Fakin’ It

Here’s my dilemma. I got this letter from a group of students at the university of Selcuck in Turkey. Well, when I say I received the letter, it was addressed to Professor Paulson who was head of the Philosophy department here in the 90s. He’s been dead now over 20 years of course, so when I picked up the letter, I thought I’d just write back and tell them that and that they’d have to work out their problems for themselves. Then I thought, ‘well, hang on a minute, the Professor was your tutor back in the day. You know how he thought and how he’d address these particular problems. Hell, you’ve even got some of his old papers locked away in your filing cabinet. You could take one or other of those and with a bit of tweaking, concoct a reply yourself. That’d be perfectly legitimate wouldn’t it?’ I mean I occupy the chair he once did so I am in effect his replacement.

So that’s what I do. I take one of Professor Paulson’s papers and I use it as the basis of a letter. Of course, matters in philosophy have moved on a bit since the Professor’s time so I add quite a bit of my own stuff, which is all pretty good and in line with what he might have thought, had he lived this long. After all, I studied under him in the ’80s so I have a pretty good idea of what he might think today, if he were still with us. If I do say so myself, it’s pretty good stuff. Nobody could tell Paulson didn’t write it.

Now, I do consider admitting at the start of the letter, or maybe the end of it, that I wrote the letter and not the Prof. But then I think, well, these folk don’t know he’s no longer with us so what’s the harm? I’ll just send it and they can reach their own conclusions. I mean, it wouldn’t be my fault, would it, if they jumped to the wrong conclusion. And then I think, well, if they’re going to do that I might as well sign it as if it is from the Professor. I mean, who’s to know? And maybe I could add that bit at the beginning suggesting it was from him. Suggesting? Saying it is from him. That’s what I do, and off it goes.

I hear later, on the grapevine, it’s gone down pretty well. They like what it says and are convinced it’s from Paulson. Everybody’s happy.

And then I find out, a couple of months down the line, that it’s been published. The Selcuck students have had it published, in an influential journal no less, and the academic world is celebrating the final lost paper of Professor Paulson’s. And here’s my dilemma: it’s not, is it. It’s me. I’ve taken his old paper, embellished it and sent it out into the world as if it’s his. What do I do? What would you do? Confess it’s not what it seems? Or bask in the knowledge that what I’ve written is as good as anything he wrote in life? A fake, yes, for sure, but a damn good one that, with a bit of luck, no-one’s ever going to spot. Do you know, I think I’ll leave it, say nothing. The joke’s on them.

Of course such a thing could never happen. Or could it? The letter to the Ephesians in the New Testament claims to have been written by Paul. It starts with this greeting:

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To God’s holy people in Ephesus, the faithful in Christ Jesus: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

and ends with some vaguely autobiographical details.

But it wasn’t written by Paul. Scholars think it was created in the 80s, about twenty years after Paul died. Much of the letter is a reworking of Colossians, the authorship of which is similarly disputed. Here’s the opening of Colossians:

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, To God’s holy people in Colossae, the faithful brothers and sisters in Christ: Grace and peace to you from God our Father.

The Ephesians opening is a direct lift. None of Paul’s genuine letters follow this format. The letter itself has a style and vocabulary unlike that in the genuine Pauline letters and there are significant differences in theology too. Here’s how Bart Ehrman summarises the problem (though note he is not the only scholar who disputes Paul’s authorship of Ephesians; it is the consensus view): 

Ephesians does not resemble Paul’s writing style and the letter contains an inordinate number of words that Paul does not use in any of his undisputed letters. As in Colossians, Ephesians suggests that the believer has already been raised with Christ-a view that contradicts Paul’s undisputed writings. The author of Ephesians, moreover, uses the term “works” differently than Paul. For Paul, “works” refers to adherence to the Jewish law, actions that cannot save. The author of Ephesians, however, understands “works” to mean those actions that demonstrate one’s faith.

Some generously describe Ephesians and other letters attributed to Paul that aren’t by him, as Deutero-Pauline: ‘in the tradition of Paul’. Some speculate that they were written by one of Paul’s disciples but there’s no way of knowing this for sure. Others prefer the term Pseudepigrapha, literally ‘false inscription or writing’, which is nearer the mark.

