The Only Truth

I long ago lost my Christian faith – though it was more of a conscious uncoupling than carelessness. It simply didn’t make sense any more; it wasn’t the Truth it claimed to be. It wasn’t even a truth.

The legacy of Covid-19 for me has been more loss of faith: in science and scientists, as suggested in the previous post, in the media (as I discussed here) and also in politicians and the police. My faith in politicians was, admittedly, never all that great, but the pandemic delivered the death blow. It’s not that I found the numerous parties at 10 Downing Street and in Whitehall a betrayal of the British people, who were under strict lockdown (though they were); it wasn’t the revelation that those who control our lives do so only with a steady supply of alcohol (though that is also true). It was because they were and are so utterly incompetent. None of the measures taken by the British government, nor the Scottish and Welsh assemblies, halted the spread of Covid. Yet like a dog returning to its vomit (Proverbs 26.11) they returned to the same old measures as if they worked. They imposed universal lockdowns and restrictions, making normal social behaviour a crime, when they should have been protecting the elderly and vulnerable, who then died in their thousands in care-homes and hospitals where many of them picked up the virus in the first place. Meanwhile, over-zealous, heavy-handed police officers fined people for sitting on park benches, threatened to arrest people for not wearing face-masks, stopped and questioned drivers they suspected might be breaking Covid rules and broke up ‘illegal’ gatherings while Downing Street partied on.

What a travesty of a democratically free society the last two years have turned out to be. I doubt I will ever vote again, after a lifetime of doing so. The opposition in the UK, the Labour party, exposed themselves to be as spineless and as cravenly zealous in oppressing people as the Conservative government. They opposed none of its draconian, futile measures. They wanted, in fact, for them to be more extreme. Will we ever return to those freedoms we enjoyed and which were our entitlement before the pandemic struck? Or will politicians cling onto the powers they granted themselves and the police to control the largely compliant hoi polloi? Knowing politicians, I think I know the answer. It’s a spoilt ballot paper for me next time and from now on.

All we have, we ordinary folk, is ourselves. The only ones we can possibly have faith in are our loved ones; partners, family and friends. See yourself through life. Take care of these others. Call upon anyone outside of this circle only when necessity dictates. Never believe that government, religion, science, the media or police are on your side and are going to do anything for you.

As Paul Simon wrote many years ago:

And so you see I have come to doubt
All that I once held as true.
I stand alone without beliefs;
The only truth I know is you.

He was talking about his then girl-friend, Kathy but the sentiment is applicable to you and your loved ones. If you’re doing anything but relying on and looking after these people, you are pursuing an illusion.

Covid+Science

Science created Covid-19. Or at least scientists did. The evidence is conclusive, being laid out in Failures Of State published in April 2021 by investigative journalists Jonathan Calvert and George Arbuthnott. In short, the virus was first detected about ten years ago in caves in south China after it had killed several miners. Scientists from Wuhan collected samples of the virus from bat guano in the caves. They returned to their lab where, after an initial investigation, they froze the virus until 2019 when they revived it and began experimenting on it, ostensibly to develop a vaccine effective against SARS-CoV2 viruses. They undoubtedly altered the virus at this point, adding the element that has been recognised as being engineered. They also allowed it to escape. This was probably not intentional; pathogens regularly escape from laboratories all around the world. We now know this is the most likely scenario for the origin of Covid-19.

Science propelled us into lockdowns and restrictions. Strictly speaking, the worst case predictions of scientific modellers propelled the world’s politicians into panic mode and, in consequence, populations into lockdowns. Whether data analysis, number crunching and computer projections can be properly defined as science is a moot point, but those involved in this work regard it as such, as do the politicians who act on modellers’ advice. They have been wrong more than they have been right.

