Anglican minister almost gets it right Shock


There was controversy last week over the appointment of Dr John Shepherd as the Archbishop of Canterbury’s new ambassador to the Vatican. The controversy wasn’t about the fact one branch of Made-up Beliefs was mingling its Sacred Truths™ with the Sacred Truths™ of another (which was upsetting enough for some of the faithful) but that Dr Shepherd has previously declared Jesus did not rise physically from the grave. In his 2008 Easter sermon, he said:

The resurrection of Jesus ought not to be seen in physical terms, but as a new spiritual reality. It is important for Christians to be set free from the idea that the resurrection was an extraordinary physical event which restored to life Jesus’ original earthly body.

Well, heaven forbid Christians should be compelled to accept reality! Needless to say, many of them didn’t like being made to do so. Undaunted, however, Shepherd went on to explain how the belief in Jesus’ resurrection came about:

…Jesus’ early followers felt His presence after His death as strongly as if it were a physical presence and incorporated this sense of a resurrection experience into their gospel accounts.

Yes, absolutely! This is precisely what happened. I’ve written about it here. This guy’s good. Until we get to his conclusion, anyway:

But (the gospels) are not historical records as we would expect history to be written today; they are symbolic images of the breaking through of the resurrection spirit into human lives.

He’s right about he nature of the gospels, of course. They’re not historical, nor are they eye-witness accounts or even second-hand reports of eye-witness accounts; they’re propaganda, written ‘so that you may believe’ as the fourth gospel  puts it.

But what’s this ‘symbolic images of the breaking through of the resurrection spirit into human lives’, Shepherd talks about? Having a good grasp of how the stories of Jesus’ ‘resurrection’ came about, he wants, for some reason, to continue promote the underlying fantasy – it’s his livelihood, after all – so he has to dress it up as something relevant to people today. He goes for ‘images of the breaking through of the resurrection spirit into human lives’, whatever that means. Breaking through from where? And what’s a ‘resurrection spirit’ when it’s at home?

Why bother though with the Jesus stuff at all? Plenty of people have life-changing experiences without having to hitch them to an ancient cult. My advice to Dr Shepherd would be to dump the ‘breaking through of the resurrection spirit’ hokum and he’ll be pretty much there. Then he can work on getting a real job.

Famous Christian makes fatuous comments


The Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, has spoken out on one of the most important issues of the day.

       Chemical warfare in Syria?


                                                     The repercussions of Britain’s departure from the EU?

No, none of these. Chocolate Eggs. Or more precisely Chocolate Egg Hunts – those arranged by the National Trust in conjunction with chocolate manufacturers, Cadbury. This year, you see, these are not being promoted as Easter Egg Hunts but as Cadbury Egg Hunts.

And I’m sure you can appreciate just how significant this is. Because you see, without the name of a Germanic goddess of fertility (from which we also derive the word ‘oestrogen’) in the title of such a deeply spiritual activity, then, according to Sentamu, ‘faith is being airbrushed out of Easter.’ After all, chocolate eggs were such a crucial part of the original Christian Easter story, when the first thing the resurrected Jesus instructed his disciples to do was find all the Easter Eggs he’d hidden round the garden. And so it came to pass.

That’s why omitting the word ‘Easter’ from the Egg Hunt is, again according to silly old Sentamu, ‘tantamount to spitting on the grave’ of John Cadbury, who was there for that very first Easter but didn’t start making chocolate eggs until 1875.

But wait! Wasn’t John Cadbury a Quaker? And isn’t it the case that Quakers don’t celebrate ‘Easter’ because of its pagan associations? So Mr Cadbury is hardly likely to be upset, even if dead people could be, at his company’s alleged metaphorical grave spitting. Furthermore, might it just have been the case that those original Easter Eggs were – and remain – a cynical capitalist cash-in on a festival that the man himself didn’t actually believe in? Oh my, yes.

So, here’s all that spitting right back atcha, Senty – one in the eye for all your vacuous, self-promoting twaddle.


Next time: Why the side-lining of cute and cuddly Easter bunnies is an affront to the faith of many devout Christians, by Theresa May.


A word from the WITLESS


We of the Wishful Thinking League of silly sods sausages – WITLESS for short – would just like to say how jolly unfair we think it is that our local cinema won’t show our new advert. All we want to do is remind everyone going to see the latest Flash Gordon film that they have three wishes. Three wishes from the special genie no-one can see but who we know is there. And, what’s really exciting, they can use their three wishes however they like! We just wish the cinema would stop being so jolly difficult and let us show our advert about the genie and the magic wishes. 

Damn! That’s one wish gone! And the man at the cinema still won’t let us show the ad. We wish we knew why not. He just says he doesn’t show adverts made by cranks, which is a little unfair when we’ve been recognised as the official cranks in this country for a very long time. Some other spoil-sports take the vue, er… view, that if the cinema goes ahead and shows our advert then other, unofficial cranks will want their adverts shown too. We quite agree this would be a very bad thing. Nobody else’s genie is as real as ours and noboby else grants three wishes the way he does.

We just wish the man who runs the place would come to his senses and agree to show our advert. It’s not a lot to ask. We wish too that…

What? What d’you mean, we’ve had all our wishes? But none of them have come true! That’s so unfair. It jolly well is, you know. And it’s all that rotter from the cinema’s fault.

