The End Times Are Here! Again.

livelyWhat does the future hold? It’s difficult to say, really, when the future isn’t, as Doris Day once so very wisely expressed it, ours to see. That doesn’t stop Christians from claiming they can though. They know exactly what the future holds, they insist, because the Bible tells them so.

There are at least two problems with this claim, the first being that the Bible’s predictions were written by men with as little ability to see the future as anyone alive today. The second is that their prophecies, like all other predictions, are suitably nebulous. It’s easier to see vague, non-specific claims come true when you can add the details yourself at a later date.

So it is for anti-gay pastor Scott Lively, who, incidentally, wishes to make it known that he’d prefer not to be referred to as anti-gay. This, of course, rests entirely in the anti-gay pastor’s own hands, though you’ll not be able to tell him so as he doesn’t allow comments on his blog. Christian leaders must never be contradicted!

The Reverend Lively, as well as being anti-gay, reckons that abortion, multi-culturalism, international discord and gay marriage are, in all likelihood, paving the way for the Anti-Christ and, ultimately, the end of everything. God is going to get so angry with the good ol’ US of A for all these things that he’s going to bring about the end times prophesied in the Bible.

The Reverend is quick to say he doesn’t know this for certain because God hasn’t actually told him so directly (why not, Scott?) so he’s just making an ‘educated’ guess. He does this by cherry-picking verses from all over the Magic Book – from Daniel to the gospels and Revelation – and shows, or thinks he does, how the USA is really the focus of God’s concerns in these last days. This is an impressive feat when the Bible doesn’t say anything of the sort, not least because its writers were completely unaware of the entire American continent.

From there, anti-gay Scott outlines how the world’s woes, but chiefly gay marriage in the USA, are going to allow the Anti-Christ in. That’s the Anti-Christ of which the Bible doesn’t speak. It doesn’t say, anywhere, that there is one almighty Anti-Christ. There are only four uses of the term in the entire Bible, all in the letters written by a John (not the same John credited with John’s gospel) in the New Testament. Letter-writer John whines about those in the early church who, two thousand years ago, were fomenting dissent; these people, he says, are literally anti Christ. And that’s it; you won’t find the all-powerful Anti-Christ that later fantasists like Scott Lively believe in, either here or anywhere else in ‘God’s Word’.

That’s because Lively and fanatics like him confuse these long dead dissenters with a figure from one of the Bible’s nuttiest books, Revelation. Known as ‘The Beast’, this pantomime villain is actually a caricature of barking-mad Emperor Nero, who began the first wave of persecutions against the early church. But that’s not good enough for nutters believers like Scott. The anti-gay pastor insists that the Beast, whom he mistakenly calls the Anti-Christ, is actually a politician of future times – our times in fact. He – that’s the Beast, not cuddly old Scott – is going, pretty soon, to exploit the mess the world is in, put things right and then take over. In so doing he’ll be usurping Christ’s position as ruler of everything. (You didn’t know Christ was ruler of everything? Just think what a mess the world would be in if he wasn’t.) This, the Reverend warns us – with capital letters to show how significant it all is – will be only the Beginning of Sorrows. Oh, and there’ll be Blood Moons too, just to add a splash of colour.

God is going to be so pissed off with this state of affairs that after a while he’s going to destroy everything, just like Jesus predicted he would be doing around about AD30, and Paul said would happen soon after AD55 and Revelation’s John (no relation to the crank who wrote the anti-Christ letters) claimed was still going to happen soon after AD95. Just as thousands of others have predicted in the 2,000 years since; every one of them wrong.

Statistically, rationally and empirically it isn’t remotely likely that current events in the USA mark the beginning of the end either. The Bible’s writers had absolutely no idea of what the future held, as their disastrous track record shows. Their rambling, vague prophecies didn’t come true when they said they would and they’re not going to now, even with an anti-gay pastor’s US-centric gloss on them. Which isn’t to say the world might not end some day. If it does, however, it certainly won’t be because it is following an expired Biblical timetable, open to a multitude of interpretations.

