Frivolous Lawsuit on the Historicity of Jesus

Here’s one that belongs in the category, “I don’t know whether to laugh or to cry.”

When people see the words “Catholic priest” and “stand trial” used together, they will probably assume that the priest is either being prosecuted or sued for some sort of alleged sexual abuse. A recent court proceeding in Italy, however, provides an amusing, if not irritating, exception to that trend. CNN recently reported that Luigi Cascioli, an Italian atheist, had petitioned the local court to force a Catholic priest to stand trial because–brace yourself–the priest had the audacity to assert that Jesus existed as a historical person. Cascioli claimed that the priest’s assertion of the historicity of Jesus violated two laws: (1) a prohibition against “fraudulently deceiving people;” and (2) a law against “impersonation” or “personal gain from attributing a false name to someone.”

The judge rightfully dismissed the ridiculous case. What I find baffling, however, is the idea that Cascioli actually believed that the Catholic priest had violated the law — merely by asserting that Jesus existed. Suppose, for the sake of argument, that Jesus didn’t exist as a historical person. Even if it were the case that Jesus never existed, it wouldn’t follow that Catholic priests who assert the historicity of Jesus are doing so fraudulently. In other words, it could be the case that the priest was honestly mistaken and not deliberately spreading information he knew to be false. In order to prove the priest had violated the law, however, Cascioli must not only prove that Jesus didn’t exist, but that the Catholic priest knew that Jesus didn’t exist. And that (the idea that the priest knew that Jesus didn’t exist) strikes me as not only false, but absurd.

Cascioli’s stupid lawsuit is an embarrassment to atheists worldwide. It is not representative of atheistic thought.