Don’s Dynamic Lie-Detector

But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth. I do not write to you because you do not know the truth, but because you do know it and because no lie comes from the truth.

1 John 2:20-21 as quoted by Don Camp.

Our resident, regularly banned God-botherer, Don Camp, claims that he has a special way of reading and interpreting spiritual writing. No, he hasn’t got a pair of magic rocks, but an inner ‘anointing’ with what Don calls his ‘lie-detector’. (You might have a similar device yourself, known more commonly as a bull-shit detector. Its alarm may well have been a-ring-a-ding-dinging when you read Don’s comment.)

Anointing, if you’re interested, is the ancient Jewish custom of initiating a king or priest by daubing oil on their head. Don has no evidence that he has been inwardly ‘anointed’ by an unseen spirit that helps him understand scripture better than anyone else. There is no evidence, outside of subjective feelings and one tautological bible verse, that any religious believer has had this done to them. (Read 1 John 2.20-21 again, Don, and you’ll see that a tautology is what it is: ‘the truth is the truth is the truth,’ is really all it says.)

On the contrary, we find that different Christians interpret given scriptures in a variety of different ways (I’ll get to examples in a minute). They differ too on which bits of the Bible are relevant to them and their church or sect. They disregard or explain away verses that don’t suit their purposes.

Don does this himself. His anointing Spirit doesn’t lead him to interpret verses like Matthew 16:27-28; 24:27, 30-31 & 34, Romans 13, 11 & 12, 1 Peter 4:7, 1 John 2:18, Revelation 22.20 etc at face value. He cannot countenance the fact that Jesus, Paul, John and all those other early fanatics were wrong about when the end of the age would happen – they are all very clear they thought it was imminent – so he reinterprets what they say to mean something they clearly and unequivocally do not. Don’s interpretation has them meaning, despite what they say, that the end of the age and all that goes with it would be thousands of years in their future. Should you challenge him on this, Don tells you that how you see it is wrong because you don’t have the special anointing he has. As he puts it in his comment, you’re lacking the right ‘dynamic’ (ring-a-ding-ding!) and as a result, you are incapable of interpreting scripture in the right way (i.e. his way).

In fact, Don does not have a way of understanding scripture that he can call his own. Rather, he interprets it with preconceptions he’s acquired elsewhere; that it is God’s Word, that it is Truth, that the spiritual world it describes is real, that it relates an historical resurrection, and so on. He comes to it with these presuppositions that he has learnt from preachers, teachers, commentaries, devotional books and other Christian propaganda he’s been exposed to. He is completely unable to take a step back to look at what he’s reading objectively. He knows what it says before he reads it – ‘truth’ as far as the Bible is concerned, ‘lies’ when it’s the Book of Mormon – and imposes that meaning onto it. This ‘dynamic’ enables him too to smooth over all of the Bible inconsistencies and allows him to see it as one seamless garment when it evidentially is not. He’s not alone in doing this, of course. Most evangelical (‘anointed’) Christians do it. I know I did.

Now for those examples, and a challenge for Don:

1. A few days ago, Holy Spirit anointed, preacher Dillon Awes used his dynamic lie-detector to interpret the Bible’s declarations about homosexuality like this:

What does God say is the answer, is the solution, for the homosexual in 2022, here in the New Testament, here in the Book of Romans (1:26-27)

That they are worthy of death! These people should be put to death!

Every single homosexual in our country should be charged with the crime, the abomination of homosexuality, that they have. They should be convicted in a lawful trial. They should be sentenced with death. They should be lined up against the wall and shot in the back of the head! That’s what God teaches. That’s what the Bible says.

2. Similarly, over the weekend, Ken Ham interpreted Genesis 1 to mean that dinosaurs and humans lived at the same time. After all, he ‘reasoned’, Genesis says God created ‘everything’ in those first six days, so that must include dinosaurs as well as Adam and Eve.

3. Pastor Douglas Wilson who featured recently on Bruce Gerencser’s blog, interpreted the assertion in Ephesians 5:22-24 that wives should be submit to their husbands, even if it entails rape:

…We have forgotten the biblical concepts of true authority and submission, or more accurately, have rebelled against them… However we try, the sexual act cannot be made into an egalitarian pleasuring party. A man penetrates, conquers, colonizes, plants. A woman receives, surrenders, accepts. This is of course offensive to all egalitarians, and so our culture has rebelled against the concept of authority and submission in marriage.

