It’s Only Make Believe

godsatan

All you have to do to become a Christian/be saved from sin/gain eternal life is to accept Jesus as your Lord and Saviour.

Except, it isn’t.

You’ve also to put your faith in the Bible, acknowledging it’s God’s word in some form or other. It would be impossible to be a Christian without it; you’re required  to read it, let the Holy Spirit or one of God’s chosen instruments here on Earth interpret it for you and you’ve to live by it.

And this, in turn, entails believing in the menagerie of supernatural creatures and invisible realms the Bible assumes exist. Angels and demons we considered last time, and then there’s –

The Risen Christ who sits at the hand of the Father. He sits? He’s like a real body, but at the same time not a real body? A spiritual body, then, who metaphorically ‘sits’ next to –

God the Father, whom no human has ever seen (confirmed by John 1.18 but contradicted by Genesis 32.20) who abides in –

Heaven, a place no-one has ever seen. No, really, no-one. Not even those people who have hallucinated about being there. Hallucinations, dreams, visions, even so-called out of body experiences, are not evidence Heaven exists. They’re evidence that people sometimes hallucinate, dream and have visions and out of body experiences. The same is true of ‘sightings’ of God himself and of –

The Holy Spirit. That’s the part of God Christians dupe themselves into thinking has moved in inside them to guide them through their Christian life. That’s the same Holy Spirit who’s guided God’s Chosen to create 34,000 different distinct interpretations of the Truth. Even now, the Spirit is leading church after church down the road of apostasy, according to those he also leads to condemn them. Confused yet? It all makes sense if you recognise that it’s all imaginary, created by human beings who didn’t and don’t know any better. Like –

Satan is. He’s the character who evolves during the course of Bible until he’s a cross between Lex Luthor and the Joker; God’s arch-enemy. He only ‘exists’ to get God off the hook. All the bad in the word can’t be God’s fault now, can it? Somebody’s got to carry the can and it sure isn’t YHWH. So Satan, the devil, gets to be the embodiment of evil. Which isn’t to say evil doesn’t exist because it does, but it’s not caused by this third-rate Dick Dastardly. Nor is –

The Anti-Christ. This is the guy Christians believe will appear at the end of the age, some time around AD 100 according to Revelation 14.9-10. Never mind his creator there calls him something else entirely (‘the Beast’ as it happens); unless he’s finally arrived in the shape of Donald J. Trump, he’s no more real than –

Those who’ve died (‘the saints’ according to Catholics) and have been given new, magic bodies in Heaven or –

Those who’ve died and have gone to Hell to be tortured forever. That’s because –

Hell doesn’t exist either.

Nor do seraphim (Isaiah 6.2), cherubim (Hebrews 9.5), dragons (Psalm 148.7), satyrs (Isaiah 13.21) or unicorns (Numbers 23.22 etc) .

How do we know these beings, places and states don’t exist? Well, they’re all invisible, intangible, undetectable, unverifiable, supernatural (literally, ‘outside nature’), and, ultimately, unconvincing. They’re rejects from far more interesting mythologies that abounded in the ancient world. Today’s mythologies – of Middle Earth, Game of Thrones and the innumerable virtual worlds of computer games – are far more plausible (and even then, not very).

The supernatural doesn’t exist; everything we know is part of a physical universe. There is no evidence anything exists outside, alongside or in addition to that universe. (Though if you think there is evidence for the supernatural – and I mean evidence, not ‘feelings’, personal experiences or ancient texts – then please make it known in the comments).

There is an abundance of evidence, however, that –

Human beings are rather good at inventing stories and mythologies;

Their psychology inclines them to inner imaginings;

They are largely irrational and with a tendency to attribute agency to inanimate objects, phenomena and the chimera of their own imagining;

They have a fear of death and their own personal extinction.

How could religion, with all of its make-believe, not fail to materialise under such conditions? And how can anyone in this day and age take it seriously, knowing what we do now?

I know I can’t.

Did Jesus Exist? (part one)

Cross3

I want to say at the outset that I don’t think it matters whether Jesus existed or not. Even if he lived, it is highly unlikely he said much that is attributed to him or that he performed the miracles ascribed to him. Neither would it be the case that he rose from the dead or became a supernatural godman afterwards. All of these supposed attributes would be, for an individual who actually existed, later accretions. The man underneath them, the so-called historical Jesus, is difficult to detect. It hardly matters to Christians; they’re really only interested in the accretions, the later add-ons, the myth the man became.

