Believe what you want to believe

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I’ve been responding to some comments of Don Camp’s over on Cross Examined.  First off, Don objected to the claim someone made that the Bible is ‘full of errors’. He went on to make a number of assertions that I felt compelled to challenge. I’ve also added here a number of other points in italics, where, it seems to me, Don is trying to bluff with guff.

Don: “Full of errors” is an overstatement. There are errors, which is obvious when one looks at the critical apparatus of the USB Greek text. (What is this ‘apparatus’ of which Don speaks? Critical scholarship? Can’t see Don bothering much with that. Magic seer stones, then?) But if you know how to read the apparatus (ah, we must have insider knowledge to know how to read the manuscripts [which ‘manuscripts?] the way Don does) you will notice that the differences between manuscripts is minor and do not impact the message (we will? How?) The doctrine of “inerrancy” speaks to the original manuscripts (autographs). (We don’t have the original manuscripts so we can’t verify their accuracy or otherwise. Even if we did have access to them, how would we know they said what God wanted them to say? How would we know if what they said was true? We wouldn’t. They’re both hypothetical and irrelevant, and this is all meaningless theobabble.)

Don: I don’t subscribe to a strong inerrancy… (The examples you cite are) nitpicking and, I suspect, avoidance. (What is ‘strong inerrancy’? I’d have thought something was either inerrant or it wasn’t. The presence of one error in a document means it isn’t inerrant. If Don doesn’t subscribe to ‘strong inerrancy’ there’s nothing else – only the presence of error.) 

And then we’re off on a tangent – call it ‘sleight of hand’ – about how marvellous the Bible is:

The Bible is a remarkable book. There is none like it in all of literary history. It is the story of man and God and explains not only why things are the way they are but how God acted to reconcile man to himself. That message throughout the Bible is the same. In that sense, the Bible is unified.

And then another unfounded assertion, to which I sent the reply that follows:

Don: The Bible is also coherent. The message is logical and consistent. The third chapter of Genesis contains the message in brief as a narrative. It is sometimes called the proto-evangel. The rest of the Bible unfolds that message and explains how God accomplished his purpose and how we can respond to his mercy and grace […]

Me: Okay, let’s disregard the numerous ‘minor’ inconsistencies and contradictions. There’s insurmountable disunity between the old and new covenants: God in the Old Testament (OT) promises Abraham his contract with him and his seed is ‘always and forever’ (Genesis 12). He negates this completely in the New Testament (NT) when he declares, or so Paul would have us believe, that the only way to find favour with him is through faith in his saviour. Yes, the Bible’s unchanging God changes his mind and presents two irreconcilable ways to be reconciled with him.

Or how about the differences between Paul’s theology – salvation through faith alone – and Matthew’s Jesus who says salvation is through personal righteousness achieved by doing good works (Matthew 25)? For God’s sake, Don, there’s only about forty years distance between these two schemes and yet they don’t agree on what God’s plan is for mankind.

You want more? How about the differences between the OT and NT perspectives of the afterlife? Jesus’ (and Paul’s) conviction about the imminence of the End of the Age and that of later NT writers? The views of Heaven in earlier and later writing?

You’re deluding yourself, Don, if you think there’s a unity to these central doctrines in the Bible. There evidentially isn’t. Please don’t take us for fools with your attempts to delude us too.

To which I’d add that Christians’ dishonest attempts to prop up that book of  suspicion and make-believe, the Bible, as something it isn’t are tiresome in the extreme. Words like ‘apparatus’ and ‘original manuscripts/autographs’, are meaningless, while ‘inerrancy’, ‘coherence’ and ‘consistent’ are used in ways that strip them of any of their meaning. There is no ‘apparatus’ that magically removes the serious discrepancies in the Bible, no pristine, error-free original manuscripts to which we can refer. As in many of its minor details, the Bible’s central messages lack unity, coherence, consistency – and anything approaching sense. The American Bible Society reported recently that through lockdown, Christians haven’t – shock! horror! – been reading their Bibles with any regularity. Given they don’t read them much anyway, this can only be a good thing.

The Mask of the Beast

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Know which fights to pick. Making an issue out of wearing a face mask isn’t one of them.

I don’t want to wear a mask. They’re an incovenience; stuffy and uncomfortable. They hide the face, making communication difficult. An internet meme I saw recently said requiring a face mask four months into a pandemic is like requiring a condom at a baby shower.

