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.

 

 

Angels & Demons

angel

Last time, Benjamin Corey was feeling rather pleased with himself that he’s able to take a more considered, adult approach to the Bible. He doesn’t interpret it like those dim-witted fundamentalists. Instead, he consults ‘scholars’ to tell him what the Bible’s really about. And in case we’re in doubt, that is never (ever) anything to do with myths or fairy tales.

Which makes me wonder: what do mature, clever Christians like Benjamin make of the Bible’s supernatural fantasies and its cast of invisible beings?

Do they, for example, dismiss the demons that are all over the New Testament? Jesus, you see, believed in demons; he thought some illnesses were caused by them and had a repertoire of incantations for exorcising them from their victims. There are cranks today who believe the same sort of thing, but that’s a bit too much of a fundie approach for the kind of serious-minded Christian I’m talking about here. They probably don’t care that the Bible says in Ephesians 6.12 (written by fake-Paul) that demons are all around us, engaged in invisible spiritual warfare in equally invisible heavenly realms.

I can’t help but think that if only a demon would make itself visible and show us what it looks like, we would know that fake-Paul and Jesus were right and not just religious fanatics inculcated with the unscientific notions of their primitive cultures. But no, no demons have ever shown themselves in person (as opposed to ‘in a person’) except, of course, in third-rate horror films.

So how about angels? Maybe we could see an angel – an undeniable, indisputable, bona fide angel. According to the Bible, they were often seen back when people didn’t know any better. Mary, shepherds watching their flocks, the disciples, Mary Magdalene, Paul and even Jesus himself encountered angels in the flesh. So why don’t we see them now? Why don’t they make themselves known, outside of people’s imaginations? According to fundies they do, but alas, there’s no evidence this is true, which is convenient to say the least.

Still, I’m sure you can be a Christian without believing in angels and demons, even if the Bible is sure they’re real. You don’t have to believe everything it says (right, Dr Corey?)

So what about the rest of the Bible’s fantasies, its invisible creatures and make-believe places? Next time we’ll take a look at the evidence for them and ask, are they really just the low-fi special effects of a book well past its sell-by date?

Angels with anuses

Lot

Of the many tawdry stories in the Bible, the tale of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19.1-29) is one of the most sordid and ludicrous.

In case you don’t know it, two angels visit Lot in the first of these ‘two cities of the plain’ where the local men express a desire to rape the pair. Unbelievable, right? All the men (19.4) wanted to rape two other men? It would appear so, but only because the story, designed to explain the demise of the two cities, is a fabrication by a rabidly homophobic scribe, intent on expressing his own prejudices and sexual fantasies. There is little evidence the cities really existed.

Anyway, Lot offers them his daughters instead, telling the local rapist mob that the gals are virgins, though in fact they have husbands (19.12 & 14). Lot’s rampaging neighbours don’t seem to know this but all the same decline his generous offer. So, to cut a long story short, God destroys both Sodom and Gomorrah allowing only Lot and his family to survive. Then, for no plausible reason, his nameless wife dies as they flee and Lot has drunken sex with his not-so-virginal daughters (19.33-38). As a result of the incest, the two of them give birth to genetically compromised offspring.

So this Lot – I’m tempted to say ‘this Bad Lot’ – who lies, offers his daughters to hormonally charged thugs, fucks the gals himself and has children by them is, declared by God to be a ‘righteous’ man (Genesis 18 and 2 Peter 2.7-8). The bar was set very low in them good Old Testament days.

Over on National Catholic Register’s blog, Thomas L. McDonald tries to explain what this seedy little story really means. (Steve Wells responds to his desultory efforts here). Central to it, are the so-called angels. What sort of beings are these? The term means ‘messengers’ and this pair at least are very mundane; they are incapable of defending themselves against rape threats (Lot has to help them) and while they claim they are about to destroy the two cities (19.13), it is in fact God who does so (19.24). Later angels are more like the X-Men; they have grown increasingly grotesque (Daniel 10.5-6) and have developed superpowers like flight (Isaiah 6.2) and invisibility (2 Kings 6.17). The Sodom pair though are mere prototypes. There is nothing supernatural about them because the concept of the angel as a supernatural emissary of the divine was in its infancy when this story was written. They are simply human messengers.

Which is how they are capable of being raped. If they were the ‘evolved’ angels of later fantasy it would be inconceivable that they could be overcome and abused in this way. That these two can be potentially is because they are human males with human male anatomy. The bottom line is, if you’ll forgive the pun, they have anuses, without which they could not be anally raped. The story blithely assumes this to be the case even though all subsequent exegesis consistently ignores it.