Those who think Jesus never existed raise a number of interesting points, chief of which is that what I’ve referred to as accretions, being central to subsequent Christian belief, actually came first. The accounts of Jesus’ life – the gospels – they see as later attempts to provide the myth with a ‘realistic’ back story based in history. Certainly the gospels came after Paul had had his vision and had set about interpreting it to arrive at his convoluted theology about ‘the Christ’. Jesus-belief certainly existed decades before the first gospel account, Mark’s, and was as a result entirely independent from it. In this scenario, therefore, the myth came first and the stories of Jesus were crafted afterwards as supplementary fiction.

For me, however, as problematic as the gospels are, the synoptic accounts – Matthew, Mark and Luke – are largely at odds with Paul’s theology. If they were written to bolster the myth of a supernatural godman, they don’t do it very well. John’s gospel, on the other hand, is much more successful in portraying a mythical being, which is why its implausible ‘Word became flesh’ is not very much like the Jesus of the synoptic gospels.

The synoptics of course have their own agendas and do not represent accurate biographies of Jesus either – there are too many contradictions and anomalies to claim they do – but, to varying degrees, they do not present a Jesus who is the embodiment of Pauline theology. The synoptic Jesus doesn’t, for example, promote a salvation plan involving his own death or say that faith is the means by which one enters the Kingdom of God. These are ideas of Paul’s, as are notions of grace, election, sanctification, redemption, substitutionary atonement, imputation, gifts and fruits of the Spirit and even more mumbo-jumbo besides.

The good news of the synoptics’ Jesus, however, is that God’s Kingdom is coming to Earth soon and to be part of it one must become ‘righteous’ both by serving others and relating to them in a ‘measure for measure’ way: forgiving in order to be forgiven, being compassionate to be shown compassion, giving in order to receive, not judging so as to avoid being judged. This Jesus and his gospel are, moreover, predominantly Jewish; Matthew’s version in particular is virulently anti-Gentile. All of this is totally at odds with the magic formula of salvation-available-to-all of Paul’s make-believe. If this came first, it is difficult to see why the synoptic gospels would not present, as John does, a Jesus who is more compatible with it.

Either the synoptic gospel writers got much wrong in providing the Christ’s supposed back story or they were representing other traditions, ones that were different from and possibly even older than Paul’s interpretation. Belief in Jesus as teacher, prophet and, possibly, Messiah predates Paul (he refers to it himself while Matthew and Luke make use of an earlier sayings gospel known as ‘Q’) and it seems likely that Mark and Matthew in particular reflect these traditions, untainted by Paul’s fantasies. Of course these traditions too could have been invented, just as Paul’s theology is, but if that is the case, then, once again, the gospel writers – Mark and Matthew especially – make a decidedly bad job of it.

Next: what this ‘bad job’ tells us about the existence of Jesus.

There’s good news and there’s good news…

Bat-Jesus

Mark, Matthew and Luke all tells us that Jesus preached the gospel when he was alive (Mark 1.14-15; Matthew 4.23, 9.35 & 10.5-7; Luke 20.1). So what was this gospel? What was Jesus’ ‘good news’? He had yet to die so it couldn’t possibly have been ‘you can be saved through my death and resurrection’ because this magic formula had yet to be arrived at by those who came later. Nor could it have been ‘accept my substitutionary atonement whereby I take the punishment you deserve in order to restore your relationship with God,’ for much the same reason. Nor could it have been, ‘you must accept me as your personal your saviour if you want to gain everlasting life in Heaven,’ because he didn’t regard himself in this way and he didn’t, according to the synoptic gospels, offer an eternity in Heaven. No, Jesus’ good news could not have been any of these because they are all later developments, mumbo-jumbo invented about him by others, not things he said himself .

Actually we needn’t speculate on what the good news was that Jesus preached because the gospels tell us: God was going to intervene in history very soon, rescuing his people from Gentile rule and setting up his Kingdom, in which he, Jesus, would be judge and king (Matt 24.27-34 & 25.31; Luke 1.33; 21.25-28). People, he said, referring only to Jewish people, should prepare themselves for this coming Kingdom by mending their ways (Matthew 10.5-6).

