Who is the Pope to judge?

CoverSnip2I hope all you gay people out there are feeling mighty grateful to Pope Francis who this week had this to say about you:

“They say they exist. If someone is gay, who searches for the Lord and has goodwill, who am I to judge?” he added. “The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains this very well. It says they should not be marginalized because of this (orientation) but that they must be integrated into society.”

His words were widely reported as reflecting a new found tolerance of gay people by the Catholic church, the world’s largest cult. Nonsense; what his words reflect is the same old intolerance, this time with a smile on its face. The Pope’s words are disingenuous (“they say they exist”), condescending and conditional (‘happy to have you around  – but only so long as you’re interested in the same superstition as me’).

What the media generally failed to report was that Frankie also ‘reaffirmed the Catholic Church’s teaching that homosexual acts are a sin.’ Nor did most of it find it necessary to mention that ‘the official position of the Catholic Church on the issue is that while homosexual desires or attractions are not in themselves sinful, the physical acts are.’

This view, which is held by other Christians too, that gay people should forego all sexual fulfilment in their lives and deny themselves loving relationships, simply because these would, of necessity, be with a person of the same sex is not treating people as Christians themselves would like to be treated (Matthew 7.12). Would Christians be happy with an ‘acceptance’ that allowed them to believe whatever they wanted, provided they didn’t act upon it – church attendance, worship, hymn singing, prayer meetings and overt expressions of faith all disallowed?

I’m guessing not. And it is far more extreme to deny individuals something as integral to their identity as their sexuality, than it is to suppress the expression of a set of spurious beliefs.

What the Pope was actually trotting out yesterday was the same old ‘hate the sin, love the sinner’ line. And there’s nothing remotely loving – or even biblical – about that. We are our behaviour, all of us, and are entitled to be loved (or not) for what we are, not in spite of it. If you can’t do that for another person, or group of people, then you’re not demonstrating love, whatever else you may be doing.

So, thanks Frankie, but no thanks. Until the Church you lead finds it in its heart to demonstrate real, unconditional love, your ‘tolerance’ is nothing more than an insulting irrelevance.

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Why I could never be a Christian

RidiculousIn Through The Looking Glass, And What Alice Found There, Lewis Carroll has the White Queen boast that in her youth she could believe ‘six impossible things before breakfast’. Pfa! Only six? Today’s Christian can beat that with ease, and not only before breakfast!

To be a Christian you must accept through faith, and contrary to the evidence, that:

  • there is a reality above and beyond nature wherein exist angels, archangels, devils, demons, principalities (whatever they are), spirits (holy and otherwise) and God himself;

  • virgins can conceive and give birth;

  • a man who died 2,000 years ago is still alive;

  • this man could, when he lived, defy gravity; control the weather; sweat blood; reanimate corpses (his own included); pass through solid objects and project himself into space;

  • an intangible part of everyone survives death;

  • believing in a magic formula (‘Christ died for me’ or similar) leads to eternal life;

  • after death, believers will live again in an improved copy of the body they had when alive;

  • God reversed the laws on which the universe operates to make all of this possible, because he wanted to sacrifice a part of himself to himself;

  • he can do this because he is God;

  • he prompted men to explain his plan in a special book;

  • all you have to do to live forever is believe this book is true.

In addition to ‘essential’ beliefs like these, there are still more that Christians choose to accept on faith, add-ons that Christians are invited to see as the underpinning of ‘important’ doctrines. While not absolutely crucial, they are recommended as a means of adhering to (uncorroborated) biblical truth. Consequently, we find Christians who believe that:

  • God created the universe 6,000 years ago (because this is the time-scale that can be calculated from the Bible’s genealogies);

  • dinosaurs and humans co-existed (because this must be the case if the creation stories in Genesis are literally true);

  • evolution didn’t happen; God created the Earth and everything on it in just six days.

  • reality can be changed by the simple expedient of asking God to change it (prayer);

  • God directly controls the weather (omnipotence/divine irritability);

  • Jesus is coming back – with a selection of scenarios available to true believers about what this will be like (the second coming);

  • all unbelievers will be consigned to hell / oblivion / annihilation: again, take your pick (judgement).

