A Christian’s Circular Reasoning

Don asks:

Why is it not possible for people to see immaterial things? We see with the mind as much or more than with then eyes. If the mind can conceive of immaterial things we can see them. Often skeptics declare that what Paul saw was a hallucination. If so, he saw something that was not material. We all dream. When we do we see things that are not material. If there are immaterial beings such as spirits, why would it not be possible to see them?

Why is it not possible for people to see immaterial things? Because ‘immaterial things’ by their very nature cannot be seen. Moreover, in the sense you’re talking about – supernatural beings and places – there is no evidence they have independent existence outside the human imagination.

We see with the mind as much or more than with then eyes. The mind processes what the eyes see. Sometimes it produces, imagines, ‘sights’ for itself, as in hallucinations or dreams, but this doesn’t mean these sights are real. Indeed, they are not.

If the mind can conceive of immaterial things we can see them. You mean like ghosts, spirits from the Greek underworld and Norse gods? Of course you don’t,  though your argument applies equally to these. You mean only Christian immaterial things: heaven and hell, angels and demons and the risen Christ. This is merely special pleading.

Your assertion is patently untrue. It begs the question, ‘if the mind can conceive of ’immaterial things’ does this mean these things are real?’ To which the answer must always be ‘no’.

what Paul saw was a hallucination. If so, he saw something that was not material. Yes and yes. Paul hallucinated on more than one occasion, seeing figures and places that were not real. His seeing them did not make them real.

We all dream. When we do, we see things that are not material. A statement of the bleedin’ obvious, but yes, we all dream. Does this make what we see in those dreams real? Again, no.

If there are immaterial beings such as spirits…There aren’t. As you keep stating while failing to recognise it, they are merely figments of the imagination.

why would it not be possible to see them? Because as figments of the imagination, they don’t exist. Here’s where your ‘reasoning’ is entirely circular: the human mind can conceive of immaterial beings and places and these things can be ‘seen’ ((in dreams and hallucinations); because they can be seen they must be real. Therefore, we know they’re real because they can be seen. Can you not ‘see’ the absurdity of your position, Don?  

My 3+ year old granddaughter can distinguish between reality and figments of the imagination, fantasy and dreams. It is really is time you could too.

If The Resurrection Had Really Happened

Somehow this repost unposted itself after the first few comments. I’m reinstating it and will post something new soon

Don thinks I ‘exaggerate’ when I bring up what the New Testament says are supposed to be the direct consequences of the resurrection. As he seems to have no knowledge of the things Paul and orhers promised would follow, I offered to provide him with chapter and verse. The easiest way to do that is to republish this post, slightly amended, from 2018. (Alternatively, there’s this rather more flippant take on the subject.)

I’m willing to bet Don now tells me I don’t know how to interpret prophecy like an ancient Jew would, that the promises are really metaphors and despite being written for members of the nascent cult they’re really meant for people thousands of years in the future. 

The Christian faith rests entirely on the resurrection of Jesus. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15.17 & 19:

 …If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.

Of course neither Jesus nor Paul’s invention, the Christ, were raised from the dead; those encounters with him, described in the gospels are, like Paul’s, visions and sensations of his presence (later ‘the Holy Spirit’) embroidered in the 40 or more years between when they occurred and when they were recorded.

Let’s though, suppose that Jesus really did rise from the dead and work backwards from there. What difference did it make? More specifically, what does the bible say were the results and consequences of Jesus being raised?

The Coming of the Kingdom

According to the New Testament (Matthew 25.34; Romans 15.12; Revelation 20.4-6), the resurrection was a clear sign that the Final Judgement and Yahweh’s Kingdom was finally arriving on Earth. Jesus is made to predict it:

For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done. Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom” (Matthew 16.27–28).

Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. (Matthew 24.34)

Was God’s wonderful reign established here on Earth back in the first century? Was there a final judgement then? Were all wrongs righted, the social order inverted, and war and suffering abolished (Mark 10.31; Matt 5.2-11; Rev 21.4)? New Testament writers believed that following the resurrection, all of this would be happening –

in reality, none of it happened; not then and not since.

The Resurrection of the Dead

Did Jesus’ resurrection result in even more people rising from the dead? Paul said it would; he said Jesus was the ‘first fruits’, meaning the first of many, with others following him in being raised from the dead (1 Corinthians 15.20-21). Has any ordinary person – anybody at all – ever returned from the dead, long after they passed away? Not one; never mind the hundreds or thousands Paul and other early cultists had in mind. No Pope, no shining example of Christian piety, no activist or worker in the Lord’s vineyard has ever been resurrected during Christianity’s entire history. The dead have always remained stubbornly dead.

