You’re all sinners!

BabyYou are a sinner. You deserve the wrath of God. After you die, you will meet God face to face and because of your sin he will throw you into the pit of hell for all eternity. But repent of your sin and believe the gospel and instead he will cast your sin away from you, as far as east is from west.

Or so said the street preacher in the centre of town at the weekend (yes, our old friend Dale McAlpine; he who suffers excessively from religion-virus).

I’m not a sinner. And neither, dear reader, are you. Sometimes in my life I’ve behaved badly, it’s true. I’ve hurt other people, though usually unintentionally, and I’ve been thoughtless. I’ve been unappreciative of loved ones and haven’t done enough for others. I’ve said things I shouldn’t and have occasionally lost my temper. I’ve even had sex when it wasn’t for making babies.

Maybe you’ve done similar things and, like me, have transgressed the moral law (which is entirely of human making) in all of these minor ways. Others have transgressed it, and the societal laws it gives rise to, in far worse ways, by deliberately hurting or abusing others, raping and murdering.

But still neither they nor us are sinners. Whether we have behaved reprehensibly or only a little thoughtlessly, we are still not sinners. We are human and we behave as humans behave; as evolved apes our developed brains jostle with animal natures, and we act as our distinct environments have taught us. ‘Sin’, on the other hand, is a distinctly religious concept, a component of a fantasy perspective of life with no purchase outside of its religious context. The problem with it is, however, that it has intruded for the best part of a two thousand years into reality, into life as it is lived by most people most of the time, and we’ve grown used to it. We give it credence when it’s talked about or preached from pulpit or soap box. But it is a meaningless concept.

The word for sin that is used most frequently in the New Testament (221 times) is ‘hamartia’, an archery term meaning ‘to miss the mark’. It means not being as good as we could be; not coming up to God’s standard: ‘for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,’ as old wingnut Paul puts it in Romans 3.23. And this is the secondary – some would say primary – application of the idea of sin; it denotes our separation from God. The thinking behind this idea goes as follows: there must be a reason God always seems so distant, remote, far away, elusive and absent from us. And because he’s God and so wouldn’t behave in such a cold-hearted way if we didn’t deserve it, it can only be our fault. His distance, therefore, can only be because of sin, our failure to behave and be, from the moment of our birth, as he would want us to. Yes, sin really is God’s kryptonite and, according to Christian doctrine, Jesus came to be the lead lining that blocks its rays.

But this is an unnecessarily convoluted way to account for the perceived divine distance. It is much better explained by God’s existential and literal absence. It’s not our fault he’s so far away – or rather it is, but not because we sin. In our childish need to have someone out there who both explained everything and cared for us, we made him up. We anthropomorphised an insentient, indifferent universe, which could only ever lead to a God who felt distant and remote.

So, as Dale was recommending on Saturday, free yourself from ‘sin’. Recognise that you don’t fall short of the glory of God, because no such thing exists, and that you behave as you do because you’re human. And then you will be free indeed.

Loose Threads

FamilyPick a thread. Any thread. And start pulling. Gently does it, no need for force. A gentle pull on any of the loose ends of faith and the whole fabric will come apart quickly.

Here, pull on this one marked ‘the infallibility of the Bible‘. See how easily it comes loose as soon as you realise that most of it, Old and New Testament alike, was written long after the events it purports to describe, some of it by imposters and forgers.

Or this one – the salvation thread, much of it stitched into place by an excitable chap prone to hallucinations. Pull it and see how its pattern is nothing like the one proposed by the man it claims to be about.

Pull the magic threads, the ones about Gods, supernatural beings, heaven and hell, eternal life. Watch them disintegrate in your fingers once they’re teased out into the real world.

Take hold of the threads about Resurrections, Second Comings, Raptures and Judgements; so fragile, these break away as soon as they’re touched. The only miracle is that they’ve lasted this long.

