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.

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.

 

What Christian Music Tells Us About God

ThankYouBasedGod.tumblr.com

Have your ever noticed how the unchanging God’s musical tastes… well, change?

In the time of David, or so we’re told in Psalm 150, he liked nothing better than the sound of lutes and harps. When monasteries were all the rage, he was pacified by the monotonous chanting (‘plainsong’) of those very same psalms. He went all highbrow a few centuries later with the likes of Bach and Handel, but found out later still that he preferred bad poetry set to rousing tunes, such as How Great Thou Art and Amazing Grace (the latter by slave trader John Newton.) Not to show partiality, he’s also been known to be turned on by some good ol’ gospel music. Last night on TBN, a TV network of spectacular mindlessness, he was brought to orgasm by a third-rate hip-hop track that, like a primitive enchantment spell, repeated Jesus’s name ad infinitum. Which reminded me of a Christian rock group of that name that performed back in my youth, when God was into sub-standard glam rock. It is amazing, isn’t it, that God’s musical tastes keep pace with our own.

On the other hand, maybe it’s that we delude ourselves into thinking our changing musical preferences, be it for lutes and harps, glam rock or hip-hop (ten years past its sell-by-date), are what please the Lord. He is not a God of changing tastes but one who is a reflection of whichever culture projects its idiosyncrasies, musical or otherwise, onto their conception of him. He truly is made in our image.

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. They were attracted instead, he said, 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.

 

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 

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. 

What Second Coming?

Richard Carrier notes in On the Historicity of Jesus (p560) how Paul never speaks of a ‘second coming’, prompting me to look at all the predictions of Christ’s future arrival in the New Testament. Here’s a selection of verses, some of them supposedly the words of Jesus himself, where this coming is ‘prophesied’:

And then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory (Mark 13.26).

You will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven (Mark 14.62).

For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man (Matthew 24.27).

For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man… they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man (Matthew 24. 37, 39)

When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all his angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of glory. (Matthew 25.31).

You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect (Luke 12.40).

For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God (1 Thessalonians 4.16).

Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Thessalonians 5.23).

For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes (1 Corinthians 11.26).

Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord… Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand (James 5.7-8).

Waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ (Titus 2.13).

Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him (Revelation 1.7).

Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay everyone for what he has done (Revelation 22.12).

Isn’t this strange? None of them refer to Christ’s arrival as a ‘return’ or ‘second coming’. You’d be hard pushed to find any such ‘prophecy’ in the New Testament*. His appearance here on Earth is described as the coming of a celestial being. Even Jesus is made to talk about the manifestation of such a figure, taken by Christians to mean his own future self, as if he’s talking about someone else: the Son of Man, who hasn’t yet appeared but will do so in the near future. It’s as if the gospels’ fictional Jesus is being made to predict the arrival of the ‘real’, celestial Jesus.

More importantly, the Son of Man and Paul’s version of the same figure, the Christ, are spoken of as ‘coming’ or ‘descending’, not ‘returning’ or coming again. It’s as if Paul, the writers of the synoptic gospels, John of Patmos and other first-century Christians* didn’t believe that the Christ had already visited the Earth. They talk instead as if he’s about to arrive for the very first time. When he does, they believed, he would be coming as an avenging angel, rescuing those who believe in him – as a celestial being who carried out his salvific work in the heavenly realms (1 Corinthians 15, Galatians 1.11-12 etc) – and slaughtering those who don’t. This is the apocalypse – the revealing or uncovering of the heavenly Christ for the very first time.

That Jesus will ‘return’ or make a second coming is an assumption made by later believers on the basis of verses like those above. In fact, they say no such thing. The earliest Christians wrote as if they didn’t believe their envisaged hero had ever been on Earth. For them, his one and only arrival was still to come.

————————————

* An exception appears to be Hebrews 9.28 which says, ‘so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him’. Hebrews, however, regards the Christ only as a supernatural high priest, operating in the heavenly realms. This second appearance then can only refer to this character, who is not conceived as having had any existence here on Earth.

