Alpha – the new missionary position

If you’ve travelled by bus or Metro on Tyneside you can’t miss the posters advertising the Alpha Course, normally posing generic questions like ‘Is there more to life than this?’, or delivering bland feel-good phrases like ‘Life is worth exploring’.  In the run up to Christmas, they’ll be everywhere.  Despite the Alpha Course being a Christian missionary project, their posters rarely mention God, Christianity or Jesus.  I’ve always wondered by their advertising was so coy.

Over at the Atheism UK website, correspondent John Hunt has produced an excellent concise review of the current state of knowledge about the New Testament and the Jesus stories, and suggests that Alpha’s reluctance to mention the bible is down to the fact that the New Testament doesn’t really stand up to serious scrutiny.

Christian apologists debating the basis of their religion often point to the ‘historicity’ of Jesus and the brutality-lite New Testament account of his life.  But outside the scriptual accounts, it’s likely that Jesus is at most a construct of bolted together pre-existing myths, possible real or exaggerated accounts and even bare faced made up stories to fit in with – and expand – the legend of Jesus.

From the tales of King Arthur to Robin Hood, myth has played an important part in building cultural identity, but is ultimately an unreliable foundation for an evolving ethical framework.  As myths are retold it’s through the bias of the story teller, the perception filter of the listener and reflected in the mirror of zeitgeist.  They are also refined to either meet the tastes of a contemporary audience, or to provide a better story.  Sometimes, myths are remoulded to satisfy the demands of propaganda for political ends.

If the foundations of a belief structure are so shaky, how can anyone build an effective ethical ideology based upon a myth?

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