God’s Very Good Creation

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I’m recovering from a viral condition that’s affecting people in these parts. It’s set me thinking about how many diseases and conditions humans are susceptible to. An online search suggests the figure is unquantifiable. There are, for example, over 5,000 viruses known to affect human health, including the 200 that cause various versions of the so-called common cold. Of these 5000, we understand only a few hundred. There are also some 6,000 diseases caused by single-gene defects, and even more by other genetic disorders. In case that’s not enough, there are also hundreds of infectious diseases caused by bacteria, fungi and parasites. While some of these cause only minor discomfort, it remains the case that almost every one of us will die, or has already died, from one or other of these diseases, conditions or illnesses.

How does Christianity account for all of these horrors? Here’s the cerebrally challenged Ken Ham to explain:

We need to start with the fact that God created everything perfect, and this perfect creation was then marred by sin. This is the only way the gospel makes sense. You need the foundation of the history in Genesis in order to fully understand the gospel!

Yup, God made everything perfect and a pair of mythical humans messed it up by ‘sinning’. Everything that’s bad about the world is the result of Adam and Eve’s one-off disobedience. That single act opened the floodgates not only to all of the illnesses to which we and the animal kingdom are prone, but also to natural disasters and the brutality we inflict on one another.

But don’t worry, God has a cunning plan! Ken wants us to teach our children about it:

Teach them about God’s original “very good” creation. Instruct them that mankind’s sin broke God’s creation and brought death and suffering into it. Teach them that we needed someone to pay the penalty for our sin, and that’s why Jesus stepped into history… and now offers the free gift of eternal life to all who will put their faith and trust in him.

You see, as Ken likes to say, only this explanation makes sense of our susceptibility to disease and illness. Only this explanation makes sense of the gospel too; the good news that Jesus sacrificial death will put everything right.

                   Eventually.

                            No rush.

                                   Whenever…

It also demonstrates what a complete and utter bastard the biblical God is, that he condemns his ‘very good’ creation to a disease ridden, disaster stricken existence, simply because he himself made the first humans as fallible as he did.

But no. Neither this explanation nor its concommitant ‘gospel’ makes any sense, whichever perspective you look at them from. The development of innumerable diseases, and the viruses, bacteria, parasites and genetic conditions that cause them, are clear evidence of evolution; of an unsupervised arms-race in which the best-adapted invader or host survives to reproduce/replicate. Having then had the chance to transmit their DNA/chemical data, their purpose is served. They die. They stay dead.

The men who created Genesis 1 & 2 did not know about evolution, microbes or viruses. They did, however, see the deficiencies of the world in which they lived, the struggle for existence, illness and death, and found these impossible to square with the benign creator God they imagined existed. And so were formed the Genesis myths of a perfect creation spoilt by the only agent whom these men believed capable of causing such havoc; they themselves. There is no denying their accounts have been remarkably influential, and also completely wrong.

No gospel is needed to put right a fallen creation. It isn’t fallen, it is what we should expect if life evolved; if each species, organism and virus that exists today has spent millions of years constantly adapting in order to survive. Jesus’ supposed sacrifice has no bearing on any of this; it is superfluous, unnecessary and entirely irrelevant. The salvation myth is a virus in its own right, existing, like the meme it is, merely to perpetuate itself.

Jesus can’t save you from the common cold, let alone death.

You too can be free

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One of the most liberating aspects of jettisoning Christianity was the realisation that nothing I did had cosmic significance. Nothing anybody does has cosmic significance. Yet to hear the cult’s leaders and spokesman talk, now as then, everything matters.

First and foremost, what you believe determines whether you lived forever in Heaven or not. Can you credit that: what you believe. So better get that doctrine sorted out! Right thought makes all the difference. You only have to read a few Christian blogs to realise how important this still is. Believe something only minimally unorthodox and your eternal life is in jeopardy. Not only that, but what you think in the privacy of your own head about issues like abortion, homosexuality, politics and society is subject to the Lord’s scrutiny. Better get it right – ‘Right’ being the operative term. It means recognising that Trump is God’s Chosen One because the Almighty is really only interested in the USA. He has much less time for other nations, except maybe Israel, so better get your thinking straight on that score, buddy.

God is, or so his self-appointed mouthpieces like to tell you, obsessively interested in how you, as an individual, spend your time, the language you used and whether you’re a faithful steward of the money he supplies (that’s the money you work hard for yourself). He lays it on your heart about how you should spend your time, the only valuable way being in the service of his Kingdom-that-never-comes. You’re made to feel that if your marriage isn’t close to perfection then you’re not really working at it (though god knows the biblical view of marriage is nothing like the one promoted by today’s Christian leaders). You’re made to feel you must share the gospel with everyone else you have relationships with: children, friends, colleagues, acquaintances, complete strangers. Don’t they too deserve to have a chance at eternal life? You don’t want them denied it because you failed to speak up, do you? Well, do you?

And then there’s the guilt when you can’t do all of this. You’re not sure you believe all the right stuff. You think you do but then you’re told about some point of doctrine you hadn’t considered and it is, apparently, really essential you do. So you consult the Holy Spirit who you think lives in your heart and you wonder why he hasn’t spoken up before now. Maybe you have liberal views about abortion. And really, you can’t find it in yourself to condemn all those ‘sodomites’ you’re told about; what difference does it make if you do or don’t? And your marriage is less then perfect. In fact, it’s a little bit messy, like human relationships tend to be, and sometimes you want just to relax, maybe laze a little bit. Not everything you do has to contribute to the Kingdom, after all.

But the guilt won’t let you. What kind of Christian are you, anyway? And as for witnessing at every opportunity, you wonder why you feel like a dog that’s compelled to pee at every lamp-post. Can’t friends just be friends? Can’t you just appreciate others for who they are, not as sinners who need saving? Apparently not.

What a wonderful release it is then, when you finally realise that none of this crap matters. Nothing you do, say or think makes the slightest bit of difference to whether you or others live forever (Spoiler: you won’t, they won’t.) How you act may help others feel a bit better about themselves or provide you with a sense of fulfilment but that’s the extent of it. Outside your immediate context, you’re insignificant, and there’s great significance to that. The pressure is off; God is not watching you to see whether you’re a good and faithful servant. Your time, money and thoughts are yours and yours alone. It’s entirely up to you how you use them, free from the tyranny of religion.

 

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

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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 his apotheosis. 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 cleverly 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 sycophancy. 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 scientific 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