So no, this didn’t happen either.

New Creatures

Did the resurrection result in those who believed becoming ‘new creatures’? Paul said it would (2 Corinthians 5.17). He also said members of the new cult would be loving, forgiving and non-judgemental (1 Cor 5.12 & 13.14). There’s no evidence, from his letters, that they were, nor is there evidence from the long and often cruel history of the church. Christians today don’t always radiate loving-kindness either. Those who are caring and gentle before they become Christians remain so; those who are self-gratifying, vindictive or exploitative find a new context in which to be so. As I’ve said before, religion is like excess alcohol; it exaggerates the essential characteristics of a person, for good or for bad.

What it doesn’t do is make shiny ‘new creatures’.

So, what conclusions can we draw from this? Perhaps that nothing went to plan in post-resurrection Christianity. The promised results all failed to materialise. If the effects of the resurrection were and are not what they should have been, what does this say about their supposed cause?

If a storm is forecast and yet, when the time comes, there is no rain, wind or damage, wouldn’t we say that there was no storm?

If a woman said she was pregnant but during the ensuing nine months there was no physical evidence of pregnancy and ultimately no baby, wouldn’t we say she wasn’t pregnant at all?

If God’s Kingdom on Earth, brand new creatures, the resurrection of ordinary believers and the final judgement failed to materialise, wouldn’t we say there can have been no resurrection? The supposed causal event of all these non-effects really can’t have happened. Jesus died and like all dead people stayed dead. The visions, dreams and imaginings of his early followers gave rise to a cult in his name, one that, ultimately failed on all levels to deliver what it promised.

There was no resurrection.

Redemption Songs

I was listening to some Bob Marley the other day and was struck by a line in his song ‘Get Up Stand Up’: ‘Almighty God is a living man’. He was not of course referring to Jesus but to Haile Selassie, the Emperor of Ethiopia who was still alive when ‘Get Up Stand Up’ was recorded in 1973. Rastafarians like Marley believed the Emperor would redeem African-descended Jamaicans and restore them to Africa from where their ancestors had been taken.

Rastafarians saw and still see themselves as modern day Israelites, like those in the Bible stories of Egyptian slavery and Babylonian captivity. Their perspective is reflected in songs like ‘Exodus’, by Marley, ‘The Israelites’ (Desmond Dekker) and ‘Rivers Of Babylon’ (The Melodians). Selassie himself denied being divine (‘why do you call me good, when only God is good?’) but that didn’t stop those who believed in him from making a saviour god of him. When, inevitably, he died (in 1975), some Rastas left the movement while others reinterpreted his role:

Some Rastas believed that Selassie did not really die and that claims to the contrary were Western misinformation… Another perspective within Rastafari acknowledged that Haile Selassie’s body had perished, but claimed that his inner essence survived as a spiritual force. A third response within the Rastafari community was that Selassie’s death was inconsequential as he had only been a “personification” of Jah rather than Jah himself.

It all sounds rather familiar doesn’t it? The saviour didn’t really die/his inner essence survived/his death was inconsequential. Where have we heard all that before?

This put me in mind of a cult that for a long time rivalled that of Christianity. Indeed, in the early days of Jesus belief, it boasted more members, all of them men. Unlike Christianity and Rastafari, this cult believed in a saviour whom adherents knew had never existed as a human on Earth. Mithras was a celestial being whose salvific work, which involved the symbolic slaughter of a bull, was carried out in the heavenly realm:

Mithras is the guide of souls which he leads from the earthly life into which they had fallen back up to the light from which they issued… It was not only from the religions and the wisdom of Orientals and Egyptians, even less from Christianity, that the notion that life on earth was merely a transition to a higher life was derived by the Romans. Their own anguish and the awareness of senescence made it plain enough that earthly existence was all hardship and bitterness. Mithras-worship became one, and perhaps the most significant, of the religions of redemption in declining paganism. (Jacob Burckhkart)

Eventually, in the fourth century, Christians suppressed Mithraism to the extent that its adherents, along with its ritualistic texts, were wiped from history. Only its deserted, underground temples remained.

What both examples tell us – and their are hundreds more – is that people have always been willing and eager to make gods of revered figures, both real and imagined. They are ready to believe them capable of impossible feats and to trust in them for whatever form of redemption they feel in need of. There can be no doubt Jesus belief sprang from this same sort of wishful thinking; Jesus being cast as a divine figure with the power to lead believers into the light and/or the promised land of eternal life. It hardly matters whether he existed or not. Like Mithras, an imaginary/imagined figure could just as easily fulfil the role as a real person, like Selassie, who had others’ unrealistic expectations thrust upon him.

