Christians’ Favourite Delusions 12: Jesus is the reason for the season.

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Every year about now, Christians start complaining that Christ has been taken out of Christmas, that we’ve lost the true meaning of the holiday, that the reason we have it at all is because of the arrival on Earth of the Baby Jesus. The tabloid press invariably joins in with this clamour, relating – and often making up – stories of councils that omit the word ‘Christmas’ from town centre displays for fear of offending Muslims. In the States, an influential Christian group has taken to drawing up a ‘Naughty and Nice’ list; stores and organisations that wish customers a ‘happy Christmas’ are to be considered ‘nice’, whether they are or not, while those that opt for ‘happy holidays’ are very, very naughty. Predictably, these Christians advocate boycotting the naughty stores.

The mid-winter celebration now known as Christmas pre-dates Christianity by hundreds of years. It originally had nothing to do with Jesus but instead was a way of celebrating the winter solstice at the time of the shortest day (21st December in the northern hemisphere) and the return, in spring, of the sun. It was entirely pagan and many of the customs today associated with Christmas – giving and receiving presents, decorating the house, singing carols and feasting – originate from it. In Ancient Rome, where it was known as Saturnalia, the festival was held on 25th December and marked the birth, not of Jesus but of the unconquerable sun (Sol Invictus). The early church usurped the festival in the fourth century; too popular to eliminate, they superimposed their saviour and his mythology on to it, in an attempt to make it their own. This had the added bonus of demonstrating – a bit late in the day – that Jesus really was born as a human, when there were those around who claimed otherwise.

So Jesus is not the reason for the season; a pagan celebration of the winter solstice is really what it’s all about.

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Christians’ Favourite Delusions 11: God is ours

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Apparently, you surrender any right to talk about or comment on God when you’re an atheist. Or so Christians would have it. ‘If you don’t believe in God, why don’t you just shut up about him? Why does it bother you that others believe?’ is the sort of line they take. You’ll find it in the comments on this blog and other sites that are critical of faith.

Like so much else, Christians are wrong about who can have an opinion about God. Unbelievers have as much right as believers, of whatever persuasion, to express views on the God-concept. It’s fair game for everyone.

So why do I bother? Six reasons.

1) I gave Jesus the best years of my life. Well, not really ‘Jesus’ because you can’t give anything to someone who’s been dead these past two millennia – but I was a Christian for twenty plus years and I complied with what the church and the Bible told me. It was a mistake; I denied myself, as I was told to do (in Matthew 16.24) and wasn’t able to be who I really am. I’m so much happier without being told what that should be.

2) I find the persistent proselytising by Christians to be thoroughly objectionable. It’s almost impossible to walk through the town centre where I live without being told by some street-preacher or other that without Jesus we’re all bound for Hell and that ‘evolution is lie’. (One of these claims is, that’s for sure.) If you get too near, a confederate will thrust a tract into your hand, replete with Bible quotations, spelling mistakes and dodgy grammar. And should you manage to avoid these particular desperadoes, you’ll then have to watch you don’t fall over the stands of Jehovah’s Witness literature, ‘manned’ by smiling ladies who think their brand of superstition is the truth.

3) Christians’ treatment of gay people is generally deplorable. ‘Hate the sin but love the sinner’ is the line frequently trotted out, even though it’s entirely unbiblical.  They may claim to love gay people but it’s a hollow claim when ‘in love’ Christians condemn gay people as sinners of the worst sort; ‘abominations’ is the word used in their holy book (and some Christians use worse language than this). Because of what the Bible says, many believers seek to deny same-sex couples the right to marry and resist attempts to grant them the same rights as everyone else. Christians insult us all by calling this love.

4) Christians’ uncritical adherence to superstition is incomprehensible. There are innumerable Christian web-sites, some of which I read (purely for research purposes, you understand) that are, variously, sources of hilarity and despair in equal measure. There has to be some counter-balance to the irrationality and evangelistic fervour of these sites and thankfully there is. Hopefully this blog makes some small contribution.