There is not one scrap of evidence outside the special book that any of these items of faith are true. None is verifiable, and consequently none has ever been verified (accounts written inter-dependently fifty years after the alleged miracle-man lived don’t count).

There is, on the other hand, overwhelming evidence that virgins don’t conceive; that there is no agency behind the weather and natural disasters; that nothing of an individual’s self survives death and that dead bodies stay dead. This has always been the case and always will be. It was how nature operated two thousand years ago when all of the ‘essential’ items of faith, invented by the kinds of mind that believed earthquakes and floods were deliberate acts of God, were gaining currency.

Though I once did, I can’t subscribe to any of these ridiculously ‘impossible things’ in the vain hope that I might live forever.

Can you?

Jesus Doesn’t Approve of One Man One Woman Marriage

WeddingWhat does Jesus really have to say about marriage? It’s not what you think.

It is almost impossible to visit a Christian website these days and not find it making pronouncements about gay marriage, same-sex relationships and the ‘evil’ of homosexuality. Some, like Christian Voice, seem to think that the gospel is about nothing else. Elsewhere, Bishop John Quinn of Minnesota, a celibate, single male and thus an expert in matters matrimonial, writes that ‘from the beginning, the church has taught that marriage is a lifetime relationship between one man and one woman… It is a sacrament, instituted by Jesus Christ to provide the special graces that are needed to live according to God’s law and to give birth to the next generation”. Alas, the bishop doesn’t know his Bible, nor his Lord’s teaching. He is not alone in superimposing his own views of marriage on the Bible; it is a common practice among Christians today.

Should you be inclined to do so, you will once again search in vain either for Jesus ‘instituting’ modern marriage or for the early church promoting it. Those who claim he does usually cite Jesus’ apparent endorsement of Genesis 2.24 from Matthew 19.5-6:

a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh”. So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.

In context, though, Jesus is actually discussing divorce, not marriage, and is making the point that Jewish law permits divorce only because men and women are weak. This prompts the disciples to observe that ‘if such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry’, with which Jesus agrees, adding,

not everyone can accept this teaching, but only those to whom it is given. For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the Kingdom of heaven. Let anyone accept this who can. 

In other words, Jesus thinks it is better to be sexless than to marry, the better to pursue the interests of God’s Kingdom. He emphasises the point in Luke 20.34-35:

Jesus said to them, ‘Those who belong to this age marry and are given in marriage; but those who are considered worthy of a place in that age [i.e. that of the Kingdom] and in the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage. 

This is even less ambiguous in its denigration of marriage; it is for this world only, for those who will not be part of the Kingdom, who will not survive death. Those who live in anticipation of the Kingdom, who would be resurrected from the dead, will have nothing to do with marriage in this life, as in the next. Far from ‘instituting’ marriage as Bishop Quinn claims, Jesus heralds the end of the institution.

The Kingdom, however, didn’t come when Jesus said it would. Newly formed groups of believers found themselves having to decide what to do about marriage in a world that was lasting longer than he’d promised. Consequently, ‘from the beginning’, the early church’s position was that marriage would do if believers couldn’t manage to control their sexual urges. But, Paul declares in 1 Corinthians 7.8-9, it is better to remain celibate and not to marry at all:

to the unmarried and the widows I say that it is well for them to remain unmarried as I am. But if they are not practising self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to be aflame with passion.

While it is true Paul assumes any marriage will be between a man and woman, this is hardly the ringing endorsement of marriage we might expect from the assertions of today’s Christians. For Paul, the leaders of the early church and Jesus himself there was no point to marrying when they lived in the end times. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians, 7.28-29:

But if you marry, you do not sin, and if a virgin marries, she does not sin. Yet those who marry will experience distress in this life, and I would spare you that. I mean, brothers and sisters, the appointed time has grown short; from now on, let even those who have wives be as though they had none…

Paul is not sanctioning marriage because he anticipated that any marriage could only be short-lived and traumatic; as he goes on to explain in 1 Corinthians 7.32-34, marriage is little more than a distraction from ‘the affairs of the Lord’. He is not therefore promoting ‘life long’ commitment in the sense Bishop Quinn, Christian Voice’s Stephen Green and Christians who don’t know their Bible claim, because those to whom Paul writes are not, in his view, going to continue in their existing lives for very much longer.

