Same as it ever was

EndtimesAs it was in the beginning… and shall be ever more

The philosopher A. C. Grayling notes in his new book, The God Argument: The Case Against Religion and For Humanism, that

Depending on how one counts them, something between 800 and 3,000 new religious sects, or even new religions as such, have sprung up since the Second World War, most of them in the United States and Africa. A frequent feature is that they are not much concerned with the afterlife because they are millenarian, believing that the end of the world is imminent, and they promise anyone who will join the sect that he or she will be transformed, raptured or otherwise saved when the end comes.

Sound familiar? This is exactly how Christianity got going.  A fanatical, itinerant preacher took it upon himself to announce that the end of the world was just around the corner (Matthew 16.27-28 etc). It wasn’t, but a few gullible souls believed him – especially when he told them they would rule the new world once it arrived (Luke 22.30 etc).

And the rest, as they say, is history.

Notes: Grayling,  A. C. (2013) The God Argument: The Case Against Religion and For Humanism, London: Bloomsbury, p229. Emphases are Grayling’s.

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Christians’ Favourite Delusions 9: The supernatural exists

Madeup

If you follow any Christian blogs, you’ll know that what many of them enjoy most is slagging off other brands of Christianity. They take the odd swipe at the heathen and at gay people, of course, but most of their bile is reserved for each other. They dispute the smallest matters of doctrine and principle that they are sure other groups of believers haven’t got quite as right as they have. To the outsider, it’s like arguing about whether the tooth fairy’s dress is pink or green while overlooking the fact that there is no tooth fairy.

It’s curious too because there are more similarities than differences between the varieties of Christianity. They have much more in common with each other than with the rest of us.

Most significantly, they all believe in supernatural beings. This, for me, is the greatest difference between myself and those who profess a faith. I see no evidence for supernatural creatures, places or events. The supernatural has no independent existence outside the human imagination. It is the human mind that, over the millennia, has constructed innumerable gods and their attendant mythologies, just as it has created more recently the inhabitants of Narnia, Middle-Earth and Hogwarts.

Being a Christian requires you believe in not one, but a myriad of supernatural beings, events and locations:-

While believers are adamant that there’s one God, they insist at the same time he is made up of three individuals: a Father, a Son and a Holy Spirit.

They believe in angels who wait upon God the Father in Heaven – a supernatural place they mistakenly believe they’ll be going to when they die – and who, some maintain, aid them here on Earth. How many angels are there? We are told in the Bible there’s a ‘host’ of them, which sounds like quite a lot.

There are also seraphim (Isaiah 6.2) and cherubim (Hebrew 9.5 etc), third-rate special-effects creatures who act as God’s heavies.

In addition to them, there are characters from the early days of Judaism – Moses and Elijah – who have survived death and hang about somewhere or other. They make a surprise return visit to Earth in Matthew 17.3. For some, Jesus’ mother, Mary, is another of this elite group of Eternals.

And what about all of the ordinary believers Christians say have already gone to Heaven? That’s millions of dead people who enjoy supernatural existence. Roman Catholics even believe you can chat with these heavenly ‘saints’ and they’ll argue your case for you with the Big Boss.

There’s the cast of characters from the dark-side too: God’s nemesis the Devil (aka Satan, aka Lucifer – though confusingly this last title is also used of Christ in Revelation 22.16) and his armies of demons and evil spirits who have nothing better to do than take over gullible human minds. This lot live in another supernatural place, Hell, though no-one seems to know where this is either (in Luke 10.15, Jesus implies it’s inside the earth, but it isn’t).

And last but not least are the supernatural events that supposedly took place in the real world: talking animals (Genesis 3.1; Numbers 22.28), sticks that turn into snakes (Exodus 4.3), corpses rising from graves (Matthew 27.52) and a man who magically beams up to Heaven (Luke 24.51), to name but a few.

So, Christians, argue all you like about what makes your version of Christianity better than others, but don’t forget all varieties of the faith depend on believing that these supernatural characters and events are real. In fact, they’re no more real than the pantheon of Greek gods and goddesses who inhabited Olympus, and at least they were interesting.

Today in Christian Love…

HugChristians, what do you do when you’re required to provide a service, say the photos or the food, at a gay wedding? It’s a tricky one, isn’t it, when the Bible tells you that homosexuality is an affront to God and you feel honour-bound to uphold his standards.

Well, Dan Reuter, pastor and attorney-at-law in Bloomington, Indiana has the perfect solution! Here’s what ol’ Danny-boy suggests:

The Christian purveyor of pictures or food should tell the sodomite couple:

Of course, I will provide my stuff for your wedding. I serve, and am required to serve, everyone, whether or not I approve of what he is doing. However, you do understand that if I am at your so-called ‘wedding,’ I will consider it my duty to call attention to God’s view of what you are doing. I will consider it my obligation to warn the guests of the danger they are running and of the harm all of you are doing to your own lives as God observes them. So, I will be distributing literature that explains all this.

