Crawling from the Wreckage


I’m occasionally accused of criticising only evangelical Christianity. It’s an easy target, I’m told, and I should spend some time investigating the more sophisticated and respectable version of Faith: intellectual, liberal Christianity. In fact I already have, and have written about it before. This ‘respectable’ version of the Faith is every bit as dishonest and intellectually lazy as its more excitable counterpart.

It has always seemed to me that evangelicalism and fundamentalism do at least take the most indefensible parts of the bible seriously. They may ignore them when it comes to applying them (loving enemies and giving to all who ask, for example) but at least they accept them, if only metaphorically, as part of ‘God’s inerrant and infallible Word’. Intellectual Christians on the other hand sidestep what they find uncomfortable, selecting only that which fits with what they think the Faith should be:

A Loving Father? Then we’ll disregard the parts where God is clearly anything but.

A wise and compassionate Jesus? We’ll pretend the bits where he’s cruel, ignorant and just plain wrong aren’t really there (or are later additions to the gospels; the mistaken beliefs of the early church.)

Church as inclusive community? We’ll have some of that and ignore all the unhelpful nonsense about most of humankind being destined for eternal torture. (That, after all, is just Paul, or whoever, getting carried away.)

I know they do this, because when my own faith was in its death throes, I did too.

Back in the early ’90s. I’d given up on evangelicalism but desperately wanted to salvage something of the Faith that had once meant so much to me (even as it completely messed up my life.) I wanted a God of Love, so persuaded myself there was one – disregarding what I knew of the hateful, unsavoury aspects of the God of the bible. I also really wanted Jesus to have some meaning; if not as personal saviour then as one who exemplified a purposeful and compassionate life. To do this I had to overlook Paul’s theology of a vengeful God, hell bent on punishing everyone.

In the end, however, I had to be honest with myself and accept that the nice God I was trying to believe in was no more real than the nasty one. What I wanted had no bearing on the nature of God, nor on whether he existed. Similarly with the nice Jesus, who could be unpleasant and unreasonably demanding as well. I was being entirely selective, as most Christians are, about how I constructed my own personal Jesus.

Hanging on to fragments of faith was futile. I could no longer sustain the cognitive dissonance required to embrace the parts of Christianity that made me feel good, inspired me or made me kinder, while ignoring the downright nasty bits. If I was experiencing the good things (and I was) I had to accept they were coming from somewhere other than Christianity; if I was to go on experiencing them I had to acknowledge that and cultivate them by other means.

It seemed at first that this would be difficult outside of a church but in fact there are numerous groups committed to helping and inspiring others, without the superfluous and irrelevant presence of religion. It simply isn’t necessary to hang on to selected scraps from a discredited belief system; life lies, in abundance, elsewhere.

This is why I have no more respect for intellectualised, liberal Christianity than I have for evangelicalism. There is nothing intellectual about the cognitive dissonance needed to be an ‘intellectual’ Christian. It is, in the end, a largely content free version of Faith, the spiritual equivalent of a homeopathic remedy. I mean, really: why bother?

Idiotic Stuff Jesus Said 9: God knows what you need before you ask him

PrayJesus said: ‘Do not be like non-Jews, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.’ Matthew 6.8

Prayer has been in the news quite a bit lately. Not, of course because it’s suddenly started working, but because prominent Christians have been pretending, yet again, that it does:

Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, has been telling us just how important prayer is. He prays for others while he does the ironing.

The pope has been praying for victims of Islamic State.

Churches in Glasgow have been praying for the victims and families involved in last Monday’s terrible accident there.

Bishops in Australia prayed for victims of the Sydney seige.

Christians inherit this futile behaviour and empty posturing from Jesus himself. He believed that talking ‘in secret’ to his god-in-the-sky could actually change things down here on Earth. This God, according to Jesus, knew what his children wanted even before they asked.

His children were not, however, Christians; they were Jews. The phrase I’ve interpreted above as ‘non-Jews’ is ‘Gentiles’, which means exactly that – outsiders who weren’t Jews. These outsiders, Jesus implies, just don’t get prayer. Only the chosen people, the Jews, do. Only they know how to talk to the big Sky Daddy properly and it’s only their needs that he knows about beforehand. He isn’t interested in others, their needs or their prayers.

But if he knows the needs of his chosen before they even ask him, why doesn’t he simply meet those needs? Why does he have to be asked? What sort of perverse and twisted version of a loving father is this, who insists on being asked before he will consider acting? I’m only a fallible and flawed human being but when I know my children’s needs, I don’t wait to be asked to meet them.

Maybe God isn’t really as magic as Jesus seems to think. Maybe he needs time to let things happen by chance so that he can then take the credit. Because there’s absolutely no evidence prayer works. The opposite is the case; there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that the supposed results of prayer are no more likely than if they happened by chance.

As if this weren’t ludicrous enough, many of the examples of prayer we’ve heard about recently are prayers after the event; appeals for the victims and survivors of disasters once the disaster has struck. So did God not know those involved ‘needed’ not to be killed or tortured or bereaved? If he didn’t already know this, then Jesus’ claim is, like so many others he made, utterly worthless. And if God did know, why did he not do anything to prevent the loss of life, the hardship, the devastation? Because he wasn’t asked

It’s likely though that he was asked, by those believers who were caught up in appalling circumstances. So then, why didn’t he act? Why didn’t he meet those needs he knew so much about beforehand?

Perhaps he just doesn’t care or he’s not able. Or, more likely, maybe he doesn’t exist.

And if he doesn’t exist, then Jesus was wrong in everything he said about him. He was wrong to think God was there in Heaven, taking an interest; wrong to think he cared. It also means Jesus certainly wasn’t the son of any such god. Nor was he the human manifestation of a make-believe Sky Daddy on Earth.