5) However much they preach at the rest of us, Christians fail to do as their saviour commands them. They think they’re ‘saved’ through St Paul’s magic formula but ignore everything Jesus says is required of them (see previous posts and my book Why Christians Don’t Do What Jesus Tells Them To …And What They Believe Instead.) It’s all specks and logs, to paraphrase JC himself; Christians enjoy pointing out everyone else’s sinfulness – and arguing about doctrine, of course – while blatantly ignoring Jesus’ commands. I feel obliged to point this out.

6) If, through this blog, I can lead people to question their beliefs, help them reflect critically on what they are told by church leaders and very selective reading of ‘God’s Word’, encourage them to think rationally about their belief in supernatural beings and, most of all, if I can be instrumental in rescuing one person from the Jesus cult, then I’ll be more than happy.

That’s why I bother.

Christians – Jesus commands you be perfect. So why are you not?

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‘Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect’ is how he puts it. He even tells you in the verses that precede this one how to go about it: you have to turn the other cheek; give untiringly to anyone who asks (including to those who would sue you); constantly go the extra mile and show only love to your enemies (Matthew 5.38-48).

It is often claimed, even by those who don’t believe in him as their saviour, that Jesus offered great moral teaching. C. S. Lewis though cautions against seeing Jesus as simply ‘a great human teacher’ when, in Lewis’s eyes, he was far more besides. I would, however, invite Christians to consider whether the moral guidance Jesus provides here in Matthew’s gospel – how to be perfect – is in any sense ‘great’. If you think it is, because Jesus is Lord, a perfect being and possibly God himself, then you need to explain why it is never followed by Christians, and never has been. You need to explain why you yourself do not apply it in your life, because as sure as poached eggs is poached eggs, you do not. You do not give to all who ask; you do not invite insult after insult and violence on top of violence; you do not give away valuable and essential possessions when threatened with legal action – you are actually more likely to do the suing. And lest you think I am advocating a far more exacting morality for Christians than I would from anyone else, you will bear in mind, won’t you, that is not I who insists on it, but your Saviour. It’s not unreasonable under the circumstances to expect to see you obeying him.

As it is fairly safe to assume you don’t, I would further invite you to consider whether instead of being ‘great’, Jesus’ teaching is in fact unreasonable, unrealistic and impractical. If you are honest, you will acknowledge that it is all of these things, not great or timeless at all, and that is why you, and all other Christians worldwide, disregard it. Jesus’ moral teaching is no more than a series of reckless suggestions, a formula that applied can lead only to poverty and abuse, not perfection. You are probably wise to ignore it and to spend your time instead opposing gay marriage and judging the rest of us.

Revised from ‘Be Perfect’ in my book, Why Christians Don’t Do What Jesus Tells Them To …And What They Believe Instead, available from Amazon.

Notes: C. S. Lewis on Jesus as ‘great human teacher’: Mere Christianity (1952) William Collins & Sons, Glasgow, p52.

Christians’ Favourite Delusions 10: God cares

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@deadsparrow had just made his final Tweet.

The Bible says God controls the weather and 53% of Americans believe it. A further 17% say they don’t know or don’t want to say whether he does; evidently, they aren’t prepared to rule out the possibility, otherwise they would be among the 29% who know that he doesn’t.

I wonder what those who were hit yesterday by the typhoon in the Philippines think of God’s control of the elements? Was the destruction he brought about by sending Haiyan a mark of his love for mankind? Presumably not – destroying lives, homes, possessions and livelihoods hardly speaks of love.

