Those resurrection experiences explained

Emmaus

Isn’t it amazing how modern Christians see Jesus in clouds (the picture in the previous post was taken from a site that genuinely believes it was Jesus in the sky – there were lots of others examples there too), on toast, in their own whipped-up emotions, through voices in their heads and as a result of inner-visions but deny that the original resurrection appearances were just the sort of thing? No, Jesus really appeared then, they say, resurrected in his damaged body – he showed Thomas the holes in his side, didn’t he?

Given people’s propensity for seeing things that are not really there – figures in clouds, the sense of a supernatural presence (‘Mother Mary comes to me’) – isn’t it more likely the original ‘manifestations’ of the risen Lord were precisely this; the same sort of ‘sightings’ that people claim to experience today? Maybe not on toast admittedly, but in their heads, in the euphoria of shared worship, in their need for comfort? I’ve done it myself, when I was a Christian. I sensed Jesus’ presence in carefully stage-managed worship, in intense prayer, in what I took to be his response to those prayers. Of course, these were nothing more than my interpreting my own emotions as something from outside myself; an intense and reassuring self-delusion.

Is there evidence of this sort of process in the accounts of the risen Christ? Sure there is – Paul’s encounter is a vision in his head (Galatians 1.16; 1 Corinthians 9.1 & 15:8), while the gospels have Jesus say that whenever two or three of his followers are gathered together, there he will be amongst them (Matthew 18.20). He cannot have meant that, long after he’d left the Earth, he’d be physically present. Rather, this is a later explanation of the intense emotion early believers felt and decided could only be Jesus’ mystical presence – his so-called holy spirit (which isn’t called ‘The Comforter’ for nothing.) They were doing what I did and what millions of Christians still do today – interpreting the feelings they shared in these worshipful contexts as visits from the risen Lord. Later, the gospel writers made Jesus ‘predict’ just such experiences and then firmed them up, so that the accounts of warm feelings and visions became, retroactively, encounters with a physically manifested person.

That’s how it happens today – a vaguely human-like shape in the clouds or on toast and warm feelings become an experience of Jesus. We readily see human form where there is none (we are psychologically primed to seek out human faces) and attribute external agency to phenomena that don’t have any. No reason to suppose it was any different back in the first century.

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The Same Old Song

Ascension2

How was it for you? The End of the World, I mean. The one last Saturday – 23rd September?

What do you mean it never happened? Christian numerologist David Meade promised it would. He worked it all out from the bible and stuff, and had numbers – numbers I tell you – to prove it.

When it didn’t happen, what did Meade do next? He explained that Saturday was only the beginning of the End. Terrible stuff was going to start happening on 23rd, that would lead up to the actual end End, which is not far off.

Same old, same old. How many times has this happened before? A predicted end-of-everything that doesn’t come to pass, followed by post-hoc ‘explanations’ from those who invented the nonsense? Invariably this entails some version of ‘it was really only the beginning of the end’, even though this is not what the ‘prophecy’ claimed before it failed. It’s easy to scoff, which is what Christians themselves do when one of their number fails spectacularly to predict the End. ‘They should know,’ they say, ‘that the Lord warned that no-one knows the precise time of the End.’ (And indeed he does in Mark 13:32.)

What they fail to see is that Christianity itself is built on a failed prediction that the End was nigh, and the resulting catalogue of excuses when it turned out not to be. Jesus (or those who put words into his mouth) was clear that the End of the World was scheduled while his pals and fans were still alive. When it didn’t happen, those who came after him invented all sorts of reasons why not: ‘he meant it would be a gradual process (Luke 17:20-21),’ ‘God doesn’t see time the way we do’ (2 Peter 3.8), ‘he’s delaying so more people can be saved (2 Peter 3.9). The writer of John’s gospel, written about 70 years after Jesus lived, solves the problem by ignoring the issue entirely.

Christians today leap on these excuses to explain why the world still hasn’t ended; yet there is an unassailable incongruity between this kind of fudging and what Jesus says. He thought and taught that the world was coming to a spectacular end soon, when God would remodel it in favour of the poor, the oppressed and the righteous (Matthew 16. 27-28 & 24.27, 30-34; Luke 21.27-28, 33-34 etc). He was wrong. Paul too thought God was going to rescue his ‘remnant’ while he still lived (1 Corinthians 15.51) and he was wrong too.

