Agnosticism, Atheism, Christianity, Faith, God, Religion, Truth

Memory’s a Funny Thing

Recently, the ten most memorable moments of British TV were voted on, and Colin Firth coming out of the lake in Pride and Prejudice won most memorable. To commemorate, a huge statue of Colin Firth has been sculpted and has apparently been making the rounds to various lakes in Britain.

But what’s really interesting about the scene this statue depicts is that it never actually happened. Check out the following clip to see Firth talking about it:

And here’s a clip from the film to prove it:

This mini-series ran in 1995, and now 20 years later, people have mis-remembered a scene from it to such a degree that they’ve voted it the most memorable scene in British television history. Aside from it being an interesting anecdote, why do I bother to bring it up here? Because apologists often tell us that the period of time between Jesus’ death and the first Christian writings (at least 20 years) is not long enough for legends to develop; therefore, Paul’s epistles and the gospels must be recording actual events. Yet in this day of photographic evidence, we have an example of how easily the actual facts can be embellished.

This scene was created simply through the evolution of human memory. No one stood to gain anything by making this up. By the same token, apologists are wrong when they claim that if the gospel accounts aren’t accurate, then they must have been developed by a conspiracy. There’s no reason to believe that at all. Stories change as they pass from one person to another, and 20+ years is an awful lot of time for the telephone game to take its toll.

144 thoughts on “Memory’s a Funny Thing”

  1. Excellent analogy – I had no idea where you were going with this until the punchline!


  2. This is so true Nate. That argument never flew for me – I just never understood why apologists wouldn’t admit that the stories had ample time for legend and myth to get built in. There are certainly other comparable stories from that time which nobody is faulted for claiming legendary embellishment, but claim that for these stories and somehow we are faulted for being disingenuous. When we also add in the facts that ancient people were much more superstitious back then and way less prone to fact checking then suspecting that the stories grew as they were passed on is really nothing out of the ordinary at all.

    A typical response is that oral transmission of stories back then was precise – but somehow that didn’t seem to work for the later gospels (like the gospel of Peter) where all scholars are in agreement in claiming legend.


  3. It is amusing to note that, in the screenplay of this particular rendition of “Pride and Prejudice”, the later scene (where Elizabeth tells Jane she’s accepted Mr. D’arcy’s proposal of marriage) depicts Elizabeth as saying, “in such cases as these, a good memory is unpardonable.”

    It would have been ‘unpardonable’ times one thousand had the apostles not ‘remembered’ Jesus emerging from the tomb.

    Extend the comparison further. Firth’s remembered ’emergence’ actually turns out to be inconsequential compared to the ‘reality’ of the deliciously evocative scene played out between Mr. D’arcy and Elizabeth outside of Pemberton and, since it is the entire POINT of Ms Austen’s book, the subsequent marriage between the two.

    Whatever happened or didn’t happen visa vis ’empty tomb’ — and I favor the theory that Mark’s gospel (written first and less likely to have been buffeted by false memory) ended with the disciples in a state of anarchic terror and the short and unconvincing passages that follow were tacked on several years after the account was written — the “point” of Christianity is the ongoing presence of Christ resurrected which has been a feature of Christian spirituality for nearly 2000 years.

    Whatever is accurately ‘remembered’ about the historical events that transpired in Jerusalem in the early spring of 29 AD are, like Firth’s ’emergence’, inconsequential when compared with my (and everyone else’s) ongoing lived experience.

    I wonder if your readers will even understand the point I’m trying to make.



  4. Thanks for all the comments!

    Howie, I also never bought the “not enough time for myth” argument. It’s a bit like the “death panels” thing with the Affordable Care Act, and that took no time to get off the ground. I never really thought about your point concerning the Gospel of Peter — you’re absolutely right!

    Hi Cap’n,
    Nice to hear from you! I do agree with you that whether or not the TV series actually showed Firth emerging from the lake is of no consequence — it’s just a minor point that would be easy for people to think they had seen.

    At the same time, it does serve as a good illustration of how people’s imaginations sometimes take over their view of reality. Several years ago, there were some major tornadoes in Alabama, where I live. Several cities, including Tuscaloosa and Cullman, sustained major damages. Within those first few days after the tornadoes hit, rescuers were stretched to the limit trying to respond to all the missing persons reports. It turned out later that several of those reports, including some reports of children that had been thrown into a nearby lake by the storm, were completely inaccurate. It doesn’t seem that any of them were outright lies — they were just passed on by well-meaning people who had heard rumors from other well-meaning people.