 

Jesus And The Resurrection Metaphor

While choosing Jesus quotes to use in an earlier post, it struck me how the risen Jesus never declares his resurrected status. He doesn’t say, ‘I am risen’ or indeed anything similar. Instead it’s left to others to claim, ‘He is Risen!’ That’s because the resurrection is a declaration of those others’ visionary experiences and their subsequent faith in those visions. Rather than have him declare himself risen, the Jesus in the (much later) gospels goes about ‘proving’ his reappearance is ‘in accordance’ with scripture (Luke 24:25-27; Acts 1:3 etc).

For those who insist Jesus resurrected physically, this is a bizarre turn of events: Jesus having to ‘prove’ he’s alive again by referencing bits of scripture? In fact, this is the biggest clue we’re dealing with a made-up story. ‘Proving convincingly’ over forty days that he’s risen because it somehow fits with a few unrelated quotes from scripture is an attempt by the gospel writers to ‘prove’ to those in the early Jesus cult that the visions of its founders were completely kosher: ‘visions they might have been, but they really were Jesus, honest: scripture says so!’ If Jesus had really risen in his physical body, he would have had no reason to ‘prove’, convincingly or otherwise, he had resurrected. Eye-witnesses would have seen him in the miraculous flesh. All the ‘proof’ needed, surely.

In fact, the gospel authors knew Jesus’ resurrection was nothing more than inner-visions experienced by a few fanatics. We know this was the case for Paul and John of Patmos. The risen Jesus’ real world appearances were invented by Matthew, Luke and John (Mark of course doesn’t even attempt it) and retain the visionary nature of those original spiritual ‘encounters’. In the stories they created for him, risen Jesus is frequently unrecognisable, even by those who supposedly knew him in life, appears as if by magic in locked rooms, vanishes at will and levitates into the sky.

The gospel authors were well aware they were fleshing out, literarily, the visions of those with overactive imaginations. Nonetheless, despite having him eat fish and inviting others to poke his wounds, they stop short of making Jesus declare explicitly he had returned in the flesh. They knew he had not. The point of the resurrection appearances was to bring to life those visions and to connect them with Old Testament ‘prophecies’. It was not to recount an actual event.

The resurrection is a literary trope, a metaphor intended to illustrate supposed Old Testament prophecies; literature begetting literature. Except in people’s heads, nothing else happened.

More on Prophecy

Commenter Koseighty wrote this response to Don Camp following Don’s assertion that we’re living in the End Times. Koseighty explains perfectly how Biblical prophecy is constructed and how inevitably it can only fail.

Don said:
I base my conclusion (never absolute) on the fact that all the markers of the end of the age are converging in these days.

Koseighty: This is what every generation of Christian has said since, and including, Jesus himself. But, besides being nauseatingly clichéd, it shows you don’t understand Jewish apocalyptic literature.

Here’s how Jewish apocalyptic literature works. It’s written in two parts. In the first part the author elaborates all the woes afflicting the people, most often in highly symbolic language. In the second part, the author tells how God is going to set things right, again most often in highly symbolic language.

The first part, the woes part, is not in any way prophetic. The woes and abominations it describes is how the author see his world at the time of writing. The second part, while prophetic, is imminent. It is not something that will happen thousands of years later. The author’s prophecies are going to happen any minute now. “Behold, I come quickly!”

Inevitably what we see in these writings is the first part accurately describes the time of the author, and the second part fails to occur. Believers then either twist the words of the second part to “show” they really did happen, or they place the fulfillment at some future date, collectively called by Christians “The End Times™.”

We see this in Daniel. Scholars can give the year Daniel was written – 167 BCE, if I recall correctly – because the first accurate part describes events prior to that date, and the second prophecy part never happened.

The same can be seen in Mark. The author describes the, current to him, destruction of Jerusalem and the temple, but the imminent coming of Christ in clouds of glory doesn’t happen.

The same with Paul. He describes his times and the imminent resurrection at Christ’s coming (which will include Paul and his followers), but neither the coming nor the resurrection ever happen.

As with the author of the Revelation. He describes his current view of the world and the Roman empire and the imminent destruction to precede the imminent coming of Christ (“Behold, I come quickly!“) which never happens.

Sorry, Don. You’re making the same mistake all those Christians have made before you. Taking Revelation as a prophecy of a distant (to the author) future time instead of happening right then in the time the author was describing.

Perhaps the church should have listened to all those heretics rather than burning them. Perhaps they should have read those heretical texts rather than burning them. Perhaps then Christianity could have come to an accurate consensus on these things rather than the ridiculous one they came up with.