My question to you, Don, is: do you interpret Romans 1:26-27, Genesis 1 and Ephesians 5:22-24 the same way as these other Holy Spirit directed interpreters of scripture? If not, why not, when it’s the same Holy Spirit that equips you with your dynamic lie-detector, that also leads them into all truth?

These is not a rhetorical question; we all want to know. But be warned, Don, our bullshit detectors are primed and ready.

 

Assertions

Don likes to take me to task for what he says are assertions in my arguments. I do make assertions, as do we all, because not all points in an argument need to be demonstrated every time they’re used. Indeed, not all assertions can be.

There are assertions that we all accept are likely to be true: the sun will ‘rise’ tomorrow; the Earth is a sphere; evidence is better than no evidence and so on. There are those who dispute these assertions but the onus is then on them to provide the evidence or argument that their counter-assertion is true. Yes, there may come a day when the sun doesn’t rise but it is statistically improbable; the Earth is demonstrably not flat; faith is not an reliable substitute for evidence. There is abundant evidence and sound argument why these things are not the case. But – and this is my point – this evidence does not have to be trotted out every time an argument relies on such probabilities; they can be asserted.

I write, and indeed live my life, on the basis of the fact (‘assertion’) that the supernatural does not exist. Over the last ten years, I’ve posted several arguments why this is the case. I frequently provide a link to these arguments when asserting that, outside of the human imagination, gods, spirits, angels, devils, demons, powers, principalities, ghosts, avatars, heaven and hell do not exist. These arguments form the backbone of any subsequent assertion that the supernatural is not real.

Nonetheless, the onus to ‘prove’ that this is the case does not rest with me. First, because it is impossible to prove a negative. Consider, for example, the Christians challenge to prove their God doesn’t exist. While there is plenty of circumstantial evidence that this is the case, there is no absolute ‘proof’ of God’s non-existence (as I’ve argued before, it all comes down to probability, or, in God’s case, improbability.) Absence of evidence is invariably evidence of absence.

The onus instead lies with the one making the incredible claim. Those who take it as fact that the supernatural and God are real need to demonstrate to the rest of us that this is the case. They have, in my long experience, failed to do this. The best they can do are the various arguments (the ontological, Kalam cosmological, teleological, fine-tuning and the argument from design) that suggest the possibility of the supernatural but fall far short of convincing evidence that the supernatural is real, and further still that the Christian God exists. They depend in the end on the feelings they have in their heads and the Bible (or some other holy book.) This is wholly inadequate

Consequently, I’ll continue to operate from and make my assertion that the supernatural does not exist until such time as Don or any other of his co-religionists demonstrate the probability that it does.

From my assertion, backed up, remember, by earlier arguments, a number of other facts follow:

With no supernatural, there are no gods; YHWH in all his incarnations is a God, therefore YHWH does not exist.

Much follows from this:

If YHWH does not exist, Jesus cannot have been either his avatar, Son or incarnation;

Jesus cannot have been raised from the dead by a being who doesn’t exist;

Stories that he did so must therefore be merely that: stories;

The celestial, eternal Jesus who sits at the right hand of God in heaven is not real;

Any experience people have of this being is entirely within their own imaginations;

The Bible is based on such imagined encounters with these imagined characters;

There is no after-life or judgment;

The Christian faith, including my own, cannot be explained in terms of the supernatural;

Only explanations that are rooted in naturalism, as in science, have any validity.

There are more implications that can be drawn from the premise that there is no supernatural, including the fact that the world makes much more sense (if it makes any sense at all) without drawing gods and demons into it.

Consequently, I shall continue to make my assertions, like those above, supported as always by previous argument. Any religious believer who wants to challenge them is welcome to do so, but must do more than point out the obvious, that they are assertions. They must provide the evidence for the supernatural, and all that follows from it, independent of the goings on in their heads and without reference to holy books written by those with similar subjective feelings.

Where did Luke get his Bethlehem story from?

Previously on RejectingJesus:

Matthew creates his nativity story, specifically Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem, from Micah 5.2, which prophesies that a ‘ruler over Israel’ will be born there. This prophecy is imposed on Jesus who was not a ruler of Israel – though he may have aspired to be – and certainly was not the Messiah envisaged by the creators of such prophecies. I suggest that subsequently, Luke embroidered Matthew’s fairly basic story and contrived to get Jesus born in Bethlehem by inventing a Roman census that required his parents to travel there.

A Christian commenter (let’s call him Don) then challenged this scenario by claiming, without offering any evidence, that Luke did not have access to Matthew’s gospel, so must have known that Jesus was born in Bethlehem from an independent source. (Christians are fond of attributing suspect gospel material to oral traditions and the hypothetical Q. Don is no exception.)