Please, genie, can we have three more wishes? Can we, please?

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?

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.

John Sentamu To End All War

SentamuNever one to shy away from self-promotion, the Archbishop of York, ‘the most reverend and right honourable’ John Sentamu, has begun a week-long fast and prayer vigil for world peace. The Archbishop reckons this will show ‘solidarity with the suffering people of our world, particularly in the Middle East.’

How, I hear you ask, will it do this? How will John’s fasting and praying – ‘on the hour, every hour’ – be any more effective than, say, his cutting up his dog collar in 2007 in protest at Mugabe’s presidency of Zimbabwe (seven years later and Mugabe is still there.) What will all the prayers and the fasting accomplish, other than thrusting the Archbishop briefly into the limelight once again?

Does God need Sentamu’s prayers to alert him to what is going on in the world? Doesn’t God know already? Will his pleading prick God’s conscience so that he intervenes and brings to an end the bloodshed in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine? Why doesn’t God do something anyway?

And isn’t all of this rather arrogant, this assumption that God will only act if problems are pointed out to him by fallible human beings? (Even Jesus thinks this is how it works in Luke 11.5-8.) What sort of God is this, who is unaware of how things are here on Earth and is unable or unwilling to do anything about them until important show-offs men like the Honourable Rev. let him know?

Maybe though, the Archbishop is less ambitious. Perhaps he just wants to demonstrate to those caught up in the world’s conflicts that he stands with them – though only metaphorically. But if that’s it, what exactly is he saying in all those prayers, on the hour, every hour?

Whatever it is, there will be no divine intervention. There is no God to take action, as evidence throughout history has shown us time and time again. Religion is part of the problem not its solution.

Would you walk by on the other side?


Earlier this week, Nigeria’s president, Goodluck Jonathan, signed into law draconian measures designed to combat homosexuality in the country. Two days ago, 12 men – 11 Muslims and 1 Christian – were arrested for being gay and could face up to 10 years imprisonment and maybe even the death penalty. The 11 Muslim men will be tried by an Islamic court and could be stoned to death if found guilty – which looks to be a forgone conclusion. Richard Branson and the secretary general of the UN have both protested.

Guess who hasn’t?

The Church of England has a significant presence in Nigeria, its largest ‘province’ outside the UK. It has protested neither the new law nor the arrest of the twelve men. Former Archbishop George Carey, who regularly complains that Christians are ‘marginalised’ and even persecuted in the UK (when they’ve been mildly slighted or offended) hasn’t said a word about the Nigerian situation. The two current Archbishops in the UK, John Sentamu of York and Justin Welby of Canterbury have remained similarly quiet, while the Anglican Church in Nigeria has itself been conspicuously silent.

It all brings to mind Jesus’ story of the Good Samaritan. You know, the one where church leaders see a man in need by the side of the road and pass by swiftly on the other side.

Same-sex marriage and Christian conscience

PrinciplesThe Queen gave royal assent to same-sex marriage yesterday and the first such marriages are likely to take place next summer. The aspect of the bill that concerns me is that ‘religious organisations will have to “opt in” to offering weddings, with the Church of England and Church in Wales being banned in law from doing so.’ Even before the passing of bill there were already instances of religious individuals declining services to same-sex couples, including a Christian registrar who refused to conduct a civil ceremony on grounds of conscience.

Remarkably, given the tenuous nature of everything they believe, Christians insist they have the right to ‘live according to conscience’. What this means in practice is that in circumstances where they feel their God-given principles might be compromised, they are compelled to withhold their services from others, denying the rights of fellow human-beings.

By the same principle, however, everyone else must also have the right to live according to their own consciences. If we arrange society so that we don’t have to help, provide a service or care for those whose lifestyles or beliefs are contrary to our own, we end up with a society that operates only on exclusion. The hotel owners who exclude homosexual couples will be matched by gay hotel owners who don’t like Christians; Muslim shopkeepers who object to non-Muslims won’t have to serve them; vegan restaurateurs will, on principle, bar meat-eaters; atheist surgeons will be able to deny treatment to the religious. Such a society could not function because we would all, at some point, be excluded, while at others we would be those doing the excluding. Conscience-based rejection of others, taken to its logical conclusion, could only lead to the breakdown of civilised living, which is reliant on interdependency and mutual cooperation.

A comment posted on the Guardian’s web-site following the case of a Relate counsellor who refused to help homosexual couples neatly summarises the issue:

Gay men and women have been giving good service to bigots for years. We’ve been nursing you through your illnesses, clipping your tickets, treating your diseases, teaching your kids, entertaining you on telly, delivering your mail, waiting on your table, shooting your enemies and cooking your dinner; all this time without ever claiming the “right” not to serve you if you don’t happen to approve of us. It’s time some straights grew up and stopped whining.

There is nothing biblical about living according to ‘principles’ that demand others be ostracised. On the contrary, Jesus demands that his followers give unconditionally to anyone and everyone who asks and treat others as they themselves would wish to be treated (Luke 6.30, 31, 35).

Christians who claim they have a right to reject and exclude others ‘according to conscience’ would do well to consider how they would react if ‘principled’ gays, Muslims and atheists refused them the services they sometimes feel ‘conscience bound’ to refuse others.  What cries of ‘persecution’ there would be then!

Oh wait! There already are…