When it dawned on early Christians that the world was not going to end when Jesus and Paul had said it would, they started inventing their excuses. 2 Peter 3.3 warns that there would be scoffers in the last days, an undoubted jibe at those in the early second century who pointed out how mistaken Christians and their Christ were about the End. Those scoffers had a point and, two thousand years down the line, have even more of one.

Jesus is the archetypal failed prophet of End Times. Cranks like David Meade are merely modern day equivalents, purveyors of the exact same fatuous nonsense about the end of the world. Meanwhile, nothing changes; we are still here, the world is still here and God, as is the way with a non-existent being, remains characteristically unconcerned.

God delays his judgement so he can torture more people

Judgement2

A Christian pastor, ‘Peter C’, has been assuring everyone on Daniel B. Wallace’s blog-site that God’s judgement has been delayed (2000 years and counting) because, as it says in 2 Peter 3.9, he wants to give as many people as possible time to repent and avoid hell. The pastor puts it like this:

The Lord is longsuffering, and not willing that any should perish, but that all would come to repentance. The context of 2 Peter 3:9 tells us that this is why the Lord appears to delay His coming – it is His longsuffering and love for humanity. It is not His will that anyone would pay the penalty for their own sin…

The claim of 2 Peter 3.9 – written not by Peter but by someone pretending to be Peter almost a century after he lived – has never made sense. God would have to delay his judgement indefinitely if he wanted to avoid punishing most of mankind. That’s because new unsaved humans are appearing all the time – about 353,000 are born every day. The longer God leaves it, therefore, the more unsaved humans there will be, simply because, as time goes on, the more of us there are.

If God had got on with the judgement in the first century, as Jesus said he would (Matthew 16.27-28; 24.27, 30-31, 34; Luke 21:27-28, 33-34 etc) then the unsaved would have been far fewer.

Here’s the maths: the population of the world in the first century was about 300 million; today it is 7.4 billion. Assuming, very generously, that about 30% of the population then, as now, was ‘saved’, the judgement then would have resulted in only 210 million people being sent to hell. The same percentage today would see 5.2 billion people being condemned to burn for all eternity.

2 Peter 3.9 is a weak excuse for why God’s judgement didn’t occur when Jesus, and Paul, said it would. It was written either by a fraud who lacked any understanding of basic maths and had no conception of how the world’s population would increase over the next two thousand years – or by someone who, like his predecessors in the cult, thought the judgement was imminent. If the latter, then he was referring only to those alive in his own time whom he thought were being given more time to repent. Either way, he was wrong. That his mistaken beliefs and false assurances are given credence by pastors and their flocks today testifies only to the stultifying effect of religious faith.

Jesus just isn’t up to it

A brief diversion from considering why God couldn’t possibly have created the universe…

Falls

Billy Graham’s grandson, Boz Tchividjian, has been addressing the issue of child abuse in the protestant church. He concludes his considered comments with the claim that,“there was no greater defender of children than Jesus.” Presumably he bases this on the few things Jesus is made to say about children in the gospels – all two of them: ‘suffer the little children’ (Luke 18.15-17) and that stuff about ‘whoever leads a little one astray’ (Mark 9.42), which is really more about the precariousness of faith than children. And, according to Boz, this qualifies Jesus as the greatest defender of children ever. No-one has ever done anything ‘greater’ for them. Not Dr Barnardo, not Save the Children, not the NSPCC, not foster carers or ordinary mothers and fathers. Nope, Jesus is the best ever child protector. The same Jesus in whose name both Catholic and Protestant churches have systematically abused young people down the years.

I never cease to be amazed at the willingness of Christians to superimpose every conceivable virtue, and quite a few prejudices, on a long dead itinerant preacher. But this is no modern phenomenon. It began within a few years of Jesus’ death, when religious zealot Saul decided that a peculiar turn he’d had was really Jesus returned from the dead. On the back of this, Saul – newly rebranded as ‘Paul’ – invented all manner of nonsense about a man he’d never met, his entire, tortured theology bearing little relation to any individual who had ever actually lived. We know this is what happened because of the disciples’ objections to Paul’s ideas and the very different ways in which Jesus was later to be portrayed in the synoptic gospels.

