Another problem with Heaven

HeavenEndNo Christians met last time’s challenge of showing us where the Bible says they’re going to Heaven when they die. Looks like they won’t be. Who knew.

Let’s say though that, despite the odds, they’re right after all; which of their ever-changing selves will be the one that makes it to ‘the other side’?

Does the Christian who passes away suffering from a dementia that has entirely dissolved his personality, his very self, find himself living for eternity in this condition?

Does a deceased child-convert find herself existing as a perpetual 9 year old?

What about all of those aborted foetuses many Christians feel so strongly about, maintaining that they too have souls; do they remain embryos for their heavenly existence?

Or does God change each arrival into the very best they could have been while on Earth? If he does, and everyone lives in their prime as, say, a permanent 28 year old, how much of who they really were and are survives in Heaven? It doesn’t sound like it can be very much.

Perhaps that’s why inviting dead believers to Heaven to live with him there has never been part of Jesus’ and his Father’s great plan.

Christians’ Favourite Delusions 4: Heaven Awaits

Heaven2Quite a few Christians are now following this blog and I’d like to issue them with a challenge: show me where Jesus or the gospel writers or St Paul or any of the New Testament authors promise you that you’ll go to Heaven when you die.

Because, you see, the Bible doesn’t make any such promise.

Jesus was adamant that ‘the righteous’ (he’s not even talking about Christians!) would soon transfer into God’s new Kingdom on Earth. When you say the Lord’s prayer, Christians, this is exactly what you’re asking for: ‘Thy Kingdom come – on Earth as it is Heaven.’ As the former bishop of Durham, Tom Wright, puts it, ‘at no point do the resurrection narratives in the four Gospels say, “Jesus has been raised, therefore we are all going to heaven.” It says that Christ is coming here, to join together the heavens and the Earth in an act of new creation’… in the first century, we might add.

Paul, with a version of Christianity that bears little resemblance to Jesus’ own, doesn’t teach that the believer will go to heaven either. In attempting to explain why the Kingdom is late in arriving – so late, in fact, that Christians were dying without seeing it – he invents the idea that the deceased will be woken up by Jesus when he returns to Earth (1 Thessalonians 4.14-16. And yes, he really did make up as he went along).

And after Paul? It was becoming increasingly apparent to later Christians that Jesus really wasn’t coming back any time soon. So they invented the idea that they would go to be with him. As Bart Ehrman puts it ‘with the passage of time, the apocalyptic notion of the resurrection of the body becomes transformed into the doctrine of the immortality of the soul’. But this not what Jesus himself promised – and you’d think as ‘the Son of God’ he’d have known how it all worked – it’s not what St Paul taught and it’s not even what the trippy writer of Revelation claims. He too insists that everything is going to happen here on a recreated Earth (Revelation 21).

So the choice for you today, Christians, is whether you believe ‘God’s Word’ where, for once,  Jesus and Paul say much the same thing, or you go along with those later, post-biblical believers with their altogether different idea of what happens when we die.

Of course, you opt for the latter – even you have doubts that the Kingdom will come at this late stage – instead of facing the fact that when we die, we are just that: dead.

Ehrman D. Bart (2009) Jesus Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions of the Bible. Harper Collins: New York, page 266.

What use is religion?

SavedI went to church on Sunday. Not because I wanted to, but to help someone out. It was an interesting experience. There were some really nice people there – good people even. They would say they were good… no, they wouldn’t, they would dispute they were good… they would say any good qualities they had were the result of Christ and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

But such a claim doesn’t account for all the other good people we encounter in life who don’t believe in Christ or the Holy Spirit or any of the other aspects of the Christian faith. It doesn’t account either for the mean-spirited, spiteful and obstructive folk that we find in churches. If Christians have been regenerated through faith in Christ – the Bible calls them ‘new creations’ in 2 Corinthians 5.17 – then there shouldn’t be any unpleasant, unloving folk in church, should there?

The minister on Sunday made much of Christians being ‘works in progress’, but this sounds like a nice way of making excuses for difficult people. Some folk manage to be good and loving without faith, without ever being a ‘work in progress’. A Christian commenter on another blog I read, ‘Why There Is No God‘, argued the other day that we shouldn’t judge a religion by the way its adherents behave. But what other way is there to judge it? If a religion doesn’t make individuals more loving – and this is what Jesus claims distinguishes his followers (John 13:35) – then of what use is it?

It seems to me – and I’m aware I’m resorting to personal experience here, mainly because there don’t appear to be any empirical studies of individuals pre- and post-conversion – that good people are good whichever side of the conversion experience they’re on, and hateful types are hateful whether they’re believers or not. Religion doesn’t, in spite of its claims, change people very much. At most it brings out their true natures. Much the same as alcohol, really.