Science is helping us out of the pandemic. The vaccine has reduced the number of cases of Covid and its variants. It is not as effective as was originally predicted, three inoculations providing only about five months’ protection. We can only hope that this is sufficient to get us though the next few weeks by which time it may be that the virus will have run its course. We know from previous pandemics that they last about two to three years, after which they become endemic (though naturally scientists are arguing about the meaning of this term). In other words, we will to have to learn to live with a (hopefully) weakened virus.

We must also be more cautious about science and scientists. Science is a tool that humans use to understand the world. It is a good tool, but it is only as reliable as those who use it; scientists who, like all other humans, make mistakes (lab leaks), have biases (towards worst case scenarios) and agendas (predictions of doom, profit, panaceas.) Science sits uneasily on a pedestal.

 

The Resurrection: Real or Imagined?

Did Paul see a physically resurrected man or did he hallucinate some sort of spirit? What does the bible say?

Paul describes his encounter with the risen Jesus in his letter to cultists in Galatia:

For I did not receive it (the gospel) from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through a revelation of Jesus Christ… God was pleased to reveal his Son in me… (Galatians 1.12 & 15)

‘Revelation, revealed, in me’: there’s no physically resurrected body here.

In his letter to the little community in Corinth, Paul tells us explicitly that Jesus was raised as a ‘life giving spirit’ (1 Corinthians 15.45). Whatever this means, this is how Paul experienced the risen Christ. Nowhere in his letters does he claim to have seen a man who has physically risen from the dead. Even in the legend created around Paul’s mystical revelations decades later, there’s no physical Jesus: a bright light and disembodied voice is what Luke comes up with.

Why does this matter? Well, for a start, Paul’s is the only first hand account of an encounter with the risen Jesus we have. And it was of an entirely ‘spiritual’ nature. Second, Paul assumes that those who ‘saw’ the risen Jesus had exactly the same sort of experience he did. He says in 1 Corinthians 15.5-8,

…(the Risen Jesus) appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.

Paul makes no distinction between the way he experienced the risen Jesus, as a life giving Spirit, and the way these others did. His persistent use of ‘appeared to’ also underlines the mystical nature of these encounters; he doesn’t say Jesus ‘visited’ James or ‘spent time with’ Cephas or ‘chatted with’ the apostles over a fish supper (those legends would come later). There’s absolutely no human interaction here between these people and a real human being. No: instead, Paul says Jesus ‘appeared to’ them, as in ‘he was an apparition’.

The translation of the same passage in the King James version makes this obvious:

…he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve: After that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep. After that, he was seen of James; then of all the apostles.  And last of all he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time.

As for Paul, then, so for all these other sightings (we only have Paul’s word they actually took place.) They were apparitions, hallucinations, innervisions, emotional, spiritual experiences – call them what you will – ‘seen of’ others. They were not of a real man physically raised from the dead.

Why do some Christians find this so hard to accept? After all, this is much their own experience today. They may not hallucinate that Jesus is standing in front of them (assuming that’s what the ‘life giving spirit’ looked like to Paul and others) but they have an emotional experience at conversion that they credit to the presence, the spirit, of this long dead individual. If that’s how it is for converts today, why not for the original Christians? Why does there have to be physical resurrection at all?

Spoiler: there doesn’t and there wasn’t.

 

Jesus Sees Dead People

On his blog Escaping Christian Fundamentalism, Gary Matson has been considering the origin of resurrection belief, looking particularly at the possibility that sightings of the risen Jesus as recorded in the New Testament, were visions or hallucinations.

Naturally, his resident troll, FT Bond, recently banned from the site, objected to this suggestion, even though there is very good internal evidence that this is exactly how the belief in the resurrection arose. I felt compelled to raise the matter – no pun intended – of the occasion in the gospels where Jesus himself sees long dead people, apparently and inexplicably returned from the dead. In all three synoptic gospels Jesus chats with Moses and Elijah who appear in front of him. Mark 9.2-10 relates the story, usually referred to as the Transfiguration, as follows:

After six days Jesus took Peter, James and John with him and led them up a high mountain, where they were all alone. There he was transfigured before them. His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them. And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus.

Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters – one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.”(He did not know what to say, they were so frightened.)

Then a cloud appeared and covered them, and a voice came from the cloud: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!” 

Suddenly, when they looked around, they no longer saw anyone with them except Jesus. As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus gave them orders not to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead. They kept the matter to themselves, discussing what “rising from the dead” meant.

So what is going on here? There are three options:

1. Moses and Elijah were actually ‘resurrected’ or otherwise miraculously returned from dead.

We can safely rule out this first possibility. Two men who had been dead for centuries did not suddenly return from the dead or even from their eternal repose in the bosom of Abraham for a cameo in the Jesus story. 

2. Moses and Elijah were a vision that Jesus and his three associates experienced simultaneously.

Jesus and the three disciples experiencing the same vision simultaneously is clear evidence of shared hallucinatory experiences in the gospels. Mark and Matthew (and possibly Luke) understand the story in this way, using the term ὤφθη (ophthe) meaning ‘appeared to’ or ‘appeared in front of’; ὤφθη usually conveys the sense of ‘apparition’: something that appears that has no physical presence: a vision. The synoptic gospel writers use it almost exclusively in this sense.

3. The event is an invented story. It didn’t happen in reality. There was no hallucination, no vision. It is a fiction devised to convey a symbolic point.

The symbolism is this: Moses and Elijah represent the Law and the Prophets, and in this episode are seen to give way to their superior: Jesus, God’s Chosen Son. He supersedes the old Jewish folk-heroes in every way. Most scholars, and even some conservative Christians, argue for such an interpretation. As symbolic fiction, however, the episode has little or no basis in reality.

Let’s now apply the same analysis of the options in terms of the resurrection stories:

1. Jesus really did come back to life after being dead for 36 hours.

There really is no evidence he did because a) we know this doesn’t happen and b) Paul, who wrote the only first-hand account we have of someone ‘seeing’ the risen Christ, admits it was an hallucinatory ‘revelation’.

2. The disciples had visions of the Risen Jesus similar to Paul’s and to those they are said to have in the Transfiguration story.

Significantly, both Paul and Matthew use the phrase ‘appeared to/in front of’ (ὤφθη, ophthe again) when describing sightings of the Risen Jesus. Luke does so on one occasion too. There is no distinction for the gospel writers, therefore, between the way they describe the vision of Moses and Elijah (ὤφθη, ophthe) and the way they describe Jesus ‘appearing in front of’ the disciples after his death (ὤφθη, ophthe). Moses and Elijah ‘appear to’ the disciples, then the Risen Jesus ‘appears to’ them in the same way. In this option, the Risen Jesus, like Moses and Elijah, are mere visions in people’s heads. 

3. The stories of the disciples resurrection visions are fiction: made up stories about visions, designed to convey a symbolic point. 

There is no reason to suppose that the stories of Jesus reappearing after his death are in any way different from the fiction that is the Transfiguration story. Matthew and Luke were both skilled in creating symbolic events to hammer home the significance of Jesus; the Moses/Elijah story is one such; the nativity, the temptation in the wilderness, voices from the sky, cursing of the fig tree, walking on water and healing of the blind are others. The resurrection belongs to the same category as these. It too is symbolic fiction with only a limited basis in reality. We know from Paul that some people had visions that they took to be the Risen Jesus. The resurrection narratives are the made-up stories invented to illustrate those visions.   

You pays your money, you takes your choice…

 

 

Omicron+Insanity

Who was it who said,Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results’? We don’t actually know. It’s often attributed to Einstein but it almost certainly isn’t, its first recorded use appearing in 1981, 26 years after Einstein died. Whoever it was though talked a lot of sense, as well as contributing a memorable meme to the world.

