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™.

A Christian Writes

A Christian commenter writes –

…there is only one issue of primary importantance. That is is Jesus the Son of Man and the Son of God and my/your Savior. If so, every other issue pales.

Neil, you and many other atheists seem to think Christianity is broken up into a multitude of pieces that do not agree and do not get along because of disagreements on doctrine and practice. That is actually untrue. When it gets right down to it, only the one issue is important. And that means there are billions of Christians in fellowship. That is the church.

If you missed that in your time as a Christian, I wonder if you really were or whether you were merely religious. Now, among the religious there are significant differences and divisions. Religious Roman Catholics disagree with religious Baptists, and Pentecostals with Greek Orthodox and so on. But that is religion. Christians in all those denominations agree and can have wonderful fellowship when it is about Jesus.

And I respond –

This is nothing more than the No True Scotsman fallacy: ‘those who don’t practise Christianity in the way I (or my sect/church) approves of are not true Christians; they’re merely ‘religious’.’ Having thus discounted those who ‘disprove’ the rule, the rule now gives every impression of working. Brilliant!

You assert that ‘only one issue is important… is Jesus… my/your Savior?’ No, he’s not. He’s nobody’s. Just because Paul and those who came after him decided he was doesn’t mean he is. He’s long gone. Dead. Even so, he doesn’t claim in the synoptic gospels that he came to be anyone’s personal Savior. For synoptic Jesus the only thing of ‘importantance’ was working towards the Kingdom of God on Earth. ‘Seek ye first the Kingdom of Heaven, and his righteousness, and all these other things shall be added unto you.’ For some in the early church, the ‘only issue of importance’ was obeying Jesus’ commands, including, presumably, seeking first the Kingdom on Earth (1 John 2:3-6).

The evidence shows, however, that Christians have never managed to do this (not even after discounting those they disagree with). Just look at Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. The church has been an unholy mess since the very beginning. It continues to be to this day: take a look at Christian Research Network, which denounces fellow Jesus-lovers on a daily basis.

You delude yourself if you think the ‘true’ church, then as now, is in complete harmony, enjoying blissful love-ins with Jesus while everything else, differences in doctrine and practice included, conveniently fade away. But then, you’ve already bought into one of the most perfidious delusions ever foisted on human beings so I don’t suppose another one matters all that much.

 

Christians Against Ms Marvel

Image: Marvel Comics

In the new Disney+ weekly series, Ms Marvel has been cast as an Asian Muslim who is possibly gay. My god! What is the world coming to? A comic book character (yes, comic book character. Not the president or the head of the church. A comic book character) is Asian, Muslim and perhaps gay. So what?

According to a group of infantile Christians, it’s a very, very big deal. They’ve created a private Facebook page (or rather changed an existing one) so they can tantrum about Disney’s ‘woke’ agenda. I don’t know if they’ve watched the show, though it seems unlikely. Ms Marvel is pitched at a younger audience than, say, WandaVision or Moonknight. It is light and breezy, touching on the very racism these Christians typify.

But let me address some of their objections:

The show, they say, represents ‘the biggest slap in the face for conservative Christians to date.’ An unfortunate metaphor when their Lord and Savior™ tells them exactly what to do when ‘slapped in the face’. According to Matthew 5.39 they should start a whiny Facebook page to protest against the perceived sleight. Oh wait, no, that’s not it. They should, he said, ‘turn the other cheek’ for a second slapping. Wouldn’t it be a marvel (pun intended) if once in a while Christians did what Jesus commanded them to do?

There’s more: Disney is ‘pushing’ to make ‘Kamala Khan the face of the franchise over Carol Danvers.’ (the original comic book Ms Marvel.) Captain Marvel and Ms Marvel have a complicated history. In the comic books, Carol Danvers became a non superpowered Captain Marvel back in 1968. Monica Rameau, a black American, took over in 1978, and in 2013, long before the onset of wokeism, Kamala Khan, the Ms Marvel of the Disney+ series, made her debut. Carol Danvers, now with powers, appeared in her own movie in 2019. She’ll return, with Kamala Khan, next year. I feel sure God, America and Christian ‘culture’ will cope with this onslaught of merry Marvel mayhem. These Christians’ objections to Kamala Khan betray only their own bigotry.

They whinge that there’ll be ‘no more straight Christian characters from Marvel,’ failing to realise there never have been any ‘Christian’ characters. Marvel comics has never been about peddling Christianity, thank Christ. As for ‘no more’ straight characters, they must mean apart from all the major figures in the MCU and most of the minor ones too. 98% of Marvel (and DC) characters are straight. Or as straight as cartoon characters can be.

What really irritates me about this though, is Christian priorities. This is what the Holy Spirit is prompting God’s holy ones to campaign about? This is what’s important? Again, according to their supposed Savior. He seemed to think that what was important was boring stuff like feeding the hungry, helping the homeless and loving enemies. Not wasting time moaning about a film company choosing characters and casting actors that privileged Christians don’t like because they’re different from them.

Jesus wouldn’t recognise this sort of embarrassing expression of faith. Lucky for today’s low-calibre Christians then that he doesn’t exist.