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

Jesus+kid

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.

The disciples would not have died for a lie (part two)

Rule

As we have seen, the available evidence does not support the idea that Jesus’ original followers subscribed to a miraculous physical resurrection. It suggests instead that their beliefs centred on the promises Jesus had made about returning from heaven as ‘the Son of Man’ to establish God’s Kingdom on Earth, which they would then rule with him.

Elements of this promise survive in the gospels as we have them, even if there are, in all four, obvious concessions to Paul’s Christ figure; the gospels were, after all, written after Paul’s version of Christianity had begun to take hold. Significantly, the promise of the triumphant appearance of the Son of Man ‘within this generation’ is present in Q, the source of many of the sayings common to both Matthew and Luke’s gospels that they didn’t get from Mark. It’s also there in the sources (L and M) peculiar to each of the gospels. Obviously L, M and Q pre-date the gospels that later made use of them. Scholars think Q could have been written as early as 40CE, a few years after Jesus’ death, with some sayings earlier than that. It pre-dates Paul too and reflects a tradition that has nothing to do with him or his convoluted theology.

Q, in fact, has no sayings attributed to the resurrected Jesus, nor anything from his trial, the crucifixion or resurrection.1 How can that be? Were they not important to the early believers who compiled it? The answer can only be, no, they weren’t. For the creators of Q what mattered was what Jesus said – his ethical teaching and his promise to return as the Son of Man, within his hearers’ lifetime, to inaugurate the Kingdom of God on Earth in which the disciples would reign alongside him (Matthew 19:28). To be part of this Kingdom, people had to become righteous, not have it gifted to them (Matthew 5.20 & 48). This was the ‘good news’ for Jesus’ earliest followers, the gospel as it is preserved in the Q source.2 The lie that the disciples were to rule the world with Jesus inspired them to spread the news of the coming Kingdom; they demonstrate little interest in a reanimated dead man or a magical salvation formula.

So, did the disciples die for their faith in the Risen Jesus? Highly unlikely. They don’t seem, despite the later stories in which they feature, to attach any importance, at least in Q, to visions of a resurrected god-man.

How did they die, then? The simple answer is that, for most of them, we don’t know. They could have met their end when the original church community in Jerusalem was annihilated by the Romans in 70CE. The Romans didn’t particularly care what a minority group of fanatics believed – they were rebellious Jews who needed to be taught a lesson.

If not slaughtered by Romans in their capture of Jerusalem, then perhaps the disciples died for their seditious belief in the imminent arrival of the Kingdom of God, just as Jesus had before them. The Bible records the deaths of only two of them: Judas, who appears to have committed suicide using two different methods depending on which account you believe (Matthew 27:5-8 or Acts 1:18-19), and James, brother of John, who, according to Acts 12.1-2 was executed by Herod Agrippa 1. By the time Acts was written, however, somewhere between 80-90CE, the beliefs of the original followers had been swallowed up by Paul’s alternate version of the faith; we have no way of knowing how accurate the report of James’ death is. It’s hard to believe it was merely because he thought an old pal had risen from the dead. It is hard to believe this of any of them. For the other disciples there are only traditional accounts of how they died ‘for their faith’ with nothing to corroborate these legends.

It is quite possible Jesus’ original followers died for reasons unconnected with their outlandish beliefs in an imminent supernatural kingdom. They could just as easily have died of natural causes. One thing seems probable – they did not die because they believed in a resurrected Messiah. It’s not that they didn’t believe in a physical resurrection – they did – but they were convinced it would only happen with the arrival of God’s Kingdom on Earth, as prophesied in Daniel 12.1-4.

That it had already happened to their former leader did not figure in their beliefs, their writing or even their thinking.

 

 

1 Bart D. Ehrman, Jesus Before the Gospels, p279-280

2 ‘But for Q, Jesus was indeed principally remembered as a teacher of great wisdom and high moral demands, as an apocalyptic prophet anticipating the imminent end of the age, and one whose miraculous activities showed that the day of judgement was soon to come. For the author of Q, Jesus’ teachings provided the goal of the Christian life. Followers of Jesus are those who adhere to his directives for how to live, in anticipation of the coming kingdom of God.’ Bart. D. Ehrman, Jesus Before the Gospels, p280

Updated to include link to Matthew Ferguson’s celsus blog.