If only those who presently control our lives would heed it. They wouldn’t then be re-introducing the same restrictions they tried in 2020 and again in 2021 to prevent the spread of Covid. In the UK, the government has just announced that when secondary students return to school today they must wear face masks all the time, because obviously this stopped Covid infections last time round and will do so again. Except it didn’t stop them last time. If face masks worked, we wouldn’t now be in the position we are, with the rapid spread of the ultra-infectious Omicron variant. Face coverings did not prevent or even slow the spread of the original virus, nor the Delta variant; they are certainly not going to have any effect against Omicron. We know this from the countries that have had strict mask mandates in place for the last year. France has twice had almost as many infections in one day as England has had in total. The rest of the European Union has as many or more cases of Omicron than England, when England hasn’t, for the most part, forced its populace to wear face coverings. It makes no sense to impose them now on English school children. The government’s own Education Select Committee has ‘concerns’ about the measure. My sister and mother are conscientious mask wearers, yet during the holidays both have had heavy colds. Their masks did not prevent them from contracting a cold virus, quite possibly a Coronavirus (20% of colds are caused by Coronaviruses, the rest by other viruses.)

Non-pharmaceutical measures do not appear to prevent Covid infections; masks are of limited effectiveness and lockdowns merely defer the problem. Only vaccines reduce the virus’s potency and, even then, not for as long as we originally hoped. (Get the booster!) We have to learn to live with it, as we do with colds, flu and pneumonia. It is estimated that around 25,000 people a year die of flu in England and Wales, year on year. Over the last decade alone this adds up to far more deaths from flu (250,000) than deaths from Covid-19 in the last 2+ years (a contested 136,000), and far fewer than will die of the milder Omicron.

Yet we do not lockdown or wear masks because of flu. Of course the numbers for the milder Omicron are more concentrated and the fear is that cases will overwhelm health services (the same services successive governments have failed to reform.) However, according to the BMJ, 84% of hospitalisations are of the unvaccinated. If anyone is overwhelming the NHS it is people who have chosen not to have the vaccine; it is not reasonable that as a consequence, those who are vaccinated or who like, school children, are less susceptible to the virus, must have restrictions placed on them.

Of course the vulnerable and elderly must be able to isolate themselves and anyone should be free to wear face coverings if it makes them feel more comfortable. The rest of us must learn to get on with our lives alongside Covid-19 and its variants, just as we do with other respiratory diseases. They’re part of being human, after all. It is futile making us adopt the same measures that failed last time and the time before that and the time before that.

Insanity indeed.

The Sorceress and the Cursed Chide

There was once a powerful sorceress who cast her magical spells to the delight of her acolytes, not to mention those for whom she conjured gold from the air around her. The sorceress then turned her attention to other matters important to her and cast other spells over these. But not everyone was as enamoured with these spells as they had been with her earlier ones. Some said she was a misanthrope who should no longer be casting spells, especially ones they did not agree with. Her new spells, they said, were designed to hurt and harm others, and were spreading hate. (They said this because they didn’t know hate was a verb and not a noun.) They responded to the sorceress with incantations of their own: a Cancelorium Censorium curse that would see her immediately silenced and eventually withered away to nothing. They wished fulsomely for her to be banned from ever casting spells again. The sorceress said she did not intend harm to anyone but needed to preserve something of the old magic she believed in.

Some of her detractors then appealed to the self-appointed Ministry of Freedom and Truth (MOFT) who took up the case, protesting to Professors Bloomsbury and T. Witter, asking them to shut down the sorceress’ means of casting her spells. But these professors, especially Bloomsbury, were among those for whom the sorceress had created much gold from nothing and they were loathe to cancel her. So they did not.

The Ministry then appealed to the Council of Wizards to write new rules that would, in the twinkling of an eye, render the sorceress’ spells ‘black art’ and so forbid them from ever being uttered again, anywhere, on pain of imprisonment in Azerbaijan or even the deathly gallows themselves. But the Ministry had forgotten that the last time the Council had been given the power to regulate what others could say it had introduced the infamous Incantation 28 that had prevented anyone from even mentioning that left-handed witches and wizards existed. It was not wise to consider embarking on such a road again. Fortunately, the Council was preoccupied with magicking away a pestilence that was stalking the land and had no time for quarrelsome spats between well meaning, but offended defenders of Freedom and Truth and controversial conjurors.

