On being free

chains

Commenter Rebecca responded at length recently to my post ‘Why God Could Not Possibly Have Created The Universe (pts 4 & 5)’. There was so much in her response, that I thought it best to reply to her in a full length post rather than with a brief comment:

Hi Rebecca,

I won’t be able to respond to all of your points as there are so many, but will attempt a few.

I’m glad you find your faith beneficial. You’ve obviously thought about the whole incarnation/sacrifice/reconciliation issue, but I wonder whether you’ve ever asked yourself what it is you need saving from and reconciled with? What is it that means you personally need to avail yourself of the sacrifice Jesus supposedly made (however you interpret that)? I guess evangelicals, of which you seem to say you are not one, would claim it’s because of sin; the alienation from God that our very existence seems to cause.

Is that really the case though? Isn’t it rather that ancient superstitious peoples needed some explanation for why life was so difficult, short and brutish? They reasoned that surely it couldn’t be the fault of the creator God, so his tendency to treat them badly must be entirely their fault. Consequently, they had to do something to appease this god, to make him smile upon them again as they felt he must once have done. They thought the way to do this was, variously, through sacrifice and/or righteous living, by murdering those they felt offended him the most, and through praise and supplication.

There is no getting away from the fact, however, that the primary way they sought to reconcile themselves with their deity was through blood sacrifice. The New Testament’s interpretation of the death of Jesus is expressed in just such terms:

In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our sins, according to the riches of His grace (Ephesians 1.7).

This is not just an evangelical perspective; it is the major theme of much of the New Testament.

I’d like to ask you, Rebecca: are you really so steeped in sin that you need to avail yourself of a bloody human sacrifice in order to be reconciled with God? I have to say it seems extremely unlikely.

I didn’t leave faith behind because of how repugnant this idea is, however. I experienced an epiphany while walking one day, after many years of thinking about such things, and realised with conviction that there was no god: no god to appease, be reconciled with or commune with. He simply didn’t and doesn’t exist (see here for why I think this is the case). Of course, there being no god means there’s no son of god either.

I then started living my life on the basis of the fact there is no god, and I have to tell you it became a whole lot better. I didn’t have the constant feeling I had to come up to some impossible standard; I didn’t feel guilt for the most trivial of ‘sins’; I no longer worried that not getting my beliefs quite right would result in the loss of my eternal life; I stopped worrying about eternal life because it was obvious there was no such thing; I stopped thinking hell and heaven were real; I started living in the here and now; I stopped thinking I had to respond to others’ needs by telling them about Jesus (and started relating to them as people); I no longer had to subjugate whatever intellect I have to force myself to believe things that were clearly nonsense; the self-loathing I felt about my sexuality began to slip away. I could be me, and what a massive relief that was. I think I became a better person as a result. I certainly became a happier one.

You say the bible contains many deep truths – perhaps – but it also includes much that is cruel spiteful, damaging and just plain wrong. I lost interest in sifting the wheat from the chaff because there was just too much chaff (a free biblical analogy for you there.)

The secrets of life, whatever they may be, Rebecca, are not in the bible, nor in any convoluted explanation of what Jesus stood for (he was just another failed apocalyptic preacher). They do not lie in Christianity or in any religion. Life is more than any of these ultimately dead things.

Thank you for writing. It can only be a good thing that you’re thinking about these issues. You will I’m sure find your way out into the light. I hope what I post here can help you with that.

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The evidence for Christ

Christ

The evidence for Christ is not historical — it’s spiritual — and that evidence is indeed abundant for those who believe.

So says T. C Howitt, commenter on the Rational Doubt blog. And what is the ‘abundant evidence’, of which he speaks, for the existence of this spiritual being? It is, he says, ‘spiritual’. That’s quite a tautology: ‘the evidence for my fantasy is my fantasy’.

T.C. goes on to say that only those who truly believe can know that their experiences of the spiritual are real; the rest of us, he decrees, are blind. In other words, evidence that his fantasy is real is that other people have experienced versions of the same fantasy – some of them thousands of years ago. The ‘evidence’ for Christ (as opposed to Jesus) is therefore one’s own feelings plus the strange psychotic experiences Paul relates that he feels sure must be this supernatural being.

