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.

 

 

 

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Religion poisons the well. Again.

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The shooting in Orlando of people in a gay night club (50 dead, 53 wounded) is yet another example of religion as the antithesis of human flourishing. Not Christianity this time, of course, but that other ‘great’ religion, Islam, the religion of peace. But Christians cannot distance themselves from atrocities like this, carried out in the name of God, when the influence of even moderate religion is a pervasive, unhealthy presence in our society.

It’s true that Christians don’t, as rule, rampage in the streets or fly planes into buildings but they do contribute to the medium in which more extreme forms of religion grow:

Westboro Baptist Church, for example, with its own peculiar brand of Bible-based homophobia – ‘God hates fags’ and all the rest – is, like it or not, an expression of Christianity;

Right-wing evangelicals who interfere in the churches and governments of Africa and South America, actively encouraging them to take a homophobic stance and to pass anti-LGBT laws, are equally culpable; Scott Lively, Pat Robertson, Sharon Slater, you too are people filled with hate;

Likewise, those Catholic bishops who use their influence to denounce gay and transgendered folk as ‘mentally disordered’;

Christian bloggers who trot out the old, ‘Woe to those who call evil good and good evil’ (Isaiah 5.20) and misapply it to homosexuality, together with those who quote Leviticus 18.22 (‘abominations!’) and Romans 1.26-27 (‘unnatural and indecent!’)…

All of these contribute to the animus directed towards fellow human beings whose ‘sin’ is merely to be different. Religions, or more specifically their adherents, contribute significantly to the levels of misery in the world today, though Christians will cry ‘foul’ here (or ‘persecution’ even, because how they love claiming they’re being persecuted when asked to demonstrate some empathy and a little love.) After all, it wasn’t a Christian who gunned down the people in the Pulse nightclub this weekend. No it wasn’t. But every time religious bigots –

tell others what despicable sinners they are,

misrepresent and denigrate minorities,

promote ‘gay cures’,

attack same-sex marriage,

add quotation marks around the words gay and gay marriage, as if they’re somehow not real,

assert homosexuality and transgenderism are synonymous with ‘moral decay’,

claim natural disasters are God’s response to gay people’s very existence,

boycott businesses that support equality,

‘take a stand’ against transgendered people using the approriate restroom and

refuse to serve gay couples –

every time, in short, they say LGBT people are evil, sick or worthless, the self-righteous prepare the ground for individuals like Omar Mateen to do what he did in Florida on Sunday. Religious leaders condemning such atrocities after the event is too little, too late, when they’ve failed to take charge of their acolytes and  do nothing to stem the tide of hatred flowing from their churches, mosques and temples. 

To those of us on the outside, religions are all of a kind; harmful superstitions. If a ‘faith’ entails belief in supernatural beings and puts allegiance to such imaginary figures above fellow human beings, it is without merit. It is the evil among us.

Do No Harm

sermon2

If religions took ‘do no harm’ to heart (as the Hippocratic Oath does) and their adherents were made to comply with it, what a better place this world would be. There’d be –

No more religiously-motivated suicide bombers and terrorist atrocities;

No more murder in the name of the Lord (whichever);

No more children molested by priests and pastors;

No churches attempting to cover up their crimes;

No more child deaths as a result of ‘faith-healing’;

No religiously-sanctioned denigration and abuse of women;

No more ritualistic mutilation of children’s and young women’s genitals;

No more religious scams and shams;

No more religiously-inspired vitriol directed at gay and transgender people;

No more barbaric executions of ‘minorities’, like gay men, women and those of other faiths.

Of course, even without these, the world would still not be perfect. Awful things would still happen. But the principle of doing no harm would eliminate much of the trauma inflicted on people by the proponents of irrational superstition.

On paper at least, the Abrahamic religions have expectations that are more demanding than simply doing no harm:

Love your neighbour as yourself (Leviticus 19:18; Judaism);

Love your enemies; treat others as you would like to be treated’ (Matthew 7.12 and 5.44; Christianity);

…compete with each other in doing good (Surat al-Ma’ida, 48; Islam).

However, these are just too damned hard for so many religionists. They disregard them and opt instead for the spiteful paranoia of the same holy books. Perhaps the simpler injunction of ‘do no harm’ would be easier for them. But until the preachers of judgement and hatred find it in themselves to promote such a principle, we will all continue to suffer the destructive effects of the ‘great’ faiths.

So, how long until the next terrorist attack? The next church child-abuse cover-up? The next rape scandal? The next persecution of gay people?

      Not long at all.

           Praise the Lord (whichever)!

 

2015: How was it for you?

