Between Jesus and Paul

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When I joined the group – which I’m not going to call a cult; other people call it a cult, but it’s not. There’s nothing cultish about it – when I joined the group, the leaders told me I had to ignore whatever my family said about it. They instructed us all that the best way to really commit ourselves was to turn our backs on our families. Of course they were right – hadn’t the Teacher himself said so? – families belonged to our old lives. They didn’t understand the Teacher’s message or how important his mission was and how much he loved us. So I turned my back on mine. They weren’t worth a thing next to Him.

Then they said I should give everything away. Sell it all and hand it over to the poorest in the group because possessions only hold us back. Get rid of them, they told us the Teacher had said, and don’t even hang onto the money you got for your stuff. Give that away too. Because, you see, nothing material matters. We’re in the last days. God is going to use the Teacher to do amazing things, to change the world so that those of us at the bottom of the pile rise up to the top, and those on top now – the rich, the powerful and the cruel – well, they’re going to get their comeuppance. Nothing else matters. How could it, really? God’s New Kingdom is going to arrive any day now.

So I spend all my time going out into the streets, proclaiming this great news to the lost. Most of them don’t want to know, of course. They say there have been a thousand would-be messiahs who’ve declared that the world is about to end soon and it never does, and things go on just the same.

This time, though, it’s different. The Teacher is different. He said, the leaders who knew him say, that we should act as if the Kingdom has already arrived. So we try not to judge the foolish ignoramuses who ignore his words of warning, and we make ourselves servants, always doing more than people demand of us, turning away meekly when they spit at us or strike us in the face. We give to anyone who asks – not that I have much to give these days (only what the group graciously provides for me) – and we visit the sick and those in prison. We feed the hungry and give our clothes to the poor, specially our impoverished brothers and sisters in the Lord. Truth to tell, I’m one of those myself now – one of the poor – but I have untold riches stored up in Heaven.

So I have no regrets. I’m doing what the Teacher commanded. I follow his blessed instructions, which his followers passed on to our revered leaders. And it won’t be forever, will it. Just a short while now and we will have our reward. The Teacher will return and he will usher in God’s magnificent Kingdom on Earth and there’ll be no more crying and no more serving; the Lord will lift us up to great heights and we will inherit the Earth.

Didn’t the Teacher say so?

Wouldn’t this be what it was like for some of those early followers of Yeshua Bar Yosef? Those who came immediately after the disciples, but who heard ‘the good news’ only second or third hand? Followers of the Way, known in some circles as ‘The Poor’, whom Paul persecuted? Believers who were around in those few years prior to Paul getting his hands (and unhinged mind) on the message and altering it beyond all recognition? Those ‘Christians’ (the name wouldn’t have existed back then) must’ve believed something and it couldn’t have been Paul’s mystical salvation plan, which didn’t yet exist. From the evidence that survives in the synoptic gospels and from Paul’s disputes with the disciples, I surmise that, for someone who took Jesus’ message seriously in those very early days, it must have been something like the experiences of the hypothetical follower above. As misguided and futile as all of this was, it is, nevertheless, a far cry from the bloated, self-serving travesty that is Christianity today.

Pearl of Great Price

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Once Born Again™, I became involved with a local church, where my friend Simon took it upon himself to play Cupid, fixing me up with Jane. I was more than a little surprised a girl could be interested in me, but figured, in my flight from myself, that as she was interested, I should make the most of it. Sex wasn’t much of a problem: as good Christians we may’ve played about a little, but we stayed away from what the church liked to call ‘pre-marital intercourse’.

It wasn’t long, though, before Jane wanted to marry – she really wanted to get married. I wasn’t so sure and told her about my escapades with Sam, adding of course that I had since renounced such sin. She said that as long as it never happened again, she had no problem with my past transgressions. I felt pretty sure it wouldn’t happen again. After all, Jesus and his Holy Spirit were taking care of my old nature.

So Jane and I married and over time had three children. While I was very much involved with their upbringing, I would often feel I was ‘letting the Lord down’. When, as happened on holiday once, a group of younger men came round a corner minus their shirts, I found myself instinctually admiring them. What self-crucifying shame I would feel after occasions like these. I would even confess such ‘sins’ to a senior work colleague, a devout and very genuine older lady. I’d spare her the details of how exactly I’d ‘let the Lord down’, of course; I could never have brought myself to say I’d been turned on by naked male torsos. But somewhere deep within me I longed for intimacy and closeness with another man. I knew this was strictly forbidden so buried my desires deeper and deeper, suppressing and subjugating something vital about myself. I was on course, though I didn’t recognise it, to making myself ill. I was convinced that I was doing the right thing – for myself, for my marriage and for God.

