Gilead – just a stone’s throw away

Stone3

Ken Ham’s Answers In Genesis thinks it’s okay to stone people. Specifically, your wayward kids. The bible says so and AiG’s Elizabeth Mitchell is eager to defend whatever the bible says, on account of it being ‘God’s Word’. She does warn us that we need to read Deuteronomy 21:18–21, where you’ll find this particular bit of parenting advice, in context, because although the bible is the fallible, eternal, literal word of the Creator of the Universe it needs interpreting, and has to be understood in terms of the time it was written.

The context is of course that Deuteronomy and all of the Old Testament was written by primitive, superstitious bronze-age tribesmen who had the same mentality the Taliban and Isis have today. But this isn’t good enough for ‘Doctor’ Mitchell. No, her context is altogether different; she tells us in an article recently posted on the Answers In Genesis Facebook page that Deuteronomy 21 isn’t talking about children. No, it’s referring to uppity teenagers, which makes it okay. And not just teenagers, but really, really troublesome ones, which makes it doubly okay. These really, really troublesome teenagers are the scourge of society and can be stoned with impunity. The bible says so.

And yet, they’re not. Christians don’t stone awkward family members, thankfully. Perhaps, despite articles like Mitchell’s and others’, Christians don’t really believe the brutality promoted in and by the bible. Mitchell offers no explanation for this inconsistency of belief. Instead, her article peters out with some incoherent rambling about Jesus; the same Jesus who declared his undying support for these brutal, Old Testament laws (Matthew 5.17-19).

I suggested in the comments on Facebook that it doesn’t matter how much one takes context into account, the command of Deuteronomy, that rebellious youths be stoned to death, is utterly indefensible. It is cruel, barbaric and belongs in the past when, presumably, unfortunate young people were actually killed in this way by their families and tribal elders. I suggested morals and standards have evolved for the better since the days when people considered that murder was the best way to deal with youthful bad behaviour.

And for that I was metaphorically stoned myself. How dare you challenge God and his Word! How ridiculous to suggest we have better moral standards today when clearly we are in an immoral abyss worse than any before! Last Days! God’s standards are inviolate and if he says the best way to deal with miscreants is to stone them to death then it is!

The Gilead regime envisaged by Margaret Atwood in The Handmaid’s Tale, where Old Testament sanctions are stringently applied in contemporary society, is closer than we think. People like those who hang around on Answers In Genesis’ Facebook pages, like flies around a corpse, would be more than happy to see the death penalty for those who infringe God’s barbaric laws. They’d be only too willing to throw the first stone, not only at difficult teenagers, but at all the others ‘God’s Word’ says merit the death penalty: couples who have sex when the woman is on her period (Leviticus 18.19); women who are not virgins on their wedding nights (Deuteronomy 22.13-14; 20-21); gay people (Leviticus 20.13); those who work on the Sabbath (Exodus 35.2; Numbers 15.32-36); blasphemers (Leviticus 24.16) and worshippers of other gods (Deuteronomy 13.6-9))

I am not an advocate of censorship but some form of censure is necessary for those who, either in speech or writing, advocate that others be put to death. Calling for the execution of those with whom you disagree or who have different moral codes cannot – must not – be tolerated in a civilised society. Pronouncements like those of Elizabeth Mitchell, her supporters and other religious crackpots who defend the indefensible, should be flagged up as hate speech, carrying a warning that the views expressed are themselves immoral, insupportable and, ultimately, illegal in civilised society. Ideally, their poisonous rhetoric should not be provided with an online platform. This wouldn’t, before anyone suggests otherwise, violate their right to free speech; they would still be free to express their unpalatable views in their churches, Creation Museums and own homes. Excluding them from Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, however, would deprive them of their wider audience – they’re only showing off, after all – and confine their hateful rhetoric to where it can do least harm.

These people are not merely ‘causing offence’ – offence is not the issue. They are inciting violence against others, influencing fellow believers to adopt their repellant views as their own. The standards of bronze-age tribes are not ours today; those who think they are abuse free speech and forfeit their right to be heard publicly.

 

 

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Making excuses for Jesus


Excuse 1. When he said ‘Kingdom of God’, what Jesus really meant was ‘transfiguration’.

Hokum

However it might seem, Jesus’ mission didn’t fail! Absolutely not. Because after he promised those standing in front of him would see God’s Kingdom come in power and glory, the gospels relate how some of the disciples saw Jesus having a friendly chat with Moses and Elijah (Mark 9.1-8 etc). So, say his apologists, this was what he was really referring to; his being visited by two of Judaism’s great figures, on day release from Heaven or having travelled through time or, more probably, having being planted in a story that is pure fabrication. Whichever, this ‘transfiguration’ is regularly hauled out as ‘evidence’ that those standing with Jesus did indeed see him in his Kingdom. (Here, here and here, for example.)

