The disciples would not have died for a lie (part one)

SonOfMan

The disciples would not have died for a lie, or so Christians like to argue.

Would they not?

Fanatics today do and it is more than likely the disciples believed their lie was true, if indeed they died for it at all. There’s not much evidence that they did. But if they did, maybe the lie they believed to be true was not the one today’s Christians think it was.

There is no evidence anywhere that Jesus’ original followers were martyred because of their faith in a physically resurrected Jesus – for their beliefs, maybe, but not necessarily because they believed Jesus had returned in bodily form from the dead. On the contrary, the evidence suggests that they holed up in Jerusalem to await his return through the clouds as the Son of Man, with a phalanx of hostile angels by his side (Heaven was, after all, just on the other side of those clouds). This was the crux of their beliefs.

How do we know?

There was significant tension between the disciples and Paul, which Paul himself relates, not only because he was convinced his message should be taken to the Gentiles but because of the very nature of that message. Paul and the disciples meant different things by ‘the gospel’. Paul’s irritation that others were preaching a different gospel is apparent in 2 Corinthians 11 & 12 where he calls the original disciples, ‘false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ’ and bitterly refers to them as ‘the most eminent apostles’. He is arrogant enough to suppose, and to proclaim, that he has it right and they are wrong.

Paul’s good news was about the resurrected Christ of his visions, who magically made those who put their faith in him righteous in God’s eyes. As he puts it in 2 Corinthians 5:21, ‘God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.’ Paul also believed this supernatural being would soon descend from the skies when he would give believers new bodies (Philippians 3.20) but this is a very different figure, and agenda, from the Jesus known to the disciples.

What then of Paul’s insistence, in 1 Corinthians 15.5 (written circa 55CE), that ‘the Twelve’ experienced the Risen Christ in much the same way he did? Firstly, of course, we have only Paul’s word for this. We have no first-hand corroboration (just the opposite in fact) and Paul had a vested interest in showing how significant his own experiences were. What better way to do so than by claiming Jesus’ original followers had had the same sort of hallucinations? Secondly, we don’t know what these ‘visions’, if they had them, meant to the disciples. Their belief would undoubtedly have been in a physical, bodily resurrection (cf: Daniel 2.12; Matthew 27.52), not in the beam-of-light manifestation of hallucination; this was much more Paul’s thing. Perhaps this is why any words uttered by vision-Jesus (for surely he would have spoken to his old chums) were not considered significant enough to be included in the earliest written record, ‘Q’.

The fully-realised resurrection appearances found in the gospels, then, in which Jesus declaims ‘blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed’ and ‘go and make disciples of all nations,’ are very clearly later developments, based, not on Q but on the visions suffered by Paul and others of influence and ‘written back’ into the gospel accounts.

Despite claiming that the Twelve experienced the Risen Christ in much the same way he did, Paul is critical of the disciples for preaching a different gospel, a different Jesus even, from the magical salvation-formula gospel he expounds. So what did the disciples believe – what was this other gospel that Paul disparaged so much?

We’ll see next time.

 

 

How not to love your neighbour

preachersImagine: a group of health-fascists set themselves up on a soap box in the city centre from where they lambaste everyone going past, with language that is abusive and demeaning, about the poor state of their health, their out-of-condition bodies and that many of them are  significantly over-weight. But, the speakers insist, a bottle of a magic potion they just happen to be selling will solve all their health problems overnight! All anyone has to do is commit to swallowing some every day for the rest of their lives.

Unsurprisingly, people are upset about this; they’ve come to town for all sorts of reasons, but not to be lectured about their health and size, which, for most of them are both perfectly fine. Some of these folk challenge the snake-oil salesmen, shouting back at them (not having the benefit of a tannoy system) and demanding to know what gives them the right to harass passers-by. In response, one of the salesmen pulls out a copy of last Tuesday’s Daily Mail; ‘it’s all in here,’ he declares, ‘all in black and white, and we believe it. The Daily Mail wouldn’t lie to us. Its Word is Truth. So get your magic potion now before it’s too late, ya depraved, ignorant slobs!’

Acceptable or not?

While you think about – if you even need to – the picture above was intended to accompany the previous post. It shows street preachers Michael Overd, Michael Stockwell and Adrian Clark before their trial for ‘public order offences’, which started last week and concluded on Tuesday this week. I felt it couldn’t be used while the trial was ongoing (contempt of court and all that) and so had it replaced with one of rabid American nutcase Franklin Graham.