Then there’s the promises threads, about how believers are going to do fantastic miracles and heal the sick and raise the dead. Imaginative and colourful, these have never really fitted in.

Then there’s the prayer threads, whose embroidery tells us how prayer works, how God will give us whatever we ask for. Downright embarrassing, these – yank ’em out.

And how about the strands that those who say they love the cloth pick out themselves and throw away? You know the ones; the threads which tell them how to live their lives that they just don’t like the look of and think spoil the overall effect. These have definitely got to go.

What about the threads that weren’t originally there – the ones about ‘defending God’s standards‘ and having a ‘relationship‘ with a dead person? These grubby, greasy threads have been added in to replace the ones those who love the cloth have pulled out for themselves.

Choose any number of other threads – the ones that clash with other bits of the pattern, the ugly brutal ones, the fantastic, the ignorant – and give them a tug. Oh, look. They come away too.

And before you know it, the entire fabric has come apart in your hands. All that’s left is a pile of worthless, brittle threads, good for nothing but throwing in the bin.

The Jesus Cult

Cult2A programme on the UK’s Channel 5 this week, Trapped In A Cult?, featured stories of people who had had encounters with or had escaped from cults. It didn’t spend too much time defining what a cult might be, but suggested that it’s a movement revolving around a charismatic individual who insists that only he or she has a direct line to God or some sort of Higher Truth. Such individuals insist that others must follow their teaching exclusively and that followers sever all ties with family and non-believing friends. They frequently demand too that followers give up their material possessions in order to demonstrate their commitment to the movement.

The programme also noted that once the original founder of a cult dies, or has been discredited in some way, belief in him or her can persist, with followers persuading themselves that their leader has miraculously transferred to a higher plane of existence. (Further information about cults and their leaders can be found on The Cult Education Institute web-site.)

Many modern religious movements conform to this pattern: The Church of Latter Day Saints (Mormons), Jehovah’s Witnesses, Christian Science, the Unification Church (Moonies), Scientology and Branch Davidians to name but a few. Orthodox Christians are always eager to point out the apostate, cultish nature of these heterodox ‘churches’, blind to the fact that their own belief system began in exactly the same way. The original Jesus movement had all the hallmarks of a cult and its leader the characteristics of a cult leader:

Jesus insisted that only he had a direct line to God and Higher Truth:
For example in Matthew 10.32–33: Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven.  But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven

and John 14.23: Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.

He demanded his teaching be followed exclusively:
For example in Luke 10.16: He who listens to you, is listening to me; and he who rejects you is rejecting me; and he who rejects me is rejecting him who sent me

and Matthew 12.30: Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.

He expected his followers to sever ties with family and non-believing friends:
For example in Luke 14.26: If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.

He told those interested in joining his movement to give up material possessions:                                                                                                             Matthew 19.21: If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.

and when he died, his followers persuaded themselves he’d gone on to a higher plane:                                                                                                                  Luke 24.51: While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven.

What do we learn from this? That if it looks like a cult, sounds like a cult and behaves like a cult then the chances are, it’s a cult. Christianity is just a first century cult that hit the big time. We are now so used to having it around – how legit it became! – we overlook its origins and essential characteristics. These are exactly the same as any other cult, both before and since.

I Don’t Believe It

Fabric‘When you think about it’, the taller of the two men said, ‘there is no evidence whatsoever that God, nor indeed any supernatural being.

‘I suppose you’re right’, said the other.

‘With that realisation, my faith began to dissipate. I mean if there’s no God, no angels, demons or Christs, no Holy Spirit, devils, fairies or Santa Claus, then it must mean they’re just figments of the imagination. Take that human element out of the equation and what you’re left with is… well, the natural world and nothing else’.

‘I suppose not’, said the other.

‘From there one realises there is no point in praying – I mean, talking to a being who only exists in your own head. Or reading the Bible; one begins to see it as a very human book, which of course it is’.

‘I suppose so’, said the other.

