You too can be free

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One of the most liberating aspects of jettisoning Christianity was the realisation that nothing I did had cosmic significance. Nothing anybody does has cosmic significance. Yet to hear the cult’s leaders and spokesman talk, now as then, everything matters.

First and foremost, what you believe determines whether you lived forever in Heaven or not. Can you credit that: what you believe. So better get that doctrine sorted out! Right thought makes all the difference. You only have to read a few Christian blogs to realise how important this still is. Believe something only minimally unorthodox and your eternal life is in jeopardy. Not only that, but what you think in the privacy of your own head about issues like abortion, homosexuality, politics and society is subject to the Lord’s scrutiny. Better get it right – ‘Right’ being the operative term. It means recognising that Trump is God’s Chosen One because the Almighty is really only interested in the USA. He has much less time for other nations, except maybe Israel, so better get your thinking straight on that score, buddy.

God is, or so his self-appointed mouthpieces like to tell you, obsessively interested in how you, as an individual, spend your time, the language you used and whether you’re a faithful steward of the money he supplies (that’s the money you work hard for yourself). He lays it on your heart about how you should spend your time, the only valuable way being in the service of his Kingdom-that-never-comes. You’re made to feel that if your marriage isn’t close to perfection then you’re not really working at it (though god knows the biblical view of marriage is nothing like the one promoted by today’s Christian leaders). You’re made to feel you must share the gospel with everyone else you have relationships with: children, friends, colleagues, acquaintances, complete strangers. Don’t they too deserve to have a chance at eternal life? You don’t want them denied it because you failed to speak up, do you? Well, do you?

And then there’s the guilt when you can’t do all of this. You’re not sure you believe all the right stuff. You think you do but then you’re told about some point of doctrine you hadn’t considered and it is, apparently, really essential you do. So you consult the Holy Spirit who you think lives in your heart and you wonder why he hasn’t spoken up before now. Maybe you have liberal views about abortion. And really, you can’t find it in yourself to condemn all those ‘sodomites’ you’re told about; what difference does it make if you do or don’t? And your marriage is less then perfect. In fact, it’s a little bit messy, like human relationships tend to be, and sometimes you want just to relax, maybe laze a little bit. Not everything you do has to contribute to the Kingdom, after all.

But the guilt won’t let you. What kind of Christian are you, anyway? And as for witnessing at every opportunity, you wonder why you feel like a dog that’s compelled to pee at every lamp-post. Can’t friends just be friends? Can’t you just appreciate others for who they are, not as sinners who need saving? Apparently not.

What a wonderful release it is then, when you finally realise that none of this crap matters. Nothing you do, say or think makes the slightest bit of difference to whether you or others live forever (Spoiler: you won’t, they won’t.) How you act may help others feel a bit better about themselves or provide you with a sense of fulfilment but that’s the extent of it. Outside your immediate context, you’re insignificant, and there’s great significance to that. The pressure is off; God is not watching you to see whether you’re a good and faithful servant. Your time, money and thoughts are yours and yours alone. It’s entirely up to you how you use them, free from the tyranny of religion.

 

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Why Christians Don’t Do What Jesus Tells Them To …And What They Believe Instead*

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A few days ago, notorious God-botherer and TV evangelist, Pat Robertson, said on his TV Show that churches should revise Jesus’ stern teaching about divorce to better fit modern sensibilities. As today’s Christians divorce at about the same rate as non-believers, old Pat thinks it a mite inconvenient that they should feel guilty about it. He reminded his viewers that Jesus gave the church authority over all things and that it should therefore amend Jesus’ teaching. That’s amend as in ‘ignore completely’.

Which is fine, I guess, if you take the same approach to everything else Jesus said. That way, Christians would be safe to ‘amend’ his commands about feeding the hungry, visiting the imprisoned, healing the sick, turning the other cheek, welcoming the stranger, going the extra mile, forsaking possessions, relinquishing wealth, giving to everyone who asks, not judging, putting themselves last and others first, loving their neighbour and enemies alike… and so on.

