Where’s Jesus?

Not a rhetorical question. Christians keep telling us that he’s alive, so where is he exactly? If he’s alive he has to be some place. The old hymn, ‘I Serve A Risen Saviour’, which I sang many times in my younger days, thinks it knows:

He lives, He lives, Christ Jesus lives today!
He walks with me and talks with me along life’s narrow way.
He lives, He lives, salvation to impart!
You ask me how I know He lives?
He lives within my heart.

This isn’t much use though, is it. All it’s saying is ‘I’ve convinced myself Jesus is alive because I feel him inside me.’ That’s the extent of it, and this being so, it’s really no evidence at all that Jesus is alive in any sense the word is usually understood, let alone that he has an independent on-going existence.

Perhaps the bible will be of more use. Acts 7.55-56 has Stephen see Jesus alive in heaven, standing at the right hand of God. Well, that’s great. Now we’ve got two problems. Not only do we still not know where Jesus abides, we don’t know where God lives either. They’re both together somewhere, ‘heaven’ according to Acts says, but we’re no closer to knowing where this is either.

According to the preceding verse, Acts 7.54, Stephen is ‘looking up’ when he has his vision of heaven. This is significant because for early Christians, God’s abode – heaven – was in the sky. The New Testament speaks of different levels or realms of heaven, all of them up in the sky.

In 2 Corinthians 12, Paul claims to have visited the third (and highest?) level, while the Paul-imposter who wrote Ephesians helpfully explains that the lower level, the one nearest the earth, is occupied by demons and Satan’s minions whom he refers to as ‘the powers of the air’, ‘cosmic powers’ and ‘powers and principalities’. These are the very beings whom Paul claims in 1 Corinthians 2:8 killed Jesus (betcha thought it was the Romans) and 1 Peter 5:8 says seek to devour men’s souls.

Next is the heavenly realm inhabited by angels and the original perfect copies of everything here on Earth (Hebrews 9:22-24).

Then, finally, there’s the highest heaven (alluded to in Luke 2:14)) where dwells the CEO, God himself. If Jesus stands or sits at his right hand, then presumably that’s where he is too. But where is this highest heaven, or indeed any of the levels the early cultists believed existed? There’s no evidence for any of them.

In fact, the Bible’s heavenly hierarchy (which you can read about in detail here) is absolute drivel. Above us, as John Lennon was known to say, is mere sky – the stratosphere, mesosphere, thermosphere and the like – followed by the endless vastness of largely empty space. If Jesus is alive in an imaginary highest heaven somewhere out there, then he, like it, is similarly non-existent.

But let’s not write a living Jesus off just yet. It’s possible that he, his Father and all those lesser supernatural beings – the demons and devils, powers and principalities as well as the angels and snoozing saints – are hidden away in some other invisible and undetectable alternate dimension.

Other dimensions are, according to some scientists, theoretically possible. There may, they say, be as many as 11, but unfortunately for Jesus, none of the Bible authors knew of them. Those who wrote about heaven in the early days of the Jesus cult, were convinced it was overhead and, as ‘intellectual’ Christians are fond of pointing out, we need to read and interpret scripture as the ancients themselves did, not with a modern sensibility. Certainly not with an understanding of ‘dimensions’ derived from Star Trek.

Despite this, theologians have to work mighty hard to transplant such theoretical dimensions into the Bible in order to claim that heaven, and therefore Jesus, exists in one of them. And work hard they do, at what is little more than a god-of-the-gaps argument: ‘we know Jesus is not a few (or even many) miles up above us, therefore we must find a location for him somewhere that science appears to allow.’

(Interestingly, when it comes to the fine-tuning argument, apologists are quick to dismiss the idea of other dimensions, multiverses and parallel worlds; these make the earth less special, less ‘just right’ for life, less designed by God specially for us.)

Locating the living Jesus is like finding Wally/Waldo in one of those cluttered pictures, except this time he hasn’t been included. So tell us, Christians, where is Jesus? And where is the evidence he’s where you say he is?

What Happens When We Die (According to the Bible)

Street preacher Dale McAlpine was busy regaling the shoppers of my home town yesterday with the good news that they’re all sinners destined for hell. The God who created them will, Dale assured them, face an eternity of torture unless they turn to Jesus.