‘It means too that Jesus can only have been a mortal man – of course he was – and that a good deal of his teaching – if we can believe it really was his and not simply invented by his followers – makes no sense whatever. It was only the eyes of misplaced faith that made it appear so’.

‘I suppose it doesn’t’, said the other.

‘I mean, “pray for whatever you need and God will supply it”. Who has ever believed that sort of thing anyway? No-one. Not really. We all know that doesn’t work; Jesus himself, one suspects. And as for the resurrection, well, if you read those accounts at face value all they saw – Mary Magdalene, Paul and the rest of them – all they saw were visions, not a real person. All in their minds, you see’.

‘I suppose I do’, said the other.

‘No, Christianity is nothing but false promises, failed prophecies – Jesus saying he’d return within his disciples’ lifetime – and impossible morality: “be perfect as your father in heaven is perfect”! Well, I’ve never met anyone who is, Christian or otherwise. Good people are good whether or not they’re Christians and the mean-spirited are mean-spirited whichever side of conversion they’re on.

‘I suppose so’, said the other, before seeing his chance to add, ‘well, that’s £1.80 for your Church Times, Archbishop. Will there be anything else?’

Idiotic Stuff Jesus Said 12: My words will never pass away

AndersonThe premise of my first ‘Jesus’ book* is that while Christians profess to believe in Jesus, they choose to ignore most of what he taught while he was alive. While they claim a vapid super-hero Christ as personal saviour, they replace what the human Jesus had to say with words of their own choosing. In reality, they have about as much time for Jesus’ ‘eternal words’ as the average non-believer or atheist. You don’t have to look very far to see how much his words have already ‘passed away’:

Jesus said, ‘Don’t judge so that you won’t be judged’ (Matthew 7.1). Our representative Christian says, ‘LGBT people are filthy and wrong.’

Jesus said ‘Love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you’ (Matthew 5.44). Our representative Christian says, ‘I’m gonna pray a transgender person dies and goes to Hell.’

Jesus said, ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’ (Mark 12.31). The Christian says, ‘The way to show love is to tell other people they’re going to Hell.’

Jesus said, ‘sell all you have and give to the poor’ (Mark 10.21). The Christian is concerned about where to buy jewellery: ‘…somewhere other than Tiffany’s, because Tiffany’s is gay friendly.’

Jesus said, ‘Forgive those who sin against you so you can be forgiven yourself’ (Matthew 6.14). Our believer rants, ‘LGBT people should be executed.’

Jesus said, ‘Don’t commit adultery and don’t get divorced’ (Matthew 5.27-28 and 19.9). Significant numbers of Christians , including our own Stephen Green, say, ‘that doesn’t apply to me.’

See what I mean? Christians regard the words of their saviour, not as having everlasting value, but as if they’re nothing more than worthless bits of fluff. Even if God were real, every word of the Bible true, every aspect of the Great Salvation Plan genuine, it wouldn’t change the fact that believers treat as optional almost everything Jesus commanded and live as if he never had.

 

* Why Christians Don’t Do What Jesus Tells Them To …And What They Believe Instead is available from Amazon worldwide (UK here, US here) but not, alas, from Tiffany’s.

The picture shows the deplorable Pastor Steven Anderson (linked above). He knows better than Jesus ever did.

 

 

 

Idiotic Stuff Jesus Said 11: Build Your Lives on the Things I Say

WhoDoJesus demanded you base your life on his teaching. It’s the only way, he said, that you’re going to find meaning, as well as the principles you’ll need when the going gets tough:

Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on rock (Matthew 7.24-25).