Two of the three preachers, Overd and Stockwell, were found guilty and fined. Naturally, there’s an outcry from Christians and assorted fruitcakes everywhere about how the two have been denied their freedom of speech (though there is no protection of free speech under UK law) and how – oh calamity! – it’s no longer possible to ‘preach the gospel’ in the Britain. Absolute nonsense, of course, and while some more liberal commentators feel the case should never have reached the courts (let the nutjobs condemn themselves by spouting in the streets, suggests one) an example has been made of people who think the way to show love for your neighbour is setting out, in the judge’s words, to ‘insult, humiliate, demean (and) belittle’ them in public using a loud speaker in a shopping centre.

As Andrew Calibre pointed out in the previous post, haranguing and provoking people like this has nothing to do with love, nor is it ‘the gospel’. Shouting, as Overd did, about how your neighbour is ‘depraved and ignorant’ and how those who have sex outside marriage and gay people (of course) are ‘filthy, depraved and perverted’ is not, by any stretch of the imagination, ‘the good news’.

Perhaps the confusion is understandable when the Bible and God’s people™ are so muddled themselves about what ‘the good news’ actually is; God’s Kingdom arriving on Earth, as Jesus seems to have thought? Paul’s magical salvation formula? Or maybe it’s that there’s a free pass to heaven? One thing’s for sure, verbally abusing your neighbours and other strangers it isn’t. Even if street preachers justify their arrogance and rudeness by claiming they’re only conveying what (they think) the Bible says – so what? Their tawdry little book has no more authority than any other collection of ancient (or modern) fantasy, prejudice and supposition.

So, no, it’s not acceptable that hypothetical, self-appointed health experts verbally abuse strangers in the street. And as the court ruled this week, nor is it when religious zealots do the same. Passers-by and by-standers have every right to feel irritated, annoyed and offended, just as Christians would be if a group of Muslims propounded their beliefs with the same aggression, informing all and sundry how wicked they are and how they are destined to spend eternity in whatever hell Islam envisages. Nor would ‘we’re only preaching what the Qu’ran teaches’ be any justification.

But the issue isn’t only the irritation that people feel when religious extremists abuse them. It’s the one in a hundred, or whatever the percentage is, who takes them seriously, accepts the confederate’s tract, shows interest and is ultimately sucked into one of the many versions of the mind-numbing Jesus cult. Far worse than selling people magic potions, or insurance they don’t need, there is something obscene about cranks taking to the streets to recruit the gullible and unsuspecting to their (lost) cause. We wouldn’t tolerate it if it were anything other than religion, why should we accept it when it is? The prosecution of presumptuous con-artists does us all a service.

 

 

 

The Gospel of Hatred

nasty

You might have seen the disturbing BBC documentary America’s Hate Preachers this week, featuring hunky Steven Anderson, pastor of Faithful Word Baptist Church’ in Tempe, Arizona, and chunky street preacher Ruben Israel (above). If not, it’s available here for the next few months (and also, I understand, on YouTube, but of course I couldn’t possibly endorse that.)

Both Men of God™ claim they’re preaching the gospel, which is strange when all they have to offer is bile, hatred and self-aggrandisment. Anderson actually says at the end of the programme that he does what he does – mainly reviling gay people – because he wants to ‘do something big with (his) life.’ Maybe that’s what the gospel is – bile and hatred mixed with self-promotion. There’s nothing of the good news attributed to Jesus or Paul’s ‘love-is-all’ message in the vitriol spewed forth by these two sorry individuals and their various acolytes.

The gospel they preach and the Jesus they convey is spiteful, judgemental and unforgiving. Who knows, maybe that’s what he was. But if you claim to believe in Jesus, all you self-righteous souls, all you grandstanding screwballs, then fine, so long as you do as he tells you: sell all you have and give to the poor; hate your father and mother; remain unmarried; tend to the sick, the needy and the imprisoned; give to anyone who asks; turn the other cheek, go the extra mile and be perfect. Do you do these things? Are you faithful to these words? If not, then you don’t really believe in him either.

People like Anderson and Israel take what little good there is in the Bible and poison it all the more with their own prejudices, their own putrification, their own sour self-hatred. This is the fruit we see in them and in others like them, which would also be fine if they kept it to themselves. But they can’t. They are compelled to try to infect the rest of us with their nasty perversion of a gospel.