Science removes human subjectivity, as far as is possible, from its demonstration of how things are. All that Christians (and other believers in the supernatural) need do is similarly demonstrate that the spiritual realm, with its attendant beings, has an existence independent of human emotions, feelings and imagination. They could show us that, like gravity, electricity and quantum mechanics, Christ and angels, seventh heavens, demons and all manner of spiritual beings, have an existence separate from the internal, subjective experiences of human beings.

They’ve had two thousand years to do just this and still they haven’t. Why not? Because it can’t be done: Christ and his angels, God and his heaven are mythologies and, like all others, are constructs of the human mind.

 

Those resurrection experiences explained

Emmaus

Isn’t it amazing how modern Christians see Jesus in clouds (the picture in the previous post was taken from a site that genuinely believes it was Jesus in the sky – there were lots of others examples there too), on toast, in their own whipped-up emotions, through voices in their heads and as a result of inner-visions but deny that the original resurrection appearances were just the sort of thing? No, Jesus really appeared then, they say, resurrected in his damaged body – he showed Thomas the holes in his side, didn’t he?

Given people’s propensity for seeing things that are not really there – figures in clouds, the sense of a supernatural presence (‘Mother Mary comes to me’) – isn’t it more likely the original ‘manifestations’ of the risen Lord were precisely this; the same sort of ‘sightings’ that people claim to experience today? Maybe not on toast admittedly, but in their heads, in the euphoria of shared worship, in their need for comfort? I’ve done it myself, when I was a Christian. I sensed Jesus’ presence in carefully stage-managed worship, in intense prayer, in what I took to be his response to those prayers. Of course, these were nothing more than my interpreting my own emotions as something from outside myself; an intense and reassuring self-delusion.

Is there evidence of this sort of process in the accounts of the risen Christ? Sure there is – Paul’s encounter is a vision in his head (Galatians 1.16; 1 Corinthians 9.1 & 15:8), while the gospels have Jesus say that whenever two or three of his followers are gathered together, there he will be amongst them (Matthew 18.20). He cannot have meant that, long after he’d left the Earth, he’d be physically present. Rather, this is a later explanation of the intense emotion early believers felt and decided could only be Jesus’ mystical presence – his so-called holy spirit (which isn’t called ‘The Comforter’ for nothing.) They were doing what I did and what millions of Christians still do today – interpreting the feelings they shared in these worshipful contexts as visits from the risen Lord. Later, the gospel writers made Jesus ‘predict’ just such experiences and then firmed them up, so that the accounts of warm feelings and visions became, retroactively, encounters with a physically manifested person.

That’s how it happens today – a vaguely human-like shape in the clouds or on toast and warm feelings become an experience of Jesus. We readily see human form where there is none (we are psychologically primed to seek out human faces) and attribute external agency to phenomena that don’t have any. No reason to suppose it was any different back in the first century.

The oldest trick in the book

Cloud

Hemant Mehta draws our attention to a new book by ‘Christian Prophet’, Mark Robert Pryce called Princess Diana Speaks from Heaven: A Divine Revelation. In it, Pryce claims, the late Princess of Wales communicates with him from beyond the grave. Hemant notes how

(Diana) spends a lot of time convincing readers it’s totally her. Which is exactly what the real Diana would do, of course.

Sound familiar?

Here’s an earlier version:

After his suffering, (Jesus) presented himself to (the disciples) and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive (Acts 1.3).

I’ve always wondered why Jesus would need to do this. Wouldn’t his old friends just, well… recognise him? How exactly do you prove you’re alive? Wouldn’t it be self-evident when you were breathing, moving and talking right there in front of people? Unless, of course, you weren’t really there, but were some sort of apparition or shared delusion. Then, those who felt they were experiencing you would need to convince themselves that you were really there. Just as charlatan Prophet Mark Robert Pryce has ‘Diana’ do in his book.

Plus ça change.

 

 

Why God could not possibly have created the universe (pts 4 & 5)

Sacrifice2

The final two reasons why it is altogether unreasonable to credit the God of the bible with the creation of all that there is.

4. YHWH is inadequate

Christians want us to believe that the God of the bible is the ‘First Cause’ who purposefully created the cosmos. He is, they tell us, powerful beyond imagining, capable of bringing into existence a universe of infinite proportions, with its billions of suns, trillions of planets, nebulae, dark matter, black holes and the rest.

