Death’s Sting

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Image copyright DC Comics

 

A long time friend of mine died suddenly a couple of days ago. Tom was in his comic shop, putting together orders, and, it appears, suffered a heart attack. He died there alone.

Death still has its sting – for both those who die (which is all of us) and those who are left behind. Paul’s rhetorical question, ‘Oh death, where is thy sting?’ (1 Corinthians 15:55) has always seemed to me to be particularly fatuous, not to mention deceitful. He said it, of course, in the belief that faith in his Christ meant life would resume on the other side of the grave. Even if this were so, dying would not be without its pain, and grieving not without deep sorrow.

And what about that word ‘sting’? The Greek Paul uses, ‘κέντρον’, means ‘a sharp point’ as if death is nothing more than a pin prick, a short sharp shock no more troublesome than an injection. In my experience, spending time with people who are dying, it is far from that. The body’s shutdown is often slow, relentless and unbearable. Morphine helps, not Jesus.

Mourning too is persistent; an emptiness and a profound sense of loss, as we often acknowledge when offering condolences. I takes time to subside, but never truly disappears. Every death, especially of loved ones, depletes us. As John Donne puts it:

Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

God Nature, whose product we are, is insensible and indifferent to our suffering. It neither knows nor cares that we are self-aware, emotional beings who grieve and suffer. Death, which troubles us so much, is one of the engines of evolution. Once we have passed the stage at which we might viably reproduce we are programmed to decline and  die. We must make way for new creations, which is not, despite what Christians claim, in a brand new body on a new earth or in heaven. The new creations are those who follow us. Paul, as he was in so many respects, is wrong to say that because of the futile hope of resurrection, death has lost its sting and the grave its victory. Death will never lose its sting, its pain and finality.

Tom will be remembered by those to whom he mattered in life. This is the best we can do; this and living our lives to the full while we’re still here, loving others and being kind.

Farewell Tom, my friend.

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Jesus’ Final Solution

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Jesus is beautiful. That’s what they were singing on TBN last night – thousands of Christians telling their false-idol Jesus just how lovely he is.

I’m fortunate in life to know some truly genuine and beautiful people and one of the things that qualifies them as beautiful is that they don’t advocate violence, cruelty or self-harm. I don’t know about you, but for me that’s something that marks out a good person. I can’t see folks who promote violence and cruelty as either good or lovely or beautiful. They’re just incompatible.

Unless of course you’re Jesus. Because, as ever, Jesus gets a free pass. He revels in violence and unpleasantness and his followers are always prepared to overlook it, because, well, he’s Jesus. Beginning with Paul he’s been remodelled from the rough itinerant preacher he clearly was to the epitome of all things bright and beautiful.

Here are some of his pronouncements, all hiding in plain sight in the gospels that tell us he was nothing of the sort –

Matthew 13.41-42 (and John 15.6):

The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. They will throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

The fate of those who are not convinced by Jesus’ ‘good news’ is to be thrown into a blazing furnace. He’s not talking about after death here; he’s talking about when God’s Kingdom arrives on the Earth. He wants sinners and those he considers evil to be burnt alive. Jesus, who in Matthew’s gospel sees himself as the Son of Man, sounds more like Hitler than any ‘Prince of Peace.’ Burning people in giant ovens is Jesus’ final solution.

Then there’s Matthew 7.19-23:

Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire… Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that (judgement) day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’  Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’

Jesus makes clear here he’s talking about believers here – his own followers! If you don’t do all he says, Christians, you too are heading for the flames. What is it with this pyromaniac?

Luke 19.26-27:

I tell you that to everyone who has, more will be given, but as for the one who has nothing, even what they have will be taken away. But those enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them—bring them here and kill them in front of me.

This is the conclusion of the so-called Parable of the Talents where Jesus emphasises the point of the story. With himself as the King of the World (Matthew 19.27-28) he wants those who don’t appreciate his megalomania to be executed in front of him. What’s not to like about this guy?

Matthew 5.29:

If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 

Don Camp tells me (see the previous post) that this is meant metaphorically; metaphorically for what, Don? There is no reason to interpret this in any way other than literally. Look at the context: Jesus makes clear in the previous verse he’s talking about how to deal with lusting after women. He thinks the only way to stop yourself from doing this is to gouge out your eye (just the one?) According to Jesus, lust is such a terrible sin, it can only be properly dealt with by blinding yourself.

