Are You Born Again?

Someone handed me the above card in town yesterday. ‘Are you born again?’ No, mate, and neither are you. As Bart Ehrman shows in Jesus Interrupted, and as I’ve written about before, the story of Jesus and Nicodemus in John 3 is a literary construct (as are the gospels in general.) The pun between ‘born a second time’ and ‘born from above’ only works in the Greek, where ἄνωθεν (anothen) can mean either ‘again’ or ‘from above’ (though it’s usually the latter.) Unfortunately, it is highly unlikely Jesus spoke Greek. Here’s Ehrman:

  In the Gospel of John, chapter 3, Jesus has a famous conversation with Nicodemus in which he says, ‘You must be born again.’ The Greek word translated ‘again’ actual has two meanings: it can mean not only ‘a second time’ but also ‘from above.’ Whenever it is used elsewhere in John, it means ‘from above’ (John 19:11, 23). That is what Jesus appears to mean in John 3 when he speaks with Nicodemus: a person must be born from above in order to have eternal life in heaven above. Nicodemus misunderstands, though, and thinks Jesus intends the other meaning of the word, that he has to be born a second time. ‘How can I crawl back into my mother’s womb?’ he asks, out of some frustration. Jesus corrects him: he is not talking about a second physical birth, but a heavenly birth, from above. (Jesus Interrupted, p155)

So Nicodemus is made to misunderstand Jesus, confusing ‘born again’ with ‘born from above’, and Jesus has to tell him what a twit he is. Translators of this chapter haven’t understood the point of the story either, making Jesus say, in John 3.3, ‘you must be born again’, when the rest of the narrative makes clear he means, ‘you must be born from above’ (i.e: be renewed by God who sits in Heaven on high.) 2000 years later, Christians, thanks to these translators, still make the same mistake.

There’s even more poppycock on the back of the card. The born again, it seems, avoid sin like the plague. Sure they do. Just ask all those kids molested by priests, preachers and Christian youth workers.

So Long, Jesus – the new book is here!

My new book, marking a final farewell to Jesus and his cult, is available now from all Amazon outlets. So Long, Jesus and Other Lessons From Life collects together the religiously-themed posts that have appeared on this blog over the past three years. A great Christmas present for those of your friends who might be considering saying their own farewell to Christian mumbo jumbo. This is the book you’ve been waiting for! 

So Long, Jesus and Other Lessons From Life – get it before the rapture!

Jesus v. Covid (and the winner Is…)

Two years ago, a few months before Covid hit, I wrote a post entitled ‘God’s Very Good Creation’ that included the picture above. The post concluded that ‘Jesus can’t save you from the common cold, let alone death’. How the past 23 months have borne that out! We hear almost daily of anti-vax pastors, preachers and assorted evangelicals, who have trusted the Lord to save them from Covid, dying of the virus. The Lord failed to come through for them despite their faith in him and his promises.

I recognise there are Christians who like to tell us God doesn’t work like this. He’s not, they say, a dispenser of health and healing, a fairy godmother who fixes those who love him just because they pray in earnest that he will. They’re right of course; God doesn’t work like this. (God doesn’t work, period.) So why does the Bible tell us he does?

Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven (James 5.14-15).

And these signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will… their hands on the sick, and they will recover (Mark 16.17-18).

Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son (John 14.13).

Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them (Matthew 18.19-20).

At best this is delusional wishful thinking, at worst, out and out lies. Surely the men who made these fantastic claims knew that God wasn’t like this at all, that magical thinking and ritual didn’t really cure illness? (Perhaps we should expect nothing better from people who believed that God had granted them eternal life.) Despite their dishonesty, some believers today are still prepared stake their lives, quite literally, on the same false promises, discovering when it’s too late, that they are empty and meaningless. The Lord will not and has not saved anyone from Covid nor anything else.

Worse than that, however, is how Christian anti-vaxxers affect others; dissuading the gullible from having the vaccine, spreading infection and providing the means, the culture, for the virus to mutate. They also take up space in ICUs that people with unavoidable medical conditions need but can’t access because of them – like the child in this story. It’s also likely that, should health services become overwhelmed this winter because of the unvaccinated contracting Covid – the overwhelming majority of hospitalisations are of the unvaccinated – the rest of the population will need to go into lockdown again. The UK government, while saying it wants to avoid further lockdowns, has not ruled them out should the NHS need ‘saving’ once more.