But wait – they do that already, don’t they? Most Christians don’t practise these things. They don’t see these commands as applicable to them. They work hard, and unconvincingly, at interpreting his words as metaphorical – ‘he didn’t really mean give everything away because where would that leave us?’ – or claim they’re being taken out of context, or insisting they have a spiritual meaning…

Which is to say, nothing Jesus said is to be taken literally, even though the most straight forward reading of his pronouncements is that this is how he meant them. It’s how his early followers, the people who preserved or created his words in the gospels, understood them. Why record them otherwise?

But Jesus’ moralising is inconvenient, impractical, exacting, extreme; ridiculous, in fact, and Christians know this. Still his commands must be dealt with somehow. So the Righteous™ work round them – like Robertson and the teaching about divorce – or they ignore them completely and replace his priorities with ones of their own: worshipping him; defending his reputation; striving for power; complaining about secular society; promoting aggression; acquiring wealth; trying to control others’ behaviour; interfering in others’ sex lives; suppressing LGBT people; arguing that religious rights trump those of minorities; opposing abortion.

None of these figured on Jesus’ agenda. Some are in direct opposition to what he’s made to say in the gospels.

When we see Christians doing the things Jesus tells them they should be doing, maybe then we’ll listen to what they have to say. When they demonstrate credibility rather than hypocrisy, maybe they’ll have earned the right to be heard. But as there’s not much chance of that happening any time soon, it’s way past time we ignored them, and their superstition, in much the same way they ignore their Lord and Saviour™.

 

 

*See my book of the same name: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/147016373X/ref=dbs_a_def_rwt_hsch_vapi_taft_p1_i0 (US) & https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/147016373X/ref=dbs_a_def_rwt_hsch_vapi_taft_p1_i0 (UK)

 

Call yourself a Christian?

jc-prays

So you think you might be a Christian? Try this handy-dandy checklist to see if you’re a true follower of Jesus or just someone who’s paying lip-service. You’ll need to score big if you’re ever going to get into his exclusive club!

1) Have you relinquished all worldly goods as Jesus tells you to in Matt 19.21 & Luke 12.33?

If not, better get to it. It’s pretty important to him – he mentions it at least a dozen times in the gospels.

2) Have you forsaken your loved ones, taken to hating them even, the better to serve him and his Kingdom?

No? Than what are you thinking of? Not Luke 14. 26 & 33 that’s for sure.

3) Do you constantly go the extra mile, turn the other cheek, give to all who ask, love your enemies and forgive others repeatedly (Matthew 7.12; Luke 6.27 & 29; Matthew 6.14; Matthew 5.38 etc)? In short, are you perfect as he says you should be?

Some work to do here then, to come up to the expected standard?

4) Do you sacrificially serve others – the sick, the imprisoned, the homeless, the hungry, the naked (Matthew 25.34-46)?

Better get round to it as the only way to avoid Jesus’ blacklist.

5) Do you work tirelessly and exclusively to bring about God’s Kingdom on Earth (albeit in the first century) like Jesus commands in Matthew 6.33?

Why not? Get with the programme!

6) Have you stayed single, never marrying, and certainly never getting divorced?

You haven’t? Shame on you, because you can’t into the Kingdom with a spouse and definitely not with one you’ve discarded along the way (Luke 20.34-35).

7) Have you given up judging others?

If not, you can expect to be on the receiving end of a hell of a lot of judgement in return (Matthew 7.1-2).

8) When you throw a party do you invite the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind instead of your friends (Luke 14.12-14)?

I think we know the answer to this one.

9) Are you tireless in denigrating, campaigning against and ranting about same-sex relationships and marriage?

Well, good for you though this has nothing to do with being a follower of Jesus (see 7 above).

10) Do you believe in a magical incantation that is going to preserve the essential ‘you’ in Heaven forever?

Jesus didn’t.

So how did you do? Are you someone Jesus would say, ‘Well done you good and faithful servant’ to (Matthew 25.21), or would he insist he never knew you (Matthew 7.23)? –

0-2: Pathetic, especially if the two in question are 9 & 10.

3-7: You’re neither hot nor cold. Expect to be spewed out of his mouth (Revelation 3.16).

8-10: You’re getting there, but then, you didn’t really answer truthfully, did you? Your yes didn’t mean yes (Matthew 5.37).

Never mind, you can always get back to singing songs, waving your arms about and condemning others because they have a speck in their eye (Luke 6.42). Everybody knows that’s what being a Christian is really all about.

