Commenter Rebecca has asked me why I feel moved to ‘disparage or discredit the Christian faith’. It’s a fair question and one I set about answering in the comments section. However, my short answer there became rather too long so I’m posting it here instead. Apologies to those who’ve already read my reasons across many other posts here on RejectingJesus.com. I hope you’ll bear with me in this potted version.
I disparage Jesus, primarily, and Christian faith generally, because I want people to see Jesus as he really is – a man from two thousand years ago whose promises were false, prophecies fake and whose morality is impossible:
As I’ve joked before, ‘What do you call a man who always fails to keep his promises?’ – ‘Jesus!’
Nothing he promised (or is made to promise; his script-writers came a long time after him1) has ever come to pass. God’s kingdom did not arrive; believers did not, and do not, perform miracles greater than Jesus himself; they don’t supernaturally heal the sick; God did not and does not supply whatever believers ask of him; he doesn’t provide every need when a person ceases to be concerned for the future; his Comforter doesn’t guide believers into the truth… You name it, none of Jesus’ promises has ever materialised.
No prophecy Jesus is made to make has ever come to pass either: God’s kingdom and judgement did not arrive while the disciples were still alive; heaven and earth did not pass away; God didn’t judge the rich and powerful; he didn’t reverse the social order so the poor, meek and humble inherited the earth; he didn’t reward the righteous; Jesus himself didn’t rise bodily from the grave (all his appearances, including Paul’s ‘vision’ are suspiciously apparition like); he didn’t become ‘the Christ’ and go on to live forever at the right hand of God (Paul and later followers made this up) and no-one has ever been resurrected as result of believing in Jesus
Nor is anyone capable of living in the way Jesus said his followers should; as a rule they don’t renounce wealth; don’t sell everything they have and give the proceeds to the poor; don’t go the extra mile; don’t turn the other cheek; don’t give the shirt off their back; don’t love their neighbours, let alone their enemies, as themselves. All of these are laudable goals, to be sure, but they’re simply not possible – not even with God’s supposed indwelling spirit. Just look at the majority of Christians today: they simply don’t do it. They can’t do it.
Why does any of this matter (to me)? In one way, it doesn’t. I couldn’t care less about a fraudulent prophet from 2000 years ago. Except…. except those very Christians who fail to live up to his standards have impacted my life in negative, destructive ways. As I’ve written elsewhere, I foolishly gave my life to Jesus at their behest. I allowed them to convince me that everything I was, everything I did, everything I thought was a sin, and that Jesus died for me so that my sin might be forgiven. As a result, I denied myself in the unhealthiest of ways, the cumulative effect of which was suffering for years from a deep, debilitating depression.
I came to realise through this, however, that the belief system I’d given my life to was a falsehood. When I needed God most, the heavens were, as Deuteronomy 28:23 suggests, ‘as brass’. That was because there was no God waiting to hear from me or to answer my prayers. And no God meant no Son of God, no heaven or hell, no panoply of supernatural beings – spirits, angels and demons – no god-inspired holy books. It became clear, as Rebecca concedes, that everything about the faith was entirely human. Ridiculously and fallibly human.
For a Christian friend, however, this decision of mine was untenable. He pressurised me to return to the fold because if I didn’t, I would surely suffer an eternity in hell. I had returned, he said, to a life of sin (principally because of my sexuality), had abandoned all that my saviour had done for me and consequently I would deservedly suffer God’s wrath. The only way to avoid the punishment to come was to get down on my knees, return to Christ and beg for forgiveness. This lengthy, fruitless correspondence – or at least my half of it – became the basis of my first book Why Christians Don’t Do What Jesus Tells Them To …And What They Believe Instead, and that in turn led to this blog.
I also encountered around this time more of the awful, scurrilous lies Christians tell about gay people – that we cause all manner of natural disasters and bring God’s indiscriminate wrath down on the world; that we are degrading and degraded, Satanic and deserve to be put to death – doesn’t the Bible say so? I couldn’t let this hypocrisy and dishonesty go unchallenged, not when it caused, and causes, so much pain, anguish, suffering and even death among LGBT people. Where, I asked myself, was the Christian love for one’s ‘enemies’, the absence of judgement, the determination not to bear false witness, all of which Jesus advocates? In light of most Christians’ inability to live as he commanded (I did say his moral expectations were impossible) I became convinced I had made the right decision, firstly to walk away from faith and, then, in my own small way, to oppose the nonsense spouted by those who propagate it.
My hope for this blog then is that those waivering in their faith might begin to see aspects of Christian belief from a different perspective. They might then start to realise that it is nothing more than a product of the human imagination; a superstition handed down by pre-scientific tribesmen and first century zealots who weren’t in a position to know any better.