Nevertheless, I will be wearing one when they become mandatory in UK shops next week. Wearing a mask isn’t about the wearer. It’s about protecting others from your respiratory effusions that may harbour the virus. That seems a good enough reason to put one on in shops. That and the threatened £100 fine for not doing so (unenforceable in practice, I’d have thought.)

So why are so many Christians opposed to protecting the neighbours they’re supposed to love? Wonder no longer. Here is DeAnna Lorraine to explain:

Biblically, God does not want us wearing masks. Masks are a symbol of hiding yourself, of doing bad deeds, inappropriate deeds, or malicious things that you need to hide from. And it is also a symbol of stripping us of our unique identity because [when] we’re wearing a mask, we’re not unique anymore, we’re all the same. And God doesn’t see us that way.

He also sees us as being good, and anyone who is doing good deeds should not be living and hiding in the shadows behind a mask. A mask is a symbol of fear. You’re living in fear. If you have a mask on, it means you actually don’t trust God. You don’t have faith. You’re living in fear instead of faith. And of course, the Marxist globalist Satanists that are pushing all this, they are trying to invert reality and pervert God and Christians, and they want to isolate us from God, isolate us from other humans, and deprive us of that faith so that we rely on the government, the media, telling us what to do and telling us whether to be fearful or not instead of God.

It’s simple, you see: ‘Biblically’, God doesn’t want us to wear masks. It’s right there in Revelation: God just doesn’t recognise his Chosen Ones if they’ve got a mask on. Just as you or I wouldn’t recognise Hal Jordan or a ninja turtle once they donned their masks, so God is totally flummoxed when we ‘strip ourselves of our identities’ by the simple expedient of covering our mouths and noses.

Instead, according to the insecure, self-obsessed Lorraine, we should trust this enfeebled deity to keep us, and our neighbours – towards whom we evidently have no obligation – safe.

Like this has worked in churches that have flouted lockdown and social distancing rules! The God who doesn’t recognise us in a mask has proven himself incapable of protecting a single one of his followers from Covid-19; not entirely unexpectedly, admittedly, when he’s no more than a figment of their imagination. (This is the same God, incapable even of protecting them from the common cold, whom they think is going to rescue them from death.)

So no, resisting the wearing of masks and other covid precautions is not the fight Christians should be taking on. Nor is raving about the erosion of ‘religious liberty’ (read, ‘Christian privilege’) and the supposed decline in morality. I mentioned last time a number of causes with which they might consider engaging. We might add campaigning to end poverty and the deaths of 15,000 children a day through hunger. ‘Biblically’, God would want them to do that (Matthew 25.31-40).

Failing this, they might put their neighbour above themselves, wear a face mask and shut the f**k up.

Power and Influence: you either got it or you ain’t

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We the common people, you and I, don’t have the prime minister’s or the president’s ear. We lack power and influence: we’re not the CEO of large companies, obscenely wealthy or part of any religious lobby. Those in power can rely on the fact that next year we’ll have some other cause to send us out on the streets and on to social media. It will not trouble them.

Real change takes decades to achieve. It took over a century for gay people to have the rights they have today. Stonewall was not the beginning, but a milestone on a much longer journey. Protests over the summer don’t have this effect. The Civil Rights campaigns of the ’60s were only partially successful; we wouldn’t now have the Black Lives Matter movement if they had been wholly effective. Likewise women’s rights. Even the previous president of the US, who was inclined to do so, was unable to introduce greater gun control laws; the current incumbent has no interest in doing so and is, in any case, controlled himself by the gun lobby.

The place of the common people is to be controlled, regulated and herded. We’ve seen this in sharp focus during the Covid crisis. Granted safety measures have been for our own good, even if some have taken it upon themselves to defy them. Nonetheless, the advice and regulation during the pandemic has taken on the semblance of law when much of it isn’t at all, with police making criminals of individuals who have failed to comply.

Unless, of course, they were politicians, unelected advisers to the prime minister or members of the royal family. Their flouting of restrictions have been understandable and acceptable; the exception can be made for them. That’s power and influence for you.

If you or I were friends with Jeffrey Epstein and arranged through him to pay underage girls for sex, we might expect, once the law caught up with us, to serve a prison sentence. Not so Prince Andrew. He’s a royal and so exempt: power and influence.

