The disciples who doubted the Resurrection

Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted.

Matthew 28.17

On his Escaping Christian Fundamentalism blog recently, Gary Matson looked at this verse in which the remaining disciples supposedly encounter the risen Jesus. Gary discussed why they should have doubted what they are reported as witnessing, concluding that what they were actually ‘seeing’ was a ghost. A commenter called Rachel, who has also commented here, objected, arguing that the verse didn’t mean what it actually says. I responded with the following:

Well, let’s not, Rachel, accept what the text actually says. Let’s impose our own meaning that fits with what we want to believe. Then we can insist that none of the 11 doubted, even though the text clearly states they did. Let’s supplement that particular sleight of hand with the unproven myth that all the disciples except one subsequently died for their faith (even though there’s no evidence they did and even though we know nothing about the actual beliefs of the few who may have been martyred and even though zealots today are prepared to die for their beliefs despite never having seen the risen Jesus) and, hey presto, Gary’s hypothesis is disproved.

Except, of course, it isn’t. The resurrection accounts were written 40 years or more after the supposed event by people who weren’t there; and yet still they preserve the inconvenient fact that some of the disciples remained unconvinced by the visions and apparitions others of their number thought they’d experienced.

Rachel came back with this (my responses are in red with additional comments in blue).

Neil, you write the following as if you know for a fact (100%) that “there’s no evidence” — “(even though there’s no evidence they did and even though we know nothing about the actual beliefs of the few who may have been martyred and even though zealots today are prepared to die for their beliefs despite never having seen the risen Jesus)”

If I understand Rachel here, she isn’t happy I can’t prove a negative. However, if there’s no evidence, there’s no evidence. This in itself is a fact.

Neil, none of the 11 apostles/disciples of Jesus lied and died and convinced their families and loved ones to die for a fictional character. Unlike you and Gary, they literally saw the resurrected Jesus (that was enough evidence for them) and they spread the gospel (the good news of the Promised Messiah and that in Him the Old Testament pointed)

You’re right, Rachel, we have no evidence that any of them did any of this. This was the point I was making: there is no historical evidence whatsoever that indicates 10 of the 11 died for their belief in the resurrection. With the exception of James we simply don’t know how, when or why they died. I’m sorry you were unable to grasp this point.

Neither is there evidence ‘they literally saw the resurrected Jesus’. In fact, the only evidence there is, in the gospels, is sketchy, inconsistent and strongly suggestive of visions and apparitions, as Gary suggests. The only eye-witness report we have of the resurrected Jesus, that of Paul, is precisely of this nature, with Paul claiming the other sightings of Jesus were the same as his.

You say that “zealots today are prepared to die for their beliefs despite never having seen the risen Jesus.” Care to give me examples of Christian Zealots today “prepared to die for the risen Jesus” sight unseen?

Are you really questioning whether zealots today are prepared to die for a character they’ve never actually seen? A simple Google search brings up numerous Christian sites, either celebrating or lamenting this very fact. Here’s one to start you off: https://www.opendoorsusa.org/christian-persecution/stories/11-christians-killed-every-day-for-their-decision-to-follow-jesus/

And like Gary, there you go saying: “we know nothing!” Okay, I will agree with you and Gary, both of you have convinced me totally -— you guys know nothing! You will no longer get any argument from me! You guys know nothing! I am now fully convinced by your: “We (Gary and Neil) don’t know” true statement.

While I didn’t point it out to her, Rachel here assumes that acknowledging ‘there is no evidence for..’ means the same as ‘we know nothing’. A very basic and disingenuous error.

Ironic isn’t it, Neil, you do not believe the New Testament accounts as historical events, and yet you like Gary proceed to prove your case by using “fictional” accounts! Go figure!

Gary and I look at the texts as they are and draw our conclusions accordingly. We, like many others outside the evangelical bubble, acknowledge that the gospels are literary creations and as such are historically unreliable. The evidence they present for an actual, physical resurrection is weak, inconclusive and distorted beyond recognition by an agenda intended to promote belief – as they themselves admit.