Consensual text

BiblePastor Chris Linzey has taken me to task for quoting the Magic Book out of context. Interestingy, the latest post on Chris’s blog, written by his father, does just that, so it must be okay for Christians to do it even if no-one else can.

Let’s take a close look at a couple of verses, Matthew 19.4-6, that God’s Chosen like to quote out of context, entirely altering their meaning in the process (but that’s okay, because you know, Christians are doing it):

Have you not read that the one who made them at the beginning “made them male and female”, and said, “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh”? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.’ (Matthew 19.4-6; Jesus quoting Genesis 2.24 out of context).

As it stands, this passage seems to suggest that Jesus is endorsing marriage between one-man and one-woman (only) but pan out from the isolated section and this not what he’s talking about at all. He’s discussing divorce. Here’s the verse in context:

Some Pharisees came to (Jesus), and to test him they asked, ‘Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause?’ He answered, ‘Have you not read that the one who made them at the beginning “made them male and female”, and said, “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh”? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.’ They said to him, ‘Why then did Moses command us to give a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her?’ He said to them, ‘It was because you were so hard-hearted that Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but at the beginning it was not so. And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for unchastity, and marries another commits adultery.’ (Matthew 19. 3-9)

What the one-man, one-woman verse can now be seen to be saying is that once a couple are married, they should stay together and not divorce; Jesus isn’t prescribing marriage at all. Add even more context and what we find following the lines about divorce is this:

His disciples said to him, ‘If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.’ But he said to them, ‘Not everyone can accept this teaching, but only those to whom it is given. For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let anyone accept this who can.’ (Matthew 19.10-12)

In other words, Jesus doesn’t recommend marriage in any shape or form, not even between one man and one woman; his view is that it is better not marry at all. He goes further still: it is better to be completely sexless, as if without testicles, for the sake of the Kingdom of God. He acknowledges, bless him, that not everyone will be able to comply with this ‘teaching’ – who’d have thought it?

Zoom out further still and set this part of Matthew’s gospel against Luke 20.34-35 where Jesus really is talking about marriage:

He said to them, ‘Those who belong to this age marry and are given in marriage; but those who are considered worthy of a place in that [Kingdom] age and in the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage.’

This time the message is that only those mired in the ways of the world marry, costing themselves a place in the coming Kingdom. Those in the know, however, avoid it and so guarantee their resurrection and transition to the new age. Whatever else it is (wackadoodle nonsense?) this is not a ringing endorsement of marriage. The verses from Matthew and Luke when taken together show clearly that not only did Jesus fail to endorse one-man, one-woman marriage, but that he disparaged the entire institution. He believed that when the Kingdom came to the Earth, marriage would be done away with altogether and advocated abandoning it in the interim as well. You wouldn’t know this though from the decontextualised use of Matthew 19.4-6.

We might ask here why it is that today’s Christians don’t comply with his directive. Why don’t they shun marriage as their Lord and Saviour says they should? Why do they regard his commands as optional? Why don’t they want to guarantee themselves a place in the coming Kingdom by vetoing marriage? Have they abandoned all hope of God’s Kingdom ever coming to the Earth? Shifty hermeneutics won’t help them here either, because Paul is of a similar opinion (1 Corinthians 7.8-9; 28-29). Evidently this is the kind of teaching Christians are free to discard, perhaps because they see it – unjustifiably – as specific to the first century, like the coming Kingdom itself.    

So, yes, context can be important, given the haphazard and disjointed fashion in which the Almighty chose to express himself. But it doesn’t always produce the result Christians might like. That’s where the sleight of hand known as ‘hermeneutic consistency’ comes in. We’ll try that out next time.

 

 

Some material in this post has appeared before; specifically here. I hope I didn’t take it out of context.

 

Who Decides?