Dale didn’t have many (any) takers for this wonderful good news. One brave person, a young woman, asked him why, if people are resurrected, the cemeteries remain resolutely full. Good point! Dale, armed with his megaphone and hectoring ignorance, responded that it is the soul that survives death and is taken up to Heaven to live eternally with God. For those without Jesus, their souls will be consigned to hell where they will burn for eternity.

How unbiblical is that? The Bible does not teach that believers will go to live forever with God in heaven. Eternity in Heaven is not on offer. The New Testament writers anticipated the arrival of Heaven – God’s new Kingdom – on Earth. When it did, they believed, the dead would be resurrected: the saints to everlasting life in new spiritual bodies on a regenerated Earth (Revelation 21:1-4), the rest to eternal damnation.

Paul has some vague ideas about what will happen to those who die before the general resurrection – he thinks their souls will be kept safe ‘in Christ’ (whatever that mean but doesn’t suggest they will be living it up in Heaven. Rather, he describes them in 1 Thessalonians 4:14-15 and 1 Corinthians 15:20 as being ‘asleep’. Many Christian ‘thinkers’ really take exception to this idea, though Paul says this intermediate state won’t last for long; the Kingdom on Earth was imminent. He believed it would arrive while most of those he was writing to were still alive (1 Thessalonians 4:17; 1 Corinthians 15: 51-52).

It’s all tosh, of course. Paul had absolutely no idea what happens to people after death. He invented everything he said about it, from the independent existence of sleeping souls to Jesus arriving on the clouds to resurrect the dead in new spiritual bodies. These bizarre ideas come from a fevered brain convinced it had seen a dead person alive again and thought it had once taken a trip to the third heaven (whatever that is).

How do we know Paul invented it all? Because of the aspects of his teaching that should by now be history: the arrival of God’s Kingdom on Earth, the resurrection of the dead and Christians being supplied with new spiritual bodies ( while the rest of us roast in hell.) None of these things happened when he said they would, or indeed at all. We know it too because we are aware both instinctively and empirically that there is no continuation after death. When the body ceases to function so too does the ‘self’, which can be generated only by a living brain. We have no ‘soul’ that goes on alone after death and which will one day be clothed in a new sparkly body.

Here’s my challenge then to those who believe and propagate such nonsense; the Dales, the evangelicals, the fundies and the oxymoronic intellectual Christians of this world: provide evidence of one individual who has survived death in the way Paul said they would. Show us one believer who has been resurrected or whose soul is currently sleeps in Christ or who now lives in Heaven. The only proviso is that this must be a real person who is 100% human; not a mythical demi-God, not a character in a story, not someone for whom the evidence of a resurrection is extremely poor. Not, in short, Jesus. Where is the evidence anyone else has experienced a resurrection or embarked on their eternal life in heaven? Billions of believers have died since Paul created his fantasy. Surely there must be someone

Eggs, Bunnies and Dead Bodies

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Easter rolls round again. The spring festival, which in English is named after a pagan fertility Goddess (hence the eggs and bunnies), was usurped by the church in the second century as a celebration of a dead man rising.

Sometime in the first century, a few desperate men had visions of a Yeshua – his name meaning ‘to deliver’ – shortly after his death (if indeed he existed). The visions, which were entirely in their heads, were so vivid, it seemed to these men that Yeshua was alive again. They began looking for his (re)appearance in the sky when they thought he would establish God’s Kingdom on Earth. It was a preposterous idea, but in preparation for his appearance, the men encouraged others to adhere to Jewish law so that they would find a place in the New Age.

A short while after, a different fanatic had his own vision. Saoul, who transitioned into Paûlos, thought he heard Yeshua speaking to him. Yeshua told him the conditions that needed to be met in order to secure a place in the new order: all anyone had to do was believe and they would live forever. This was all entirely within Paûlos’ head of course but nevertheless enough people took notice of his preposterous idea and decided to worship Yeshua.

Later still, the Romans destroyed Jerusalem, which was the centre for those who’d come up with the original version of the preposterous idea. Almost all of them were eliminated. Not because of their preposterous idea but because the Romans were indiscriminate in slaughtering those they regarded as rebellious Jews. Their elimination cleared the way for Paûlos’ preposterous idea to flourish unopposed.

