The Sect Hiding in Plain Sight

Condemning-Pharisees

With thanks to David Eves.

Back at the start of Christianity, the cult was divided into numerous factions; not unlike its modern counterpart. Acts’ claim that all the new converts – the church – got on famously, sharing all they had and generally taking part in one big love-in is spin, a lie concocted by its author, ‘Luke’. Its not the only lie he invents; later in Acts he tries to present the new faith’s ambassadors, Paul and the original apostles, as being largely in agreement about what the Christian message was about. We know from Paul’s own writing that this wasn’t so.

Likewise the united church. We know that there was part of the cult that had a very different theology and soteriology (doctrine of salvation) from Paul. They didn’t subscribe to his incantational magic about a dying god-man who would save them if they claimed his death for themselves. Instead, this group believed that the way to find favour with God was to be ‘righteous’, by doing good works and generally expending oneself on others. Its members promoted, and probably practised, a yin and yang measure-for-measure philosophy: God would show forgiveness, mercy and compassion, they said, only to the same extent that a believer demonstrated them him or herself. Because they believed Jesus had commanded it and God favoured it, they denounced wealth and advocated a self-deprecating way of life. They were predominantly Jewish. They believed Jewish Law was still valid and should still be followed by cult members. They were, however, hostile towards those who, unable to see any value in the new cult, remained within Judaism. The sect invented anachronistic stories about Jesus sparring with the Jewish leaders of their time, half a century or more after Jesus died.

Though it is unlikely any of members of this sect had ever encountered Jesus in person, they believed he was going to return to the Earth while they were still alive in order to judge humankind. Naturally he would vindicate them while condemning all others, particularly the rich and powerful. He would do this because they were the ones who were doing as he commanded – helping the sick, the hungry and the homeless – which would ensure the returning Lord would look on them favourably. None of them had seen the resurrected Jesus but nevertheless they valued the stories they heard about those who supposedly had, and they promoted these stories themselves.

How do we know this? Because this particular sect left behind a record of their beliefs. They imbued them with authority by putting them into the mouth of a preacher who had lived more than fifty years earlier. Who knows, maybe he did say such things. The sect either believed that Jesus had actually contradicted Paul’s notion that the Jewish Law was no longer valid or they felt it necessary to to make Jesus say so themselves. Likewise, they rejected the magical mysticism preached by Paul that was beginning to take hold in those early days. The group’s beliefs were radically different and their writing specifically designed to counteract ideas they opposed with a passion.

Where will you find this group’s writings? In the bible, at the very start of the New Testament in the book called ‘The Gospel According to St Matthew’; this book is their writing, give or take the odd bit of tampering from later on. Matthew’s gospel details the sect’s beliefs about Jesus, their measure-for-measure morality, their recipe for righteousness and their beliefs about salvation and the coming judgement.* So different are these from Paul’s ideas that the gospel can only have been created to counteract his doctrines. The community that produced Matthew had no truck either with Paul’s theology or his soteriology.

Read Matthew for yourself and see how much it is at odds with Paul. The discrepancy is there for all to see, yet Christians have always convinced themselves, if they’ve thought about it at all, that not only is Matthew’s gospel compatible with the mumbo-jumbo that follows it, but that its ‘good news’ and Paul’s are identical. Nothing could be further from the truth.

 

* I’m happy to provide chapter and verse from Matthew’s gospel to support all I say about it.

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Jesus demonstrates that God doesn’t exist

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I often feel I’ve run out of thing to say about Christianity, or rather, I think I’ve said all I want to say about it. It’s not much of a challenge to show how insubstantial, inconsistent and spurious religious faith is. None of it actually works, even though Christians, in the face of all the evidence, continue to insist it does.

On his Theological Rationalism blog,  James Bishop smugly tells his readers how he can ‘defeat atheism’ with three questions, chief of which is asking, ‘What would you count as “actual, credible, real world evidence for God?”’ Although I’ve already responded directly on his blog, for me it would be if any of the promises Jesus made (or was made to make) actually came true in the ‘real world’. 