Prophets At A Loss (again)

What a joy it is to witness the prophets of the Lord who a few weeks ago assured the world that Jesus had told them Donald Trump was going to win the US presidential election. Look at them floundering now to explain away their foolishness:

Pat Robertson on 20th October: ‘Without question, Trump is going to win the election.’

After the election: ‘Here is my take on the election. In my opinion I think Trump won it. That may shock you… There are cases being filed in many courts but I don’t give them much chance of winning.’

Paula White on 5th November: I hear a sound of victory. I hear a sound of abundance of rain. I hear a sound of victory. The Lord says it is done. The Lord says it is done. The Lord says it is done.

After the election: ‘God’s decision has been made… the church must enforce some things in the realm of the Earth. We must take authority over every demonic spirit, every high thing.’

Kat Kerr on 24th October: ‘Trump will win. He will be president of the United States. He will sit in that office for four more years and God will have his way in this country.’

After the election: ‘One of the things [God] had me say was that Trump would win by a landslide… But many times, as we know in the Word or even just from experience ourselves — especially as a prophet — that doesn’t ever mean what man thinks that means.’

Jeremiah Johnson on 30th September: ‘I had a dream… God showed me… President Trump will be re-elected.’

After the election: ‘There has been a chorus of mature and tested prophets in America with a proven track record that have predicted Donald J. Trump would be re-elected President of the United States. I am one of them… Either a lying spirit has filled the mouths of numerous trusted prophetic voices in America or Donald J. Trump really has won the Presidency and we are witnessing a diabolical and evil plan unfold to steal the Election. I believe with all my heart that the latter is true.’

Denise Goulet on 19th October, speaking to Trump in person: ‘The Lord showed me today that you are going to get a second wind…another in-filling of the Holy Spirit…because the Holy Spirit makes you able to finish, to take this to the end, Mr President.’

After the election: f*** all.

It’s demons! An evil plan! I meant something else! I still think I’m right! I hope everyone forgets what I said.

Friendly Atheist Hermant Mehta has a whole lot more. These people are either frauds or self-deluded idiots. It’s stating the obvious to say that God and Jesus do not communicate directly with them. They haven’t been singled out to receive divine messages. Yet that is what they believe, or claim to anyway. They know no more about the future or God’s intentions than a typical house fly does. Yet the gullible, those caught in the same pretence that is Christianity, believe them. Yes, there are smart arse discerning Christians out there who say they never fall for these charlatans. Yet they do.

In Jesus Eclipsed, David Chumney cites Eugene Boring who, he says, ‘catalogs dozens of sayings ascribed to Jesus in the Gospels that very likely originated with later Christian prophets’ (my emphasis). Yet the writers of the gospels pass off these ‘spiritual insights’ as though they were Jesus’ own. Those who first read the gospels believed they were. Christian’s today assume the same. They’re not. They’re the words of religious zealots making things up as they went along. Some, most perhaps, no doubt believed what they were channelling the words of the Lord. Others wouldn’t have been quite so sincere.

There is no such thing as a prophet. God doesn’t make his intentions known through cranks and fraudsters. There’s no God and no Eternal Jesus to do such a thing, as today’s holy con-artists so ably demonstrated with their predictions of a Trump victory.

 

Will the real Jesus please stand up?: Conclusion

There will no doubt be Christians reading this blog who are keen to tell me that no-one in their right mind would believe in a made-up Jesus.

No? Yet the self-righteous are still making up Jesuses in their own image. Jesuses who bear little relation to any of those in the Bible. Jesuses that suit their own agendas: White Republican Jesus, America First Jesus, Catholic Jesus (with his heart outside his body), anti-LGBT Jesus, Evangelical Jesus, Social Justice Jesus, Prosperity Jesus, Mormon Jesus, Jehovah’s Witness Jesus, Jesus who gives glimpses of heaven, Jesus who communicates with his ‘prophets’ here on Earth… and many more.

Every single one of them is a made to order, manufactured Jesus, every single one imaginary. The Jesus worshipped by individual Christians and churches is a figment of the imagination. He may be loosely based on one of the Jesuses of the Bible (I’ll generously give them the benefit of the doubt) but he is unique to every sect and to every single person within it. Each individual sets up an altar to the idol in their head and worships him there.

