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.

Have Faith

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So there we were in court. First time I’d been on a jury. Pretty serious case too. If it went against the defendant, he’d be facing the death penalty. So I suppose it was pretty serious for him too.

First up was the arresting officer. ‘Oh, yes,’ he said. ‘I have every faith this guy’s the culprit.’

‘How much faith?’ said the judge. ‘Is it real, deep-down, sincere faith?’

‘Oh, yes,’ said the cop. ‘Really unshakeable, supernatural faith. That’s him okay. We’re not looking for anyone else. Genuine conviction, you see.’

‘Yes, I do see,’ the judge said. ‘And very commendable it is too.’

‘But…’ spluttered the guy in the dock.

‘Wait your turn,’ the judge snapped. ‘We gotta hear the expert testimony before we get to you.’

The expert took the stand. ‘I believe it was this guy,’ he said, pointing to the man in the dock. ‘Yes sir, I’m sure it was. I have a really good feeling about it. This is him, definitely.’

‘You really, really truly believe?’ the judge asked and the expert nodded. ‘Well, that’s good enough for me,’ the judge said. ‘So… anybody got anything to add before I pass sentence?’

‘Er, yeah,’ said he guy in the dock. ‘What about the evidence?’

‘The evidence?’ said the judge. ‘Who needs evidence when we’ve got all this belief, faith and deeply held conviction?’

‘Well,’ the guy said, ‘far be it from me to say so, but isn’t the evidence important?’

‘Important?’ snorted the judge, resulting in guffaws all around the courtroom, including from my fellow jurors.

‘Yes,’ said the accused. ‘Important evidence like my watertight alibi. Like the DNA and finger prints that weren’t mine. Like the CCTV footage. Like… that other guy’s confession.’

‘Oh, come on,’ said his defence lawyer jumping up. ‘We’ve been over this. It means nothing. What’s really important is what people believe. Faith, like the officer here said.’

‘Well,’ said the guy in the dock, ‘I have my doubts about that.’

‘Oh, but doubt is of the devil,’ said his lawyer, ‘It’s faith that matters – faith and right belief.’

‘That hardly seems reasonable to me,’ said the man. ‘After all, it’s my life that’s on the line here.’

‘Now you’re just being absurd,’ said the judge. ‘What has reason got to do with anything?’

‘But I thought…’ began the accused, looking more perplexed than ever.

‘We’re none of us here to think,’ said the judge, ‘least of all you. How many more times must we tell you? Faith is all that matters.’

‘Well,’ said the defendant doubtfully, ‘if you say so…’

‘Great!’ said the judge, jumping in quickly. ‘I’m glad you’ve finally seen the light.’ Then he turned to us, the jury, and said: ‘I’m going to direct you to find the defendant guilty. The belief and faith of those here today is all we need to convict him.’

So we did, and the judge passed the death sentence. The condemned guy didn’t seem too pleased and as they led him away, started yammering all over again about evidence. I guess some people never learn. But I mean, faith, belief, conviction – call ’em what you will – they trump evidence any day.

It’s Only Make Believe

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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.

To Hell and back

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The self-righteous have taken it upon themselves this week to indulge in a little rejoicing, and not a little bit more gloating, at the death of George Michael. They are particularly pleased that, in all likelihood, he has gone to Hell, what with him being gay and all. Because of his sexuality – and this is how their damaged minds work – some of these Christians have also decreed George must also have been a ‘paedophile’, a victim of AIDs and possessed by evil spirits. Incredibly, he still managed to fit in a singing career. He was, these true-believers say, an enemy of God and is now frying in Hell forever. Yippee!

Here’s how the Christ-like Steven Anderson puts it:

First of all, George Michael’s burning in Hell right now. He was a very wicked, God-hating sodomite reprobate, and he’s getting the punishment that he deserves right now… If you just look at the lyrics to one of his most famous songs, one of his biggest hits, you can just totally tell this is written by a paedophile… It’s clearly written by a sick pervert because that’s what these homosexuals are. They’re a bunch of paedophiles… Quit mourning the death of this filthy pervert. He’s rotting in Hell right now for being a God-hating homosexual reprobate.