Jesus said that Kingdom of God would descend on the Earth within the lifetime of his original followers, in Luke 21:27-28, 33-34; Matthew 24:27, 30-31, 34 and here in Matthew 16:27-28:

For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels… I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his Kingdom.

Did this come true when he said it would?

He claimed that the judgement of the nations and their peoples would immediately follow, with the righteous going on to populate the new Earth while the wicked were sent to eternal punishment: 

But when the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. Before him all the nations will be gathered, and he will separate them one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats (Matthew 25.31-46).

Did this?

He promised that whatever his followers pray for in his name, God would grant. No ifs and buts, he would do it. Matthew 17.21, Matthew 21.21-22, John 14.12-14 and here in Mark 11:24:

…if you do not doubt in your heart, but believe that what you say will come to pass, it will be done for you. So I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.’

Does this ever happen?

He said that with enough faith, believers would literally be able to move mountains. (Matthew 17.20).

They literally don’t.

He guaranteed that his followers would be able to drink poison and handle serpents with impunity (Mark 16:18).

Those who are stupid enough to take him at his word find they can’t.

He said ‘very truly’ that believers would be able to do even greater miracles than he himself did:

Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father (John 14.12).

Where’s the evidence of this?

The fulfilment of any of these promises would be enough to convince atheists – well, me anyway – that Jesus’ God exists. If those about the Kingdom and judgement had come to pass when Jesus said they would, we wouldn’t even be having this discussion. I could still be convinced, however, if his guarantees of miracles and answered prayers regularly came about in the spectacular ways he said they would. The fact is, they never have done and they don’t; the world would be a very different place if they did.

All that the ridiculous claims Jesus makes for his God convince me of is that Jesus himself was, at best, deluded, and at worst, an utter fraud – a travelling salesman who promised the Earth and delivered absolutely nothing. His unfulfilled, empty promises are evidence enough that his God, like all the others, does not exist.

 

 

Judgement Day

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And the Lord said to them, ‘Let’s have a look how you got on. You fed the hungry, right?’

And they answered, ‘Well, we gave some money to charity a couple of times and we’re pretty sure the charity fed the hungry for us.’

‘Okay,’ he said, ‘I suppose I can give you some credit for that, though I have to say I was looking for something a little more… hands on. How about when people were naked – you know, needing their material needs met. How’d you get on then?’

‘The charities did that too, we think. Maybe.’

‘And the sick and imprisoned? You bother with them?’

‘Not so much,’ they answered. ‘Look, Lord, if people can’t take care of their own health needs or choose to live lawless lives, then that’s up to them. It’s really not up to us to help them out, now is it.’

‘I see. So how about the stranger, the homeless, the immigrant? You take any of them in? You cared for them?’

‘Well, no. I mean, if you’d said that’s what you wanted doing we would’ve done it, wouldn’t we. But you didn’t make it clear.’

‘I thought I had,’ he said. ‘Maybe it got lost somewhere in translation. Selling all you have to give to the poor, then? Surely some of you did that.’

‘One or two extremists maybe, but look where it got them. Obviously that daft instruction was meant only for the guy you were talking to – you know, the rich young ruler or whatever he was.’

‘Well, not exactly. I said it so many times in so many ways you’d have thought you’d have got the message.’

‘We’re not socialists, you know, even if you are,’ they said.

‘So how about turning the other cheek, then? Or going the extra mile? Giving to all who ask? Surely you managed those?’

‘Well, no. We felt you were speaking metaphorically when you said all that. You didn’t seriously expect us to do such ridiculous things, did you? I mean, we’re not doormats.’

‘So what is it you did in my name?’

‘Well, we accepted you as Lord and Savior. That’s all that’s required, isn’t it?’

‘Not really,’ he said. ‘Not if you didn’t do as I asked.’

‘Lord, Lord,’ they said, becoming exasperated. ‘We’re washed in the blood of the lamb. Sanctified and redeemed.’