How soon would all this happen? In the lifetime of his hearers according to Mark 9.1, Matthew 16.28 and Luke 9.27, maybe even within a few weeks or months. When sending out the disciples to spread his good news he promised them, ‘you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel, before the Son of man comes (to usher in the new Kingdom)’ (Matthew 10.23). We can only assume that the disciples are back by now – in fact they return a few verses later – yet the Son of man still hasn’t materialised among the clouds in full view of ‘the tribes’ of the Earth (Matthew 24.30).

As the Bible records, Jesus was wrong in every respect; God did not set up his new Kingdom within the lifetime of those Jesus spoke to; the Son of man did not appear; the Romans were not overthrown; Jesus was not appointed judge and king of the world. The sarcastic inscription on his cross, ‘King of the Jews’, was the closest he came to having his self-aggrandising prophecy realised.

Is this the Jesus that Christians worshipped subsequently and still worship today? It ought to be as he’s the one revealed in the first three gospels. But the Jesus believers carry around in their heads is not this man. The ‘Jesus’ worshipped by Christians is primarily a construct of Paul’s – his ‘Christ’ – and their own collective imaginations. The mythical ‘Christ’ that Paul ‘did not receive from any man’, has replaced and almost obliterated Yeshua and his mistaken beliefs about the coming Kingdom (though Paul held on to the idea that it was indeed imminent; see 1 Thessalonians 4.15-17).

Admittedly ‘the Christ’ has had a far better shelf-life than Yeshua could ever have had on his own; the continual resurrection of the idea in the minds of believers – and only there – has ensured the perpetuation of the myth. When all is said and done, however, the Christ is nothing more than an imaginative recreation of a failed zealot with an altogether different gospel.* Yeshua’s good news of the Kingdom died shortly after he did and like him has stayed dead, its echoes preserved by Mark, Matthew and Luke and ignored by Christians everywhere.

* I’m aware there is a body of thought that gives primacy to the mythical god-man, ‘the Christ’, with the Jesus stories being seen as a later ‘in-fill’ designed to provide him with a plausible back-story. I’m not convined of this for several reasons, which I’ll explore at a later date.

Some gospel truths

Jesus&Roman

Imagine a new book is discovered that claims to answer all of our questions about life, promises hope for the future and provides remarkable insights into the nature of reality. You’d be interested, right? It wouldn’t even bother you that the book was the result of a series of hallucinations its writers claim to have had.

You don’t need to imagine this book because it already exists. It answers essential questions that we all have at some point like whether is life after death, and what’s waiting for us on the other side; what is the purpose of life, and how can we find happiness and peace now? Does God know us personally and hear our prayers? How can we avoid sin and learn to truly split infinitives repent. It’s called (wait for it) The Book Of Mormon and it purports to answer all the deep questions I’ve just mentioned – I know it does because I’ve just lifted them from mormon.org – and it is the result of the visions a ‘prophet’ called Joseph Smith had of one of the Lord’s angels back in the 1820s.

What? You don’t believe it? Why not? It’s the result of divine revelation and it answers all the questions you have – we are all supposed to have – about the meaning of life.

I’m guessing you don’t believe it because Joseph Smith has the reputation of being a bit of a fraud. His visions are implausible and inconsistently reported, while the book itself is fanciful and feels, well, fabricated; Jesus’ adventures in America after his resurrection just seem so made up.

No, I’m with you on this one, as is 99.93% of the Earth’s population. They don’t believe the Book Of Mormon either.

So how about a different book, a much older one? It too is said to answer all the serious questions about life and is also the result of visions and revelations. Okay, maybe it’s inconsistent, contradictory and fanciful. Maybe its more than a little improbable in places, but this book is different. Truly, it is. Everything in it, though  written, misremembered and altered by human beings is the very word of God; it says so itself so it must be true, and 2.2 billion people in the world can’t be wrong.

Or can they? Why is it that a book that relies even more than the Book of Mormon does  on innervisions and ‘revelations’ – the Bible – is held in such high esteem by so many? The New Testament alone records over twenty such hallucinations*, including the entirity of its final book. Some of these visions – those of the Risen Christ – serve as the foundation for the entire belief system.