Around this time, a literate acolyte of Paûlos’ idea, who later became known as Mark, set about creating a back story for Yeshua. He based it on Paûlos’ teaching and on stories from Jewish scripture that he thought predicated Yeshua, though in fact they didn’t.

Two other cultists liked this idea but didn’t think Mark had done a very good job of it. They set about rewriting his story, adding even more preposterous elements. Finally, about 60 or 70 years after the whole thing had begun, a fourth chap, later called John, reimagined the Yeshua story. His version bore little relationship to Mark’s tale but this didn’t really matter as all the versions of Yeshua’s life story were made up. In any case, no-one would notice the discrepancies provided the four stories were never collected together.

And so Christianity was born, created from visions and false hopes, reinventions and fanciful fictions. The preposterous idea in its different forms appealed to people, now as then, because of its false promise of eternal life and as the means of avoiding an imagined God’s wrath.

This is the idea the church is celebrating, preposterously, this weekend.

As for me, my days of fertility are long gone, but I might, nevertheless, indulge in a little bit of chocolate egg.

Jesus: Practically Perfect In Every Way?

Was Jesus a gracious, gentle and humble as Christians like to claim or was he intolerant, self-important and frequently wrong? What do the gospels say?

He’s intolerant and self-important when:

He insists people should love him more than their own families (Matthew 10:37).

He says he’s not a peacemaker but intends creating strife (Luke 12:51).

He claims anyone who doesn’t follow him deserves to be burnt (John 15:6).

He wants the world to be destroyed by fire (Luke 12:49).

He commands people not to call others ‘fools’ (Matthew 5.22) but tells those he doesn’t care for that they’re ‘swine’, ‘dogs’, ‘snakes and vipers’, ‘whitewashed tombs’, and, yes, ‘fools’ (Matthew 7:6; 15:26; 23:33; 23:27; 23:17 & Luke 11:40).

He deliberately speaks in riddles so that people won’t understand him and won’t find forgiveness (Mark 4:12).

He tells his followers to love their enemies but says he’d have his own killed (Luke 19:27 & Matthew 13:41-42).

He endorses slavery and the cruel treatment of slaves (Luke 12:47-48).

He says people would be better off if they cut off their hands, plucked out their eyes and castrated themselves (Mark 9:43-48 & Matthew 19:12).

He endorses the Jewish law that demands the death penalty for those who disrespect their mother and father (Matthew 15:4-7).

He disrespects his mother (Matthew 12:48-49).

He tells people not to get angry but loses his own temper (Matthew 5:22 &Mark 3:5).

He callously kills a herd of pigs and, in a fit of pique, destroys a fig tree (Matthew 8:32 & Matthew 21:19).

He takes a whip to people (John 2:15).

He tells his mates he’ll soon be king of the world and promises them that they’ll rule alongside him (Matthew 19:28).

Are these the marks of a tolerant, compassionate man? Or the characteristics of an unpleasant, delusional megalomaniac?

As for frequently wrong: first, the false promises –

I will do <em>whatever</em> you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son (John 14:13).

Very truly, I tell you, if you ask <em>anything</em> of the Father in my name, he will give it to you (John 16:23).

These signs will accompany those who believe: …they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover’ (Mark 16:17).

Therefore do not worry, saying, “What will we eat?” or “What will we drink?” or “What will we wear?” But strive first for the Kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well (Matthew 6:25-7.1).

and then there’s the failed prophecies –

For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels… I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his Kingdom (Matthew 16:27-28). Just in case we don’t get this the first time, he tells us again in Matthew 24:27, 30-31, 34 and in Luke 21:27-28, 33-34.

Did he return with the angelic host and establish God’s kingdom on Earth before his disciples died? He did not.

Christian zealots unable to accept the evidence of the gospels themselves will no doubt have a hundred and one clichéd, implausible excuses for Jesus’ many failures: ‘he was speaking metaphorically’; ‘you lack the spiritual insight to see what he really meant’; ‘you’re quoting him out of context’, blah blah, blah.

All I ask is that they please, please don’t inflict these excuses on us here when we’ve heard them all so many times before.

Sowing seeds

The early church had multiple problems, many of which Paul and other New Testament writers refer to. Any reasonable person would have taken these problems as a sign that the faith they were pushing really didn’t work; didn’t produce new creations powered by a holy spirit. Some, including a number of the very earliest followers (Matthew 28.17), were leaving the church, disappointed and disillusioned. How were leading figures in the cult to explain this? Having supposedly encountered the supernatural Jesus these people were now having doubts that he was real and were turning their backs on him. This shouldn’t have been happening!