But this vast complexity stands is incompatible with YHWH, who demonstrates all the limitations we might expect of a god devised by primitive nomadic herdsmen. He is anthropomorphic, restricted in knowledge and defeated by technology his creators didn’t possess; like other deities of the period, he is obsessed with bizarre ritual, requiring genital mutilation and the sacrificial burning of animals. He lives, alternately, at the top of a mountain or in a box, from where he is capable of smelling roasting meat, and spends his time issuing laws about sex and slavery. He is primarily a god of war, his acts almost entirely destructive, rarely creative, which is what we might expect from a people continually in conflict with their neighbours.

Whatever else such a being might be, he is not one capable of creating the universe. He is nothing more than a small and petty tribal deity – one of many recognised by the Israelites during their history – created and sustained by men who knew no better. This is the god Jesus believed in, though he relocated him in the sky (‘the heavens’) and tried to turn him into something more amenable.

Despite this partial make-over, the New Testament version of God retains the attributes and limitations of his older self. He is, if Paul is to be believed, still pre-occupied with blood sacrifice, in dictating sexual behaviour and wreaking destruction on his supposed creation. He is no more capable of creating the cosmos than his predecessor. The God that modern Christians insist brought everything into being isn’t this limited, feeble, unsavoury figure. That God is another construct altogether, a far cry from the paltry god of the bible, and one they have devised themselves, that they make appear capable of creating the universe as we now know it to be.

5. The supernatural has no independent existence.

This is the bottom line: outside the human imagination, there is no evidence the supernatural exists. Even if we do take the human imagination into account, there is no evidence of an independent supernatural realm. No-one has ever seen a god, demon or angel, in exactly the same way they’ve never seen a fairy, goblin or unicorn. They may think they’ve experienced spiritual beings ‘within’ or felt them emotionally or hallucinated about them, but this does not mean they have independent existence. Despite millennia of religious belief no supernatural beings have ever manifested themselves, been witnessed, demonstrated or measured. Gods, like angels and spirits, do not exist. It follows, therefore, that the cosmos cannot have been created by them.

Thank you for bearing with me on my exploration of why god could not possibly have created the universe. I don’t know, of course – none of us do (yet) – how it came about, but the notion that it must have been god, the Christian god no less, simply isn’t feasible:

He would have had to create something from nothing, when the supernatural and immaterial are incapable of creating the natural and material.

The bible’s YHWH is too feeble to have been responsible and God-as-creator leads, in any case, only to an infinite regress.

The supernatural is a product of the human imagination; it has no independent existence.

However the universe came to be, we can be certain no gods, including the Christian one, were involved.

 

 

 

 

 

Why God could not possibly have created the universe (pt 3)

Sun

Posts here and here considered two reasons why Christians’ claim that their God created the cosmos is preposterous. A third reason is that –

God as creator leads to an infinite regress.

Christians like to assert that everything that has a beginning has a cause; the universe had a beginning therefore it had to have a cause. That cause – watch the unwarranted leap of faith here – can only have been have been their god. My previous arguments notwithstanding – that God needed to create everything from nothing (which according to Christians is impossible) and the immaterial cannot produce the material – the notion that god caused everything begs the question, as Richard Dawkins points out, of who caused his being. If, as Christians like to argue, everything has a cause then their god must have one too. Their assertion that he is the exception because, by definition, he has no beginning and consequently has no need of a cause is merely special pleading; why should he be different from everything else?

Christian apologists – William Lane Craig, for example – always assume that the first cause is their god, without a beginning and need of a cause. Their thinking goes as follows: everything that exists has a cause; the universe must have had a first cause; this first cause was somehow sentient; we are going to call this sentience ‘god’; this god must be our god, YHWH.

Yet they provide no evidence that there is, or was, a first cause; there could have been several contributory causes, including chemical, physical (gravity, for example) and activity on a quantum level. They then make the unwarranted assumption that this cause must have been sentient, again without evidence, and load this presumption with further insupportable connotations when they label it ‘god’. Finally, they make another leap of faith by claiming this ‘god’ is their god, YHWH.

This is all so much special pleading, insisting everything has a cause except the thing Christians don’t want to have had a cause. But God cannot be excluded; he too must have a cause (and indeed he does). So who or what caused him and gave him his start? And who or what created whatever it was that created god? Who or what created that? And on into infinite regress.