 

 

 

The disciples would not have died for a lie (part one)

SonOfMan

The disciples would not have died for a lie, or so Christians like to argue.

Would they not?

Fanatics today do and it is more than likely the disciples believed their lie was true, if indeed they died for it at all. There’s not much evidence that they did. But if they did, maybe the lie they believed to be true was not the one today’s Christians think it was.

There is no evidence anywhere that Jesus’ original followers were martyred because of their faith in a physically resurrected Jesus – for their beliefs, maybe, but not necessarily because they believed Jesus had returned in bodily form from the dead. On the contrary, the evidence suggests that they holed up in Jerusalem to await his return through the clouds as the Son of Man, with a phalanx of hostile angels by his side (Heaven was, after all, just on the other side of those clouds). This was the crux of their beliefs.

How do we know?

There was significant tension between the disciples and Paul, which Paul himself relates, not only because he was convinced his message should be taken to the Gentiles but because of the very nature of that message. Paul and the disciples meant different things by ‘the gospel’. Paul’s irritation that others were preaching a different gospel is apparent in 2 Corinthians 11 & 12 where he calls the original disciples, ‘false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ’ and bitterly refers to them as ‘the most eminent apostles’. He is arrogant enough to suppose, and to proclaim, that he has it right and they are wrong.

Paul’s good news was about the resurrected Christ of his visions, who magically made those who put their faith in him righteous in God’s eyes. As he puts it in 2 Corinthians 5:21, ‘God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.’ Paul also believed this supernatural being would soon descend from the skies when he would give believers new bodies (Philippians 3.20) but this is a very different figure, and agenda, from the Jesus known to the disciples.

What then of Paul’s insistence, in 1 Corinthians 15.5 (written circa 55CE), that ‘the Twelve’ experienced the Risen Christ in much the same way he did? Firstly, of course, we have only Paul’s word for this. We have no first-hand corroboration (just the opposite in fact) and Paul had a vested interest in showing how significant his own experiences were. What better way to do so than by claiming Jesus’ original followers had had the same sort of hallucinations? Secondly, we don’t know what these ‘visions’, if they had them, meant to the disciples. Their belief would undoubtedly have been in a physical, bodily resurrection (cf: Daniel 2.12; Matthew 27.52), not in the beam-of-light manifestation of hallucination; this was much more Paul’s thing. Perhaps this is why any words uttered by vision-Jesus (for surely he would have spoken to his old chums) were not considered significant enough to be included in the earliest written record, ‘Q’.

The fully-realised resurrection appearances found in the gospels, then, in which Jesus declaims ‘blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed’ and ‘go and make disciples of all nations,’ are very clearly later developments, based, not on Q but on the visions suffered by Paul and others of influence and ‘written back’ into the gospel accounts.

Despite claiming that the Twelve experienced the Risen Christ in much the same way he did, Paul is critical of the disciples for preaching a different gospel, a different Jesus even, from the magical salvation-formula gospel he expounds. So what did the disciples believe – what was this other gospel that Paul disparaged so much?

We’ll see next time.

 

 

What’s Love Got To Do With It?

franklinA guest post by Andrew Calibre.

So there’s this smart-arse who thinks he’ll catch Jesus out by asking him a tricky question like, is it true microbes cause illnesses? Or, is Ken Ham right that the universe is only six thousand year old? But he bottles it, maybe ’cause he knows JC won’t have a clue what he’s talking about, and asks him an easy one instead – simple stuff about Jewish rules or something. “What is the greatest commandment?” is the best he can come up with (Matthew 26.32-40).

Jesus takes his chance and says, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” Predictable or what, even if he does make a big mistake: whoever heard of ‘the mind’ having anything to do with religion! Still, JC can’t resist elaborating on it. “This is the first and greatest commandment,” he says, as if everybody round him doesn’t know that already when it’s in their old magic book (Deuteronomy 6.5). He’s on a roll now and on he goes: “And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ Clearly a cock-up, but there’s no stopping him: “The whole bloody religion” – he’s talking about the Jewish stuff, not the Christian fantasy that he knows nothing about on account of it not being invented yet – “is about these two things, nothing more,” he says.

Christ! How could he have got it so wrong? Love your neighbour as yourself! Whoever heard such crap? I know, a nice idea, but I ask you. Everybody knows that being religious, being a Christian, is about believing the right stuff (having the right doctrine, I think it’s called), trashing other Christians who believe the wrong stuff, and dumping on everybody else, specially if they’re sinners (and they’re all sinners), foreigners, LGBTI or transgender. Now that’s real Christianity. I know it is, because that’s how Christians do it, and they’re the ones who should know.