You, on the other hand, argue entirely from a position of faith, which prevents you from seeing what is actually there, making you dismissive of external evidence and compelling you to supplement your arguments with assumptions (for example, that most of the disciples died for their belief in the resurrection.) It also prompts you to add unnecessary ad hominem insults. I’m sure Gary is as glad as I am that you’re slinking away in defeat.

Some of the disciples doubted that what they were seeing – apparition? bright light? hallucination? – was really Jesus returned from the dead. It may be the case that this detail was included by the creator of Matthew’s gospel, 50 years after the event it describes, to disparage the favoured disciples of other early Christian communities. The disciples they looked to weren’t as good as those of Matthew’s cultists because they doubted. Who knows. Whatever the reason for including it, the verse is awkward and embarrassing for believers today. How to explain it (away)? Even some of those who ‘saw’ the risen Jesus weren’t convinced it was him. They were right. It wasn’t.

 

God writes…

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I see the insects are in trouble again. Seems they’ve infected themselves with some sort of virus. The joke is they think I’m going to do something about it. Imagine! Course, it could be said that I created this virus in the first place. But then I gifted it to bats, not them. How they managed to catch it, I don’t know (and care even less) but it’s certainly running rampant through them.

Some of them think they’re channeling their thoughts up to me and that with sufficient grovelling I’ll intervene. Fat chance! I know they think I have some interest in them – one of their number even reckoned I had nothing better to do but count the hairs on their heads. Well, I have nothing better to do, but I’m certainly not going to count hairs on their heads, or anywhere else. In fact, I’m not interested in them in any way. Why should I be? Incredibly, some of them think I want to have a relationship with them. A relationship! There’s as much chance of my having a relationship with them as they have with a colony of microbes.

And while we’re on the subject, I’ve have never ever written a book. I make galaxies and nebulae, I don’t write books. They do that and tell themselves it’s me. I ask you! Nor have I ever sent any messengers to their god-forsaken planet to tell them what I want from them. I don’t want anything from them. I don’t need anything from them. I. Am. Not. Interested. There are no special ways of attracting my attention whatever any of them say. And as for the idea I have an allergy to their behaviour – preposterous! I AM God Almighty. Their stupidity has no effect on me. They offer me nothing nor do they affect me in any way.

So, they’ll have to get on with their virus on their own, as they have with every other drawback of their miserable existence. I’ll be doing nothing, no matter how much they beg. Why should I?

Note:

No gods were harmed in the making of this blog. Any resemblance to any deity imagined or dead is purely coincidental. The existence of a god or gods is not presumed by this post. In point of fact, none does.

God or Superman?

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An early problem faced by the creators of Superman, only a few years after his first appearance in Action Comics #1 in 1938, was his impotence in the real world. Here was a character with incredible super-human powers – not quite as phenomenal as they would later become – who could defeat gangsters, wife-beaters, bullies and evil dictators with a flick of his little finger, but who, when a real life bully emerged on the world stage, couldn’t do anything. Stories could have been written about how he single-handedly defeated the Nazis and restored world peace but none of this would have been reflected in the real world. It’s true that today with its alternate realities and constant rebooting that Superman could be made to defeat modern-day fascism; but that would be on some other fictional Earth, not the real one. In the real world, Superman would remain impotent, having little effect beyond raising awareness and morale, which is what he did – or, more accurately, what his creators had him do – during World War II. There wasn’t anything else he or they could do.

By now, coronavirus should really have disappeared from the face of the Earth. Last Sunday was National Day of Prayer in the US. Independent of Donald Trump’s ‘initiative’ in calling for a day of grovelling in front of the Almighty, many other Christians have also been begging God to protect their church community from covid-19 (the godless can fend for themselves). Still others have commanded the virus, in the name of Jesus, to leave them and the USA alone (the rest of the world be damned.)