In fact, a number of scholars, including Michael Goulder, Mark Goodacre, Richard Carrier and others, think that Luke did know Matthew’s gospel. This is the so-called Farrer hypothesis, named after Austin Farrer who first proposed the idea in 1955. As well as his plagiarising 55% of Mark, these scholars show that Luke also used material from Matthew, including the Bethlehem story. The structure of Luke’s version and some of his phrasing is identical to Matthew’s. It is unlikely this would be the case if Luke wasn’t lifting directly from Matthew’s account.

Luke goes further and replaces some of the details in Matthew’s story that don’t suit his purpose (e.g. the magi) with his own (the shepherds), which is why the two accounts diverge. Nonetheless, both versions of the story stem from the ‘prophecy’ in Micah 2.5. Luke doesn’t cite it explicitly but then he is non-specific elsewhere in his gospel about events that supposedly fulfil prophecy. Unlike Matthew, Luke was writing for a gentile audience who would not be as familiar with Jewish scripture; he didn’t need to be as explicit about the source for his stories that were based on these scriptures. Nonetheless, the two nativity accounts, Matthew’s and Luke’s, likely had the same basis (the Micah prophecy) with Luke adapting the narrative that Matthew had already created from it. Moreover, the differences in detail between Matthew and Luke’s accounts demonstrate clearly that both authors were inventing their respective stories. As Neil Godfrey puts it,

Luke, attempting to adapt Matthew’s Bethlehem as the place of birth of Jesus to his more universalist theme, feels obliged to concoct a silly story of everyone being required by imperial edict to return to their places of birth for a special tax registration. Not to mention the necessary anachronism of his Quirinius timing, too. It is not hard to see that Luke is struggling to incorporate Matthew’s Bethlehem setting into his own tendentious narrative.

It’s possible, of course, that all of the scholars who think Luke knew Mathew’s gospel are wrong, but even so, this doesn’t rescue Luke’s nativity from its fictional moorings.

First, it could be argued that both Matthew and Luke knew about Jesus’ birth from their respective sources. Our Christian commenter would say, and does say, that the details of Jesus’s birth were well known in the early, pre-gospel cult (he disputes that Jesus was in any way famous beyond this select few) and that these details were preserved in a reliable oral tradition or in Q. If the former was the case, however, the two nativity accounts would not differ to the extent they do, unless the oral traditions weren’t as reliable as our commenter likes to say they were. On the other hand, Q, if it existed at all, was comprised primarily of sayings and certainly did not include any Bethlehem narrative.

Second, Don will no doubt say that all of this is mere atheist grumbling and is therefore entirely fallacious. He believes that God inspired his anonymous agents to use prophecy, foreshadowing and typology to point the way to Jesus and his birth in Bethlehem. Don believes that both Matthew and Luke had independent knowledge of Jesus’ birth there, which means it must’ve been his birthplace. Of course it indicates nothing of the sort. If Matthew and Luke settled on Bethlehem independently, it would demonstrate only that they had independent knowledge of Micah 2.5.

Third, if the circumstances of Jesus birth in Bethlehem were so remarkable – miraculous, even – then why does Mark not mention them? According to Don (though no serious scholar shares his view) Mark’s gospel is comprised of the recollections of Peter, Jesus’ closest, dim-witted pal in the synoptic gospels. Did Jesus never mention his birth to Peter? Did Peter then fail to pass the details on to Mark? Did Jesus’ mother Mary, who treasured memories of the miraculous birth, never allude to them when she and Peter reminisced together over a glass of water wine? (Yes, Don, I know this is in John’s gospel, but they are meant to be the same characters.) Why does the Bethlehem birth only emerge in Matthew, who built much of his gospel around ‘prophecies’ from scripture, and in Luke, who, in all likelihood, copied from him?

We can be fairly certain that Jesus was not born in Bethlehem. Someone somewhere, other than these two, would have mentioned it outside of symbolic stories that owe far more to myth and legend than they do to fact.

How Prophecy Works

Like many evangelicals and others afflicted by Christianity, Don Camp believes that the Old Testament is jam-packed with prophecies about Jesus; his origin, background, mission, teaching, sacrifice and resurrection. He quotes a couple in one of his recent comments, which we’ll get to soon, and thinks that the general direction of travel is from ancient prophecy to later fulfilment in Jesus. Don and those like him will not entertain the possibility that this is an illusion created by those who constructed the Jesus’ stories.

