In which Paul takes a trip to the third heaven

Blog408

In the New Testament, there are:

8 or more supernatural ‘visions’;

18 or so ‘appearances’ of angels;

about 6 significant dreams, through which God talks to people;

a dozen apparitions of dead people and

at least 3 significant ‘revelations’, in which individuals sense God in their heads (Paul, Jesus and John of Patmos).

The man who is largely responsible for Christianity as we know it, Paul, alludes only briefly to his magical conversion to the faith, describing it as ‘in’ his head in Galatians 1.16. It’s up to the writer of Acts to elaborate and embroider this non-event. Paul does, however, give rather more detail about another hallucination he has, in 2 Corinthians 12.1-4. To avoid boasting, he says boastfully, he refers to himself in the third person:

I must go on boasting. Although there is nothing to gain, I will go on to visions and revelations from the Lord. I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of it I do not know, but God knows. And I know that this man—whether in the body or out of it I do not know, but God knows— was caught up to Paradise. The things he heard were too sacred for words, things that man is not permitted to tell.

This is evidently a psychotic episode; seeing things that are not there, experiencing events that are not happening. Paul himself admits he doesn’t know whether it was a real experience, nor does he know if he was in his body or not. (definitely in it, just out of his mind.) He heard, he says, things he can’t possibly repeat, which makes you wonder why he bothers mentioning the whole bizarre episode in the first place: ‘I had this fantastic experience, unlike anything I’ve experienced before – but I can’t tell you a thing about it.’ It sounds like a dream he’s having trouble remembering or, like, man, a really freaky hallucinogenic trip.

From psychotic episodes like this – his conversion is another one – Paul spins his entire theology. Yes, the faith of Christians everywhere is founded on the hallucinations of a first century nutcase visionary.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve better things to do with my life than base it on the dreams and visions of a psychotic who lived 2000 years ago.

 

 

The Darkening Age

Blog393

I’ve been reading Catherine Nixey’s The Darkening Age: The Christian Destruction of the Classical World. I highly recommend it.

Its sub-title says it all. The early church’s determination to destroy any way of life, any belief system or enterprise that it didn’t agree with was deliberate, systematic and brutal. It set out to eliminate the forms of worship, culture, learning and social norms in which it found itself. It did this initially by demonising, literally as far as it was concerned, the opposition. If it wasn’t Christian then it was demonic; ancient religious beliefs especially, but also schools of philosophy, science, education, the theatre, dancing and sexual mores.

As it grew in power, the church went from holding its ‘heathen’ neighbours’ views as suspect to actively and violently opposing them, destroying temples, toppling and mutilating statues of the old gods, razing to the ground historic buildings they considered ‘demonic’. Those they regarded as ‘pagans’ were compelled to convert to the new religion. According to the Christian propaganda of the time, these pagans turned to Jesus with joy in their hearts, once shown the error of their demonic ways. What choice did people have? It was either that or lose everything they held dear.

Once Christianity became the state religion under Constantine, religious authorities legislated against other philosophies and beliefs. As the Justinian code put it, ‘we forbid the teaching of any doctrine by those who labour under the insanity of paganism.’ Free thinkers could be arrested and have their possessions, including their homes, Blog393aconfiscated. They could be imprisoned for believing and saying things that ran contrary to Christian orthodoxy. Their works were burnt, often on public pyres, and that which survived was frequently written over with pages of scripture. Soon, however, even this wasn’t enough. It became a capital offence to subscribe to alternate beliefs, to write or teach about them. Similarly, same sex activity became outlawed and punishable by death. No wonder the philosophers of the day called Christianity ‘the tyrant’.

In 392, Christian mobs destroyed the magnificent temple of Serapis in Alexandria. The Great Library in the same city had disappeared by then too, quite possibly at the hands of Christian mobs. Hypatia, one of the Library’s greatest mathematicians, was degraded in the street and then murdered. (You may have seen the 2009 film Agora where Hypatia is played by Rachel Weisz; if not you definitely should.)