    To me, the literal truth of whether or not the details in the gospels actually occurred is very significant. If Jesus didn’t actually do the miracles that are attributed to him, and if he didn’t actually come back from the dead, then I see no reason to believe in him. At the same time, I get that there are some people who believe for more personal reasons, and while that doesn’t work for me, I can acknowledge that it works for them. Usually, people who believe for those kinds of reasons tend to be less dogmatic than more fundamentalist, conservative Christians, and I view that as a good thing.


  5. Of course, but understanding you and agreeing with you, are two different things. Believe it or not, I was thinking about asking, just the other day, “Has anyone heard from CaptainCatholic lately?” but decided instead to let sleeping Catholics lie.


  6. Hi Nate, I don’t suppose you expected me to ignore this? 🙂

    It is one thing to show a possible analogy. It is another to show that there is any evidence that the analogy works.

    Have you any evidence that the supposed parallels between then and now actually apply?


  7. Interesting analogy. Just like archy, I was wondering where you were going with this.

    Just tell UnkleE you were not there and end of story. I heard that line is used by Ken Ham a lot.


  8. I like it. Fast forward to the gospels, written two to three generations after, pus following a war, and we have a rather well-primed canvas for imagination.


  9. UnkleE,

    I think it’s more of a point than an analogy. The point being made was aimed at the assertion that 20 years was not enough time for facts to become embellished, therefore we should trust that the bible is accurate. I would ask, “where’s the proof for that?” but we’d be steering off topic.

    The video and the story illustrate how things can be embellished and mis-remembered, by a lot of people, in a very short amount of time, thereby deflating the aforementioned christian excuse.

    Make sense?



  10. I remember seeing Santa fly across the sky when I was a child. Now I wonder: active imagination, memory of a dream, or maybe, just maybe, Santa is Real!


  11. There have been numerous sightings of santa, and many more who have experienced his direct benevolence and leftover cookie crumbs – who can deny such proof?

    Those hardhearted souls who reject santa do so to their own detriment. Arrogant individuals who believe that they know a better way to deliver toys to their children. May they perish eternally in ToysRus.


  12. “It is one thing to show a possible analogy. It is another to show that there is any evidence that the analogy works.”

    Rozwell crash site and alien citings , Elvis seen after his death just to name 2 of many. These 2 examples started almost immediately after the original occurrences and continue to this day.

    Surely you have to concede unkleE , the world is full of legends based on some historical fact(s).


  13. “[I] decided instead to let sleeping Catholics lie.”

    Thanks, Arch. I was, as you point out, “let lie” during Holy Week; but after three days under the covers I woke up and emerged from my bedroom! Now, no one actually SAW me wake up — but many noticed the unmade bed and concluded that I must be awake.

    Some, I’m sad to say, doubted that I actually woke up. Some still doubt. My explanation for this is that, even though they “really know” I’m awake, they’re mad at me and want to pretend that I’m not going to ever return to post more comments.



  14. Of course, if they haven’t seen you, then doubting that you woke up may have nothing to do with anger but just be a result of having little evidence…


  15. Oh Captain my Captain, please don’t worry yourself about those that are unfaithful. Rest assured there are those like myself who through our experiences know in our hearts that our changed lives are evidence that you, our Captain, are still in charge of our ship. Whatever transpired during that historic Holy Week in the 50th year of our Captain is inconsequential when compared with my (and everyone else’s) ongoing lived experience.

    May we all be blessed with the Crunch of our Captain. Amen.


  16. Howie,

    Your captain is in his 60th year, not his 50th. I may not be persuasive, but I am certainly old!

    As for your concluding prayer, it does seem to me that you’re being a tad bit unwelcoming by urging my “crunching”; but as they say, we can be sure only of crunching and taxes.

    Which reminds me of one of Paula Poundstone’s quips: “The wages of sin is death, but after taxes are withheld all you’re left with is an overall crummy feeling.”



  17. I’m thinking that, at this point, I’ve contributed my fair share of silliness to the thread. I’ll try to say something heartfelt and sincere but — as I said before — I’m not sure whether you wonderful atheists actually understand what I’m saying. I’m quite certain that most “Christians” don’t understand.

    You do realize, I hope, that the god you don’t believe in is the god I don’t believe in.

    I believe in the resurrection. The homily at this morning’s Mass, interestingly enough, centered around the idea that all of theology is just so much tapestry. It can be set aside. The ‘core’, the thing that matters, is the resurrection.

    I assert, just as Father asserted at Mass, that resurrection is the very thing that I need and the very thing that you need — and that any other thing a human being can strive after is a pathetic distraction. Do you really think that, by ‘resurrection’, I’m referring to the veracity of a particular historical event? What possible “event” could possibly satisfy the longing in my soul?