If you or I killed a motorcyclist while driving on the wrong side of the road in another country and then flee the country claiming diplomatic immunity, we should expect to be extradited to face justice. Not so Anne Sacoolas, the wife of a US diplomat in the UK. She does not herself have diplomatic immunity, not that that should matter. Nonetheless, the Trump administration has refused to return her to UK. Power and influence.

If you or I failed to pay our tax in full, you could be sure the Revenue service would be down on us like the proverbial ton of bricks (I know this from experience when they miscalculated my tax a couple of years back.) Yet for many years Amazon, Netflix and Starbucks have either paid nothing or a tiny fraction of tax due in the countries where they make their money. Why should they? They are giants in their fields and above such petty concerns as paying full taxes – that’s for the little people, like you and me. It pays to have power and influence.

You and I probably receive, or received, a modest salary for the work we do/did. Not so investment bankers who award themselves thousands in bonuses – and occasionally millions – on top of extravagant salaries and the interest they make from hedge funds and off-shore investments. Successive UK governments in the UK, from both the left and right, have been promising for as long as I can remember to take down these ‘fat cats’ and restore some equity to remuneration. Despite the bank collapses a dozen years ago they still haven’t. Why? Because bankers have too much power and influence. One thing we’ve learnt during the covid-19 pandemic is that they are far from being essential workers. Yet they continue to receive exorbitant rewards for what they do, while genuine key workers receive far less for their crucial service.

If you or I had lost a loved one in the 417 mass shootings in the US last year we would expect and implore the government to act. But it’s the NRA that has the ear of the president so gun laws remain unchanged. Power and influence.

The Catholic church has claimed at least $1.4 billion dollars from Covid-19 relief funds: not to feed the hungry but to line their own coffers. Who, ultimately, will pay for this handout and similar ones to equally wealthy organisations? That’s right – you and I will, through increased taxes, even though the money doled out was from our taxes to start with.

You and I aren’t able to influence the government with our personal beliefs and philosophies. Religious lobbies can. In the States, a number of prominent right-wing Christians serve as Trump advisers. The president is more than willing to aid them in scaling back the human rights of LGBT people and restricting women’s freedom of choice. In the UK, Church of England bishops have an automatic right to sit in the House of Lords where they can amend and veto the decisons of democratically elected MPs.

You and I don’t have power or influence. We are powerless. We are intentionally distracted, kept occupied by the modern equivalent of bread and circuses: television, sport, shopping, alcohol, social media.

Still, next time we’re faced with an injustice, we can always take to Twitter – or to the streets – for all the good it will do us.

The More Things Change…

This year it’s Black Lives Matter. Last year it was Extinction Rebellion. Before that #MeToo, GM crops and gun control. Every year it seems there’s a new cause for us to take to the streets, or, if we can’t be bothered doing that, to social media where we can make our feelings known. Of course, the common people – you and I – have a voice. We have greater means of expressing it, more platforms on which to exercise it, than have ever existed before. No-one in history has had the means we have to express our outrage, opinions and grievances.

But so what? Whether we take to the streets, vlog, blog or tweet, the result, it seems to me, is the same: things stay pretty much as they are. Hardly anything changes as the result of our outcry and protest. Maybe a few statues are demolished, a handful of sexual predators jailed, but ultimately there’s no lasting change. Perhaps a tokenistic law is created, maybe the media involve themselves for a short time in the issue of the day, but before very long everything reverts to the way it was: black lives are no more improved, the police go back to their former ways of behaving (once no-one’s looking any more), children continue to be abused, the environment is still in crisis, there’s another mass shooting by an idiot who’s bought a gun too easily and politicians carry on acting as if they’re above the law. There’ll be a new cause to excite ourselves about next summer. And another the year after that. Today’s preoccupation will disappear just as quickly as the latest fashion or pop sensation.

Why is this, and  why are we largely ignored when we take to the streets or campaign on social media about the things that concern us? Why does our voice count for so little? We live in democracies don’t we, here in Europe and in the States; we have a right to be heard, to be listened to and be taken into account – don’t we?

Well, no. We don’t. No-one is obliged to listen to us. They don’t even have to pretend to, unless they’re politicians running for election and then they are only pretending. Even then we don’t really have the choice we think we do; we’re told we can vote for the candidate of our choice, but we can’t; choice is so severely restricted it’s hardly qualifies as a choice at all. We vote for whoever the parties have put up for us to vote for; for a package that dresses either to the left or the right, without nuance or balanced consideration of the issues, and very often with no long term view of what we need to survive and flourish. That’s why so many fail to vote; they know intuitively that the more things change, the more they stay the same – so why bother?