2ndComingI promised this time last year to revisit my predictions for the year that lay ahead. So how did I do in my prophecies for 2015?:

The first was that there would be no Second Coming in 2015. Well, how wrong could I be! As we all know Jesus returned on September 13th, just as John Hagee hinted he would be. It’s been so great, hasn’t it, living in Hell / God’s Kingdom on Earth (delete as appropriate) since that time. Fantastic. I’m so pleased to have been wrong about this one.

On the other hand, maybe what I said last year still stands: Jesus won’t be back this year. Just like he wasn’t back in 2014, 2013, 2012… 1985… 1914… 1868… 1497… 1000… 446… 35. Just think of all those years – count ’em, nearly two thousand – when he’s failed to return so far. Actually, he promised he’d be back while his followers and those listening to him were still alive, around AD30 or thereabouts. Safe to say he’s not coming back at all, just like dead people don’t. Not in 2015, not ever.

Of course it still stands. As ever Christianity fails to deliver. That hasn’t stopped True Believers™ from telling us that he’ll be back very, very soon. Which was prediction number 2: Christians will go on believing that Jesus is going to return any day now. I gave up collecting examples well before the end of the year – there were just too many – but here’s a few of them: here, here, here, here, here, here and here. Will the gullible Born Again ever come to their senses and stop listening to idiots like these? (Nope).

Prediction 3. There’ll be no natural disasters or human calamities as a result of gay marriage. There have been lots of disasters and calamities during the year, but here’s the thing – natural disasters have natural causes, not supernatural ones, and similarly, human calamities have human causes. Not one of the events this year (or any other) was the direct result of gay marriage. This hasn’t stopped the religious from claiming – as I predicted they would in prophecy number 4 – that disasters and calamities are God’s punishment for gay marriage; here, here , here, here, here, here and here, for example.

Prediction 5: More than one prominent Christian will call for the execution of gay people. Yup. Here are those loving men of God doing just that (and here, here and here too). Jesus would be so proud.

Prediction 6: Christians in the west will claim they’re being persecuted when they’re being expected to treat others fairly and equally, and not to discriminate against them. Yes, I know Christians are persecuted in some parts of the world, but the moaners I’m talking about are only focused on their own self-serving, self-inflicted ‘marytrdom’. Again, there are just too many of these to link to them all, but here are a few (and here, here and here).

Prediction 7. Christians will respond to criticism with clichés like ‘they wouldn’t dare say that about Muslims’… ‘Christians are the last group who are fair game’… ‘It’s time for Christians to speak out’… ‘Stand up for God’s standards…’ etc. Yes, predictable in more ways than one

Prediction 8: Christians will continue to dismiss and disparage anyone who doesn’t share their views, especially atheists. Look out for ‘atheists have no morality’,’the fool hath said in his heart there’s no God’ and ‘atheists want to oppress Christians’ occurring with tedious regularity. And they didn’t disappoint: here, here, here and here.

Prediction 9: There will be more revelations about the abuse of children by church ministers. Of course there were. Christians may be new creatures in Christ but that doesn’t stop some of them behaving in the same old despicable ways, God love ’em.

Ditto number 10: Church hierarchies will attempt to cover up the abuse of children by their ministers. And here they are at it. The body of Christ certainly seems to have an unhealthy interest in the bodies of others. Still, they always ever so modestly cover up afterwards.

Prediction 11. There will be the usual manufactured ‘war on Christmas’. Ho-hum. And you can guess who did the manufacturing.

And finally I offered number 12: these predictions have far more chance of coming to pass than any of the so-called prophecies of Bible. And do you know, they did. That’s because none of the Bible’s predictions have ever come to pass – not those purportedly about Jesus himself, nor of the second coming, nor the judgement of sheep and goats, nor God’s Kingdom on Earth – and (here’s another prediction) they never will.

So, another year of empty promises, failed prophecies and superstitious fantasy in the wonderful, wacky world of religion. May you all be safe from the effects of faith and fundies in the one that lies ahead.

Idiotic Stuff Jesus Said 13: We Don’t Need No Educashun

MegaBut you are not to be called rabbi (teacher), for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers. And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. Neither be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Christ. The greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted. Matthew 23:8-12

Evidently these words were put into Jesus’ mouth by the community that produced Matthew’s gospel and reflect the egalitarianism and communism that characterised it. The phrase that gives away their origins is ‘you have one instructor; the Christ’. ‘The Christ’, as we know, was a creation of the early church and it is highly unlikely Jesus would have referred to himself in such a way. In the synoptic gospels he is reticent even about claiming the Jewish title of Messiah for himself. In any case, the reference is patently to a third party, and is by an author or interpolator who subscribes to the later, supernatural Christ.