    You say that there’s insufficient evidence for the Church’s claim of resurrection. What sort of ‘evidence’ are you looking for? Would you be satisfied to have it proven that, on such and such a Sunday morning, in such and such a tomb, in such and such a part of Jerusalem, the battered and bloodied corpse of Jesus reanimated and began to walk around?


    That would certainly be remarkable; but it wouldn’t be proof of resurrection. It would be proof of zombies! I don’t happen to believe in zombies, but even if I’m wrong and zombies are real I’m certainly not going to entrust my soul to zombies. I will, and do, entrust my soul to the resurrection.

    Resurrection isn’t something that “happened”. Resurrection is an ongoing encounter. It’s the experience of my own death being replaced with life. The death and resurrection of spirit isn’t something that can be demonstrated by science. There’s nothing in it for science to investigate. Nothing for science to confirm, nothing for science to debunk. It’s about the core of being, the core of life.

    I have absolutely no idea what ‘happened’ three days after the historical Jesus was executed. I don’t even know what I’d be looking for. Certainly nothing that ‘happened’ would convince me of the resurrection. It isn’t something that happens ‘out there’ in the realm that we explore with our senses — even when our senses are augmented by reason, mathematics and technology. It’s something closer to ‘consciousness’ or ‘will’ or ‘experience’. I really can’t see what sort of “evidence” would prove or disprove those things — but I believe you know what I’m talking about when I mention them.

    Am I just baying at the moon here?



  18. “Make sense?”

    Hi William, of course it makes sense – if you are willing to ignore the evidence. Read what historians say about how information was transmitted for the New Testament and then see how close that is to Nate’s examples of Pride and prejudice and Chinese Whispers.

    “Surely you have to concede unkleE , the world is full of legends based on some historical fact(s).”

    Hi Ken, the world is also full of good information based on historical facts. How are you going to choose which is which – by some dodgy analogy or by checking what historians say?


  19. Hey Paul – I’ll stop the silliness as well and I sincerely want to apologize if I offended. I really enjoy joining in the fun to get some smiles but I for damn sure never want to be unwelcoming.

    One thing about me is I’m more than willing to admit that I am a blockhead, so it may very well be that I am missing your viewpoint entirely. I kind of think I understand your point on this post though and it reminds me of John Dominic Crossan’s view on the resurrection (perhaps it’s a little off from his or maybe I’m way off, but it’s the closest viewpoint it reminded me of), and I do understand his view.

    There seems to be a view of my own atheism (and I know for sure several others on this blog) that you are definitely missing. You said this:

    You do realize, I hope, that the god you don’t believe in is the god I don’t believe in.

    I don’t believe in any gods, Paul. Seriously. I’m not saying I know for sure no gods exist, but I don’t claim belief in any of them. I don’t believe in incorporeal minds, simple and plain. Could I be wrong, sure, but it is a fact that I do not express belief in those things. So it turns out that I don’t believe in the god of the fundamentalists as you are pointing out. But Paul, I also don’t believe in yours. Are you missing that or was your statement just not carefully written?


  20. Howie,

    I took less offense than it sounded.

    I did say, “the god you don’t believe in is the god I don’t believe in”, I certainly did NOT say, nor do I believe that “God, as I understand God, is a god you believe in, or should believe in, or could believe in.”

    It’s not a question of whether I agree with or disagree with fundamentalists. It’s more a matter of my impatience with childish discussions among childish minds. I keep hearing atheists say (and I totally get where they’re coming from) that “Christians” are impervious to reason and logic. I have the same problem when I talk to them.

    I’m not insisting that you agree with me, only that you take note of the fact that I have no intention of talking nonsense.

    By the way, I don’t even know what an “incorporeal mind” would be if it DID exist.



  21. Paul – ok, I’ll take your word for it. It’s just that “the god you don’t believe in is the god I don’t believe in” sounds very suggestive of what we hear very often in the blogosphere from liberal theists who want us to know that the only reason we don’t believe is because we have one very specific idea of what a god could be like (i.e. the fundamentalist Christian version). I bet this is true for some atheists but this is not true for a lot of the ones I know.

    I think all of us say childish or illogical stuff sometimes. I do it all the time.


  22. Quite likely, some actually HOPED that that would be the case, but certainly not yours truly – you’re the most honest theist I know (the most honest thief among thieves, however, should probably not go on a resume –).

    Currently watching a “House” rerun – a girl says to House, “So you don’t believe in god?” He answers, “I did, but then I grew my curly hairs –!”


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