Will the real Jesus please stand up? (part 4)

All of which begs the question: was Jesus a real person who became a mythical celestial being within 3 or 4 years of his death or was he a mythical celestial being to begin with who was historicised within about fifty or sixty years of his creation?

The time scales are important. Christians today argue that Jesus can’t possibly have been an imagined being because fifty to sixty years represents an insufficient period for him to have transitioned into a fully realised historical figure. Yet this is precisely what we see between Paul and others’ visions of Christ and the writing of Mark and Matthew’s gospels. (Richard Carrier makes the case that the writer of the former was cognizant of the fact he was not writing history but allegory. If so, Matthew’s gospel, circa xxx, is the first to depict Jesus as an actual person.)

As related by Paul, his vision of the heavenly Christ followed those of Cephas, the twelve and 500 others. His experience is usually dated to between 34 and 37CE. These visions appear not to be rooted in reality. Paul writes at length about his Lord Jesus Christ yet shows no knowledge about the life, relationships, teaching or miracles of the character who later appears in the gospels. His Christ exists only in a celestial heaven where Paul believes his sacrifice also took place there.

Christians argue instead that Christ was a real person. He lived, preached and died in a specific geographical area (though the gospel writers don’t all agree where this was) at a particular time (they don’t agree on this either). After his resurrection he ascended to a heaven believed to be above the sky. He became a spiritual entity at this point, having lived a real life on Earth. Later Christians would argue he resumed the role of celestial being. After his ascension he began communicating with mortals attuned to him using visions and dreams; hence Paul’s and others’ revelatory experiences.

But wait. If fifty years is too short a period for a celestial Christ to be seen as a real person, then 4 years or less – the time between Jesus’ supposed ascension and Paul experiencing him in his head – is even shorter. If we’re judging how probable either transition is in terms of the time it took, the Christian preference of 3-4 years is by far the less likely.

A transition is involved either way: from a wholly spiritual entity to human, or from human to a celestial being. The first, taking about 50 years, is too short a time for Christians. They prefer the second, which involves only 4 years. It also entails supernatural intervention, with God required to engineer the transition from the human to the quasi-divine.

Taking Occam’s razor to the evidence – Paul’s genuine letters, the other early letters and the book of Hebrews – it is clear the transition happened the other way round. Christ was originally an imagined spiritual being, envisaged by Paul and others. The spiritual Christ was subsequently, 50 years later, given an earthly back story, like one of those shaky prequels created for an already successful TV series. This story in its different versions eventually came to dominate, stories being easier to remember and believe than complex theories about invisible beings.

Will the real Jesus please stand up? (part 3)

As we’ve seen, so much about Jesus appears to have been invented and made up; literally, ‘envisioned’. Almost everything he said and did, including his death and resurrection, derive from Paul’s teaching and the Old Testament. Mark created his gospel narrative out of these, embellishing the story with ideas from other, pagan myths. Mark’s gospel then served as the basis of the other three canonical gospels.

It could be argue that none of this suggests Jesus didn’t exist. He could still have been a real life human being who wandered around Palestine, teaching people about the End of the Age. In which case, why did Paul and the later gospel writers have to make so much up about him, as clearly they did. Why didn’t they report directly what he taught, instead of quoting the Old Testament as Paul does when he talks about his Christ (he all but says this what he does in Romans 15.2-4)? Not once does he refer to anything the historical Jesus said. Neither do the gospel writers. They make stuff up, they alter what their predecessors say, they dip into the Old Testament to construct Jesus’ teaching.

Why? If the real Jesus was such a Great Teacher, who had so much wisdom to impart, don’t we find it in the gospels instead of this amalgam of other sources? Was his teaching so unimpressive and unmemorable that a new script had to be written for him? If so, how did he attract the fame and following he purportedly did? Why are the gospels literary creations and not the kind of reporting we might expect if they were relating the sayings and doings of one man?? Why do the gospels have their own distinct agendas when they are supposedly reporting the views of a real individual? Why are there so many interpretations of Jesus in the New Testament: Jewish Jesus, Gentile Jesus, Anti-semitic Jesus, Gnostic Jesus, Anti-gnostic Jesus, Radical Jesus, Pacifist Jesus, Saviour Jesus, High Priest Jesus, Cosmic-judge Jesus? Why, if it really happened, does the resurrection read like myth, with all the differences in detail between the accounts? Why does Paul talk about it as something that was only revealed in ‘visions’? Why does Mark hint that his Jesus story is a parable, the true meaning of which can only be discerned by the spiritually mature (Mark 4.10-12)?