Sarah Palin has said she will not get the vaccine because she ‘trusts in the science’. No, it doesn’t makes sense (when has she ever?) Palin believes her own immune system will protect her, failing to understand how vaccines work – by priming the immune system to produce anti-bodies against disease before coming into contact with it.

Palin and those similarly motivated by the fatal combination of ignorance and religion, who refuse to protect themselves and others, are selfish and socially irresponsible . Their actions are as far from loving one’s neighbour as it’s possible to imagine.

 

Falling Into Belief

Texas author David Heeren appeared on a UK TV channel the other day in its ‘Uncancelled’ slot, wherein a sceptical presenter interviews, usually while trying to keep a straight face, individuals who have, or have had, a world outlook at odds with any conventional narrative. This is to express it kindly in the case of David Heeren. David believes that the Second Coming is not far off; in this he has much in common with other evangelical Christians. Where he differs from most of them is that David believes the end-times sign of which Jesus speaks in Matthew 24.30 is… a comet.

In fact, David sees comets everywhere in the Bible. Amongst others, there’s the star of Bethlehem, the fire that descended to destroy the followers of Baal and the comet that parted the Red Sea. David has this to say about the last of these:

The rod Moses stretched out toward the Red Sea was a mirror image of the “arm of the Lord” in the sky above his head. A comet-generated tornado parted the sea and froze it in place long enough for three-million or more Israelites to pass through. A comet-produced earthquake cracked the frozen walls, releasing the sea waters to flow back over the Egyptians.

He finds 54 such ‘cometical’ appearances in the bible. He is obsessed both with comets and with the Second Coming. David is evidently on the fringes of an already lunatic movement (Christianity, that is) but, and here is what is astounding, David claims his books, 17 in total, five of them about the End Times, are best-sellers. If he’s to be believed, other people swallow his unadulterated guff and pay good money to do it.

 Last night, the guest in the same slot was Radhia Gleis. Radhia was part of a new age cult, Buddhafield, for 22 years before finally breaking free a few years ago. She and others came under the thrall of a charismatic individual called, variously, The Teacher, Michel and Andreas but whose real name is Jaime Gomez (pictured above). Cult members believed him to be a enlightened being who would lead them into ‘universal love and spiritual awakening’, until, that is, some recognised the level of control Gomez exerted over them and discovered he was sexually abusing young men. (The documentary, Holy Hell, about the cult, can be seen on Netflix. Buddhafield still exists, with Gomez its leader though now called Reyji (‘god-king’) and operating out of Hawaii.)

All of which, Buddhafield and Neeren’s nonsense, serves to underline how readily people will believe almost anything: stories of resurrected godmen, returning saviours, portentous comets, the honeyed words of charismatic charlatans. How crucial it is we see and evaluate evidence for ourselves. Demand to see it. Find it, read it, assess it as objectively as we can; not through a lens of preconceived ideas, be it conspiracy theory, religious worldview or prevailing narrative. We are too easily manipulated and duped not to evaluate what we are told.

Of course, we are not always capable of minimising our preconceptions nor of evaluating evidence objectively. We come with a range of psychological needs and respond emotionally to what the guru, preacher or group offer. Members of Buddhafield speak of the sense of belonging and purpose that involvement in the group offered. Many talk about how they finally felt loved. Even those young men abused by Gomez professed at the time a belief in the enlightenment offered by The Teacher, completely at odds with how he was using them for his own sexual gratification. This is how cults, political and religious movements and churches work. They offer enlightenment, forgiveness, fulfilment, purpose, eternal life, peace and joy – you name it, they’ll claim they can provide it – and our critical faculties are overruled by psychological/emotional need.

I know, I’ve been there.