By AD500, the church had successfully and completely eradicated the opposition. The culture that had preceded it had gone; its knowledge, mythologies, philosophy together with the ability to think freely and to criticise – all consigned, if not to hell, then to oblivion. Nixey reports that 90% of classical literature is lost forever (p246), including almost all Greek writing from the ancient world. As John Chrysostom boasted, the writings of the Greeks ‘have all perished and are obliterated’ (p245). From the little that survives we know that Greek philosophers had postulated that the world was made from atoms and didn’t have a beginning as such. They had also developed a form of evolutionary theory (pp35-36). It would take the world 1500 dark years to catch up with these suppressed ideas.

The elimination of Christianity’s opponents was carried out in the name of the man who supposedly said, ‘love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you’ (Nixey points out that the persecution of Christians was greatly exaggerated; many early believers aspired to martyrdom and the church undoubtedly meted out more persecution than it received.) It was done to bring the world into line with the way they thought God had decreed it should be:

That all superstition of pagans and heathens should be annihilated is what God wants, God commands, God proclaims! (‘Saint’ Augustine)

Thank Enlightenment we can’t, in the west at least, be executed these days for our beliefs and philosophies. And whatever became of Christians? Those who oppose anything in their culture they consider contrary to their tyrannical views, who would punish, perhaps execute, sexual non-conformists and who regard other belief systems, atheism especially, as demonic. The same believers who would eagerly take us back to the demon infested dark ages.

They’re still with us of course and have, in the UK where I am and certainly in the United States, a disproportionate amount of influence and power. We must be grateful they are moderate, reasonable people who wouldn’t hurt a fly.

Aren’t they?

Can you be a Christian and… gay? (part two)

Blog391b

So, you’ve become a Christian. Your sins have been forgiven and you’re a new creature, or so you’ve been told. Christ/the Holy Spirit/your church are about to free you from the shackles of same-sex attraction.

This is a lie. While undoubtedly the pastor/priest/minister and your church/assembly/fellowship will exert subtle, and not so subtle, pressure on you to conform and suppress your sexuality – and for a time you might be able to – you will never change it. Certainly Christ and the Holy Spirit won’t be working any miracles. They don’t exist.

You will do the work of denying, suppressing and repressing who you are. In the process of doing so you’ll cultivate self-hatred, discover just how depressed and lonely you can be, and make yourself ill – I speak from experience. People on Living Out are doing just that right now. I predict that one day everyone of these so-called ‘Side B’ gay people will regret the awful compromise they’re making for the sake of an hallucinatory salvation. What they’re actually doing is trying to please the church, showing everyone how serious they are about dealing with ‘sin’ and ‘living out’ their faith. No good will come of it.

Being gay is no sin. Homosexual sex isn’t either, including when it’s just for fun (like a lot of heterosexual sex.) How do we know? Because there’s no such thing as sin: it’s a fabrication of an ancient, superstitious mindset. Nor are committed same-sex relationships ‘dishonourable’; they’re as wonderful as any other loving relationship. Same-sex marriage – without scare quotes – is too. If your desires are for intimacy with someone of the same sex, then that is how you will find your life’s fulfilment. That is who you are.

So, here’s the dilemma for the wannabe Christian who knows they’re attracted to people of the same sex:

Do you want to compromise who you are for the sake of conformity or do you want to live as yourself?

Do you want to become ill, depressed and lonely for Jesus’ sake, or do you want to find happiness and fulfilment in life?

If the latter, then you really must see Paul’s ranting for what it is and walk away from the discredited belief system that is Christianity. Instead, ‘live out’ your life, true to your nature. It’s not easy, I know, but, as someone or other once said, when you find the pearl of great price, all else is worth abandoning for it.

One thing seems clear: you can’t be gay and a Christian. Not really.

Can you be a Christian and… a rational thinker?

Blog390

This is the first in a series of posts that pose the question, ‘Can you be a Christian and..?’ It seems to me that certain ways of being are incompatible with religious belief. Any religious belief, that is, though here I’ll limit myself to the Christian faith as that’s the belief system I know best and the one on which I wasted a great deal of my life.