Then the crank who wrote Revelation added even more to the Jesus legend; he was now an avenging warrior-king, ready to fight dragons and smite his enemies right, left and centre.

And still it goes on: Christians insist Jesus was perfect, that he did not ‘sin’ or do anything immoral, when the figure in the synoptic gospels is alternately misogynistic, xenophobic, insulting, prone to anger, supportive of slavery and megalomaniacal. Far from perfect, in fact.

Not so, say other Christians who make it up as they go along; Jesus is a great protector and defender, looking after his flock from Heaven. But in reality, his protection is non-existent, as those who implored him to divert hurricane Harvey recently discovered. (We can be sure his uselessness as an insurance policy won’t change the way any of them regard him.)

Even if Jesus isn’t perfect or a great defender, he is, according to extremist nincompoop, Kevin Swanson, a divine punisher, inflicting natural disasters as a result of people’s ’embrace of sexual perversion’. Yet at the same time, he has a special affection for the good ol’ US of A, steering Donald Trump into the presidency and pulling his strings to Make America Great Again.

Or maybe Jesus is really a financial wizard; proponents of the ‘prosperity gospel’ say so, despite Jesus’ repeated repudiation of wealth in the gospels. On the other hand, he’s a sensitive little snowflake, easily offended by anything and everything we do down here on Earth, to the extent he gets upset by what’s on the TV.

Jesus can barely bear the weight of the incredible claims made for him in the gospels (miracle worker, prophet, healer), even though this is a great deal less than the characteristics he’s had projected on him since. Jesus was not eternal, nor the ultimate sacrifice as Paul claimed; he was not God himself as later Christians determined; he was not perfect, nor the greatest defender of children ever; he was not a super-hero warrior-king, nor was he patient, meek or mild. He did not have a preference for a nation that did not exist in his time nor was he explicitly anti-gay. Despite how he’s invariably shown in devotional material produced by western Christians, he certainly wasn’t white. He wasn’t even a Christian.

All of these attributes have been added to him, long after his death, by those who need and want him to be these very things, who need a saviour in their own image. The many Christs that exist, from those invented in the first century to those worshipped today, are, every one, figments of the human imagination.

 

 

 

More fairly random, half-formed thoughts on Evolution

Flintstones42

(Note to self: check the captions to this and last time’s pictures are the right way round.)

 

3. On God in Nature

God is revealed in nature! The bible says so (Romans 1.20) and you don’t even have to be a Creationist to see it – the evidence is there in plain sight.

But to suggest that, because aspects of nature are beautiful (or stunning or endearing) from a human perspective, the natural world can only have come from the hand of a loving Creator is merely to argue from a position of incredulity: “I can’t conceive how such beauty came to be; it must have been God.”

I live close to the countryside and although there is much that is impressively beautiful, the mercilessly cruel working of nature is also apparent: ruthless competition, even between plants and certainly among animal wildlife; waste on a vast scale; predation – young blue-tit (chickadee) chicks in my garden eaten a few weeks ago by magpies – death and sex.

The incredulous believer who refuses to see these aspects of nature and sees only beauty – and much of it is undeniably beautiful – is being disingenuous in their selection of evidence (confirmation bias in action). If God reveals himself in nature, then just as it is, he has to be callous, cruel and indifferent to suffering too.

“Ah, yes,” says the Christian, “but that’s because we live in a fallen world,” which is having it both ways: God is apparent in nature, except when he isn’t… because then it’s a fallen world.

Speaking of which –


4. On This Being a Fallen World

Creationists, such as those at Answers In Genesis, like to argue that genetic mutations in humans and animals fail to ‘increase the information’ and, further, that such errors would only lead to malfunction and the death of the organism. They’re right about the latter; significant mutation is almost always detrimental. However, according to Nature, ‘others have little or no detrimental effect. And sometimes, although very rarely, the change in DNA sequence may even turn out to be beneficial to the organism.’ A mutation that increases the chances an animal will survive and reproduce ensures that the particular mutation is passed on to its offspring.