In the unlikely event, then, that these words emanated from Jesus himself, all they achieve is to demonstrate his lack of understanding of human psychology. Even as ‘Matthew’ set about recording them, the newly founded church was already ignoring them, which is perhaps why he felt the need to have Jesus say them. Here’s Ephesians 4.11, written by someone pretending to be Paul round about 80-100CE, contradicting them:

Christ gave (us) the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers…

The imposter who wrote 1 Timothy (5:17) up to a hundred years after Jesus’ death goes further, endorsing the exaltation of those who teach and rule others:

Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honour, especially those who labour in preaching and teaching.

Why? Because human beings like hierarchies. Almost all human societies are hierarchical in nature and groups invariably arrange themselves hierarchically. There will always be people who see themselves as leaders and teachers and still others who look to those who’ve set themselves up as authorities to tell them what to do.

Despite what Jesus or ‘Matthew’ might have preferred – everyone being equal while those who ‘exalt’ themselves are humbled – it just doesn’t happen in human culture. It certainly wasn’t happening in the movement that emerged following Jesus’ death, in the church that existed by the time Matthew was making Jesus say that the only authority Christians should recognise was God’s and his own. The institution that was appearing in place of the end of the age – an institution that Jesus neither anticipated nor instigated – could not function effectively as the simple band of ‘brothers’ he is made to suggest. It was in need of structure, and a hierarchy was it.

And so it was that, before long, the first popes emerged – ‘pope’ deriving from the Latin for ‘papa’. Each of these exalted figures would come to be referred to as ‘Holy Father’, a title still in use today. With complete disregard for Jesus’ instructions, other priests (meaning ‘elders’) in the Catholic church also assumed the title ‘father’. Evangelical churches, lest they think the Catholic church is the only guilty party, have their ‘pastors’, meaning ‘shepherds’, who, by definition, lead others. A common or garden ‘clergyman’ is a ‘learned man’, while a bishop is one who ‘looks down from above’. An archbishop is chief look-downer and exalted indeed. Elsewhere, showmen preachers in mega-churches ‘teach’ with a mixture of anecdote, wild conjecture and stuff they make up as they go along; tune into TV’s God channels for a taste of this particular brand of humility. The church in all its manifestations has, from the beginning, been hierarchical from top to bottom.

Jesus, however, didn’t want there to be a top or bottom; if Matthew 23.8-12 is to be believed, he commanded there shouldn’t be. He envisaged his followers living in harmony with everyone equal under his and God’s authority. No-one was to set themselves up as teacher or leader; no-one was to exalt themselves above others. If any did, they would need to be humbled. But this isn’t how human beings organise themselves, and never how the church has conducted itself. Shouldn’t he have known that?

Of Pans & Kettles

WilliamMeet Father Dwight Longenecker. He operates a blog called Standing On My Head, which, if he really does, might account for the topsy-turvy view of the world you’ll find there. Dwight makes grandiose and daft claims for the Roman Catholic church while taking side-swipes at others’ beliefs: Atheism, he says, is dull because – quite unreasonably – it insists on ‘evidence’, which Dwight is sure is quite over-rated. Other belief systems are boring because they don’t involve nearly as much dressing up and parading with statues as Catholicism. Islam is a demonically inspired religion that can only be defeated by Aslan the Catholic church’s special magic… you get the picture.

Here are some other fantastic claims he’s made recently:

On other religions:
There is only one God who is the source and ground of existence. However, there are also demonic beings sometimes called “demi-gods” that many people worship as “gods”.                                                                                                                           

The ‘everybody is wrong but me’ argument, which is ironic when so much of what Catholics believe isn’t even remotely biblical: the Pope, purgatory, Marian worship, saintly intercession, transubstantiation. All this extraneous stuff is regarded by other Christians as being itself ‘demonic’. Dwight doesn’t seem to realise he’s in a glass house (church?) and in no position to cast this particular stone. 

On the after-life:
I would have thought the universal human belief in an afterlife – as well as near death experiences – provide ample evidence, but of course (atheists) dispute that.

The problem here is that there is no ‘universal belief in an afterlife’. As I note in ‘All Is Vanity’ below, the belief in the resurrection of the dead is a very late development even in the Old Testament; ancient Judaism, despite its belief in Yahweh, did not consider the possibility for most of its existence. That said, if there were such a universal belief, it would not mean eternal life actually existed. There has always been widespread belief in fairies and sprites but that doesn’t make such beings real. There is no correspondence between the extent and persistence of a belief and the existence in reality of its object.
As for near death experiences, the clue is in the name; near death. Near death is not death, it’s life. How else would we know of the experiences if not through people who have been resuscitated, brought fully back to consciousness? These experiences are now known to be brain-induced hallucinations while a person remains, if only just, alive.