Conversion is, I’ve become convinced, an emotional response to being told God loves you (who doesn’t want to be loved?) and that Jesus sacrificed himself so that you – yes, you – can enter into a full and meaningful relationship with God. It’s an intuitive, gut-reaction to the ‘promise’ that once you’ve accepted Jesus as Lord and Saviour, he will  be with you always, guiding you through life and guaranting you’ll survive death.

What is rational about this? Nothing; it’s muddled supernaturalism, magic based on others’ dreams and visions, that appeals to your need to be wanted, to matter and your hope that your life means something and will go on beyond death.

The rationalisation comes after you’ve made this response and after your commitment. It’s rather like buying something incredibly expensive you’re not sure you actually need but which makes you feel good momentarily as you hand over your cash. On the way home, as doubts start to assail you, you start trying convince yourself that you were right to buy it, on the basis you deserve it, so that by the time you’re home you feel completely justified. Psychologists tell us we do this often: act first and then come up with the rationalisation for why we’ve behaved the way we have.

So it is that once you’ve made the emotional response to what Christianity purports to offer, you start justifying your decision to yourself. You know there’s really no evidence for what you’ve started to believe. All there is is the bible and other people’s enthusiasm for what it teaches, but still, there must be some sort of justification for it; all those others, including the guys who wrote the bible, can’t all be wrong. You’re helped in your rationalisation of the irrational by sermons in which a respected pastor explains what certain teachings mean, the warm and fuzzy feelings you get from fellowship with other Christians and from reading the bible with the aid of a study guide that smooths out its many inconsistencies and contradictions. You start reading too those devotional books that have been recommended to you, which give your new-found faith a respectable gloss. All after the event.

And before you know it you are fully invested in an entirely new belief system. Not only have you accepted the central mystery (magic) of salvation but you find yourself entertaining the notion that there exist all manner of supernatural beings; angels, demons, devils, spirits all engaged in spiritual warfare in higher places. You convince yourself, even when your intellect is telling you to exercise caution, of the existence of Heaven and Hell. You become persuaded that talking to yourself inside your head is communicating with the God of the Universe and that your very thoughts can change his mind. You assume what you are told is biblical morality and alter your world view so that it conforms to the bible’s: sin everywhere, yet miracles happen; God creating humans and not just (or even) evolution; Jesus returning at any time soon to change the word so it is more to your liking.

Yet there is no evidence for any of this. A book written by Iron Age tribesmen and first century religious zealots is not evidence. Nor is any of it rational. You know this, but you hold fast to your belief that God’s ways are not our ways. He likes, it says somewhere in the bible, to conceal his plans from the worldly wise. Like many other believers you are not stupid but you’ve happily sublimated your intellect to assume irrational, unsupported beliefs. You’ve subjugated your capacity for rationalisation in deference to these beliefs. If and when a rational objection forms itself in your mind, you dismiss it as a doubt, or worse still, a Satanic attempt to snatch you away from your salvation.

How do I know? Because I did so myself.

So, can you be a Christian and rational thinker? No. Because once you’ve tethered your intellect to ancient superstition you’ve denied yourself the possibility of independent thought. Rational thinking can go then in only one direction, towards the conclusions already established by the Faith. It isn’t possible to be an independent thinker and to adopt a worldview based on others’ emotions, dreams and visions. It isn’t possible to believe irrational things and be a rational thinker.

To clanging cymbals everywhere

Massacre

If you’ve ever engaged one of God’s gentle people™ in discussion about one of their pet topics – the infallibility of scripture, evidence for the resurrection, the ‘abomination’ that is homosexuality or some other damn thing – you’ll know that, sooner or later, they turn nasty. They resort to name-calling and personal attacks; they tell you the reason you’re arguing against them is because you just want to wallow in your own sin – and, boy, are you going to suffer when it comes to judgement day.

Fellow-blogger, Bruce Gerencser has recently experienced this kind of thing from some twerp self-appointed ‘preacher of God’s word’ called T.C. Howitt, over on the Reasonable Doubt blog. I’ve been subjected to it innumerable times too. Eventually, you retreat; not because you’ve lost the argument or don’t have anything reasonable left to say but because there is only so much battering you can take. Then, as Bruce says, the bible thumper declares victory; the foe is vanquished – God’s word prevails! Even supposing this to be true, it is a Pyrrhic victory; the defence of doctrine is at the expense of others’ well-being and is achieved only by hurting them, usually intentionally so.