Jesus Quiz

Sort these statements of Jesus’ into the following categories: a) metaphor, b) hyperbole, c) literal:

Be perfect as your father in Heaven is perfect

Judge not that ye be not judged

Remove the log from your own eye before attending to your neighbour’s

Slay my enemies in front of me

If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off.

Turn the other cheek

Give to all who ask

Very truly I tell you, the one who believes has eternal life

Whatever you ask for in prayer believe that you have receive it and it will be yours

If you have faith enough you can move mountains

Love your enemies

There are also eunuchs who made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven.

After three days I will rise again

Some who are standing here will not see death before they see the Son of Man coming in his Kingdom

I am the Resurrection

Do works even greater than mine

Answers? Damned if I know (and no doubt damned if I don’t.) I do, however, know a man who thinks he knows. He says as a rule of thumb, if you don’t like the sound of something Jesus says, it’s definitely not literal. But if it fuels your fantasy then of course it is.

Thanks, Don.

If It Walks Like A Duck…

Psychology Today has this to say about cults:

Destructive individuals and cults use deception and undue influence to make people dependent and obedient. A group should not be considered a cult merely because of its unorthodox beliefs. It is typically authoritarian, headed by a person or group of people with near complete control of followers. Cult influence is designed to disrupt a person’s authentic identity and replace it with a new identity.

Let’s break this down a little:

Destructive individuals: But those enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them – bring them here and kill them in front of me (Luke 19.27).

Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword (Matthew 10:34).

He said to them, ‘But now, the one who has a purse must take it, and likewise a bag. And the one who has no sword must sell his cloak and buy one. For I tell you, this scripture must be fulfilled in me, “And he was counted among the lawless”; and indeed what is written about me is being fulfilled.’ They said, ‘Lord, look, here are two swords.’ He replied, ‘It is enough’ (Luke 22: 36-38). [This is evidently a fictitious episode created around a supposed prophecy (Isaiah 53:12).]

Use deception: The time has come. The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news! (Mark 1:14-15). Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours (Mark 11.24).

Undue influence: Any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple (Luke 14.33). No one who puts his hand to the plough and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God. (Luke 9.62).

To make people dependent: If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple (Luke 14.26).

…and obedient: If you love me, keep my commands (John 14:15). Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honour the one who serves me (John 12.26).

Typically authoritarian… with near complete control: You are my friends if you do what I command you (John 15.14).

Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness’ (Matthew 7.21)

Disrupts a person’s true identity: If anyone wants to come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it. But whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. (Luke 9.23). 

And replaces it with a new identity: Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 18.13).

(John said,)He must become greater; I must become less’ (John 3.30).

It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance (Luke 5: 31-32).

Whether Jesus said these things or they were put into his mouth by his early followers, it is still the case that if it looks like a cult, talks like a cult and behaves like a cult… it’s a cult.

As it was in the beginning, now and ever shall be.

The End Is Always Nigh

No-one could possibly live their entire lives in accordance with Jesus’ exacting and impractical commands, loving their enemies, turning the other cheek, giving to all who ask. It can’t be done, which is why no-one, but no-one, manages it.

There’s a reason his expectations are so ridiculously unrealistic. Jesus didn’t anticipate that people would have to live according to them for very long. He fully expected that within a very short time, God would be imposing his kingdom rule on the Earth (Mark 1:15; Matthew 4:17; 10: 5-23; 16:28; 24:34 etc). The old system was about to pass away and the new golden age of the Kingdom of Heaven was just about to make its spectacular appearance. This was Jesus’s good news: if his fellow Jews changed their behaviour in the way he commanded, they could earn a place in the Kingdom (Mark 9:35; 19:47, Matthew 25:34-40; 31:36; 20:27-28 etc) Sacrificially serving others, putting oneself last, going the extra mile, all of it, was a small, short-term price to pay for eternal life in a renewed Earth from which all evil had been eradicated.

Of course, it didn’t happen. The Son of Man did not descend from the clouds within the disciples’ lifetime to make Earth as it is in Heaven (Matthew 6:10). As the first century progressed it was obvious that Jesus’s prediction of ‘thy Kingdom come’ hadn’t happened in the time scale he (and Paul) had anticipated. Consequently, his good news had to be adjusted*. We see this in Luke’s gospel, which starts to speak of the kingdom as an inner, spiritual experience, and in the fourth gospel where the coming kingdom is eliminated entirely. By the time of 2 Peter, its non-appearance has become the nonsensical argument that the then one hundred year delay was so that God could give people more time to repent.