My marriage, however, was in trouble. Jane seemed to have lost interest in our children, which hurt me greatly (and didn’t do them a lot of good either.) This and pressures at work, where my boss’ affair with a female colleague was creating some serious problems, made me question whether God really cared. When I needed him most, petitioning him for the wisdom to deal with these problems, the heavens, as the scripture almost says, were as brass. God, it seemed, just wasn’t interested. Perhaps, I started to wonder, he wasn’t even there. Added to this was the internal pressure I was still subjecting myself to; the tension and stress of sublimating my true nature. I was deeply unhappy. While the situation at work was eventually ‘resolved’ (by my finding a better job) I had become chronically depressed and remained so for several years.

Ultimately, once I had reached my fifties and the children were grown, Jane and I separated. I knew I couldn’t go on suffocating my feelings; the mind is not designed to be a pressure cooker – something has to give. I started to accept, though not yet embrace, my innermost nature. The relief was immediate and tremendous. I felt I had found myself and I didn’t care that society might not particularly like what I had I found. I had to be me, and not the uptight, miserable person I had become by denying my essential self. I squared up to the exciting yet daunting prospect of starting over, and acknowledged that if I were to have a new relationship it would be with another man. And so it was.

Over time I came to like myself – imagine that! All I’d felt for most of my life, since the time at the YMCA, was self-hatred. That was what Christianity, what Jesus, had done for me. Arguably, it had also ensured, by keeping me firmly in the closet, that I hadn’t died prematurely during the AIDs crisis of the 1980s. Perhaps though I’m giving it too much credit.

I’m ‘out’ now, in every sense: to my wonderfully supportive children, to you who read this blog (obviously) and to friends. Match-maker Simon, he who suggested going to the YMCA all those years ago, cut me off about a decade ago. As a born-again Christian, he regarded homosexuality as beyond the pale. His ‘principles’ meant more to him than our long-standing friendship. I still miss him, very much.

I don’t miss God. He has gone entirely and I’ve long recognise that he was never there to begin with. Instead, I have a sense of authenticity and my energy goes into living, not denial. I’ve become involved with the local LGBT Centre and I’m seeing a very nice man who I’m going to call Thomas, to spare his blushes. I’m very happy and feel, at long last, I really know what life’s about.

If you can stand it, I’ll tell you more next time.

An open letter to loving Christians everywhere

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An open letter to loving Christians* who, in my lifetime, have told me that –

I’m perverted, diseased, sick, sickening, immoral, deviant, degraded, dissolute, toxic, satanic, dangerous, unhinged, unnecessary, intolerant, hateful, harmful, worthless and weird;

I want to destroy Christianity, society, the family, marriage and lives;

I’m indistinguishable from a paedophile or someone who practises bestiality, a sinner, an animal, a ‘sodomite’, a predator, an abomination and a ‘fag’ deserving only of death;

 I’m in rebellion against God and need to be cured;

I’m responsible for hurricanes, tsunamis and other extreme weather conditions and am capable of bringing God’s wrath and judgement to the Earth;

I’m conclusive proof that these are the Last Days.

 

I’m none of these things.

 

 

 

 

* Pat Robertson, Steven Anderson, Franklin Graham, Linda Harvey, Tony Perkins, Stephen Green, Scott Lively, Albert Mohler, John Piper, Ken Ham, Westboro Baptist church, Focus on the Family… aah, f**k it, you know who they are.

Heaven’s Above

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I was struggling for inspiration this week with the homework assignment from my writing group. The title was ‘Heaven’s Above’ (or maybe ‘Heavens Above’, without the apostrophe) and possibly I was having difficulty with it because I don’t believe in a Heaven above, on account of there not being one.

The other night, in a local bar, this young guy came over to talk to my friends and me. He was a doctor from a nearby practice, and he started by asking how, when the time comes, we’d like to die. While perhaps not be the best way to start a consultation, his question provoked some interesting responses.