If Jesus was real, none of this – the myth making, the invention, the reliance on the Old Testament – would be necessary.

That Paul and the gospel writers made up so much suggests there wasn’t a real person on whom their teaching and stories are based. Jesus Christ was the result of the ‘visions’, dreams and hallucinations that someone called Cephas and a few others, Paul included, experienced.

There was no historical Jesus, no miracles, no wondrous teaching, no crucifixion, no resurrection, no ascension. There will be no second coming, no final judgement, no Kingdom of Heaven presided over by someone who originally lived 2000 years ago. Why? Because every bit of it is make believe.

Will the real Jesus please stand up? (part 2)

What evidence is there in the Bible that Jesus really existed? Let’s take a look*:

Paul’s Christ – imaginary (only in his head)

The crucifixion – invented (structured around and based on selected parts of the Old Testament. These aren’t prophecies of his death, they’re used as the template for people writing centuries later)

The Resurrection stories – made up (following various visions and ‘revelations’. The stories themselves are not in Paul or Mark; they’re made up later)

The empty tomb – imaginary (added to bolster resurrection stories. Unknown to Paul)

Miracles – made up (not in Mark where Jesus flatly refuses to perform them. Later miracles all have symbolic meaning. They are symbolic)

Nativity stories – make-believe (the two accounts in Matthew and Luke conflict and have all the properties of myth)

Jesus’ ‘I Am’ statements – invented (only in John: missing entirely from the other gospels. How did they miss them?)

Sermon on the Mount – made up by Matthew (not in Mark but suddenly in Matthew where it is clearly a literary construct)

Jesus’ teaching – invented (next to none of it is original, based as it is on Paul’s teaching, Old Testament ‘wisdom’ and what the gospel writers needed him to say to fit their agendas)

Cult rules – made up (by members of the early cult church)

The Beloved Disciple/Lazarus and Nicodemus – imaginary (not in the other three gospels. How could they not know about Jesus’ most impressive miracle, the raising of Lazarus?)

The woman caught in adultery – invented (a very late addition to the fourth gospel; possibly as late as 350CE)

The Ascension – make-believe (I mean, really?)

Paul’s adventures in Acts – made up (largely incompatible with what Paul himself relates)

Revelation – total lunacy (made up in its entirety: Jesus didn’t say any of the things attributed to him there: he didn’t dictate letters to churches, isn’t a cosmic warlord, hasn’t brought a celestial city to the Earth, etc, etc)

Satan, demons, angels, spirits, powers and principalities – imagined (all non-existent)

Old Testament tales – made up (Creation, Adam & Eve, Tower of Babel, Noah, the Exodus, Job, Jonah, Daniel. Too many to list)

Ephesians, Colossians, 2 Thessalonians, 2 Peter, James, Jude, 1 & 2 Timothy, Titus – forgeries

Jesus – imaginary? It makes you wonder. So much is demonstrably made up about him. If he did exist, he has been buried under layers of make-believe, myth and other fiction; a grave from which he will never rise.

To be continued…

* Examples derived from my own considerations, Richard Carrier’s On The Historicity of Jesus, Bart D. Ehrman’s Forged and Did Jesus Exist?, Michael J. Alter’s The Resurrection, Barrie Wilson’s How Jesus Became Christian &  Freke and Gandy’s The Jesus Mysteries, amongst others.

 

The Great Resurrection Swindle

We have an anomaly. Paul did not see the resurrected Jesus in the body he died in. He is quite categorical about this. The Risen Jesus was revealed ‘within’ him as a vision of some sort (Galatians 1.15-16). Paul then implies that Peter and ‘the twelve’ apostles had previously encountered the Risen Jesus in precisely the same way; that is, though he doesn’t of course use the terms, as an innervision or hallucination:

For what I received (in my vision) I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raisedon the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve.  After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born. (1 Corinthians 15.3-8)

From this, Paul develops his idea that every other believer will, either after they die or when Christ descends from the clouds, be given a new ‘spiritual body’ without any of the limitations of the lowly fleshly body in which we spend this life. This is his gospel which, he wants everyone to know, did not come from any other human but from the Christ who appeared in his head (Galatians 1.11-12).