Better to stick to what you do best, Scott, being anti-gay. Though that’s not exactly going your way at the moment either, is it?

What Christians Believe: Part Two

AscensionHi, Thea Lojan here talking about the creed. Here’s what else it says, following on from last time:

I believe Jesus ascended into heaven and is seated on the right hand of God and will come to judge the living and the dead. As I was saying, Jesus could do amazing things. He could, like, beam up into the sky and out into space – that’s what ‘ascended’ means. Amazing. And he is coming back to judge the Earth, just like he promised. I know he said he’d be back real soon, like while his disciples were still alive, but to God a minute is like a thousand years so a few years can be anything like a million, or something like that. We shouldn’t take it literally when he said he’d be back while his friends were still around, though the Bible is, without a doubt, the literal Word of God.

Anyway, when he returns Jesus is going to send those who don’t believe in him to Hell, where they’ll suffer eternal torment for, like, forever and ever, amen. And he’ll take people who are saved, like me, back to Heaven with him. I can’t actually find the bit in the Bible where he says he’ll be taking me to Heaven, but I have faith so I’m sure he will.

Just a thought, but why doesn’t this creed mention the Bible, and how it’s the ineffable and literal Word of God? You’d think it would, wouldn’t you.

I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Catholic Church and the communion of saints. Definitely. The Holy Spirit is like the feeling of God that you get when you’re being blessed. You can’t see it – though it’s actually a ‘him’ because God is a ‘him’ – but it’s there, helping you make decisions, like whether you should buy a new car or install a heated pool in the yard. You definitely get a sense of him then. In my experience, he’s never let me down. He always guides me right.

I’m less sure of the holy Catholic Church because of course we’re not all Catholics and nor should we be when Catholics have got everything so wrong. But the pastor at church says it just means ‘the Body of Christ’ here, the same as ‘the communion of saints’ does, though that makes you wonder why we’ve got it in there twice. The communion of saints means all worshippers everywhere being united and working together. So, yes, I totally believe that because, that’s what we do as Christians; we all love each other. I don’t accept any of those lies that some people put about that there’s, like, 41,000 different kinds of churches. I don’t think God would let that happen, do you?

I believe in the forgiveness of sins. Yes I surely do, for God has forgiven my sins through the redeeming blood of the Lord Jesus Christ, his son. And if they’re really, really sorry I can forgive the sins of others, except of course if they’re, like, homosexuals. It really grosses me out to think about what so-called “gay” people do with each other. It’s unforgivable and even the Lord doesn’t forgive it. But my sins, yes, he forgives those.

The resurrection of the body and the life everlasting. Well, I already covered this. This is another repeat. What this really means is that everyone whose sins are forgiven and have been saved will go to live with God in Heaven after they die. Isn’t that amazing? Just think, whatever happens to your body all the time you’re dead, even if it’s been burnt or has rotted away to nothing, God will repair it and make it good as new. And then you’ll live forever in Heaven, because that’s what it means when it says ‘the life everlasting’. Even if I still can’t find that bit in my Bible.

Well, that’s it. That’s my creed, and what Christians everywhere believe. It was written, in fact, by the apostles, that’s Jesus’ friends, way back when he was still alive or just after. If you were to give your life to the Lord – and you really should if you want live forever in Heaven – then it’s what you’d believe too. Isn’t that, like, really, literally incredible?

What Christians Believe: Part One

A very special guest post by Thea Lojan.

PilateThe Creed

I’m very pleased to have this opportunity to share my testimony with you and give you an idea of what I and millions of other Christians believe. We call this the Apostles’ Creed and it goes like this:

I believe in one God. Actually no… three. Three Gods. One really, but he’s like three, a buy-one-get-two-free kind of God. Yes, okay, he says he’s the one and only God back in the Old Testament, but that’s before he knew he was really three. This doesn’t make him/them anything like those collections of ancient Greek Gods, though, because he’s still only one God really. That’s what’s called the Trinity and I hope I’ve made it clear for you .