The effect of all this pleading and commanding has been that the coronavirus has continued to spread, heedless of borders and indifferent to the religious beliefs of its victims. Either God doesn’t give, as we say in this neck of the woods, a rat’s arse about who contracts covid-19, nor who dies from it, not even his born-again Chosen Ones. Everybody’s gotta die sometime, right? The important thing is that they’re right with the Lord before they do.

Or – God’s just like Superman. We can imagine him doing all sorts of incredible things, like healing disease, curing illness and saving the world, but in reality, none of them ever happen. He’s not going to protect people from coronavirus in precisely the same way he failed to protect them from 9/11, AIDs, the Holocaust, Spanish Flu, The Great Plague, Black Death and Leprosy. It’s not that he doesn’t care, it’s that he’s not there. He’s no more real than Superman and is every bit as impotent as the Man of Steel.

I’m a big fan of Superman – I’ve been reading the comics he appears in for 57 years now – and I’m fully aware he’s not real; he was created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster 82 years ago and has been embellished by every writer and artist who’s worked on him ever since – much like God. If only those who plead with the Almighty, and worse, tell the rest of us what he thinks of us, would recognise that he is fictional too. He exists only in a fantasy realm, outside of which he has no super-powers, no influence, no ability to save us from coronavirus or anything else.

Remember the sequence in the Simpsons episode where Homer is, as usual, in lots of trouble; he looks to the sky and pleads, ‘I’m not normally a praying man, but if you’re up there, please save me… Superman.’ That’s exactly what Christians are doing right now, and the result will be the same as it was for Homer and for everyone else who’s ever called on Superman God to save them.

Coronavirus defeated

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Thank God the Coronavirus pandemic is over. It was scary there for a minute or two. Over 3,000 people died from it. Fortunately, they were mainly Chinese and South Koreans. Vice-president Mike Pence and other anti-abortionists Christian leaders have now taken care of it. On Friday they prayed that it would go away and God has done as they asked. The picture above, courtesy of The Friendly Atheist, shows them doing it. Here’s some other nitwits righteous ones doing the same thing and here an article about the prophet whom God chose to announce to the world that the threat was over. You have to wonder, though, why he made the virus in the first place and why he allowed it to spread so indiscriminately. I mean, even Christians were infected.

Truly, the way to resolve a world wide health crisis is to enlist the help of an imaginary sky fairy who, as usual, does f**k all to help.

Next week: the coronavirus continues to spread. These same men of God then realise that the virus is actually God’s punishment for abortion… er, homosexuality… um, opposition to Trump… er, people shaking their fists in his face (he really doesn’t like that.) Then it all becomes clear why God made the virus in the first place. Difficult to explain why he started it off in China though, but the Lord will surely let his prophets know that too (I mean, those Chinese are commies.)

Life must be easy when all you have to do is make stuff up. It’s more than a little bit worrying that those who do it are listened to by multitudes who’ve switched off their critical faculties. More worrying still when some of these fantasists are in charge of entire countries. The only way coronavirus will be defeated is through science; the development of a vaccine, which is still many months away. Imaginary deities – and they’re all imaginary – prayers, pleading and blaming are all worse than useless.

The Darkening Age

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I’ve been reading Catherine Nixey’s The Darkening Age: The Christian Destruction of the Classical World. I highly recommend it.

Its sub-title says it all. The early church’s determination to destroy any way of life, any belief system or enterprise that it didn’t agree with was deliberate, systematic and brutal. It set out to eliminate the forms of worship, culture, learning and social norms in which it found itself. It did this initially by demonising, literally as far as it was concerned, the opposition. If it wasn’t Christian then it was demonic; ancient religious beliefs especially, but also schools of philosophy, science, education, the theatre, dancing and sexual mores.

As it grew in power, the church went from holding its ‘heathen’ neighbours’ views as suspect to actively and violently opposing them, destroying temples, toppling and mutilating statues of the old gods, razing to the ground historic buildings they considered ‘demonic’. Those they regarded as ‘pagans’ were compelled to convert to the new religion. According to the Christian propaganda of the time, these pagans turned to Jesus with joy in their hearts, once shown the error of their demonic ways. What choice did people have? It was either that or lose everything they held dear.