 

 

 

Recent Encounters of the Religious Kind

3. Prophecy Fulfilled

DB&JC

Back in January I predicted that David Bowie’s demise would lead to hs apotheoisis. And so it comes to pass.

First there’s this, from the Guardian‘s Suzanne Moore:

The theory that it was in fact, David Bowie’s presence in the universe that was holding everything together is one I find hard to resist, given how awful everything has been of late…

Second is Paul Morley’s new Bowie biography, the cleverely titled The Age of Bowie: How David Bowie Made a World of Difference, with its abundance of publicity including Radio 4’s broadcast ‘book of the week’. It is probably worth a look if you’re at all interested in the Thin White Duke and his various incarnations.

Two aspects of the biography stand out: first, Morley’s admission that he’s had to invent some details of Bowie’s life because either there is a lack of information – about his pre-fame period, for example – or, there are too many contradictory reports of certain events (often from Bowie himself) – or, a biography is so much more interesting when ‘facts’ are reorganised, again as Mr Bowie himself was wont to do when it suited him.

Second, the tone is uncritical to the point of sychophancy. Morley’s evident respect and admiration for Bowie translate into an adulation that elevates the late star to a priestly, semi-divine status. Within the first few pages Bowie is described as someone who manipulates time (xii); has a voice that pierces straight to the heart (p2); possesses the wisdom of the ages (p8); is capable of rearranging others’ minds (p8); can recreate the cosmic order (p8); symbolises the future (p8); dramatically splits reality wide open and penetrates time itself (p9); hunts for kindred spirits ready to surrender to his ways (p11); is obsessed with the deeper truths of existence (p14) and is a kind of teacher (p15) who proclaimed, ‘look how amazing this is. I am never, ever going to die’ (p20). Bowie would surely have been amused by most of these claims.

Written only a matter of months, perhaps weeks, after the singer’s death, in a time when, after his initial success in the 1970s, his every word, note, movement, metamorphosis, transformation, declaration and pronouncement was seized upon, broadcast and preserved for posterity, it is remarkable how much of the biography has to be constructed. Remarkable too how much it reflects Morley’s own experience of Bowie, how he writes about his Bowie, or series of Bowies.

Imagine if he were writing this same biography 40 or more years from now, with no personal or direct experience of the Bowie phenomenon, when no-one who had first-hand experience of it was alive, or if they were, had to rely on shaky memories of events that had happened – or maybe not – in their youth. How much more would the author have had to invent, even if he had access to archive material, about the impact the subject had, the effect of his music, his presence, his vision(s), his theatricality, his changes, his highs, his lows, his philosophy, his influence, the contribution he made to popular music and to art, the difference he made to ordinary individuals’ lives…

Now: imagine there are no reliable archives; no recordings, no film, no contemporaneous newspaper reports. Imagine too the author is not a twenty-first century journalist and musician, but has, like all those around him, including his audience, little or no scientifc understanding of the world. Rather, he has a mind-set dominated by God, angels and devils, and is prone to superstition and the possibility people can and do rise from the dead. How much more readily would the half-forgotten charismatic of this ‘biography’ be elevated to god-like status. How much more miraculous the behaviour attributed to him. How much more a priest and saviour than any modern day icon.

And so the gospels came to be.

Our Operators are Waiting to Hear from You!

ApostlesHi! You’ve reached the Salvation Hotline. Calls may be recorded for training purposes. All offers are validated by our six day guarantee.* Please listen carefully to your options:

Press 1 for Matthew. With one of our less popular offers (but don’t let that put you off!) Matthew is waiting to explain our buy-one-get-one-free offer! Keep the Jewish law and be saved, plus, forgive others and be forgiven yourself!

Press 2 for John who will tell you how you can get your very own get-out-of-Hell just by believing! Eternal life awaits!

Press 3 for Luke. Luke wants to let you know you how you can be saved simply by asking for forgiveness. Note: this offer cannot be used in conjunction with any other.

Press 4 for Luke’s bargain Family Ticket! Only one family member need sign up and the rest go free!

Press 5 for Paul and to hear about a unique special offer! ‘God’s grace’ can save you without you making any real effort on your part! Not to be missed.

Press 6 for Paul’s great alternative offer: get saved for free! No need to do anything! (Offer good for Jews only. Terms and conditions apply.)

Press 7 for a special operator who passes himself off as Paul but isn’t. And he has a great offer for our female callers! He’ll tell you about how, just by having babies, you can be saved! It really doesn’t get any better than this, ladies! Get saved just by doing what comes naturally!