Was it a punishment then? Right-wing Christians like to tell us that natural disasters are God’s judgement on human sin and our ‘shaking a fist at God‘ by redefining marriage to include gay people.  Why then does he consistently punish those in parts of the world which are already prone to extreme weather conditions? Why does he punish those who are already poor? Why does he send devastating weather to the fifth largest Christian country in the world, which doesn’t recognise gay marriage? It’s all a bit indiscriminate, wouldn’t you say? What sort of Almighty are we dealing with here, who can’t even direct his punishments at the right target? It doesn’t speak much of ‘control’.

Jesus might claim, in Matthew 10:28-31, that God cares even for the sparrows but this is another of his bare-faced lies. The evidence tells us otherwise: ‘God’ doesn’t care how many humans perish in storms, typhoons, tornadoes, tsunamis, earthquakes and all manner of natural disasters. He doesn’t care how many lose their homes, loved ones and all they’ve worked for.

The weather, in fact, is random, largely unpredictable and indifferent to human and animal needs. If God exists, then he is as indiscriminate and uncaring as the weather he supposedly creates. But of course God is not needed to explain the weather; science tells us how it occurs in terms that don’t involve him. His very superfluousness – the same superfluousness we find in evolution and all the other ‘laws’ of the universe – is all the evidence we need that he doesn’t exist.

An experiment in Christian morality

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Time for a little experiment: some data gathering for ourselves that will demonstrate the extent to which Christians are willing to comply, without cynicism or irony, with their Saviour’s peculiar requirements. While the Bible assures us it is wrong to put the Lord God to the test (Deuteronomy 6.16, etc), rest assured the same does not apply to believers themselves.

Our experiment is a cruel one to be sure, but given Jesus’ command in Matthew 5.42, that believers should ‘give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you’, we would be within our rights to test their adherence to the principle. After all, Jesus specifies that his followers must oblige ‘everyone’ and ‘anyone’ who asks, which is accommodating enough to include any sceptics conducting an experiment. He doesn’t stipulate either that those doing the asking have to have genuine need; indeed the entire thrust of his teaching in this section of Matthew is about responding sacrificially to unreasonable demands. We won’t be unreasonable – so no slapping of cheeks – and we will do our best to ensure our request is designed to meet as genuine a need as we can create.

For any experiment we need a hypothesis, so I propose that for this particular one we go with something like ‘Christians will not give to those who beg from them nor lend to those who ask to borrow’. If you want to amend this to suit your own circumstances, by all means do. You can choose too whether you’re going to beg, which means you get to keep anything you are given, or to borrow, in which case you won’t and you’ll need to pay it back at a later date.

Next, you’ll need to select your subject: you can choose an individual – they must of course be a card-carding, Spirit-filled Christian – or an institution: a church, say, or Christian organisation like Christian Voice or Focus on the Family. Whichever you opt for, you’ll need to ensure they are capable of meeting your request – we’re not going to pick on Christians of more modest means – and decide what you will ask for. I suggest that if your subject is a renowned evangelist or the pastor of a so-called mega-church you could reasonably ask him or her to lend you the money to pay off your mortgage, for example, or to meet medical expenses. I’m sure he or she will agree that these qualify as truly genuine needs, though you don’t necessarily have to tell them why you want the money, given there’s no mention of the beggars in Jesus’ instructions explaining themselves. On the other hand, if you think it will go some way to help disprove the hypothesis, you can and perhaps should be clear about why you want the cash.

Right. You should be all set. Be sure to let me know how you get on and whether your Christian subject demonstrates the hypothesis or refutes it. I’ll collate the data.

What’s that you say? You’re not going to bother because it’s a foregone conclusion that most Christians, whether prominent individuals, churches, organisations or ordinary believers won’t give to anyone and everyone who asks?

You could well be right, because, although Christians do give generously to causes close to their hearts, they baulk at the idea of giving to just anybody, in spite of what Jesus says. Maybe Christian readers of this blog can explain why; why don’t you do what Jesus tells you in this and many other respects? You cannot be his disciple, he says in Mark 10.25, unless you give away all that you have and he won’t recognise you as a follower unless you obey him entirely (Luke 6.46). So how about it?