We shouldn’t be surprised by this of course; it has been the church’s way since the very beginning, from Paul’s tantrum about other evangelists he wished would accidentally castrate themselves (Galatians 5.12) to the massacre of native Americans by those passing on Jesus’ good news in the 16th century, right through to present day ‘hate’ preachers like Steven Anderson and Franklin Graham. Christianity is, and always has been, a nasty, bullying religion that cares only about its own preservation, never other people.

Those who proselytise on its behalf might care to read one of Paul’s better bits of self-promotion (1 Corinthians 13.1-2) which, if it is part of God’s infallible Word™, applies to those Christians today who have nothing better to do than hang around social media:

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.

We might add that if the only way you can win your argument is by demolishing your opponent psychologically, you demonstrate that you are without love, making you in the eyes of ‘men’ and your own God, worth precisely nothing.

Spontaneous Conversion

st-paul-conversionThe missionaries pressed on into the Amazonian jungle. They were now in uncharted territory. No-one had ever been this far in. And then, sounds from somewhere not too distant; human sounds, human voices – singing even. The missionary troupe emerged into the clearing to an amazing sight. Groups of Amazonian natives gathered together, a rudimentary cross in front of them, towards which they were undeniably directing their worship. These people, whose existence had hitherto been unknown, and who had never before encountered Westerners, were Christians!

Weeks later once basic communication had been established, the tribe’s chief priest and the head missionary communed together. The priest explained how, long ago in the past, his ancestors had recognised God’s presence in the incredible world around them and had opened their hearts to him. As a result – Miracle of Miracles! – God sent them a vision of Christ himself, much as he had to St Paul and the other disciples, and the whole tribe came to believe in Jesus. Ever since then, the tribe had worshipped the one true God and his only son, that same Jesus Christ.

“Amazing,” said the missionary, “so it looks like St Paul was absolutely right when he said God reveals himself in nature and speaks to our hearts to make himself known to us. It’s not as if we ever needed the Bible, or to go round telling people how to be saved. God is more than capable of doing it for himself. Praise the Lord and pass the communion wine!”

What a story! And it happened time and time again as the world was opened up by explorers and missionaries.

Or maybe not. Definitely not, in fact. But it should have happened if what Paul says in Romans 1.18-21 is right, as Ken Ham believes it to be:

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of those who by their wickedness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made. So they are without excuse; for though they knew God, they did not honour him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their senseless minds were darkened.

If God is so obvious in the world that (supposedly) he created and if we humans can see and understand him through it, then why do Christians need to proselytise? Why doesn’t God make his personal presence felt just that tiny bit more clearly – with the odd ‘revelation’ like the one he provided Paul, say – so that people come to believe in him more fully? And by ‘him’, of course, I mean the proper God – the Jesus one. Why does he leave it so that folk seemingly pick up on the special vibes he’s placed in their hearts but then worship a ‘counterfeit’ god, like Allah or Jah or, back in Paul’s day, Zeus? Why doesn’t he provide revelations like he used to, to ensure everyone knows just who it is who’s standing at the door knocking?

If he did that, if God did indeed plant clues to his presence both around us and in us as Paul says he does, then the Bible wouldn’t be needed to convert people. But that’s not what we find, which is that the Bible is essential in perpetuating the God-myth. We wouldn’t even be aware of Paul’s ridiculous claims if they were not preserved in that ramshackle collection of writings.

The indoctrination of others is utterly reliant on two things and two things only. Not God-in-nature or inner prompting or visions, but on ‘the scriptures’ and those who are driven to spread the Jesus-meme. Now does that not strike you as odd? It strikes me as something entirely human, with nothing supernatural about it. If people have to be told, evangelised to and indoctrinated into Christianity, then it can hardly be the case that they see the one true God in nature or have an intuitive feel for him. If that were the case, then we would have discovered hitherto unknown groups of humans who already knew of him and the nonsensical clutter of beliefs that surround him. And we haven’t. Ever.