Apart from Jesus, nobody thinks loving others like you love yourself is a good idea. Even he wasn’t very good at it (Matthew 15.22-28 etc). What ‘your neighbour’ is for, is pointing out how sinful/lost/degenerate they are, how they’ve f**ked up their lives, how God’s going to punish them for all eternity for not being the same as you and how they’re just about single-handedly bringing about the end of the world on account of being so perverted/evil/foreign.

That’s how you love your neighbour! You can’t even claim to be loving them properly unless you’re telling them about Jesus, over and over again, and, in the process, denigrating, dismissing and damning them to hell over and over again. This is what truly loving your neighbour is about! I know because Christians say so endlessly: ‘you’re only really loving others if you’re telling them what shite they are and how they need Jeeesus to wipe it all away.’ So, okay, this isn’t exactly how you love yourself, but what’s that got to do with it?

If only Jesus had listened to his mouthpieces today. They know far more than he did about what’s important.

And love it isn’t.

 

 

 

 

The Kingdom Comes

This guy they think is going to save the world – or at least make his country great again – is one smug bastard. An egotistical megalomaniac who carries on as if he’s God Almighty.

He expects to be obeyed at all times, issuing orders he demands everyone follow, regardless of how reckless or impractical they are, and making promises he can’t possibly keep. He’ll countenance no dissent, argument or protest, lambasting those who challenge him with petty name calling and abuse. Being hyper-sensitive and childishly petulant, he takes offence easily, abandoning any semblance of rationality and becoming malicious and spiteful in his condemnation – damnation, even – of those he regards as his enemies. Despite this obnoxiousness, he can’t understand why he isn’t universally loved. That he isn’t, is, he tantrums, the fault of those who wilfully, stubbornly, refuse to recognise his magnanimity.

He says he’s pro-God, but what really matters to him is his own legend. His first love is himself. He’s self-focused and self-promoting, racist and xenophobic, divisive and irritable, obsessed with his own status and what he sees as his God-given mission to revitalise his nation and return it to those he regards as his own. To this end, he’s surrounded himself with acolytes, cranks like himself, who will serve as his yes-men and women, who’ll do whatever he tells them. In return, he offers them a share in the power he’s assumed, together with the privilege of enjoying a little of the glory he’s convinced is his. Naturally, these sycophants do his bidding; they know that if they don’t, they’ll be out, ejected from the inner circle as energetically as Porky Pig from a bar Mitzvah.

But enough of Jesus.

If only there were some sort of parallel in the world today that would help me convey what a delusional, controlling, self-aggrandising individual he really was. Sadly, I can’t think of any.

bannon

 

 

To Hell and back

jesusguitar2

The self-righteous have taken it upon themselves this week to indulge in a little rejoicing, and not a little bit more gloating, at the death of George Michael. They are particularly pleased that, in all likelihood, he has gone to Hell, what with him being gay and all. Because of his sexuality – and this is how their damaged minds work – some of these Christians have also decreed George must also have been a ‘paedophile’, a victim of AIDs and possessed by evil spirits. Incredibly, he still managed to fit in a singing career. He was, these true-believers say, an enemy of God and is now frying in Hell forever. Yippee!

Here’s how the Christ-like Steven Anderson puts it:

First of all, George Michael’s burning in Hell right now. He was a very wicked, God-hating sodomite reprobate, and he’s getting the punishment that he deserves right now… If you just look at the lyrics to one of his most famous songs, one of his biggest hits, you can just totally tell this is written by a paedophile… It’s clearly written by a sick pervert because that’s what these homosexuals are. They’re a bunch of paedophiles… Quit mourning the death of this filthy pervert. He’s rotting in Hell right now for being a God-hating homosexual reprobate.

George Michael was none of the things these Christians claim he was. His post-mortem was inconclusive, but even if he had died of an AIDs related illness it would not be a cause for celebration. He was not a paedophile nor demon-possessed, but Christians, having happily embraced today’s post-truth world, think it’s absolutely fine for them to say he was.