The writer of 1 John accounts for the departure of those who had come to their senses by suggesting they were never really true believers:

They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us. (1 John 2:19)

It’s significant that the writer of this letter doesn’t allude to Jesus’ parable about the sower of the seeds from Matthew 13. Not one of the letter writers in the New Testament who address the problem of defections does so. This can only be because none of them knew of it when they were writing decades after it was supposedly told. The reason they don’t mention it is because it had yet to be written.

The parable of the sower is Matthew’s attempt to have Jesus address the problem of those who fell away from the cult. Matthew’s explanation is it’s because the good news – the imminent arrival of God’s kingdom on Earth – only takes root in the spiritually astute. Others, who might initially accept the gospel, are like stony ground on which birds gobble up the seed. They are those who allow the cares of this world – metaphorical weeds – to choke the message before it can flourish.

It’s a very colourful explanation designed to reassure those persisting in the faith that they are the favoured, while those who have defected have fallen prey to the shallow soil, birds and weeds. It’s neat and it gives reassurance and encouragement to remaining cultists.

Jesus could not possibly have known what was to become of his ‘church’ and the (non)arrival of God’s Kingdom – his good news – following his death. The parable was created for him, or more specifically, as Matthew makes abundantly clear in 13:11-12, for devotees of the early cult decades later. What it emphatically is not, is a story originally delivered by Jesus.

10 Reasons Why

I wonder what are the reasons those of you who were once Christians gave up on faith? Believers who know me far better than I know myself have attributed to me a whole range of motivations. Here’s a top ten of the reasons I rejected Jesus according to these spiritually astute know-it-alls:

In at 10 it’s…

You must have been hurt/had a bad experience of Christians. To which I answer, not particularly, though I did find the people I encountered in churches to be much like those I encountered in any other organisation I’ve been involved with. No different. Certainly no better, and in some ways worse when they squabbled or were petty and judgemental. Not sufficiently worse to make me abandon faith, but perhaps enough to make me ask whether Christianity really ‘worked’. Shouldn’t Christians who are new creatures, reformed in the image of Christ. be so much better than the rest of us?

At 9… You went to the wrong church. If so I must’ve attended several ‘wrong’ churches as I moved around the north of England with work. My wife and I always sought out churches with sound biblical teaching, so it wasn’t the lack of solid food that caused me to backslide (to use the Christian jargon.)

8. You wanted to wallow in your own sin. As I’ve said facetiously before, I like a good wallow as much as the next man and preferably with him. Back in the days of my struggling with faith, however, I didn’t find myself drawn to ‘sin’. I was trying to raise three children, do a demanding job and deal with the fallout from my boss’s affair with a colleague. My own sin was the last thing on my mind.

Related to this is the accusation that an apostate such as I wants, in some unfathomable way, to be God. Certainly I want to be fully human and to take charge of my own life, but aren’t these laudable intentions? It doesn’t mean I aspire to be God; I don’t want to be worshipped, don’t want to laud it over others, blame them for my deficiencies or send them to hell. That’s what God does, right? But it’s not me. 

7. You rejected Christ because you’re gay and didn’t like the constraints faith placed on your sexual behaviour. See above. I didn’t admit I was gay until several years after I ditched faith and it was several more after that before I came out, yet more until I did anything about it. But okay, if you want to reverse the order of events, I gave up on religion because I was latently gay. But not really, though certainly the abandonment of faith was a liberation; I could think for myself and was free, over a long period of time, to finally become myself.

6. You read the wrong books. I certainly did: C. S. Lewis (I still have my collection of his books), John Stott, John Piper, John Bunyan, Bonhoeffer, Joni Erickson, Corrie Ten Boom, Billy Graham, David Wilkerson… and the Bible. So yes, I wasted a lot of time reading this sort of thing, but I’m guessing that’s not what my Christian accusers mean. I read more widely as I moved away from faith which helped me break out of the Christian bubble, but this wasn’t the reason I left the faith. I was well on the way by this time.

5. You were never a true Christian. Your faith was intellectual or habit or emotional but not deeply personal. Of course I was a true Christian. Just ask Jesus. Oh… you can’t. I’ve written about this before as you’ll see here. I was as real a Christian as those who claim they’re the real deal now.