The author of Ephesians, like those of other pseudepigraphical letters, such as the pastorals (1 and 2 Timothy and Titus) claims explicitly to be Paul knowing full well he is not. This is not some disciple trying to express the views of the master, this is someone passing themselves off as someone else, pretending they are the more well-known, revered and authoritative figure. Even if they were someone familiar with Paul’s teaching (the differences in theology suggest otherwise) would it be legitimate for him to claim he is Paul?

Like my fictional individual above, the author of Ephesians is a deceitful impostor, his work a forgery, designed possibly to ‘correct’ Paul’s position on certain issues. And yet here is his letter in the New Testament; God’s Holy Word no less. While there is a very human history of how works were selected for inclusion in the New Testament, how on Earth did God, in the guise of the Holy Spirit, allow this and other forgeries to become part of the canon?

Of course, God had nothing to do with it. The author of Ephesians duped not only the letter’s original audience, but also the later believers who included it in the Bible. He continues to deceive the faithful down to this day.  I know: I was one. 

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?

Dear Evangelical: Why Aren’t You A Mormon?

Dear Don,

Why are you not a Mormon? I mean, you appeal to the evidence of consistency across the 66 books of the bible, claim that the gospel writers remained true to an oral tradition (despite John’s gospel being markedly different from the other three) and insist there is no difference between the original apostles’ gospel and Paul’s (when Paul is adamant there is.) In fact, there is even better evidence that Mormonism is true.

First off, Joseph Smith saw the resurrected Jesus in person! Not only Jesus but God the Father too. And they spoke to him! He relates the story himself, so unlike the gospels, this is no second hand reportage:

I saw two Personages, whose brightness and glory defy all description, standing above me in the air. One of them spake unto me, calling me by name and said, pointing to the other—This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him!

Following this, young Joseph was instructed to translate the Book of Mormon from some golden plates. We don’t have to take his word for it that these plates existed because Joseph had witnesses:

Eleven official witnesses and several unofficial witnesses testified to the existence of the golden plates and, in some cases, to dramatic supernatural confirmation of their truth. Meticulous research on these witnesses has confirmed their good character and the veracity of their accounts.

Impressive, don’t you think? We have no such affidavits for the gospel writers – we don’t even know who they were!

Also like the Bible, the Book of Mormon had multiple authors (Joseph Smith was only translating, remember):

Furthermore, in recent years, rigorous statistical analysis strongly indicates that neither Joseph Smith nor any of his known associates composed the English text of the Book of Mormon. In fact, research suggests that the book was written by numerous distinct authors.

And yet, the Book of Mormon tells a story even more consistent than the Bible’s!

Better still,

the Holy Ghost affirms the authenticity of the Book of Mormon, just as he does the Bible: the conclusion of the matter is that much modern evidence supports the more powerful witness of the Holy Ghost that the Book of Mormon is true. Joseph Smith, who translated it, had to be what he said he was, a prophet of God.

Finally, the growth of the Church of The Latter Day Saints demonstrates its truth and saving power. Its early expansion was greater than that of the first-century church.

Amazing, don’t you think, Don?

* * * * *

I expect like me, you reject all this so-called evidence and regard Mormonism as so much bunk. But on what basis? What causes you to dismiss the teaching of the Latter Day Saints while embracing the equally incredible, magic-infused stories of the Bible? As the Mormon church says (sounding not unlike yourself when talking about the Bible):

Persons who choose to dismiss the Book of Mormon must find their own ideas for explaining it and the mounting evidence for its authenticity.

When you arrive at the criteria you apply in rejecting Mormonism, you’ll have arrived at the reasons I and many others reject your beliefs.

How Do Christians Explain Those Who Renounce Their Faith?

Aka The Death of Ananias by Raphael (Acts 5)

What was original Christianity like, long before it acquired that name? Before Paul’s ideas took hold? Clearly the cult existed prior to Paul. He tells us so himself: worship groups were around – the one he writes to in Rome, for example – before he  established his own. 

The early faith seems to have emanated from the visions of early believers such as Cephas and James. Quite what they ‘saw’ is open to debate but it led to them setting up a sect within Judaism that focused on the saving power of a risen celestial being.

And everything was absolutely hunky dory within these early communities. Members shared all their possessions (except when they didn’t, in which case they were annihilated on the spot) and lived in perfect harmony together, worshipping Jesus and experiencing miracles on a daily basis.

