Recent Encounters of the Religious Kind

1. The kindly street preacher

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A bad-tempered looking man is standing next to a sign that announces that ‘Evolution is a Lie’ and ‘Jesus is Lord’. He – the grumpy man, not Jesus – is giving out some sort of glossy card. I do my best to sidestep him but he approaches and gives me one. It is entitled God Commands: 4 Things That God Commands, at least half of which is redundant. I notice that a group of Jehovah’s Witnesses have set up stall next to him (or perhaps he set up next to them).

‘So,’ I ask, ‘who’s right? You or them?’

They,’ he growls, ‘are of the devil.’

What a problem Christianity has. Islam too: so many damn different versions, all of which lay claim to being the one and only Truth. The Center for the Study of Global Christianity reports that there are now 45,000 different churches, denominations, sects and cults within Christianity, every one of them insisting that they – and they alone – represent God’s Truth, only they have got it right. There are as many Christian web-sites out there slagging off other Christians – Apostate! Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing! Doing the devil’s work! False teachers! – as there are sites ‘reaching out’ to the ‘lost’.

What’s more, every one of them knows they alone have the Truth because the Bible itself says so. They quote from it to prove how right they are and how wrong everyone else is. Which just goes to show what a damnable, scurrilous load of tosh the Bible really is. If God is not, as it says in 1 Corinthians 14.33, the author of confusion then he can’t have had anything to do with it.

Of course we know he didn’t; it’s human through and through, every mean-spirited, self-righteous verse of it.

Imagine… no religion

Jimenez2People say, like, you know, “Aren’t you sad that 50 superstitious nut-jobs died?” Here’s the problem with that. It’s like the equivalent of asking me, you know, what if you asked me, “Hey, are you sad that 50 Christians were killed today?” Um, no, I think that’s great! I think that helps society! You know, I think the world is a little safer tonight!…

The tragedy is that more of them didn’t die… because these people are predators! They are abusers! They take advantage of people! And look, as Rationalists, we need to take the stand that it is not our job to sit there and say, “Oh, this is a tragedy” or “Oh, this is something we mourn.” Look, everything tells us these are deluded, wicked people. These are evil people.

… People sometimes will say, “You guys are advocating violence!” We’re not advocating violence! We’re not saying we should go do this! But we’re just saying this: If we lived in a rational nation with a rational government, then the government should be taking them… I wish the government would round them all up, put them up against a firing wall, put a firing squad in front of them, and blow their brains out. If we lived under a truly secular government that loved rationality and loved children, and wanted to protect them, that’s what we’d do.

Hate speech? Certainly. But not mine. The original, which you can find here, is about the Orlando shootings a few weeks ago, and is directed at gay people. I’ve simply replaced gentle ‘Pastor’ Jimenez’s use of ‘sodomite’ and ‘paedophile’, which he disingenuously uses interchangeably, with ‘Christians’ and ‘religious nut-jobs’, and his use of ‘God’ and ‘righteous’ with ‘superstition’ and ‘rational’. Jimenez, emissary of a religion of love (Matthew 5.44 etc), would like to see his government exterminate LGBT people.

But, you know, maybe there’s also a case to be made for eliminating the superstitious and irrational from among us. Those of us who have adopted a rational basis for our lives would be happy to see the end of religion and superstition, the removal from the Earth of the religious and the superstitious (I use the terms interchangeably). After all, what do believers in mumbo-jumbo add to the world that is any way positive? What can those who are unable to engage with reality without the crutch of make-believe possibly have to give? On top of their general uselessness, they’re also dangerous and predatory.

Maybe there is a case to be made. But I’m not making it. Any philosophy, ideology or religion that preaches the extermination of other people is wrong, debased, corrupt (you’d think, wouldn’t you, that we’d have learnt that by now.) If you subscribe to such a view – be it from a Christian, Islamic or Jewish perspective – you are wrong. No-one, whatever magic books may say about them, merits death simply because those magic books say so (ratified, of course, by the dim-witted prejudices of those who subscribe to them). Rationality and a secular perspective, on the other hand, eschew hatred and are philosophically opposed to harming those who might not agree with them. Yes, even the religious.

In this way it is vastly superior to religion – your religion, whatever that happens to be.