Here’s the anomaly: Paul believed he had encountered the risen Jesus, an experience of a super-spiritual being that was entirely in his own head. The later gospels, however, written decades after Paul’s psychotic episode, had a different view of the resurrected body. The original version of Mark, ending at 16.8, offers no resurrection appearances (Mark 16.9-20 was added much later in an attempt to plug the gap) but from Matthew onwards we begin to get a risen Jesus who assumes more and more of a physical form the further from Paul’s time we go. Luke wants us to know that his Risen Jesus has a real physical body; he asks for food which he then eats (Luke 24.42-43) and his crucifixion wounds are visible (Luke 24.37-39). John then goes even further by having Jesus invite the disciples to poke and admire the wounds (John 20.27), making the point that the body Jesus died in is the same one he resurrected in (even though in other parts of the narrative, for example when he encounters Mary Magdalene, he is suspiciously vision-like.)

As a result, later Christians were adamant that Jesus rose physically, in the body he’d died in. Today’s evangelicals seem to think so too.

So, here’s what we’ve got: Christianity’s earliest advocate, while promising resurrected believers will have a super new ‘spiritual’ body that bears little relation to their old physical bodies, witnessed the risen Christ only as a vision in his head. Yet Luke and John are at pains to point out that Jesus rose physically, in the same body he died in albeit with new super-powers. Luke even tries to distance his risen Jesus from Paul’s by having him say,

Handle Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see I have. (Luke 24:37–39)

Isn’t it fortuitous, and not a little too convenient, that Jesus himself decides to makes the doctrinal point that he’s most definitely not a spirit, hallucination or vision? Of course, Luke (not Jesus) made up this line to address the hallucinated-spirit v. reanimated-corpse anomaly head on. Luke’s risen Jesus, whom, let’s not forget, Luke never met – nor did he meet any eyewitnesses to the resurrection (his sources are primarily Mark and Matthew) – is at pains to point out he is not like Paul’s risen Jesus. No sir, not at all. In the space of 30 or 40 years then, the risen Jesus has gone from being an imagined spirit (1 Corinthians) to a flesh and blood, revitalised corpse (Luke) with extra peripheral details like an empty tomb, added in support of the transition.

The risen Jesus began life as a vision. Paul makes this clear whenever he refers to him. He call it his revelation. As time passed this supposed resurrection began to be fleshed out – literally – until the fantastical stories of a real body returning from the dead took form. Neither was real, neither is real; not the revelatory Christ nor the resurrected man. They are made up; one by a man who had a psychotic episode or bad dream, the other by men who disagreed with him. Anyone who thinks they’re going to receive either a spiritual body or a refurbished version of the one they’ve got now is deluding themselves.

 

 

New Bodies For Old

Paul taught that believers in the Lord Jesus would, once the Christ returned, be resurrected in a ‘spiritual body’. Those who remained alive at this time, as Paul anticipated he himself would be, were also to be ‘re-clothed’ in a new body (2 Corinthians 5.3) in preparation for life in the Kingdom.

He also seems to have believed that Jesus himself was resurrected in a ‘spiritual body’. This is presumably what Paul thinks he saw when Christ revealed himself to him in his head. Christians since have argued that when Jesus rose from the dead, it was in the same body in which he was crucified. Indeed, John’s gospel goes so far as to show his resurrected body still carried the wounds he suffered during his execution (John 20.26-29).

So what does this spiritual body, the one Paul promises all believers will receive, which is somehow physical yet not – the risen Jesus can pass ghost-like through locked doors (John 20.19) and levitate into the sky (Acts 1.8-11) – look like? What is its nature? Is it ephemeral so that it can vanish at will (Luke 24.31) and change its appearance (Luke 24.16), or is it like the bodies we have now, only better? Is it made of meat and gristle? Does it breath, eat, sweat, need to sleep, poop and pee? If not, then in what way is it a body? Will the new body retain its lungs, sweat glands, digestive system and genitals? Can it be considered a proper body if it doesn’t? If it’s to be an upgraded version of our existing bodies, minus all those pesky instincts, demands and messy bits, then how does it work? Does it only vaguely resemble the body we have now, like an Avatar in the famous film? Is it intangible, like the risen Christ’s (as implied in John 20.17)? Can it morph into unrecognisable forms (John 20.14)? Will it be able to pass through physical objects like Jesus’ ghostly form could ?