The constant shuffling and recombining of genes in sexual reproduction also changes and ‘increases the information’ within the genome with the consequent effect on the phenotype (the genome’s physical expression). This is analogous with the twenty-six letters of the English alphabet producing new, unique sentences, paragraphs and texts every time they are recombined.

Creationists are wrong therefore to insist that mechanisms do not exist to change or add to genetic ‘information’. They are wrong too that variations caused by mutation cannot contribute to the evolution of an organism; while most born with such variance are likely to die before they can reproduce (natural selection in action) a minority are able to pass on the changes. Mutation and sexual recombination of genes are integral to evolution and the development of the organism.

I mention this because the bible presents quite a different scenario. In Genesis, the world and everything in it is created in a state of perfection. Then, because of human disobedience and sin, God feels compelled to curse his entire creation and the sudden or gradual – Christians are none to clear about which it is – transition to degradation, entropy and death begins.

It’s here that creationists’ objection to the role of mutation in evolution proves a stumbling block for their own scenario: a system designed to function in a particular way cannot continue to operate effectively after undergoing such a radical, brutal overhaul. We know of no other system that, having undergone such demolition, can continue to work in the way it was intended to, and certainly not as effectively as the ecosystem has for millennia. Look, for example, at how human activity has contributed recently to radical changes in climate.

Nature relies on those things that Christians say arose because of God’s curse on it: death, disease, waste, competition, cruelty. A system with such inherent ‘faults’, so far removed from how it was ‘designed’ to operate, would have failed long ago.

From this we can conclude that:

Nature/ecosystems/life were not ‘designed’ at all.

     They were never part of a ‘perfect’ creation.

         They were not cursed and are not now faulty components of a fallen,     malfunctioning world – nor could they be.

                       They could not operate any differently from the way they do.

                             They will not, despite what the bible says (Romans 8.20-21), be restored one day to a state of perfection they didn’t have in the first place.

 

How the bible gets almost everything wrong: volume 3

Paul4

So there we have it. The bible is historically, scientifically, medically, morally, and psychologically inaccurate. It is a muddle of contradiction and confusion, written by pre-scientific, bronze-age tribesmen and religious zealots who made guesses about how the world worked. In almost every respect they got it wrong.

So what does this mean for the central premise of the book, its claim that the Creator of the universe, the Father of mankind speaks through it? Why should we suppose that when it gets everything else wrong, it manages to get this right?

We shouldn’t. The bible’s knowledge of God comes from the same source as the rest of its information: the wild imaginings of men who knew no better. The bible itself tell us so, many times. By its own admission, it is a catalogue of dreams, visions and inner ‘revelations’. In the New Testament alone there are at least twenty ‘meaningful’ fantasies of this sort, including the entirety of its final book, the aptly named ‘Revelation of St John’. The bible comes from an era when dreams and other subjective internal experiences were widely regarded to have significance as messages – revelations – from the gods, not the routine and not-so-routine workings of the human mind we now know them to be. Every era, before the scientific, regarded them in this way.

So Paul interpreted his psychotic episodes, depicted as a disembodied voice and bright light in Acts but far more dreamlike and hallucinatory in Paul’s own descriptions, as experiences of the risen Jesus himself (1 Corinthians 9.1 & Galatians 1.11-12) and of heaven (2 Corinthians 12.1-4). From these he built up all of his fanciful ideas of ‘the Christ’, not one of them based on anything demonstrable or real. All of them mere notions in his head, notions that others were all to willing to accept as the words of a god. After all, wasn’t that how the Almighty always communicated with mere mortals?