4. You were in thrall to non-Christian writers. Not in thrall, no, but these writers – Ehrman, the so-called New Atheists, science writers (Dawkins’ science books particularly), Pagels, Barker, Loftus, Alter and, yes, Carrier – make a lot more sense than those who write from the perspective of faith. These authors don’t seem to mind, indeed they relish that their readers think critically about the evidence they present. Mumbo-jumbo isn’t passed off as erudition.

3. You have no awareness of the spiritual; you think that only that which can be measured is real. This is true, but it is not why I gave up Christianity. It is a consequence of doing so. I have seen no evidence of a spiritual realm that exists outside the human imagination. If anyone is able to present evidence that it does have independent existence, I’m open to it. Until then I will continue to live with the understanding that angels, devils, demons, heaven, hell, celestial saviours and gods, like unicorns, dragons and Shangri-La, do not exist. It follows that as non-existent beings they cannot communicate with us nor await us as our final destination.

2. Your heart has been hardened by Satan. See above; there is no Satan. Hardening of the heart is a metaphor for those who don’t fall prey to Christianity’s fraudulent claims or at last see through them.

1. You gave up on faith because you realised none of it was true. Yes. Finally. This is why I rejected Christianity. It simply isn’t true, as I’ve attempted to demonstrate on this blog for the last 12+ years. Its third-rate fantasies, fake promises and failed prophecies are all evidence of its falsity.

But wait. None of the telepathic Christians who ‘know’ why I’m no longer a believer ever make this accusation. They would never concede that most (all) of what they believe simply isn’t true. But my life experience and my reading as I began to suspect Christianity was nothing more than a con have borne this out. Christianity is demonstrably untrue, theChristian God a fraud and supernatural-Jesus a fiction. This is why I abandoned Christianity.

How about you?

Suffer, Little Children

I recently wrote the post below for The Life and Times of Bruce Gerencser and thought that if you missed it, you might like to read it here. 

I was reading Gary Marston’s latest post on Escaping Christian Fundamentalism God Is So Good! He Allowed Ten Thousand Children to Starve to Death Today.

Gary has his very own Christian troll (All atheist/agnostic bloggers have them) called Swordmanjr, who leapt to God’s defence, the mighty Creator Of All Things needing fallible, flawed human beings to do this for him. Swordmanjr accused Gary of scapegoating God who, apparently, is not really responsible for suffering, nor indeed anything horrible.

I guess God could be being scapegoated if it wasn’t for the fact, his Son, God Incarnate according to some, tells us he cares for human beings much more than he cares for sparrows (which is, admittedly, not much at all), that he is concerned to the extent that he numbers each and every hair on individuals’ heads (Matthew 10:29-30). This must be before he allows so many of them to die of starvation and in natural disasters.

The evidence is that God does not care. He doesn’t care if you’re a child born into poverty who then dies a slow, miserable, painful death through malnutrition. He doesn’t care if you’re caught up in a natural disaster like the recent earthquake in Turkey (which, according to some Christian nutjob, was God’s response to Sam Smith’s performance at the Grammies) in which your entire community and you yourself are wiped out. He doesn’t care if you die of a nasty virus, which ultimately he’s responsible for, as millions including Christians did during the pandemic. He doesn’t care that you die, when, or how horribly. He – just – doesn’t – care, period.

Jesus, as he was about so much, was plain wrong about his Father’s caring. The real world does not and will not match up with this early Christian fantasy.

Believers who leap to God’s defence invariably do it by launching vitriolic ad hominem attacks on non-theists who dare to criticise his shoddy performance. In doing so, they demonstrate yet another of Christianity’s disconnects; it’s promise that it makes new creatures of people, filled with love and compassion (2 Corinthians 5:17).

By their fruits shall ye know them,’ proclaims Jesus in Matthew 7:15-20. If the Christians who lurk around atheist blogs are anything to go by, those fruits are often pretty rotten: vitriol, spite, hatred… ‘evil’ Jesus calls it. These Christians frequently end their comments with a threat: one day the atheist will stand before God’s judgement throne and then they’ll be sorry: hell awaits!

God is not there in this kind of behaviour. He’s not there when humans suffer and die, frequently horribly. He’s not there in the Bible verses that promise he is there in such circumstances. God is not there.