DavisI’ve written before about how some parts of the Bible are more important than others; about how Christians relegate some of it – ironically much of what Jesus is purported to have said – while elevating other bits. These latter aspects trump the former, so that if there’s ever any dispute about how Christians should behave in a given context, they’ll happily cite the elevated parts while overlooking those that are less to their liking. This happened recently in the Kim Davis case,* which I talked about last time. In that context, the verses from Romans I quoted, in which Paul instructs believers to obey civil authorities, are explained away and dismissed in favour of other passages. Here are commenters doing just that on the crackpot Christian site, World Net Daily:

Have you not read Acts 4:19 and 5:29? There is a time when God’s authority trumps human authority. In this case, Kim Davis stood up for God’s authority. God’s word calls homosexuality an abomination. Ephesians 5:11 teaches that Christians must have nothing to do with the works of darkness, but instead expose them.

and

Sometimes…when you give to God…what is God’s…you will have to disobey the civil authorities that are over you. Kind of like Paul…refused to stop preaching and jailed…God took care of him, though, I do believe. Although never truly jailed, except at the end…didn’t Jesus disobey the “law”, Mosaic Law, when He preached?

It’s not as if Paul was writing about ‘authorities’ that conducted themselves in considered or considerate ways; this was the Romans, after all. They would eventually execute Paul – so much for God taking care of him! – just as they had Jesus himself. Nonetheless, Paul tells the brethren they must honour Roman authorities. But somehow, if Christians today are to be believed, he just didn’t understand what it’s like to obey civil (in both senses of the word) secular authorities in the 21st century. They consider his teaching in the early part of Romans 13 to be invalid, no longer applicable, irrelevant to the very situation it was designed to address. Other passages from the Bible are far more important and therefore trounce it easily.

But who decides this? Who decides, in what these same Christians deem to be the literal Word of God, which words are less literal than others; less applicable; less relevant? And, consequently, which are more important, more applicable, more ‘of God’?

The evidence would suggest it’s the individual Christian who does, led, no doubt, by the Holy Spirit, who inexplicably leads different believers to different conclusions about the same source material. There’s no ‘free-will’ involved in this process, however; individual interpretations of scripture are informed by the consensus of the church or the movement with which individual Christians align themselves. But who in these institutions determines the order of priority for the Bible’s many confused and often contradictory injunctions?

Determining what is important in the Bible, and what isn’t, is the result of a consensus of prejudices and biases. It’s easy to find ‘teaching’ in the Bible that supports one’s own views and opinions and equally easy to find that which doesn’t and is incompatible with the position one already holds. To reconcile the two, and to deal with the discomfort of any cognitive dissonance, Christians demote any teaching that doesn’t correspond with their pre-existent world-view – sorry, Paul, but this includes your silly suggestion that we should obey the authorities – while promoting those ideas that conform to and confirm that outlook (so hurray for those verses that say gay people are abominations and have no place in the Kingdom of God!) The very words of God are ranked according to the whims and prejudices of those reading them.

Again, I’ve written before about Christian priorities, about how those parts of the Bible they find unpalatable and challenging – such as those that say they should give away all they have and love their enemies – are explained away or ignored. But as for those passages that tell Christians how superior they are while excoriating others as ‘works of darkness’ – well, now you’re talking!  

 

*While Davis claims all her husband swapping took place before she met Jesus, she was a member of the Baptist church while she was busy trying them all on for size. At least three of her wedding ceremonies were conducted by Baptist ministers. All that happened in 2011 was that she joined the more extreme pentecostal movement, which empowered her to ignore the log in her eye and concentrate on the speck in others’.

Christians’ Favourite Delusions 35: Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever.

LaughAccording to God’s Magic Book (in Hebrews 13.8), Jesus is ‘the same yesterday, today and forever’. Let’s see how that works out in reality:

Yesterday he said the way to ‘inherit eternal life’ was to follow the law and sell everything you had (Mark 17.17-22).
Today, according to his spin doctors, he says you’ve got to believe a magic formula – the one about him dying – if you want to live forever.

Yesterday he despised wealth and possessions (Luke 6.24-25).
Today he thinks they’re just fine.