Once Christianity became the state religion under Constantine, religious authorities legislated against other philosophies and beliefs. As the Justinian code put it, ‘we forbid the teaching of any doctrine by those who labour under the insanity of paganism.’ Free thinkers could be arrested and have their possessions, including their homes, Blog393aconfiscated. They could be imprisoned for believing and saying things that ran contrary to Christian orthodoxy. Their works were burnt, often on public pyres, and that which survived was frequently written over with pages of scripture. Soon, however, even this wasn’t enough. It became a capital offence to subscribe to alternate beliefs, to write or teach about them. Similarly, same sex activity became outlawed and punishable by death. No wonder the philosophers of the day called Christianity ‘the tyrant’.

In 392, Christian mobs destroyed the magnificent temple of Serapis in Alexandria. The Great Library in the same city had disappeared by then too, quite possibly at the hands of Christian mobs. Hypatia, one of the Library’s greatest mathematicians, was degraded in the street and then murdered. (You may have seen the 2009 film Agora where Hypatia is played by Rachel Weisz; if not you definitely should.)

By AD500, the church had successfully and completely eradicated the opposition. The culture that had preceded it had gone; its knowledge, mythologies, philosophy together with the ability to think freely and to criticise – all consigned, if not to hell, then to oblivion. Nixey reports that 90% of classical literature is lost forever (p246), including almost all Greek writing from the ancient world. As John Chrysostom boasted, the writings of the Greeks ‘have all perished and are obliterated’ (p245). From the little that survives we know that Greek philosophers had postulated that the world was made from atoms and didn’t have a beginning as such. They had also developed a form of evolutionary theory (pp35-36). It would take the world 1500 dark years to catch up with these suppressed ideas.

The elimination of Christianity’s opponents was carried out in the name of the man who supposedly said, ‘love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you’ (Nixey points out that the persecution of Christians was greatly exaggerated; many early believers aspired to martyrdom and the church undoubtedly meted out more persecution than it received.) It was done to bring the world into line with the way they thought God had decreed it should be:

That all superstition of pagans and heathens should be annihilated is what God wants, God commands, God proclaims! (‘Saint’ Augustine)

Thank Enlightenment we can’t, in the west at least, be executed these days for our beliefs and philosophies. And whatever became of Christians? Those who oppose anything in their culture they consider contrary to their tyrannical views, who would punish, perhaps execute, sexual non-conformists and who regard other belief systems, atheism especially, as demonic. The same believers who would eagerly take us back to the demon infested dark ages.

They’re still with us of course and have, in the UK where I am and certainly in the United States, a disproportionate amount of influence and power. We must be grateful they are moderate, reasonable people who wouldn’t hurt a fly.

Aren’t they?

Bathwater

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While putting together the ‘Can You Be a Christian and…’ series, I encountered on more than one occasion the line of reasoning (I use the term lightly) used by moderate Christians that, essentially, certain parts of the Bible are no longer relevant. So you can, they said, be both a free thinker and a Christian; you can be gay, so long as you disregard what the bible says about homosexuality; you can be a Christian woman if you dismiss Paul’s denigration of women; you can acknowledge evolution provided you reinterpret what the bible says about creation; you can be a realist if you ignore the bible’s supernaturalism.

But if you’re going to disregard anything the bible teaches that appears incompatible with what we know about psychology, sexuality, biology and reality, then how does the Bible’s central objective truth, as one commenter on here calls it, survive? What makes its core message (that, in some way, Jesus’ death and resurrection is capable of saving humankind) an immutable, eternal truth, while almost everything else can be compromised, deemed to be ‘culture-bound’ and metaphorical, to the point of irrelevance?

I recognise, of course, that fundamentalist Christians don’t do this. For them the bible is inspired, infallible and immutable. They’re prepared to compromise themselves, science and reality in order to honour and preserve what the book says. For them evolution, feminism, homosexuality and independent thinking will always be wrong. The alternative is to acknowledge that the bible doesn’t get everything right and to take the approach of the liberal progressive Christian who is prepared to adjust and adapt what it says; to emasculate it.