Pastor Bob Deffinbaugh, for example, puts it like this:

Jesus then promised His disciples that some of them would see the “kingdom of God” before they died: “I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God (Luke 9.27). While there are numerous explanations as to what Jesus’ words here mean, the simplest explanation, especially in the context, is that Jesus was foretelling the transfiguration which was to come within a week’s time.

But this cannot be ‘the simplest explanation’ because it doesn’t fit any of what Jesus said the Kingdom would be like. Here’s his description as it appears in Matthew 24.29-31 & 34 (emphasis added):

Immediately after the suffering of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of heaven will be shaken. Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other… Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.

The transfiguration bears no relation to any of this, nor to his other predictions about what the Kingdom would be like – the meek inheriting the Earth, the last becoming first and so on – once it was established. The Kingdom of God as Jesus imagined it (and he did imagine it) was to be a far grander affair than a symbolic encounter ‘witnessed’ by a few disciples. It was to be seen by the entire world and would have far-reaching and long-lasting consequences. The transfiguration, no matter how much Jesus’ raiment is made to shine, simply doesn’t qualify. It can’t possibly be, then, what Jesus had in mind when he predicted the end of the age and God’s rule coming to the Earth. There is a fundamental dishonesty in claiming that it is.

Better luck next, Christians…

How to argue like a Christian

Argue

If you’ve ever tried discussing matters of faith with a True Believer™, you’ll know how difficult it can be; like wrestling with a jellyfish – and just about as poisonous.

So here’s a guide for the unwary; 10 of their favourite lines (5 this time, 5 next), all of which I’ve experienced more times than I care to remember.

“You don’t know your Bible!”

Point out that Jesus’ ‘good news’ was nothing like Paul’s or that they were both wrong about the Kingdom arriving in the first century and this old canard gets trotted out. Even if you quote chapter and verse, a clear indication you do know the Bible, they still produce it. What they mean is ‘how dare you quote the bits of the Bible we true believers don’t like and prefer not to acknowledge.’

“You’re quoting out of context.”

I’ve posted about this one before. Seemingly as a sceptic you have no discernment when it comes to selecting Bible verses. How ever many you reference – one or a hundred – they will tell you it’s not enough; that you’ve not, somehow, caught the true meaning of what the Bible is saying, which is, naturally, what they say it means. Unsurprisingly. quoting isolated verses is something the Righteous themselves like to do all the time…

“The bible says…”

It doesn’t matter what point you make, this will appear somewhere in the Christian’s response, followed, of course, by some random verse from the book in question. Christians seem to regard it as the ultimate clincher, the way to silence any opponent, as if quoting the bible to those who recognise neither its credibility nor its authority persuades anyone of anything.

“You’ve no right to criticise Christianity when you can’t ‘prove’ how something came from nothing/how life arose/evolution.”

It’s unlikely anyone can explain these biggies in 140 characters or a Facebook comment, but we can direct those issuing the challenge to scientific works that offer viable theories soundly based on the evidence available. Needless to say our Christian smart-Alec is unlikely to read them, claiming instead that one’s inability to comprehensively explain the Big Bang or evolution ‘proves’ it must have been – watch the sleight of hand here – YHWH.

“‘People like you’ only want to wallow in your own sin (which is why you won’t let me have my own way).”

Now I like to wallow as much as the next man, but outside the Christian bubble, ‘sin’ is a fairly meaningless concept, designed only to induce guilt in others. Which means the point of this unpleasant finger pointing is to side-step any discussion and to dismiss whatever point you might want to make. What this retort really means is ‘you have an ulterior motive for saying what you’re saying and, in any case, your inherently evil nature doesn’t entitle you to have an opinion.’

More next time…

How much of the Bible was written backwards?

We know for a fact the book of Daniel was. The term for creating a prophecy after the event it purportedly predicts is Vaticinium ex eventu (Latin for ‘devious sleight of hand’). The creators of the Book of Daniel in the Old Testament were rather fond of Vaticinium ex eventu. Daniel’s prophecies, supposedly written in the sixth century BCE during the Babylonian exile about events that would occur later – much later – were actually created during the second century BCE. This was, of course, after most of them had occurred, which is how Daniel manages to predict most of them with reasonable accuracy. The remaining prophecy, however, written before the events it purportedly predicts is hopeless, completely way off; it foresees the resurrection of God’s people and the establishment of his Kingdom on Earth in the early part of the first century. As we know, this didn’t happen, though Daniel’s madcap ideas influenced the creators of the Jesus cult who all thought they were living in the end times. Jesus’ term for himself, ‘Son of Man’, is lifted straight from Daniel.