This ugly, homophobic, semi-pornographic story has led to untold damage to innumerable people throughout the ages. It has given us the disparaging terms ‘sodomy’ and ‘sodomite’, even though no ‘sodomy’ takes place in the story and isn’t, in any case, routinely practised by same-sex couples. It has served as the prototype for the blaming of LGBT people for (always unrelated) natural and man-made disasters, from earthquakes to tsunamis and 9/11. The moral usually taken from it – even though it lacks any morals at all – that being gay is evil, has led and provided ‘justification’ for the persecution and destruction of gay people right up to the present day. Perhaps, given the same story is referenced in the Qu’ran, its influence can even be seen in last week’s massacre in Orlando. 

That the prejudiced and ignorant today continue to be influenced by this unimaginative, tawdry little tale is the lasting legacy, the real tragedy, of Sodom and Gomorrah.


Christianity: always winter but never Christmas

Spot the difference:Shore

Christians are hot on evidence.

There isn’t enough for evolution, they say, even though there’s an abundance.     

None, they claim, that the Earth is billions of years old, but only 6 thousand.

Not enough that climate change is man-made, when there’s considerable evidence it is.

None that there’s a genetic component to homosexuality when science reveals that there is.

But, as far as the resurrection of the body, judgement and eternal life in either Heaven or Hell are concerned, these they believe in, no evidence required.

I recently challenged Christians on Charisma magazine’s blog-site to provide or point me to evidence that any one of the 107 billion people who has ever lived who after they had died had gone on to enjoy either eternal life in Heaven or eternal punishment in Hell. Unfulfilled promises from magic books weren’t admissible, because a promise of something happening is not the same as it actually doing so. Jesus didn’t count either, as there are no eye-witness accounts of his bodily resurrection, only stories written decades after the supposed event. In any case he was half Vulcan or something, not an ordinary mortal.

Alas, my challenge went unanswered. You won’t find it on the Charisma site now because it has been removed by the moderator there. Expecting evidence from Christians for what they believe is patently unreasonable. After all, who needs evidence when you can exercise your licence to believe whatever you’re told?

Of course, there is no evidence of any resurrection nor of anyone who has gone on, post-mortem, to enjoy everlasting life. Have you noticed how everything about Christianity is either invisible – God, the Holy Spirit, Heaven, angels, demons – or lies permanently in the future; the Second Coming, the resurrection of the body, the Kingdom of God, judgement and eternal life? All of them always just that little bit further on. This year, next year, sometime, never. Just not now.

Yet Jesus, Paul, Revelation’s John and most other New Testament luminaries believed God’s Kingdom, the resurrection and judgement were coming within their own lifetimes.* Not one of them entertained the thought that 2000 years down the line none of these miraculous events would have materialised.

Small wonder then, that at the start of the second century, believers began to lose hope in the Second Coming, the Kingdom’s arrival and an earthly resurrection of the dead. Maybe, some of them began to think, eternal life would be not be here on Earth, as Jesus and Paul had promised, but in Heaven with God, which they most definitely hadn’t. This way, everything that hadn’t happened here on Earth would happen instead after death (we can see this transition taking place in the very late gospel of John). All of which was fortunate, because it dispensed with the need for confirmation and evidence; no-one could prove – apart from the fact nobody has ever survived their own extinction – that believers didn’t go to Heaven when they died. Equally, no-one could provide evidence they did.** How neat and convenient.

So if any Christians reading this would like to like to show us some evidence for the resurrection of the dead, post-mortem judgement, Heaven, Hell, God’s Kingdom on Earth – any of it – I’m sure we would all like to see it. Until then, I will go on regarding all of these assurances as empty promises – pie in the sky – that believers cling to desperately, while calling their desperation ‘faith’.

* See Matthew 16.27-28 & 24.27, 30-31, 34; Luke 21.27-28, 33-34; 1 Corinthians 15.51-52; 1 Thessalonians 4.15-17; 1 John 2:17-181; Peter 4.7; Revelation 1.1 & 21.2-4

** Psychics claim to commune with the dead, of course, or at least with their spirits; more hokum from the minds of the deluded. Even if it weren’t, this isn’t the kind of resurrection Christians envisage for themselves. They dismiss psychics’ ‘evidence’ of life-after-death as so much demonic deception.

The Stuff Christians Say… (part three)

DoorToDoorAtheists are aggressive/militant/unreasonable. The Christians might’ve got us on this one. After all, it is incredibly irritating when we atheists start preaching in the town centre or invade others’ events to tell them what to believe or dish out loony pamphlets or turn up at people’s doors when they’re just about to have their tea. And what about all those meeting places we have, on just about every corner of the city, with smart-arse posters about Adam and Steve on the board outside? And let’s not forget our readiness to blow up ourselves and others in the name of our great cause. Now that’s ‘militant’! Yes, we atheists really do have too much freedom to push our views on others. No wonder we’re so insufferable. (Note to self: check you’ve got this right.)