 

Same Old Same Old

I’ve been watching a Storyville documentary on the BBC iPlayer on the phenomenon that is Hillsong Church. In case you’ve not encountered it, Hillsong is a megachurch that began in Australia in the 1980s under the auspices of a remarkably uncharismatic individual, Brian Houston. It is hip, trendy and oh so cool. Its superstar preachers minister to thousands of gullible souls in vast stadia all over the world.

The programme represented the church fairly (needless to say Hillsong disagreed), interviewing people who felt it had rescued and helped them, as well as those who believed it had taken advantage of their goodwill. In the latter category were volunteers who had given their all to an aspect of the church’s ministry – attendees are told not to be ‘stingy with God’s money’ – while its higher echelons used members donations to finance lavish lifestyles and thousand dollar sneakers. It covered the child sex abuse of Frank Houston, Brian’s father and minister of the Lord, and Brian’s failure to disclose it, as well as superstar preacher, Carl ‘marriage is for life’ Lentz’s extra-marital affair.

The overall impression was one of a church that doesn’t practise what it preaches, or at least what the supposed object of its worship preached; money and sex loom large. What the documentary didn’t show was Hillsong’s compromised doctrinal position, at least according to other arms of Jesus’s one true church; its failure to preach repentance, focusing instead on individual happiness and purpose.

How like some of the early churches Paul wrote to. Churches that strayed from his personal brand of Christianity, not yet called that of course, but which he felt weren’t adhering to the ‘gospel’ he’d preached to them, being attracted instead to the alternate versions proffered by his many rivals: Apollos (1 Corinthians 1:12), the ‘Pillars of the Church’ (Galatians 2:9), Judaisers (Galatians 2:14); ‘those who preached another Jesus’ (2 Corinthians 11:4) and the unnamed smooth-talkers of Romans 16:17-19, all of whom Paul hates with a vengeance. Who is to say their gospels were any more ‘wrong’ than the aberrant nonsense that emanated from Paul’s psychotic ‘visions’? He rails too at the excesses of those early cult communities; their stinginess (2 Corinthians 8:8-9), greediness (1 Corinthians 6:8-10), muddle-headedness (Galatians 1:6-9) and sexual immorality (1 Corinthians 5:9-13). I have long wondered at Paul’s stubborn insistence that these were groups of people inhabited and guided by the holy spirit, when they had, according to him, no idea how to live lives of holiness, committed to (his) sound doctrine. Any lesser man would have given up; lesser that is in obstinate arrogance. How jealous he would have been of the numbers Hillsong attracts.

All of which goes to show that, as it was in the beginning, so it would be forever more; two thousand years later, the Christian church, as typified by Hillsong, exhibits all the faults and shortcomings of its progenitors. It is exploitative, self-serving, hypocritical, while other factions object, jealously, to its doctrine and success, just like Paul with his rivals. The more things change, the more they stay the same; how very disappointingly human.

 

Jesus writes…

Image: Caleb Havertape (https://www.pinterest.co.uk/calebhavertapei/_saved/)

Ubi Dubium has posed the question, ‘why didn’t Jesus write his own gospel?’ It’s a good question. What better way to ensure his ideas were conveyed precisely without any margin for error or misinterpretation, than to do it himself? If he hadn’t the time or the ability to do so, why didn’t he dictate his message to one of his literate disciples (surely one of them could write) who could then, as an eye-witness, finish off the story accurately once Jesus himself had returned to Heaven. Why, instead, did he leave it to people he’d never met, most of whom wouldn’t be about for another few decades?

It seems to me there are three possible answers.

  1. Jesus believed the world as he knew it was soon to end. He was convinced God was about to intervene and sweep away the old order and inaugurate the Kingdom of God on Earth. If the gospels that have come down to us are to believed, this was the core of his teaching. Jesus mentions its imminence repeatedly across the synoptic gospels and the morality he proposes, wholly impractical in the long term, is designed for the ‘shortness of the hour’. In this scenario, Jesus and his followers had no interest in writing anything down for posterity. There was no posterity; the end was very truly nigh.

  2. God didn’t want his Son to write his own story. He wanted the job left to people whom Jesus never met, who were little more than children during his lifetime and who lived hundreds of miles from where events occurred. God was sure this was the best way to create a record of his Son’s visit to Earth, without inaccuracies, inconsistencies and contradictions. 

