Suffer the Little Children

Jesus said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” Mark 10.14

…the very hairs of your head are numbered. Fear not: you are of more value than many sparrows. Luke 12.7

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Recently, I attended the funeral of a little boy who died of the cancer he’d suffered from the time he was nine months old. His young parents are friends of mine. They showed their son such incredible love during his illness, ensuring he received the best medical care possible.

But where was God through it all? The God that Christians say has a special affinity for children, who loves them and cares for them? The God who looks after ‘the little people‘?

That God was nowhere. He showed no interest in this particular ‘little person.’ No concern and no compassion for him or his parents. Of course, that’s because he doesn’t exist, though this didn’t stop Christians telling the family how marvellous and caring and loving he is.

Really? If I had any vestige of faith left, what has happened to this innocent during his short life would have cured me of it entirely. And make no mistake, he was innocent, not a sinner (as if that would let God off the hook.) A deity who allows a baby to have cancer and to die after fourteen months of prolonged, invasive treatment would be a callous, worthless bastard. But we knew that already.

Had there been a God who cared, this little boy would’ve been two today, Easter Sunday.

Experts in make-believe

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As it is in the secular world, so in the Kingdom of Heaven. Entirely self-appointed experts abound in the religious sphere: priests, pastors, preachers, imams, rabbis. Some have degrees in theology; some have a degree of enlightenment (or so they claim) from personal encounters with the supernatural; some have learnt at the feet of the experts who have gone before them.

But what are religious experts expert in? Unlike our politicians who have at least a degree in a legitimate subject (even if not the one they now profess to know all about) the only thing religious experts are knowledgeable about is a collection of fantasy stories. That’s the Bible, of course, for Christian ‘experts’, with its supernatural beings, monsters, giants, magical incantations, transformations and resurrections.

If these experts were to encounter the same sort of fantastic notions in any other book, they would readily acknowledge that what they were dealing with was myth and legend. Not so their own ‘holy’ text! Oh no. This, of all the books of magic that exist, is, they say, the real deal because in amongst the far-fetched stories is some moralising about being extra-nice to fellow Jews and loving your enemies.

All that Christian experts are expert in is myth. That is their specialist subject. They’re not really interested in the injunctions about serving others; the mythical stuff they refuse to acknowledge as myth is much more to their liking: the eternal God-man, living forever, fantasy heaven, fantasy hell. The expertise of priests, pastors and preachers is in this smorgasbord of twaddle – and even then they frequently get it wrong. Those who offer their ‘spiritual’ experiences as demonstration of its veracity (‘I know it’s true because I commune with the eternal God-man’) add nothing of substance to their claims; all they’ve done is internalise myth, nothing more. Myth it remains. And just how useful is expertise in made-up stories in this day and age?

Like politicians who are skilled in one area but assume expertise in another, Christian experts also think that their knowledge of myth makes them experts about all sorts of other things: psychology, morality, the state of the world, politics, science, history and pre-history – even the future. They know all about these, they like to tell us, because by extrapolating from their book of myths and legends, they have an understanding that surpasses that of the real experts in these areas (we can exclude the future here; no-one in the real world claims to know with any certainty what the future holds. Naturally, Christians like to pretend they do).

You think this isn’t the case?

Because of what they think the Bible says:

Mike Pence, ‘evangelical Catholic’ and vice-President, thinks God will heal America only if ‘his people, who are called by his name, humble themselves and pray’ (quoting 2 Chronicles 7.14). He wants to end state-funded abortion rights into the bargain and disputes climate change;

Franklin Graham, who said prayers at the recent inauguration, insists that God himself engineered Donald Trump’s election;

Pastor Robert Jeffress, who provided a private church service for Trump prior to the inauguration, thinks so too, so that America can have ‘one more chance’.

Jim Bakker, ex-felon, televangelist and guest at the inauguration, claims he was responsible for Trump’s election because he ‘bound’ hell-spawned demons who opposed Trump.

