Can you be a Christian and … a Realist?

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If you’ve been reading this series of posts, you’ll pretty much know how this one’s going to go. You can’t really be Christian if you have, as the old song goes, half a brain. Still, it won’t hurt to see how compatible faith is with reality as we know it. You never know, we might be surprised.

Speaking of songs, I always liked Billy Joel’s ‘An Innocent Man’ from the album of the same name. Of course, by Christian reckoning there’s no such thing as an innocent man, nor woman or child – no, not one – because all have fallen short and are worthy only of death (Romans 3:23 & 6:23). All the same, we’ll give Billy the benefit of the doubt. In a song of insightful lyrics, the lines I particularly like are

Some people hope for a miracle cure
Some people just accept the world as it is
But I’m not willing to lay down and die
Because I am an innocent man

Christians seem to have such difficulty accepting the world as it is. They’re constantly upset that the world, which I’m taking to be synonymous with reality, does not and will not conform to what they expect of it. And when it doesn’t, it’s the world that’s at fault, that has it all wrong.

When the evidence is presented for climate change and our contribution to it, some believers announce, with no hint of irony, that God will never let it happen. He’ll step in, just like he always does, to prevent it. So take that Australia with your bush fires, Java with your floods and all you polar bears with your melting icebergs: God’s got it all in hand.

When a Hollywood movie depicts a same sex couple in the background of a scene for a nano-second, the born-again are apoplectic about the world’s immorality. When two female performers wiggle their bits, Franklin Graham – arch-supporter of the Pussy-Grabber-in-Chief – has the hypocrisy to claim, ‘I don’t expect the world to act like the church, but our country has had a sense of moral decency on prime time television in order to protect children.’ Clearly he does expect the world to act like the church (which as we know is both spotless and sinless.) All these modern-day Jeremiah’s do.

Reality doesn’t, and won’t, conform to what Christians want it to be. So what to do? Either join with Graham and those other evangelicals railing pointlessly against reality, like Don Quixote and his damn windmills, or (and this a much more comfortable position to adopt) be like those climate change deniers and tell yourself that whatever sort of state the world is in, God will be step in any time soon to sort it all out. After all, this is what Jesus believed. He didn’t rant and rave about the state of things, brutal Romans and all, he just had a simple, smug faith that his Father was going to set everything right real soon and put him in charge.

Christianity demands that Jesus’ disciples deny the world; reject it, despise it. The faith has denial at its core, even of oneself. It demands reality be replaced with a fantasy version of the world.

As I’ve written before:

Christians, even moderate ones

Those older links could easily be replaced with up-to-date, reality-denying ones. This is what it’s like in the Christian bubble; with all this denial taking up space, there’s no room for accepting the world as it is, and trying to change what needs changing and improve what needs improving.

Again as I’ve said before, truth, reality and other people are the casualties of religion’s life-denying efforts at self-preservation. Fantasy and reality are just not compatible.

Christians’ Favourite Delusions 4: Heaven Awaits

Heaven2Quite a few Christians are now following this blog and I’d like to issue them with a challenge: show me where Jesus or the gospel writers or St Paul or any of the New Testament authors promise you that you’ll go to Heaven when you die.

Because, you see, the Bible doesn’t make any such promise.

Jesus was adamant that ‘the righteous’ (he’s not even talking about Christians!) would soon transfer into God’s new Kingdom on Earth. When you say the Lord’s prayer, Christians, this is exactly what you’re asking for: ‘Thy Kingdom come – on Earth as it is Heaven.’ As the former bishop of Durham, Tom Wright, puts it, ‘at no point do the resurrection narratives in the four Gospels say, “Jesus has been raised, therefore we are all going to heaven.” It says that Christ is coming here, to join together the heavens and the Earth in an act of new creation’… in the first century, we might add.

Paul, with a version of Christianity that bears little resemblance to Jesus’ own, doesn’t teach that the believer will go to heaven either. In attempting to explain why the Kingdom is late in arriving – so late, in fact, that Christians were dying without seeing it – he invents the idea that the deceased will be woken up by Jesus when he returns to Earth (1 Thessalonians 4.14-16. And yes, he really did make up as he went along).

And after Paul? It was becoming increasingly apparent to later Christians that Jesus really wasn’t coming back any time soon. So they invented the idea that they would go to be with him. As Bart Ehrman puts it ‘with the passage of time, the apocalyptic notion of the resurrection of the body becomes transformed into the doctrine of the immortality of the soul’. But this is not what Jesus himself promised – and you’d think as ‘the Son of God’ he’d have known how it all worked – it’s not what St Paul taught and it’s not even what the trippy writer of Revelation claims. He too insists that everything is going to happen here on a recreated Earth (Revelation 21).

So the choice for you today, Christians, is whether you believe ‘God’s Word’ where, for once,  Jesus and Paul say much the same thing, or you go along with those later, post-biblical believers with their altogether different idea of what happens when we die.

Of course, you opt for the latter – even you have doubts that the Kingdom will come at this late stage – instead of facing the fact that when we die, we are just that: dead.

Ehrman D. Bart (2009) Jesus Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions of the Bible. Harper Collins: New York, page 266.