According to Acts, that is. According to Paul, by the time he came to be involved, it was all very different. Many of the early ‘churches’ were characterised by squabbling, greed, legal disputes, confusion about doctrine, sleeping around, visiting prostitutes and power struggles (Galatians 5.20; 2 Thessalonians 3.14-15; 1 Corinthians 1.10, 4.21; 1 Corinthians 6.1-10; 1 Corinthians 6.12-20; Galatians 1.6-9; 1 Corinthians 5.9-13 etc.) Worse still, there were defections by converts who came to their senses and left the cult.

How can this be when, according to Paul these people were inhabited by God’s holy spirit and saved once and for all by the redeeming blood of Jesus? Just as today, early believers, including Paul, had a hard time explaining how a person could be once saved and then lose their faith. They came up with various excuses how this could happen:

Excuse #1. Apostates were never really been saved: they were faking it in some way, their faith hadn’t been deep enough or Satan had snatched it away from them. One enterprising and influential cult member even came up with the sneaky idea of putting these explanations into the mouth of Jesus (because of course he would have foreseen the problem.) So arose the parable of the sower. According to Mark 4.1-20, the ‘word’ doesn’t always ‘take’. It might seem as if it has but sometimes it is uprooted by the cares of this world. Alternatively, it falls on stony ground and really doesn’t stand a chance of growing. Or Dick Dastardly Satan intervenes and destroys the faith of those who once believed. As a cultist called John later put it,

They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us… (1 John 2.19)

Which really says nothing: ‘they left, so really they weren’t part of our gang to begin with.’ A brilliant bit of exposition.

Excuse #2. Apostates are still saved. In direct contradiction of the parable of the sower, some Christians invented a different way of accounting for those who had ‘fallen away’: the ‘once saved always saved’ argument, based on a few cherry-picked bible verses. Despite appearances, those who’ve left the faith are nonetheless still savedThe ‘reasoning’ is that because salvation is a work of God, it cannot be undone, no matter how much one refutes the faith, or provides reasons for leaving it or demonstrates the untruthfulness at the heart of it. Salvation is like a tattoo you regret getting but with which you’re stuck for the rest of your existence. (Except not really, for a whole host of reasons but principally because there’s no God to work the magic in the first place.) This line of reasoning runs entirely contrary to the acknowledgement in the parable of the sower that there are always those who will leave the faith.

Excuse #3. Apostates have been hurt by the church and as result have abandoned the faith (but Jesus is waiting for them to return!) While I don’t know anyone who has renounced Christianity for this reason alone, it does play a small part in some defections. Why? Because self-serving and vindictive Christians are evidence that Christianity simply doesn’t work. It doesn’t make ‘new creations’, infusing people with a holy spirit that makes them better people. Believers, despite their claims, are no more moral than those who are unsaved. You’ll know this if you’ve been on the receiving end of Christian judgment or condemnation. When Christians themselves undermine the claims of their religion it creates a justifiable scepticism in one-time brothers and sisters.

Excuse #4. Apostates just want to wallow in sin. Back to the parable of the sower for this one: ‘Satan has ensnared you into life of sin and debauchery and you have abandoned the one true way’. I have to say this is not true of any ex-Christians I know.  They’ve dispensed with the wholly religious idea of ‘sin’, and now live their lives as authentically as they can, looking after their loved ones and helping others where possible. Then again, so what if people want to wallow a little bit?   

The one reason that causes others to leave the fold that is never recognised by Christians is the gospel itself. No sir. That some people are able to see how irrational, contrived and downright untrue it is, is not a possibility Christians are willing to entertain. Jesus himself, however, seems to recognise that some people are just too intelligent to go along with it:

I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children (Matthew 11.25).

Even he knew – or, far more likely, the sect that put these words into his mouth – that for anyone capable of a modicum of critical thinking (‘the learned and the wise’), the cult’s claims simply don’t stand up to inspection.

Slippin’ and Slidin’

Recycled picture, new post

I’ve written before about how impossible it is to argue with Christians. It’s either that they have superior knowledge because an invisible ghost possesses them and is guiding them towards truths that non-believers can’t possibly perceive. Or it’s that the supernatural just cannot be understood in an evidential, naturalistic way. Science and empiricism – what we can detect with our own eyes, with specialist equipment that serves as an extension of those eyes or that can be mathematically demonstrated – just cannot detect, perceive or understand the supernatural. Gary Matson is currently experiencing this on Escaping Christian Fundamentalism, where a Catholic Christian (an oxymoron to many other religionists) is arguing that the things he believes in – hell specifically and his God generally – are just too sophisticated for the ignorant layman to understand. We’ve met this before too, from pseudo-intellectual Christians who think their faith, which its supposed founder said was best understood by becoming like a child, requires a degree or three in theology or philosophy.

