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Interview with Richard Carrier

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Will the Jesus Project (by itself) arrive at a finding that Jesus didn't exist? Not likely. Could the Jesus Project eventually prove, and beyond a reasonable doubt, that almost nothing we are told about Jesus in the Bible is credible? Very likely. And if it succeeds at this, the strength of the evidence and arguments it will produce to that end will be its signature contribution, making it far harder for critics to oppose its results without ultimately exposing themselves as unreasonable fanatics, while making it far easier for fence-sitters to finally embrace the truth.

BD: In regards to the Jesus Project potentially being canceled, that's quite unfortunate. Is there anything interested parties can do to promote its continuation?

RC: You should contact CSER and CFI and ask that question, or just write to them with fervent support for the JP and its aims and value. I imagine that would have an impact if many people sent such letters.

Secularism and Human Happiness:

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BD: Are all religious traditions created equal, or are some more compatible with secular humanism and/or general human welfare than others?

RC: Quite definitely the latter. Taoism, for example, my first true faith, I still find much more compatible with humanism and the general welfare than almost any real religion I know. Buddhism comes a close second. Generally, the less superstitious nonsense a religion demands you believe, the more its dogmas align with actual scientific reality, and the more it promotes positive values of reasonableness, honesty, compassion, flexibility, intellectual humility, curiosity, empiricism, and progressivism, the better that religion will be for all mankind. I think the facts bear this out, more than amply.

BD: Is there a correlation between secularization and general human happiness/prosperity/etc (either on an individual or group/societal level)? And if so, what do you think the causal relationship might be?

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RC: There is, but it is not absolute. The Gregory Paul study and Zuckerman's Society without God prove clearly that the trend overall is that secularism makes things better than religion. Not always, but more often, and by a considerable amount. In general, you need the right kind of secularism: freethinking, critical, honest, and respectful of liberty. Marxist societies have in practice abandoned all four of those qualities, and thus are perfect examples of a doomed model of secularism that will only make things as bad as in any theocracy. On the other hand, though religions can also be made compatible with those four values, once you embrace them fully, they inevitably end religion, because then eventually the truth will out, and religion doesn't really have much truth up its sleeve.

As to why this kind of secularism works better as a social model than religion, follow-up studies to Paul's, like Gary Jensen's, suggest it's partly psychological: dualistic religions that compartmentalize the world into good/evil, saved/damned, heaven/hell can only be embraced by, and only encourage, a dysfunctional psychology that motivates behavior that harms or impairs social harmony and betterment. It creates a society defined more by anger, fear, and punishment than by cooperation, compromise, and reform; it provides shelter for antisocial obsessions like misogyny, racism, and homophobia; it misdirects resources according to superstitions and dogmas rather than an intelligent and informed analysis of what actually works; and it fails to encourage critical thinking. By contrast, any religion that is non-dualistic and provides active support for critical thinking eventually becomes secularism anyway. In effect, once you are thinking rationally and calmly and in accord with reality, you don't need religion to tell you what to think anymore. And once you realize that, what's it for?

Hence I would speculate that it's not secularism that causes social betterment, it's the values and ideals that cause secularism that in turn cause social betterment. Secularism is just a harmless byproduct.

BD: What do you say to those who claim that without a belief in God, humanity has no moral compass? For instance, I had a conversation with someone who insisted that if it's the case that atheists behave better than theists, it is simply because the individuals in question hadn't taken their respective worldviews to their logical conclusions.

RC: Of course my entire book Sense and Goodness without God is about answering that very question.

But for a humorous primer:

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And for the shortest of short answers:

Atheists have such a strong moral compass precisely because they have taken their worldview to its logical conclusion. For when you really do that, rationally and factually, you will realize there is nothing being bad has to offer you that you actually want, and that everything you really do want, and want badly, is only reliably gotten by being good. In fact, once you are fully in touch with reality, and know yourself and the real consequences of any choice, being good is so much more fun, that once you know how much more enjoyable it is, you will wonder why anyone bothers being bad at all.

BD: What things can the average individual do to promote enlightened reasoning?

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Ben Dench graduated valedictorian of his class from The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey in the Spring Semester of 2007 with a B.A. in philosophy (his graduation speech, which received high praise, is available on YouTube). He is currently (more...)

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