  3. The creator of Mark’s gospel bought into Paul’s celestial Saviour, his illusory ‘Lord Jesus Christ’. Mark set about creating a ‘what if’ back story for him, set in Palestine in the recent past and constructed from Paul’s ’revelations’ and Old Testament ‘prophecy’. Mark highlighted Paul’s teaching that the Christ, whom he calls the Son of Man in his gospel, would soon be coming to the Earth (not a second coming or a return) to rescue his Chosen and reset reality.

Are there any other possibilities? I can’t think of any, nor have I read of any. So which of the three is the most plausible?

Scenario 1 leaves us with a Son of God not knowing what he was talking about. This Jesus was wrong about when the Son of Man would appear, wrong about the End of the Age, wrong about the traumatic nature of God’s intervention, wrong about the Final Judgement, wrong about the fate of the unrighteous and wrong about the Kingdom of God being established on the Earth. This scenario gives us a Jesus who is a failure as both a prophet and Messiah. It’s a wonder anything at all was written about such a loser, let alone narratives that preserved his hopeless predictions about the Kingdom’s arrival.

Scenario 2 is of course ridiculous, though it is the one most Christians buy into, more or less. As well as its inherent implausibility, it relies on the hypothetical document Q, for which no evidence exists let alone any extant copy (or even fragment). It, and a supposedly reliable oral tradition, are speculative, needed only to counter the improbability of this scenario.

Scenario 3, while contentious, makes most sense of why neither Jesus nor any of his contemporaries wrote down or otherwise recorded a single thing he said or did. Mark’s gospel, created shortly after 70CE, was the first anyone had heard of a Jesus on Earth. The three subsequent gospels were all based, to varying degrees, on Mark’s fable. In this scenario there was no real Jesus, and no dozy disciples, to have recorded his exploits and teaching.

What you think, Ubi?

All Along The Watchtower III

Jim has shaken the dust from his sandals. As he says, and as I knew, he wasn’t really looking for a discussion. He was looking to draw me, and the others who received his letter, into his cult. When it was obvious I wasn’t going to be, he lost interest. Plus, I mentioned Jesus’s non-return. I don’t think he liked that.

Hi Neil, 

Thanks again for your response. I think we’ll have to agree to disagree. We aren’t here to debate over things but we do respect your beliefs and thank you for taking the time to talk to us. 

We find what we read in the Bible answers many of life’s big questions and there is much archaeological evidence today to back up Bible accounts which adds to the accuracy of the Bible. So we want to share the truths and hope we have found with others, but we do respect everyone’s beliefs. 

Take care, 

Jim and Sandra 

All Along The Watchtower II

I’ve had a reply from my friendly neighbourhood Jehovah’s Witness, Jim and Sandra. Well, from Jim. Sandra seems to have left him to it. Naturally, politeness compelled me to reply to Jim’s reply.  

Jim first:

Hello Neil 

We wanted to say thanks very much for your email. We appreciate hearing what you had to say. We hope that you and your family are well, and continuing to stay safe. We want you to know that we fully respect your beliefs so thank you for sharing them with us. But please consider what we have to say in response with an open mind. 

Firstly, you may be familiar with the ‘Cambrian Explosion’ which marked the time when most of the major groups of animals first appear in the fossil record. The reason they call this an ‘Explosion’ is because of how short the period of time with which almost all animal life suddenly appears. As you mentioned with Occam’s Razor, we have found that the Bible provides one explanation as to how life got here, whereas science points to an accumulation of many different theories that even scientists themselves don’t agree on… such as Sir Isaac Newton and William of Ockham as well as many other scientists who do believe in an intelligent designer – God.

You also raised excellent points about God’s existence too, you mentioned that according to our reasoning things that are complex must have a creator. While we completely agree God is definitely complex, the Bible answers that question by saying that “From eternity [God has] existed” and “From everlasting to everlasting, you are God”. So we can see here that while God is the creator, he is not a creation. So as hard it is for us as humans to comprehend (as everything we know has a designer) God wasn’t created as he has always existed. 

