Sweet and sour, nasty and nice

or, whatever happened to Luke 18.11-14?

prayer2Why is it when people are emotionally blackmailed into becoming followers of Jesus, does their conversion make them sweet and sour, nasty and nice at the same time? The sweet and nice parts are what their new experience does for them. They get a new start of sorts, are introduced to like-minded friends in the church and become compelled to share their new joy with everyone else, whether they want to hear it or not, about how much they’ve changed because of Jesus. It’s nice for them. Deluded too, but if it makes them happy then why not?

This is why not. What they don’t tell you, not at first anyway, is how sour and nasty they have also become; how they must now defend God’s standards, because, as everyone knows, the omnipotent God of all creation is incapable of defending them himself. Being born again and morphing into ‘a new creation’ involves, without exception, becoming judgemental of others, condemnatory, inflammatory, bigoted and spiteful.

You think not? Then you haven’t heard what these same Christians think about abortion and women who have them. Homosexuality and those who are gay. Transgenderism and those born in the wrong body. Science and those who value evidence. Atheism and those of us who see through believers’ sad delusion.

Christians don’t, as some of them profess, hate the sin but love the sinner. They despise those who have philosophies different from them, those who live differently from them, those who are different from them.

A recent BBC poll asked if the world wouldn’t be more peaceful without religion. Here’s the results as of 14th July 2016:

Poll

I don’t know how many people this represents nor where they’re from – the site doesn’t say – but it would seem that most of us would think we would be better off without religion. It’s long past time we were able to be; religion has nothing to offer. It’s time we stopped giving it special treatment because some of it is sweet and nice. Its sour, nasty aspects are just as much a part of it, inseparable from whatever positives its adherents say it has. I’ll be looking soon at how we might push back against religion’s pervasive and poisonous influence in society.

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 two)

Balaam

Atheists don’t behave as evolution says they should: This ridiculous accusation is often slung at atheists by Christians who seem to see it as some sort of stinging rebuke. Answers In Genesis is very fond of it; the Hamster’s drones and other Christians seem to believe – without ever thinking it through (plus ca change) that because those who acknowledge the veracity of evolution don’t behave according to its principles they are somehow inconsistent in their ‘beliefs’ – hypocritical even. They seriously propose that because natural selection and the survival of the fittest (not one of Darwin’s phrases) are cruel, uncaring processes, then that is how, for the sake of consistency, atheists ought to behave too. We shouldn’t care, they say, when a child develops cancer or someone dies. We shouldn’t attempt to cure illness or work to prevent suffering because these are nature’s way and part of the mechanism of evolution.

While it’s true they are, it’s been a long time since our behaviour, our existence and continued success as a species has been solely determined by what nature does. Humans regularly override its mechanisms, natural selection included; every time we use birth control, show compassion for the weak, heal the sick, develop medicines, engineer genes and preserve life. And so we should.

Christians seem unable to comprehend that evolution is not a pattern to be followed. It is not a set of instructions for living, a prescription or a set of (a)moral guidelines. It is the best explanation, supported by considerable amounts of evidence, of how life developed on the Earth. As such it makes no ethical claims nor does it demand that its principles be blindly followed (that’d be religion). Are Christians truly unable to detect this difference?

Atheists have no reason to be moral: I’ve looked at this ignorant claim before. Of course we have reason to behave morally. We’re human, we live in human society. Morals help us do so while doing the least damage to ourselves and others. They may also enable us to bring some happiness or comfort to those around us. Atheists don’t look to an imaginary God to tell us how to be good; our morals come from our culture, upbringing and education. Christians’ morals do too, whatever else they may claim. They certainly don’t get them from that most immoral of books, the Bible.

 

to be continued…

Round in Circles

JC2

Being a religious believer means you can’t be a free thinker. Your conclusions are already determined for you – in the Bible or Qu’ran or some other holy book – and you are compelled, if you’re fundamentalist in your beliefs, to reach and affirm these conclusions. More than this, you are compelled to begin with them, which is why Ken Ham can say that where you start determines where you end up (though this only applies to those who think magic books have all the answers). So if you believe, because the Bible appears to say so, that the universe and all that is in it was created in six days about 6,000 year ago, then that is the premise from which you begin. You are then highly selective in the evidence you’ll consider, forcing it to support your predetermined conclusion. Christian argument is always this circular and heavily dependent on confirmation bias.

It can’t be anything else:

William Lane Craig ‘knows’ that the Holy Spirit is real because he feels it inwardly; the Bible tells him this kind of feeling is attributable to the Holy Spirit, so consequently the Holy Spirit must be real.