Here’s how the illusion was created: the gospel writers, and Paul too, looked back at the Old Testament (‘the scriptures’) and found there what Don describes as ‘indistinct’ references to events they believed had happened in their own time. From these and other sources, they built their stories about Jesus. More often than not, these scriptural references were not in themselves prophecies or predictions of Jesus’ life, death or resurrection. We know this by a) reading them in their original context, b) recognising that the Jewish scriptures as a whole never speak of a Messiah who must die an ignoble death for his people, and c) noting the number of times these ‘indistinct’ statements have to be altered by the gospel writers and others, to make them ‘fit’ their conception of their God-man.

Let’s start with one of Don’s picks, from Isaiah 53:11:

After he has suffered, he will see the light of life.

It has to be conceded that all of Isaiah 53 does indeed look like it’s a prophecy of Jesus’ suffering, death and resurrection. In context, however, the suffering servant it describes is Israel itself, as surrounding chapters make clear. Furthermore, on closer inspection, some of it doesn’t seem to apply to Jesus at all. Verses 2&3 really don’t describe a man followed around by multitudes and later worshipped by millions:

He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.

Unsurprisingly, Don doesn’t quote these verses. Sure, it’s possible to make them fit; to say that these verses 2-3 describe Jesus on trial with the crowd baying for his blood; but it’s a stretch. We’ll come back to Isaiah 53 shortly.

Don then refers to ‘the prophecy about (Jesus) not seeing corruption as a dead body’. This is actually Psalm 16:10:

You (YHWH) will not abandon me to the realm of the dead, nor will you let your faithful one see decay.

And, my, yes it does seem to fit Jesus once again, if we believe he died and rose again before his body could deteriorate. But it isn’t about him. It’s about the writer of the psalm, traditionally David, expressing his belief that his God will preserve him. Plucked out of context, it can sound like it’s Jesus being described, just as any number of other verses can be said to be about future events when they’re not. For example, some Christians, including Pat Robertson, are currently claiming that Ezekiel 38:1-2 is a prophecy of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine:

Son of man, set your face against Gog, of the land of Magog, the prince of Rosh, Meshech, and Tubal, and prophesy against him.

That works, don’t you think?

No. Me, neither. Such nebulous statements can easily be applied to much later events on which they have no actual bearing.

Which brings us neatly to the gospels. These claim that the events they describe were foretold by the prophets of old (Luke 24:44). It would be truly remarkable if, as Don believes, all of the prophecies about Jesus in the scriptures were actually fulfilled by him. Some Christian sources claim there are as many as 300. But, as we’ve seen, some of these are so vague they can be made to apply when in fact they don’t.

And this is how the Jesus story came about; it is structured around many of these indistinct prophecies. The authors of the gospels, and Paul too, knew their scriptures and built up a story about the Messiah using them. Like Paul, Mark had little knowledge of the circumstances of his Messiah’s earthly life, so he set about creating a biography for him using ‘prophecies’, scenarios and statements from the scriptures. We might ask here why he should do this if Jesus was as remarkable as early cultists claimed. There is no need to invent stories about a remarkable figure if that figure has already lived an amazing life that is widely known about. Be that as it may, Mark and the other gospel writers set about creating an elaborate life for their hero, largely based on ancient scriptures.

Mark quotes Isaiah 53 directly in 15:38 and makes extensive use of the chapter in his account of Jesus’ passion. Let me stress: Isaiah 53 is not a prophecy of the passion, it is the blueprint for it. Mark’s account is Isaiah 53, down to Jesus’ silence at his trial and his being buried ‘with the rich’.

Matthew and Luke later embellished Mark’s efforts by doing more of the same thing, adding fresh episodes to Mark’s core gospel. Most of these embellishments  are based on ‘prophecies’ that Mark somehow missed. None of them necessarily happened – I’m persuaded they didn’t – but are ‘actualisations’ of parts of ancient scripture. We know this because of mistakes Matthew made in expanding the story, using the additional ‘prophecies’ he ‘discovered’ in scripture. We’ll get to these mistakes next time.

 

Battle Of The Magic Books

Don Camp replies (in blue) to my previous post. My responses are in black.

There are multiple reason for rejecting Mormonism. The primary reason is similar to discerning between a fake $20 bill and the real thing. The fake just doesn’t feel like the real thing. Of course, that test requires that one knows what a $20 bill feels like. Anyone who does not know is easily fooled.

In fact, if you don’t know what the real thing is like, it is impossible to identify a fake. You might notice an ink smudge and a difference in paper, but who is to say one is fake and the other is not?