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The rest of us dutifully select from an already selected few: the millionaires, billionaires, career politicians and failed businessmen who claim they have our best interests at heart, who say they can manage us and make our country great again. Once they have power they forget about us – their lives are so far removed from ours that they can’t possibly relate to the way we ordinary people live – and what the most vocal of us say we want. We think we won’t get fooled again, as the Who say in their politically astute song, but of course we will: we are fooled again, and again and again. Every time.

To be continued.

A special rendering of ‘One’ Corinthians 13. You’re welcome.

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If I obsess about religious liberty but do not have love, I am no more than a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.

If I judge and denigrate others and do my utmost to suppress them then I have not love.

If I claim I am persecuted while persecuting others, if I try to supplant their morality with my own and have not love, then I am nothing.

If I condemn others to hell because they do not subscribe to my beliefs, but have not love, then likewise I am nothing.

If I give nothing at all to the poor and say it is their own fault anyway, then I am without love.

If I say it is not up to me to fight for social justice and make defending Christian dogma my priority above everything else but do not have love, I am nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

If what I have, what I espouse, what I use to beat you with is none of these things then it is not love and I am a hypocrite unworthy of your attention.

 

The current line-up of The Clanging Cymbals is Scott Lively on Resounding Gong, Tony Perkins on Empty Vessel, Franklin Graham on Smug Tone, Pat Robertson on the Befuddlement, Robert Jeffress blowing his own trumpet and Steven Anderson contributing Heavy Flatulence.

Other members of the band are available for Self promotion, Church socials and Bar Mitzvahs. Pride events are excluded.

 

Swing Low

This is my response to the way some in the UK have jumped on the bandwagon of the Black Lives Matter movement. I appreciate it is different in the USA.

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‘So it’s important we get out on the street and bring down the last vestiges of colonialism.’

‘Right. So how do we do that?’

‘We tear down the effigies of those who made their fortunes on the backs of black people. Colston in Bristol, Nelson’s Column, Earl Grey in Newcastle…’

‘I didn’t know Earl Grey owned slaves.’

‘Well, no, he didn’t. But he did fund a port in London somewhere and that port was used to bring in cotton. And who was forced to grow the cotton? Slaves!’

‘I see. Yet I think you’ll find it was Earl Grey’s government that abolished slavery in the British Empire, back in the 1830s.’

‘Was it? I didn’t know that.’

‘Obviously not. I agree, of course, that we shouldn’t be celebrating anyone who was involved in the slave trade, but how is vandalising statues going to improve the lives of black people today?’

‘It shows that we stand with them. It shows we disinherit our racist past, founded as it was on the exploitation of black people; on slavery.’

‘So you won’t be using sugar any more, or visiting the Tate? You won’t be drinking at a Greene King pub? Or driving your Mercedes and reading your Guardian newspaper?

‘I don’t see what that has to do with anything.’

‘No, you wouldn’t. Don’t you think Black Lives Matter, which, might I remind you, is an American movement, has been hijacked here in the UK by well meaning, largely middle-class white people with little understanding of the past? That smashing statues, boycotting Swing Low, Sweet Chariot – written, incidentally, by one-time negro slave – and anachronistically slotting people of colour into films and TV dramas, is really going to improve the lives of black people in this country today? If you do, you’re seriously deluded. We’re not a salve for your white conscience.’

‘Look, I’m no racist, you know that, but you just don’t have any understanding of what’s at stake here. Thank God there are white people like me to look after your interests. Now are you coming to this protest or what?’

 

In which Paul takes a trip to the third heaven

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In the New Testament, there are:

8 or more supernatural ‘visions’;

18 or so ‘appearances’ of angels;

about 6 significant dreams, through which God talks to people;

a dozen apparitions of dead people and

at least 3 significant ‘revelations’, in which individuals sense God in their heads (Paul, Jesus and John of Patmos).

The man who is largely responsible for Christianity as we know it, Paul, alludes only briefly to his magical conversion to the faith, describing it as ‘in’ his head in Galatians 1.16. It’s up to the writer of Acts to elaborate and embroider this non-event. Paul does, however, give rather more detail about another hallucination he has, in 2 Corinthians 12.1-4. To avoid boasting, he says boastfully, he refers to himself in the third person:

I must go on boasting. Although there is nothing to gain, I will go on to visions and revelations from the Lord. I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of it I do not know, but God knows. And I know that this man—whether in the body or out of it I do not know, but God knows— was caught up to Paradise. The things he heard were too sacred for words, things that man is not permitted to tell.