It’s all a sleight of hand, and rather like wrestling with a jelly-fish. The assertion that the believer in the supernatural makes, that his or her particular brand of woo lies outside the purview of science, is mere flannel. ‘You can’t prove this because you haven’t the tools to’, applies to any form of magical belief – in heaven and hell, in an afterlife, in ghosts, and angels, gods who speak to mortals, mystical saints, flying horses, reptilian overlords, UFO abductions… you name it – does not stand up to scrutiny. If supernatural entities and states are outside the natural universe (and they are, by definition) then they will never be detected by science, observation and empirical measurement; but not because our means of detection is inadequate, but because they don’t exist. It isn’t that they are out there somewhere, detectable only with the right frame of mind or with the help of a spirit that itself has no physical presence; they are nowhere; they are not real. It is not the inadequacy of our means of detection that is at fault; it is that the invisible, non-physical and intangible have no substance outside the human imagination. As I’ve said before, remove human imagination from the equation and the supernatural goes with it. If humans were to become extinct tomorrow, so too would all the magical beings and places that humans have ever conjured up. They have no  existence independent of the human imagination.

Arguing that this isn’t so is to assume your conclusion in your premise: ‘Of course supernatural things exist, you just can’t see them. But I can prove them with my argument/philosophy/faith’. This, however, is a demonstration of irrationality, not of the supernatural. In any case, the fact the supernatural has to be argued for at all is evidence that it doesn’t exist. Nothing real has to be argued for, it can be detected, shown, demonstrated and measured by the senses, by instruments, by mathematical proofs. That gods and ghosts can’t be, but have to be argued for, tells us they are not real – not that they are beyond the scope of our capabilities.

The Resurrection: Real or Imagined?

Did Paul see a physically resurrected man or did he hallucinate some sort of spirit? What does the bible say?

Paul describes his encounter with the risen Jesus in his letter to cultists in Galatia:

For I did not receive it (the gospel) from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through a revelation of Jesus Christ… God was pleased to reveal his Son in me… (Galatians 1.12 & 15)

‘Revelation, revealed, in me’: there’s no physically resurrected body here.

In his letter to the little community in Corinth, Paul tells us explicitly that Jesus was raised as a ‘life giving spirit’ (1 Corinthians 15.45). Whatever this means, this is how Paul experienced the risen Christ. Nowhere in his letters does he claim to have seen a man who has physically risen from the dead. Even in the legend created around Paul’s mystical revelations decades later, there’s no physical Jesus: a bright light and disembodied voice is what Luke comes up with.

Why does this matter? Well, for a start, Paul’s is the only first hand account of an encounter with the risen Jesus we have. And it was of an entirely ‘spiritual’ nature. Second, Paul assumes that those who ‘saw’ the risen Jesus had exactly the same sort of experience he did. He says in 1 Corinthians 15.5-8,

…(the Risen Jesus) appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.

Paul makes no distinction between the way he experienced the risen Jesus, as a life giving Spirit, and the way these others did. His persistent use of ‘appeared to’ also underlines the mystical nature of these encounters; he doesn’t say Jesus ‘visited’ James or ‘spent time with’ Cephas or ‘chatted with’ the apostles over a fish supper (those legends would come later). There’s absolutely no human interaction here between these people and a real human being. No: instead, Paul says Jesus ‘appeared to’ them, as in ‘he was an apparition’.

The translation of the same passage in the King James version makes this obvious:

…he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve: After that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep. After that, he was seen of James; then of all the apostles.  And last of all he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time.

As for Paul, then, so for all these other sightings (we only have Paul’s word they actually took place.) They were apparitions, hallucinations, innervisions, emotional, spiritual experiences – call them what you will – ‘seen of’ others. They were not of a real man physically raised from the dead.

Why do some Christians find this so hard to accept? After all, this is much their own experience today. They may not hallucinate that Jesus is standing in front of them (assuming that’s what the ‘life giving spirit’ looked like to Paul and others) but they have an emotional experience at conversion that they credit to the presence, the spirit, of this long dead individual. If that’s how it is for converts today, why not for the original Christians? Why does there have to be physical resurrection at all?

