worrisome. You see, I'm home for Mother's day, and my brother has come in from Florida. That's were the worrying begins.

My brother says he's taking some religion class, though he didn't tell me exactly what it was, but he's really challenged me on some things. For example, he asked me "Do you know where Christianity came from?" He then proceded to tell me all about Zoroasternism, or something to that effect. Our conversations also continued down the line of "Well, Jesus died and was buried, and his body was never found." Not unrelated to this, he also said something to the effect that he didn't believe in history. I told him that the death of Jesus and others was recorded in documents which are dated back to Roman times. He seemed to pass this off, saying that history itself was a big lie. He's really scaring me with how strange he's acting. Could you give me any insight to this?

- anonymous

Dear irritated-with-your-sibling:

Your brother is correct that Zoroastrianism is perceived as an important basis for Christianity (and the other Abrahamic religions). Some argue that it may have been the first monotheistic religion. The religion was founded by Zarathustra (Zoroaster in Greek). Historians and religious scholars generally date his life sometime between 1800 and 1000 BCE on the basis of his style of writing, and given what we know was going on around Iran at that time. Sometimes the Z. faith is claimed to be the earliest monotheistic religion, since Zoroaster requires devotion to the single God, Ahura Mazda; but, that's not quite right, since Zoroastrianism also has a dualistic nature. It turns out there is an additional claim about angel-like entities called the Amesha Spentas, which in modern Zoroastrianism, are interpreted as manifest components of The Supreme Being who, in one form, is good and constructive. On the other hand, there are another group of seven beings who are evil and destructive. It is this eternally recurring conflict between good and evil that makes Zoroastrianism different from the standard monotheistic frameworks of today which acknowledge only one power as supreme. Because it demands its adherents to have faith and belief in equally opposing powers, Zoroastrianism characterizes itself as dualistic; thus, it is essentially different from the Abrahamic religions, and hence NOT rightly accorded as basis for Islamic, Judaic, or Christian beliefs. So your brother is confused somewhat there. (There is an accessible overview of Zoroasterianism on Wikipedia at

As for Jesus being dead and buried, this is not contested. That his body was never found is likewise not contested. What this means, however, is anybody's guess. Clearly, the Church says he was resurrected. Others offer various theories of a crazier or saner nature, depending on one's intuitions about what is metaphysically possible. As far as scientific evidence goes, there is nothing conclusive. Welcome to "faith land." Your brother has his faith about what happened; you have yours. Neither is conclusive.

If he thinks history is a big lie, quietly observe what he eats for lunch, and then about a half-hour later ask him what he had for lunch. When he answers, quickly announced to your cantakerous sibling that he's a liar, since history is a lie, and since he just gave a historical account of activities which occurred earlier in time. Moreover, if you can find a diary or a letter he wrote about stuff he did even earlier in life, all the better to pester him with, since these documents must also be lies, according to his logic. In fact, you should say that anything not explicitly believed about what's going on this very second should be a lie, since it's all "history" in one sense or another. Tell him Mom's a liar too, since she probably wrote down things that happened in his own history. I bet those baby photos are carefully constructed fakes too!

The first part of being educated is learning to doubt beliefs which seem to be established and common sensical. The second part of being educated is learning to identify evidence and assign probabilities to various options which are subtly different. Your brother is currently in stage one. Be patient and kind with him. In general, I'm that way with undergraduates, since it protects my middle-class lifestyle! But this attitude also has the side advantage of keeping the doors of discussion open for further learning from one another.



At 12:10 AM, Anonymous woofmutt said...

Whenever someone is tellin' me about the extra special path to truth they just discovered they always seem to get to the part where this wonderful new faith thing relates to Christianity. Usually the line is either "It's older than..." or "It's the basis of..." As I am somewhat polite these days I generally just say "Oh?" But in my head I'm thinkin' "If it's so dang great, why do yuh need Christianity to prop yer argument up against?"


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