A few years ago I participated in a colloquium at UCLA that included, besides myself, two other academics who studied various aspects of the origins of Christianity, and a lawyer, somewhat unjustifiably famous for battling “religious theists” [sic]. The latter category he habitually referred to as “religion” or “supernaturalism,” which in his head amounted to the same thing.
With a kind of cocksureness that always comes naturally to the malinformed, he told me minutes before delivering his spiel that he welcomed the opportunity to “set these religion scholars straight.” I muttered something agreeable about the nature of scholarship–always being a willingness to accept correction, though privately I have always thought that Jesus’ words about lawyers are among the wisest things he is ever reckoned to have said.
At the end of his discussion, the three of us sat quietly. Carol Backhos, a UCLA professor of Judaic Studies, who had kept track of the number of times the speaker had equated religion and supernaturalism in his…
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