Spoiler: there doesn’t and there wasn’t.

 

Will the real Jesus please stand up? (part 1)

Over the last week or so I’ve encountered a couple of Christians online (here and here) who’ve made the point that Jesus must’ve existed because

  • Early Christians wouldn’t have died for a lie. (I’ve covered this before so all I’ll say here is that yes, they would – as zealots still do today – especially if they were convinced the lie was true.)

  • They themselves know Jesus as their personal saviour, and

  • The Bible tells us about him so no-one in their right mind could possibly believe he was imaginary.

These last two are interesting and related. Susceptible people have always believed in imaginary beings. All of the pantheons that have ever existed – Egyptian, Greek, Roman, Norse, Aztec, Hindu and numerous others – have had their adherents; people who lived with the conviction that supernatural beings were real and would respond, help or judge them in some way when they themselves acted in specific ways. Yet none of these beings existed. Why not Jesus?

Christians today don’t believe in Jesus alone, however. They subscribe to an entire company of invisible beings and places: God himself, of course, spirits – holy and otherwise – angels, Satan, demons, hell, heaven as well as a celestial being called ‘the Christ’ who sits at the right hand of God and who may or may not be related to an historical Jesus. Evangelicals and other believers build their entire worldview around such mythical beings, worshipping some of them; turn on your God channels any night of the week and see trance-like Christians telling Jesus how amazing, wonderful and worthy of praise he is. Yet this is a Jesus who is wholly imaginary.

Many of the posts on this blog are about how Christians aren’t very much concerned with the Jesus of the synoptic gospels, who tells his followers to sell all they have, give to everyone who asks and to turn the other cheek. They are only interested in his supernatural alter-ego, ‘the Lord Jesus Christ’, who makes no demands on them, but who, they think, listens and blesses them from on high. For all they care, any other Jesus may just as well be imaginary.

So if the Christ contemporary Christians worship isn’t real, why are they so insistent that the Jesus of the gospels must have been? It is equally likely that, the same as them, the earliest Christians also worshipped a made-up supernatural being.  

We’ll take a look next time at just what the Bible says about Jesus, and what it doesn’t.

Body Talk

So you’re not getting a new body when you die. Sorry about that. It all comes down then to what you’re going to do with the one you’ve already got. I don’t know what condition it’s in. Your genes and the wear and tear it’s undergone in life will determine that. My own isn’t too bad for its age, I guess, though it suffers from inexplicable aches and pains these days (fibromyalgia) which is probably only going to get worse as I get older. All the same, that’s better than the alternative, so I’m not going to let it stop me from enjoying life.

And that’s what I’d recommend to you too. Enjoy life, enjoy your body. Indulge it in its appetites. The Christians who tell you you’re wrong to do so, who quote verses like Romans 8.13 at you are missing the point:

For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.

Denying yourself will not take you to Heaven, won’t make you a better person and won’t make Jesus like you any more than he does already (which is not at all, on account of his non-existence.) Of course, it’s sometimes a good thing to delay gratification, if others might be adversely affected, for example, but usually it’s not. Most of the time it’s okay to do with your body what you want to do with it – it’s yours for that reason. So enjoy training it, exercising it, eating well and wisely, grooming and pampering your body, keeping it as fit and clean as you possibly can. Enjoy being creative and caring. Be sensual (as in enjoying its sensations) and have all the sex you want, however you want it – with protection, specially if you don’t intend creating more little bodies – and with whichever consenting partners you want. Your body has evolved to be like this. You have evolved to be like this. Anything else is an aberration.

Why am I saying this? Because having reached 65, I’m very aware of the physical limitations that make themselves known as one gets older. Your body, my body, everybody’s body will eventually and irrevocably let each and everyone of us down. You will have experienced some debilitation already, whatever age you are; temporary illness, ailments of one sort or another, injuries, viruses, infections and malfunctions. Your body will eventually undergo the ultimate malfunction and let you down completely. It will die. Don’t leave it until that time approaches – and which of us knows when that is? – to appreciate it. Enjoy it now, whatever stage of life you have reached and whatever shape your body is in.