And what exactly were those words of his? Here’s what he taught:

  • The Son of Man was coming to the Earth to establish God’s Kingdom within the lifetime of his original followers (Matthew 16:27-28; Matthew 24:27, 30-31, 34; Luke 21:27-28, 33-34);
  • His own people needed to be more ‘righteous’ in order to be part of this Kingdom (Matthew 5.20; Matthew 6.33; Matthew 13.49 etc);
  • Being righteous entailed some extreme behaviour; loving your enemies, giving away all you had, turning the other cheek, forgiving repeatedly, being perfect (Matthew 5.44; Matthew 5.42; Luke 6.29; Luke 6.37; Matthew 5.48; Matthew 19.21);
  • It was crucial to obey Jewish law, even if some of it could be reinterpreted (Matthew 5.17-18; Matthew 12.1-7);
  • Once the Kingdom arrived Jesus himself would be King of the world, aided and abetted by his pals (Matthew 19.28; Luke 22.30);
  • His followers would do even greater miracles than he did himself. Given he controlled the weather, healed the sick and raised the dead, that’s going some (John 14:12).

Anybody know anyone who believes all of this or lives this way? Anyone who operates on these exacting principles? I don’t know of anyone and never have. I didn’t even when I was Christian myself. Jesus demands are impossible. No-one can live according to them. ‘Of course not,’ say Christians. ‘You need supernatural help to live like this.’ So why don’t they, when they have God’s spirit living within them (John 14.16-17)? Why don’t we see Christians who perform spectacular miracles, who constantly go the extra mile, who give away everything they have, who are, as Jesus tells them they should be, perfect?

We don’t because no-one can live as Jesus insisted they should. Nor do we see Christians who believe his prophecies either, particularly the one about the Son of Man bringing God’s Kingdom to Earth two thousand years ago. Christians pretend he didn’t really say it, or if he did, that he meant something else entirely. They’ve changed his very words – the ones they should be building their lives on – to claim Jesus himself will be returning any time now (the synoptic gospels are confused about whether Jesus is this Son of Man, or someone else). When he does, they say, true believers will be going with him to Heaven. Never mind that Jesus teaches nothing of the kind and there’s absolutely no foundation for these beliefs in his words. As such, they’re the faith built on sand he tells them is worthless:

And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell—and great was its fall! (Matthew 7.26-27).

So, if Christians don’t do what Jesus tells them and don’t believe his promises or prophecies, then in what way can it be said they take his words as the foundation of their lives? Don’t they, rather, base them on Paul’s teaching, about a supernatural Christ who bears little resemblance to the zealous Jewish preacher they pretend is their ‘Lord’? Teaching that has nothing to do with that of the man who demands his pronouncements be the very basis of life? Paul doesn’t quote any of Jesus’ teaching.  The foundation Jesus speaks of is of no interest to him; so, naturally, this is whom Christians follow – not Jesus, but Paul and his mythical Christ.

Christians have no time for Jesus’ words – and who can blame them? All he offers is impossible morality, false promises and failed prophecies. Far better to go with what Paul offers, because that’s about what’s in it for them. But even Paul didn’t believe anyone was going to Heaven, so they ignore that bit in his teaching too.

Money, Money, Money

MoneyAfter the Kingdom-that-never-comes, what does Jesus talk about more than anything else? Love? Forgiveness? Marriage? Sin? No. While he does mention all of these, more of his teaching is to do with money and wealth. When he isn’t speaking about money specifically he’s using it as the background to a parable. Eleven of his thirty-nine parables involve it.

He had a thing about money. He resented the wealthy to such an extent he said it was unlikely they’d find a place in his new world order – the famous ‘camel through the eye of a needle’ saying of Matthew 19.24.

Come the revolution, he implied, the rich would have their wealth stripped from them (Luke 6.24-25).

He consigned the wealthy to Hell, not because they weren’t ‘saved’, but because they were rich and ignored the poor (Luke 6.19-25).

He seemed to think being poor was a virtue and that those who were, were especially favoured by God (Luke 6.20).

He preached against what he saw as the dangers of wealth and on more than one occasion (Matt 19.21 & Luke 12.33) and advised those with money and possessions that if they wanted God’s approval they’d have to give them away to the poor.

“No one can serve two masters,” he’s recorded as saying in Matthew 6.24. “Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.”

Jesus was no capitalist.