Pastor Rick Wiles, meanwhile, is too busy enjoying being sprayed with the golden showers of God’s Grace that even now are ‘oozing’ from Heaven because of Trump;

Steve Bannon, Trump’s Chief Strategist & Senior Counselor and one of the architects of the immigration ban, is pushing hard for a return to ‘Judeo-Christian traditionalism’ (which hasn’t stopped him from being married and divorced three times);

Betsy DeVos, Trump’s anti-gay Education Secretary, thinks schools should be used to build God’s Kingdom on Earth and wants Creationism taught alongside Evolution;

Ken Ham continues to influence people like Betsy, by teaching that the earth was created 6,000 years ago, Adam and Eve really existed and humans co-existed with dinosaurs;

Jerry Falwell jr, appointed by Trump to reform higher education, sees no contradiction between being a pro-life creationist and an arms advocate;

Religious Rights leaders are urging Trump to reverse the rights granted to LGBT people under President Obama, both in America and worldwide. At the time of writing it looks like he might;

Anne Graham Lotz, Billy Graham’s alabaster daughter, asks what the Bible has to say about the Women’s March in Washington last week and concludes that women who protest are ‘loud, undisciplined and without knowledge’;

Sandy Rios of the religious ‘American Family Association’, agrees, saying feminists are ‘people who live in filth’;

Steven Anderson thinks people in need are ‘lazy bums’, just like the Bible says (2 Thessalonians 3:10) and continues to call for LGBT people to be executed;

A million and one other preachers and pastors think they have your psychology all worked out – you’re nothing but a sinner in need of Jesus’ saving grace.

By any rational standard this is all lunatic stuff. These people know no more than you or I about any of the subjects they spout about. They think they do – and worse still others believe they do – because of what (they think) is in their collection of myths; ‘I know what I’m talking about because it’s in my magic book!’ And who are we to doubt such credentials?

It is all fallacy. Christian experts are experts only in the ephemeral, the unproven, the mythical. Yet they claim to know so much about everything else as a result. They claim they know how you should live your life and what, for you own good, you should be allowed to do and what you should not.

People such as these have now come to power in America.

 

God’s Wrath (and those who direct it)

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The idea that natural disasters and death are punishments from God – for whatever we humans have done to offend him – is still with us. As I suggested here, such a notion has been around from the beginnings of religious belief. It, together with its counterpart – that we need to appease the god(s) who so afflict us – is responsible for the genesis of all religion. There are those today whose thinking is wilfully stranded in the ancient world-views of ‘sacred’ texts that embody this dual notion of punishment that’s somehow merited and the need to appease the deity dishing out the punishment.

Here it is expressed recently by bear of little brain, Sam Rohrer, who has it directly from the Lord that he, the Almighty, has turned his back on America because it does not force immigrants to believe in him. America, he says has

changed the historic biblical rules (regarding immigration) … this is a reason why God must discipline our country.

Looney tune Pat Robertson, with his direct hotline to the Almighty, insists that it’s abortion that’s going to bring down God’s wrath:

One day, a righteous, holy God is going to demand an accounting for every drop of blood that has been spilled of innocent, unborn babies. And we just keep it in mind, when it happens it’s going to be awful.

Andrew Bieszad, on the other hand, knows that Hurricane Matthew which struck Florida back in August was God punishing the State for its tolerance of ‘evil sodomites’ (you don’t get much more tolerant than that.):

Stop sinning, especially with sodomy, as it is one of the four sins in the Bible which cry out to God for vengeance, which we are seeing now.

And these are just a few examples. There are many more. According to his whack-job servants, God can punish us, entirely indiscriminately, by unleashing earthquakes, tsunamis and floods; he can turn his back on us so that we wallow in our own filth; he can show his distaste for our ‘sin’ by raining down death and destruction upon us.

Naturally there’s plenty of this kind of thinking in the Old Testament, where God is credited with drowning his entire creation when a few ancient tribesmen misbehave (Genesis 6); he’s made to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah after every male turns inexplicably violent-gay (Genesis 19) and he’s said to wipe out whole swathes of his chosen people because they don’t pay him enough attention (Exodus 32.28).

None of these things happened, of course. They’re stories, myths or legends that incorporate the primitive thinking of the pre-scientific people who devised them, people who could only explain violent events in terms of divine punishment. It is this same thinking that is perpetuated today by those whose development is similarly arrested: through exposure to these same stories, an unwillingness to think rationally, an unhealthy preoccupation with God-nonsense and an overweening sense of self-righteousness (‘don’t blame us; it’s those others that attract God’s wrath.’)

There is no correlation between the disasters that befall humankind and God. Not one of the self-appointed prophets who say there is offer a single scrap of evidence that they are inflicted by a deity. Not one of their cause-and-effect assertions has ever been tested, can ever be tested. And – the clincher – there is no God anyway. All of which renders appeasement unnecessary and is good enough reason not to believe a word from these misguided charlatans.

God sends New Savior!

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Well, Stateside Christians, you got your man. Donald Trump will be president come January and you’re largely responsible for that. 81% of you voted for him. By my reckoning that’s about 50% of his total vote; he couldn’t have done it without you. Now he’s going to be your nation’s savior. He’s going to make America great again. He’ll return the nation to Christian values and morals. He’ll honour God and bring him back into the public arena, just like you want him to.