Matthew 5.30:

And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to go into hell.

If you think you’re going to manage your lust any other way – by masturbating, for example – then you can forget that too; Jesus wants you to cut off the hand you do it with (or is he using ‘member’ in the modern euphemistic sense of ‘penis’?). The context of this verse is, like the previous one, sexual, and we know how much Christians like context. In case you’re tempted to dismiss this gruesome nonsense as an irrelevant part of Jesus’ message, he repeats it in Matthew 18.8-9.

Matthew 19.12:

For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let the one who is able to receive this receive it.

Jesus advocates castration. Or, if you want to insist he’s speaking metaphorically, then he’s suggesting his most avid followers live a life without sex. And we know how well that worked out for the Catholic church. How do we know, though, when he’s being metaphorical and when literal? He hardly makes it clear. I suspect he’s only being metaphorical when Christians don’t like what he’s saying. If this is a metaphor here, it’s a particularly unpleasant one; Christian extremists have castrated themselves on the strength of these words and some have used them to justify castrating others. At the very least we might expect Jesus to have foreseen the consequences of such stupid remarks.

Luke 22.36:

He said to them, “But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one… The disciples said, “See, Lord, here are two swords.” “That is enough,” he replied.

Buy swords? What for? There’s only one purpose for swords – to run other people through. Now why would Jesus be suggesting his pals do that? To put up some resistance when he was arrested? What other purpose could they have in the context? Two swords, it turns out, are enough; though when Peter (according to John) uses his, Jesus castigates him. Talk about mixed messages!

Matthew 10.34-36:

Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household.

Jesus predicts his own disruptiveness. Despite the prediction of the Christmas angels, his message was not one of peace but of division and bloodshed, as his later followers found out (and put these words in his mouth retrospectively.) Is it any wonder when he promised that those who weren’t a part of his cult (and some who were) would be thrown into the flames or put to the sword?

Mark 7.10-14:

Jesus said to the Pharisees: For Moses said, ‘Honour your father and mother,’ and ‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death’… But you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like that.’

Complicated this one, but essentially Jesus takes the Pharisees to task for not having troublesome youths executed as Moses commanded. In fact, he upholds all the barbaric practices of the Mosaic Law (Matthew 5.17).

Still think he’s a nice guy? Lovely and beautiful? Well of course, because the Jesus worshipped by Christians today – and even by Paul – was not this guy. The beautiful version is a construct that bears no resemblance to the bloodthirsty, furnace-building advocate of self-mutilation who haunts the pages of the gospels. Lovely he was not.

 

More fairly random, half-formed thoughts on Evolution

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(Note to self: check the captions to this and last time’s pictures are the right way round.)

 

3. On God in Nature

God is revealed in nature! The bible says so (Romans 1.20) and you don’t even have to be a Creationist to see it – the evidence is there in plain sight.

But to suggest that, because aspects of nature are beautiful (or stunning or endearing) from a human perspective, the natural world can only have come from the hand of a loving Creator is merely to argue from a position of incredulity: “I can’t conceive how such beauty came to be; it must have been God.”

I live close to the countryside and although there is much that is impressively beautiful, the mercilessly cruel working of nature is also apparent: ruthless competition, even between plants and certainly among animal wildlife; waste on a vast scale; predation – young blue-tit (chickadee) chicks in my garden eaten a few weeks ago by magpies – death and sex.

The incredulous believer who refuses to see these aspects of nature and sees only beauty – and much of it is undeniably beautiful – is being disingenuous in their selection of evidence (confirmation bias in action). If God reveals himself in nature, then just as it is, he has to be callous, cruel and indifferent to suffering too.

“Ah, yes,” says the Christian, “but that’s because we live in a fallen world,” which is having it both ways: God is apparent in nature, except when he isn’t… because then it’s a fallen world.

Speaking of which –


4. On This Being a Fallen World

Creationists, such as those at Answers In Genesis, like to argue that genetic mutations in humans and animals fail to ‘increase the information’ and, further, that such errors would only lead to malfunction and the death of the organism. They’re right about the latter; significant mutation is almost always detrimental. However, according to Nature, ‘others have little or no detrimental effect. And sometimes, although very rarely, the change in DNA sequence may even turn out to be beneficial to the organism.’ A mutation that increases the chances an animal will survive and reproduce ensures that the particular mutation is passed on to its offspring.