All the same, the new cult’s members were now stuck with Jesus’s unreasonable commands. They’d been codified in the stories about him that were by then doing the rounds. (I’m of the view that the various sects within the cult created the commands themselves, as short term rules while they waited for the Great Reset.) As a result, the words put in Jesus’s mouth went from being instructions for the time at hand to impossible demands for the long haul. Two thousand years later and they’re still there. So how do most Christians deal with them? By ignoring them, dismissing them, insisting Jesus didn’t mean them literally, which of course he, or his scriptwriters, most certainly did.

The early cultists, believing an angelic figure would soon be descending from heaven to kick start God’s Kingdom on Earth, were wrong. Just about as wrong as it is possible to be. The writing they left behind, the so-called New Testament, is testimony to the failure of their beliefs.

 

 

 

Just Like Jesus

Some parts of this post have appeared before.

Early in the first letter of John, we read,

By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments. The one who says, “I have come to know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him; but whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected. By this we know that we are in Him: the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked. (1 John 2: 3-6)

Isn’t that interesting? John, whoever he was, says that Christians can know they’re saved because they keep Jesus’ commands and ‘walk’ as he walked. Likewise, others should be able to see these traits too because, as Jesus is (later) made to say, cult members can be recognised by their ‘fruits’ (Matthew 7:16).

Just what are Jesus’ commands that converts can’t help but demonstrate? Here’s a few:

  • Cutting themselves off from family – hating their parents, in fact – just to follow him (Luke 14.26);
  • Deny everything about themselves (Matthew 16.24-27);
  • Forsaking home, job, wealth, status, credibility and comfort to help bring about God’s Kingdom on Earth (Mark 10.29-31 etc);
  • Slaving tirelessly in the service of others (Mark 10.43-44; Matthew 23.11 etc);
  • Selling their possessions so that they can give the proceeds to the poor (Matthew 19.21; Luke 14.33);
  • Turning the other cheek, repeatedly going the extra mile and giving away the shirt and coat from off their backs– if they’ve still got them after giving everything away – (Matthew 5.38-40);
  • Welcoming the stranger, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked and visiting those in prison (Matthew 25.35-40);
  • Forgiving again and again and again (Matthew 18.21-22);
  • Avoiding judging others so that they won’t  be judged in turn (Matthew 7.1-3);
  • Loving their enemies (Matthew 5.44);
  • Regarding persecution and injustices as blessings (Matthew 5.11);
  • Doing miracles even more impressive than Jesus’ own (Mark 16.17-18; John 14.12);
  • Healing the sick, raising the dead and casting out demons (Matthew 10.7-8);
  • Asking for anything in prayer, which will be given to them (Mark 11.24; Matthew 21.22);
  • Telling others that the world is about to end (in the first century) and that only Jesus can save them from God’s wrath (Matthew 28.29-34; Matthew 28.16-20).

How many of these things do we see Christians doing? How many of these commandments are Christians compelled to ‘keep’, as letter writer John puts it? Some, it’s true, make attempts with the last (if only they wouldn’t) and a very limited few have a go at a couple of the others. But as far as most Christians are concerned, these commandments may as well not exist. They don’t see Jesus’ instructions as applying to them. I know from experience that they have ready made excuses for not obeying them, let alone feeling an inner compulsion to realise them in their own lives.

Their excuses necessitate them reinterpreting Jesus’ words. They’re metaphorical, they say. ‘He didn’t really mean give everything away because where would that leave us?’ – or they insist his commands have been taken out of context, or have only a spiritual meaning

Which is to say, nothing Jesus said is to be taken literally, even though the most straight forward reading of his pronouncements is that this is how he meant them. It’s how his early followers, the people who preserved or created his words in the gospels, understood them. Why record them otherwise?

But Jesus’ moralising is inconvenient, impractical, exacting, extreme; ridiculous, in fact, and Christians know this. Still his commands must be dealt with somehow. So the Righteous™ work round them or ignore them completely, replacing his priorities with ones of their own: worshipping him; defending his reputation; striving for power; complaining about secular society; whining about the media;  promoting aggression; acquiring wealth (there should be no such thing as a millionaire Christian); claiming persecution; equating faith with guns; trying to control others’ behaviour; interfering in their sex lives; suppressing LGBT people; arguing that religious rights trump those of minorities; opposing abortion.

None of these figured in Jesus’ agenda. Some are even in direct opposition to what he’s made to say in the gospels.

When we see Christians doing the things Jesus tells them they should be doing – what God’s love perfected in them compels them to do – maybe then we’ll listen to what they have to say. When they demonstrate credibility rather than hypocrisy, maybe they’ll have earned the right to be heard. But as there’s not much chance of that happening any time soon, it’s way past time we ignored them, and their superstition, in much the same way they ignore their Lord and Savior™.