So the sorceress continued to cast her spells, while others continued to object to her doing so. Still others helped her create even more gold by buying her latest books about a striking shambling eccentric who was just the same as the striking shambling eccentric in her earlier books of wizardry and witchcraft. There was also a volume about an anthropomorphised farm animal that did rather well too, though some deemed it hateful to those who held such animals in low regard. Little wonder the sorceress shrugged her shoulders and set to creating another spell that, she had no doubt, would offend someone somewhere.

 

Enough frivolity. Where do I stand on these matters? As a trustee of an LGBT+  organisation, I am actively involved in the support of trans as well as gay, lesbian and questioning people. While I don’t necessarily agree with J. K. Rowling’s views on trans issues that she expresses on Twitter, I do believe she has the right to express them.

As part of a minority that has frequently been subject to censorship in the past, I cannot endorse the silencing of dissenting voices. Once we start to do that it becomes only a matter of time before it’s our turn again. If we want to be critical of religion and those who practise it, if we want to comment on politics, and challenge those who do indeed espouse hatred; if we want to have a view on anything at all, we have to accept that others have the same right to express their opinions on matters that are dear to us.

Christmases With Grandad: Christmas Past (1960)

Part three of a three-part Christmas story written for BBC Radio Cumbria.

It was still really dark when I woke up. Really dark. Very, very quiet too. I knew it must still be the middle of the night but I couldn’t see my clock. Even if I could have done I might not have known what time it was because I was only just learning how to do that. I didn’t know if Father Christmas had been. I wriggled my feet down to the end of my bed where it was really, really cold, to see if I could hear any paper rustling down there. I wasn’t very sure I could. I was a bit worried then. If Father Christmas hadn’t been yet, he might not come at all if I stayed awake. I closed my eyes to try and get to sleep again but I couldn’t.

I thought maybe it’d be a good idea to sing one of the songs I’d learnt at school. We’d done a nice concert about a baby being born for our mummies and daddies and we’d learnt some songs for it. I’d had a piece of paper to read too. It said Mary and Joseph had to go to Bethlehem to have a baby, but as I couldn’t really read I just remembered what it said. Then we had sung Little Donkey. So I sang some of that in my head and then O Little Town of Bethlehem because we sang that too, but I could only remember the first bit so I did that two times.

When I finished singing in my head it was still dark, and still quiet and cold. I couldn’t think of anything else to do, so I decided I’d switch my light on. I got out of bed as quietly as I could, tiptoed across the cold lino and reached up to the switch. That’s when I saw that Father Christmas had been after all! There were my presents at the end of the bed. I pulled the red crinkly paper off the first one. It was the train engine I wanted! And the next one was some railway line. I got the rails out of the box and tried to fit them together but it was hard. I must’ve made too much noise because the next thing I knew was my mummy and daddy came in to my room. My mummy sat on the edge of my bed wrapped up in her eiderdown because there was ice on the inside of the window and she was very shivery. She said, ‘Neil, it is still only half past five. It’s far too early,’ but she didn’t mean it because she didn’t make me go back to bed. My dad fitted the railway line together into a big circle and we wound up the little engine and watched it go round and round the track. I knew then it was going to be a lovely Christmas.

A lovely Christmas to both my readers.

Go easy on the wobbly juice.

Christmases With Grandad: Christmas Present (2021)

Part two of a three-part Christmas story written for BBC Radio Cumbria.

I’m sure this piece goes here,’ says Granddad, doing his best to force a yellow plastic chute into a red tower. He has a construction in front of him that is designed to take coloured marbles through various tubes and chutes down to a collecting tray at the bottom, but which looks more like a Heath Robinson contraption. ‘Yes, that’s it,’ he says triumphantly as he wedges the yellow chute precariously in place.