Am I preaching hedonism? Not exactly. But I am recommending you take pleasure from whatever activities you use your body for, no matter how mundane they are. And let’s face it, all human activities, including the cerebral, involve the body one way or another. Be a sensualist, as in enjoying the body’s sensations, and find pleasure in all things. Give pleasure in return and in many varied ways to others.

Isn’t this more life-enhancing than all that unhealthy ‘death to the flesh’ stuff (Romans 8.13) at the heart of Christianity, which regards the body as corrupt (Romans 7.24), sinful (Romans 7.5), lowly (Philippians 3.21), weak and dishonourable (1 Corinthians 15.43) and unworthy of a place in the Kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 15.50)? It surely is. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15.32 that if the dead are not raised in new spiritual bodies then we may as well live our lives according the maxim, ‘Let us eat and drink for tomorrow we die’. There is no resurrection, there are no bodies other than the ones we have now, so perhaps, for once, Paul was on to something.

Demons, demons everywhere…

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I wonder if any Christians out there can help me understand something. I know that not all of you believe in demons; some of you are far too rational to believe in non-existent supernatural beings! I know too that when the bible mentions demons, as it does often, you know it’s as a metaphor, for sin perhaps, or as the personification of evil. Presumably, you reach this conclusion with the help of the Holy Spirit (you do believe in him, don’t you?)

And yet other, lesser brethren are led by that same Spirit to see demons as 100% real.

Take this guy, Jeremiah Johnson, a preacher/prophet/author from Florida who recently had a real live conversation with a demon:

On the night of May 30th, while praying and pacing over the United States in my home around 2 am, a demonic entity appeared right before me in an open vision. This type of encounter has only ever happened one other time while I was ministering in a foreign country in 2015. I have always engaged in this type of spiritual warfare while asleep and dreaming prophetically, but rarely if ever to this degree while awake.

This demonic entity had a visible and deep scar underneath its right eye, but it also had the ability to mutate or rather change forms. I watched this “being” morph several times right in front of me, yet the gash below its right eye remained.

As I see it, there are three options here. Either –

a) This really happened, or

b) Jeremiah made it up, or

c) It happened but entirely within Jeremiah’s disturbed mind

Can you advise me which it is? I’m leaning towards b) or c). I say ‘leaning’ when what I mean is I rule out a) entirely, though I’d be interested to know which conclusion the Holy Spirit is leading you to. (Actually, reading the comments following Jeremiah’s posting of his ‘Urgent Prophetic Alert and Warning’ on Facebook, I already know what 4 thousand of you think: you fall for this crapola hook, line and sinker.)

Of course, not all supernatural encounters are with demons. Sometimes your fellow believers have encounters with angels, or dead people from the bible. Here’s an example of that:

I kneeled down, and prayed, saying, ‘O Lord, what Church shall I join?’ Directly I saw a light, and then a glorious Personage in the light, and then another personage, and the first personage said [of] the second, ‘Behold this is my beloved Son, hear him’” 

Wow, that sounds amazing, doesn’t it? Joseph Smith recounting his first ‘vision’.

Again, you’ve got three options:

Either:

a) This really happened, or

b) Joseph made it up, or

c) It happened but entirely within Joseph’s disturbed mind.

If you’re a Mormon, the Holy Ghost will have led you to embrace option a). I lean myself towards b), possibly c). If you’re an evangelical Christian, however, you probably think Smith’s vision was demonically inspired. Can I ask you why you think this? Is it because that’s what your version of the Holy Ghost tells you? Ain’t it amazing how ‘he’ always confirms what you already believe?

With that in mind, let’s look at one final example:

When Jesus stepped out of the boat, a man out of the tombs with an unclean spirit met him. He lived among the tombs; and no one could restrain him any more, even with a chain; for he had often been restrained with shackles and chains, but the chains he wrenched apart, and the shackles he broke in pieces; and no one had the strength to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always howling and bruising himself with stones. 

When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and bowed down before him; and he shouted at the top of his voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me.” For he had said to him, “Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!”  Then Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” He replied, “My name is Legion; for we are many.”  He begged him earnestly not to send them out of the country. Now there on the hillside a great herd of swine was feeding; and the unclean spirits begged him, “Send us into the swine; let us enter them.” So he gave them permission. And the unclean spirits came out and entered the swine; and the herd, numbering about two thousand, rushed down the steep bank into the sea, and were drowned in the sea. (Mark 5.1-20)

Either:

a) This really happened, or

b) Mark made it up, or

c) Mark made it up but it’s a metaphor for something or other.