Above all, Jesus and Paul are most definitely not establishing rules for marriage for the rest of time, simply because, for them, there was no ‘rest of time’.

Same-sex marriage and Christian conscience

PrinciplesThe Queen gave royal assent to same-sex marriage yesterday and the first such marriages are likely to take place next summer. The aspect of the bill that concerns me is that ‘religious organisations will have to “opt in” to offering weddings, with the Church of England and Church in Wales being banned in law from doing so.’ Even before the passing of bill there were already instances of religious individuals declining services to same-sex couples, including a Christian registrar who refused to conduct a civil ceremony on grounds of conscience.

Remarkably, given the tenuous nature of everything they believe, Christians insist they have the right to ‘live according to conscience’. What this means in practice is that in circumstances where they feel their God-given principles might be compromised, they are compelled to withhold their services from others, denying the rights of fellow human-beings.

By the same principle, however, everyone else must also have the right to live according to their own consciences. If we arrange society so that we don’t have to help, provide a service or care for those whose lifestyles or beliefs are contrary to our own, we end up with a society that operates only on exclusion. The hotel owners who exclude homosexual couples will be matched by gay hotel owners who don’t like Christians; Muslim shopkeepers who object to non-Muslims won’t have to serve them; vegan restaurateurs will, on principle, bar meat-eaters; atheist surgeons will be able to deny treatment to the religious. Such a society could not function because we would all, at some point, be excluded, while at others we would be those doing the excluding. Conscience-based rejection of others, taken to its logical conclusion, could only lead to the breakdown of civilised living, which is reliant on interdependency and mutual cooperation.

A comment posted on the Guardian’s web-site following the case of a Relate counsellor who refused to help homosexual couples neatly summarises the issue:

Gay men and women have been giving good service to bigots for years. We’ve been nursing you through your illnesses, clipping your tickets, treating your diseases, teaching your kids, entertaining you on telly, delivering your mail, waiting on your table, shooting your enemies and cooking your dinner; all this time without ever claiming the “right” not to serve you if you don’t happen to approve of us. It’s time some straights grew up and stopped whining.

There is nothing biblical about living according to ‘principles’ that demand others be ostracised. On the contrary, Jesus demands that his followers give unconditionally to anyone and everyone who asks and treat others as they themselves would wish to be treated (Luke 6.30, 31, 35).

Christians who claim they have a right to reject and exclude others ‘according to conscience’ would do well to consider how they would react if ‘principled’ gays, Muslims and atheists refused them the services they sometimes feel ‘conscience bound’ to refuse others.  What cries of ‘persecution’ there would be then!

Oh wait! There already are…

And another three things…

Following on from last time’s post, here, below the picture, are some more points I hold to be true.Image

Human behaviour, not sin.
There is no such thing as sin and we don’t need God’s forgiveness for it. Sin is a Christian construct with no purchase in the real world. There is only human behaviour – good, bad and indifferent. Most of it is indifferent (or neutral if you like) including what consenting adults may do with each other sexually. Some of it is good, in the sense that it benefits others significantly; some of it is bad – evil even – because of the harm it causes others. None of it is offensive to God, because there isn’t a God, and none of it is forgiven by him for the same reason. We are moral or not, without the assistance of a God. This seems to me to be self-evident: if there is no God and yet we are capable of behaving morally then any goodness cannot come from him. Similarly, immoral behaviour, of which the religious are as capable as the rest of us, is also entirely human.