Pastor Mike Ratcliff understands that the Bible says everyone is a sinner; Mike’s confirmation bias means he sees sin and apostasy everywhere; therefore the Bible is right when it says everyone is a sinner.

Pastor Steven Anderson condones slavery. God approves of it in the Bible therefore slavery cannot be morally repugnant, and attempts to eradicate it are misguided. How does he know this? Because the Bible says slavery is okay.

Christians generally argue that God is good (because the Bible says he is) but have to disregard the horrors of his creation and the cruelties of life to reach the conclusion that, yes, God is good.

There really is no arguing with such arrested development, such intellectual dishonesty. Christian are not open to wherever reason and the evidence might take them; the end is always assumed at the beginning. Maybe that’s why comments are rarely allowed on Christian web-sites. You can’t argue with the Truth™ – another premise masquerading as a conclusion.

The Embarrassment that is the Old Testament

bible2

When does the Old Testament count and when doesn’t it? When does what it says matter and when doesn’t it?

The answer to both questions is when Christians say so. It counts when something from it can be used to underline how wicked the rest of us are and when they think it’s pointing to the coming of Jesus, many years in its future. It doesn’t, of course, foretell of Jesus as such, despite its predictions of a coming Messiah and/or Son of Man. Jesus doesn’t fit its descriptions of either of these figures. Rather, Jesus’ story is read back into the older texts, their characters and events forced to serve typological and prophetic purposes for which they were never designed. The entire endeavour, which began very early in the development of Christianity, is entirely back to front, with the gospel writers, Paul and other New Testament authors pillaging older Jewish texts and forcing them to fit Jesus retrospectively (and often laughably.)

Regarding ancient Jewish texts as an Old Testament – that is, as representing a previous agreement/covenant between God and his people that has since been superseded – is a political, interpretive manoeuvre of the later religion. (While it’s true Jesus is made to speak of a new covenant, it is debatable how authentic his words are; rewriting the past is not only confined to the New Testament’s treatment of the Old.) This kind of slippery manoeuvring was also endorsed by those who later compiled the Bible as we now know it,* when they relegated the writings that Jesus and all the New Testament writers would have regarded as sacred Scripture to nothing more than a forerunner of the real thing.

Believers want to hang on, naturally, to Genesis, because that’s where it tells them God created everything using nothing but magic and breath from his holy lungs. It relates too how everything went pear-shaped after some mythical people ate some fruit. Noah’s ark is there too, which is a jolly good fantasy, apart from that weird bit at the end where Ken Ham gets an eyeful of his old man’s old man (Genesis 9.20-27). Christians are less keen on those Old Testament stories where God instructs the Israelites to massacre other tribes (1 Samuel 15.2-3; Deuteronomy 2.34 etc) and rape their women (Isaiah 13.15; Zechariah 14.1-2 etc) but nonetheless they’ll defend these unpleasant, barbaric stories just because they’re in the Bible. The Psalms are nicer, what with their words of comfort and paranoia, but best of all are the Old Testament pronouncements that can be used for clobbering sinners. Leviticus 20.13 – ‘If a man lies with a male as with a woman both of them have committed an abomination; they shall be put to death; their blood is upon them’ – is a particular favourite, as is the story of Sodom and Gomorrah for much the same reason. But when it comes to other diktats, Christians are less interested; rules about not eating shellfish or wearing clothes of mixed fabrics, they are quick to point, are entirely negated by the new covenant; they don’t count any more, even though they’re in the same list of largely petty rules as the homophobic one (Leviticus 11.10 & 20.9.)

So how do Christians decide which Old Testament laws are applicable and which are now inessential? There is no shortage of know-alls Christian scholars who make it up as they go along and can tell them. It’s easy you see; the old ‘ceremonial’ rules of the old covenant are now redundant while the moral precepts still stand. Needless to say, the Bible itself suggests no such thing, with Jesus saying precisely the opposite in Matthew 5.17-18 and Luke 16.17; evidently another of his strange ideas that can safely be ignored.

So how do we know which of the Old Testament’s prescriptions are ceremonial and which moral? The same self-appointed experts can tell us this too, though it’s actually easy to work it out for oneself. As a general rule of thumb, verses that condemn other people are still applicable while those that Christians themselves don’t care for are not. So the shellfish and mixed fabrics directives can be disregarded, because obviously they’re ceremonial, while the anti-gay stuff isn’t – obviously. And there’ll be no public stoning of wayward teenagers (Deuteronomy 21.18-21) because that’s obviously ceremonial too – and don’t even think of having sex with the slaves, not even ceremonially. These days, thank God, it’s considered so uncivilised (even if, in Numbers 31.17-18, Yahweh says it’s okay. )

The Old Testament then; an embarrassment Christians are compelled to defend as part of their magic book but which they nevertheless feel free to use selectively, according to taste. Not unlike the New Testament really.