 

 

Jesus: not worth the paper he’s printed on?

There is broad consensus amongst respected scholars that the Jesus of the gospels didn’t exist. This is hardly surprising. Gospel Jesus, as I hope I’ve demonstrated over the past few weeks, is constructed from fragments of Jewish scripture and Paul’s (and others’) visions and dreams. There is also good evidence, which I’ve not discussed, that some Jesus stories are recreations of legends and tales of other god-men (turning water into wine and the Road to Emmaus story*, for example).

All of which raises the question suggested by David Fitzgerald in Nailed, that if there was a real Jesus who was so incredible that he gave rise to an entire religion, why was almost everything about him invented? Why could his story not have been told as it was? Why didn’t his inspiring, dynamic personality speak for itself? Personally, I don’t care whether Jesus existed or not, but if the supposedly remarkable Jesus of history did once exist, he has been totally obscured by the stories, legends and myth that were constructed around him not long after he died. The celestial Jesus that today’s Christians claim to know personally, who they say inhabits their hearts while simultaneously living in heaven, is emphatically not the man who lived, but a myth. A different myth, even, than that of the New Testament. A non-existent star-man, waiting in the sky.

Jesus belongs with all those other heroes who may or may not have existed prior to their being turned into myth and legend: Abraham, Moses, Buddha, Confucius, Saint Nicholas, Robin Hood, Paul Bunyan. There is very little evidence, apart from stories and legends, that any of these figures actually existed. More, it’s entirely conceivable that Jesus belongs to a still different group of super-beings: those who were created as mythic characters, including but not confined to, Osiris (and the entire Egyptian panoply), Apollo (and all the Greek gods), Romulus, Circe, Attis, the angel Gabriel, Mithras, Aladdin, the angel Moroni, Superman, Harry Potter…

There is meagre evidence there was an historical Jesus who, even if he did exist, is now buried beneath layers of make-believe. The Jesus who has come down to us through the gospels and the rest of the New Testament is fictional. From his fairy-tale origin to his fantasy ascension and beyond, he’s completely imaginary.

I’m conscious I’ve written other posts making this same point. I find that, whatever starting point I take, invariably I end up here. Whether it’s ‘prophecy’, prayer, promises, miracles, the second coming, any aspect of the faith, none has any substance. They’re ineffectual, empty and have no bearing on reality. The character who supposedly embodies and promotes them becomes, as a result, similarly void. Either Jesus was transformed into a fantasy figure soon after he lived or he was imagined, by the likes of Paul, as a magical being to begin with. Whichever it was, from the earliest days of Christianity, there was no way for people to hear of or know about a man who actually walked the Earth.

*See Carrier, On the Historicity of Jesus: Why We Might Have Reason to Doubt, pp 480-81

But Is It True?

We can argue till Kingdom come (i.e. forever) about whether or not this or that Bible verse is meant to be taken literally or metaphorically (God couldn’t make himself clearer?) and whether a particular author was an eyewitness or not, but the bottom line is, ‘Is what the Bible says True?’ Nothing else matters. If it is true, then it’s claims must be accepted. It would be extremely foolish to disregard them. If not, if the Bible is one big lie, then we must consign it to the dustbin of history.

Is it true that whatever a believer prays for, God will provide? Jesus says so several times:

If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer (Matthew 21:22).

And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son (John 14:13).

Very truly, I tell you, if you ask anything of the Father in my name, he will give it to you (John 16.23).

No, its not true. We don’t see ‘whatever’ and ‘everything’ being granted even when Christians pray ‘in accordance with God’s will’ as they like to qualify these promises.

Is it true that whatever a believer gives will be returned to him until it overflows (Luke 6:38)? While this is the foundation for the prosperity gospel movement it is patently untrue. Untrue symbolically too; if you give of yourself in God’s service you will be rewarded excessively? Just ask all those burnt-out ministers.

Is it true that with sufficient faith believers can uplift mountains and throw them in the sea (Matthew 21:21)? Obviously not, not even when this hyperbolic promise is interpreted figuratively. Christians can’t resolve their problems, work miracles or bring about radical change more than anyone else, and certainly not by ‘faith’.