Alas, we shall never know. When Paul was making pronouncements about ‘spiritual bodies’ he hadn’t a clue what he was talking about. He knows he wasn’t too; writing to the cultists in Corinth, he anticipates that someone might want to know what ‘spiritual bodies’ are like. Here’s his profound answer:

But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?” You foolish person! (1 Corinthians 15.35)

Yup, he had no idea what he was talking about so he resorts to ad hominem abuse instead. He then twitters on about how the physical body has to die, like a seed, before the new super-duper spiritual body can manifest itself. Except a seed doesn’t die in order to produce a plant. It may be buried but it doesn’t die. His analogy, which, you’ll note, doesn’t actually answer the question, fails miserably:

What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. And what you sow is not the body that is to be, but a bare kernel, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain…. So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonour; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. (1 Corinthians 15.36-37, 42-44)

His final flourish – if there is physical body then there has to be spiritual one – is, to use a technical term, absolute crap. He is making this stuff up and passing it off as a message from the Lord. Then as now, there were those who were taken in by him.

No-one has ever received a new body after their death; when this, our only body dies, we die. Our consciousness does not survive; it is a manifestation of our bodies, specifically of the brain, part of the meat and gristle that make up our bodies. It doesn’t hang around waiting for Jesus or God or some other non-existent being to transplant it in an imaginary super body.

No-one has ever received a new ‘spiritual body’, and no-one ever will. Of the 100.8 billion people who have died in the history of mankind, not one has gone on to live again in a new ‘spiritual body’. Not one has gone on to live again, period. If you think they have, you are free to present your evidence here. (Jesus, I should point out, doesn’t count: he wasn’t, according to Christian myth-making, entirely mortal. Plus his resurrection appearances are fiction.)

Paul is lying. There is no such thing as a ‘spiritual body’, no such thing as resurrection. You won’t be experiencing either. You are allowing yourself to be duped if you think you will.

Believe what you want to believe

Blog415

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.

Can you be a Christian and… a rational thinker?

Blog390

This is the first in a series of posts that pose the question, ‘Can you be a Christian and..?’ It seems to me that certain ways of being are incompatible with religious belief. Any religious belief, that is, though here I’ll limit myself to the Christian faith as that’s the belief system I know best and the one on which I wasted a great deal of my life.

Conversion is, I’ve become convinced, an emotional response to being told God loves you (who doesn’t want to be loved?) and that Jesus sacrificed himself so that you – yes, you – can enter into a full and meaningful relationship with God. It’s an intuitive, gut-reaction to the ‘promise’ that once you’ve accepted Jesus as Lord and Saviour, he will  be with you always, guiding you through life and guaranting you’ll survive death.

What is rational about this? Nothing; it’s muddled supernaturalism, magic based on others’ dreams and visions, that appeals to your need to be wanted, to matter and your hope that your life means something and will go on beyond death.

The rationalisation comes after you’ve made this response and after your commitment. It’s rather like buying something incredibly expensive you’re not sure you actually need but which makes you feel good momentarily as you hand over your cash. On the way home, as doubts start to assail you, you start trying convince yourself that you were right to buy it, on the basis you deserve it, so that by the time you’re home you feel completely justified. Psychologists tell us we do this often: act first and then come up with the rationalisation for why we’ve behaved the way we have.

So it is that once you’ve made the emotional response to what Christianity purports to offer, you start justifying your decision to yourself. You know there’s really no evidence for what you’ve started to believe. All there is is the bible and other people’s enthusiasm for what it teaches, but still, there must be some sort of justification for it; all those others, including the guys who wrote the bible, can’t all be wrong. You’re helped in your rationalisation of the irrational by sermons in which a respected pastor explains what certain teachings mean, the warm and fuzzy feelings you get from fellowship with other Christians and from reading the bible with the aid of a study guide that smooths out its many inconsistencies and contradictions. You start reading too those devotional books that have been recommended to you, which give your new-found faith a respectable gloss. All after the event.