This presupposes that your version of Christianity is ‘the real thing’. For a Jew, Judaism is the real thing and Christianity the Johnny-come-lately fake. All you’re saying here is that you ‘feel’ your version of Christianity is the real thing and you ‘feel’ Mormonism isn’t. This isn’t persuasive. I know, for reasons other than intuition, that Christianity isn’t the real thing. To use your analogy, it is the twenty dollar bill received in change when in the UK a twenty pound note is the ‘real thing’.

But since you have a knowledge of literature, Neil, why not apply those standards? Nice concession there, Don. The Bible is indeed literature and as such deserves to have the same standards applied to it as any other work of fiction.

Is the Bible and the narrative in the Bible coherent?? No. Its central character is ridiculously inconsistent. Described as an unchanging God, he changes from book to book and most noticeably between the Old and New Testaments. As someone commented on Debunking Christianity recently, it’s as if he ate a Snickers bar between the two. (He does get hungry again towards the end of the NT, when he reverts to being an omnipotent Putin.)

As the protagonist undergoes his major rewrite, the plot also suddenly deviates, becoming a completely different story. It starts by being about this poorly conceived character’s ‘everlasting covenant’ with his chosen people, but then two thirds of the way through, this everlasting covenant is scrapped and replaced with a new, largely incoherent deal involving a human sacrifice that the unchanging God has previously said he finds abhorrent.

Does it stick together and develop a single theme across the whole? No, it doesn’t ‘stick together’, not unless you ignore the gaping inconsistencies in character and plotting, and its overall implausibility.

Do you know what the theme of the Bible is, Neil? Yes, thank you, Don. Condescending of you to ask. Any apparent consistency is because the writers of the second part of the story had access to the first part. They plundered it for their own purposes, drastically altering it so that it suited their new theme. That is why much of the Jesus story appears to be foreshadowed in the Old Testament. The Jesus story – and it is a story – is built on events and episodes they found there.

Remember that the Mormons tell us that the Book of Mormon is an extension of the Bible and that the people of the Americas were related to the Jews and held to the basic truths of the Jews. (Remember also the Mormons believe that Jesus appeared to these people in the New World shortly after his resurrection.) So if you put the Torah and the Book of Mormon together, is the narrative coherent? Does it develop a single theme? The Old testament and the New Testament are a coherent whole, but I do not think the Old Testament and the Book of Mormon are. As you can tell, I dispute that the Old and New Testament are a coherent whole. The Old Testament and the Book of Mormon aren’t either. That lack of coherency becomes even more obvious when we compare God in the Old Testament with God in the Book of Mormon. The person of Jesus is also inconsistent in the Book of Mormon with the Bible.

But they’re inconsistent within the Bible too, Don. Compare John’s Jesus with Mark’s. Compare Paul’s beatific Christ with Revelation’s grotesquely super-powered warlord.

Of course, the standard explanation by Latter Day Saints is that the Bible has not been adequately translated, though I know of no place where they can demonstrate that claim. There are significant translation problems with the Bible, which mainstream scholars consider at length. Mormon desperation to resolve these conflicts is the same as that demonstrated by Christian theologians.

Finally, there is a matter of provenance. We know in very good detail where the Bible came from.

We do? We know who Matthew, Mark, Luke and John actually were? No, we don’t nor do we know where they wrote or what their sources were. We don’t have the autographs (originals) of any of the New Testament documents but we do know some of them are forgeries and others have been tampered with.

There are many copies, especially for the New Testament, and there are many commentaries of both the OT and NT from very early in the their history. Proving what? Only that they were copied, frequently inaccurately. The copies are all much later than the probable time of composition. The commentaries are similarly far removed from them; there are commentaries on the Book of Mormon much closer to its composition.

What is the provenance of the Book of Mormon? It apparently appeared magically out of nowhere pretty recently. No mention in any other literature of its existence. It did appear magically! Oh ye of little faith! God sent an angel, like he does numerous times in the Bible, and told Joseph Smith to translate the golden tablets. The NT books were similarly created, with God breathing his word into cult followers as they wrote. God, angels, Holy Spirit, magic – all of a muchness, don’t you think?

No copy is available to examine. Nor of the original copies of anything in the Bible.

That is not to speak of the total lack of any archaeological evidence for the Mormon claims of Jews in the Americas. Mormons dispute this, of course. There are similar problems with some locations mentioned in the Bible. More fatally, most of what the Bible promises has proven false. For example: Jesus’ imminent return, his guarantee of miracles, believers becoming new creations. (Paul spends much of his time ticking off these ‘new creations’ who remain resolutely unreformed.)