And I thank you for the opportunity to reach people who otherwise might never hear this message that I believe they desperately need to hear.

What a neat suggestion! I know it’s neat because most of the comments on the site say so.

Christian love in action – a wonder to behold.

PS. Don’t forget, everyone else, to have some literature handy in your job so you can demonstrate how belief in Old Testament codswallop is an affront to your principles of tolerance and rationality. It’s a message the faithful desperately need to hear.

Hat tip to Steve Wells at http://dwindlinginunbelief.blogspot.co.uk/

The picture caption is not mine this time (they usually are) but I can’t locate the original source.

Christians’ Favourite Delusions 8: Atheists can never be moral or happy

moral

Christians regularly exercise these dishonest sound-bytes; here, here and here, for example.

There’s no need to argue with them. All we need to do is look at the evidence:

Good, moral atheists

Immoral Christians

Happy atheists

Miserable Christians

(click all of the above for examples)

If it’s true that only those with a direct line to God can be good and happy, then we shouldn’t see any of these categories. Christians should be supremely happy all, or at least most, of the time – St Paul says that believers are characterised by love, joy, peace, kindness and generosity (Galatians 5.22) – but they’re not. They should be moral and good all the time too – after all, Jesus commands them to be ‘perfect’ and tells them how to achieve it (Matthew 5.43-48) – but they’re not.

According to Christians moral, happy atheists shouldn’t exist. And yet they do. Christians, when they achieve it, are only good and only happy because they think God is watching over their shoulder. When atheists are good and happy it’s because they can be.

Christians’ Favourite Delusion 7: What a friend we have in Jesus

James

So you’ve decided to follow Jesus and from here on in, Christians tell us, you’ll share real intimacy with your Saviour.

There are many permutations of this belief: having Jesus in your heart; walking daily with the Lord; enjoying a loving relationship with him; letting him speak to you. All rely on the premise that the post-mortem Jesus is an eternal, supernatural being who is able, somehow, to stroll, chat and administer one-on-one therapy. The old spiritual, still much beloved in Christian circles, declares ‘what a friend we have in Jesus’, while Mary Stevenson’s modern parable insists that his footprints are beside the believer’s in the sand – except, that is, when he has to carry them.

However, the concept of Jesus as bosom buddy and occupier of right and left ventricles is nowhere to be found in ‘God’s word’. Yes, there’s the possibility of feeling Jesus’ presence when with other believers; the shared delusion of Matthew 18.20 that over time would morph into ‘the Holy Spirit’. And it’s true too that Paul decides in 1 Corinthians 6.14 that believers’ bodies are sanctuaries or temples of this same Spirit. But these are both a long way from a Jesus who lives within the believer’s heart and, as another old hymn has it, ‘walks with me and talks with me along life’s narrow way’.

The Jesus of the gospels is not looking for people to be his chums. He does say in John 15.14, ‘you are my friends if you do what I command you’, but this is hardly what we’d call ‘friendship’ – ‘you can only be my friend if you do exactly what I say’ is the unreasonable demand of playground bullies and manipulators everywhere. It certainly isn’t friendship in the sense we normally understand it. But even if you’re taken in by this offer, do you do what he says? It’s highly unlikely, given that he insists you sell all you have and give to the poor, turn the other cheek and transform yourself into a slave, working selflessly and sacrificially to bring about the Kingdom of heaven:

…whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave; just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve… (Matthew 20.26-28)

When you’ve turned yourself into a lifetime servant of others, surely then you can expect Jesus to be your best mate? Like the disciples before you, who also wanted to be part of God’s circle of favourites, you miss the point of what it was, and is, to be a slave; to work ceaselessly in demanding conditions with no reward, no wages and no acknowledgement. The most any servant of God can expect, Jesus tells us, is that he will say ‘well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master’ (Matthew 25.23). That’s it – that’s the extent of your ‘reward’: he’ll recognise your position as a slave and tell you you’ve pleased him, your slave-master. And that’s what you call friendship?

Jesus is not your loving buddy. He never said he would be and you’re just confusing him with James Taylor if you think he did. Even if you want to ignore what the Bible says about being a slave – and I’m betting you do – you can’t have a relationship with someone who has been dead for 2,000 years.

Face facts, Christians: your ‘friendship’ with Jesus, your entire concept of him, is no more than the product of your own imaginations.