Is it true that God looks after those he has chosen, to the extent he knows the number of hairs on their heads (Matt 10:29-30)? Evidently not. It didn’t work this way for Jewish people in the holocaust, it doesn’t work for the 10,000 children who die everyday of hunger and it doesn’t work for Christians, who fair no better than anyone else in life’s calamities.

Is it true that Jesus was born in Bethlehem under a wandering star? No. This is a myth constructed from older stories.

Is it true Jesus walked on water, turned water into wine and raised the dead? Or is it more likely these ‘miracles’ were created for him, ‘signs’ from Jewish scripture designed to present him as the anticipated Messiah? This is the more likely explanation. A man called Iesous did not really perform supernatural feats.

Is it true Jesus rose from the dead after three days and nights? No. While Mark (10.33-34) and Matthew (12:40) claim this was going to happen, they don’t even pretend that it did. Friday evening till Sunday morning is 36 hours, not three days and nights.

Is it true his disciples and lady friends saw Jesus risen from the dead? We don’t know; the accounts of them doing so were written forty and more years after the supposed event by people who weren’t there. The only eye-witness account of a risen-Jesus sighting is Paul’s and he admits it was in his head. So probably the answer is no: it’s not true people saw a resurrected physical body.

Is it true gospel Jesus existed? With his story made up from existing myths and mystical visions, it’s highly unlikely. So no.

Is it true Jesus sends those he’s saved to heaven when they die? The Bible doesn’t say he does; it claims he would be coming from heaven himself, in the time of those who were writing about him, to initiate God’s kingdom on Earth. So, no and no again; its not true he came down from heaven, in the time of those who were writing about him, to initiate God’s kingdom on Earth.

Is it true, that by believing in something akin to magic, people can rise from the dead? No. Believing a secret formula does not enable anyone to escape death. There is no evidence anyone has resurrected after being fully, properly dead because they believed something. There is no evidence anyone has resurrected from the dead ever.

Is it true that believing in Jesus makes people into new creations? No more than many other experiences in life. Does it make for better people – more righteous, more moral, more loving? Evidence from the Bible itself suggests not, as does the appalling behaviour of some Christians today.

Is it true that the spirit of this long-dead first-century itinerant Jewish preacher lives inside people today (John 14:17)? No, it’s not. There is no evidence that dead people, or celestial super-beings from some other plane, inhabit the living. Many believers are embarrassed to acknowledge even the possibility.

Is any of it true? We could play this game all day: taking any of the New Testament’s claims and stories and asking ourselves whether they are true. The answer will be, invariably and demonstrably, no. It takes the closing down of any critical faculties to believe they are, and mental gymnastics to maintain that, even if they’re not literally true, they contain hidden, profound truth. They don’t.

God’s Design for Sexual Relationships: the Gospel According to Don

A digression:

A little while back, a Christian commenter (we’ll call him ‘Don’) made the point that homosexuality and other non-conformist sexualities are ‘not the order of creation God intended‘. Yes, Don knows the intentions of a God whose purposes are unknowable (Romans 11:33-34)! 

And what are those intentions?’ I hear you ask. It is that everyone be, or pretends to be, heterosexual and involves the marriage of one man to one woman for life, for the procreation of children. I know this because it says so in the Book of Common Prayer, originally composed in 1622:

The union of husband and wife in heart, body, and mind is intended by God for their mutual joy; for the help and comfort given one another in prosperity and adversity; and, when it is God’s will, for the procreation of children and their nurture in the knowledge and love of the Lord. Therefore marriage is not to be entered into unadvisedly or lightly, but reverently, deliberately, and in accordance with the purposes for which it was instituted by God.

But how did the writers of this book know this was God’s plan? How do evangelicals today, who subscribe to the same ideas, know that this is what God intended? How does Don?

The Bible. Surely the writers of the prayer book consulted the Bible and created their summary of God’s plan from that. Surely the evangelicals who promote one-man one-woman marriage draw their inspiration from God’s Word. Surely this is how Don knows too.

Let’s see. Here’s what Paul has to say about marriage 1 Corinthians 7:28-29:

…if you marry, you do not sin, and if a virgin marries, she does not sin. Yet those who marry will experience distress in this life, and I would spare you that. I mean, brothers and sisters, the appointed time has grown short; from now on, let even those who have wives be as though they had none.

Hardly a ringing endorsement of marriage!