Press 8 for a very special guy of ours who wants to stay anonymous! But he will show you how you can escape death by buying into Jesus’ cosmic defeat of evil!

Press 9 for James who will tell you how you need to do good if you want to be saved. So, okay, Paul doesn’t think so, but we want to make sure you hear all our offers!

Please note: these offers are mutually incompatible so you might just want to hang up now and forget all about them.

*Our guarantee isn’t worth the paper it’s written on but for legal reasons, here it is anyway:
Press 1: Matthew 5.17-19 & 6.14.
Press 2: John 5.24.
Press 3: Acts 2.36-38.
Press 4: Acts 16.30-31.
Press 5: Romans 10.5; Ephesians 2.8.
Press 6: Romans 11.26-27.
Press 7: 1 Timothy 2.15.
Press 8: Hebrews 2.14-15.
Press 9: James 2.14-17, 24

The Seventeen Commandments

mosesQuick – can you name the sixth of the ten commandments? That was the question in a quiz I went to last night. We got it wrong, but I have to to tell you, so did the quiz-master. If you Google ‘the Ten Commandments’ – which I can assure you we didn’t during the quiz – what you get is the list of injunctions from Exodus 20. You know the ones: thou shalt not kill, steal, commit adultery or covet thy neighbour’s ass. Read them all here if you feel inclined.

When, in a fit of pique, Moses destroyed the stone slabs on which these ‘commandments’ were written, God generously offered to provide him with a replacement set. The Almighty even made a point of saying, in Exodus 34.1, that the two sets would be identical. But they’re not. Here’s the lot from Exodus 34:

1. You shall worship no other god, because the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.
2. Do not make any molten gods (idols).
3. Keep the Feast of Unleavened Bread.
4. The first born of every creature shall belong to me.
5. Work for six days and rest on the seventh.
6. Observe the Feast of Weeks.
7. Present all your male children to the Lord God three times a year.
8. Do not offer the blood of sacrifices to God with leaven and don’t leave the sacrifice of the Feast of the Passover until the morning.
9. Give the first of the first-fruits of the land to the house of the Lord thy God.
10. Do not boil a kid in his mother’s milk.

Far from being identical, only three commandments are the same in the two sets; missing from the Exodus 34 group are those about adultery, theft and killing, replaced with stipulations about ancient Jewish festivals and boiling baby goats (of great eternal significance, that one.) Just to complicate matters, this second lot is the only one referred to in the Bible as ‘The Ten Commandments’ (Exodus 34.28). The more familiar injunctions from Exodus 20 – the ones Google brings up – are not.

What is going on here? It’s as if ‘The Ten Commandments’ are not as immutable as Christians claim. What are they to do? Should they pick and mix between the two sets? Should they reject one and use only the other? Obey both lots – The Seventeen Commandments? It’s far from clear and yet, according to Jesus, their eternal existence depends on getting it right (Matthew 19:17).

All of which makes me think how a single seamless garment has been created out of a ragbag of scraps and patches. The church and believers in general have told us that the shambolic writings stitched together as the Bible tell a consistent story. This deceit is a major accomplishment of the Christian faith because the seamless garment is an illusion, created by pretending there are no discrepancies or inconsistencies and by glossing over all the significant differences within God’s Word™.

This is why we never hear of the second set of commandments – they’re put away like a mad woman in the attic. The church doesn’t want people seeing them or hearing about them. Best to shut them away and make out they don’t exist. Same with the second account of creation in Genesis 2. It’s different from that in Genesis 1, though both are embarrassingly wrong about the means and order of creation. When Christians do acknowledge that there are two accounts (as Ken Ham does) they insist, that, of course, there are no real differences and they can all be explained (away). If there are no differences, why then do they need explaining?

Then there are the disparate accounts of Jesus’ life. Even where they share the same material each gospel presents it differently or gives it a spin that frequently contradicts the other gospels’ versions of the same events. Every one of the stories about the resurrection, for example, is radically different in both detail and significance from all the others.

There are even greater problems for Christians in explaining how Jesus’ supposed sacrifice on the cross brings about salvation. The writers of the New Testament aren’t clear themselves, suggesting at least a dozen largely incompatible ways between them. The four gospels alone have conflicting ideas about how it works (more on this next time), all of which differ from Paul’s salvation formula.

