Story for Lesson 7: The Vision

He stepped out of the light, as if made of light himself. Light giving form to light, a being of pure light. His garments shone, blazing brilliance. His countenance radiated light and he spoke not as with words from any mouth but as of precious stones – rubies and emeralds – for he had no mouth that I could see. As his radiance shone forth, his words entered the mind of any who would listen. I listened, transfixed by such a vision of loveliness and power, blinded by his iridescence. He raised his hands as he spoke, if hands they were; more discs of light, brighter than the sun.

‘I am your Lord,’ he said, his voice a mellifluent confluence of joy and authority. ‘I appear here before you to set you apart, to reveal to you my message for the world.’

‘Oh, Lord’, I said, lost in the beauty of his radiance. ‘Pray reveal what this message is. Tell me and I will forever do your will.’

‘Let me see,’ he said as he pulled a golden scroll from the folds of his shining raiment and began to read: ‘Preach salvation to all nations in my name.’

‘That’s it?’ I said, confused. ‘Hasn’t that been done before?’

‘It has?’ he asked, sounding confused himself.

‘Yes, you know, Saint Paul and all that.’

‘Oh, yes. Paul,’ he mumbled. ‘Okay. So how about you take dictation of the Holy Words of the One True God to warn people of the judgement to come?’

‘Hasn’t that been done too?’

‘Has it? Well, what if I throw in some imaginary golden tablets and a couple of magic stones with fancy names? That work for you?’

‘Not really. Haven’t you got any original ideas?

‘Original ideas. Let me think… what about a new cult? What if I said my name was John Frum, or the late Prince Philip even; you could start a brand new cult named after me. It’s worked before.’

I sighed. ‘But that’s I’m trying to tell you. They’ve all been done before. I mean, what is the point of a vision if it’s got nothing new to offer?’

‘Fair enough,’ he said disconsolately. ‘But really, you know, it’s not my fault.’

‘How so?’ I asked, not liking the turn the conversation was taking.

‘Well,’ he said, ‘it was you who conjured me up in the first place. Just like Paul and Muhammad, Joseph Smith, the John Frum crowd and any number of others. You and I both know I don’t actually exist. That I’m… well, I’m a malfunction of your brain creating images and voices from the cultural influences around you.’

And I had to concede: he was right.

Lessons from Life 7: Don’t Squander Your Life On Religion

Like a dog returning to its vomit (2 Peter 2.22) I return to religion. I wasted so much of my life being duped by Christianity. As regular readers know, I allowed it to prevent me from living as myself and wasted time and money on it, while switching off my critical faculties to immerse myself in its murky depths.

I know better now. Christianity is built on the visions, dreams and fantasies of first-century zealots who couldn’t distinguish between their hallucinations and reality. They knew nothing about evidence and laboured under the misapprehension that what went on their own heads was as real as what happened outside them. You think I’m overstating the case? Then you don’t know your bible. It proclaims boldly and proudly that this is what faith in the celestial being, known as ‘Saviour’ (the literal meaning of Jesus) is built on:

First, Paul’s psychoses: 

…fourteen years ago (I) was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know – God knows – … (I) was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell. (2 Corinthians 12.2-4. Paul admits he’s prone to hallucinations.)

But when God, who had set me apart before I was born and called me through his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son in me, so that I might proclaim him among the Gentiles, I did not confer with any human being. (Galatians 1.15-16. Paul talks about how Christ was revealed to him in his head.)

With that in mind, how about this collection of sightings that Paul says were of the same nature as his own:

(The risen Christ) appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time…Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. (1 Corinthians 15:3-8)

Then this claim from decades after the cult got underway, from people who believed themselves to be living in the last days:

In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream. (Acts 2.17)

And there are all those stories of people wo had to convince themselves that what they saw was really the risen Christ:

After his suffering, (Jesus) presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. (Acts 1.3. Convincing proofs? Didn’t they know it was him?)

Acts has even more these sightings (all of them fictional). They show us nonetheless how the earliest believers thought they experienced the ‘risen Lord’: Stephen ‘sees’ him in glory (Acts 7.55-56), while Paul witnesses a bright light and hears Jesus’s voice in the three contradictory versions of his conversion (Acts 9. 13-19; Acts 22. 6-11; Acts 26.12-18). There’s also the aptly named Revelation, in which Jesus appears only as a wacky apparition.

So, all of Jesus’ appearances in the earliest books of the New Testament are visions within people’s heads. Despite this, we’re expected to believe that his resurrection appearances in the gospels, written decades after Paul’s visions, took place in reality. There really was a man, we’re told, who returned physically from the dead; he materialised inside a locked room (John 20.19), appeared in a variety of unrecognisable forms (Luke 24.15-16, John 20.14-18) vanished at will (Luke 24.51) and soared off into the clouds (Acts 24.50-53). These manifestations of the risen Jesus have all the hallmarks of visions, dreams or hallucinations, just like all those other ‘revelations’ that are clearly described as such. It’s preposterous to promote or believe in the gospel’s resurrection appearances as anything other than imaginative accounts of inner visions.

I don’t know about you, but I’m not prepared to base my life on the hallucinations and dreams, real or otherwise, of a few superstitious zealots, nor on later unreliable stories about them; that way Mormonism lies. I know that dreams and fantasies are not real, my own included.

Does this leave me – and you – without hope, purpose or morals? Christians say so, but they’re wrong. It leaves us with a finite life to live to the best of our abilities. It leaves us without an impossible standard to live up to that, God knows, Christians themselves fail miserably to achieve. It frees us from an illusory post-mortem judgement that we’re supposed to live in fear of and instead allows us to be responsible for our own behaviour. It allows us to be happy and free.