It takes more faith to be an atheist than a Christian. It takes no faith to recognise there are no supernatural beings. It takes no more faith not to believe in God – or to acknowledge that there is no God to believe in – than it does not to believe in Santa Claus, Poseidon or Ra. Christians themselves require no great abundance of faith to dismiss these characters. Is it so difficult to understand that atheists disregard the Christian pantheon of fantasy figures in exactly the same way? Or are believers practising their dishonesty-for-Jesus again? There is no faith involved in being an atheist. On the other hand, believing in an omnipotent but suspiciously inactive God, a super-hero Saviour, a magic Spirit, angels, cherubim, seraphim, demons, Satan, resurrected saints, Heaven, Hell and all manner of powers and principalities – this requires faith in delusional quantities. No atheist could possibly compete. Nor would they want to.

Peace Off

angels

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men. Luke 2.14 as rendered by the King James Bible.

Whatever happened to that peace? There hasn’t been peace on earth ever since the angels were made to herald Christ’s birth with these words. Some of that absence of peace – the conflicts and wars – has been the result of religion, including that of Jesus himself. Then again, he did contradict the angels when he said he hadn’t come to bring peace but a sword and for once, he was right (Matthew 10.34). So what can the angels have meant? More to the point, what can those who created these words to put in the mouths of non-existent beings have been thinking? Is their declaration a promise? A prophecy? Something to look good on Christmas cards?

Other translations of Luke 2.14 avoid the whole peace on earth shtick by watering down the statement: ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favour rests’ reads the NIV. Now only those whom God ‘favours’ are granted peace, which presumably means only Christians, and it’s now a vague sense of well-being (complacency? smugness?) that isn’t of much use to the world at large. Certainly other New Testament writers, the creators of John’s gospel and the letter to the Ephesians for example, interpret ‘peace’ in this very limited way.

And yet, in Isaiah, in verses applied to Jesus (especially at this time of year; they were read out in the carol service I attended last night) we find him descibed like this:

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9.6)

Apart from the fact this is a specifically Jewish prophecy that has nothing to do with Jesus – which is why most of the titles don’t really apply to him (nobody has ever called him ‘Wonderful Counselor’ or ‘Everlasting Father’) – there again is the idea that he’s somehow connected with capital-letter Peace. He’s a Prince of it, no less.

But wait – there’s more:

Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this. (9.7)

Of course; it’s all end time stuff! We should’ve guessed. Long term peace on the Earth, predicted by the angels and, ostensibly, by Isaiah is going to be in the future, after Jesus returns to establish God’s Kingdom on earth.

Have you noticed how it’s always in the future? Everything Christianity offers is going to happen later: heaven, eternal life, the second coming, the rapture, resurrection, God’s Kingdom, the lion lying down with the lamb, the end of war, everlasting peace. Not in Jesus’ own time as he thought; not in Paul’s, not in the gospel writers’, not any time since, but always just around the corner, any time now, soon. Never in the here and now. Peace on Earth, like all those other promises, is always just out of reach, like the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow – the closer you think you might be to it, the further it moves away.

A friend added one of those clever posters to Facebook recently. It said, amongst other things, that it wasn’t okay to ‘shame’ religion. I couldn’t disagree more. Scams must be debunked and the sham of religion’s empty promises held up to the light of reality. None of the things that the Bible says will happen is going to; not now, nor in an ever-elusive future.

A happy and peaceful Christmas to both my readers.

Christians’ Favourite Delusions 34: Atheism is a Religion

NoGodChristians like to claim atheism is a religion. It’s their way of saying, ‘look – atheists are as daft as we are. They believe in bullshit just like we do, except, of course, they’re wrong and we’re right.’ You can see them saying just this here and here and here.

But atheism isn’t a religion, any more than not collecting stamps is a hobby, as Penn Jillette puts it. It isn’t a religion because it is the absence of belief – primarily in a god, but also in any other kind of supernatural being. The atheist knows there are no saviours, angels, devils, demons, ethereal saints or eternal prophets, and no heaven and hell to house them either. Atheism is devoid of any sort of worship of imagined supernatural beings; nor does it address them, commune with them or otherwise revere them. It does not recognise the authority of ‘holy’ books nor that of self-appointed spiritual authorities, including popes, pastors, preachers, imams, mullahs and rabbis. It doesn’t regard anything as sacred, including its own experts; neither Darwin nor the so-called New Atheists are above criticism. (Try that with those who think they represent God’s Truth™!)

Where religionists build their belief systems on the insubstantial foundation of faith, atheists accept nothing on trust. Instead, they look for evidence to support their knowledge and value reason, not dogma – things that are anathema to religion.

Given, then, that atheism is the antithesis of religion and that atheists don’t do what religion demands, it is intellectual dishonesty to insist that atheism is a religion. Those who do so are false witnesses; mistaken at best, liars for sure.