Multiplicity

MultiJesus

Ever see the film Multiplicity starring Michael Keaton as Doug, a man who clones multiple copies of himself? There’s a perfectionist Doug, a slob Doug, a macho Doug, a gay Doug, a romantic Doug… you get the picture. If you haven’t seen the film, you should. Or you could read the Bible for much the same experience.

It’s the original Mulitiplicity, with Jesus as the Michael Keaton character. There’s a Jewish Messiah Jesus, a demanding zealot Jesus, a Greek god-man Jesus, an intangible spirit Jesus and, just like in the movie, having so many clones about leads only to trouble and hilarious consequences. Well, maybe not so much the hilarious consequences, but certainly trouble.

Christians really have time for only one these Biblical Jesuses, the superhero creation of ‘Saint’ Paul’s who goes by the name – the title, no less – of ‘the Christ.’ This Greek god-man makes few demands of his adherents – he does everything for them – and provides them with a free-pass to Heaven (though Paul neglects to mention this particular super-power – you’ll search in vain for promises of Heaven in Paul’s writing.) Supernatural Christ Jesus always proves a better option than the earthy Jesus of the synoptic gospels because ‘gaining a right standing with God’ is a far easier game to play than serving others.

Synoptic Gospel Jesus preaches the coming of the God’s kingdom on Earth in the first century; tells his followers they should sell all they have to give to the poor; commands them to love their enemies and pray for those who persecute them. He insists they should lend without expectation of any return, cut off body parts that offend them and attend to the log in their own eye rather the speck in their neighbours’. No wonder Christians have no time for Gospel Jesus! He’s far too demanding, far too radical, like the super-perfectionist Doug in the film. Oh, they’ll protest they really do believe in Gospel Jesus, but if they did, we would see them doing all the things he tells them they should. And we don’t.

The demanding, Gospel Jesus loses out too to Ephemeral Mystic Jesus, the Jesus found in John’s gospel, the one who just can’t stop talking about himself. Then there’s Avenging King Jesus of the psychedelic nightmare that is Revelation. He’s the one who’s going to come back to Earth at some point (allegedly) to massacre his enemies.

It’s impossible to tell which of the multiple Jesuses is the ‘real’ one. Maybe it’s none of those in the Bible – move over Christ Jesus, Gospel Jesus, Mystic Jesus, Avenging King Jesus; the only Jesus Christians are really interested in is the one of their own making. The one they say lives in their hearts and who once, apparently, lived in mine. This is the best Jesus of all because he can be whatever you want him to be.

Maybe, in the end though, none of the Jesuses, not even the one Christians imagine lives inside them, is real. They’re all just imaginative interpretations of a long-dead, charismatic zealot whose mission went badly awry. And if the Bible hasn’t got a grip on what its central figure is really all about – Jewish Messiah, Greek Christ, intangible spirit – then what else is it confused and wrong about?

Christians’ Favourite Delusions 3: Jesus is Perfect

buddyjesus1Jesus – practically perfect in every way.

Or was that Mary Poppins?

Christians go to great lengths to present Jesus as perfect. They do this by ignoring the evidence, such as we have it in the gospels, and by believing blindly in a false version of the god-man perpetrated by those who’ve gone before them. They call it ‘faith’; the rest of us know it as cognitive dissonance. Step out from behind it, look at the Biblical record without preconceptions and what you will see is that Jesus was an unmitigated disaster.

His prophecies were wrong, his promises untrue, his morality, as his followers demonstrate to this day, impossible. His mission, to herald the arrival of the Kingdom of God for the Jewish people, was a failure that led, ultimately, to untold evil being committed in his name. He was responsible for the stultification of mankind’s cultural and intellectual development, and, still today, the suppression of reason, autonomy and equality. The world would have been a better place if he had never lived, or at least if those who followed him hadn’t made a religion out of his failure. He believed that the root cause of illness was sin and demonic possession: he was uneducated and unsophisticated. He was inconsistent, unpleasant to those who opposed him and dismissive of those outside his own circle. He was arrogant, abusive and divisive.

He was, in all of this, thoroughly human. He was not God, nor the Son of God, and he was not delivering any divine salvation plan. He was a charismatic, Jewish fanatic from a superstitious backwater of the first century. He has, or should have, no more relevance to the lives of people today than any of the other itinerant preachers of the time. I say this not because I’m choosing to ‘reject’ him; in spite of the name of this blog he can no more be ‘rejected’ than other ‘divine’ figures like Mithras, Krishna and Superman. Nor do I say it because I want to revel in my own ‘sin’, as Christians assert of those of us who really don’t see what all the fuss is about. I say it because this is what the evidence shows us.

Read the synoptic gospels for yourself, ignoring the interpretive gloss invented by Paul and later Christians, and this flawed individual is the Jesus you’ll see.