Anyway, I believe in one God and in two others besides, creator, or creators, of Heaven and Earth. Yes, he/they definitely did this even though scientists think the universe was created billions of years before the Bible says it was and that God probably wasn’t even involved. But these scientists are all anti-Christian, that’s why they say that. If you have faith you know that of course God was involved. Other people who are also anti-Christian just out of spite say that if God made the Earth and all that is in it therein, then he must’ve made parasites and poisonous bugs and harmful bacteria and disease. But I’ve an answer to all that. Just don’t think about it.

And I believe in Jesus Christ, his only son, our Lord. Yes definitely this, even though Jesus says he’s not really anything like God’s son in three of the eye-witness accounts of his life in God’s Word. I expect he was just a bit muddled when he said this, being away from home and down here instead of up in Heaven with his Heavenly Father. He probably meant to say he was God’s son because it’d be too weird if he really was God’s Son and didn’t know it. We should be grateful to those people who came after him who realised exactly who he was.

And then there’s that bit somewhere about him being ‘begotten not made, of one substance with the father’, or something, which I think means he was more than God’s son. That he was, like, God himself. You’d think he’d remember that, wouldn’t you, when he was down here on Earth. What confuses me though is, if he was God, then who was he praying to all those times? I can’t get my head round that. But anyway, it’s a good job there were even more people who came after him who knew better than him and could tell he really was God.

He was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary. Well, you’ve got to believe this haven’t you, even though some people say ‘virgin’ should really just say ‘young woman’. A young woman might or might not be a virgin, especially if she wasn’t a Christian to begin with. It does make me wonder that if she was pregnant then it’s more than likely Mary wasn’t a virgin, ’cause we all know how babies get made. Still, if God’s Word says it was the ‘Holy Spirit’ that was the father then that’s what we should believe. If you want to know more about the Holy Spirit that can make people pregnant, well, we’ll get to it soon.

He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was dead and was buried. He descended into hell and on the third day he rose again. I think a bit got missed out here – all the stuff Jesus said and did in between being born and suffering under Pontius Pilate. Isn’t that important? You bet it is. Pontius Pilate, by the way, was a Roman perculator who worked for Julius Caesar. I can’t find anything about Jesus ‘descending into hell’ in my Bible but I suppose it must be right. I definitely believe though that after three days and nights in the tomb he rose again from the dead. I mean, that’s a really important bit. I know he wasn’t in the tomb for a full three days and nights, even though he said he would be, but a day and a half is close enough. I guess that’s why we say ‘on the third day’ instead; it sounds like three days when it was only a day and half. But, you know, Friday night till Sunday morning – it’s legit to say ‘on the third day’.

And we know he rose from the dead because Saint Paul said so – he saw him himself, in person. Well, not exactly in person but in his head. He was like an amazing flash of light in Paul’s head, a bit like an epileptic event, except, you know, like really real. And then other people started seeing him but not in their heads, as a real person, but one who could walk through walls and disappear if he felt like it. Totally real. Amazing.

I’ll be back next time to tell you what else Christians believe. In the meantime, keep praising the Lord!

 

 

Thea was talking about the Apostles’ Creed, though she also mentions the Nicene Creed. The Apostles’ Creed was created prior to 390CE and the Nicene Creed in 325, both quite a bit after Jesus’ lifetime. Three hundred years after, in fact.

Oh, and Pontius Pilate was a Roman procurator or prefect during the reign of the Emperor Tiberius.

The Reverend Green in the conservatory with a rope

Stephen3The ever-green, ever gay ‘National Director’ of Christian Voice Stephen ‘Act-the-man’ Green is at it again. In a video on YouTube that drips with the most un-Christ like sarcasm and vitriol, the Blessed Stephen takes on Stephen Fry and Benedict Cumberbatch’s petition to have gay men with historic convictions for ‘gross indecency’ pardoned (that’s consenting adult sex at a time when homosexuality was illegal.) Here’s the gist of Green’s ‘argument’:

There can be no doubt that ours is the most intelligent, compassionate, sophisticated and clever generation that has ever walked this earth. Clearly, if something is not against the law now, it never should have been.