Why are these ‘revelations’ regarded, by Christians at least, as real and trustworthy when those of the Book Of Mormon, the Qu’ran, the Vedas, and all those other ‘holy’ texts that owe their existence to hallucinations, are not? There is no substantive difference between them; no difference between one group of religious fanatics’ visions and those of all the other groups. None are demonstrably divine and all are essentially the same. That the Bible is older than the Book Of Mormon does not lend it more credence or affirm its ‘holy’ status. On the contrary, its production in a more credulous, pre-scientific era gives it less credibility, not more, and supplies greater reason not to sanctify or revere it.

So, Christians, what distinguishes the revelations of the Bible from those found in other ‘holy’ books? What makes its visions viable and real when the others, apparently, are not? What makes the Bible right and those wrong? It cannot be because the Bible says it’s inspired by God (in a letter known to be a forgery) because the others claim the same thing. Why are you prepared to base your lives on one set of ancient hallucinatory experiences but dismiss all the others? Why don’t you subscribe to all the books that claim divine providence? Doesn’t Pascal’s wager demand that you at least hedge your bets and embrace them all, just in case?

News just in: Neither Jesus nor Paul nor the disciples nor the gospel writers nor the Bible’s forgers nor the churches mentioned in it nor the early ‘Church Fathers’ ever read the Bible. They didn’t know of its existence, living 300 years before it was finally put together. They didn’t even envisage its creation, believing the world was going to end in their own lifetimes.

*The visions recorded in the New Testament include 10 separate ‘sightings’ of the risen Christ in the gospels and Acts; the Transfiguration (Mark 9.2-8 etc); Paul’s conversion alluded to in Galatians 1.11-12 and 1 Corinthians 9.1 & 15.45 and recounted, with contradictory details, three times in Acts; Paul’s vision – in or out of his body, he’s not sure – of ‘the Third Heaven’ (2 Corinthians 12.1-6); Stephen’s vision of Christ at the right hand of God (Acts 7.56); Peter’s ‘trance’ in which he sees a giant table cover (Acts 10.9-16); Paul and Barnabas’ visit from an angel (Acts 5.19-20); 5 other reports of visions in Acts (9.12; 16.9; 18.9-10; 22.17-20; 27.23-24) and the entire book of Revelation that relates the many hallucinations of a very disturbed mind. And then there are all the other sightings of angels and the dreams through which God is said to communicate with various nut-jobs people. I ask you – dreams!

See what you want to see

dog's bottom2

Paul was a religious fanatic, a zealot is how he describes himself, whose raison d’etre had become the elimination of those who believed that Yeshua was the Messiah. The Jesus movement, which at this time was still very much a part of Judaism (it is Paul who will later uncouple it from its Jewish mooring) is in Paul’s eyes an aberration and he is prepared to brutalise and imprison those who subscribe to it. He is an extremist; religion is his life, his world, his being; he spends all of his time with his band of Pharisaic thugs and members of the new cult (trying to destroy them, admittedly). That’s all he does. He doesn’t have any other interests. No wonder then, that he starts to hallucinate, as fanatics are prone to do, perhaps while suffering an epileptic seizure.

According to Luke in Acts 9.5, Paul can’t make sense of what he thinks he’s ‘seeing’ in his head. He doesn’t immediately connect the light there with Jesus and is forced to interpret it, perhaps some considerable time afterwards (both he and Luke recount the experience only many years later) as being the cult leader whose followers he is persecuting. Once he has decided that this is what his experience was all about, he switches from one kind of fanaticism to another, from one kind of extremist Judaism to another equally fanatical kind.

He does not, I want to emphasise, go from being a Jew to a Christian; he has three years yet to spend brooding on his hallucinatory experience and to work up a convoluted interpretation of it. Only after that does he offer his own bizarre take on the Yeshua phenomenon that conflicts with the original cult and will eventually succeed it.

So, the risen Jesus, like ghosts today, was ‘seen’ only by those already infatuated with him, and even then not always in a form that was recognisably human.

There were no appearances to anyone in the outside world who might have provided objective verification of his return from the dead.

No appearance to any authority, none to the emperor.

There was no appearance in front of Pilate so that the resurrection might be become part of Roman records.

None to Herod to show him he had overcome death.

None to the masses who had earlier called for his death to prove to them he really was their King. 

None to usher in, at last, the Kingdom of God he’d been promising for so long.

None to Caiaphas to demonstrate that he, Jesus, truly was the prophesied Messiah.