This is evidently a psychotic episode; seeing things that are not there, experiencing events that are not happening. Paul himself admits he doesn’t know whether it was a real experience, nor does he know if he was in his body or not (definitely in it, just out of his mind.) He heard, he says, things he can’t possibly repeat, which makes you wonder why he bothers mentioning the whole bizarre episode in the first place: ‘I had this fantastic experience, unlike anything I’ve experienced before – but I can’t tell you a thing about it.’ It sounds like a dream he’s having trouble remembering or, like, man, a really freaky hallucinogenic trip.

From psychotic episodes like this – his conversion is another one – Paul spins his entire theology. Yes, the faith of Christians everywhere is founded on the hallucinations of a first century nutcase visionary.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve better things to do with my life than base it on the dreams and visions of a psychotic who lived 2000 years ago.

 

 

Demons, demons everywhere…

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I wonder if any Christians out there can help me understand something. I know that not all of you believe in demons; some of you are far too rational to believe in non-existent supernatural beings! I know too that when the bible mentions demons, as it does often, you know it’s as a metaphor, for sin perhaps, or as the personification of evil. Presumably, you reach this conclusion with the help of the Holy Spirit (you do believe in him, don’t you?)

And yet other, lesser brethren are led by that same Spirit to see demons as 100% real.

Take this guy, Jeremiah Johnson, a preacher/prophet/author from Florida who recently had a real live conversation with a demon:

On the night of May 30th, while praying and pacing over the United States in my home around 2 am, a demonic entity appeared right before me in an open vision. This type of encounter has only ever happened one other time while I was ministering in a foreign country in 2015. I have always engaged in this type of spiritual warfare while asleep and dreaming prophetically, but rarely if ever to this degree while awake.

This demonic entity had a visible and deep scar underneath its right eye, but it also had the ability to mutate or rather change forms. I watched this “being” morph several times right in front of me, yet the gash below its right eye remained.

As I see it, there are three options here. Either –

a) This really happened, or

b) Jeremiah made it up, or

c) It happened but entirely within Jeremiah’s disturbed mind

Can you advise me which it is? I’m leaning towards b) or c). I say ‘leaning’ when what I mean is I rule out a) entirely, though I’d be interested to know which conclusion the Holy Spirit is leading you to. (Actually, reading the comments following Jeremiah’s posting of his ‘Urgent Prophetic Alert and Warning’ on Facebook, I already know what 4 thousand of you think: you fall for this crapola hook, line and sinker.)

Of course, not all supernatural encounters are with demons. Sometimes your fellow believers have encounters with angels, or dead people from the bible. Here’s an example of that:

I kneeled down, and prayed, saying, ‘O Lord, what Church shall I join?’ Directly I saw a light, and then a glorious Personage in the light, and then another personage, and the first personage said [of] the second, ‘Behold this is my beloved Son, hear him’” 

Wow, that sounds amazing, doesn’t it? Joseph Smith recounting his first ‘vision’.

Again, you’ve got three options:

Either:

a) This really happened, or

b) Joseph made it up, or

c) It happened but entirely within Joseph’s disturbed mind.

If you’re a Mormon, the Holy Ghost will have led you to embrace option a). I lean myself towards b), possibly c). If you’re an evangelical Christian, however, you probably think Smith’s vision was demonically inspired. Can I ask you why you think this? Is it because that’s what your version of the Holy Ghost tells you? Ain’t it amazing how ‘he’ always confirms what you already believe?

With that in mind, let’s look at one final example:

When Jesus stepped out of the boat, a man out of the tombs with an unclean spirit met him. He lived among the tombs; and no one could restrain him any more, even with a chain; for he had often been restrained with shackles and chains, but the chains he wrenched apart, and the shackles he broke in pieces; and no one had the strength to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always howling and bruising himself with stones. 

When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and bowed down before him; and he shouted at the top of his voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me.” For he had said to him, “Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!”  Then Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” He replied, “My name is Legion; for we are many.”  He begged him earnestly not to send them out of the country. Now there on the hillside a great herd of swine was feeding; and the unclean spirits begged him, “Send us into the swine; let us enter them.” So he gave them permission. And the unclean spirits came out and entered the swine; and the herd, numbering about two thousand, rushed down the steep bank into the sea, and were drowned in the sea. (Mark 5.1-20)

Either:

a) This really happened, or

b) Mark made it up, or

c) Mark made it up but it’s a metaphor for something or other.