Of course he intends this ironically, but for once he has stumbled on a truth of sorts. This is the cleverest generation that ever lived. We know more today than we ever did; it is estimated, for example, that the average person alive today knows far more than the cleverest Greek who lived in, say, Jesus’ time. That ancient Greek, in turn, knew far more than an illiterate Galilean preacher. So yes, we are cleverer – though not more intelligent – than people of the past; we have the benefit of two thousand years of learning behind us. Of course, our cleverness is marred by our continual reversion to tribalism, territorialism, greed and concomitant stupidity. This is the result of our being evolved primates – another fact Green disputes in his video with an attack on both Darwin and Dawkins – but nonetheless it remains the case that we humans have never known as much as we do today.

As for Green’s second sarcastic point, ‘if something is not against the law now, it never should have been’, well, that’s not what anyone is saying. Neither Fry nor Cumberbatch nor anyone else is trying to re-write history. What they are saying is that the injustice of the situation in the past should be acknowledged and rectified. Laws change as morals evolve. Green, however, thinks we should reclaim the values of a (non-existent) golden age when gay men were persecuted and prosecuted. According to this reasoning we should also reclaim other barbaric ‘standards’ of long ago; Green’s ‘logic’ dictates it. In fact, he advocates that we should be obedient to Biblical law, which would involve a return to things that are now illegal in all civilised societies; keeping slaves, beating others, rape, regarding women as property, suppressing women and executing non-conformists. These weren’t against the law once and weren’t even regarded as wrong, even though, when judged by any objective standard, they most emphatically were. Significantly, all were actively endorsed by Green’s God in his Magic Book*. We know they are inherently wrong, however, not just because we are clever and compassionate, but because we are repulsed by them when we see them practised by ISIS and other extremists today.

Christianity was once itself illegal, as was reading the Bible in English instead of Latin. This meant that in the past, Christians were sometimes executed simply for being Christians, heretics burnt at the stake. Green’s ironic principle can be applied here too: ‘if something is not against the law now, it never should have been’. With the benefit of hindsight and, yes, a bit of cleverness, we can see that being a Christian and reading the Bible in English should never have been crimes. Equally, those men convicted of victimless offences in the past shouldn’t have been. It is, however, and as I’ve already suggested, impossible to change the past. But we can try to rectify some of its mistakes.

However, the Rev. Green would prefer it that anything that was once illegal remains so. Christianity included, Stephen?

 
God (or those writing in his name) supports slavery in Leviticus 25:44-46, Ephesians 6:5, 1 Timothy 6:1-2 and many other places; beating children in Proverbs 10:12-14 & 23.14; rape in Deuteronomy 22:28, Exodus 21:7-8 and Judges 19:16-30; women as property in Genesis 19.8, Exodus 21:7 and Deuteronomy 22.28-29; suppressing women in 1 Corinthians 14:35 and encourages the execution of non-conformists in Genesis 38.24, 2 Chronicles 15.13-15, Deuteronomy 13:9, 2 Peter 2:1-22 etc etc

 

Jesus or Paul?

Nicodemus

Jesus is asked a few times in the gospels about how a person can find eternal life – like that’s the most obvious things to ask a travelling snake-oil salesman. Maybe it is, I don’t know. It was in the first century anyway, if the gospels are to be believed.

Jesus gives a variety of answers in the three earliest gospels: in Matthew 19.17 it’s ‘keep the commandments’ – those terrible, brutal laws I talked about last time. In Mark 12.30-31 he says the way to eternal life is to love God with all your heart and soul, and your neighbour as yourself. In other places he tells his audience that if you want to be forgiven by God then first you must forgive others (Matthew 6.14); if you want God’s compassion then first you must be compassionate (Matthew 25:31-46); if you don’t want to be judged, then you shouldn’t judge others (Luke 6.37).

Jesus is particularly fond of this kind of measure-for-measure salvation; it’s the lynch-pin of his good news – do unto others as you would have God do unto you. And almost every time he mentions it, he connects it with the Law and commandments.