This is how most prophecy in the Bible works; it’s either written after the event, Vaticinium ex eventu style, or, when it’s genuinely written beforehand, doesn’t – surprise, surprise – ever come to pass.

Which bring us to Jesus own predictions of the destruction of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. He explains to his disciples in some detail in Mark 13 what to expect. He suggests too that soon after the destruction, the Son of Man will arrive through the clouds to establish God’s Kingdom on Earth, once and for all (well, maybe not all – just for ‘righteous’ Jews). It is no coincidence that Mark’s gospel was written about 70CE, just after the temple was destroyed, which makes it easy for Jesus to outline in some detail what the event would like, describing, as he is, what it was like.

Did I say Jesus? No, not Jesus, but the anonymous author of ‘Mark’s’ gospel who implants his knowledge from 70CE back to 30CE and on to Jesus. He – the gospel writer – also has Jesus refer to the opposition some believers were experiencing in the 70s and to the ‘reader’ of his warning. As David Madison notes in Ten Tough Problems in Christian Thought and Belief , ‘reader’ is an anachronism too; Jesus had no ‘readers’ when he was alive. The whole prophecy is later fabrication. Its author is typically less successful – completely unsuccessful in fact – in his prediction that soon after the events he describes, the Son of Man would return to put everything right (Mark 13.26-27). So, as we might expect, there is a reasonable degree of accuracy from the bit of the ‘prophecy’ written after the event, but none at all when it genuinely looks to the future.

But it’s not just prophecy this affects. It looks very much that key episodes in the Jesus story were invented (long) after his death, assuming he existed in the first place, and were added into the gospel stories many more years later. John’s gospel is almost entirely like this. The Jesus of the fourth gospel bears no relation to that in the synoptic gospels; in John he has morphed into the Christ of late first-century Christian belief, spouting fantastical gibberish about himself, like ‘I am the Way, the Truth and the Life’ and ‘I and the Father are One’. The Christ of faith is superimposed on the itinerant Jewish peasant executed for sedition.

It happens in the synoptic gospels too. In Matthew 28.19, the post-mortem Jesus commands his followers to ‘Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit,’ undoubtedly quoting a later liturgical formula; the notion of the Trinity explicitly referenced here was unknown in Jesus’ own time and indeed in Paul’s. Similarly, the disputes with the scribes and Pharisees represent the writing back into the gospels of later Christians’ difficulties with the religious hierarchy.1 Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount meanwhile is demonstrably a later creation, not translated from Aramaic but written in Greek.2 Other absolutely crucial aspects of the Jesus story – it is easy to see how a case can be made for his not having existed at all – are also retrospective additions. We will come to them next time.

__________________________________________________________________

1 ‘Perhaps the best way to explain Matthew’s extensive criticism of the Jewish authorities is to say that his own community continued to experience opposition from non-Christian Jews, especially influential scribes and rabbis of the local synagogue(s), who accused them of abandoning Moses and the Law, of becoming apostate from the Jewish religion through their ill-advised faith in Jesus.’ Bart D. Ehrman, chapter 6, The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings.
2 Richard Carrier, On the Historicity Of Jesus, pp 465-466, cited in Madison, p300

 

 

 

 

Things a Christian Wishes (Some) Atheists Would Stop Doing (And Saying)

corey

On his blog recently, Doctor Benjamin Corey offered up a post called ‘S%#t I Wish (Some) Atheists Would Stop Doing (And Saying)’. I discovered it via the Friendly Atheist blog and naturally felt compelled to respond to Doctor Corey’s four bits of S%#t. The comment I posted on The Official Blog of Benjamin L. Corey is as follows:

S%#t 1: Please stop saying or insinuating that we’re a bunch of uneducated or unenlightened idiots.

Do atheists say or insinuate this? I’m not sure they do. I would suggest atheists find it difficult to understand why people of evident intelligence choose to believe propositions for which little or no evidence exists, that are rooted in myth and which, in reality, fail to deliver on their promise. It’s not that believers are necessarily unintelligent or idiots – clearly many are not – it’s that they are prepared to disengage their intelligence, critical faculties and rationality in order to believe all manner of spurious nonsense.

S%#t 2: Please stop insisting that we read our Bible like right-wing fundamentalists.