The constant shuffling and recombining of genes in sexual reproduction also changes and ‘increases the information’ within the genome with the consequent effect on the phenotype (the genome’s physical expression). This is analogous with the twenty-six letters of the English alphabet producing new, unique sentences, paragraphs and texts every time they are recombined.

Creationists are wrong therefore to insist that mechanisms do not exist to change or add to genetic ‘information’. They are wrong too that variations caused by mutation cannot contribute to the evolution of an organism; while most born with such variance are likely to die before they can reproduce (natural selection in action) a minority are able to pass on the changes. Mutation and sexual recombination of genes are integral to evolution and the development of the organism.

I mention this because the bible presents quite a different scenario. In Genesis, the world and everything in it is created in a state of perfection. Then, because of human disobedience and sin, God feels compelled to curse his entire creation and the sudden or gradual – Christians are none to clear about which it is – transition to degradation, entropy and death begins.

It’s here that creationists’ objection to the role of mutation in evolution proves a stumbling block for their own scenario: a system designed to function in a particular way cannot continue to operate effectively after undergoing such a radical, brutal overhaul. We know of no other system that, having undergone such demolition, can continue to work in the way it was intended to, and certainly not as effectively as the ecosystem has for millennia. Look, for example, at how human activity has contributed recently to radical changes in climate.

Nature relies on those things that Christians say arose because of God’s curse on it: death, disease, waste, competition, cruelty. A system with such inherent ‘faults’, so far removed from how it was ‘designed’ to operate, would have failed long ago.

From this we can conclude that:

Nature/ecosystems/life were not ‘designed’ at all.

     They were never part of a ‘perfect’ creation.

         They were not cursed and are not now faulty components of a fallen,     malfunctioning world – nor could they be.

                       They could not operate any differently from the way they do.

                             They will not, despite what the bible says (Romans 8.20-21), be restored one day to a state of perfection they didn’t have in the first place.

 

Suffer the Little Children

Jesus said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” Mark 10.14

…the very hairs of your head are numbered. Fear not: you are of more value than many sparrows. Luke 12.7

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Recently, I attended the funeral of a little boy who died of the cancer he’d suffered from the time he was nine months old. His young parents are friends of mine. They showed their son such incredible love during his illness, ensuring he received the best medical care possible.

But where was God through it all? The God that Christians say has a special affinity for children, who loves them and cares for them? The God who looks after ‘the little people‘?

That God was nowhere. He showed no interest in this particular ‘little person.’ No concern and no compassion for him or his parents. Of course, that’s because he doesn’t exist, though this didn’t stop Christians telling the family how marvellous and caring and loving he is.

Really? If I had any vestige of faith left, what has happened to this innocent during his short life would have cured me of it entirely. And make no mistake, he was innocent, not a sinner (as if that would let God off the hook.) A deity who allows a baby to have cancer and to die after fourteen months of prolonged, invasive treatment would be a callous, worthless bastard. But we knew that already.

Had there been a God who cared, this little boy would’ve been two today, Easter Sunday.

Ken Ham’s ‘Five Evidences that the Bible is True’

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Yes, that’s what he says: ‘evidences.’ Good use of English there, Kenny. Actually, the article is anonymous, but as it’s on Kenny’s site, and as it features inside his Noah’s Ark vanity-project, we can safely assume he authorised and approved it. That being the case, he can take responsibility for it.

Anyway, here are those ‘evidences’. Be prepared to be underwhelmed:

1. The Bible Is God’s Word

The ‘reasoning’ here is that God inspired the writers so, ipso facto, the Bible must be God’s words.

How do we know God inspired the Bible? Because the Bible appears to say so. But how do we know we can trust what the Bible claims about this and everything else? Duh… because God inspired it. Circular reasoning that gets us nowhere.

But wait, more ‘evidence’ from Kenny: ‘the Bible is authoritative in every subject it addresses’. I guess that’s so long as you exclude all the areas where it isn’t, like those that are scientifically, historically and geographically inaccurate, including the early chapters of Genesis that Kenny loves so much. Then there are those parts that are evidently myth, legend or fantasy.

Yes, apart from all those bits, the Bible is accurate and authoritative.

Isn’t it?

