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Ten Questions for Dr. Robert M. Price

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Dr. Robert M. Price

3,240 words

Dr. Robert M. Price is a prominent New Testament scholar and an eldritch mage of the Lovecraft cult. With such a range of interests, he is obviously a believer in free expression, free thought, and engagement with as many perspectives as possible. These days, such qualities are rarely found in either the academic or literary fields, and he has been “de-platformed” from time to time, most recently from two YouTube podcasts.

Dr. Price recently agreed to answer a few questions regarding his experiences with political correctness in and out of academia, and on some topics of interest to Counter-Currents readers. I should note that my exchange with Dr. Price included no endorsement of Counter-Currents by him.

James O’Meara: Dr. Price — I think the old-time Germans would call you Dr. Dr. Price, since you have two doctorates, one in theology and one in the New Testament — you’ve had a remarkable career path, from evangelical upbringing, to becoming a Baptist minister, to teaching at various seminaries and universities, to becoming perhaps the leading proponent of the “Christ Mythicist” school [2] (though its roots, as you emphasize, go back quite a bit). Along the way you carved out another career as a leading Lovecraft scholar and writer of weird tales [3]. Would you like to talk about the path your life has taken?

Robert M. Price: I have pretty much followed through on every interest I accumulated during and since childhood: comic book superheroes, customizing toy figures of them, cartooning, writing, reading fantasy, horror, and science fiction, exploring theology and the Bible, etc. This pattern continued throughout my evolution vis-à-vis faith or the lack thereof. I continue to see these interests coinciding, overlapping, interpenetrating, and mutually illuminating in surprising ways. At 10 years old I became a pious fundamentalist (though no less a fan of Lovecraft, Tolkien, et al.). This faith matured a wee bit while I attended college, but in seminary (for academics, not ministerial training) I began to see the issues’ deeper complexity and found Evangelical faith to be implausible. Then I enrolled as a Ph.D. student at Drew University, weighing various theological perspectives, settling on Paul Tillich and Rudolf Bultmann.

At this time, I returned to church at the invitation of a very unusual and brilliant minister. After three years I married Qarol and moved to North Carolina (from New Jersey) to teach Religious Studies at Mount Olive College. After four years of this, I was invited to apply for the pastorate of the church I’d attended in New Jersey and won the job. I was surprised most ministerial tasks were so enjoyable! But the congregation was like a little church mouse lost in a crumbling building from an earlier generation. This led to strife and I quit, taking a few parishioners with me to start an informal living room congregation instead. Each pastorate lasted about six years. I was also recruited to write and speak for the Council on Secular Humanism as well as being inducted into the Jesus Seminar. Oh yes, during this period I returned to Drew to earn my Ph.D. in New Testament.

Then we returned to North Carolina, where I did adjunct teaching and enjoyed attending an Episcopal church. I eventually lost interest in the church and stopped going. Now I attend another, just to be with a few friends.

Over 30 years on and off, Qarol and I have hosted “Heretics Anonymous” discussion groups and recently began filming and posting them. This latest development sort of grew out of my Bible Geek podcast as well as various other podcasts I was invited to appear on, and still do. My involvement in Christian Fellowship International (CFI), the Jesus Seminar, and the online Johnnie Colemon Theological Seminary all terminated over political differences. I am a Republican, and the elite don’t like that much.

I have written numerous books of radical biblical and theological criticism and have several more planned. In 1990 a couple of Lovecraft-oriented publishers invited me to edit fiction anthologies, and I have in fact complied over 30 of them, as well as editing Crypt of Cthulhu magazine, combining literary scholarship and humor.

JO: Can you give our readers a precis of the Christ Myth theory, and perhaps some suggested readings?

RP: The idea is that virtually every story in the gospels looks like a rewrite of this or that Old Testament story. The sayings ascribed to Jesus were commonplaces in the ancient world, and some seem anachronistic, others contradictory. There are no early references to this miracle-working superman in contemporary sources once you bracket obvious forgeries. Much of the New Testament literature seems to speak of Jesus merely as a spiritual-celestial entity, not an itinerant teacher and healer. The crucifixion stories resemble those of contemporary now-ancient Hellenistic novels. And the Easter stories strikingly parallel earlier myths of dying and rising savior gods. Why should we think this one actually existed? It’s like insisting that Superman was real but that Captain Marvel and the Martian Manhunter were just fictional.