I was told over forty years ago by a Christian leader that the most important thing one could do in life to was to pursue truth wherever it led. He was right. The truth turns out to be that, in all probability, there is no God. Knowing this does not leave one hopeless and without purpose – that’s another Christian lie. Instead, it equips you to make your own purpose, to love others in the knowledge that love, like life, is finite, and that this one-and-only life is to be lived to the fullest. To answer Rebecca’s question, atheism does lead to a much more honest and satisfying way of life than pinning one’s hopes on imaginary beings and the claims of a failed Messiah.
That’s the short answer. For the longer version, there’s always the rest of the posts on this blog.
Neil, thank you for sharing part of your life with me. It broke my heart. I’m deeply saddened, and very sorry for the hurt that you’ve experienced.
Years ago, I was something like your friend.
It wasn’t so much that I thought all the gay and lesbian people were going to Hell, but I just had more a concern for their physical and spiritual well being. This was the time of the terrible AIDS epidemic.
I volunteered with my young children for an organization called the AIDS Community Alliance. I saw a lot of hurt and suffering. I wanted to show God’s love, and be like the hands of Jesus to these people. I was assigned to support a gay man. He enjoyed children so that was part of the reason, I was paired with him. At first things went really well, but then one day I shared a Christian CD with him. He liked Celtic music so I naively thought this would be a blessing as the songs were done by skilled Celtic artists.
Instead, this man became enraged. He called me on the phone screaming curses, and asked me never to contact him again. I attempted to apologize to no avail. My words were totally cut off. I never saw or heard from him again.
It was about this time that gay and lesbian people who were committed Christian believers came into my life. To share in a nutshell. It was not me doing the outreach at all.
Instead, God used them to open my eyes. They ministered to me. I began to realize that AIDS in a deeper sense had nothing at all to do really with being gay. It was caused by a virus, and linked with un protected sex, promiscuity, and drug abuse. I came to realize that there were gay and lesbian people who were deeply moral, loved God, and had been together in faithful relationships for sometimes twenty or thirty years.
These wonderful and sincere people blessed and impacted my life greatly. (Many of them I only knew from online.) I further came to understand that the Scripture does not address sexual orientation as we know it today at all, or the issue of gay and lesbian people in faithful and committed relationships.
One thing we can know for dead certain is that Jesus commands us to “love our neighbors as ourselves.” I think this includes our gay and lesbian neighbors. Of course, all Christians will fall short of this in this life, but I think it is a goal to shoot for.
I attempt whenever I have opportunity to advocate for inclusion in the church, and everywhere else. This can be difficult because, I think, in general, that people can fear what they do not understand. I believe this is true whether people are religious or secular.
I was having this conversation a while back with a gentleman in my church who has experienced missional work around the world. There are cultures, religious or not, where there is not even a word for same sex attraction. It is considered so alien. In other cultures, it is accepted.
I’m currently part of a missional group that is attempting to connect and to support refugees from the MIddle East, and North Africa. In these countries gay and lesbian people would be totally ostracised, imprisoned, or far, far worse. The difficulty of helping and supporting these folks to come to a different view is immense. They can bearly speak English
. I think it is by knowing and observing the faithful and committed lives of gay people themselves that makes the most impact. It did for me.
I will never forget what you’ve shared with me Neil, or take it lightly. I want you to know that.
Joy, peace, and continued healing fill your life.
It’s no problem, Rebecca. I should pick my friends more carefully. Rejection, if I can call it that, for being oneself is something I’ve found to be tolerable. I can’t, and I’m sure other gay people can’t either, help being who we are; we didn’t choose it. If others can’t cope with that, then that’s their problem, though as you say it can become LGBT folk’s problem too if others’ reactions turn violent – or in the case of some Christians, abusive.
I’m sorry the gay man you befriended reacted as he didn’t. He shouldnt have done, though we have, I guess, learnt a high degree of mistrust of Christians. It’s evident you personally do a lot of good work and you’re right, people fear what they don’t understand. Do make sure when you’re getting to know others that it’s because you care about them as people, not so that you can share the gospel with them, win them for Jesus or whatever. In fact, I’d ask you not to attempt that at all! We have heard it all before, you know.
Thank you for writing so fully, Rebecca, and I hope you’ll comment again.
Thanks, Neil. I totally agree with you concerning “friendship evangelism.” To me, it’s manipulative. And, who would want to be thought of as just someone else’s project? I think if we are friends with someone it should be because we generally do care about them and are interested in them as a person. And, it has to be reciprocal.
I don’t think there is anything wrong in a friendship with people sharing their different values and beliefs together providing both are open to this, and it’s a two way street. It’s always a mistake, IMO, to suppose that we can just drag people to where we are at.
Even when I enter into dialogue with people on these blogs which, of course, is something different from personal friendship, I still want to be genuinely interested and open to what they have to share. I have already altered some of my opinions based on what others have said. Other times, certain convictions have deepened on the more.
But, I think it’s through relationships and conversations even with people that are very different from us, that we can grow more fully as human beings. It’s also part of what makes life rich and interesting, IMO.