So, I would say the Book of Mormon fails on all levels.

I would too. As does the Bible for the reasons I’ve outlined, and despite your special pleading. You don’t apply the same rigour in your consideration of the Bible that you do to Latter Day Saint fiction. Why is this, Don?

The Sorceress and the Cursed Chide

There was once a powerful sorceress who cast her magical spells to the delight of her acolytes, not to mention those for whom she conjured gold from the air around her. The sorceress then turned her attention to other matters important to her and cast other spells over these. But not everyone was as enamoured with these spells as they had been with her earlier ones. Some said she was a misanthrope who should no longer be casting spells, especially ones they did not agree with. Her new spells, they said, were designed to hurt and harm others, and were spreading hate. (They said this because they didn’t know hate was a verb and not a noun.) They responded to the sorceress with incantations of their own: a Cancelorium Censorium curse that would see her immediately silenced and eventually withered away to nothing. They wished fulsomely for her to be banned from ever casting spells again. The sorceress said she did not intend harm to anyone but needed to preserve something of the old magic she believed in.

Some of her detractors then appealed to the self-appointed Ministry of Freedom and Truth (MOFT) who took up the case, protesting to Professors Bloomsbury and T. Witter, asking them to shut down the sorceress’ means of casting her spells. But these professors, especially Bloomsbury, were among those for whom the sorceress had created much gold from nothing and they were loathe to cancel her. So they did not.

The Ministry then appealed to the Council of Wizards to write new rules that would, in the twinkling of an eye, render the sorceress’ spells ‘black art’ and so forbid them from ever being uttered again, anywhere, on pain of imprisonment in Azerbaijan or even the deathly gallows themselves. But the Ministry had forgotten that the last time the Council had been given the power to regulate what others could say it had introduced the infamous Incantation 28 that had prevented anyone from even mentioning that left-handed witches and wizards existed. It was not wise to consider embarking on such a road again. Fortunately, the Council was preoccupied with magicking away a pestilence that was stalking the land and had no time for quarrelsome spats between well meaning, but offended defenders of Freedom and Truth and controversial conjurors.

So the sorceress continued to cast her spells, while others continued to object to her doing so. Still others helped her create even more gold by buying her latest books about a striking shambling eccentric who was just the same as the striking shambling eccentric in her earlier books of wizardry and witchcraft. There was also a volume about an anthropomorphised farm animal that did rather well too, though some deemed it hateful to those who held such animals in low regard. Little wonder the sorceress shrugged her shoulders and set to creating another spell that, she had no doubt, would offend someone somewhere.

 

Enough frivolity. Where do I stand on these matters? As a trustee of an LGBT+  organisation, I am actively involved in the support of trans as well as gay, lesbian and questioning people. While I don’t necessarily agree with J. K. Rowling’s views on trans issues that she expresses on Twitter, I do believe she has the right to express them.

As part of a minority that has frequently been subject to censorship in the past, I cannot endorse the silencing of dissenting voices. Once we start to do that it becomes only a matter of time before it’s our turn again. If we want to be critical of religion and those who practise it, if we want to comment on politics, and challenge those who do indeed espouse hatred; if we want to have a view on anything at all, we have to accept that others have the same right to express their opinions on matters that are dear to us.

Christmases With Grandad: Christmas Past (1960)

Part three of a three-part Christmas story written for BBC Radio Cumbria.

It was still really dark when I woke up. Really dark. Very, very quiet too. I knew it must still be the middle of the night but I couldn’t see my clock. Even if I could have done I might not have known what time it was because I was only just learning how to do that. I didn’t know if Father Christmas had been. I wriggled my feet down to the end of my bed where it was really, really cold, to see if I could hear any paper rustling down there. I wasn’t very sure I could. I was a bit worried then. If Father Christmas hadn’t been yet, he might not come at all if I stayed awake. I closed my eyes to try and get to sleep again but I couldn’t.

I thought maybe it’d be a good idea to sing one of the songs I’d learnt at school. We’d done a nice concert about a baby being born for our mummies and daddies and we’d learnt some songs for it. I’d had a piece of paper to read too. It said Mary and Joseph had to go to Bethlehem to have a baby, but as I couldn’t really read I just remembered what it said. Then we had sung Little Donkey. So I sang some of that in my head and then O Little Town of Bethlehem because we sang that too, but I could only remember the first bit so I did that two times.