Never does he say, anywhere in the gospels, that if you want to gain eternal life, or find favour with God, or be saved, then what you have to do is believe in the redemptive power of his own imminent death. Even when he could have done so, when he could have worked a little bit of Christian dogma into his teaching, he doesn’t. And that’s strange really, when you consider that Paul’s brand of Christianity – the one that’s come down to us today – is built entirely on the idea that the death and resurrection of Christ is the only thing can save us from God’s wrath.

Paul’s alternative gospel, which is expounded in Romans and summarised in Galatians 3.10-13, goes something like this:

Paul looks at the old Jewish Law and says, ‘actually it’s impossible. None of us can keep it. We’re all under a death sentence for some tiny infringement of it, because any and all infringements lead to the death penalty. But,’ he goes on, ‘Christ has taken that penalty for us by dying in our place. So although the law demands we should die and then suffer for eternity, we won’t, because he died for us. Then he rose again, just as those who believe in him will.’ That last bit – about believers rising from the dead – really doesn’t follow from his premise that the Law is impossible, but this is Paul talking, a man with only a passing acquaintance with logic. He doesn’t, either, have any evidence that Jesus took the penalty for the rest of humankind – he made that bit up too.

And that, in a nutshell – I do mean nut shell – is Paul’s ‘good news’. It bears no relation to the good news that Jesus preaches in the synoptic gospels. Admittedly, the Jesus who wanders his way through the first three gospels is for the most part a pre-death Jesus. You could argue, as a result, that he wouldn’t talk about redemption through his death before it had happened… but then again, why not? He talks about all sorts of other things he thinks are going to happen after he dies and rises again; he’s going to return pretty damn soon in a blaze of glory, through the clouds with an army of angels; heaven and earth are going to pass away; God is going to unleash his kingdom on the new earth.

But in spite of these mad speculations, he doesn’t mention even once in the synoptic gospels that people can be saved merely by accepting that he has paid – or will pay – the penalty for their infringements of the law, their sins if you will. Never. All the more odd when you consider that Mark, Matthew and Luke were putting their gospels together long after Paul preached his particular brand of salvation. Yet they don’t put this message into Jesus’ mouth, nor do they add it to the narrative.

It’s just not there.

So… were the gospel writers not aware of it? If they did know of it, was it that they didn’t like it? Did they know, in fact, that Paul’s formula didn’t square with what Jesus himself had said, or what they at least believed he’d said?

Whatever it was, the result is there are two conflicting versions of the ‘good news’ in the New Testament: Paul’s and Jesus’. One is easier than the other; in Paul’s plan all you have to do is believe. The other is difficult (and if we’re honest, really only designed for Jesus’ fellow Jews); it entails things like forgiving repeatedly, showing compassion, putting others first, turning the other cheek and, especially, following the six hundred and odd commandments that make up the Law.

So guess which one Christians today prefer.

Here’s a clue: it’s not Jesus’ gospel – the one without the magical incantation but with the barbaric Jewish law. But if, as Christians believe, Jesus was the Son of God – maybe even God himself – then why do they always accept Paul’s reinterpretation over and above everything their Lord said? Why do they disregard all that Jesus demands of those who would follow him, and take instead Paul’s easy path?

In the end, though, what Jesus and Paul (as well as the gospel writers and different factions of the early church) are in dispute about is the highly improbable and the absolutely impossible. It doesn’t matter whether they thought you could gain ‘eternal life’ by obeying the commandments or by letting someone else take your punishment for them; humans do not live forever. Just because a zealous first-century preacher thought they could does not make it so. Just because a different fanatic from roughly the same time believed it doesn’t make it happen either. There’s no evidence any human has ever, after this brief earthly existence, gone on to live forever. Equally, there’s no evidence that a deity exists, so those rules that are so important, in different ways, to Jesus and Paul can’t have originated with him. They’re man-made too.

So, with no God and no eternal life, Jesus and Paul might as well have been discussing whether the tooth fairy wears a pink dress or a green dress. What does it matter when she doesn’t exist?

How much more were they wrong about?

How long you got?