Pick a thread. Any thread. And start pulling. Gently does it, no need for force. A gentle pull on any of the loose ends of faith and the whole fabric will come apart quickly.
Here, pull on this one marked ‘the infallibility of the Bible‘. See how easily it comes loose as soon as you realise that most of it, Old and New Testament alike, was written long after the events it purports to describe, some of it by imposters and forgers.
Or this one – the salvation thread, much of it stitched into place by an excitable chap prone to hallucinations. Pull it and see how its pattern is nothing like the one proposed by the man it claims to be about.
Pull the magic threads, the ones about Gods, supernatural beings, heaven and hell, eternal life. Watch them disintegrate in your fingers once they’re teased out into the real world.
Take hold of the threads about Resurrections, Second Comings, Raptures and Judgements; so fragile, these break away as soon as they’re touched. The only miracle is that they’ve lasted this long.
Then there’s the promises threads, about how believers are going to do fantastic miracles and heal the sick and raise the dead. Imaginative and colourful, these have never really fitted in.
Then there’s the prayer threads, whose embroidery tells us how prayer works, how God will give us whatever we ask for. Downright embarrassing, these – yank ’em out.
And how about the strands that those who say they love the cloth pick out themselves and throw away? You know the ones; the threads which tell them how to live their lives that they just don’t like the look of and think spoil the overall effect. These have definitely got to go.
What about the threads that weren’t originally there – the ones about ‘defending God’s standards‘ and having a ‘relationship‘ with a dead person? These grubby, greasy threads have been added in to replace the ones those who love the cloth have pulled out for themselves.
Choose any number of other threads – the ones that clash with other bits of the pattern, the ugly brutal ones, the fantastic, the ignorant – and give them a tug. Oh, look. They come away too.
And before you know it, the entire fabric has come apart in your hands. All that’s left is a pile of worthless, brittle threads, good for nothing but throwing in the bin.
David Clarke: I note that you say the New Testament was written long after the events it describes. It could be argued that one of the most significant events to have occurred to the Jewish nation was their eviction from Jerusalem and even Palastine, to become an earlier generation of refugees. Are you able to suggest why this was not mentioned, so long after the event?
Neil Robinson: You mean apart from in Mark 13, Matthew 24, Luke 21? There’s agreement among biblical historians that Mark was written circa 70, at the time of the seige of Jerusalem; Matthew about 80-85; Luke between 80-95 and John after 100. So, in terms of Jesus’ life and activities, well after the events they describe.
David Clarke: They are all prophecies. Wouldn’t there be the slightest urge for a later writer to point out that it had already happened?
Neil Robinson: I was watching Downton Abbey the other night. Neville Chamberlain made an appearance in what was mean to be 1924 or thereabouts and one of the other characters remarked, ‘they say he’ll be prime minister one day’. What remarkable prescience! The ‘prophecies’ of Jesus were constructed in precisely the same way; he is made to ‘know’ about events that wouldn’t happen until after his death because his script was written by those who lived on the other side of them. These later writers do indeed point out they’d already happened – see the parentheses, for example, that say, ‘the reader knows what I’m talking about’. In any case, these earliest readers would already know that they had happened (and so could marvel at Jesus’ foreknowledge) so there was no real need to spell it out any more than this. Just like there was no need to do the same at the end of Downton Abbey following its ‘prediction’ about Chamberlain.
David Clarke: That’s one way of looking at it but requires a little imagination! How do we know that we are meant to read into this? Isn’t the clear reading to be preferred?
Neil Robinson: Which is what? That this bloke could foresee things that wouldn’t happen for thousands of years? If this is the ‘clear reading’, why then does Jesus add at the end, ‘Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place,’ indicating he’s talking about his own times? As we know, the Son of Man did not come through the heavens with bands of angels to gather his elect in the first century so a clear reading only proves him wrong, which is why, I guess, Christians like to say Jesus was really talking about the far future. Now that’s imagination!