Sweet and sour, nasty and nice

or, whatever happened to Luke 18.11-14?

prayer2Why is it when people are emotionally blackmailed into becoming followers of Jesus, does their conversion make them sweet and sour, nasty and nice at the same time? The sweet and nice parts are what their new experience does for them. They get a new start of sorts, are introduced to like-minded friends in the church and become compelled to share their new joy with everyone else, whether they want to hear it or not, about how much they’ve changed because of Jesus. It’s nice for them. Deluded too, but if it makes them happy then why not?

This is why not. What they don’t tell you, not at first anyway, is how sour and nasty they have also become; how they must now defend God’s standards, because, as everyone knows, the omnipotent God of all creation is incapable of defending them himself. Being born again and morphing into ‘a new creation’ involves, without exception, becoming judgemental of others, condemnatory, inflammatory, bigoted and spiteful.

You think not? Then you haven’t heard what these same Christians think about abortion and women who have them. Homosexuality and those who are gay. Transgenderism and those born in the wrong body. Science and those who value evidence. Atheism and those of us who see through believers’ sad delusion.

Christians don’t, as some of them profess, hate the sin but love the sinner. They despise those who have philosophies different from them, those who live differently from them, those who are different from them.

A recent BBC poll asked if the world wouldn’t be more peaceful without religion. Here’s the results as of 14th July 2016:

Poll

I don’t know how many people this represents nor where they’re from – the site doesn’t say – but it would seem that most of us would think we would be better off without religion. It’s long past time we were able to be; religion has nothing to offer. It’s time we stopped giving it special treatment because some of it is sweet and nice. Its sour, nasty aspects are just as much a part of it, inseparable from whatever positives its adherents say it has. I’ll be looking soon at how we might push back against religion’s pervasive and poisonous influence in society.

Effective Preachin’ (Part Two)

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Reverend M. T. Vessal of the Church of The Raised Up here again, with the second part of my guide to Effective Preachin’. In case you missed it, repent! (The first part’s here.)

Now we’re really gonna get going, praise the Lord! The tools you’re gonna need for your talk proper are:

Lots of anecdotes (make up ’em up if you don’t know any true ones), specially ones about life- and-death situations. Stories about encounters with people on planes always go down well, as there’s always the chance the plane will too, and accounts of foolish follk who hear the gospel and ignore it, only to die in a terrible accident soon after.

Cod-psychology. That’s the stuff about God-shaped holes, how only Christ can forgive sin and meet all our needs, even though he doesn’t and never said he would. You can add something in here slagging off atheists and anyone else you disagree with.

Conviction. This is crucial. Sound as if you mean whatever it is you’re spouting. Sound as if you really know what the Bible says. Make it sound like it’s relevant and meaningful, even though it isn’t.

Modulation, otherwise known as shouting and dropping your voice. Shout when the argument is weak (and they’re all weak – you’re making this stuff up, remember)) and drop your voice almost to a whisper so that people know you’re being really, really sincere.

Drama. Pace up and down, like ‘Bishop’ T. D. Jakes, and mop your brow a lot. Wave your arms about, like Joseph Prince and show you really mean it. Maybe you could use props, like Beth Moore does, though you run the risk then of diverting the attention away from yourself. Better is to demonstrate what a cool guy you are, even if you’re not a guy, by sitting on the edge of the altar steps or, if you’re in a really cool church like Steve Furtrick’s, the Stage. This shows the congregation/audience just how cool you are.

Whipped up emotion. This is optional but if you lay it on thick about what Jesus has done for the spiritually inferior, how their sin caused those nails to be driven in, then you’re on to a winner. Aim for some arm waving from ’em, babbling in jibberish speaking in tongues and maybe even some crying. Don’t forget to tell ’em that whatever they’re feeling is the Outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Definitely nothing to do with your manipulating their already fragile emotions. No sir. This here frenzy is divinely inspired.

Finally, get to the challenge bit of your sermon/talk/self-promotion. This can involve an appeal for money. Correction: this will involve an appeal for money. The God who supplies everything doesn’t supply money so you’ll need to lay a guilt trip on your fans/congregation to provide you with the cash to maintain your lavish lifestyle continue the Lord’s work. But it’s not only about money; remember to pressurise/inspire the congregation/audience/fans to go out and harrass their neighbours so maybe they and their wallets will come to church next week. As the Lord Jesus himself said, ‘the harvest is plentiful but the labourers are few’!