”That’s not right,’ says Lana, hands on hips.

Granddad Neil looks at his handiwork. ‘Of course it is,’ he says. Lana picks up a marble and drops into the top of the red tower. When it reaches the yellow chute it falls out and lands on the floor. ‘See?’ she says. ‘It’s upside down.’

‘Granddad!’ Eva says with all the indignation a two year old can muster.

‘He’s had too much wobbly juice,’ Lana explains and takes herself off to the kitchen to complain to her mum that he’s not up to the job.

Granddad has to concede that the girls may well be right on both counts. He chastises himself for having had more than one glass of wobbly juice. He turns back to the precarious marble construction and realises that if the yellow chute is upside down, then several others parts must be too. He wonders as he starts to remove them, why it has fallen to him to fit the marble tower together in the first place. Construction is definitely not one of his better skills.

He looks round at the other adults. Dad is asleep on the couch. Dennis, who always enjoys doing the washing up, is helping mum clear away the dinner dishes. Uncle Mikey is half watching a film he’s downloaded, which, although it is an animation, is far from suitable for children. Fortunately, both Lana and Eva gave up on it after five minutes, which leaves him to entertain them. He feels he has let them down with his inability to put together a child’s toy. Uncle Mikey, finding his efforts more entertaining than the film, announces it would be better if he sorted it out.

Lana meanwhile has taken herself off to the front room, the toy room as she calls it, and is setting out her doll’s tea set, the one Santa brought with Alice In Wonderland characters on it. She arranges her dolls and teddies around it and shouts for Granddad Neil. All is forgiven! The two of them sit at the table having an imaginary tea party. Lana pours while she explains how last night Santa left very muddy bootprints in the hallway. When, much later, mummy appears at the door and asks what the two of them are doing, Granddad Neil says, ‘we’re having a lovely Christmas.’ And indeed they are.

Christmases With Grandad: Christmas Yet To Come (2041)

This three-part story was written for BBC Radio Cumbria this Christmas. Here’s the first instalment.

Lana will wrap the last of her presents, the ones to give to the family on Christmas morning. She will like doing it herself even though the online providers with their one-hour service, would wrap them for her in reconstituted all-natural paper-substitute that automatically recycles itself after 5 hours. She will be pleased with the low energy-use holographic display device she’s bought for her sister Eva. She will have already programmed it to display family members in rotation, as they appear in her ancient photos preserved on the universal cloud.

She’ll laugh as she finds some of her granddad Neil from 20 years earlier; Christmas 2021 according to the information embedded in the image, when she was 5 and Eva almost 3. She will think how strange Christmases were then! When a crisis closed down her school after she had only just started it, and you could only have one or two visitors on Christmas Day. All the same, she will have warm, vague memories of that time, when granddad Neil and Dennis would come on Christmas day and play tea parties and try to put together whatever game they’d got from Santa. She will think how peculiar it was that the game would probably have been made of plastic, long since outlawed.

Then she will tell the hologram device to power down and will put it in its little box. Her mum and dad and Eva will join her and her family first thing the next morning when they will drink a toast to Granddad Neil and Dennis. It will, she knows, be a lovely Christmas.

The Jesus Story v. Reality

Recycled picture, new post

Whenever the Jesus story comes face to face with reality, it fails. The nativity stories, which only Matthew and Luke think to invent include, are a case in point.

  • Luke tells us the Emperor Augustus decreed there should be a census in what we now know as 4BC. He didn’t. The closest Roman census was in AD6, ten years later and it didn’t entail hordes of people trailing back to their ancestral village.
  • Matthew claims that Herod was so enraged about the birth of the ‘royal’ baby that he killed all little boys under two years old. Except he didn’t. This never happened.
  • According to the same story, a host of supernatural beings appeared announcing that a young woman who’d never had sex with a man had given birth, while a wandering star shone directly over her house.