2. The Bible is Unique and Unified

Two claims in one. The Bible is far from unique; there are many religious texts in the world – the Qur’an, the Vedas, the Pali Canon, the Book of Mormon… many with evidence of several authors at work in them. Neither is the Bible unique because it is ‘unified.’ It is not unified. It is contradictory and inconsistent: the so-called ‘new covenant’ cuts across the ‘everlasting’ agreement God allegedly made with the Jews and YHWH himself evolves, even having a personality transplant somewhere between the Old and New Testaments. Most significantly, for what is supposedly its central message, the Bible offers several, frequently mutually exclusive, ways to salvation.

3. The Bible Has Been Faithfully Passed Down.

This is empirically, demonstrably false. Many books of the Bible were written decades, even centuries, after the events they purportedly describe; the oral tradition is an unreliable means of transmission; texts were altered both by accident and on purpose; some books are patent forgeries; ninety percent of surviving manuscripts were created 800 years or more after the originals, and none of these ‘autographs’ survive for anyone to determine how ‘faithful’ later copies might be.

4. The Bible Contains Fulfilled Prophecy

It does? Where? Is it in the gospels where Jesus prophesies that the Son of Man will, in the lifetime of his listeners, return through the clouds to judge the tribes of the Earth and establish God’s Kingdom? Is it in the contrived symbolic events imposed on Jesus’ life to make it look like he fulfilled prophecy, even when the earlier ‘prophecies’ were not prophecies at all? Is it in Paul’s letters where he promises the rapture will be coming while those in his churches still live? Is it in the many prophecies that were written after the events they were supposedly predicting? Is it in the innumerable prophecies that didn’t come to pass?

That’s right; not one of these bits of malarkey constitutes ‘fulfilled prophecy’.

5. The Bible Holds the Key To Eternal Life

No, it doesn’t because there’s no such thing. This is the great swindle at the heart of Christianity; a fantasy dreamed up by fanatics, fantasists and psychotics, and preserved in the Bible. Christians are singularly unable to provide any evidence that anyone has ever gone on to have a life after death, nor that they ever will. We know now, as we may always have suspected, that when the body dies ‘we’ die with it. End of.

So, every one of Ham’s ‘evidences’ is false; a sham like his beliefs and the book from which they spring. You’ll struggle to tell him so, however, because like so many Christian web-sites, there’s no posting of comments; Kenny broaches no dissent. That’s how confident he is of his case. Best not to entertain any views other than your own weak, unfounded assertions.

 

I Know What It’s Like To Be Dead

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And you do too.

We experienced what it was like last night and, you know, it really wasn’t too bad.

We entered, at some point, a deep, dreamless sleep (we dream for only a quarter of the time we’re asleep and even then often can’t remember what we’ve dreamt about) and the rest of the time we were, as far as subjective experience was concerned, dead to the world. During that deep sleep, our conscious mind was completely switched off; we did not experience anything while we were in this state and as far as awareness is concerned, we did not exist. And when we woke this morning we were none the worse for our period of non-existence. We booted up reasonably satisfactorily and the memories we had yesterday, before our deep sleep, were restored and the entity we call our self began to interact with the day.

This period of deep sleep, this unconscious oblivion, is precisely what it is like to be dead. Of course, in death we switch off permanently; there’s with no reboot afterwards, either in our beds, our graves or in heaven. The oblivion that is death is permanent. But, and this is my point, being dead is no more painful or unendurable, and no more to be feared, than the deep sleep you had last night and that you will enjoy tonight. We might not much like the idea that once we fall into the ultimate sleep there will be no waking up, but that is only a concern, if it’s a concern at all, of the living. I guarantee that it does not cross the minds of those who are already dead. They have no minds, the same as you didn’t last night, for it to cross.

Being dead, to paraphrase Mark Twain, does not trouble us at all. Its prospect, while we remain on this side of it, should encourage us to enjoy life and live it to the full. It shouldn’t cause us to worry about being dead, because there’s nothing we can do about it and, in any case, it’s no worse than being in deep sleep. Nor should we be concerned about whether we’ve subscribed to the right incantation, appeased the right God in the right way or lived a good enough life, in order to avoid death. There’s no avoiding death and the promises of religions that we can if only we believe the right magic, are utterly false. Understandable perhaps, but false.