I suppose if Christians want to deceive themselves about their faith and their magic book, it’s up to them. But, please, righteous ones, don’t try and tell the rest of us it has a clear consistent message when it doesn’t. Don’t tell us it’s a seamless garment when it has tangles of loose threads and you’ve had to throw away all the material that doesn’t fit the pattern you pretend you can see.

 

Oh, and that sixth commandment? ‘Observe the Feast of Weeks’. But of course you knew that.

What Christians Believe: Part One

A very special guest post by Thea Lojan.

PilateThe Creed

I’m very pleased to have this opportunity to share my testimony with you and give you an idea of what I and millions of other Christians believe. We call this the Apostles’ Creed and it goes like this:

I believe in one God. Actually no… three. Three Gods. One really, but he’s like three, a buy-one-get-two-free kind of God. Yes, okay, he says he’s the one and only God back in the Old Testament, but that’s before he knew he was really three. This doesn’t make him/them anything like those collections of ancient Greek Gods, though, because he’s still only one God really. That’s what’s called the Trinity and I hope I’ve made it clear for you .

Anyway, I believe in one God and in two others besides, creator, or creators, of Heaven and Earth. Yes, he/they definitely did this even though scientists think the universe was created billions of years before the Bible says it was and that God probably wasn’t even involved. But these scientists are all anti-Christian, that’s why they say that. If you have faith you know that of course God was involved. Other people who are also anti-Christian just out of spite say that if God made the Earth and all that is in it therein, then he must’ve made parasites and poisonous bugs and harmful bacteria and disease. But I’ve an answer to all that. Just don’t think about it.

And I believe in Jesus Christ, his only son, our Lord. Yes definitely this, even though Jesus says he’s not really anything like God’s son in three of the eye-witness accounts of his life in God’s Word. I expect he was just a bit muddled when he said this, being away from home and down here instead of up in Heaven with his Heavenly Father. He probably meant to say he was God’s son because it’d be too weird if he really was God’s Son and didn’t know it. We should be grateful to those people who came after him who realised exactly who he was.

And then there’s that bit somewhere about him being ‘begotten not made, of one substance with the father’, or something, which I think means he was more than God’s son. That he was, like, God himself. You’d think he’d remember that, wouldn’t you, when he was down here on Earth. What confuses me though is, if he was God, then who was he praying to all those times? I can’t get my head round that. But anyway, it’s a good job there were even more people who came after him who knew better than him and could tell he really was God.

He was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary. Well, you’ve got to believe this haven’t you, even though some people say ‘virgin’ should really just say ‘young woman’. A young woman might or might not be a virgin, especially if she wasn’t a Christian to begin with. It does make me wonder that if she was pregnant then it’s more than likely Mary wasn’t a virgin, ’cause we all know how babies get made. Still, if God’s Word says it was the ‘Holy Spirit’ that was the father then that’s what we should believe. If you want to know more about the Holy Spirit that can make people pregnant, well, we’ll get to it soon.

He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was dead and was buried. He descended into hell and on the third day he rose again. I think a bit got missed out here – all the stuff Jesus said and did in between being born and suffering under Pontius Pilate. Isn’t that important? You bet it is. Pontius Pilate, by the way, was a Roman perculator who worked for Julius Caesar. I can’t find anything about Jesus ‘descending into hell’ in my Bible but I suppose it must be right. I definitely believe though that after three days and nights in the tomb he rose again from the dead. I mean, that’s a really important bit. I know he wasn’t in the tomb for a full three days and nights, even though he said he would be, but a day and a half is close enough. I guess that’s why we say ‘on the third day’ instead; it sounds like three days when it was only a day and half. But, you know, Friday night till Sunday morning – it’s legit to say ‘on the third day’.

And we know he rose from the dead because Saint Paul said so – he saw him himself, in person. Well, not exactly in person but in his head. He was like an amazing flash of light in Paul’s head, a bit like an epileptic event, except, you know, like really real. And then other people started seeing him but not in their heads, as a real person, but one who could walk through walls and disappear if he felt like it. Totally real. Amazing.

I’ll be back next time to tell you what else Christians believe. In the meantime, keep praising the Lord!

 

 

Thea was talking about the Apostles’ Creed, though she also mentions the Nicene Creed. The Apostles’ Creed was created prior to 390CE and the Nicene Creed in 325, both quite a bit after Jesus’ lifetime. Three hundred years after, in fact.

Oh, and Pontius Pilate was a Roman procurator or prefect during the reign of the Emperor Tiberius.