Pearl of Great Price

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Once Born Again™, I became involved with a local church, where my friend Simon took it upon himself to play Cupid, fixing me up with Jane. I was more than a little surprised a girl could be interested in me, but figured, in my flight from myself, that as she was interested, I should make the most of it. Sex wasn’t much of a problem: as good Christians we may’ve played about a little, but we stayed away from what the church liked to call ‘pre-marital intercourse’.

It wasn’t long, though, before Jane wanted to marry – she really wanted to get married. I wasn’t so sure and told her about my escapades with Sam, adding of course that I had since renounced such sin. She said that as long as it never happened again, she had no problem with my past transgressions. I felt pretty sure it wouldn’t happen again. After all, Jesus and his Holy Spirit were taking care of my old nature.

So Jane and I married and over time had three children. While I was very much involved with their upbringing, I would often feel I was ‘letting the Lord down’. When, as happened on holiday once, a group of younger men came round a corner minus their shirts, I found myself instinctually admiring them. What self-crucifying shame I would feel after occasions like these. I would even confess such ‘sins’ to a senior work colleague, a devout and very genuine older lady. I’d spare her the details of how exactly I’d ‘let the Lord down’, of course; I could never have brought myself to say I’d been turned on by naked male torsos. But somewhere deep within me I longed for intimacy and closeness with another man. I knew this was strictly forbidden so buried my desires deeper and deeper, suppressing and subjugating something vital about myself. I was on course, though I didn’t recognise it, to making myself ill. I was convinced that I was doing the right thing – for myself, for my marriage and for God.

My marriage, however, was in trouble. Jane seemed to have lost interest in our children, which hurt me greatly (and didn’t do them a lot of good either.) This and pressures at work, where my boss’ affair with a female colleague was creating some serious problems, made me question whether God really cared. When I needed him most, petitioning him for the wisdom to deal with these problems, the heavens, as the scripture almost says, were as brass. God, it seemed, just wasn’t interested. Perhaps, I started to wonder, he wasn’t even there. Added to this was the internal pressure I was still subjecting myself to; the tension and stress of sublimating my true nature. I was deeply unhappy. While the situation at work was eventually ‘resolved’ (by my finding a better job) I had become chronically depressed and remained so for several years.

Ultimately, once I had reached my fifties and the children were grown, Jane and I separated. I knew I couldn’t go on suffocating my feelings; the mind is not designed to be a pressure cooker – something has to give. I started to accept, though not yet embrace, my innermost nature. The relief was immediate and tremendous. I felt I had found myself and I didn’t care that society might not particularly like what I had I found. I had to be me, and not the uptight, miserable person I had become by denying my essential self. I squared up to the exciting yet daunting prospect of starting over, and acknowledged that if I were to have a new relationship it would be with another man. And so it was.

Over time I came to like myself – imagine that! All I’d felt for most of my life, since the time at the YMCA, was self-hatred. That was what Christianity, what Jesus, had done for me. Arguably, it had also ensured, by keeping me firmly in the closet, that I hadn’t died prematurely during the AIDs crisis of the 1980s. Perhaps though I’m giving it too much credit.

I’m ‘out’ now, in every sense: to my wonderfully supportive children, to you who read this blog (obviously) and to friends. Match-maker Simon, he who suggested going to the YMCA all those years ago, cut me off about a decade ago. As a born-again Christian, he regarded homosexuality as beyond the pale. His ‘principles’ meant more to him than our long-standing friendship. I still miss him, very much.

I don’t miss God. He has gone entirely and I’ve long recognise that he was never there to begin with. Instead, I have a sense of authenticity and my energy goes into living, not denial. I’ve become involved with the local LGBT Centre and I’m seeing a very nice man who I’m going to call Thomas, to spare his blushes. I’m very happy and feel, at long last, I really know what life’s about.

If you can stand it, I’ll tell you more next time.

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Idiotic Stuff Jesus Said 7: You Must Be Born Again

Born Again

Jesus answered him, ‘Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born again (or ‘from above’).’ Nicodemus said to him, ‘How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?’ Jesus answered, ‘Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit (John 3.3-5).

While John’s gospel isn’t the only source of Christian nuttiness, it’s certainly a mine of golden nuggets. This is mainly because it was made up so long after Jesus lived, by people who had, in all probability, never met him but who belonged to a sect led by someone who claimed he had.

Imagine, in a world without technology, photography and literacy, writing an account from memory (or from other people’s memories) of events that had occurred sixty years earlier. It would be like attempting to create today the history of a charismatic, back-water nobody who lived in the early 1950s – but without any reliable written records, pictures or sound recordings. How much faith would you have in such an account? How far would you trust, at such a distance, the account’s supposedly verbatim dialogue, especially when it conflicts on nearly all crucial points with the few other stories that circulate from the period? Of course you wouldn’t. And yet this is precisely what we have in ‘John’s gospel’, where we find the famous exhortation to be ‘born again’.

Let’s be clear at the outset; Jesus did not say ‘you must be born again.’ The point of the story is that he meant something else (equally ludicrous, but different nonetheless). Despite this, today’s Christians still insist he did say it and that to be truly saved you must indeed be ‘born again’.

But, as Bart Ehrman explains in Jesus, Interrupted (p 155), the misunderstanding central to this exchange, between ‘born again’ and ‘born from above’ occurs only in Greek. As Aramaic speakers, Jesus and Nicodemus would not, if they knew any, have resorted to Greek for this one conversation, just so this very confusion could be created.

The word in question is the Greek word anothen, which can mean both ‘again’ and ‘from above’, and it is this double meaning that prompts Nicodemus to ask if he is expected to crawl back into his mother’s womb so he can be born ‘again’. The contrivance allows Jesus to make a show of correcting him and to make his real point; ‘No, Nic, you dumbkoff. Not ‘born again’, but ‘born from above’. What do they teach you at synagogue school these days?’

So in a conversation he never had, depending as it does on a misunderstanding of the Greek he didn’t speak, ‘born again’ is not what Jesus means: his point, as the writers of John’s gospel make clear (in the Greek Jesus didn’t speak, but they did) is that one has to be ‘born from above’.

And why do people have to be ‘born from above’? Because that’s where the story’s creators believed heaven to be – above them, in the sky. Jesus himself would have believed this too, even though he didn’t utter a single one of the words attributed to him in this fabricated conversation.

Why_Christians_Don't_Cover_for_KindleThis post is adapted from my (five-star rated!) book Why Christians Don’t Do What Jesus Tells Them To …And What They Believe Instead, available from Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com