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.

 

Dilemma

I don’t dare speak out. It’s so difficult to go against what the council of elders say. I know that it’s right in all it says about the great Providence of our gracious God and the redeeming crosse of our Lord Jesus Christ. And how, if we don’t confesse our sins, we will be cast into the lake of fire forever, along with the devil and his mynions. I know all of this to be true. I have been raised in the ways of the Lord. Everyone in the settlement knows these things.

And yet, that is part of the problem, is it not? When thou knowest something is wrong but no-one else seems to and they conform and their conforming makes matters worse. Our hard-earned freedoms are slowly being taken from us and no-one seems to have noticed. We are even being instructed on what we should wear; cover yourselves the reverend says – in this infernal heat! – and treat thy neighbours as pariahs if they do not comply, do not play their part in keeping the colony safe. I know there are dangers out there, but this does not seem like the way to deal with them.

Judith tells me just keep my mouth shut and do as I am told. Judith, my goodly wyfe. Just be quiet she says, then they don’t single you out too. She is right of course. No-one wants to meet the same fate as the dissenters; the heretics as the council calls them. But when you can see that the church is doing something that just does not seem… well, right. Shouldn’t you speak out then, whatever the consequences? When it is telling you something that deep down you know is not faire or reasonable?

But then, the dissenters did that and look where it got them. No-one will hear from them again. Cast out, like the scapegoats of Holy Writ. Judith is right. Do not step out of line, conform, keep quiet. The ministers and powers-that-be know what they are doing. It is our job to do as we are told. They know what’s best for us. It is for our own good. It is how we will survive these cataclysmic times.

Isn’t it?

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

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. 

God’s Messenger

He was sent by his Father above to save us all. Little is known about his early years though they were traumatic from the start. He grew up in a sleepy backwater with his Earthly father, J, and mother M, only occasionally showing the promise of what was to come. As an adult, he moved into the wider world, where a band of staunch supporters gathered around him. One of these, a fiery, impetuous young man, he considered his closest friend. He also became closely associated with a remarkable woman whose first and last names began with the same letter.

He performed mighty works with his miraculous powers, while all the time exemplifying meekness and humility. He opposed the forces of evil wherever he could until one fateful day, dark forces overcame him. He was killed while saving the world. After three days he rose again, through the miraculous intervention of his father, and was seen by many people. He gained in repute from that day forth and much was written about him.

His original name meant ‘God’s messenger’, but while he was with us it was changed – to Jesus.

Er, no hang on – that’s not right. It was changed to Superman. And like Jesus everything about him is complete fiction.

 

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?

Will the real Jesus please stand up? (part 2)

What evidence is there in the Bible that Jesus really existed? Let’s take a look*:

Paul’s Christ – imaginary (only in his head)

The crucifixion – invented (structured around and based on selected parts of the Old Testament. These aren’t prophecies of his death, they’re used as the template for people writing centuries later)

The Resurrection stories – made up (following various visions and ‘revelations’. The stories themselves are not in Paul or Mark; they’re made up later)

The empty tomb – imaginary (added to bolster resurrection stories. Unknown to Paul)

Miracles – made up (not in Mark where Jesus flatly refuses to perform them. Later miracles all have symbolic meaning. They are symbolic)

Nativity stories – make-believe (the two accounts in Matthew and Luke conflict and have all the properties of myth)

Jesus’ ‘I Am’ statements – invented (only in John: missing entirely from the other gospels. How did they miss them?)

Sermon on the Mount – made up by Matthew (not in Mark but suddenly in Matthew where it is clearly a literary construct)

Jesus’ teaching – invented (next to none of it is original, based as it is on Paul’s teaching, Old Testament ‘wisdom’ and what the gospel writers needed him to say to fit their agendas)

Cult rules – made up (by members of the early cult church)

The Beloved Disciple/Lazarus and Nicodemus – imaginary (not in the other three gospels. How could they not know about Jesus’ most impressive miracle, the raising of Lazarus?)

The woman caught in adultery – invented (a very late addition to the fourth gospel; possibly as late as 350CE)

The Ascension – make-believe (I mean, really?)

Paul’s adventures in Acts – made up (largely incompatible with what Paul himself relates)

Revelation – total lunacy (made up in its entirety: Jesus didn’t say any of the things attributed to him there: he didn’t dictate letters to churches, isn’t a cosmic warlord, hasn’t brought a celestial city to the Earth, etc, etc)

Satan, demons, angels, spirits, powers and principalities – imagined (all non-existent)

Old Testament tales – made up (Creation, Adam & Eve, Tower of Babel, Noah, the Exodus, Job, Jonah, Daniel. Too many to list)

Ephesians, Colossians, 2 Thessalonians, 2 Peter, James, Jude, 1 & 2 Timothy, Titus – forgeries

Jesus – imaginary? It makes you wonder. So much is demonstrably made up about him. If he did exist, he has been buried under layers of make-believe, myth and other fiction; a grave from which he will never rise.

To be continued…

* Examples derived from my own considerations, Richard Carrier’s On The Historicity of Jesus, Bart D. Ehrman’s Forged and Did Jesus Exist?, Michael J. Alter’s The Resurrection, Barrie Wilson’s How Jesus Became Christian &  Freke and Gandy’s The Jesus Mysteries, amongst others.