You also mentioned that if God created everything, this would mean that he also created viruses etc. However if we think of Benjamin Franklin, for example, he created electricity… but we would not say he was the cause of people dying due to the electric chair would we? The Bible does clearly state that God “created all things, and because of [his] will they came into existence and were created”. So while we would not dispute God did create everything, things we experience today are present as a byproduct of a situation God never intended to happen.  However this then raises the questions… What was God’s initial purpose for humans? And why does God allow suffering and diseases?

If you would like the answers to those questions, just let us know in your reply and we would be happy to discuss that with you too.  In the mean time, we found this video that we thought you would find really interesting. You can watch it for free and by all means please let us know your thoughts on it.  https://www.jw.org/en/library/videos/viewpoints-origin-of-life/irene-hof-laurenceau-orthopedic-surgeon/

Kind regards, 

Jim

And my reply. I wanted to turn the discussion round to that JW weakness – one of many – their preoccupation with Jesus’ return (or lack of it):

Hi Jim,

Thank you for your response. I hope too you are both well. I have to say I was unconvinced by your assertion that Ben Franklin created electricity – he certainly didn’t. Electricity is a natural phenomenon that humans have been interested in for thousands of years. Consequently, your analogy between Franklin and God doesn’t stand up. If God created viruses, germs and parasites (as he must’ve done if he created ‘everything’) only to let them run amok amongst the rest of his creation, then he is responsible for the outcome. You say this is not what he intended but as an omniscient being he must have known what was going to happen, just as he must’ve known in advance that Adam and Eve would ‘sin’. Yet he still went ahead and created viruses and the like, knowing the havoc they would cause. How could a loving God do that?

I have to tell you, I’m not going to be persuaded of God’s existence by the argument from design, nor by the argument – though it’s really no more than an assertion – from incredulity. It’s the one in the video clip you sent that says essentially, ‘this natural phenomenon is just so amazing I can’t understand how it came about. Therefore it must have been God.’ Similarly, for you to quote the bible’s claim that God has always existed isn’t convincing either; that some ancient tribesman and their scribes thought so does not constitute proof. 

What might convince me? Possibly if the things Jesus said he was going to do had actually happened. Take, as one example, his promise that God’s Kingdom would be established on the Earth while those he was speaking to were still alive (Matthew 16:27-28, Matthew 24:27, 30-31, 34 and Luke 21:27-28, 33-34 amongst other places.) If this had happened, I’d be able to look around and see God’s plan for humankind in action and say to myself, ‘how mighty fine it is to live in the wonderful kingdom God has blessed us with these past 2000 years. He truly is real.’ But of course he didn’t, and Jehovah’s Witnesses and other branches of Christianity have been making excuses for him ever since. 

I keep a blog you might like to read. A while back I did some posts on the non-arrival of the Son of Man, the final judgement and God’s Kingdom on Earth. While you might find them irreverent, you can see them here: https://rejectingjesus.com/2018/01/28/jesus-demonstrates-that-god-doesnt-exist/ https://rejectingjesus.com/2017/06/23/making-excuses-for-jesus-4/

I do hope you’ll read them. Feel free to explore other of my posts too.

Neil  

All Along The Watchtower

One post in and already a diversion from my planned ’12 Rules’ series. This is because I was fortunate enough to receive a letter in the post recently from my ‘neighbours’, Jim and Sandra. You can see it above. I’ve no idea who Jim and Sandra are – I’ve changed their names here to protect the guilty – but they tell me they’re Jehovah’s Witnesses. They want to convince me of their God, first by pointing out that we are, everyone of us, created by him. They then proceed to demonstrate their God’s existence with rather weak versions of the weak ‘argument from design’, with a spot of the so-called ‘argument from incredulity’ thrown in. Having ‘proved’ God, they conclude with a lovely non-sequitur, that God = purpose.

As they had gone to a lot of trouble to do this, I felt Jim and Sandra deserved a reply, specially as they were kind enough to include their email address. So here it is.  