Where in reality do these kinds of things happen? That’s right: in myths and stories. They are typical literary tropes found in fantasy fiction. The ‘miraculous’ events of the nativity are of this genre.

  • Christians who delude themselves into thinking theirs is an intellectual faith concede the nativity is mythical, its events symbolic. They’re not usually so hot on what they’re symbolic of but say the story conveys truth. Still, they insist, the rest of the Jesus story is true. Evangelicals go even further and say it’s literally true. So, Jesus walking on water really happened (or if your faith is, oxymoronically, intellectual faith, it didn’t.) After all, the illusionist Dynamo walked across the Thames a few years ago (see it here), and if he could walk on water then how much more capable of doing that was the Son of God. Except the modern illusionist‘s feat was – yes, you guessed it – an illusion. So even if Jesus did the same thing, his trick was also an illusion. Those who say the story is included in Mark and Matthew because it’s actually only a parable about faith (or something) are conceding, again, that it didn’t actually happen.
  • Likewise when Jesus turns water into wine, calms the storm, raises the dead, chats with apparitions of long dead Jewish folk-heroes and does every other ‘miracle’ he’s credited with. If they’re only symbolic then, by definition, they didn’t happen. Nor did they happen, if, as Evangelicals believe, they’re being passed off as real events. ‘Miracles’ do not happen in reality. Never have, never will. They happen only in stories.

Well, okay, more enlightened Christians might say, but nonetheless Jesus conveyed to the world what God wanted us to know. He was wise and compassionate and told us how our sins could be forgiven. Except his wisdom comes directly from Jewish scriptures; he had nothing new to say. He was no more compassionate than anyone else and could in fact be an absolute s**t. He was inconsistent across the gospels about how sins were forgiven and much of his teaching in the original Gospel (Mark’s) is lifted from Paul or reflects the beliefs of the early Christ cult. Jesus the holy man is a construct – or rather a series of constructs, a literary device, not a real man.

So, okay; the nativity didn’t happen as depicted. The astounding feats attributed to Jesus didn’t happen and Jesus is whoever the various gospel writers and Paul want to make him. Nothing we’ve seen so far is factually, historically or really (as in reality) true.

But, the crucifixion and resurrection are! Oh yes. The rest is made up, but these two events most certainly are not.

  • Even though Jesus’ trial is historically inaccurate and is, as a consequence, highly implausible.
  • Even though there was no-one to record Jesus’s snappy repartee (or silence depending on which gospel you read) with Pilate or Herod.
  • Even though there was no such Roman custom as releasing a prisoner on the Passover.
  • Even though the synoptics have Jesus crucified on Friday while John says it was a Thursday.
  • Even though characters like Barabbas, Joseph of Arimathea, Mary Magdelene and the ‘disciple whom Jesus loved’ are evidently and entirely fictional.
  • Even though there was no eclipse of the sun that lasted for hours.
  • Even though there was no earthquake that shook zombies loose from their graves before Jesus had a chance to rise and shine himself.

Such things are not historical. They’re not even feasible. They did not happen in reality. Well, if not the crucifixion per se, Christians say, then definitely the resurrection: that most unlikely of all unlikely events. That really happened.

  • Even though the reports of it are completely at odds with one another.
  • Even though angels are involved once again.
  • Even though Jesus behaves entirely like a ghost, walking through closed doors, altering his appearance and vanishing at will.
  • Even though he levitates into the clouds.
  • Even though some of the disciples find it impossible to believe he’s back.
  • Even though dead people rise only in stories, myths, legends and fantasies.
  • Even though, in reality, dead people do not come back to life after three days, which is why Jesus didn’t either.

Still, I’m sure I’ll be told when I go to a carol service with my friends in a few days, that the story of Jesus’ birth, emotionally powerful as it is, is true from start to finish. Why? Because people’s capacity for believing fantasy stories knows no bounds.