George Michael was none of the things these Christians claim he was. His post-mortem was inconclusive, but even if he had died of an AIDs related illness it would not be a cause for celebration. He was not a paedophile nor demon-possessed, but Christians, having happily embraced today’s post-truth world, think it’s absolutely fine for them to say he was.

They see evil spirits and demons everywhere, particularly in people who don’t share their primitive views; homosexuality is caused by their malevolent presence, and so, apparently, are depression, eating disorders, insomnia, self-harming and sex before marriage. Little wonder, of course, when that first-century ignoramus they claim to follow regarded Satan’s little helpers as the source of sickness and disease (when it wasn’t sin itself that was doing it). It hardly matters there’s absolutely no evidence that such beings exist; Christians are more than happy to take on the demonisation of others themselves.

As for Hell itself, it isn’t real either, as I discuss here. George Michael isn’t there, nor is anyone else who’s died. But let’s humour all those fanatics gentle souls who have persuaded themselves that it does. What does the Bible say about it?

First, it doesn’t claim that individuals go to Hell after death. Rather, it sees Hell as a pit into which Satan and his minions will be thrown at the end of time (Revelation 20.10). No mention humans will go there with them. Instead, the whack-job who wrote Revelation suggests (20.7-9) that the unrighteous dead, once resurrected, will be consumed by the fire God is going to destroy the Earth with at the end of time. You might wonder why God would bother resurrecting bodies only to murder them again, but he’s God, and you know, mysterious ways and all that. Still, he doesn’t seem to have perpetual torment in mind, even so.

Second, Paul tells us that after they’ve died, the dead sleep until the final judgement (1 Thessalonians 4.15-17). So even if they are eventually to be consigned to Hell it certainly won’t be immediately after death. As the final judgement has yet to occur – and won’t ever – dead souls, including George’s, still slumber. (It’s possible of course that for the dead time ceases to exist and the period between death and judgement appears, from their perspective, instantaneous. But this is not what the Bible teaches. It’s not nearly as imaginative as that.)

Third, Jesus is made to imply (it’s all very vague) that those with whom he is displeased will, after death, simply be discarded – thrown on some sort of metaphorical rubbish tip (Matthew 23.33). In fact, he tells only one parable about the after-life (Luke 16.19-31) in which a resurrected rich man finds himself excluded from God’s presence Abraham’s bosom. Not, you’ll note, because he failed to accept Jesus as his personal saviour but because of his disregard for the poor. So, given his philanthropy, it doesn’t look as if George Michael will be spending his eternity in the Hell that Jesus imagined either.

All of those who threaten us with Hell, and who think George Michael is already there, don’t know, and probably don’t care, what God’s Word™ has to say about the place where they’d be happy to see the rest of us suffer everlasting torment. It hardly matters when it doesn’t exist, being a fantasy of primitive zealots, but it does make you wish those who delude themselves into thinking it does would shut the hell up about it. Yes, you Franklin, Stephen, Bob, Kim and Keith. You’re only showing yourselves up for the ignorant hypocrites you are.

 

How It Works: God

Let’s see. If there’s a God – and how could there not be? – he’d have to be perfect. And powerful and really, really good. Not like all those pagan Gods who are just a bit too much like us. No, the most bestest God of all would have to be big and powerful, and good and perfect. I mean, why bother otherwise?

Oh, oh… first problem. If he’s good and perfect, how to explain us and the fact life can be pretty crap and not good or perfect at all? That can’t be his fault, can it? He’s perfect, so he couldn’t possibly make something that isn’t. Soooo… only logical conclusion – the crap must be our fault. Something we do, or maybe something we are. Yes, that’s what it must be (plus we get to bump up our part.)

And shit happens. Tsunamis, earthquakes, the crops fail, the rains don’t come. Life can be tough and seem pointless. It’s all depressing, then we die. It can feel like we’re being punished. Wait! Maybe we are being punished! For things we’ve done, or for what we are. That would fit wouldn’t it? A good and perfect God would surely want to punish us, with death and destruction and stuff. So that’s what these things must be!

Let’s get all this written down, that this is how things are. This good and perfect God finds us offensive and that’s why life is so shit. Except, except… surely God’s a reasonable bloke at heart and can be appeased? We could wheedle our way back into his good books and then life wouldn’t be quite so bad. Not sure how, though. Maybe sending him presents would do the trick, though how to get them to him when we can’t see him or anything…

I know! Let’s eviscerate some animals and then burn them and that way, he’ll be able to smell our efforts up where he lives, in the sky. That’s bound to work. And to be doubly sure, let’s mutilate our genitals and keep our women subjugated – because he can’t fail to like that.