And before you know it you are fully invested in an entirely new belief system. Not only have you accepted the central mystery (magic) of salvation but you find yourself entertaining the notion that there exist all manner of supernatural beings; angels, demons, devils, spirits all engaged in spiritual warfare in higher places. You convince yourself, even when your intellect is telling you to exercise caution, of the existence of Heaven and Hell. You become persuaded that talking to yourself inside your head is communicating with the God of the Universe and that your very thoughts can change his mind. You assume what you are told is biblical morality and alter your world view so that it conforms to the bible’s: sin everywhere, yet miracles happen; God creating humans and not just (or even) evolution; Jesus returning at any time soon to change the word so it is more to your liking.

Yet there is no evidence for any of this. A book written by Iron Age tribesmen and first century religious zealots is not evidence. Nor is any of it rational. You know this, but you hold fast to your belief that God’s ways are not our ways. He likes, it says somewhere in the bible, to conceal his plans from the worldly wise. Like many other believers you are not stupid but you’ve happily sublimated your intellect to assume irrational, unsupported beliefs. You’ve subjugated your capacity for rationalisation in deference to these beliefs. If and when a rational objection forms itself in your mind, you dismiss it as a doubt, or worse still, a Satanic attempt to snatch you away from your salvation.

How do I know? Because I did so myself.

So, can you be a Christian and rational thinker? No. Because once you’ve tethered your intellect to ancient superstition you’ve denied yourself the possibility of independent thought. Rational thinking can go then in only one direction, towards the conclusions already established by the Faith. It isn’t possible to be an independent thinker and to adopt a worldview based on others’ emotions, dreams and visions. It isn’t possible to believe irrational things and be a rational thinker.

In which the Messiah loses his mind and his mother loses her memory

BlogXmas

So there it is; all the evidence you need that the nativity stories are pure invention, right there in the bible itself.

In Mark 3:20-21, Jesus’ family witness him spouting platitudes and setting himself up as a leader of his people. They think, not without reason, that he’s lost his mind.

When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.”

As Bob Seidensticker says in a recent post, this could be because the writer of Mark’s gospel wanted to denigrate Jesus’ dumb old family in favour of Paul’s brand of Christianity. 

Luke 2:19, however, tells us that, back when she was still passing herself off as a virgin, Mary ‘treasured in her heart’ all the amazing things that happened at the time of her son’s birth.

Shouldn’t, then, Mark’s ‘out of his mind’ story be followed by something like this?:

And lo, when his brethren did decry Jesus, saying was out of his mind, Mary his mother did jump up and sayeth out loud, ”leave off, you bullies. I know from the way the Almighty impregnated me, from what Gabriel said and the miraculous things that on went on at his birth – wise men, armies of angels and magic stars – that my boy is the Messiah, the Son of God, maybe even God himself.”

And his brethren were amazed at this, because they’d never heard any of it, on account of those fanciful nativity stories not being invented for another fifty years.

I wonder why it isn’t?

A very happy Christmas to both my readers.

 

Bible Truths

Blog387

If ever there was evidence that Christianity is an entirely human affair it’s the way believers constantly disagree with each another. If the bible really was, in some way, ‘the Word of God’ (they don’t all agree even with what this might mean) then surely it would offer greater clarity on what being a Christian entails. Given what’s at stake – heaven or hell, a life of fullness or one spent mired in sin, helping the poor and hungry or self-indulgence – you’d think God would be just a little more precise about what his expectations are.

Instead, what do we get? A rag bar collection of myths, pseudo-history, folklore, poetry, fantasy, yet more pseudo-history, letters, forgeries and invective. Muddled and inconsistent about what the Supreme Being requires of his creation, it ranges from a forever agreement that says following a set of arbitrary laws is what he wants, along with a spot of male genital-mutilation (Genesis 17.1-16), to a new scheme that involves magical incantation (Romans 10.19), to yet another that says helping those in need is what he requires (Matthew 25.31-40).