Those who offer such arguments put the proverbial cart 613.772 billion years before the horse. As Richard Dawkins says in The God Delusion, intelligence and creativity have only ever arisen as a result of evolution, specifically the evolution of the (human) brain. We know of no other means – there is no other means – by which intelligence and high-level creativity are produced. For a creative, super-intelligent mind to exist prior to the beginning of everything is, therefore, an impossibility. As I suggested in the second part of this series, the physical always precedes the immaterial; the natural world produced the advanced human brain about 200,000 years ago, and that brain has, ever since, projected its gods backward to the beginnings of the universe. This does not mean that a being without a beginning was actually there, much less that he produced the whole show. It means we know the cause of god. It is us.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jesus just isn’t up to it

A brief diversion from considering why God couldn’t possibly have created the universe…

Falls

Billy Graham’s grandson, Boz Tchividjian, has been addressing the issue of child abuse in the protestant church. He concludes his considered comments with the claim that,“there was no greater defender of children than Jesus.” Presumably he bases this on the few things Jesus is made to say about children in the gospels – all two of them: ‘suffer the little children’ (Luke 18.15-17) and that stuff about ‘whoever leads a little one astray’ (Mark 9.42), which is really more about the precariousness of faith than children. And, according to Boz, this qualifies Jesus as the greatest defender of children ever. No-one has ever done anything ‘greater’ for them. Not Dr Barnardo, not Save the Children, not the NSPCC, not foster carers or ordinary mothers and fathers. Nope, Jesus is the best ever child protector. The same Jesus in whose name both Catholic and Protestant churches have systematically abused young people down the years.

I never cease to be amazed at the willingness of Christians to superimpose every conceivable virtue, and quite a few prejudices, on a long dead itinerant preacher. But this is no modern phenomenon. It began within a few years of Jesus’ death, when religious zealot Saul decided that a peculiar turn he’d had was really Jesus returned from the dead. On the back of this, Saul – newly rebranded as ‘Paul’ – invented all manner of nonsense about a man he’d never met, his entire, tortured theology bearing little relation to any individual who had ever actually lived. We know this is what happened because of the disciples’ objections to Paul’s ideas and the very different ways in which Jesus was later to be portrayed in the synoptic gospels.

Then the crank who wrote Revelation added even more to the Jesus legend; he was now an avenging warrior-king, ready to fight dragons and smite his enemies right, left and centre.

And still it goes on: Christians insist Jesus was perfect, that he did not ‘sin’ or do anything immoral, when the figure in the synoptic gospels is alternately misogynistic, xenophobic, insulting, prone to anger, supportive of slavery and megalomaniacal. Far from perfect, in fact.

Not so, say other Christians who make it up as they go along; Jesus is a great protector and defender, looking after his flock from Heaven. But in reality, his protection is non-existent, as those who implored him to divert hurricane Harvey recently discovered. (We can be sure his uselessness as an insurance policy won’t change the way any of them regard him.)

Even if Jesus isn’t perfect or a great defender, he is, according to extremist nincompoop, Kevin Swanson, a divine punisher, inflicting natural disasters as a result of people’s ’embrace of sexual perversion’. Yet at the same time, he has a special affection for the good ol’ US of A, steering Donald Trump into the presidency and pulling his strings to Make America Great Again.

Or maybe Jesus is really a financial wizard; proponents of the ‘prosperity gospel’ say so, despite Jesus’ repeated repudiation of wealth in the gospels. On the other hand, he’s a sensitive little snowflake, easily offended by anything and everything we do down here on Earth, to the extent he gets upset by what’s on the TV.

Jesus can barely bear the weight of the incredible claims made for him in the gospels (miracle worker, prophet, healer), even though this is a great deal less than the characteristics he’s had projected on him since. Jesus was not eternal, nor the ultimate sacrifice as Paul claimed; he was not God himself as later Christians determined; he was not perfect, nor the greatest defender of children ever; he was not a super-hero warrior-king, nor was he patient, meek or mild. He did not have a preference for a nation that did not exist in his time nor was he explicitly anti-gay. Despite how he’s invariably shown in devotional material produced by western Christians, he certainly wasn’t white. He wasn’t even a Christian.

All of these attributes have been added to him, long after his death, by those who need and want him to be these very things, who need a saviour in their own image. The many Christs that exist, from those invented in the first century to those worshipped today, are, every one, figments of the human imagination.