*There are, we should note, several variations of the Bible within Christendom; God can’t seem to decide which books are or are not part of his Holy Word.

What Does Atheism Have To Offer? (Part Two)

Think4. Atheism offers genuine morality
Having no magic book to tell them how to behave (not that Christians derive their morals from theirs) atheists work out their own morality. They don’t do this in a vacuum, however, recognising that morality is culturally derived, evolving as the means by which primates with complex social arrangements relate to one another. It’s likely they adhere to their moral codes imperfectly, as do believers of various stripes. Not having an ideology they feel compelled to impose on others, they don’t regard their fellow human beings as mere conversion fodder. The atheists’ world is big enough to embrace all, though they lament the damage wreaked on it by religion. Atheist terrorists are a much rarer breed than their religious counterparts, while secular societies are among the most peaceful and prosperous in the world today (with the more religious generally at the opposite end of the spectrum.) Nor do atheists attribute their behaviour to supernatural forces; neither god nor the devil inspires them to act. Rather they recognise and take personal responsibility for what they do.

5. Atheism offers authenticity
An atheist is free to be him or herself. There is no striving to maintain the imagined standards of an imaginary god, no need to represent the perspective of a ‘sacred’ book or to defend the indefensible. The atheist does not see themselves or other people as lost, worthless, sinners, suppressors of truth, goy, infidels or any of the other disparaging terms used of non-believers in so-called holy books. The atheist can be a free-spirit, possessed of self-respect, and true to themselves and their nature, whatever that may be. Here’s how pastor-turned-atheist Ryan Bell put it in a recent blog post:

I don’t have secrets anymore, which is a huge mental and moral relief. I also wrestle with less cognitive dissonance than ever. All of this means I’m more at peace and more comfortable in my own skin. I give far fewer fucks about what people think of me and my decisions. My ire is raised, from time to time, by unfair attacks, and I will probably always struggle with my tendency to be a people pleaser, but I am in recovery. I’m learning to tell the truth on a more regular basis and trust that people can handle the truth (whether they actually can or not). I’m learning to trust myself and what I know while remaining open to critique and able to say I was wrong.

6. Atheism offers free thought
Having no dogma to represent or promulgate, no myths to restrict them and no cult leaders, shaman or gurus dictating to them, atheists are free to think for themselves. Religion demands that its adherents begin with myth or dogma, which the facts are then forced to fit. When they don’t, which is invariably the case, the believer is compelled to dismiss the facts to preserve the fantasy (if you think not, you’ve never visited Answers In Genesis). The atheist, on the other hand, can begin with the evidence and reason from it to make up their own mind about ethics, the issues of the day and the human condition.

to be continued…

Is there anybody out there?

KenAnyone searching for extra-terrestrial life – NASA, SETI and so on – can stop now. We know definitively that there isn’t any out there. How do we know? Because Ken Ham says so. The Bible – Genesis specifically – doesn’t mention life on other planets so that means there isn’t:

(T)he notion of alien life does not square well with Scripture. The earth is unique. God designed the earth for life. The other planets have an entirely different purpose than does the earth, and thus, they are designed differently… where does the Bible discuss the creation of life on the “lights in the expanse of the heavens”? There is no such description because the lights in the expanse were not designed to accommodate life [this is utter gibberish; life within stars? Who has ever suggested that?] God gave care of the earth to man, but the heavens are the Lord’s. From a biblical perspective, extraterrestrial life does not seem reasonable.

But hang on a minute! The Bible doesn’t mention other planets, never mind whether there’s life on them. It doesn’t tell us anything about cultures outside of a small area in the Middle East, doesn’t mention the Americas or Australasia, doesn’t have anything to say about microbes, anti-biotics, computers or technology in general. It must follow, therefore – to use Ken’s logic – that none of these things exist either.

The reason the Bible doesn’t mention any of them, and a myriad of other things, is not because they don’t exist but because the primitive priests and ignorant scribes who wrote Genesis and the rest of Ken’s magic book didn’t know that they did. They had no concept that the Earth is a planet, let alone that there are others; they had no idea that the sun is a star, nor that other stars, which they thought were attached to the inner surface of a canopy surrounding the Earth, are suns. With such a limited cosmology, the possibility that there might be life on other planets was as alien to them as, well, aliens themselves.

Whether there is extra-terrestrial life, and whether any of it is intelligent, we may never know. But either way, Ham’s deity will have no bearing on it, nor it on the Christian God. The existence of aliens, like their absence, won’t breathe life into an already discredited idea.