I’ve been involved at different times in my life with writing policy documents for a range of organisations. Despite creating what I’d estimate to be around 50 of these documents, it never occurred to me to cobble together myth, stories, letters and fake news in even one of them. They needed to be precise, detailing how the organisation worked, what its take was on various areas of operation and, most importantly spelling out for people as clearly as possible what was expected of them. This precision was important; the documents had to be water-tight and open to as little interpretation as possible. They couldn’t allow for the possibility of one part of the organisation acting in one way in a given area while another acted completely differently in that same area.

If I, a fallible human, could manage this more often than not, why couldn’t God? Why could he not, for example,

Declare definitively how old the Earth is so as to leave no room for dispute?

Why could he not set out his requirements for pleasing him as one single, unequivocal list? (he’s not averse to bullet points – see his ten commandments, of which he manages to present two largely incompatible versions, both of them fairly useless.)

Why could he not ‘inspire’ scribes contemporaneous with the figures in the Old Testament to record what happened as they happened and not centuries later?

Why could he not ‘inspire’ eye-witnesses of Jesus ‘ministry’ to write about it at the time, instead of waiting decades before giving the job to strangers who’d never met him?

Why could he not say decisively what happens to people when they die?

Why could he not present one definitive way of how to get in his good books instead of offering a range of confused alternatives, about which he is prone to change his mind?

And so on and so forth…

If the managing director of an organisation produced policy documents as shoddy and shambolic as God’s they wouldn’t last five minutes. Nor would the organisation.

But of course God didn’t write, inspire or otherwise cause the bible to be written. It’s human through and through, culturally-bound (to a range of ancient cultures) and not intended by its myriad authors to be a single volume. This fact doesn’t trouble most Christians; they read it selectively, if they read it at all, and believe what they are told about it. Others, who are aware of the bible’s shortcomings, have a variety of ways of negotiating around them. All of these entail great dollops of cognitive dissonance. We’ll look at some of them next time.

Jesus, plus nothing

Blog376

‘Jesus, plus nothing’ is the motto – the slogan – of ‘The Family’, a secretive, clandestine Christian group that for 60+ years has influenced, and been part of, the government of the USA. Yes, poor persecuted Christians, who find their rights eroded on a daily basis (or so they like to tell us) actually exercise a disproportionate amount of control over those in power. Controlled for many years by ‘the most influential Christian you’ve never heard of’, Doug Coe, this group disregards any notion of separation of church and state. The new Netflix series, The Family, based on Jeff Sharlet’s books The Family and C Street, documents their activities, which include affecting policy both at home and abroad, and taking the gospel of ‘Jesus, plus nothing’ to the mighty and powerful across the globe, often on the taxpayer’s dime.

But what does ‘Jesus, plus nothing’ really mean? There’s no doubt it’s intended to convey a stark honesty: this version of Christianity, it says, is without all the clutter that has accrued since Jesus walked the Earth, including all of Paul’s complicated theology. The Family’s holy book is not the bible in its entirety but a slim volume simply entitled Jesus that contains only the four gospels and Acts. The Jesus story, pure and simple.

Except there really isn’t anything simple about the Jesus story. It isn’t even a single story. Nor is there one, single Jesus. (As you’ll see at the links, I’ve written about both of these problems before.) The Jesus that The Family promotes is one of its own making. Of course, every version of Jesus is a construct, loosely based, at best, on bits and pieces from the bible, but manufactured entirely by what different groups and individuals would like him to be. It’s probable that the gospels themselves are constructs built on Old Testament ‘prophecies’ and references, and that the Jesuses they portray are no more than literary creations. Even so, the Jesuses held dear by modern believers, and The Family in particular, bear little resemblance to the constructs of Mark, Matthew, Luke and John on which he is supposedly based.

He is, as one of The Family’s Christian critics points out, a talisman, a magic word that opens doors for speaking ‘truth’ to dictators and tyrants. A Jesus synonymous with power; the power to control nations’ policies, direction and morality. A Jesus who chooses his men (always men) to wield this power; a Jesus who chooses ‘weak vessels’ to do his bidding; a Jesus who, The Family is convinced, chose Donald Trump to be president. And when Jesus chooses you – or when his agents on Earth do – then you are chosen indeed. They make sure of it.

To be continued.