I’d refer you to my books The Christ Myth Theory and Its Problems and The Incredible Shrinking Son of Man.

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You can buy James O’Meara’s book The Eldritch Evola here. [5]

JO: Many people believe that the Christ Myth theory, and even New Testament scholarship in general, is simply an attack on Christianity and “our Christian heritage.” You’ve replied that you love the Bible, and once we drop the concern with inspiration and inerrancy, a lot of puzzles are solved and reading the Good Book actually becomes a lot more fun! You’ve also called yourself a “Christian atheist [6].” Comment?

RP: I do love the Bible and the Christian tradition. My position is like how a Classicist’s would be if there was a sect that insisted on the infallibility and accuracy of Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey and Hesiod’s Theogony. A Classicist would try to show the fictive character of the literature not because he hated it, but because he loved it and didn’t want to see it abused. That’s me with the Bible.

I got the label “Christian Atheism” from the radical theologian Thomas J. J. Altizer, who held that the Death of God proclaimed by Friedrich Nietzsche ought to be seen as an extension of Christian theology, not saying there actually was a living God who kicked the bucket one day, but rather that Christians should embrace the realization that we humans have been liberated from the domination of a tyrannical but “loving” deity whose very (supposed) existence reduces us forever, and by nature, to infantile toadies. “O God, you’re so big! Everyone down here is impressed, I can tell you!”

JO: It occurs to me that the Catholic Church made a big mistake by not turning “higher criticism” into a weapon against Protestantism: Faith can’t be based on “scripture alone” since it is the Church that determines what gets counted as scripture, i.e., the canon. Yet ironically it was Protestant scholars who invented and pushed modern scriptural criticism. Comment?

RP: Right you are, O great one! Willi Marxsen, a Protestant, remarked that Protestants had sawn off the limb they were perched on for exactly the reason you mention. Also, Catholics warned that, if Protestantism prevailed, every man would be his own Pope! Martin Luther was not worried because he believed in the “perspicuity of Scripture”; i.e., it was clear enough to any unbiased reader, assuming everyone would just spontaneously arrive at the doctrines of the Heidelberg Confession. Obviously he was mistaken, as the fissiparous history of Protestantism clearly demonstrates. And that’s kind of the point of Nietzsche and Altizer, isn’t it? It’s a good thing! Let a hundred flowers bloom! Truth is in the eye of the beholder, because where else could it be?

JO: You’ve developed quite a broad presence online, frequently appearing on such podcasts as History Valley, Aeon Byte, Critical Faculty, Canadian Catholic, and, of course, your own The Bible Geek [7]. However, recently – perhaps in response to April Fool’s Day -– you were suddenly, unceremoniously, and even rather tearfully [8] deplatformed — i.e., banned — from, and by, Derek Lambert’s MythVision podcast; although apparently your older episodes are still online, despite your status as an “unperson.” Can you let our readers know what happened, how it came about, and the aftermath?

RP: I wish I could explain it! Derek and I had worked together on MythVision for years. He had recently branched out, managing to get interviews with very many important scholars. He called on me less frequently, and I was delighted to see his expansion. He was (and still is) doing great work bringing top-notch biblical scholarship to interested non-academics. That’s what Robert W. Funk was trying to do with the Jesus Seminar, but he never thought of this! Bravo!

But recently, one atheist biblical scholar — there are many — was “encouraged” by his mistress, a militant hater of Christianity and the Bible as well as all things not PC, to rally other PC academics to threaten to henceforth boycott MythVision if Derek didn’t kick me (a Trump fan, etc.) off the show. Derek tearfully explained the situation to me. He didn’t know what to do. I volunteered to quietly stop appearing. This way he could satisfy the mob without drawing me into it. He agreed. But the very next day he publicly posted another weepy clip in which he simply aligned himself with the cancel mob, slandering me and misrepresenting my views. It was his own righteous conscience that was compelling him to axe me! Stockholm Syndrome? Who knows? I am no mind-reader. But it is certainly odd that he did not feel similarly compelled to take down all the videos he had recorded with me because he still needed the money (as he publicly admits) from viewers. It is all very sad. I regret that I have lost a good friend.