We can draw two conclusions from this:

  1. No sin = nothing to be saved from = no redemption.

  2. The Christian claim that because atheists don’t acknowledge God they have no grounds for behaving morally is demonstrably false. The golden rule of ‘do unto others…’ is of value to us as social animals, which is why it pre-dates Jesus by millennia. Non-believers are as capable of behaving morally as believers, and sometimes a darn-sight better.

It is impossible to know the future.
No-one can know the future. The same Christians who castigate scientists for not being there when the Earth came into existence, have the temerity to claim they know what will happen at some indeterminate time in the future. There will be, they tell us, an anti-Christ, a rapture and Jesus will return from Heaven. They cannot know this of course, even if their holy book seems to predict it. It too was created by human beings with no more ability to read the future as anyone else. People have long wished they could tell what the future holds, which is why fortune tellers, astrologers, priests who read auspices, oracles and prophets have been with us throughout history. They’ve never been right, except by chance, for the simple expedient that humans are not gifted with accurate foresight. Biblical prophecies are no exception and have already failed, as we’ll see in future postings.

(Scientists do of course predict what the consequences of certain actions might be, but scientific predictions are subject to amendment as more information becomes available and are always open to refutation. They are not in the same category as prophecies purportedly from a deity who doesn’t actually exist.)

We are all humanists.
We are all utterly reliant on other human beings, not God, to help us fulfil our needs. Believers do not turn to God when they are hungry, because if they did they would starve (in spite of what Jesus says in Matthew 6.25). They don’t turn to him when they are ill, but look to medical science to help them (yes, there are a small minority of extremists who, because of faith in God and the likes of Mark 16.18, let their children die. But most believers don’t; they have faith in other humans, in science and technology). Christians and believers of all stripes demonstrate their faith, not in God but in human endeavours every time they get dressed, put on spectacles, catch a bus, board a plane, buy a house, switch on a computer, television or oven, use a phone, listen to music, admire art and marvel at architecture. None of this is God-given, it is all human, and believers, whatever else they may claim, are all humanists at heart, having far more faith in the human than the divine.

My creed (sort of)

Image

I was asked recently by a good Christian friend, now I’m no longer a believer myself, what I ‘place my faith in’ these days. Despite the claim from some Christians – Ken Ham of Answers In Genesis, for example – that atheism itself is a religion, we atheists generally don’t have ‘faith’ in anything; we are much more interested in knowing, in evidence and in not accepting on trust whatever self-appointed authorities might tell us. Nor do we have ‘faith’ in the ‘goodness’ of man as Christian Voice’s Stephen Green tells me we do. Though we might recognise that the only way to solve the many problems we face is going to be through human endeavour; there is no god who is going to bail us out.

So in these liberating post-Christian days, my world-view differs from my friend’s and other believers’ in a number of crucial ways. This post looks at the first three of these and there’ll be three more next time. Together, these make up something of a creed for me, even if some, like these first three, are expressed as negatives:-

There are no supernatural beings.

There is no empirical evidence that supernatural beings exist. There is, however, plenty of evidence that such ‘beings’ are the creations of the human imagination. It follows from this that are no fairies, ghosts, demons, spirits (holy and otherwise), angels, Santa Claus, Satan, Zeus, Osiris, Baal, Allah, Yahweh, resurrected Christ, or God of any sort ‘out there’.

And, no, books written by human beings are not evidence of the external, independent existence of any of these characters. Such inventions bring us back squarely into the realm of the human imagination.

Neither, as Romans 1:20 claims, is the natural, physical universe evidence of a supernatural realm. To argue that it is is the same as saying that because there is an Athens there must be a Zeus, or that the existence of tea-shops proves Bertrand Russell’s celestial teapot must really be orbiting the sun. That which is material, visible and natural can never be proof of something that is invisible, immaterial and supernatural. And in the end, there is no difference between something that is invisible, immaterial, supernatural and unprovable – and that which is non-existent.

Faith is no substitute for evidence (and wishful thinking doesn’t work).