On the Catholic version of the after-life:
Your understanding of the Catholic approach to the afterlife is immature. We don’t spend our life trying hard to get into heaven. We spend our life in an abundant, joyful and disciplined way being a follower of Jesus Christ and aiming to become “perfect as he is perfect”.

That my understanding of an immature belief is immature seems fitting. I don’t suggest Catholics spend their lives trying to get into heaven; this is a straw man of Longenecker’s creation. I’ve also yet to meet a Catholic who is any more ‘perfect’ than the rest of us. I’ve not encountered many joyful ones either, come to that.

On living this life:
The intrinsic problem with your saying you would rather make the “most of this life” is the question of what that actually means. Your idea of “making the most of life” and your neighbor’s idea of “making the most of life” could vary enormously. Who is to say what “making the most of life” consists of?

Dwight and the church he represents would rather we all conform to Catholic ideas of what makes life worth living. As for who is to say what making the most of life consists of, I’d have thought it was those living it. Dwight has chosen strange religious practices as his way of living his life, but so insecure is he in his choice he feels the need to denigrate others’ choices as a means of bolstering his own.

On the world’s problems:
It seems to me that most of the problems in the world are caused by people “making the most of life”- which usually means unfettered and total selfishness – which of course leads to destruction.      

I’d be the last person to mention the Catholic church’s paedophilia scandals, its covering up of those scandals, its suppression of women and LGBT people, its accumulation of vast wealth in the service of one who constantly preached against it. Nor would I want to say anything about the church’s historic failings (so no mention of the Inquisition, the imprisonment and execution of those who disagreed with it, its support of Hitler and so on.

Dwight presents no evidence for his subjective claim (‘it seems to me’) that the only alternative to Catholicism is hedonism and selfishness. The false dichotomy is wholly disingenuous. It is not hedonism or atheism that says we merit God’s special attention; not atheism that panders to our selfish desire to live forever; not atheism that says God will get us out of the hole into which we’ve dug ourselves; not atheism that promulgates such a supremely arrogant and self-centred view of life. No, it’s the Christian perspective that does that, the Catholic one. Indeed, it could and has been argued, by Hitchens, Harris et al, that most of the problems in the world are caused not by atheism or even ‘unfettered selfishness’, but by religion.

Atheism and the humanism to which it gives rise accept that we got ourselves into this mess and it’s ourselves who will have to get us out of it. Maybe that’s boring and maybe it will prove impossible, but it’s better, more realistic, than appealing to fairy tales, dressing up and talking to statues.

 

Picture updated 23/08/15

The View from Higher Ground

PopesLast week, the good people of Ireland voted to legalise same-sex marriage. Predictably, the Holy Men of the Roman Catholic Church have emerged from wherever it is they secrete themselves when they’re not in their frocks to condemn the outcome. Sour grapes the Holy Spirit prompts Cardinal Raymond Burke to whinge:

I was deeply saddened by the result… I think that you cannot just talk of a defeat for Christian principles, but of a defeat for humanity… I mean, this is a defiance of God. It’s just incredible. Pagans may have tolerated homosexual behaviours, they never dared to say this was marriage.

Of course, same-sex marriage is not ‘a defiance of God’, because there is no God, and marriage is a wholly human institution that we can arrange and change exactly as we like – but perhaps I’m splitting hairs here.

Also lost on the Cardinal is the irony that he speaks for a church (one of several as it turns out) that systematically abused children for many years, attempted to cover up its crimes, lied to victims and, when finally caught out, denied it had done anything wrong. A church, in other words, that has voided itself of all moral authority and has forfeited the right, if it ever had it, to judge anyone else’s ‘principles’ or ‘behaviours’. Those who voted for equality in the Irish vote were right to ignore and defy an organisation as dissolute and hypocritical as the Roman Catholic Church. That this church now believes itself to be in a position to condemn same-sex marriage demonstrates just how shameless and arrogant it is.

To add insult to injury, this Burke goes on to declare that the church should respond to the growth of equality, not with humility and gracious acceptance, but by intensifying its efforts to convert others to a corrupted, lifeless religion:

The church must take account of this reality, but in the sense that it must strengthen its commitment to evangelisation.

Because believing in Jesus, Mary and a whole load of other dead people will make the gay go away. Or something.

Talk about a defeat for humanity.

BurkeCardinal Burke can be seen modelling a fetching chiffon two-piece in – what else – Cardinal red, with a dainty lace number to complement. Here he demonstrates the fabulous fullness of both items, which, regrettably, are no longer available in sack-cloth or ash grey.