Or will he? How do you get God-fearing Savior from a petulant, misogynistic individual who has repeatedly shown himself to be racist, sexist, xenophobic, divisive, adulterous, abusive, ignorant, vitriolic, dishonest and avaricious; a man who denies climate change, is full of his importance (and nothing else), who makes promises he can’t keep and probably had no intention of keeping even as he made them. A man who couldn’t name a single verse in his ‘favourite book’, the Bible; who admits he’s never asked God for forgiveness and who has shown no sign of any kind of Christian humility, compassion or morality; a man who is even now appointing the most reactionary, right-wing extremists to his transitional team (so much for draining the swamp!) How can this man be the one who is going to restore America to a glorious Christian past it never really had, and make it a truly God-fearing nation once again?

Someone with these ‘qualities’ cannot possibly turn America into the promised land, even though you’ve convinced yourselves he’s another King Cyrus, the heathen king in the Old Testament who helped God’s people in their time of need. Trump is no Cyrus, even if he is the 45th president and Cyrus’s story is told in Isaiah 45 (yes, some of you think this is significant). You have been duped, again, American believers. But it is not Trump who has deluded you; it is you yourselves. You have persuaded yourselves that despite all of the evidence, Trump is man who can be greatly used by God.

There was no divine guidance behind Trump’s campaign and God won’t be manipulating him into doing his bidding once he takes office. This is because, primarily, there is no God to do any these things, but even if there were, why would he? Why would he ensure a man whose values are the direct antithesis of all (you say) he stands for, became the leader of the free world? Why would he be interested in making a silk purse out of the sow’s ear that is Donald Trump? Wouldn’t your God of Reason start with someone who is already one of his own? Someone who is genuinely a Christian; someone, say, who has tacky pictures of himself and Jesus hanging in his house? Or an evangelical – let’s call him Mike Pence – who comes pre-packaged with genuine, and genuinely viscious, Christian faith and a necessary anti-abortion, anti-gay agenda?

It’s you and you alone, Christians, who have turned Trump into a Savior. It is you who have created the silk purse. You’ve ignored what has been in front of you throughout the presidential campaign and have projected on to an individual who has done nothing but tell you what you wanted to hear, a spiritual significance he does not have. You have made of Trump an artificial Man of God, just like your predecessors did two thousand years ago with that other imposter, Yeshua Bar Joseph. Like them, you’re going to find out that the man you’ve elevated to savior status is anything but, because the Donald Trump you’ve elected is a construct of your collective imaginations. You’re about to discover that the real Donald Trump is not the man you’ve deluded yourselves into thinking he is.

Rejecting Jesus the Christian way

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I’m sometimes taken to task for pointing out that Christians don’t make much effort to live as their saviour says they should. The title of my first book, Why Christians Don’t Do What Jesus Tells Them To …And What They Believe Instead sums it up. Since the very beginning, believers have replaced the radical commands attributed to Jesus with mythology, mysticism and magic formulae, none of which he’d recognise and all of which are far less demanding than going the extra mile, turning the other cheek and loving enemies. So today, when confronted with what Jesus says is expected of his followers, believers are inclined to say, ‘what right have you to tell us how we should be living?’ to which the answer is, ‘it’s not I, nor any other commentator, who tells you how to live; it is your Lord and Saviour. All we do – all I do – is remind you of what that is.’

Christians don’t like this, primarily because they don’t like what Jesus commands – it’s too exacting, too radical, too impractical – and they want to go on disregrading it. It’s damned annoying being reminded of it and being challenged on how far they are from complying with it.

Have those of us who point out Christians’ failings any right to do so? Well, of course. Christians spend their time judging, castigating and condemning others and as Jesus himself points out, judging others leads to being judged in return (Matthew 7.1-5). He sees this as something of a natural consequence, a yin for a yang. But ‘judge not that ye be not judged’ is another of his commands his followers like to ignore. Even so, if Christians are going to insist on pointing out the speck in others’ eyes, they must expect others will have something to say about the plank in theirs. That’s the way it works – Jesus says so.

So, Christians, if you don’t like me and others challenging you on how far you fall short of your Lord’s expectations maybe you need to lay off atheists, LGBT people, those you consider to be sinners, those of other faiths and even fellow Christians you think haven’t got the right theology. Put your own house in order first and then maybe we’ll listen to you (or maybe not). But don’t say we’ve no right to look at how far you measure up to Jesus’ standards. We’ve every right to ask whether the so-called Salt of the Earth (Matthew 5.13) has any of its flavour left.