Christians: your personal Saviour isn’t real. You worship a construct of your own making.

From which, two questions follow:

If no-one in their right mind would believe in an imaginary Jesus, what does this tell us about you?

Given you believe in an imaginary Jesus, why is it so difficult for you to accept that the earliest Christians did too?

Making it all up

While the Old Testament is made up of myth and legend and the New created from the visions and dreams of a few disturbed individuals, we are expected to believe that the gospel accounts nevertheless shine out as beacons of truth.

We know, however, that much of what is contained in the four canonical gospels is fiction. I’m not referring here merely to how contradictory they are (though there is that), I’m talking about the parts that are clearly made up, invented for theological and literary purposes. These include:

The nativity stories: These are myth, created so that the Godman has an origin similar to those of other Godmen: There is no historical evidence for a wand’rin’ star, a census that involved the mass movement of populations or the Massacre of the Innocents.

The virgin birth: relies on a misreading of ‘young woman’ in Isaiah 7.14

The flight to Egypt: a misapplication of Hosea 11.1.

Genealogies: invented. Matthew’s and Luke’s are completely different and don’t, in any case, include sufficient generations to reach back to ‘the first man’.

The Magnificat: Written as a Greek poem. It is not an outpouring of a young peasant woman.

The temptation in the wilderness: Jesus did not have a conversation with the devil. He was not attended to by squadrons of angels; we know such beings do not exist. In any case, which eye-witness was present to record these fanciful encounters?

Angels: 12 appearances across the gospels. Demons and other evil spirits: at least 20 mentions. Myth, pure and simple.

The miracles: all of them make a theological point. This is their purpose. They are literary.

Jesus’s teaching: designed to encourage members of the cult, a cult that could only exist after the events the gospels purport to relay. Everything he’s made to say comes from different sects, Paul’s teaching, Old Testament wisdom literature and even pagan sources.

The sermon on the mount: created and written in sophisticated Greek, not delivered by a semi-literate itinerant preacher.

John’s self-obsessed Jesus: nothing like the character in the synoptic gospels. Either he’s made up or they are. Or both.

The Transfiguration: Elijah and Moses do not return from the dead to have a chat with Jesus. This is completely made up.

The Eucharist: first appears in Paul’s teaching in I Corinthians 11.23-27. It is distinctly pagan but is accommodated in the gospels because Paul insisted he got it directly from his (imagined) Christ.

Judas’ betrayal: suggested by Zechariah 11.12-13 (which in context is not a prophecy).

The custom of freeing a prisoner (Barabbas): no such custom existed. The event is symbolic.

Resurrected corpses emerge from their graves: Matthew made this up. No-one else seems to know of it and Luke makes a point of cutting the episode out of his version of events.

The Crucifixion: based on Isaiah 53 and various Psalms.

The Resurrection: based on the visions of Cephas, Paul and others with added, invented detail, incompatible across the four accounts.

The Ascension: Jesus levitates into the stratosphere, in front of witnesses no less. Or perhaps not; Luke invented this impossibility.

There is much more in the gospels that is evidently and demonstrably made up. We can, as Christians do, believe it all really happened. We can insist that the stories are not based on other sources but that these sources are prophecies of real events that took place in history. From this perspective, Paul’s and others’ visions are then the result of these same events.

But which is more likely? –
The Old Testament is packed with prophecies about Jesus’ life and death, and that what Paul and others saw in their heads was because Jesus really existed and spoke to them once he’d returned to Heaven…

Or: The Jesus story is fictional, a patchwork of Old Testament snippets, mystical visions, invented symbolic events and pagan ideas of resurrecting Godmen.

And If the gospels are fiction – and they evidently are – then why not Jesus himself? If there was no real history to be written about him, just this mish-mash of other sources, that can only be because there was no Jesus who walked the Earth 2000 years ago.

Jesus is the same as his near contemporaries Osiris, Dionysus and Mithras. Like them, he is entirely mythological.