I’m guessing most of you, including those who regard yourselves as rational Christians, opted for a): you think this really happened in some form. Why? Because this time it’s your hero, Jesus, who’s involved.

However, and this is my point, Jesus’ encounter with a demon – and it’s not the only one in the gospels – is no different in kind from Jeremiah Johnson’s or Joseph Smith’s. If you believe one really happened – the Jesus one – you really haven’t any reason not to believe the other two. And yet, my Christian friends, you reject at least one of the other two, don’t you. You dismiss Smith’s encounter with God and Jesus as, at best, a delusion and at worst, a fiction intended to dupe others. You may, as I’ve suggested, see it as demonically inspired (even though no actual demons appear, unlike in the Jesus and Johnson accounts.)

You may also, if you’ve half a brain, dismiss Johnson’s ridiculous story too. I hope so. So why persist in believing that Jesus met with demons? It’s not the Holy Spirit who convinces you that this story is the only plausible one of the three. The Holy Spirit is only as real as Johnson’s morphing demon. No, the only reason you give Jesus a free pass, but not Smith or Johnson (possibly), is that the Jesus story is in the bible.

So, what’s the answer to the question at the top of this post: which of those men, Jeremiah Johnson, Joseph Smith and Mark’s Jesus, is deluded? The answer is… all of them. And at least two of them are frauds.

Myself, I’m leaning towards all three.

 

The many and varied, Spirit-inspired interpretations of the Kingdom of God

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For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done. Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom” (Matthew 16.27–28).

Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. (Matthew 24.34)

See also Matthew 24.27, 30-31; Luke 21:27-28, 33-34; 1 Corinthians 15.51-52; 1 Thessalonians 4.15-17; 1 John 2:17-181; Peter 4.7

The Kingdom of God. What does it look like? When will it happen? Has it happened? You’d think that with the Kingdom of God being a central part of Jesus’ teaching, the central part, in fact – his ‘good news’ is about nothing else – that these would be questions Christians would find easy to answer.

They don’t. The Holy Spirit inspires a variety of incompatible responses from the faithful to the what, when and where questions. The most popular is, of course, that the Kingdom of God equates with Heaven: the saved are all going to heaven when they die. Post-mortem bliss, most Christians would tell you, is what Jesus meant by the Kingdom of God. After all, doesn’t Matthew refer to the Kingdom as the Kingdom of Heaven? Yes… but no: an after-life in Heaven is not what Jesus and his scriptwriters meant by the Kingdom. If it was, they would have said so, rather than promising, as they do, that God’s Kingdom was coming to the Earth real soon.*

So, when Jesus says the kingdom is just around the corner, which he does repeatedly in the synoptic gospels, he can’t have meant Heaven. Let’s try another favourite: Jesus meant that God’s Kingdom on Earth would manifest itself thousands of years in the future – in our time, no less. It’s all to do, you see, with Jesus’ return and the final judgement. As these have yet to happen then the final part of God’s plan – his reclaiming of his creation – will be in the (far) future too. A neat solution to be sure, but one that runs counter to everything in the gospels and in Paul. Admittedly it’s an idea that was taking shape in 2 Peter (3.8), a forgery written about 150CE, long after it had become apparent the Kingdom was running way behind schedule. However, you won’t find it in the synoptic gospels or the Pauline epistles because it isn’t what Jesus, Paul, the gospel writers or the earliest Chrsitians believed.

Where does this leave Jesus’ devotees today? With a Jesus who didn’t really mean the Kingdom would be manifesting itself in the physical world. This Jesus proclaims the Kingdom as something that exists inside his followers as an internal state of being. It’s true some of his pronouncements appear to fit this interpretation; the Kingdom is within you and all that, but what these statements are about in context is the Kingdom’s immanence at the time; what Jesus was saying was, ‘the Kingdom is arriving now; look at the signs – it’s all around you.’ A gnostic flavoured restructuring of what he actually claimed is yet another Spirit-led interpretation we can dispense with.

