God or Superman?

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An early problem faced by the creators of Superman, only a few years after his first appearance in Action Comics #1 in 1938, was his impotence in the real world. Here was a character with incredible super-human powers – not quite as phenomenal as they would later become – who could defeat gangsters, wife-beaters, bullies and evil dictators with a flick of his little finger, but who, when a real life bully emerged on the world stage, couldn’t do anything. Stories could have been written about how he single-handedly defeated the Nazis and restored world peace but none of this would have been reflected in the real world. It’s true that today with its alternate realities and constant rebooting that Superman could be made to defeat modern-day fascism; but that would be on some other fictional Earth, not the real one. In the real world, Superman would remain impotent, having little effect beyond raising awareness and morale, which is what he did – or, more accurately, what his creators had him do – during World War II. There wasn’t anything else he or they could do.

By now, coronavirus should really have disappeared from the face of the Earth. Last Sunday was National Day of Prayer in the US. Independent of Donald Trump’s ‘initiative’ in calling for a day of grovelling in front of the Almighty, many other Christians have also been begging God to protect their church community from covid-19 (the godless can fend for themselves). Still others have commanded the virus, in the name of Jesus, to leave them and the USA alone (the rest of the world be damned.)

The effect of all this pleading and commanding has been that the coronavirus has continued to spread, heedless of borders and indifferent to the religious beliefs of its victims. Either God doesn’t give, as we say in this neck of the woods, a rat’s arse about who contracts covid-19, nor who dies from it, not even his born-again Chosen Ones. Everybody’s gotta die sometime, right? The important thing is that they’re right with the Lord before they do.

Or – God’s just like Superman. We can imagine him doing all sorts of incredible things, like healing disease, curing illness and saving the world, but in reality, none of them ever happen. He’s not going to protect people from coronavirus in precisely the same way he failed to protect them from 9/11, AIDs, the Holocaust, Spanish Flu, The Great Plague, Black Death and Leprosy. It’s not that he doesn’t care, it’s that he’s not there. He’s no more real than Superman and is every bit as impotent as the Man of Steel.

I’m a big fan of Superman – I’ve been reading the comics he appears in for 57 years now – and I’m fully aware he’s not real; he was created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster 82 years ago and has been embellished by every writer and artist who’s worked on him ever since – much like God. If only those who plead with the Almighty, and worse, tell the rest of us what he thinks of us, would recognise that he is fictional too. He exists only in a fantasy realm, outside of which he has no super-powers, no influence, no ability to save us from coronavirus or anything else.

Remember the sequence in the Simpsons episode where Homer is, as usual, in lots of trouble; he looks to the sky and pleads, ‘I’m not normally a praying man, but if you’re up there, please save me… Superman.’ That’s exactly what Christians are doing right now, and the result will be the same as it was for Homer and for everyone else who’s ever called on Superman God to save them.

The Choice Is Yours

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I don’t get a lot of coments on this here blog, but when I do they’re rarely as cogently argued as this one, left recently on an old post,Unbelievers are Going to Hell:

NO OBLIVION. HEAVEN OR HELL. HOLINESS OR DEBAUCHERY, GOOD OR EVIL, VIRTUE OR VICE, JESUS OR SATAN, THE SPIRIT OR THE FLESH, GOD OR IDOLS, RIGHTEOUSNESS OR WICKEDNESS, KINDNESS OR SELFISHNESS, LIGHT OR DARKNESS, PIETY OR PERVERSION, PLEASURE OR PAIN, TRUTH OR ERROR, THE NARROW GATE OR THE WIDE GATE. THE CHOICE IS YOURS.

Difficult to argue with, I think you’ll agree. This is reasoning of the highest calibre. All those false dichotomies have convinced me I need to change my debauched, perverted ways and take on the mindset of a first century zealot. You win Watchman Outreach Evangelism!

Or, as I may have just put in my response:

Lower case or UPPER CASE
Logic or LUNACY
Reality or FANTASY
Sense or NONSENSE
Seems you made your choice already.

Coronavirus defeated

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Thank God the Coronavirus pandemic is over. It was scary there for a minute or two. Over 3,000 people died from it. Fortunately, they were mainly Chinese and South Koreans. Vice-president Mike Pence and other anti-abortionists Christian leaders have now taken care of it. On Friday they prayed that it would go away and God has done as they asked. The picture above, courtesy of The Friendly Atheist, shows them doing it. Here’s some other nitwits righteous ones doing the same thing and here an article about the prophet whom God chose to announce to the world that the threat was over. You have to wonder, though, why he made the virus in the first place and why he allowed it to spread so indiscriminately. I mean, even Christians were infected.