Then, having somehow detected that my friends and I had reached a certain level of maturity (we’re in our 60s), the young doctor asked what we felt was the point of life. He had, he said, a real need to know this, because having achieved all he wanted at 28, he was left wondering if there was any purpose beyond 30. I like to think we all gave him good answers. There’s life in these old dogs yet! For me, it was falling in love (yes, it happens to old people too) together with friends, lovers and other relationships, particularly those with my grown-up children and beautiful grandchildren. There’s also – though I didn’t bore him with the details – achieving authenticity, accepting yourself and living true to that self. Then there’s all the other things that make life worthwhile; being open to change, having new experiences, learning, helping others, reading, writing, conversation, music, walking… You will, I’m sure, have your own list.

I know that Sartre claimed that ‘Hell is other people’ and Lee Marvin thought much the same thing when he rumbled in Wand’rin’ Star that ‘Hell is in hello’, but Heaven is in these same things; in friendship and our other relationships. There may be some who think it’s easy for me to say all this. ‘After all,’ they say, without knowing me, ‘you have a good life. It’s pretty easy to feel positive about something that’s already going well,’ which is true. Except my life has had its share of traumas, problems and pains, and still does. But life is good and worthwhile in spite of these, and it’s purposeful too without recourse to God or Jesus. Who needs these two old frauds? We make our own Heaven here, now, in our own lives.

Am I saying count your blessings? Yes, I suppose I am, but not, I hope, in a glib way. There are so many good things in most of our lives; all we have to do is make them our own. ‘Lay hold on life,’ as the old hymn says, ‘and it shall be, thy joy and crown eternally.’ Maybe not eternally, but certainly beyond the age of 30.

Gilead – just a stone’s throw away

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Ken Ham’s Answers In Genesis thinks it’s okay to stone people. Specifically, your wayward kids. The bible says so and AiG’s Elizabeth Mitchell is eager to defend whatever the bible says, on account of it being ‘God’s Word’. She does warn us that we need to read Deuteronomy 21:18–21, where you’ll find this particular bit of parenting advice, in context, because although the bible is the fallible, eternal, literal word of the Creator of the Universe it needs interpreting, and has to be understood in terms of the time it was written.

The context is of course that Deuteronomy and all of the Old Testament was written by primitive, superstitious bronze-age tribesmen who had the same mentality the Taliban and Isis have today. But this isn’t good enough for ‘Doctor’ Mitchell. No, her context is altogether different; she tells us in an article recently posted on the Answers In Genesis Facebook page that Deuteronomy 21 isn’t talking about children. No, it’s referring to uppity teenagers, which makes it okay. And not just teenagers, but really, really troublesome ones, which makes it doubly okay. These really, really troublesome teenagers are the scourge of society and can be stoned with impunity. The bible says so.

And yet, they’re not. Christians don’t stone awkward family members, thankfully. Perhaps, despite articles like Mitchell’s and others’, Christians don’t really believe the brutality promoted in and by the bible. Mitchell offers no explanation for this inconsistency of belief. Instead, her article peters out with some incoherent rambling about Jesus; the same Jesus who declared his undying support for these brutal, Old Testament laws (Matthew 5.17-19).

I suggested in the comments on Facebook that it doesn’t matter how much one takes context into account, the command of Deuteronomy, that rebellious youths be stoned to death, is utterly indefensible. It is cruel, barbaric and belongs in the past when, presumably, unfortunate young people were actually killed in this way by their families and tribal elders. I suggested morals and standards have evolved for the better since the days when people considered that murder was the best way to deal with youthful bad behaviour.

And for that I was metaphorically stoned myself. How dare you challenge God and his Word! How ridiculous to suggest we have better moral standards today when clearly we are in an immoral abyss worse than any before! Last Days! God’s standards are inviolate and if he says the best way to deal with miscreants is to stone them to death then it is!

The Gilead regime envisaged by Margaret Atwood in The Handmaid’s Tale, where Old Testament sanctions are stringently applied in contemporary society, is closer than we think. People like those who hang around on Answers In Genesis’ Facebook pages, like flies around a corpse, would be more than happy to see the death penalty for those who infringe God’s barbaric laws. They’d be only too willing to throw the first stone, not only at difficult teenagers, but at all the others ‘God’s Word’ says merit the death penalty: couples who have sex when the woman is on her period (Leviticus 18.19); women who are not virgins on their wedding nights (Deuteronomy 22.13-14; 20-21); gay people (Leviticus 20.13); those who work on the Sabbath (Exodus 35.2; Numbers 15.32-36); blasphemers (Leviticus 24.16) and worshippers of other gods (Deuteronomy 13.6-9).