So what do Christians make of Jesus’ evident contempt for money? They certainly don’t give it all away as he said they should. Nor do they see it as an impediment to their salvation, even though Jesus was clear it is (Matt 13.22). As far as today’s Christian are concerned you can serve God and mammon, which is good news – just not Jesus’.

Most Christians in the modern west are incredibly wealthy in comparison with the rich of the first century whom Jesus castigated. Take a look too at the incomes of well known pastors and evangelists – Billy Graham is estimated to be worth $25 million, for example; Creflo Dollar $27 million (but he can still beg his flock for $60 million more to buy a new jet) and Benny Hinn $40 million (who did the same a few years ago). You can see why it’s imperative rich Christians get round Jesus’ injunctions about the evils of wealth somehow.

What is a Christian to do? What they always do when they don’t like what Jesus has to say: ignore him, or try to explain away what he actually said. So, enter the usual excuses: he was only speaking metaphorically/shouldn’t be taken literally/’really meant’ something else. And what did Jesus ‘really mean’ when he denigrated money? That it’s the love of money that’s the problem – doesn’t 1 Timothy say so? Indeed it does, but 1 Timothy was written a hundred years after Jesus. Already his message about wealth was being diluted; Jesus doesn’t make any nice distinction between possessing wealth and loving it. According to Jesus, having money is to love it (Matthew 6.21).

In that case, say those who really can’t countenance surrendering their wealth, money and/or the love of it is really only a problem when it comes between the believer and God. But to believe this necessitates overlooking Jesus’ repeated point that it always comes between the individual and God. Money, according to the radical, demanding Jesus of the synoptic gospels cannot be trifled with; it will always turn those who have it away from God, as well as from those who don’t have any (Matthew 6.21).

And that’s the problem, isn’t it. Jesus is – or was – just too radical and too demanding for those who profess belief in him. He can’t possibly mean that they should surrender their wealth and possessions for the sake of their spiritual well-being. And so they do exactly what he said they’d do: they put their money before God.

Never mind. They can always campaign against others’ so-called sin or whinge about the supposed loss of religious liberty, about which Jesus says nothing. Just so long as they don’t have to do what he says with their wealth because in an area where they have all the religious freedom in the world, they definitely don’t want to exercise it.

 

Christian Homeopathy

Drink2Homeopathy works on the ‘principle’ that in order to cure yourself of an illness or complaint you take natural remedies in a radically diluted form. Like, say, a couple of molecules of arsenic per reservoir of water. And it really works. It says so on the Internet so it must be true.

Biblical morality is a form of homeopathy. At least that’s how most Christians practise it: in miniscule amounts and only to their own taste.

Others remain strongly opposed to homeopathic marriage.

There Is No God. And Here’s Why

adamSometimes I wonder why I continue writing this blog. There seems to be little that can shake believers from their delusions; what I write here doesn’t appear to be it. When they do respond it’s to tell me that I’m in for a shock when, after my death, I stand in front of the the throne of God and have to give an account of myself. I’ll not be smiling then, they tell me. They’re right, I won’t be. Not because of any ‘judgement’, but because dead people don’t smile. Not of their own volition anyway.

Christians can’t seem to see the ludicrousness of their post-mortem proposals. Religion, all religion, is wrong about most things at most levels; it denies death, which does exist, and replaces it with fantasies about supernatural beings, eternal life and judgements, none of which does. Christianity offers false promises, failed prophecies and an impossible morality, which Christians themselves can’t even manage. By and large they don’t even try to (see previous posts on all of this) yet they stick uncritically, unthinkingly, blindly to the fantasy elements of their ‘faith’ because they’re frightened of their own extinction and want to live forever. Christianity deceitfully promises them that they will – the ultimate false promise.