Consequently, some Christians accept that, yes, Jesus preached a Kingdom that would dramatically materialise in the real world close to the time he was speaking. That it didn’t in any observable way creates a dilemma: as God Incarnate, perfect and infallible, Jesus can’t have been wrong. This must mean the Kingdom did arrive when he said it would and we are living in it now. The Kingdom, these Covenantists say, is another term for the Christian era; the reign of the church, the Age of the Holy Spirit. We’re living in the Kingdom and have been for two thousand years!

How’s that working out?

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Yes, this looks exactly like the Kingdom of God Jesus promised: An eternity of peace with death and illness banished and the meek having inherited the earth; the social order reversed, God in charge and Jesus and his pals running the show. Or not.

So, however the faithful (re)interpret his words, however much they twist, cherry-pick or just plain ignore them, Jesus was wrong. The Kingdom of God did not arrive on the earth in the first century as he predicted. It’s definitely not here now. It won’t be coming in the future and it doesn’t await in an after-life; these were never the deal. (See my earlier series, Making Excuses for Jesus, for more detail.)

Whatever Christians do, wherever their imaginary Holy Spirit leads them, they end up with implausible and incompatible ways of explaining (away) the non-arrival of the Kingdom of God that Jesus promised. It’s a fallacy, a fantasy, another delusion sustained by the wilfully ignorant.

*John 18.36 does have Jesus say that ‘his’ Kingdom, as it’s become by the time of the fourth gospel, is not of this world. John, however, bears little relation to the other gospels and was written at least 70 years after Jesus lived. In any case, it doesn’t say or mean that common-or-garden believers are going to Heaven when they die.

Another name for confirmation bias

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Most Christians admit to a belief in the Holy Spirit. The majority also subscribe to the notion that this manifestation of God (or Jesus?) guides them in their spiritual journey, supernaturally from within. The Holy Spirit, the Bible says, lives inside believers (1 Corinthians 3.16); an aspect of God designed to fit the human body.

You’d think then, that with part God embedded in their psyche or wherever it (or ‘he’, according to most believers) has taken up residence, that all Christians would think alike; would have the same priorities; would subscribe to the same doctrines; moreso when that other embodiment of God, Jesus himself, supposedly prayed for such a unity (John 17. 20-23).

Evidently they don’t achieve any of this. There are, depending on which authority you consult, in the region of 34,000 Christian denominations, sects and groups, all of which see themselves as possessors of God’s sacred truths. Most regard that it is they alone who possess this truth in its purest form. There wouldn’t be separate denominations otherwise.

And from where do they derive their own peculiar revelation of the Truth? Ultimately, most would say, from the Holy Spirit. It is he who guides them in all truth, as John’s Jesus promised (John 16.13), showing them how to read the bible and interpret it aright (1 Corinthians 2.6-16) and allowing them to discern truth (1 John 4) in what they hear from God’s chosen instruments on earth: pastors, ministers, prophets, evangelists, popes.

And the Truth they arrive at is different from the Truth arrived at by that other sect or wayward denomination elsewhere.Quote4

The Holy Spirit leads different Christians to contradictory doctrines on the essentials of the faith: about how an individual is ‘saved’ for example; whether it’s legitimate to talk of being ‘saved’ at all; predestination; free will; the place of baptism in salvation (essential or not?); Heaven and Hell; the nature of faith itself; the role of ‘works’; God’s plan for individual lives; evangelism; the ‘infallibility’ of the bible; how best to worship God; the nature of God; the existence of other supernatural beings; the role of women in the church. If they can’t agree on these – and they don’t – then what the f**k is the Holy Spirit playing at?

Then there are the issues they claim are of concQuotes2ern to God, though of course they don’t all agree on what these might be: social justice, morality, sex, same-sex relationships, equality, feminism, science, evolution, Hollywood, making America great again, guns, Trump, right-wing politics, liberalism, Covid-19 (many of which, we might note in passing, the bible has absolutely no interest in.) And what do we find?Quote5Quotes1First, the Holy Spirit provides diametrically opposed ‘truths’ to individual Christians, as the quotations within this post illustrate. Second, that same Spirit affirms the views, prejudices and biases of each Christian he speaks to. God’s thoughts are, miraculously, the same as those seeking them out. 

Of course, there is no Holy Spirit. There’s no Holy Spirit because there’s no God. What those who speak for him are doing is voicing the frequently ill-informed and evidence-free suppositions of their particular branch of the cult. Claiming these are endorsed by God is at best a delusion, at worst, sheer deceit.

The Holy Spirit, then: just another name for confirmation bias.