 

Call yourself a Christian?

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So you think you might be a Christian? Try this handy-dandy checklist to see if you’re a true follower of Jesus or just someone who’s paying lip-service. You’ll need to score big if you’re ever going to get into his exclusive club!

1) Have you relinquished all wordly goods as Jesus tells you to in Matt 19.21 & Luke 12.33?

If not, better get to it. It’s pretty important to him – he mentions it at least a dozen times in the gospels.

2) Have you forsaken your loved ones, taken to hating them even, the better to serve him and his Kingdom?

No? Than what are you thinking of? Not Luke 14. 26 & 33 that’s for sure.

3) Do you constantly go the extra mile, turn the other cheek, give to all who ask, love your enemies and forgive others repeatedly (Matthew 7.12; Luke 6.27 & 29; Matthew 6.14; Matthew 5.38 etc)? In short, are you perfect as he says you should be?

Some work to do here then, to come up to the expected standard?

4) Do you sacrificially serve others – the sick, the imprisoned, the homeless, the hungry, the naked (Matthew 25.34-46)?

Better get round to it as the only way to avoid Jesus’ blacklist.

5) Do you work tirelessly and exclusively to bring about God’s Kingdom on Earth (albeit in the first century) like Jesus commands in Matthew 6.33?

Why not? Get with the programme!

6) Have you stayed single, never marrying, and certainly never getting divorced?

You haven’t? Shame on you, because you can’t into the Kingdom with a spouse and definitely not with one you’ve discarded along the way (Luke 20.34-35).

7) Have you given up judging others?

If not, you can expect to be on the receiving end of a hell of a lot of judgement in return (Matthew 7.1-2).

8) When you throw a party do you invite the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind instead of your friends (Luke 14.12-14)?

I think we know the answer to this one.

9) Are you tireless in denigrating, campaigning against and ranting about same-sex relationships and marriage?

Well, good for you though this has nothing to do with being a follower of Jesus (see 7 above).

10) Do you believe in a magical incantation that is going to preserve the essential ‘you’ in Heaven forever?

Jesus didn’t.

So how did you do? Are you someone Jesus would say, ‘Well done you good and faithful servant’ to (Matthew 25.21), or would he insist he never knew you (Matthew 7.23)? –

0-2: Pathetic, especially if the two in question are 9 & 10.

3-7: You’re neither hot nor cold. Expect to be spewed out of his mouth (Revelation 3.16).

8-10: You’re getting there, but then, you didn’t really answer truthfully, did you? Your yes didn’t mean yes (Matthew 5.37).

Never mind, you can always get back to singing songs, waving your arms about and condemning others because they have a speck in their eye (Luke 6.42). Everybody knows that’s what being a Christian is really all about.

The Gospel of Hatred

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You might have seen the disturbing BBC documentary America’s Hate Preachers this week, featuring hunky Steven Anderson, pastor of Faithful Word Baptist Church’ in Tempe, Arizona, and chunky street preacher Ruben Israel (above). If not, it’s available here for the next few months (and also, I understand, on YouTube, but of course I couldn’t possibly endorse that.)

Both Men of God™ claim they’re preaching the gospel, which is strange when all they have to offer is bile, hatred and self-aggrandisment. Anderson actually says at the end of the programme that he does what he does – mainly reviling gay people – because he wants to ‘do something big with (his) life.’ Maybe that’s what the gospel is – bile and hatred mixed with self-promotion. There’s nothing of the good news attributed to Jesus or Paul’s ‘love-is-all’ message in the vitriol spewed forth by these two sorry individuals and their various acolytes.

The gospel they preach and the Jesus they convey is spiteful, judgemental and unforgiving. Who knows, maybe that’s what he was. But if you claim to believe in Jesus, all you self-righteous souls, all you grandstanding screwballs, then fine, so long as you do as he tells you: sell all you have and give to the poor; hate your father and mother; remain unmarried; tend to the sick, the needy and the imprisoned; give to anyone who asks; turn the other cheek, go the extra mile and be perfect. Do you do these things? Are you faithful to these words? If not, then you don’t really believe in him either.

People like Anderson and Israel take what little good there is in the Bible and poison it all the more with their own prejudices, their own putrification, their own sour self-hatred. This is the fruit we see in them and in others like them, which would also be fine if they kept it to themselves. But they can’t. They are compelled to try to infect the rest of us with their nasty perversion of a gospel.