‘You’re what?’ he said.

‘Sanctified and redeemed. Made spotless. You know, like Saint Paul explained.’

‘Saint who?’ the Lord said.

‘We worshipped you and praised your holy name,’ they went on. ‘Filled with your Holy Spirit we witnessed unto you and defended your Holy Word.’

‘But you didn’t actually do as I commanded?’ he said. ‘And you think that’s good enough?’

‘We stood up for you and for family life. We spoke out against unbelievers and sodomites and all those who were unholy, lest they bring down the Father’s wrath on all of us.’

‘You didn’t consider that to be judging, then?’ he asked. ‘Something else I told you not to do?’

‘Oh no, Lord, not really. We decided what you really meant was it was okay to judge so long as it was done righteously. We always judged righteously, so that was fine.’

‘Well,’ he said, ‘what can I say? You came up with a much better agenda than the one I left you with. Come in and dwell in the house of the Lord forever. You’re my kind of people.’

And, lo, the self-righteous stepped forward, ready to surge into heaven.

But he stopped them in their tracks. ‘Now you just hold on,’ he said, ‘I was being metaphorical there,’ and he stood up to his full height and cleared his throat. ‘Here’s the deal,’ he said, ‘Not everyone who keeps saying to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will get into the kingdom from heaven, but only the person who keeps doing the will of my Father in heaven… So, get away from me, you who practise evil. I never knew you.’

‘What?’ they said. ‘We didn’t think you really meant that. We’re washed in the blood of the lamb, you know.’

 

God delays his judgement so he can torture more people

Judgement2

A Christian pastor, ‘Peter C’, has been assuring everyone on Daniel B. Wallace’s blog-site that God’s judgement has been delayed (2000 years and counting) because, as it says in 2 Peter 3.9, he wants to give as many people as possible time to repent and avoid hell. The pastor puts it like this:

The Lord is longsuffering, and not willing that any should perish, but that all would come to repentance. The context of 2 Peter 3:9 tells us that this is why the Lord appears to delay His coming – it is His longsuffering and love for humanity. It is not His will that anyone would pay the penalty for their own sin…

The claim of 2 Peter 3.9 – written not by Peter but by someone pretending to be Peter almost a century after he lived – has never made sense. God would have to delay his judgement indefinitely if he wanted to avoid punishing most of mankind. That’s because new unsaved humans are appearing all the time – about 353,000 are born every day. The longer God leaves it, therefore, the more unsaved humans there will be, simply because, as time goes on, the more of us there are.

If God had got on with the judgement in the first century, as Jesus said he would (Matthew 16.27-28; 24.27, 30-31, 34; Luke 21:27-28, 33-34 etc) then the unsaved would have been far fewer.

Here’s the maths: the population of the world in the first century was about 300 million; today it is 7.4 billion. Assuming, very generously, that about 30% of the population then, as now, was ‘saved’, the judgement then would have resulted in only 210 million people being sent to hell. The same percentage today would see 5.2 billion people being condemned to burn for all eternity.

2 Peter 3.9 is a weak excuse for why God’s judgement didn’t occur when Jesus, and Paul, said it would. It was written either by a fraud who lacked any understanding of basic maths and had no conception of how the world’s population would increase over the next two thousand years – or by someone who, like his predecessors in the cult, thought the judgement was imminent. If the latter, then he was referring only to those alive in his own time whom he thought were being given more time to repent. Either way, he was wrong. That his mistaken beliefs and false assurances are given credence by pastors and their flocks today testifies only to the stultifying effect of religious faith.

Making Excuses for Jesus

Excuse 2. When Jesus said ‘Kingdom of God’ what he really meant was ‘the church’.

Kingdom

So if not the transfiguration, then what? Christians can’t accept that Jesus was wrong in all he prophesied, and must invent some other explanation. How about the church – the body of believers who saw, and still see, Jesus as their saviour? The church must be the Kingdom! Yes, that’s it surely.