Which brings us back to asking where this process stops. If progressive Christians are prepared to dilute to the point of meaninglessness what the bible has to say about creation, women, sexuality and reality itself then why not what it teaches about Jesus and salvation?

It’s a fact that almost all varieties of the Faith, including fundamentalism, are happy to ignore completely Paul and Jesus’ teaching that the Kingdom of God was due to arrive, in all its glory, in their own time. It’s the same with Jesus’ moral extremism (giving to all who ask, loving enemies, turning the other cheek.) So why not the rest of it?

Why are Paul’s muddled theology and selected bits of the Jesus stories considered to be the baby while the rest of the bible is the disposable bathwater? On what basis do progressive Christians decide what is inessential and what is crucial, critical, indispensable? Ideas about angry deities, blood sacrifice, the sins of the people and the resurrection of god-men are every bit as culture-bound as the bible’s perspective on all those other issues.  

Because really, in the end, it’s all bathwater.

 

Can you be a Christian and … a Realist?

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If you’ve been reading this series of posts, you’ll pretty much know how this one’s going to go. You can’t really be Christian if you have, as the old song goes, half a brain. Still, it won’t hurt to see how compatible faith is with reality as we know it. You never know, we might be surprised.

Speaking of songs, I always liked Billy Joel’s ‘An Innocent Man’ from the album of the same name. Of course, by Christian reckoning there’s no such thing as an innocent man, nor woman or child – no, not one – because all have fallen short and are worthy only of death (Romans 3:23 & 6:23). All the same, we’ll give Billy the benefit of the doubt. In a song of insightful lyrics, the lines I particularly like are

Some people hope for a miracle cure
Some people just accept the world as it is
But I’m not willing to lay down and die
Because I am an innocent man

Christians seem to have such difficulty accepting the world as it is. They’re constantly upset that the world, which I’m taking to be synonymous with reality, does not and will not conform to what they expect of it. And when it doesn’t, it’s the world that’s at fault, that has it all wrong.

When the evidence is presented for climate change and our contribution to it, some believers announce, with no hint of irony, that God will never let it happen. He’ll step in, just like he always does, to prevent it. So take that Australia with your bush fires, Java with your floods and all you polar bears with your melting icebergs: God’s got it all in hand.

When a Hollywood movie depicts a same sex couple in the background of a scene for a nano-second, the born-again are apoplectic about the world’s immorality. When two female performers wiggle their bits, Franklin Graham – arch-supporter of the Pussy-Grabber-in-Chief – has the hypocrisy to claim, ‘I don’t expect the world to act like the church, but our country has had a sense of moral decency on prime time television in order to protect children.’ Clearly he does expect the world to act like the church (which as we know is both spotless and sinless.) All these modern-day Jeremiah’s do.

Reality doesn’t, and won’t, conform to what Christians want it to be. So what to do? Either join with Graham and those other evangelicals railing pointlessly against reality, like Don Quixote and his damn windmills, or (and this a much more comfortable position to adopt) be like those climate change deniers and tell yourself that whatever sort of state the world is in, God will be step in any time soon to sort it all out. After all, this is what Jesus believed. He didn’t rant and rave about the state of things, brutal Romans and all, he just had a simple, smug faith that his Father was going to set everything right real soon and put him in charge.

Christianity demands that Jesus’ disciples deny the world; reject it, despise it. The faith has denial at its core, even of oneself. It demands reality be replaced with a fantasy version of the world.

As I’ve written before:

Christians, even moderate ones

Those older links could easily be replaced with up-to-date, reality-denying ones. This is what it’s like in the Christian bubble; with all this denial taking up space, there’s no room for accepting the world as it is, and trying to change what needs changing and improve what needs improving.

Again as I’ve said before, truth, reality and other people are the casualties of religion’s life-denying efforts at self-preservation. Fantasy and reality are just not compatible.