I am not an advocate of censorship but some form of censure is necessary for those who, either in speech or writing, advocate that others be put to death. Calling for the execution of those with whom you disagree or who have different moral codes cannot – must not – be tolerated in a civilised society. Pronouncements like those of Elizabeth Mitchell, her supporters and other religious crackpots who defend the indefensible, should be flagged up as hate speech, carrying a warning that the views expressed are themselves immoral, insupportable and, ultimately, illegal in civilised society. Ideally, their poisonous rhetoric should not be provided with an online platform. This wouldn’t, before anyone suggests otherwise, violate their right to free speech; they would still be free to express their unpalatable views in their churches, Creation Museums and own homes. Excluding them from Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, however, would deprive them of their wider audience – they’re only showing off, after all – and confine their hateful rhetoric to where it can do least harm.

These people are not merely ‘causing offence’ – offence is not the issue. They are inciting violence against others, influencing fellow believers to adopt their repellent views as their own. The standards of bronze-age tribes are not ours today; those who think they are abuse free speech and forfeit their right to be heard publicly.

 

 

Experts in make-believe

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As it is in the secular world, so in the Kingdom of Heaven. Entirely self-appointed experts abound in the religious sphere: priests, pastors, preachers, imams, rabbis. Some have degrees in theology; some have a degree of enlightenment (or so they claim) from personal encounters with the supernatural; some have learnt at the feet of the experts who have gone before them.

But what are religious experts expert in? Unlike our politicians who have at least a degree in a legitimate subject (even if not the one they now profess to know all about) the only thing religious experts are knowledgeable about is a collection of fantasy stories. That’s the Bible, of course, for Christian ‘experts’, with its supernatural beings, monsters, giants, magical incantations, transformations and resurrections.

If these experts were to encounter the same sort of fantastic notions in any other book, they would readily acknowledge that what they were dealing with was myth and legend. Not so their own ‘holy’ text! Oh no. This, of all the books of magic that exist, is, they say, the real deal because in amongst the far-fetched stories is some moralising about being extra-nice to fellow Jews and loving your enemies.

All that Christian experts are expert in is myth. That is their specialist subject. They’re not really interested in the injunctions about serving others; the mythical stuff they refuse to acknowledge as myth is much more to their liking: the eternal God-man, living forever, fantasy heaven, fantasy hell. The expertise of priests, pastors and preachers is in this smorgasbord of twaddle – and even then they frequently get it wrong. Those who offer their ‘spiritual’ experiences as demonstration of its veracity (‘I know it’s true because I commune with the eternal God-man’) add nothing of substance to their claims; all they’ve done is internalise myth, nothing more. Myth it remains. And just how useful is expertise in made-up stories in this day and age?

Like politicians who are skilled in one area but assume expertise in another, Christian experts also think that their knowledge of myth makes them experts about all sorts of other things: psychology, morality, the state of the world, politics, science, history and pre-history – even the future. They know all about these, they like to tell us, because by extrapolating from their book of myths and legends, they have an understanding that surpasses that of the real experts in these areas (we can exclude the future here; no-one in the real world claims to know with any certainty what the future holds. Naturally, Christians like to pretend they do).

You think this isn’t the case?

Because of what they think the Bible says:

Mike Pence, ‘evangelical Catholic’ and vice-President, thinks God will heal America only if ‘his people, who are called by his name, humble themselves and pray’ (quoting 2 Chronicles 7.14). He wants to end state-funded abortion rights into the bargain and disputes climate change;

Franklin Graham, who said prayers at the recent inauguration, insists that God himself engineered Donald Trump’s election;

Pastor Robert Jeffress, who provided a private church service for Trump prior to the inauguration, thinks so too, so that America can have ‘one more chance’.

Jim Bakker, ex-felon, televangelist and guest at the inauguration, claims he was responsible for Trump’s election because he ‘bound’ hell-spawned demons who opposed Trump.