They see evil spirits and demons everywhere, particularly in people who don’t share their primitive views; homosexuality is caused by their malevolent presence, and so, apparently, are depression, eating disorders, insomnia, self-harming and sex before marriage. Little wonder, of course, when that first-century ignoramus they claim to follow regarded Satan’s little helpers as the source of sickness and disease (when it wasn’t sin itself that was doing it). It hardly matters there’s absolutely no evidence that such beings exist; Christians are more than happy to take on the demonisation of others themselves.

As for Hell itself, it isn’t real either, as I discuss here. George Michael isn’t there, nor is anyone else who’s died. But let’s humour all those fanatics gentle souls who have persuaded themselves that it does. What does the Bible say about it?

First, it doesn’t claim that individuals go to Hell after death. Rather, it sees Hell as a pit into which Satan and his minions will be thrown at the end of time (Revelation 20.10). No mention humans will go there with them. Instead, the whack-job who wrote Revelation suggests (20.7-9) that the unrighteous dead, once resurrected, will be consumed by the fire God is going to destroy the Earth with at the end of time. You might wonder why God would bother resurrecting bodies only to murder them again, but he’s God, and you know, mysterious ways and all that. Still, he doesn’t seem to have perpetual torment in mind, even so.

Second, Paul tells us that after they’ve died, the dead sleep until the final judgement (1 Thessalonians 4.15-17). So even if they are eventually to be consigned to Hell it certainly won’t be immediately after death. As the final judgement has yet to occur – and won’t ever – dead souls, including George’s, still slumber. (It’s possible of course that for the dead time ceases to exist and the period between death and judgement appears, from their perspective, instantaneous. But this is not what the Bible teaches. It’s not nearly as imaginative as that.)

Third, Jesus is made to imply (it’s all very vague) that those with whom he is displeased will, after death, simply be discarded – thrown on some sort of metaphorical rubbish tip (Matthew 23.33). In fact, he tells only one parable about the after-life (Luke 16.19-31) in which a resurrected rich man finds himself excluded from God’s presence Abraham’s bosom. Not, you’ll note, because he failed to accept Jesus as his personal saviour but because of his disregard for the poor. So, given his philanthropy, it doesn’t look as if George Michael will be spending his eternity in the Hell that Jesus imagined either.

All of those who threaten us with Hell, and who think George Michael is already there, don’t know, and probably don’t care, what God’s Word™ has to say about the place where they’d be happy to see the rest of us suffer everlasting torment. It hardly matters when it doesn’t exist, being a fantasy of primitive zealots, but it does make you wish those who delude themselves into thinking it does would shut the hell up about it. Yes, you Franklin, Stephen, Bob, Kim and Keith. You’re only showing yourselves up for the ignorant hypocrites you are.

 

When the Salt of the Earth loses its flavour*

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Embittered fanatic Linda Harvey (above) has it from the Lord that gay people are unnecessary. And even if there are those around who’ve ‘chosen’ this ‘lifestyle’, there’s absolutely no need for them to be having -yuk – sex together:

… as most well-informed Americans know (read: ‘as people who share my prejudices would agree’), no person is born “gay,” so this conduct is completely unnecessary… No male ever needs to engage in anal sex with another male, and we need to stop accommodating homosexual behavior and “gay” identity…”

How right you are, Linda, and I’m sure we can all look forward soon to reading about how how women of a certain age who don’t keep quiet like they’re supposed to (1 Timothy 2.12) are completely unnecessary too. And how there’s absolutely no need for them to wear make-up and jewellery or obsess about other people’s sex lives (Linda talks about little else). Equally, no-one needs to admire art, read a book or listen to music; survival doesn’t depend on these things so they are, by definition, ‘unnecessary’. Likewise driving, watching TV, drinking anything but water, celebrating Christmas. Since when does necessity determine what people can and can’t do? And who decides what’s necessary, anyway? Certainly not cranks like Linda.

Her Lord and Saviour had a go it’s true; nothing was necessary, he said, that didn’t advance the Kingdom of God (Matthew 6.33 etc). That’s the Kingdom he was sure was going to materialise some time in the first century (Matt 16.27-28; Luke 21.27-28, 33-34 etc) As for those activities he did think were necessary – selling your possessions, helping the poor, giving to all who ask, loving your enemy, not judging others – he was evidently wrong about, which is why Christians have long since abandoned them.

Which should make us ask: are Christians really necessary? Isn’t it long past time we stopped accommodating their misguided behaviour and their “holier than thou” identities?

* Matthew 5.13: “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.”