Above all, though, let everyone leave feeling that they’ve had a good time. Like kettles, they should have had a real great Outpouring and feel well and truly Blessed. Leave ’em feeling ready for more, same time, same place next Sunday.

 

 

What does God think about the Orlando massacre?

Orlando

Let’s see what he’s saying through his spokesmen here on Earth:

According to a minister from the cathedral in my home town, who conveyed this message from the Lord at a vigil on Monday night,

God is just as confused as we are. All the same, he’s full of compassion for those who died and for their loved ones.

Makes you wonder though, if he’s so compassionate, why he didn’t do anything to prevent the murders in the first place. Still, he is sympathetic, which is something.

Oh wait! That isn’t how God feels at all, not according to Pastor Steven Anderson, who knows exactly what the Lord thinks:

…in Leviticus 20:13, God’s perfect law, he put the death penalty on murder, and he also put the death penalty on homosexuality. That’s what the Bible says, plain and simple. So, you know, the good news is that at least 50 of these pedophiles are not gonna be harming children anymore. The bad news is that a lot of the homos in the bar are still alive, so they’re gonna continue to molest children and recruit people into their filthy homosexual lifestyle.

Right. So now we know.

Hang on, though. Christian Today tells us something different again. According to this guy, what God really wants his followers to know is that,

true believers should pray for everyone involved in the terrible events of the weekend and ‘not miss a huge opportunity to build bridges and demonstrate our saviour’s love.’

Phew, glad that’s finally sorted.

Or maybe not, because God has changed his mind again: Pastor Roger Jimenez has this straight from the Lord himself:

The tragedy is that more of them didn’t die… the Bible paints the picture that these are wicked people. These are evil people. God gave them up to their vile affections… they’re not natural… they received a reward for their error… God almighty says, ‘there’s nothing I can do for (homosexuals).’

All these mixed messages, and all supposedly from the same Person! Compassion, punishment, love, abandonment; that truly is one confused, mixed-up deity you worship, Christians. You’d be confused too, I guess, if one nutjob after another put words into your mouth. Just who’s the ventriloquist here and who the dummy?

When, Christians, are you going to stop deluding yourselves that arses like Anderson and Jimenez know anything about what God thinks? When are you going to stop pretending that anyone knows what he thinks? When are you going to recognise that a God who ‘speaks’ so inconsistently through simple-minded ‘intermediaries’ is not God at all?  When are you going to stop deluding yourselves that there even is a God?

Religion poisons the well. Again.

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The shooting in Orlando of people in a gay night club (50 dead, 53 wounded) is yet another example of religion as the antithesis of human flourishing. Not Christianity this time, of course, but that other ‘great’ religion, Islam, the religion of peace. But Christians cannot distance themselves from atrocities like this, carried out in the name of God, when the influence of even moderate religion is a pervasive, unhealthy presence in our society.

It’s true that Christians don’t, as rule, rampage in the streets or fly planes into buildings but they do contribute to the medium in which more extreme forms of religion grow:

Westboro Baptist Church, for example, with its own peculiar brand of Bible-based homophobia – ‘God hates fags’ and all the rest – is, like it or not, an expression of Christianity;

Right-wing evangelicals who interfere in the churches and governments of Africa and South America, actively encouraging them to take a homophobic stance and to pass anti-LGBT laws, are equally culpable; Scott Lively, Pat Robertson, Sharon Slater, you too are people filled with hate;

Likewise, those Catholic bishops who use their influence to denounce gay and transgendered folk as ‘mentally disordered’;

Christian bloggers who trot out the old, ‘Woe to those who call evil good and good evil’ (Isaiah 5.20) and misapply it to homosexuality, together with those who quote Leviticus 18.22 (‘abominations!’) and Romans 1.26-27 (‘unnatural and indecent!’)…