Hi Jim and Sandra,

I was interested to get your letter recently. I notice you ask the question, ‘was life created?’ Of course it was! You’ll get no argument from me there. Nature and the processes of natural selection and evolution created life as we know it today. You of course want to draw God into these processes, but actually he’s not needed to explain them. 

Your ‘argument from design’ doesn’t work at all, because if God created all the wonderful, intricate things you talk about, he also created viruses, including covid-19, cancer and parasites. You can’t say he created everything and then discount all the nasty things as the product of natural processes or man’s sin or whatever. Either everything was made by God or everything is the result of natural processes – you don’t get to pick and choose. 

You say that only (your) God could make all the complexities of life, as complexity necessitates a creator. But that creator must, by definition, be more complex than his creation – yet you don’t think he had a creator, do you. But he must have done – because according to you, complexity has to have a creator. This principle doesn’t grind to a halt with God just because you or your church or holy book says it does. 

The intricacies and complexity of life that we see are the result of organisms, including ourselves and all other life & non-life, like viruses, adapting to their environments over billions of years. That’s it – no need to add another layer of complication, like a god, to this explanation (you may have heard of Occam’s razor, which is what I’m applying here). If something complex has existed for eons it is far more likely that it is something we know for sure exists – nature – rather than something we don’t. 

Life has in fact many purposes; one doesn’t need a God who doesn’t exist to discover them. I’d be happy to share some of these with you, though I imagine you are already quite set in your beliefs. That’s a shame.

Best wishes,

Neil 

Goodbye, Jesus

The Jesus narrative is a made-up story, originally created by a member of one of the many branches of a first century cult centred on a supernatural being experienced in visions. We call this cult member ‘Mark’. His ‘gospel’ was not written to convert anyone – I doubt any of them were – it was written as a ‘what if?’ story for fellow cult members: ‘what if our celestial saviour had lived on Earth?’ It is made up of St Paul’s teaching, Old Testament mythology, and ideas taken from pagan dying-god myths (probably in that order). It amalgamates the cult’s rules with what cultists believed about the end of the age: that their celestial saviour would very soon be coming down to Earth to save them and annihilate their enemies.

Ten or fifteen years later, another writer took Mark’s fiction and rewrote much of it for his branch of the cult. This was a group who saw themselves as still firmly within Judaism, so ‘Matthew’ toned down Paul’s teaching, eliminating a good deal of it. He heightened Jewish teaching for his co-religionists, and created a Jesus who was a manifestation of prophecy, as he saw it, from the Jewish scriptures. This construct had no time for any magic salvation-formula; like the cult who created him, he taught obedience to Jewish Law and believed that serving others was the way to eternal life.

A few years on and a third sect found Mark and Matthew’s stories weren’t entirely to their liking. They didn’t quite get Jesus right. So they took them and altered them again. Their scribe, known now as Luke, created a third Jesus. It’s possible this sect didn’t realise the original story was fiction. There’s some evidence Luke thought Jesus had really existed, 50 years or so before he remodelled him.

Later still, the creators (plural) of a fourth gospel created a Christ totally unlike the other three. This branch of the cult had ceased to believe, perhaps because it hadn’t happened when earlier believers said it would, that the saviour would be coming through the clouds at any minute to set up God’s kingdom on Earth. That part of the original idea was dropped; this Jesus is made to preach an internalised salvation, and everlasting life in heaven is beginning to be hinted at.

And that’s it. The adventures of Jesus on Earth began as a ‘what if?’ story created for existing cult members. Other branches of the cult took it and reshaped its central character so that he suited their needs and beliefs. A real Jesus was not necessary for any of this to happen. Just as it was for Paul, whether one existed or not is immaterial,. Even if he did, we can know nothing about him. The Jesuses created by each sect is a product of what they imagined their saviour to be, just like the various Christs that are worshipped today.

So, I’m saying a final goodbye to Jesus – or rather to all the Jesuses, Christs and made-up Messiahs spawned by the visions, fantasies and fan-fiction of the first century. I don’t need them, and neither do you.

This blog will be taking a new direction in the new year. Next time, though, I hope you’ll read one of my Christmas stories, as featured on the BBC.

Stay safe.