When I finished singing in my head it was still dark, and still quiet and cold. I couldn’t think of anything else to do, so I decided I’d switch my light on. I got out of bed as quietly as I could, tiptoed across the cold lino and reached up to the switch. That’s when I saw that Father Christmas had been after all! There were my presents at the end of the bed. I pulled the red crinkly paper off the first one. It was the train engine I wanted! And the next one was some railway line. I got the rails out of the box and tried to fit them together but it was hard. I must’ve made too much noise because the next thing I knew was my mummy and daddy came in to my room. My mummy sat on the edge of my bed wrapped up in her eiderdown because there was ice on the inside of the window and she was very shivery. She said, ‘Neil, it is still only half past five. It’s far too early,’ but she didn’t mean it because she didn’t make me go back to bed. My dad fitted the railway line together into a big circle and we wound up the little engine and watched it go round and round the track. I knew then it was going to be a lovely Christmas.

A lovely Christmas to both my readers.

Go easy on the wobbly juice.

A Christmas Murder Mystery

I do love reading a good whodunit at Christmas time.

Here’s one I discovered recently, called 

And One For The Dame

by Agnetha Crispin

Obscured by the large Christmas tree in the drawing room, Miss Palmer put down her knitting and listened intently to the conversation going on in the hallway outside. 

Listen Lucinda,’ a ridiculously plummy male voice said, ‘if that old bird keeps asking questions she’s going to rumble us, don’t you know.‘

Oh Rupert, darling, don’t be silly. She’s completely ga-ga. In any case, she’s not interested in us. She thinks she’s here to find out how dear old uncle Bertie died. All she’s really succeeding in doing is getting under the inspector’s feet. He told me so himself.’

Oh, Luce,’ Rupert Hayes-Hickson whispered softly. ‘You really are a first-rate sort of chap.’ The two of them drifted down the hallway and out of earshot. Miss Palmer resumed her knitting. She resolved to catch up with Inspector Petherbridge… or was it Carmichael? – these token policemen really were interchangeable – at the earliest opportunity. Ga-ga indeed!

* * * * * *

So you see, inspector,’ she said, ‘It’s becoming so much clearer who poisoned Bertie. When you think how like Colonel Arbuthnot he was…’

Colonel Arbuthnot?’ the inspector said with requisite weariness, ‘Who is Colonel Arbuthnot?’

Oh dearie me, yes,’ murmured Miss Palmer absently, as she purled another stitch. ‘Such a difficult man, you know.’

Colonel Arbuthnot or Bertie Mallowan?’ asked the inspector, irked with himself for showing interest in the old lady’s seemingly inconsequential remarks.

Arbuthnot, of course,’ she replied with gentle disapproval. ‘He moved into the old manor house in my quintessentially English village, St Mary-Westmacott. Dear me, no; Colonel Arbuthnot was not loved at all. It came as no surprise when my friend Dotty Lumley discovered him dead in his study with multiple gunshot wounds. Goodness me, the blood!’ she exclaimed. ‘That one took some sorting out, I can tell you.’

Miss Palmer, I really don’t see…’

Come closer, inspector,’ she said. The inspector reluctantly drew his chair up to hers. ‘It’s most suggestive, you see,’ she continued. ‘Yes, most suggestive.’ She turned towards the inspector, ‘So I really would prefer it if you did not address me as Anna.’

I don’t recall…’ began the inspector.

You know, it isn’t quite the thing to call respectable elderly spinsters by their Christian names, inspector. It is also as I say, much too suggestive. It all but announces how like an anagram my name is.’ She leant into him conspiratorially, ‘You do take my point, don’t you?’

The inspector’s eyes glazed over. He gurgled as the blood forced its way up his throat and into his mouth. ‘Yes, much too suggestive,’ repeated the old lady, withdrawing the knitting needle from between his ribs and wiping it on his pristine breast-pocket handkerchief.

Gathering up her wool, Miss Palmer glided surreptitiously from the room. There would have to be at least two more grisly murders – quite possibly Lucinda and Rupert’s – before she would reveal how poor old Uncle Bertie had met his end.

 

Food For Thought

The late Patricia Highsmith’s diaries were published recently. Highsmith is the author of The Talented Mr Ripley and Strangers On A Train among many others. She wrote a mean short story too – mean in every sense of the word – some of which I read a while back. The following is a spoof of the kind of thing she came up with.  