Still today people surrender to these ‘revelations’; Paul’s theology built on out-of-body experiences, the disciples’ grief-induced visions, John’s hallucinogenic ‘bad trip’. These are the foundation of Christianity as we have it, providing all we know of God, Christ and salvation, and all of them without any basis in reality. Some believers even claim to have the same sort of ‘revelations’ themselves; God speaking to them, Christ bathing them in light, visions of Heaven. All of these, again, entirely within their heads and no more real than the occasional appearances of my long dead grandfather in my own dreams. However much Christians might insist on a rational basis for their beliefs, it is an inescapable fact that the faith has its origins in ancient people’s dreams and hallucinations. Rationalising after the fact doesn’t alter this.

I don’t know about you, but I’m not interested in basing my life on others’ emotionally-induced inner visions, whether those of a Paul, or a Joseph Smith or a contemporary whack-job. I don’t want to learn about the world and life from people whose understanding and knowledge derive from their sub-conscious and hallucinatory fantasy life. Give me science any day, with its attempts to minimise subjective, human biases from its exploration of how things are. Give me its discoveries that have enhanced life, however imperfectly, in the here and now. Above all, give me honest rationality over sub-conscious imaginings and psychoses.

I have no interest in a god, or a saviour, constructed from other people’s dreams, visions or hallucinations, even, or especially, when they’re recorded in that most unreliable of sources, the bible.

 

Sin

Sin

During the recent election in the UK, the leader of the Liberal Democrat party, Tim Farron, was asked if he thought gay sex was a sin. Farron is a born-again Christian and instead of answering the question, he hedged round it. Predictably, this meant that journalists returned to it, with the politician dodging it each time.

In all probability, Farron does regard gay sex as a sin. The bible teaches that all behaviour that offends God is sin, causing a rift between mortals and the deity. This, biblically speaking, is what defines sin. Tim Farron would have been better being honest, saying that his faith leads him to believe that sex between people of the same sex is sinful but that personally he is a supporter of equal rights for all. His voting record indicates this to be the case; he has consistently voted in favour of LGBT rights while, presumably, maintaining his faith. Perhaps if he had answered in this way, he might not have felt the need resign as Lib-Dem leader on the grounds that his role as party leader conflicted with his personal beliefs. Predictably, evangelical groups have claimed he was hounded out of office because of his beliefs, but it seems far more likely he was, as he said himself, finding it difficult to reconcile his faith-induced worldview with his public duty. It must be difficult defaming your colleagues when you’re supposed to be demonstrating Christ’s love.

Whatever the reason, those who believe that human behaviour is sinful are wrong. Nothing humans do is a sin. Nothing we do, gay sex included, offends God because there is no God to offend. Sin is an entirely religious concept that has outlived its usefulness, if it ever really had any. Which is not to say human behaviour cannot be immoral. It can, but immoral behaviour and sin are not the same thing. As a rule of thumb, morality is determined by the extent to which our behaviour adversely affects others. Deliberately harming them physically, materially or emotionally is (likely to be) immoral behaviour. Murder, theft and abuse are immoral – but they are not ‘sin’.

Morality is not always clear cut, however; arguably it would not be wrong to murder a terrorist or suicide bomber before he can embark on a killing spree. Aborting collections of cells in a woman’s uterus, if that is what she wants, is also not an immoral act. Similarly, victimless behaviours such as sex – both hetero and homosexual – between free, consenting adults is neither wrong nor immoral. Nor is masturbation, gender fluidity or transgenderism. And as for the betes noir of the church of my youth (and who knows, they may still be) – listening to rock music, having the odd drink and dancing – they’re not either.

On the other hand, some of the activities indulged in by religious people are immoral: attempting to impose their beliefs on others; misrepresenting and denigrating those different from themselves; pressurising gay people to deny their sexuality; advocating the death penalty for homosexuality; covering up fellow-believers’ criminal activity; teaching children that creation myths are true; dismissing science; persuading people that prayer works; convincing others they are sinners.

We all behave immorally, thoughtlessly and carelessly, from time to time. But we are not, as a consequence, destined for hell, nor are we in need of a saviour to magically wash away any wrong-doing; if that really worked, we would see no immoral Christians. No, when we have behaved immorally we need to make reparation to those we have harmed, not ‘repent’ by begging forgiveness of some irascible god. What we should never do, whatever the Righteous ones tell us, is regard ourselves as sinners. We are not: it is impossible to offend a deity that doesn’t exist.