Yesterday he said this world would end while his disciples were still alive (Matthew 16:27-28).
Today he says these are the end times:

… we’re now living in Romans 1. How do you know when the wrath of God is released? How do you know when the wrath of God is unleashed against a society? First, Romans 1:24, there is a sexual revolution. We’ve had that—in the 60s, the last century. Then there will be a homosexual revolution led by lesbians. The women are mentioned first in Romans 1:26. And then there will be the reprobate mind. And that’s when the thinking is really the product of the sexual, homosexual revolutions, and the thinking is so corrupt we can’t find our way back. That’s where we are. (John MacArthur, We Will Not Bow; all subsequent references to MacArthur are from this same poisoned well)

Yesterday Jesus’ Good News was about the coming Kingdom (Luke 4.43).
Today it’s about eternal damnation:

And the most compassionate thing you can do for those (LGBT) people is, in love, to warn them of eternal damnation—to warn them of eternal judgement. That’s compassionate. That’s compassionate. Preach the gospel; proclaim the gospel; proclaim grace and forgiveness such as we read in Isaiah and 1 Corinthians. But preach judgement. (MacArthur again)

Yesterday Jesus invited people to join God’s Kingdom on Earth (Matthew 6.10; 13.43 etc).
Today he’s made to invite everyone to Heaven.

Yesterday his Good News was only for his own people: ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel’ (Matthew 15:24).
Today he says anybody can go to Heaven so long as they believe the magic formula. Oh, and aren’t gay.

Yesterday his own people were the Jews (Luke 2.22-32; Matthew 4.23 etc).
Today he’s really only interested in America (to listen to MacArthur and others).

Yesterday he was recruiting slaves for his Kingdom (Matthew 20.27).
Today he wants to be your buddy.

Yesterday he’d nothing good to say about marriage (Luke 20.34-35).
Today he’s all for it (unless it’s same-sex marriage).

Yesterday he had nothing good to say about the family (Luke 14.26).
Today he’s all for it (unless the parents are gay).

Yesterday he had nothing to say about abortion, homosexuality or people changing sex.
Today it’s all he’s interested in (MacArthur and just about every other Christian preacher).

Yesterday he was an itinerant Jewish preacher and failed messiah.
Today he’s a Starman waiting in the sky to zap unbelievers to hell (yup, MacArthur again, quoting 2 Thessalonians 1.7-8).

Like a ventriloquist’s dummy, Jesus just says whatever his self-appointed spokespersons want him to say. Pliable and malleable, he can be made to match the needs of anyone who recruits him to their spiritual, moral or social crusade. He is all things to all people and what he’s like today is nothing like what he was yesterday. Which doesn’t say much about ‘forever’.

Which Christians won’t be resurrected after they die?

Robertson

All of these well-known Christians are unworthy of the Kingdom of God and won’t live again after they’ve died. See if you can work out why:

Billy Graham, Justin Welby (Archbishop of Canterbury), Desmond Tutu, Pat Boone, Mel Gibson, John Sentamu (Archbishop of York), Stephen Green (Christian Voice), Bono, Her Majesty the Queen, Sarah Palin (politician), Pat Robertson (700 Club), Joyce Meyer (evangelist), Bryan Fischer (outspoken radio broadcaster), Rick Warren (pastor of US mega-church), Rob Bell (ditto), George W. Bush, Tony Blair, Cherie Blair (barrister), Graham Kendrick (songwriter), Tony Perkins (anti-gay preacher), Scott Lively (ditto), Matt Barber (ditto), Peter LaBarbera (ditto), Tom Wright (theologian), Fred Phelps (late of Westboro church), Joni Eareckson Tada (writer), Mike Ratcliff (minister and blogger), Kirk Cameron (actor)… and, in all probability, your local pastor  – and maybe even you yourself, Christian reader.

They’re not worthy of God’s Kingdom nor are they likely to be resurrected because they’re married. And who says this makes them unworthy? Not me… Jesus:

those who belong to this age marry and are given in marriage; but those who are considered worthy of a place in that age (of God’s Kingdom on Earth) and in the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage (Luke 20.34-35).

So next time one of these famous Christians or some other married believer tells you you’re not saved, tell them that they’re not either. Jesus says so.

They won’t care, of course, because they pick and choose the bits of the Bible they believe. They’re more than happy to pretend this tricky bit doesn’t exist or doesn’t apply to them. Obviously, or they wouldn’t be married. Naturally this doesn’t stop them going on about about God’s plan for marriage even though it’s one they’ve made up themselves that flies in the face of what Jesus says.

Which means these same believers also have to ignore Jesus when he says, ‘Why do you call me “Lord, Lord”, and do not do what I tell you?’, which is a very good question.