I’m surprised you offer this as something you wish atheists would stop ‘insisting’. First of course, atheists don’t insist that anyone read the Bible the same way as anyone else. We would prefer it if no-one read it at all. It is well past its sell-by date and has nothing to offer people living nearly two thousand years after its creation; it is after all a testimony to the failure of the beliefs that spawned it (the Son of Man ascending to the Earth to establish the Kingdom of God here).

Second, implicit in this demand is that there is an intelligent way to read the Bible and there’s the ‘ring-wing fundamentalist’ way. In fact, you don’t even insinuate that certain Christians are ‘ignorant’ and ‘unenlightened’ because of how they read the Bible, you say so explicitly when you talk, ungrammatically, about the ‘unenlightened, ignorant nonsense that fundamentalists do with the Bible.’

But at least fundamentalists regard the Bible as the Word of God (agreed they cherry-pick it and don’t behave according to it precepts) and claim it is ineffable and infallible. Perhaps, as you suggest, more enlightened Christians are free to interpret it in more liberal ways, dismissing that which is context-bound and so on. But then, where does that leave it? Is it authoritative or not? Does it speak directly to people or can it only ‘really’ be understood through the exegesis of scholars? If the latter, as you imply, then can it only be read and understood by those with above average intelligence? How does this square with Jesus’ insistence that his Kingdom was for those with child-like trust?

S%#t 3: Please stop referring to our belief system(s) as fairy tales.

Difficult this one. It depends whether myth and fairy tale are synonymous. Having taught English literature for many years at a university in the UK, I would argue they’re not. To the layman, however, they probably are in that both involve fantasy beings, implausible events, symbolic characters, sacrifice and enlightenment – just like religion really. So no, there is definitely a case here, Dr Corey, that if the cap fits… if your ‘belief-system’ walks, talks and smells like a myth (or fairy tale) then it probably is. You are stuck with atheists pointing this out to you, I’m afraid.

(By the way, your examples of Mickey Mouse and the Old Woman in the Shoe are not fairy tales. One is a commercial enterprise involving anthropomorphised animals and the other a nursery rhyme. I suggest you consult scholars who can explain to you what a fairy tale is, and the differences and similarities between it and myth.)

S%#t 4: Maybe lay off the whole, “religion hasn’t done any good for humanity” type of argument, because it’s obnoxiously untrue.

Reference for this quotation or did you just make it up? Sam Harris perhaps comes closest to saying this sort of thing – comes close but doesn’t actually say it. He says on balance that the good religion has done is outweighed by the evil perpetrated in its name. He doesn’t, though, say no good has come from religion. Sorry, Benjamin, but this is a straw man ‘argument’ you’re presenting here and is itself ‘obnoxiously untrue’.

Would we be better of without religion? Without the myth, the deadening of critical faculties and the adversarial nature of ideologies (even within Christianity)? Of course we would. Without precepts like ‘love your neighbor, love your enemies’? No, but then these are not exclusively religious. Far too many believers disregard them anyway.

 

Effective Preachin’ (Part One)

church3Reverend M. T. Vessal of the Church of The Raised Up here, with the first of my special guest posts for all you wannabe preachers out there. I’m gonna be telling you on how to preach the Good News of Salvation and win souls for Christ.

Right. First off, remember to use the words ‘Blessings’, ‘Sanctify’ and ‘Outpouring’ in your preamble or opening prayer. ‘Course no-one will know what these mean as you haven’t provided any context and they’re pretty meaningless anyway – apart from ‘Outpourings’ which is something kettles do. But it’ll get the folks worked up to expect something real good. Folks in church go for things like Blessings, Sanctifying and Outpourings, believe me.

Next, repeat the title of your sermon – or, if you’re part of a cool modern church like Steve Furtick’s, your talk, or, if you’re really honest (and let’s face it you wouldn’t be doing this if you were really honest) your spot of self-promotion – three times. This is a useful tip for any point of your sermon/talk/self-promotion; if you can’t remember what you were going to say next, say the last thing you can remember saying three times over, putting the emphasis on a different word each time. So, for example, ‘Twelve ways to receiving the Lord’s blessings’ would be: ‘Twelve ways to receive the Lord’s blessings’, then ‘Twelve ways to receive the Lord’s blessings’, and finally, ‘Twelve ways to receiving the Lord’s blessings‘, though feel free to alter this as suits. Saying it three times like this makes it sound like you’ve just come out with something real deep and profound, when you’ve done nothing of the sort. Plus, people sit up and listen to things said in threes. It’s kinda hypnotic.

I said, ‘it’s kinda hypnotic.’

‘It’s kinda hypnotic.’

See? It works.