JO: Lovecraft has a big fan base on Counter-Currents [9], and on the Dissident Right in general. You are a leading Lovecraft scholar and a writer of weird tales in your own right, yet you were banned from the NecronomiCon for your political views, even after getting their Robert Bloch Lifetime Achievement award! When woke activists later tried to rename the Lovecraft fantasy award [10], Counter-Currents created its own award in response [11]. Can you talk about your involvement with Lovecraft and the Lovecraft community, and how it has affected your understanding of ancient texts, like the Bible?

RP: Back in 1980 I ran across a copy of Lovecraft Studies. I had long been fascinated by Lovecraft’s work and that of allied writers (especially Robert E. Howard), so I eagerly wrote up an essay called “Higher Criticism and the Necronomicon” and mailed it off to editor S. T. Joshi. We became good friends and members of an informal fan circle we called the Providence Pals. He, I, Don and Mollie Burleson, Peter H. Cannon, Sam Gafford, Ken Neilly, and Will Murray would gather in Providence a few times a year to discuss our various projects and to take nostalgic walking tours of places Lovecraft had once lived or that he mentioned in his tales. It is not too much to say that our gang was largely responsible for the great revival of interest in HPL during the next decades. We were honored as elders of the movement in frequent conventions like the World Fantasy Con, the NecronomiCon, and the H. P. Lovecraft Film Festival. I spoke at a number of these, autographing books, conducting spoof “Cthulhu Prayer Breakfasts,” etc. It was a fun and exciting period. Until the advent of Wokeness. You know the rest. The irony of the thing is so hilarious, I’m actually glad it happened!

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You can buy James J. O’Meara’s Mysticism after Modernism here [13].

Anyway, from the very first, I saw that the scholarly study of the Bible and of World Religions provided helpful tools for expounding on HPL. He made frequent reference to ancient religions and used them to reinforce the faux-authenticity of his fictive cults of Cthulhu, Nyarlathotep, etc. In the same way, the Esoteric Order of Dagon was easily recognizable as a Cargo Cult. The blind idiot god Azathoth was simply the Gnostic Demiurge. The Great Race of Yith was squarely based on the Children of the Fire Mist from Theosophy. And so forth. It wasn’t that you had to know this background to understand the stories; rather, whether you were aware of it or not, these facts accounted for the real-seemingness of Lovecraft’s gods, cults, and heretical books.

JO: Liberals and the Left have formerly been big proponents of “free speech,” and academics are supposed to be in favor of “academic freedom.” What do you make of this current situation, where academics seem to have begun to act as political commissars? How did this happen?

RP: Over 30 years ago I became aware of the Leftist impatience with open dialogue: They already knew they were correct, so why waste time trying to compete in the marketplace of ideas? They had no regard for those whom they deemed “counter-revolutionaries.” They were/are, I think, inspired by Karl Marx’s dictum that the proper goal of philosophy is not so much to explain reality as to change it, i.e., for the better. It is easy to see the appeal of this slogan: It seems to condemn philosophical speculation as a kind of masturbatory mind game. I think of something Black Liberation theologian James Cone once wrote, mocking New Testament scholars debating whether there was an Aramaic substratum to the Gospel of Mark while ghetto children were eating lead paint and getting bitten by rats. I get the point, and it makes me feel guilty.

But there is, nonetheless, real value to other human concerns. Peter Singer famously condemned the “waste” of money spent on the Sydney Opera House. But there is value to cultural and intellectual pursuits for their own sake, because our human brains are bigger than those of animals and must create a cultural-symbolic environment of meaning. And if we neglect the needs stemming from that, we are starving another part of the human being. You can see what happens when such needs are ignored by reducing them to means to an exclusively pragmatic end: Art becomes soulless Socialist Realism. Literature becomes mere ideological catechism, molding the readers’ thinking rather than stimulating it. Religion is reduced to social action, disdaining spiritual encounter.