But then they’re left to explain why the church, even in its early days, bore no resemblance to what Jesus said the Kingdom would look like. Where was the Son of Man descending through the clouds? The hosts of angels in full view of ‘the tribes of the Earth’? The disciples judging and ruling the twelve tribes of Israel (Matt 19.28)? The last becoming first and the first last? The meek inheriting the Earth? The righteous being rewarded for their good deeds, while the unrighteous are sent to outer darkness?

Even if we were to overlook the absence of these characteristics, all of which Jesus predicted would define the Kingdom, then isn’t the-church-as-Kingdom just a tiny bit, well… disappointing? It doesn’t embody either any of the conditions of the Kingdom that the Old Testament prophets promised it would (Micah 4.1-7 & Isaiah 11.6): nations continue to wage war, the lamb and the wolf don’t co-exist peacefully and God singularly fails to rule the earth from Mount Zion.

Instead, the church is all too human, riven with conflict and division. Despite the whitewash given to it by the author of Acts, Paul’s letters – 1 & 2 Corinthians, Romans and Galatians in particular – serve as a permanent reminder of the dispute and strife that have characterised it since its earliest days. It has also a shameful history of persecuting those with whom it disagrees and produces its fair share of criminals and abusers. Today, it is split into 45,000 different factions and, according to some of its own, is awash with ‘false doctrine’.

One thing it is good at – the very thing Paul insists it shouldn’t be (1 Corinthians 5.12) – is judging the rest of us.

The Kingdom of God it is not.

To Hell and back

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The self-righteous have taken it upon themselves this week to indulge in a little rejoicing, and not a little bit more gloating, at the death of George Michael. They are particularly pleased that, in all likelihood, he has gone to Hell, what with him being gay and all. Because of his sexuality – and this is how their damaged minds work – some of these Christians have also decreed George must also have been a ‘paedophile’, a victim of AIDs and possessed by evil spirits. Incredibly, he still managed to fit in a singing career. He was, these true-believers say, an enemy of God and is now frying in Hell forever. Yippee!

Here’s how the Christ-like Steven Anderson puts it:

First of all, George Michael’s burning in Hell right now. He was a very wicked, God-hating sodomite reprobate, and he’s getting the punishment that he deserves right now… If you just look at the lyrics to one of his most famous songs, one of his biggest hits, you can just totally tell this is written by a paedophile… It’s clearly written by a sick pervert because that’s what these homosexuals are. They’re a bunch of paedophiles… Quit mourning the death of this filthy pervert. He’s rotting in Hell right now for being a God-hating homosexual reprobate.

George Michael was none of the things these Christians claim he was. His post-mortem was inconclusive, but even if he had died of an AIDs related illness it would not be a cause for celebration. He was not a paedophile nor demon-possessed, but Christians, having happily embraced today’s post-truth world, think it’s absolutely fine for them to say he was.

They see evil spirits and demons everywhere, particularly in people who don’t share their primitive views; homosexuality is caused by their malevolent presence, and so, apparently, are depression, eating disorders, insomnia, self-harming and sex before marriage. Little wonder, of course, when that first-century ignoramus they claim to follow regarded Satan’s little helpers as the source of sickness and disease (when it wasn’t sin itself that was doing it). It hardly matters there’s absolutely no evidence that such beings exist; Christians are more than happy to take on the demonisation of others themselves.

As for Hell itself, it isn’t real either, as I discuss here. George Michael isn’t there, nor is anyone else who’s died. But let’s humour all those fanatics gentle souls who have persuaded themselves that it does. What does the Bible say about it?

First, it doesn’t claim that individuals go to Hell after death. Rather, it sees Hell as a pit into which Satan and his minions will be thrown at the end of time (Revelation 20.10). No mention humans will go there with them. Instead, the whack-job who wrote Revelation suggests (20.7-9) that the unrighteous dead, once resurrected, will be consumed by the fire God is going to destroy the Earth with at the end of time. You might wonder why God would bother resurrecting bodies only to murder them again, but he’s God, and you know, mysterious ways and all that. Still, he doesn’t seem to have perpetual torment in mind, even so.