Truly, the way to resolve a world wide health crisis is to enlist the help of an imaginary sky fairy who, as usual, does f**k all to help.

Next week: the coronavirus continues to spread. These same men of God then realise that the virus is actually God’s punishment for abortion… er, homosexuality… um, opposition to Trump… er, people shaking their fists in his face (he really doesn’t like that.) Then it all becomes clear why God made the virus in the first place. Difficult to explain why he started it off in China though, but the Lord will surely let his prophets know that too (I mean, those Chinese are commies.)

Life must be easy when all you have to do is make stuff up. It’s more than a little bit worrying that those who do it are listened to by multitudes who’ve switched off their critical faculties. More worrying still when some of these fantasists are in charge of entire countries. The only way coronavirus will be defeated is through science; the development of a vaccine, which is still many months away. Imaginary deities – and they’re all imaginary – prayers, pleading and blaming are all worse than useless.

The Darkening Age

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I’ve been reading Catherine Nixey’s The Darkening Age: The Christian Destruction of the Classical World. I highly recommend it.

Its sub-title says it all. The early church’s determination to destroy any way of life, any belief system or enterprise that it didn’t agree with was deliberate, systematic and brutal. It set out to eliminate the forms of worship, culture, learning and social norms in which it found itself. It did this initially by demonising, literally as far as it was concerned, the opposition. If it wasn’t Christian then it was demonic; ancient religious beliefs especially, but also schools of philosophy, science, education, the theatre, dancing and sexual mores.

As it grew in power, the church went from holding its ‘heathen’ neighbours’ views as suspect to actively and violently opposing them, destroying temples, toppling and mutilating statues of the old gods, razing to the ground historic buildings they considered ‘demonic’. Those they regarded as ‘pagans’ were compelled to convert to the new religion. According to the Christian propaganda of the time, these pagans turned to Jesus with joy in their hearts, once shown the error of their demonic ways. What choice did people have? It was either that or lose everything they held dear.

Once Christianity became the state religion under Constantine, religious authorities legislated against other philosophies and beliefs. As the Justinian code put it, ‘we forbid the teaching of any doctrine by those who labour under the insanity of paganism.’ Free thinkers could be arrested and have their possessions, including their homes, Blog393aconfiscated. They could be imprisoned for believing and saying things that ran contrary to Christian orthodoxy. Their works were burnt, often on public pyres, and that which survived was frequently written over with pages of scripture. Soon, however, even this wasn’t enough. It became a capital offence to subscribe to alternate beliefs, to write or teach about them. Similarly, same sex activity became outlawed and punishable by death. No wonder the philosophers of the day called Christianity ‘the tyrant’.

In 392, Christian mobs destroyed the magnificent temple of Serapis in Alexandria. The Great Library in the same city had disappeared by then too, quite possibly at the hands of Christian mobs. Hypatia, one of the Library’s greatest mathematicians, was degraded in the street and then murdered. (You may have seen the 2009 film Agora where Hypatia is played by Rachel Weisz; if not you definitely should.)

By AD500, the church had successfully and completely eradicated the opposition. The culture that had preceded it had gone; its knowledge, mythologies, philosophy together with the ability to think freely and to criticise – all consigned, if not to hell, then to oblivion. Nixey reports that 90% of classical literature is lost forever (p246), including almost all Greek writing from the ancient world. As John Chrysostom boasted, the writings of the Greeks ‘have all perished and are obliterated’ (p245). From the little that survives we know that Greek philosophers had postulated that the world was made from atoms and didn’t have a beginning as such. They had also developed a form of evolutionary theory (pp35-36). It would take the world 1500 dark years to catch up with these suppressed ideas.

The elimination of Christianity’s opponents was carried out in the name of the man who supposedly said, ‘love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you’ (Nixey points out that the persecution of Christians was greatly exaggerated; many early believers aspired to martyrdom and the church undoubtedly meted out more persecution than it received.) It was done to bring the world into line with the way they thought God had decreed it should be:

That all superstition of pagans and heathens should be annihilated is what God wants, God commands, God proclaims! (‘Saint’ Augustine)

Thank Enlightenment we can’t, in the west at least, be executed these days for our beliefs and philosophies. And whatever became of Christians? Those who oppose anything in their culture they consider contrary to their tyrannical views, who would punish, perhaps execute, sexual non-conformists and who regard other belief systems, atheism especially, as demonic. The same believers who would eagerly take us back to the demon infested dark ages.

They’re still with us of course and have, in the UK where I am and certainly in the United States, a disproportionate amount of influence and power. We must be grateful they are moderate, reasonable people who wouldn’t hurt a fly.

Aren’t they?