Next make a joke. Say something like, ‘if you’ll switch on your Bibles’, just to show how with-it and up-to-date you are, knowing most folks bring their iPads to church these days. That way they can shop on Amazon or send an offensive tweet when your sermon gets really boring (and it will get really boring).

Now quote the verse you’re gonna preach about and let the folks follow along; you won’t need to quote it accurately because they’ll all be using different translations, so accuracy’s not important. Unless, of course, you’re one of those churches that only accepts the Authorised Version, the one with all the errors in it that right-royal homosexual James I… well, authorised. (One of the advantages of the KJV is you can  drop in words like ‘lieth’ and ‘unto’ which sound like you really know what you’re talking about.) So, yes, it’s okay to paraphrase the verse your talk is gonna be tenuously connected to because, let’s face it, it’s not going to have much to do with the verse in any case. It’s going to be more about you than whatever’s in the Bible. The exception is if you’re planning on having a rant about homosexuals, in which case you’ll want to stick pretty closely to Leviticus 20.13 and Romans 1.26.

A word on choosing your Bible verse: make it one of Paul’s or something from John. The other stuff, about loving your neighbour and your enemy and going the extra mile isn’t the kind of thing you want to have to talk about. You’re gonna concentrate on Blessings, Sanctification and Outpourings, remember, things that are exclusively for Christians. If you’re feeling really adventurous though you can try a story from the Old Testament. Maybe one of those blood-baths it has a lot of. You can show how all that bronze-age inter-tribal slaughter was really about how much Jesus loves Christians in the twenty-first century.

Right. You’re all set. Next time, I’ll tell you how to preach so that you can make a name for yourself truly reflect the glory of Jesus.

My preciousss is mine (and mine alone)

bible3Christians have a monopoly on the Bible. No-one else should comment on it, criticise it or even quote from it. Or so Christians tell me. The reason for this, apparently, is that ‘it is absurd to contest the Bible when (you’re) missing the one main ingredient: Jesus’. Not so, of course; the Bible is there for anyone who wants to consider and ‘contest’ it. Granted one’s perspective will be coloured by how one regards it to begin with –

whether you approach it with a reasonable degree of objectivity or look at it through the myopia of faith;

whether you take what it says at face value or apply shifty exegesis to smooth out its many inconsistencies;

whether you acknowledge it was created over time by a succession of fallible men or assume it represents the accurately recorded words of God;

whether you regard it as beliefs of ancient tribesmen and religious fanatics or see it as the means of salvation and the ultimate guide to life.

It is only reasonable that those who take the first of each of these alternatives look to those who take the latter to see how closely they adhere to the demands the Bible makes of them. It’s reasonable because those who believe in its magical properties use it to tell the rest of us how wicked and/or lost we are and how much we need Jesus. If the Bible is the Word of God (as I’ve noted before, it doesn’t claim to be; it’s Christians who say it is), instructing believers on how to live their lives while spreading the gospel, it is not unreasonable for those of us on the receiving end of their ‘witness’ to take a look at how that works out. Not so well as it happens.

Now either this is the fault of the book – heaven forfend that it isn’t clear about what’s expected of God’s Chosen – or Christians themselves are to blame for failing to live as it expects. Unsurprisingly, it’s a combination of the two; a book of mixed messages in the hands of flawed human beings. When Christians refuse to acknowledge that the Bible is far from perfect they are faced with the challenge of making its impossible demands compatible with their own imperfections. They have a number of cop-out excuses that enable them to do this, several of which appear in the comments on this blog. I’ve discussed a number of them before, but here’s a quick summary:

Christians are not perfect and the Bible doesn’t say we should be (actually it does, in Matthew 5.48);

Others have no right to be critical of Christians when we’re doing our best;

You can’t use our own book against us when you don’t know Jesus (see above);

You’re a sinner so what do you know?;

You’re quoting out of context (and only Christians can do that);

You’re not applying the correct exegesis and/or hermeneutics (i.e. mine);

The Christians you’re criticising aren’t real Christians;

It is unfair to lump all Christians together.

Is it? Is it really unfair to lump all Christians together? Aren’t you all meant to be one body, the Body of Christ – you, the Pope, Westboro Baptists, the mega-churches and their celebrity pastors, Joyce Meyer, those who would stone gays, those who affirm gays, Franklin Graham, Alpha converts, abortion-clinic bombers, African witch-finders, Archbishop Sentamu, ‘Emergents’, those who belong to one of the thousands of other denominations and all your friends in your own little church? Who are you to say who’s saved and who isn’t? All Christians represent all other Christians, who represent Christ himself. The Bible says so in 1 Corinthians 12.12-26, Ephesians 4.14 -16 and elsewhere. Or did it get it wrong again?