I’m guessing most of you, including those who regard yourselves as rational Christians, opted for a): you think this really happened in some form. Why? Because this time it’s your hero, Jesus, who’s involved.

However, and this is my point, Jesus’ encounter with a demon – and it’s not the only one in the gospels – is no different in kind from Jeremiah Johnson’s or Joseph Smith’s. If you believe one really happened – the Jesus one – you really haven’t any reason not to believe the other two. And yet, my Christian friends, you reject at least one of the other two, don’t you. You dismiss Smith’s encounter with God and Jesus as, at best, a delusion and at worst, a fiction intended to dupe others. You may, as I’ve suggested, see it as demonically inspired (even though no actual demons appear, unlike in the Jesus and Johnson accounts.)

You may also, if you’ve half a brain, dismiss Johnson’s ridiculous story too. I hope so. So why persist in believing that Jesus met with demons? It’s not the Holy Spirit who convinces you that this story is the only plausible one of the three. The Holy Spirit is only as real as Johnson’s morphing demon. No, the only reason you give Jesus a free pass, but not Smith or Johnson (possibly), is that the Jesus story is in the bible.

So, what’s the answer to the question at the top of this post: which of those men, Jeremiah Johnson, Joseph Smith and Mark’s Jesus, is deluded? The answer is… all of them. And at least two of them are frauds.

Myself, I’m leaning towards all three.

 

Another name for confirmation bias

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Most Christians admit to a belief in the Holy Spirit. The majority also subscribe to the notion that this manifestation of God (or Jesus?) guides them in their spiritual journey, supernaturally from within. The Holy Spirit, the Bible says, lives inside believers (1 Corinthians 3.16); an aspect of God designed to fit the human body.

You’d think then, that with part God embedded in their psyche or wherever it (or ‘he’, according to most believers) has taken up residence, that all Christians would think alike; would have the same priorities; would subscribe to the same doctrines; moreso when that other embodiment of God, Jesus himself, supposedly prayed for such a unity (John 17. 20-23).

Evidently they don’t achieve any of this. There are, depending on which authority you consult, in the region of 34,000 Christian denominations, sects and groups, all of which see themselves as possessors of God’s sacred truths. Most regard that it is they alone who possess this truth in its purest form. There wouldn’t be separate denominations otherwise.

And from where do they derive their own peculiar revelation of the Truth? Ultimately, most would say, from the Holy Spirit. It is he who guides them in all truth, as John’s Jesus promised (John 16.13), showing them how to read the bible and interpret it aright (1 Corinthians 2.6-16) and allowing them to discern truth (1 John 4) in what they hear from God’s chosen instruments on earth: pastors, ministers, prophets, evangelists, popes.

And the Truth they arrive at is different from the Truth arrived at by that other sect or wayward denomination elsewhere.Quote4

The Holy Spirit leads different Christians to contradictory doctrines on the essentials of the faith: about how an individual is ‘saved’ for example; whether it’s legitimate to talk of being ‘saved’ at all; predestination; free will; the place of baptism in salvation (essential or not?); Heaven and Hell; the nature of faith itself; the role of ‘works’; God’s plan for individual lives; evangelism; the ‘infallibility’ of the bible; how best to worship God; the nature of God; the existence of other supernatural beings; the role of women in the church. If they can’t agree on these – and they don’t – then what the f**k is the Holy Spirit playing at?

Then there are the issues they claim are of concQuotes2ern to God, though of course they don’t all agree on what these might be: social justice, morality, sex, same-sex relationships, equality, feminism, science, evolution, Hollywood, making America great again, guns, Trump, right-wing politics, liberalism, Covid-19 (many of which, we might note in passing, the bible has absolutely no interest in.) And what do we find?Quote5Quotes1First, the Holy Spirit provides diametrically opposed ‘truths’ to individual Christians, as the quotations within this post illustrate. Second, that same Spirit affirms the views, prejudices and biases of each Christian he speaks to. God’s thoughts are, miraculously, the same as those seeking them out. 

Of course, there is no Holy Spirit. There’s no Holy Spirit because there’s no God. What those who speak for him are doing is voicing the frequently ill-informed and evidence-free suppositions of their particular branch of the cult. Claiming these are endorsed by God is at best a delusion, at worst, sheer deceit.

The Holy Spirit, then: just another name for confirmation bias.