None to Judas, to prevent his suicide and forgive him for his betrayal (or ask his forgiveness for using him as a pawn in the Great Divine Plan).

None, in fact, to anyone outside his own coterie, people who were already susceptible to ‘visions’ and psychologically primed to see him again – or to convince themselves they had, like the gullible people today who swear they’ve seen him in the clouds, in various food items or in the hallowed form of a dog’s bottom.

Keen amateur photographer Terry Buckman spotted the 'Face of God' in a cloud formation as he was taking pictures of boats sailing on the English Channel near Sandbanks in Poole, Dorset. Terry said that he was the clouds part and then suddenly the shape of the face appeared. *** Local Caption *** Disclaimer: While Cavendish Press (Manchester) Ltd uses its' best endeavours to establish the copyright and authenticity of all pictures supplied, it accepts no liability for any damage, loss or legal action caused by the use of images supplied. The publication of images is solely at your discretion.kit-katdog's bottom

 

 

Believing is Seeing

Fish

Have you noticed how the risen Jesus seems only to have appeared to those who were already primed to see him? Of course, the accounts of the resurrection are inconsistent, unreliable and constructed long after the supposed event, but just for now, let’s take them at face value. Jesus appears first, according to Matthew, Luke and John, to his female followers – maybe one on her own (in John), maybe two (Matthew), maybe several (Luke) – but to women who would be mourning him and would be longing to see him again. And lo and behold, they do! He’s not quite substantial and not quite recognisable – every bit the hallucination, in fact – but he appears.

Next he is said to have shown himself to the disciples – maybe one (Luke), maybe two (Luke again), maybe several (Matthew) – men who have been thrown into complete disarray by Jesus’ death but who believed in him and his mission to inaugurate the Kingdom of God, and were looking forward to ruling it with him. So naturally they see him in their midst. Never mind he walks through walls and disappears at will, just like an apparition – he appears! As Acts 1.3 puts it, ‘he presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs’.

Wait – ‘by many proofs’? What does that mean? That he had to prove he’d come back to life? Could they not see that for themselves? Couldn’t they recognise the man with whom they’d spent the last three years? Or if they could, weren’t they convinced he’d returned from the dead so that he felt he had to prove it? How? How did he prove it? With a death certificate? By letting them poke his holes? And this took forty days? Isn’t it more likely they were subject to group hysteria and some sort of hallucination (they’d had hallucinations before – see Matthew 17:1-9) and they then had to convince each other that what they’d experienced was really Jesus? No wonder it took forty days to concoct a ‘plausible’ story, to arrive at ‘the many proofs’ that Acts speaks of. Whichever it was, Jesus’ gullible old pals convinced themselves they’d seen him.

During these same forty days – though in his gospel Luke implies it’s a much shorter time (24.40-53) – Jesus fits in a guest appearance at a rock concert in front of 500 believers – believers, note. Not people who were converted as a result of this miraculous appearance, but people who were already part of the Jesus cult when they experienced this vision. Or so Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 15.3-8. He wasn’t actually there, but he heard about it from a friend of a friend of a friend so it must be true.

And finally he appeared also to Paul himself (1 Corinthians 15.5). Not as a physical body but as a beam of light in Paul’s head. I’m not getting into how this was, as Paul himself admits, no more than an inner vision (he too is prone to hallucinations – see also Acts 16:9-10 and 2 Corinthians 12.1-7) because you can read about that here. Rather, I’m going to argue that Paul, arch-enemy to this point of all things to do with the Jesus cult, is just as primed for a sighting of the Lord as all those other people who think they saw him… next time.

to be continued.

Hermeneutics = Sameoldtrics?

Paul&JCHermeneutic consistency is the means by which Christian apologists try to harmonise disparate parts of the Bible. Saddled with the premise that the Bible is the Word of God they need to demonstrate a consistency it doesn’t have because God, as its ultimate creator, could not possibly be the author of confusion (1 Corinthians 14.33). Consequently, they set about ironing out the Bible’s many discrepancies and contradictions to arrive at what they claim is a consistent and uniform Salvation Plan.