Declarations, statements and views that begin ‘I believe’ are suspect and not to be trusted. They usually mean the person uttering them has no evidence for their belief. Otherwise, why believe? Wouldn’t you ‘know’ if you had evidence? ‘Believing’ does not make the object of your belief a reality. ‘Believing’ that you have eternal life won’t enable you to live forever. Hoping you’re going to Heaven when you die doesn’t mean heaven exists nor will it get you there in the future. Having ‘faith’ in Jesus will not make you right with God for all sorts of reasons. In short, wishful thinking doesn’t work.

Science, not religion, offers the best explanations of life, the universe and everything.

Religionists (wilfully?) misunderstand the scientific use of the word ‘theory’; they insist it is a synonym for guesswork or argue that because some scientific theories, like evolution, cannot be replicated in the laboratory they are therefore null and void (see Answers in Genesis again with its battle cry of ‘were you there [when the world was made]?’ No, and neither was Ken Ham, nor the writers of Genesis, nor any deity; see above). But a scientific theory offers an explanation which can be tested against observable phenomena and processes. It asks ‘is this what we might expect if the theory (explanation) is accurate?’ If yes, the theory is validated, repeatedly. If no, the theory has to be modified to fit the facts or completely reformulated, again so it accurately mirrors what is observed. The scientific principle of actively seeking out evidence that might refute a given theory, or aspects of it, ensures a process that can be trusted. Note though, that having such trust in science is not a matter of faith: it is about considering the evidence and developing knowledge from it.

 

A Voice in the Wilderness

PreacherA guest post by Clueless’s Reverend Green.

I was thinking of starting a Christian blog. In it I would tell my readers of the gospel of Jesus Christ which is something about him being God but not God and dying for my sins, even though the ‘good news’ he preached himself was altogether something different from this. But never mind, I’d get round this by ignoring Jesus’ own words (or the suspect record we have of them in the gospels) and talk instead about St Paul’s Jesus-replacement, Superman… er, the Christ.

But maybe that would be too complicated for my readers, who, let’s face it wouldn’t be the sharpest cookies in the tool-box. Perhaps I’d be better publishing posts lamenting the state of the world, and the UK and USA in particular, adding to the general despondency that Christians already feel about it, and if we’re honest, have always felt about it (1 John 2. 17-18 etc). Oh yes, make no mistake about it, the devil and his minions are in charge of this world, which is why homosexuals want to get married or want to destroy marriage (or something) and have equal rights to which the Lord says they’re not entitled. In some parts of the world they do anyway – I’ll just ignore the persecution that still goes on elsewhere, unless it’s to gloat about it of course. I’ll publish lots of articles about how evil homos are, because they’re, like, Satanically controlled and want to take over the world. Yes, lots of articles like this, because, you know, it’s really what Christianity is about.

And maybe I can get interviewed on the BBC about it from time to time and very humbly trash homosexuals (I’d refuse to call them ‘gay’) but I’d be careful not to use the kind of language I use on the blog itself, where I’d call them ‘perverts’ or ‘sodomites’, even though I know the story of Sodom and Gomorrah is just that, a story, and isn’t about homosexuality in any case, and that gay people don’t always engage in anal sex. But I won’t let that stand in the way of a good snide comment! And I won’t either, when I’m on the telly, imply that homosexual men like to work with young people, because, you know, they’re always on the look out for more victims, even if I do suggest it on the blog.

But I don’t want it all to be doom and gloom. Most of it, yes, but not all, so I’ll pretend that what I’m really about is changing this world so it’s a much nicer, shinier place that Jesus will want to come back to, to reign forever and smite all those horrible perverts who are a threat to manly heterosexuals like me, on my second marriage-for-life. Though I might not mention this on the BBC either.

I know it doesn’t actually talk about changing the world in the Bible, and Jesus himself didn’t say a word about sodomites (a big mistake); I know too he failed to bring about the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth when he was here, but that’s because it needs a Christian like me with balls, who knows how to use the internet and appears on the BBC sometimes. Before you know it we’ll have what I like to call ‘godly government’ and there’ll be no more sodomites, and me and my mates will be in charge! And I’ll be ever so humble about it.

Oh wait. Hell and damnation! Someone’s beaten me to it.