Pastor Rick Wiles, meanwhile, is too busy enjoying being sprayed with the golden showers of God’s Grace that even now are ‘oozing’ from Heaven because of Trump;

Steve Bannon, Trump’s Chief Strategist & Senior Counselor and one of the architects of the immigration ban, is pushing hard for a return to ‘Judeo-Christian traditionalism’ (which hasn’t stopped him from being married and divorced three times);

Betsy DeVos, Trump’s anti-gay Education Secretary, thinks schools should be used to build God’s Kingdom on Earth and wants Creationism taught alongside Evolution;

Ken Ham continues to influence people like Betsy, by teaching that the earth was created 6,000 years ago, Adam and Eve really existed and humans co-existed with dinosaurs;

Jerry Falwell jr, appointed by Trump to reform higher education, sees no contradiction between being a pro-life creationist and an arms advocate;

Religious Rights leaders are urging Trump to reverse the rights granted to LGBT people under President Obama, both in America and worldwide. At the time of writing it looks like he might;

Anne Graham Lotz, Billy Graham’s alabaster daughter, asks what the Bible has to say about the Women’s March in Washington last week and concludes that women who protest are ‘loud, undisciplined and without knowledge’;

Sandy Rios of the religious ‘American Family Association’, agrees, saying feminists are ‘people who live in filth’;

Steven Anderson thinks people in need are ‘lazy bums’, just like the Bible says (2 Thessalonians 3:10) and continues to call for LGBT people to be executed;

A million and one other preachers and pastors think they have your psychology all worked out – you’re nothing but a sinner in need of Jesus’ saving grace.

By any rational standard this is all lunatic stuff. These people know no more than you or I about any of the subjects they spout about. They think they do – and worse still others believe they do – because of what (they think) is in their collection of myths; ‘I know what I’m talking about because it’s in my magic book!’ And who are we to doubt such credentials?

It is all fallacy. Christian experts are experts only in the ephemeral, the unproven, the mythical. Yet they claim to know so much about everything else as a result. They claim they know how you should live your life and what, for you own good, you should be allowed to do and what you should not.

People such as these have now come to power in America.

 

Call yourself a Christian?

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So you think you might be a Christian? Try this handy-dandy checklist to see if you’re a true follower of Jesus or just someone who’s paying lip-service. You’ll need to score big if you’re ever going to get into his exclusive club!

1) Have you relinquished all worldly goods as Jesus tells you to in Matt 19.21 & Luke 12.33?

If not, better get to it. It’s pretty important to him – he mentions it at least a dozen times in the gospels.

2) Have you forsaken your loved ones, taken to hating them even, the better to serve him and his Kingdom?

No? Than what are you thinking of? Not Luke 14. 26 & 33 that’s for sure.

3) Do you constantly go the extra mile, turn the other cheek, give to all who ask, love your enemies and forgive others repeatedly (Matthew 7.12; Luke 6.27 & 29; Matthew 6.14; Matthew 5.38 etc)? In short, are you perfect as he says you should be?

Some work to do here then, to come up to the expected standard?

4) Do you sacrificially serve others – the sick, the imprisoned, the homeless, the hungry, the naked (Matthew 25.34-46)?

Better get round to it as the only way to avoid Jesus’ blacklist.

5) Do you work tirelessly and exclusively to bring about God’s Kingdom on Earth (albeit in the first century) like Jesus commands in Matthew 6.33?

Why not? Get with the programme!

6) Have you stayed single, never marrying, and certainly never getting divorced?

You haven’t? Shame on you, because you can’t into the Kingdom with a spouse and definitely not with one you’ve discarded along the way (Luke 20.34-35).

7) Have you given up judging others?

If not, you can expect to be on the receiving end of a hell of a lot of judgement in return (Matthew 7.1-2).

8) When you throw a party do you invite the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind instead of your friends (Luke 14.12-14)?

I think we know the answer to this one.

9) Are you tireless in denigrating, campaigning against and ranting about same-sex relationships and marriage?

Well, good for you though this has nothing to do with being a follower of Jesus (see 7 above).

10) Do you believe in a magical incantation that is going to preserve the essential ‘you’ in Heaven forever?

Jesus didn’t.

So how did you do? Are you someone Jesus would say, ‘Well done you good and faithful servant’ to (Matthew 25.21), or would he insist he never knew you (Matthew 7.23)? –

0-2: Pathetic, especially if the two in question are 9 & 10.

3-7: You’re neither hot nor cold. Expect to be spewed out of his mouth (Revelation 3.16).

8-10: You’re getting there, but then, you didn’t really answer truthfully, did you? Your yes didn’t mean yes (Matthew 5.37).

Never mind, you can always get back to singing songs, waving your arms about and condemning others because they have a speck in their eye (Luke 6.42). Everybody knows that’s what being a Christian is really all about.