Paul goes on to say,

I would like you to be free from concern. An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord’s affairs—how he can please the Lord. But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world—how he can please his wife— and his interests are divided. An unmarried woman or virgin is concerned about the Lord’s affairs: Her aim is to be devoted to the Lord in both body and spirit. But a married woman is concerned about the affairs of this world—how she can please her husband.I am saying this for your own good, not to restrict you, but that you may live in a right way in undivided devotion to the Lord…So then, he who marries the virgin does right, but he who does not marry her does better. A woman is bound to her husband as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, she is free to marry anyone she wishes, but he must belong to the Lord. In my judgment, she is happier if she stays as she is—and I think that I too have the Spirit of God (1 Corinthians 7:32-40).

In other words, avoid marriage if you can, the better to devote yourself entirely to the Lord. How many Christians actually do this? How many preachers and evangelists promote it? None that I know of.

I can already hear Don arguing that Paul’s views are his own and were not handed down from on high. Let’s then turn to what Jesus says about marriage. If anyone knows God’s views on the matter, it must surely be his very own Son. I don’t for a second, believe he was of course, especially as Jesus’ script was written years after Paul and owes a great deal to him. Nonetheless, here’s what Jesus is made to say about God’s plan for marriage:

Jesus said to them, ‘Those who belong to this age marry and are given in marriage; but those who are considered worthy of a place in that age [i.e. that of the Kingdom] and in the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage (Luke 20:34-36).

Surely he can’t be saying that those who want to rise from the dead and make it into the Kingdom of God shouldn’t marry? That they’re not worthy of that Kingdom if they do? Yup, that’s exactly what he’s saying.

Similarly, in Matthew 19:10-12, after discussing divorce with the Pharisees, Jesus responds to the disciples’ remark that ‘it is better not to marry’, with –

…not everyone can accept this teaching, but only those to whom it is given. For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the Kingdom of heaven. Let anyone accept this who can.

Even interpreted figuratively – though it’s not evident from the text that Jesus is speaking figuratively – this means Jesus thinks it’s preferable to be sexless: chaste, celibate, single. How well that’s worked out for the Catholic church!

Finally, there’s Luke 14:26 where Jesus makes it clear what following him entails:

If anyone comes to me and does not hatewife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple.

Not much ‘mutual joy’ there.

Unlike Jesus and Paul, I’m not knocking hetero-marriage or the procreation of children. I’ve been involved with both. If these are what floats your boat, that’s great. But they’re not what the Bible promotes. Just the opposite. After the tales of incest, polygamy and adultery in the Old Testament, the New teaches that marriage has had its day. It is to be avoided, the better to follow Jesus, prepare for the coming kingdom and be worthy of eternal life. Only marry, Paul advises, if you can’t control your sexual urges. But, according to Jesus, you are risking your place in the coming kingdom if you do. You can improve your chances by shunning sex altogether.

This is the Bible’s teaching about marriage and God’s intentions for the sexual beings he created. Strictly speaking, it’s the New Testament’s teaching; that of the Old is even more bizarre.

Aah but,’ I hear someone say, ‘it’s all about context.’ Certainly it is; and the context is that Paul and those who created Jesus’ script believed the current age was about to end. Marriage, such as it was (very different from the modern concept, particularly for women who could be bought and sold aged only 12 or 13), would also then be coming to an end. With the arrival of the Kingdom of God on Earth, marriage would be redundant. Better, Paul and the gospel writers argue, to have done with it now to conform ahead of time with the new system, with God’s plan: ‘those who are considered worthy of a place in that age and in the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage.’

But God’s plan – the arrival of his kingdom on Earth in the first century didn’t come to fruition. His plan for marriage to end likewise fell by the wayside. Instead, and without the assistance of any deity, the very human institution of marriage persisted and evolved, eventually being hijacked by the Catholic church in the ninth century. It emerged more or less in its current form – though not for everyone – in the 17th century. Whatever this signifies, it was not what ‘God intended for his creation’ nor his ‘design for sexual relationships’ (Don again, doubling down on his position.)

If the Bible is anything to go by, God has never been very impressed by marriage. His long-term plan for it, if that disreputable book is to be believed, was to scrap it altogether. Yet we still have Christians who use its continued existence to disparage and denigrate those of us who express our sexuality with other adults of the same sex, with whom we share a mutual attraction.

Shame on them.