Vernon had read somewhere about how ancient Aztecs – or perhaps it was Mayans – would eat the hearts of brave enemies so that they might absorb their courage. He was sure too he’d read something about how, on the same principle, consuming the flesh of intelligent creatures endowed the consumer with whatever intelligence the creatures had originally possessed. He read some strange things, he knew, but had become fully convinced that in principle these facts must be true. As he was, he felt, averse to cannibalism, he researched what would be the most intelligent animals one might reasonably devour. He supposed that dolphins and chimpanzees were off limits – though hadn’t he read of an African tribe that considered chimpanzee a delicacy? – and discovered an article that suggested intelligent life had evolved twice-over. Next to humans, it said, cephalopods were considered to have the greatest intelligence. Apparently the octopus brain was diffused throughout its body and therefore to eat it did not entail ingesting lumps of grey matter. Rather, it could be taken into the body in a soup or stew made from the entire organism.

The next set-back, he was disappointed to discover, was that octopus soup was not readily available in any of the stores near to where he lived. However, after further enquiry, he was pleased to learn that a Japanese restaurant in the next town specialised in such a dish. Accordingly, he determined to travel there on a daily basis, Sundays not included, to take his evening meal. He was surprised, though pleasantly so, to discover that octopus soup had a certain piquancy to it, reminiscent of a crab paste he had once tasted. He found it eminently palatable and for the next sixteen days, Sundays not included, partook of cephalopod consommé.

He would have continued with his regime for longer if not for a peculiar development. While his intelligence and capacity for deep thought had, he was pleased to say, improved considerably as a result of his new diet, he discovered on rising on the seventeenth day, that unsightly red blotches had appeared all along his arms. He was further dismayed, on swinging his legs from the bed, to see that the same marks ran from ankle to thigh.

Doctor Highsmith was at a loss to explain them. ‘Probably a virus of some sort,’ she said vaguely, washing her hands after what Vernon considered to be a perfunctory examination.’Or an allergic reaction to something. If I didn’t know better, I might even say you’d contracted plague – ring-a-roses and all that,’ she joked; impertinently Vernon thought. He wondered if his new diet could have played a part in his condition, but considered it best not to mention it to the doctor. He had, he knew, already surpassed her level of intelligence and did not therefore expect her to understand.

He was further alarmed two days later, however, when the red blotches had assumed a more three-dimensional appearance. They looked now rather like miniature, red-rimmed volcanic craters. He counted sixty-four in total, a neat multiple of eight. They were not painful but had blossomed so that his normal pasty flesh tones were all but obliterated with zig-zagged rows of the little craters. They somehow looked familiar and so he returned to his Encyclopaedia Animalia and the pages relating to cephalopods. Yes, that was what it was; the craters were like the suction cups on the arms of the creatures. He was not unduly alarmed; it was perhaps only to be expected after consuming so many of them and he was sure the symptoms would pass. His confidence was shaken a little though, when he caught himself adding an excess of salt to his food. It was rocked when he noticed that when passing water he was instead emitting a blue-black substance, indistinguishable from the ink secreted by octopuses themselves.

He was on the point of dialling Doctor Highsmith again when he was struck with a stabbing pain in his right arm. He rolled up his shirt sleeve to discover the entire limb had now a deep gash of glistening crimson, running its entire length between the rows of suction cups. Each side of this channel appeared to be on the verge of parting company with the other. His left arm was the same. He dared not look at his legs. He took up the telephone again but was shocked to discover that his lips had hardened around his mouth to the point of being beak-like. He was simultaneously overtaken by an urgent and compulsive need to visit the coast.

He drove to the sea – he knew not how – and abandoning his vehicle, tore off this clothes with what remained of his hands. He ran, gulping for air, to the cliff top. Launching himself from its prominence he entered the water, eight limbs trailing behind a now bulbous body, and disappeared beneath the surface.

 

Scourge

He came from out of nowhere. Myalgic was his name, but he was more commonly known as The Scourge . He was dressed in an impenetrable armour, shining shades of metallic blue and purple, like a beetle’s carapace. He towered over me and despite my own superhuman powers, overpowered me with one blow from the back of his axe. The first wave of unbearable pain swept over me as, in that same instant, my arms, from shoulder to finger ends, became as iron, rendered immoveable, while the muscles of my back twisted into knots of corroded steel. My legs likewise were seared, down to my toes of shattered bone, inside my own inadequate armour. I was being broken from the inside out; every part of my body succumbing to an agony unlike any I have never known.

And then he moved on, leaving me there, smashed into innumerable agonised pieces, defeated.

That was years ago. The pain has not left me. Yes, I have days when it abates, but always it returns with vengeful severity. I cannot, will not, allow it to prevent me from living as fully as I might – of course not – but my days of using my abilities to serve others are gone, ending the day Myalgic The Scourge descended and conquered the world; my world.