So let’s cut to the chase. There is no God. This is an indisputable fact, though believers will dispute it anyway. Even now, any Christians who are reading this will be muttering something about the fool saying in his heart there is no God; another tired, cliched response, which I’ve already considered here. But there is no God, not because of any foolishness on my part but because of the evidence. Or rather the absence of it. There is no evidence there is anything other than the physical universe or that life came about as the result of anything other than physical processes (it is not the case that scientists do not know how life emerged from non-life; they do and it did) or that humans evolved by any means other than blind, mindless natural selection. God is not required to explain any of this; not necessary to explain anything at all to do with life, the universe and ‘why there is something rather than nothing’. That being the case, we can know for certainty that he wasn’t in any way involved.

Let’s take a more down-to-Earth parallel to illustrate the point: we do not need to resort to stories of the tooth fairy to explain dentistry. I’m guessing that even Christians would agree with this; the tooth fairy has no part in matters of dental hygiene, orthodontist training or even the payment sometimes made by indulgent parents when their child’s tooth falls out. Trying to force the tooth fairy into any of these scenarios is not only entirely unnecessary, it’s erroneous and unhelpful. Dentistry is far better explained without reference to a mythical sprite. The tooth fairy not being needed, we can safely conclude that she doesn’t actually exist; she is a figment invented for children intended to take the away the pain of tooth loss, nothing more.

So it is with God in explanations into which he too is shoe-horned. He’s not needed, he’s superfluous to requirements. That being so, we can similarly conclude that he isn’t real either. A being that isn’t needed to explain anything is one that doesn’t exist.

This is not, note, a rejection of a figure who, even now, is sitting up in the sky somewhere feeling sad or angry because we’re ‘shaking our fist’ at him. If that’s what you’re seeing, you’re still believing in God, even if it is one you might be in the process of rejecting. It’s worse than that, Jim (or better): there is no super-being in the sky, or anywhere else. The universe is devoid of gods and of God; it always has been and always will be. There are none to be found because there are none there; not your pet god, nor those of other faiths, ancient or modern. None. There is only the physical universe itself and for the brief time we are here in it, we are lucky to be here in it. Which is more than any god has ever managed.

Idiotic Stuff Jesus Said 10: How to Entertain

Last supper 2Here’s something you don’t see every day.

When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbours, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.
Luke 14.12-14

In fact, you don’t see it at all, because Christians feel free to flout this command of their Lord’s. I mean, he couldn’t speak any more plainly than he does here, could he? And yet, Christians, you don’t invite the poor, the dispossessed and the disabled to your luncheons and dinner parties. Like the rest of us – that’s the unsaved and sinners in Christian-speak – you only invite your friends, family and fellow-believers. If you’re well-placed, maybe as an official of the established church or as an obscenely wealthy evangelist, you invite those who are similarly rich and famous. As far as you’re concerned Jesus and his ridiculous ideas can just f**k off.

What? You object? You don’t say this, Christians? It would be blasphemous? But of course you say it, when you spiritualise his point, explain it away (‘what he really means is…’), claim the context excuses you or just plain ignore him.

Please don’t misunderstand me; I don’t blame you. Jesus’ expectations are totally unreasonable – idiotic even. But I’m not a Christian; I don’t pretend to follow him and don’t have to do as he says. You, on the other hand claim him as your saviour, your God, and profess to live your life in obedience to him. Except you don’t, do you; you wilfully disregard the clear, direct instructions, like this one, that he gives you.

You much prefer setting your own agenda, whether that’s ‘defending God’s standards’ (your God is incapable of defending his own standards?), bashing the gay or making sure you yourself are ‘blessed’. But these are not part of Jesus’ agenda; his good news (mad as it is), is much more concerned with elevating the lowest of the low, including inviting them into your homes and feeding and entertaining them.

So how about it Christians? How about it all you outspoken men of God – Stephen Green, Steven Anderson, Scott Lively, Matt Barber, Franklin Graham – and all you other Christians; isn’t it time you got down off your soap-box of whatever it is you’re opposing this week and made a start doing what your saviour commands you to do?

Well, isn’t it?