Unfortunately, this being an essentially dishonest enterprise, they have to pretend that New Testament authors with conflicting ideas about what it means to be a follower of Jesus are really saying the same thing. As I demonstrate in Jesus v Paul Round 2, there are vast differences between Paul’s good news and that ascribed to Jesus in the synoptic gospels. In the latter, Jesus is made to say that ‘righteousness’ can be cultivated in a measure-for-measure arrangement so that the extent to which a person forgives, gives to others and demonstrates compassion and mercy is mirrored exactly in how much God forgives, gives and shows mercy and compassion to that person in return. Paul on the other hand sees ‘salvation’ as being entirely undeserved. It is, rather, the result of God’s ‘grace’, which is given even though unmerited. According to Paul, showing compassion and mercy and offering forgiveness has no bearing on whether one is saved or not. These – Jesus’ path of righteousness and Paul’s unearned salvation – are two entirely different, and mutually exclusive, ‘ways to God’. Christians choose to remain blind to this fact.

They see no difference between the two ways to redemption because they are taught that Christianity is one grand scheme, woven, as it were, from a single piece of cloth. From this perspective, Jesus and Paul are simply drawing attention to different aspects of what is taken to be a consistent pattern. But this isn’t so; the New Testament is more like an untidy patchwork, a series of explanations by at least a dozen hands of what Jesus was about. Its most prominent voice is Paul’s (and those who pretend to be him); Christians prioritise Paul’s teaching over and above that of the synoptic gospels, which is markedly different, and interpret their ‘good news’ in the light of Paul’s mysticism. What doesn’t fit, they discard.

This has been a problem ever since the start of Christianity; the differences and disputes between Paul and the original disciples is well documented in the New Testament itself. Paul did not regard those who had walked and talked with Jesus as having a grasp of the true gospel (his) and was not reticent about saying what he thought of them. In Galatians 5.12, for example, Paul is so pissed off with the apostles he wishes they would accidentally castrate themselves.

Enter Luke, the original hermeneutic harmoniser. His Acts of the Apostles is designed to reconcile the radically different doctrines. By and large he succeeds, with most believers down the ages, perhaps because they haven’t wanted to, unable see the joins. But Acts doesn’t get Paul’s itinerary right, let alone his theology. The speeches Paul makes in Acts are not about the salvation through grace that concern him in his letters. They make concessions to other teaching – that of repentance and forgiveness (for example in Acts 13.38 and 17.30) while the real Paul makes no such compromise. There are no exhortations to repentance nor the promise of forgiveness in Paul’s own writing; there he mentions repentance only once, in a strikingly different context (Romans 2.4), and forgiveness not at all.

Moreover, Paul is adamant that he did not receive his doctrine from Peter or anyone else (Galatians 1.11-12). Instead he insists he got it direct from the Lord – i.e. through the hallucination he alludes to in Galatians 1.11-12 and 1 Corinthians 9.1 & 15.45 – which explains why it is so radically different from the original believers’. In Acts, however, Luke isn’t very happy with this – he’s trying to harmonise, after all – and has Paul meet Peter and James very soon after his conversion (Acts 9.26-30). Following some initial sheepishness, Luke implies, they all get on famously.

According to Paul, however, he and Peter didn’t meet for the first time until three years after Paul’s conversion (Galatians 1.18) and it was fourteen years later before he talked with a larger group of disciples (Galatians 2.1), when ‘the pillars of the church’ summoned him because of his wayward teaching. Paul records how he ‘rebuked’ Peter shortly after this (Galatians 2.11-13) because he objected to Peter’s interpretation of what was involved in following Jesus. In short, Paul and the apostles could not agree on what constituted belief in Jesus and what part Jewish law played.

Two questions result that Christians need to ask themselves, though invariably they don’t:

1. Where there are discrepancies between Paul’s theology and account of events, and Luke’s – written 15-20 years after Paul’s death – which is more likely to be correct?

2. Who is more likely to have the greater understanding of Jesus’ teaching: Paul who never met him but made it all up in his head, or Peter and the other disciples who spent years with him, listening to what he said?

In answer to the second, Christians down the ages have opted for Paul, the one who made it all up. His Salvation Plan is, after all, easier to buy into than Jesus’ mad idea of giving everything away and loving your enemies. Having chosen their man, it follows that the rest of the New Testament must be forced to comply with Paul’s ideas.

This is hermeneutics in the hands of Christians; an intellectually dishonest sleight of hand designed to bring everything into line with their interpretation of Paul’s idiosyncratic take on a man he never met. As for those who are unimpressed by their contortions, well, it must be that they have a faulty hermeneutic. Praise the Lord!