All of these contribute to the animus directed towards fellow human beings whose ‘sin’ is merely to be different. Religions, or more specifically their adherents, contribute significantly to the levels of misery in the world today, though Christians will cry ‘foul’ here (or ‘persecution’ even, because how they love claiming they’re being persecuted when asked to demonstrate some empathy and a little love.) After all, it wasn’t a Christian who gunned down the people in the Pulse nightclub this weekend. No it wasn’t. But every time religious bigots –

tell others what despicable sinners they are,

misrepresent and denigrate minorities,

promote ‘gay cures’,

attack same-sex marriage,

add quotation marks around the words gay and gay marriage, as if they’re somehow not real,

assert homosexuality and transgenderism are synonymous with ‘moral decay’,

claim natural disasters are God’s response to gay people’s very existence,

boycott businesses that support equality,

‘take a stand’ against transgendered people using the appropriate restroom and

refuse to serve gay couples –

every time, in short, they say LGBT people are evil, sick or worthless, the self-righteous prepare the ground for individuals like Omar Mateen to do what he did in Florida on Sunday. Religious leaders condemning such atrocities after the event is too little, too late, when they’ve failed to take charge of their acolytes and  do nothing to stem the tide of hatred flowing from their churches, mosques and temples. 

To those of us on the outside, religions are all of a kind; harmful superstitions. If a ‘faith’ entails belief in supernatural beings and puts allegiance to such imaginary figures above fellow human beings, it is without merit. It is the evil among us.

Less religion, not more

Welby

A bloke in a pointy hat and posh frock thinks there should be more religion on television and radio. Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, says that religion merits as much air time as politics, sport and drama.

The Archbish makes it sound like there’s nothing at all on TV and radio already about religion. In fact, in the last few months in the UK we’ve had a full schedule of Easter programmes; Simon Reeves’ The Ganges on BBC2 (looking at India’s religious heritage); Channel 4’s Unreported World and Dispatches, which regularly consider religious issues; Clare Balding’s trite Good Morning Sunday on Radio 2; the weekly broadcast of church services and daily Thought For the Day on Radio 4; the weekly dollop of worship on Songs of Praise on BBC1 and the 24-hour Christian ‘ministry’ of Trinity Broadcast Network and other God channels for those who just can’t get enough mumbo-jumbo.

Maybe that’s not as much as sport, but then there’s hardly anything on TV that has as much coverage as sport. (Bad news too for those of us with little interest in watching others running, jumping and hitting things; there’s even more to come in the shape of Wimbledon, Euro 2106 and the Olympics.)

Do we really want religion to have the same level of coverage? Are people really as interested in belief systems as they are in sport? Or music? Or art? Or comic book franchises? Even if there are, why is it up to television – the Archbish singles out the BBC as the broadcaster he thinks should indulge his fantasies – to provide it? Isn’t it, rather, up to churches, mosques, temples and other centres of superstition to promote their own particular brand of nonsense?

Make no mistake about it, this is what Justers is proposing; the promotion of religion – ‘religious literacy’ he calls it. He is not, we can be fairly sure, looking for programmes that are critical of religion (unless it’s other people’s). He wants, he says, to see more programmes that give us a better understanding of religious belief. What he means by this are proselytising programmes that create greater empathy for those who subscribe to delusion.

He isn’t advocating, for example, documentaries that explore the irrationality of faith, or ones that show the slap-dash, deceptive ways in which holy books came to be compiled or ones that demonstrate how most adherents to faith fail to live out its exacting demands. Nor is he suggesting programmes that focus on the appalling misery religion brings to some, or shows that give a sympathetic hearing to cults, sects and extremists. I would have no objection to programmes like these (except those that are sympathetic to extremists) because the ugly underbelly of religion deserves to be exposed, like Channel 4’s The Untold History of Islam of a few years ago, taken off air after its presenter was threatened with violence by those who didn’t like its critical perspective.

But these are not the kind of programmes the Archbishop is proposing. The religious literacy he wants us to have is of the cuddly side of faith, the supposed deep spirituality of the obsessive and what he regards as the positive contribution religion makes to the world; a one-sided picture already more than adequately covered by the nation’s broadcasters.

Thankfully, despite the recent political interference in the BBC, the Corporation is still required to present balanced and impartial views of its subject matter. If the Archbishop, who sits in the House of Lords and so is not without influence, is successful in forcing the BBC and other broadcasters to increase their coverage of his obsession, then we should also be able to look forward to programmes that are critical of religion too.

No broadcaster is obliged to promote religion nor to proselytise on its adherents’ behalf. Shame on the Archbishop, with his smiles and pointy hats, for suggesting they are.