Unbelievable: Why, despite everything, Christianity makes absolutely no sense whatsoever.

Spufford2

There’s no real reason to believe in God.

 
Who says so? Francis Spufford in his book Unapologetic: Why, Despite Everything, Christianity Can Still Make Surprising Emotional Sense. Francis does believe though, because sometimes when he’s alone – specially after a tiff with his wife or while sitting quietly in church – he gets a funny feeling. And this feeling is so funny, as in weird, that it can only be God. Or so Frank says, slipping in as many four letter words as he can, just to show he’s not a namby-pamby sort of believer. (He’s especially proud of his new term for ‘sin’: ‘the Human Propensity to Fuck things Up’, or HPtFtU for short.)

 
What’s more, even though there are a hundred and one reasons to think there isn’t a God, at least not one who cares about us (think pain, suffering, death, evolution and his complete lack of interest in his creation, all of which Frank’s acknowledges) he nevertheless wants to say that he does believe because, you know… feelings.

 
That’s not all. This God Frank’s decided to believe in as result of feeling funny, is the Christian God. He could’ve turned out to be Allah or Zeus or Ra, but he isn’t, because Frank feels he’s the Christian God, for no other reason than he wants him to be. Then, in a final leap of faith, he decides that Yeshua, as he insists on calling Jesus, is the walking embodiment of this God, and he rewrites the gospel story so that it fits with the funny feeling that kick-started his delusion in the first place.

 
And so we have it from the horse’s mouth; a Christian who’s proud to admit there’s nothing remotely rational or empirical about believing in God. Faith, he confirms, is no more than some very human, very peculiar feelings that lead you merrily down whichever garden path you choose to take.

Christians’ Favourite Delusions 17: You get saved by being washed in the blood of the lamb (Romans 5.9 etc)

Sermon

Not according to Jesus you don’t. And you’d think he being the Son of God – not to mention ‘the lamb’ in question – he’d be in a position to know. So how does Jesus say you find salvation? No magic formula for him; no quick-fix like the one Paul invents after Jesus’ death.

So how does Jesus reckon you get right with God? For once, he couldn’t be clearer:

If you want to receive God’s forgiveness, first you have to give it:

For if you forgive men their trespasses your heavenly Father also will forgive you; but if you do not forgive neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. (Matthew 6.14)

If you want to avoid God’s judgement… then don’t judge others:

Judge not that you be not judged. For with the judgement you pronounce you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. (Matthew 7.1-2)

If you want God to show you mercy, first show mercy yourself:

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy. (Matthew 5.7)

If you want to experience God’s riches and blessings, first you have to be generous yourself:

Give and it will be given to you; good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, put into your lap. For the measure you give will be the measure you get back. (Luke 6.38)

If you want God to show you compassion, first be compassionate yourself:

The King will say to those at his right hand… I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me… Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord when did we see the hungry and feed thee or thirsty and give thee drink? And when did we see thee a stranger and welcome thee?… And the King will answer them, Truly I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me’.

Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels, for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me… Truly I say to you, as you did it not to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it not to me’. (Matthew 25.34-46)

That’s right, Jesus sees being saved as a ‘measure for measure’ arrangement and uses that exact term repeatedly in order to get the message across. According to the ‘Son of God’, you get what you give. And, what’s more, his death has nothing to do with it. He starts preaching his ‘gospel’ message long before he’s crucified (Mark 1.14) and it most definitely doesn’t include any mystical piggy-backing on a death that hasn’t happened yet in order to gain God’s favour. Even Matthew, Mark and Luke don’t add it to their stories of Jesus, even though they wrote them after he died and after Paul’s invention of his magic salvation formula.

Jesus’ ‘measure-for measure’ gospel is very different from Paul’s – the two are incompatible in fact, though Christians refuse to see this. Jesus’ gospel is practical and moral: the way to God’s heart, he says, is through treating others, even those who might despise us, with kindness and compassion.

This, though, is too hard for Christians. They find Paul’s spiritualised, self-centred version of salvation much more to their taste.

Multiplicity

MultiJesus

Ever see the film Multiplicity starring Michael Keaton as Doug, a man who clones multiple copies of himself? There’s a perfectionist Doug, a slob Doug, a macho Doug, a gay Doug, a romantic Doug… you get the picture. If you haven’t seen the film, you should. Or you could read the Bible for much the same experience.

It’s the original Mulitiplicity, with Jesus as the Michael Keaton character. There’s a Jewish Messiah Jesus, a demanding zealot Jesus, a Greek god-man Jesus, an intangible spirit Jesus and, just like in the movie, having so many clones about leads only to trouble and hilarious consequences. Well, maybe not so much the hilarious consequences, but certainly trouble.

Christians really have time for only one these Biblical Jesuses, the superhero creation of ‘Saint’ Paul’s who goes by the name – the title, no less – of ‘the Christ.’ This Greek god-man makes few demands of his adherents – he does everything for them – and provides them with a free-pass to Heaven (though Paul neglects to mention this particular super-power – you’ll search in vain for promises of Heaven in Paul’s writing.) Supernatural Christ Jesus always proves a better option than the earthy Jesus of the synoptic gospels because ‘gaining a right standing with God’ is a far easier game to play than serving others.

Synoptic Gospel Jesus preaches the coming of the God’s kingdom on Earth in the first century; tells his followers they should sell all they have to give to the poor; commands them to love their enemies and pray for those who persecute them. He insists they should lend without expectation of any return, cut off body parts that offend them and attend to the log in their own eye rather the speck in their neighbours’. No wonder Christians have no time for Gospel Jesus! He’s far too demanding, far too radical, like the super-perfectionist Doug in the film. Oh, they’ll protest they really do believe in Gospel Jesus, but if they did, we would see them doing all the things he tells them they should. And we don’t.

The demanding, Gospel Jesus loses out too to Ephemeral Mystic Jesus, the Jesus found in John’s gospel, the one who just can’t stop talking about himself. Then there’s Avenging King Jesus of the psychedelic nightmare that is Revelation. He’s the one who’s going to come back to Earth at some point (allegedly) to massacre his enemies.

It’s impossible to tell which of the multiple Jesuses is the ‘real’ one. Maybe it’s none of those in the Bible – move over Christ Jesus, Gospel Jesus, Mystic Jesus, Avenging King Jesus; the only Jesus Christians are really interested in is the one of their own making. The one they say lives in their hearts and who once, apparently, lived in mine. This is the best Jesus of all because he can be whatever you want him to be.

Maybe, in the end though, none of the Jesuses, not even the one Christians imagine lives inside them, is real. They’re all just imaginative interpretations of a long-dead, charismatic zealot whose mission went badly awry. And if the Bible hasn’t got a grip on what its central figure is really all about – Jewish Messiah, Greek Christ, intangible spirit – then what else is it confused and wrong about?