Christians’ Favourite Delusion 6: God guides our lives

GodGuidesGod, Christians like to tell themselves, has a special plan for the individual believer’s life. This plan involves, amongst other things, directing them towards a specific career, making them successful, guiding them to the person they are to marry and showing them where they should live.

Here, for example, is some ‘guidance’ provided by Bible-Knowledge.com:

Remember – God already has your next new job all set up and planned out for you. All you have to do is simply wait for His timing to bring it to you!

As we might expect, there’s no biblical basis for this fantasy – neither Jesus nor Paul (or any other New Testament writer) mention it, which is why Christian teaching promoting the idea fails, without exception, to reference either of them. Far from being an individually tailored life-plan, God’s agenda, according to Jesus, is the same for everyone: it is to work tirelessly to bring about his Kingdom, loving your neighbour as yourself and God even more (Mark 12.28-34).

And that, once again, is that.

Or not quite, because Jesus goes further. Nothing else, he insists, compares with God’s Kingdom, the pearl of great price next to which everything else is without value or meaning (Matthew 13.45-46). So he demands over and over again that people abandon jobs, homes, spouses and family concerns to seek and work towards the Kingdom (Luke 12.27-37 etc).

Why would he change – reverse even – these priorities, the central core of his ‘earthly ministry’, to direct the careers and prescribe the domestic arrangements of Christians today? Answer: he wouldn’t, demonstrating just how much of a construct of their own imaginations is the Christ that Christians worship, profess to listen to and who, they maintain, guides the minutiae of their lives.

Christians’ Favourite Delusions 5: The resurrection is well attested

PsychHere’s a question for you. How many first-hand, eye-witness reports do we have of the resurrection of Jesus?

Thousands? Christians would like you to think so.

Hundreds? St Paul tells us he’s heard this is the case (1 Corinthians 15.6).

Dozens? All those folk mentioned in the gospels, surely…

The answer is one. We have one first-hand, eye-witness report of the resurrected Christ. It’s St Paul’s own which he mentions, in passing, only three times. A total of six verses cover the allegedly most important event in history. Here they are:

Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? (1 Corinthians 9:1)

Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. (1 Corinthians 15:8)

The Gospel preached by me is not of human origin. For I did not receive it from a human being, nor was I taught it, but it came through a revelation of Jesus Christ… When he who had set me apart before I was born, and had called me through his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son in me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles. (Galatians 1: 11-12 & 15-16)

And that’s it. That’s Paul’s own account of his seeing the risen Lord. It hardly compares with the high drama of the Acts account, where on the road to Damascus, Paul is blinded by light and has a conversation with Jesus. But that story was written forty years after the supposed event, twenty after Paul’s death, by someone else. What’s more, it is recounted differently each time it’s told (in Acts chapters 9, 22 and 26). It’s not first-hand, it’s not eye-witness and it’s certainly not reliable.

What about the gospel accounts then? Don’t Mary Magdalene, Peter and others see the risen Jesus? Well, no, not in the earliest gospel, Mark, where, in the oldest versions, there are no resurrection appearances at all. The other three gospels have them, but these were written 50 to 90 years after Jesus lived and they contradict each other significantly. You can decide whether his makes them reliable or not, but they certainly weren’t written by the people involved, nor by eye-witnesses.

So, Paul’s account is the only first-hand report we have.

Let’s take a closer look at it.

Even in the heavily reworked versions in Acts, what Paul encounters is not a physical Jesus, a man in a resurrected body, but light from the sky and a disembodied voice, which, depending on which of the Acts account you rely on, no-one else present sees or hears. Paul himself doesn’t even know what he is experiencing – certainly not a recognisable human figure – until the light tells him ‘who’ it is.

There is no difference between Paul’s experience of a light purportedly from heaven and an event that occurred in its entirety – as far as it occurred at all – in Paul’s head. The original Greek of Galatians 1.15-16 makes absolutely clear that this is where it took place: while English translations say that the risen Christ revealed himself to Paul, the original Greek has Paul’s initial experience of the Christ take place in him. Paul, then, admits only to an inner vision of ‘a life-giving spirit’ (1 Corinthians 15.45) and nowhere does he claim that he encountered an extrinsic, embodied Jesus. Nor does the writer of Acts, however much he embroiders Paul’s experience, make the claim for him. The risen Lord, if he’s become anything, is not a resurrected body but a spiritual being made of light.

So, the only witness to the resurrected Jesus who has left us an account – six extremely sketchy verses in his letters – didn’t see the risen Jesus in physical form at all. He experienced an hallucination, or, as he puts it, a ‘revelation’. The resurrected Christ, in our earliest and only eye-witness report, is no more than a vision within a person’s head.

And from this, all else followed.