Or maybe not. Maybe life will still be shit and we’ll still be shit. Maybe we need something more… imaginative. So let’s pretend that this God of ours puts together a rescue package. And what this means is he zaps us with some magic that obliterates the bits of us he can’t stand, which is pretty much all of it. And – here’s the good bit – we get to keep some of the eviscerating and sacrifice stuff.

Let’s get that written down too. And, and… maybe we can have it that this God is really going to rescue us and make everything not shit any more. He’s going to shake things up down here… no, no, wait – better than that, we’re going to go and live with him in the sky once we die, which gets rid of how shit death really is, and we’ll all live happily ever after, those of us he’s zapped anyway. Everyone else he can torture and burn forever! Yes that’s it! That’s how it’s got to be. God can still be good and perfect, even though he murders just about everyone, and some of us will get to be good and perfect too, and all the crap will just disappear, as if by magic.

That’s it. That’s how it really is. I can see it all now.

Oops. Gotta go. Time for my medication.

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God sends New Savior!

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Well, Stateside Christians, you got your man. Donald Trump will be president come January and you’re largely responsible for that. 81% of you voted for him. By my reckoning that’s about 50% of his total vote; he couldn’t have done it without you. Now he’s going to be your nation’s savior. He’s going to make America great again. He’ll return the nation to Christian values and morals. He’ll honour God and bring him back into the public arena, just like you want him to.

Or will he? How do you get God-fearing Savior from a petulant, misogynistic individual who has repeatedly shown himself to be racist, sexist, xenophobic, divisive, adulterous, abusive, ignorant, vitriolic, dishonest and avaricious; a man who denies climate change, is full of his importance (and nothing else), who makes promises he can’t keep and probably had no intention of keeping even as he made them. A man who couldn’t name a single verse in his ‘favourite book’, the Bible; who admits he’s never asked God for forgiveness and who has shown no sign of any kind of Christian humility, compassion or morality; a man who is even now appointing the most reactionary, right-wing extremists to his transitional team (so much for draining the swamp!) How can this man be the one who is going to restore America to a glorious Christian past it never really had, and make it a truly God-fearing nation once again?

Someone with these ‘qualities’ cannot possibly turn America into the promised land, even though you’ve convinced yourselves he’s another King Cyrus, the heathen king in the Old Testament who helped God’s people in their time of need. Trump is no Cyrus, even if he is the 45th president and Cyrus’s story is told in Isaiah 45 (yes, some of you think this is significant). You have been duped, again, American believers. But it is not Trump who has deluded you; it is you yourselves. You have persuaded yourselves that despite all of the evidence, Trump is man who can be greatly used by God.

There was no divine guidance behind Trump’s campaign and God won’t be manipulating him into doing his bidding once he takes office. This is because, primarily, there is no God to do any these things, but even if there were, why would he? Why would he ensure a man whose values are the direct antithesis of all (you say) he stands for, became the leader of the free world? Why would he be interested in making a silk purse out of the sow’s ear that is Donald Trump? Wouldn’t your God of Reason start with someone who is already one of his own? Someone who is genuinely a Christian; someone, say, who has tacky pictures of himself and Jesus hanging in his house? Or an evangelical – let’s call him Mike Pence – who comes pre-packaged with genuine, and genuinely viscious, Christian faith and a necessary anti-abortion, anti-gay agenda?

It’s you and you alone, Christians, who have turned Trump into a Savior. It is you who have created the silk purse. You’ve ignored what has been in front of you throughout the presidential campaign and have projected on to an individual who has done nothing but tell you what you wanted to hear, a spiritual significance he does not have. You have made of Trump an artificial Man of God, just like your predecessors did two thousand years ago with that other imposter, Yeshua Bar Joseph. Like them, you’re going to find out that the man you’ve elevated to savior status is anything but, because the Donald Trump you’ve elected is a construct of your collective imaginations. You’re about to discover that the real Donald Trump is not the man you’ve deluded yourselves into thinking he is.

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.