Second, Paul tells us that after they’ve died, the dead sleep until the final judgement (1 Thessalonians 4.15-17). So even if they are eventually to be consigned to Hell it certainly won’t be immediately after death. As the final judgement has yet to occur – and won’t ever – dead souls, including George’s, still slumber. (It’s possible of course that for the dead time ceases to exist and the period between death and judgement appears, from their perspective, instantaneous. But this is not what the Bible teaches. It’s not nearly as imaginative as that.)

Third, Jesus is made to imply (it’s all very vague) that those with whom he is displeased will, after death, simply be discarded – thrown on some sort of metaphorical rubbish tip (Matthew 23.33). In fact, he tells only one parable about the after-life (Luke 16.19-31) in which a resurrected rich man finds himself excluded from God’s presence Abraham’s bosom. Not, you’ll note, because he failed to accept Jesus as his personal saviour but because of his disregard for the poor. So, given his philanthropy, it doesn’t look as if George Michael will be spending his eternity in the Hell that Jesus imagined either.

All of those who threaten us with Hell, and who think George Michael is already there, don’t know, and probably don’t care, what God’s Word™ has to say about the place where they’d be happy to see the rest of us suffer everlasting torment. It hardly matters when it doesn’t exist, being a fantasy of primitive zealots, but it does make you wish those who delude themselves into thinking it does would shut the hell up about it. Yes, you Franklin, Stephen, Bob, Kim and Keith. You’re only showing yourselves up for the ignorant hypocrites you are.

 

All is Vanity

DaleThe idea that human beings can live forever is a very old one, being part of a number of ancient religions. The Egyptians, for example, believed there was an afterlife and that where you spent it was determined by a post-mortem judgement. Christianity would later embrace similar notions of judgement and everlasting life.

The idea is, however, largely absent from Judaism. Ecclesiastes in the Christian Old Testament (‘Kohelet’ in Judaism) has this to say about death and its aftermath:

I said in my heart with regard to human beings that God is testing them to show that they are but animals. For the fate of humans and the fate of animals is the same; as one dies, so dies the other. They all have the same breath, and humans have no advantage over the animals; for all is vanity. All go to one place; all are from the dust, and all turn to dust again (Ecclesiastes 3.18-20).

This seems to me to be an entirely realistic, if somewhat pessimistic, view of life and death. (And humans as animals! Today’s believers still have trouble accepting this, even when their holy book spells it out for them.) Later writing – the book of Daniel, for example – begins to toy with the idea of eternal life, but it isn’t until we get to Jesus’ time that the idea really takes off.

As the writer of Ecclesiastes knew, and as I suggest here, there is no evidence we survive death. Death would hardly be death if we did. The dessicated bodies of those Egyptians, mummified so their ‘owners’ could reclaim and re-use them on the other side, are still with us. There’s no evidence either that a special part of us – a soul or spirit – makes the transition. In any case, this is a predominantly pagan idea and is not what the New Testament offers. Both Jesus and Paul are firm believers in bodily resurrection here on the Earth.

The desire to live beyond the brief few years that our physical bodies last is understandable. It’s hard to imagine that one day every single one of us will no longer exist, that our consciousness, personalities, thoughts, memories, emotions – everything that makes us who we are – will simply no longer be. That’s why, I suppose, people in the past rebelled against that inevitability and fantasised about a continued existence once this one came to an end. Eventually religions came to offer such compensatory life-after-death, provided of course suckers people believed the right things.

Such is Christianity.

When you think about it, what a truly absurd notion it is; that believing in a magic formula will defeat death and enable you to be resurrected on the Earth to live in God’s new Kingdom here, or (when that didn’t quite pan out) taken up to Heaven to live there. All you have to do is believe the right things and God will do this for you. Death will be defeated by the simple expedient of your belief. We’re so used to the idea after 2,000 years of Christianity that the absurdity ceases to register – but absurd it surely is.

to be continued