One of my favorite all-time films, and not merely because of any false sense of patriotic pride, is the 2001 Australian produced ‘The Man Who Sued God’ starring the brilliantly funny Billy Connolly, who plays Advocate Steve Myers, a disillusioned lawyer who becomes fed-up with the perceived corruption within the judicial system.
A short synopsis of the plot
Connolly’s character, Myers, quits the law business and buys a small fishing boat and takes up fishing for a living. His fishing boat is struck by lightening and explodes into pieces, burns and sinks. He informs his insurance company, who review and then subsequently decline his claim on the grounds that they are not liable as his fishing boat was destroyed due to an ‘Act of God’. Frustrated that his claim is repeatedly declined, Steve files a claim against God, naming church officials as representatives of God, and thereby the respondents. The church leaders, their respective lawyers, as well as their insurance company get together to find a way to settle this dilemma, which does catch the fancy of the media. It is in Court that God’s representatives will have to admit that the destruction of Steve’s fishing boat was actually God’s Act, accept it, and compensate him, or deny it altogether, and thereby deny God’s existence, and leave the onus on Steve to prove his claim.
Life imitates Art
Today, February 4th, an Italian judge heard arguments on whether or not a parish priest, in Italy, should stand trial for claiming Jesus of Nazareth actually existed. Until now I always presumed cases as exciting as this to be confined to the script writing department of my favorite TV show ‘Boston Legal’. That show’s ball-tearing episodes have featured the Pentagon being brought to trial for inadequate battlefield patient care; correctional officers accused of murdering a death row inmate whose lethal injection procedure went terribly wrong, by pulling out his revolver and ending the inmate’s misery; and the Democratic Party for misrepresenting its voters with the use of Super Delegates. Who doesn’t love Denny Crane?
This is a trial only the best Hollywood writers could script, as atheist Luigi Cascioli sues his childhood friend, and priest, the Rev. Enrico Righi for allegedly deceiving people into thinking Jesus was an actual historical figure. The hearing is taking place in a town called Viterbo, north of Rome.
“This complaint does not wish to contest the freedom of Christians to profess their faith, sanctioned by [article] 19 of the Italian Constitution,” says Cascioli, “but wishes to denounce the abuse that the Catholic Church commits by availing itself of its prestige in order to inculcate – as if being real and historical – facts that are really just inventions.”
Cascioli’s attorney, Mauro Fonzo, told the Associated Press, “The point is not to establish whether Jesus existed or not, but if there is a question of possible fraud.”
Although Cascioli and his attorney know their case has two-fifths of fuck-all chance of success in the home of the Roman Catholic Church, their strategy is to go through the necessary legal steps that will enable them, ultimately, to bring their anti-Jesus case before the European Court of Human Rights. There, says Fonzo, he will accuse the church of “religious racism”.
Cascioli, the author of “The Fable of Christ,” claims his childhood friend violated local laws against deception when he stated in a 2002 parish gazette “that the historic figure of Jesus was the son of Joseph and Mary (two totally imaginary characters and therefore historically non existing [claims Cascioli]); of having the same Jesus been born in the village of Bethlehem and of having grown up in Nazareth.”
Specifically, Cascioli says Righi has broken two Italian laws: the “abuse of popular belief” – which amounts to intentionally deceiving someone – and “impersonation” – meaning one gains by giving a false name to someone.
Columnist Colin Bower, South Africa’s Mail & Guardian Newspaper, didn’t mince words when in his summation Cascioli’s legal challenge:
He has thought out his grounds with wit and insight. He happily concedes that theological argument is rightfully the preserve of theologians – and that theologians can believe whatever they want to. His case is based on history, not theological reasoning. The theology of the Roman Catholic Church – indeed all Christian theology – is based on a particular historical understanding. Cascioli examines Christian history minutely, and reaches the conclusion: “It never happened like that, your history is false.” He will be helped by precedent set in litigation successfully brought against scholars who deny the existence of the Holocaust. …
What grips the imagination is not so much the historical argument itself as the unprecedented courtroom drama that will unfold this week as Righi presents his case. He, and his long-dead witnesses, will be subject to cross questioning and to character and credibility audit. Under these circumstances he will have to think long and hard about who he calls. The Gospel writers ought to be a major concern. Imagine the kind of cross questioning that would take place in a “normal” court proceeding: “Is their existence attested by any non-Christian source?” Well, no. “Can you prove that they existed?” Well, no. “Do their accounts conflict?” Yes. “In material considerations?” Yes. “Is there evidence that their work was tampered with or edited by later writers?” Yes. “Do they provide any corroborating evidence of the miracles they report?” No. “Are they eye witnesses to the events they describe?” No.
Clearly, if the issue before the court was a case against a person whose fate might be jail or the hangman, any self-respecting judge would have to disqualify the evidence of such unreliable witnesses.
Certainly Christian apologists will take umbrage with Bower’s summary of the pending case, as his factually based assertions drive yet another stake in the heart of Christianity’s historically flawed claims. Whatever happens, whatever the outcome, this will serve as a further piece of collective awakening that the myth of Jesus is constructed on hearsay, corroborative rather than collaborative accounts, and partial testimony corrupted by theological motives.
Jesus prophesized the end of times, but if current de-conversion trends continue, if what was once only known to theologians continues to make its way to the man/woman in the pew, the end of Christianity may very well precede the end of our earth.
Author ‘God Hates You. Hate Him Back’ (Making Sense of the Bible)