Can you be a Christian and … a Realist?

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If you’ve been reading this series of posts, you’ll pretty much know how this one’s going to go. You can’t really be Christian if you have, as the old song goes, half a brain. Still, it won’t hurt to see how compatible faith is with reality as we know it. You never know, we might be surprised.

Speaking of songs, I always liked Billy Joel’s ‘An Innocent Man’ from the album of the same name. Of course, by Christian reckoning there’s no such thing as an innocent man, nor woman or child – no, not one – because all have fallen short and are worthy only of death (Romans 3:23 & 6:23). All the same, we’ll give Billy the benefit of the doubt. In a song of insightful lyrics, the lines I particularly like are

Some people hope for a miracle cure
Some people just accept the world as it is
But I’m not willing to lay down and die
Because I am an innocent man

Christians seem to have such difficulty accepting the world as it is. They’re constantly upset that the world, which I’m taking to be synonymous with reality, does not and will not conform to what they expect of it. And when it doesn’t, it’s the world that’s at fault, that has it all wrong.

When the evidence is presented for climate change and our contribution to it, some believers announce, with no hint of irony, that God will never let it happen. He’ll step in, just like he always does, to prevent it. So take that Australia with your bush fires, Java with your floods and all you polar bears with your melting icebergs: God’s got it all in hand.

When a Hollywood movie depicts a same sex couple in the background of a scene for a nano-second, the born-again are apoplectic about the world’s immorality. When two female performers wiggle their bits, Franklin Graham – arch-supporter of the Pussy-Grabber-in-Chief – has the hypocrisy to claim, ‘I don’t expect the world to act like the church, but our country has had a sense of moral decency on prime time television in order to protect children.’ Clearly he does expect the world to act like the church (which as we know is both spotless and sinless.) All these modern-day Jeremiah’s do.

Reality doesn’t, and won’t, conform to what Christians want it to be. So what to do? Either join with Graham and those other evangelicals railing pointlessly against reality, like Don Quixote and his damn windmills, or (and this a much more comfortable position to adopt) be like those climate change deniers and tell yourself that whatever sort of state the world is in, God will be step in any time soon to sort it all out. After all, this is what Jesus believed. He didn’t rant and rave about the state of things, brutal Romans and all, he just had a simple, smug faith that his Father was going to set everything right real soon and put him in charge.

Christianity demands that Jesus’ disciples deny the world; reject it, despise it. The faith has denial at its core, even of oneself. It demands reality be replaced with a fantasy version of the world.

As I’ve written before:

Christians, even moderate ones

Those older links could easily be replaced with up-to-date, reality-denying ones. This is what it’s like in the Christian bubble; with all this denial taking up space, there’s no room for accepting the world as it is, and trying to change what needs changing and improve what needs improving.

Again as I’ve said before, truth, reality and other people are the casualties of religion’s life-denying efforts at self-preservation. Fantasy and reality are just not compatible.

Can you be a Christian and… a Woman?

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…women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, but with what is proper for women who profess godliness—with good works… Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet… she will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control (1 Timothy 2:9-10; 13-15).

The women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says. If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church (1 Corinthians 14:34-35).

But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God (1 Corinthians 11:3).

Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Saviour. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands (Ephesians 5:22-24).

Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord (Colossians 3.18).

(Women should) be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled (Titus 2:3-5).

So according to the cult handbook, women must be –

submissive, quiet, silent, submissive, under a man’s authority, modest and… submissive. They should work at home, do nothing that might embarrass their husbands and have no authority over any men.

If a woman wants to be a Christian this is the behaviour she must assume. Above all, she must be submissive to the men God has placed above her, from her husband to… well, every other male.

What self-respecting woman is going to submit herself to this?

But wait, I can already hear liberal, enlightened Christian women approaching, all set to tell me that these New Testament admonitions are no longer relevant because they’re ‘culture bound’. They were devised, by men, in a first century milieu and therefore they don’t apply today! Which is odd, given they were applicable for almost all of the previous two thousand years, well beyond the time and context in which they were written. Not until the twentieth century, when the church’s power began to wane and women began to demand equal treatment with men, was the Bible’s misogyny questioned. Less than a hundred years have passed since women’s rights were reluctantly acknowledged by western society, even less since parts of the church caught up.

Many evangelical churches today still subscribe to the ‘commands’ of Paul and the imposters that followed in his wake. They expect their women to be silent, modest, under men’s authority and submissive. Witness the number of Christian blogs that traduce women, many written by women who regard themselves as ‘godly’ wives. Look at the frequent attacks by fellow evangelicals on female preachers like Beth Moore and Joyce Meyer, who ‘presume’ to teach men. (I can’t stand either of them personally, but not because they’re women.)