A Long Long Time Ago

ShinyJesusHe was a man of great charisma, a provocative individual who challenged the establishment and the norms of his day. Some said, as he implied himself, that he had come to visit the Earth from a higher plane and that perhaps, again as he occasionally hinted (though maybe he was only being contentious) that he was some sort of Messiah. He certainly inspired and gave hope to others who, like himself, found themselves on the fringes of society, who felt unaccepted and down-trodden. Some of what he said and did may have enabled such people to accept who they were or, better still, who they wanted to be.

He refused to accept that he was ‘good’, and certainly he acted as he did because it suited him to do so, not because he felt any need to impress others. Nevertheless, many found him to be humble and kind. His detractors said he was a charlatan and claimed he was demon-possessed; he was all things to all people.

His death came as a shock, what with its suddenness and the manner in which it happened, but nonetheless he seemed to have been prepared for it. In his final messages he suggested he was returning to the higher place from where, perhaps, he’d originally come.

Those who had followed him mourned him and talked of him as an important figure in their lives. They couldn’t, they said, believe he was gone. Some felt that even though he was no longer a physical presence in the world, what he had meant to them would always live on in their hearts, especially when a few of them would gather together to reminisce about him. Others talked of how they hoped and prayed God would raise him from the dead and allow him to live again.

It wouldn’t be long before someone claimed to have seen him back among the living.

So much for David Bowie (there really is a petition asking God to bring him back to life, in spite of his already having been cremated and there being no God.) Within hours of his death being announced, Bowie was elevated to a sort of godhood, his work and sense of alienation imbued with a kind of profound mysticism. The reaction we’ve seen, particularly in the UK, to Bowie’s demise is a common human reaction to the death of a revered one. It happened when John Lennon was killed (a saint he was not) and with Elvis Presley, who, in the years following his death was frequently seen alive in the supermarket or laundromat, and with Diana, Princess of Wales. Elevating larger than life characters to hallowed status when they die is a human trait that helps us mourn them and deal with bereavement.

Is this not what happened when Jesus died? The profound grief, bewilderment, fear and shared memories of those who idolised him, together with their desperate search for meaning in his pointless end, led to his elevation to quasi-godhood and, eventually, to visions of him, if not in the supermarket and laundromat, then back amongst them somehow. If such a thing can happen still, in the technological world of the twenty-first century, how much more could it happen in the superstitious backwaters of first century Palestine.

 

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.

Sin Nevermore

Second

Remember the old hit Spirit in the Sky? It had the line, ‘never been a sinner, I never sin, ‘cos I got a friend in Jesus’. It doesn’t seem likely, does it? I don’t mean that Norman Greenbaum, who wrote the song, never sinned (he was Jewish, not a Christian) but that friends of Jesus are entirely sin-free. The idea that Christians never sin would be preposterous.

But actually, it’s true; Christians never sin. How do we know? Because the Bible tells us so. 1 John 3.6 says,

No one who abides in Christ sins; no one who sins has either seen him or known him.

And just in case we miss the point, the writer of the letter (almost certainly not the same John who wrote the gospel, nor the John who came up with the trippy Revelation) repeats it in verse 9:

Those who have been born of God do not sin, because God’s seed abides in them; they cannot sin, because they have been born of God.

Christians love to say that awkward bits of scripture like these have been taken out of context, so please feel free to read them in context – you’ll find they say exactly the same thing. What John is claiming – without a glimmer of irony – is that anyone who really knows God/Christ ‘cannot sin’.

So next time you see Christians shooting people at family planning clinics, committing adultery, lying or even just judging others, remember they’re not really sinning. Yes, they may be behaving immorally, uncharitably or despicably but they are most definitely not sinning. That would be impossible because they’re incapable of it.

However, Christians are all too aware that they sin (that’s their choice of word, by the way; I’d prefer to say they sometimes – often – behave as badly as those of us who are not ‘saved’.) So where does this leave us or, more importantly, them? How do they square their capacity for sin with what the Bible says here? Does their behaviour demonstrate that God’s Word has it wrong? Or are they not really Christians, not really people who ‘abide in Christ’, not really born of God?

What a dilemma. Either the Word of God™ is wrong here, like it is in so many other places, or Christians are not as saved as they like to think they are. Perhaps it’s both.

Definitely it’s both.