Such zealots regard free thinking as a luxury, exactly as Medieval Catholicism viewed alternative religious thinking as literally damnable heresy. We are back to that, I’m afraid. The Twitter Mob is today’s Holy Inquisition. The toppling of historic monuments and the silencing of dissident academics is the reincarnation of Mao’s Cultural Revolution. But you are not supposed to even recognize these parallels, these re-runs, and to that end the Lords of Wokeness seek to erase or revise knowledge of the past in order to, as they themselves put it, construct a “usable past.” Santayana warned that those who forget the errors of the past are doomed to repeat them. But the Woke Left hopes we will forget, and are trying to make sure we do. This cannot end well.

JO: I’ve read a lot of your books — including some of the biggest, such as your Human Bible New Testament — but by no means all; you seem to publish about a dozen a year! But I can only recall one time where your “political” views might seem to intrude: In your recent book Judaizing Jesus (which I reviewed here [14]), you suggest that one reason the Jerusalem church might have had for welcoming Paul back is that they needed the money he was making as a successful missionary, since their communistic lifestyle had left them bankrupt. This reminded me of Margaret Thatcher’s “running out of other people’s money” remark. Of course it’s true, but it’s the sort of thing that “good thinkers” aren’t supposed to say out loud. On the other hand, supposedly neutral scholars feel free to sneer about how Trump voters or vaccine sceptics are just like those ignorant fundamentalists who won’t listen to biblical “experts.” What do you think of this apparent double standard?

RP: It is almost naïve to be surprised at it by now, to expect anything better. There is in fact a perfect consistency here: that of opportunistic propaganda, saying whatever may score points depending on the situation at the moment. Whatever spin or hypocritical blather serves the Woke goal has the consistency of “means justified by the end.” Total moral relativism. And notice how this is justified by the pious gibberish about “your truth” and “my truth.”

JO: Apart from supporting Trump, mocking Biden (you compared him on a podcast to an Old Testament tyrant led around by his advisors), and calling looters “thugs,” you are hardly a member of the Dissident Right. One of your defenders on Facebook said it was absurd to ban you for holding views that were quite common even a few years ago (which reminds me of Julius Evola’s remark that he was not a “fascist” but merely an adherent to views commonly held by educated people before the French Revolution). Presumably your views on social issues were reasonably well-known beforehand. What do you make of this latest, sudden attack? Is it political, or perhaps also an academic vendetta, related to your support of the Christ Myth theory (I hear that your erstwhile colleague Richard Carrier has joined in as well, despite his own encounters with the “Me Two” mob [15])?

RP: I never thought any mainstream academics took my work seriously enough to find it or me any kind of threat. I can’t imagine they feel any need to suppress my theories by doing a hit job on my politics. Nor can I imagine I have any significant influence on anyone’s politics. Little ol’ me?

JO: I was surprised to hear, on the Canadian Catholic podcast [16], that you had called Donald Trump “our first New Thought president.” I’ve been writing about that since 2016 [17], and connecting it with the “meme magick” supposedly practiced by online supporters that led to his surprising victory. As one would imagine, it’s a very controversial topic in the New Thought community: you were even deplatformed from your online position at the Johnnie Colemon Theological Seminary. Would you like to comment on Trump and his relation to New Thought or Chaos Magick?

RP: I must confess I know nothing about Chaos Magick exempt that the Scarlet Witch practices it. But the New Thought connection is certainly real. One of Trump’s favorite books has long been Norman Vincent Peale’s The Power of Positive Thinking. Like Joel Osteen’s preaching, Peale’s whole emphasis was New Thought. New Thought in its original form was and remains Pantheistic, but you don’t have to make that metaphysical commitment. It seems to boil down to the wisdom of the human race: if you operate on the working hypothesis that you’re going to succeed in your endeavor, it’s much more likely that you will. You will be alert to ways of making it happen. You needn’t deny the possibility of failure, but you don’t let habitual contemplation of that possibility poison your resolve. Pessimism and expectation of defeat are no longer your default mode. As long as they are, you are sapping your resolve. If ultimately your gambit fails, too bad. You try something else, again, with the assumption of success as the structure of your strategy. It’s not a question of wishful thinking, of forcing yourself to (try to) believe you’ll succeed. Rather, your North Star is “Why not?” That’s why Trump achieved so much.

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