Liberal churches, however, know better. They safely consign the New Testament views of women to history; curios that provide an insight into how first century cultists thought, none of which are binding on today’s women. The world has moved on. Indeed it has; western culture has changed its views on women and their rights and roles, with little help from the church. While this is a very good thing, aren’t Christians told not to conform to ‘the world’? They are (Romans 12.2). Clearly this is yet more biblical teaching that can be ignored when it suits.

So, can you be a woman and a Christian? Evidently so, though it involves either compromising yourself as a woman to comply with the Bible’s warped ideas of what you should be and how you should behave – or compromising the Bible’s directives in order to respect and be yourself. But is compromise really what Christianity is about? Paul and his fellow fanatics didn’t seem to think so.

Metaphor, Hyperbole and Context

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A moderate and self-styled ‘intellectual’ Christian told me in a online discussion recently that ‘most of the bible is metaphor’. When I asked what it was a metaphor for, he decided it was time to end the discussion. A metaphor signals a deeper or alternate meaning; the bible cannot be ‘mostly metaphor’ without there being something else – what Christians might regard as a ‘greater truth’ – the metaphor is intended to convey. So, yes, I can see that the Genesis creation stories might be interpreted metaphorically (though symbolically might be a better term) as the inclination of all humans to rebel against God… but then that’s only one of many interpretations, and not actually what the text says. If the bible is mostly metaphor then understanding what God is supposedly communicating through it becomes a matter of personal, subjective interpretation, which is why there are so many factions and sects within the Christian brand.

Similarly, when I challenged Dave Armstrong on Biblical Evidence for Catholicism, about why Christians don’t take everything Jesus said literally, he told me it’s because Jesus was fond of hyperbole and it’s the point underlining his hyperbole that matters. I knew, of course, that Jesus liked to exaggerate so I asked Dave how we know which of Jesus’ remarks are hyperbole and which are not. He declared that this was ‘obvious’. Perhaps it is, in sayings like ‘when your eye offends you pluck it out’, but it’s less apparent with pronouncements like ‘sell all you have and give to the poor’ or ‘abandon everything and follow me’. Again, it becomes a matter of subjective opinion, however learned that opinion might consider itself to be, about which of Jesus’ words are hyperbole and which are meant to be followed to the letter.

When I made this point, Dave decided that, rather than it being ‘obvious’, it actually takes years of study to know which is which: ‘It’s by studying Bible commentaries and linguistic aids, and the rules of hermeneutics and exegesis (Bible interpretation).’ Jesus as the incarnation of the God of the Cosmos, and the gospels in reporting him, could surely have made it clear. Instead, it seems, it takes armies of theologians and commentators, and years of study to work it out.

The third way Christians (of all stripes) manoeuvre around the bible’s shortcomings is to say that anything they’re keen to disregard is ‘context-bound’. There are some matters, they say, that are of their time and ancient place and are therefore no longer applicable today.

There are things in God’s timeless Word that pertain only to the time in when they were written? Who knew?

So, instructions like ‘greet each other with a holy kiss’ (which Paul advocates four times in his letters: Romans 16:16, 1 Corinthians 16:20, 2 Corinthians 13:12, and 1 Thessalonians 5:26); ‘women should always have their heads covered in church’ (1 Corinthians 11:2-16) and ‘heal the sick by anointing with oil’ (James 5:14) are now generally considered to be context-bound. This, however, creates the same problem that arose over Jesus’ hyperbole. How do we know which of the bible’s pronouncements are context-bound and which are still of significance today? Answer: we don’t.

It could be argued that, just as ‘greet each other with a holy kiss’ is a custom anchored in the first century, beliefs like

the world is populated by demons,

humans are capable of living forever,

and

incantations (that Jesus is the Saviour) work

are equally context-bound. We know categorically in the 21st century, that demons don’t exist, humans cannot live forever and magic spells don’t work. Only those in a pre-scientific age, dominated by superstition, thought so (together with those today who buy into these same ancient beliefs.)

Once believers start claiming – and it’s Christians themselves who do this – that significant parts of the bible are metaphor, hyperbole or are context-bound, then they’re acknowledging that the bible frequently makes little sense, and that significant portions  lend themselves to whatever interpretation suits the individual reader. Some parts can even be dismissed altogether, which is precisely what Christians do with them (how many Christians do you know who believe they can move mountains or heal the sick by laying on of hands?) What this shows is that they don’t really believe the bible is God’s Word, either in the literal, evangelical sense, nor in a moderate, quasi-intellectual way.

In practice, even to most Christians, the bible is a book of no particular merit.