Oh death, where is thy sting, says Paul in 1 Corinthians 15.55. Well, death still has its sting. It has it in its inevitability – every organic creature, of which we are one, must die – and it has it, depending on your perspective, in our individual obliteration. (Though, frankly, why anyone should think their own personal bundle of thoughts, impulses and prejudices merits everlasting existence is a mystery). Most significantly, however, it has it in the dying process, which for many of us can be debilitating and painful. This is the way of it for all of us, including those who believe religions’ false promises. They are not spared the suffering, even though modern medicine can help alleviate much of it. Christians, Muslims and Hindus, despite their belief that a deity smiles benevolently upon them, are not guaranteed a comfortable passage from this life to non-existence.

Death is the great leveller; we all experience dying in much the same way and we none of us experience anything after it. One of these – maybe both if we’re lucky – isn’t too bad. Just like deep sleep in fact.

Until then, we should make the most of life while we still have it.

Sleep well.

 

Christians’ Favourite Delusions 25: Unbelievers are going to Hell!

Spoiler alert: No, they’re not.

 

HellIt’s always nice when the local fellowship keeps in touch.

There’s good news and bad news. First, the good news: Hell doesn’t exist. You can’t go to a place that doesn’t exist.

 

Next, the bad news; you’re not going to survive your death. Sorry to break it to you like this, but there it is: no-one survives death. Once the physical, chemical and electrical processes in your brain cease then so do you, because that’s what you’re made of. That self you have a sense of – your soul if you want to call it that – is entirely dependent on those electro-chemical processes. It doesn’t exist independently from them. You cease to be once the brain dies and begins to deteriorate*. Everyone who has ever lived and died, including true believers down the ages – from Jesus, Peter, Paul, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John to Augustine, Bede, Wilberforce and C. S. Lewis – have all ceased to be, dissipated and obliterated forever, along with their physical brains and bodies.

 

And why, dear Christian, would you want to survive death? What makes you think that the bundle of petty concerns, loves and hates, neuroses, reactions and habits that you call ‘you’, merit long-term survival? Because that odd little collection of impulses is what you’re talking about when you say you are going to live forever. You may regard yourself as changed into some sort of reflection of Christ, but it’s your essential self that you desperately, and arrogantly, hope will enjoy eternal life. It won’t – and why should it?

 

So, there’s no you to survive and no Hell, or Heaven, for you to go to. The Bible doesn’t offer Heaven – see my previous posts here and here – but it does talk about Hell. It’s the place the Unrighteous go when the Righteous™ take over the earth (albeit it in the first century). According to Jesus in Mark 7.20-23, the Unrighteous are people like murderers, thieves and the proud, while Paul includes other ‘undesirables’ like homosexuals (1 Corinthians 6.9). This isn’t nearly enough for today’s Christians though**. They want everyone except themselves to be sent to Hell. So if you’re not ‘saved’ according to their magic formula, then you’re certain to go there. Never mind if you’re not a murderer or proud or gay. That’s where the God of Love is going to send you, to be tormented forever.

 

And where is Hell? Jesus seems to think it’s in the heart of the Earth (Matthew 12.40) and invariably those threatened with Hell go ‘down’ to it. The wingnut who wrote Revelation also implies it’s in the Earth (9.2). You’d think, that being the case, we would have found it by now. But we haven’t because, of course, it doesn’t exist. And you’re not going. And there won’t be a ‘you’ to go in any case.

 

So don’t waste any time worrying about it or letting Christians persuade you Hell is a real place. Live your one and only life in the here and now as best you can. Enjoy it. It’s not a rehearsal for a better place, and certainly not for a far worse one.

 

Notes:

* In The Lazarus Effect, Dr Sam Parnia relates instances of people being revived up to an hour after death, but only in specific circumstances, when the brain remains undamaged. Any longer than an hour and it’s not possible. Such revivals are extreme forms of the rebooting your brain does every morning after sleep; the brain itself and all its neuro-connections must still be capable of functioning for you to be you again after sleep or even apparent death.

 

** Yes, I acknowledge some Christians don’t accept Hell. American pastor, Rob Bell, suggests in Love Wins that Hell doesn’t make ‘a very good story’, and that God will save everybody. All Hell was let loose in the resulting backlash from true, Bible-believing Christians; a response that was extreme, brutal and frequently sanctimonious. How dare Bell contradict God’s Word, Holy Scripture? Surely he deserves to go to Hell for that.