The Christian blog that knows better than Jesus

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The superior intellects at Triablogue responded to my comment (see previous post below) by telling me they’d already dealt with the claim that Jesus believed the arrival of the Son of Man/the End of the Age/the Final Judgement and God’s Kingdom on Earth were imminent.

They directed me to one of their articles, Misdating the Second Coming, which argues that neither Jesus nor Paul really believed the end was nigh and that the texts which suggest they were need to be interpreted carefully (i.e. to get round what they clearly say to make them say something else.)

I can’t find any other instance of Triablogue contributors proposing that Jesus didn’t really say what the gospels have him say. They don’t dispute, for example, the so-called great commission in Matthew 28.19 (‘Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit‘) even though, with its Trinitarian formulation, Jesus almost certainly didn’t say it. Instead, the know-alls at Triablogue  reserve their hedging for the prophecies that patently failed to materialise, on the basis that Jesus couldn’t possibly have been wrong so he must have meant something else.

I’ve written several posts under the banner Making Excuses for Jesus, on the varied and feeble attempts Christians make to get round the fact the synoptic gospels consistently have Jesus say the Kingdom of God, and all that accompanies it, are just around the corner. His early followers all believed this and his eschatological pronouncements are recorded in all of the earliest texts. Mark’s gospel includes his prophecies about the Son of Man while Matthew and Luke include material not found in Mark from their ‘M’ and ‘L’ (oral?) sources that warn it is the ‘eleventh hour’. The entire thrust of the synoptic gospels is that the Kingdom is about to arrive and therefore people need to be prepared for it: ‘The time is fulfilled, the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe the good news’ (Mark 1.15).

The sayings gospel ‘Q’, which predates Mark and was probably in circulation only a few years after Jesus died, preserves several Son of Man sayings; he would be appearing soon to kick-start the Kingdom. Paul, writing decades before the gospels, tells his readers to expect the Second Coming – the Son of Man having become Jesus himself – while he and they are still alive (Thessalonians 4.14-15). Likewise, the anonymous writer of Hebrews believed he lived in the ‘last days’ (1.1-2) while the nutjob who concocted Revelation claimed he was quoting the Risen Jesus promising he would ‘surely come quickly’ (22.20). The imminence of God’s Kingdom on Earth is the consistent message of the New Testament.

And what do the cerebral Christians at Triablogue do when confronted with a summary of these facts? They don’t approve my comment, that’s what. I guess that’s all you can do when you really don’t have an answer for why your Savior™ got everything so drastically wrong; dishonestly pretend he didn’t and silence those who show that he did

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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.

God approves of slavery

slavery

Over on his blog site, Biblical Musing, Don Camp is trying to justify why God appears to condone slavery. It’s not the first time Don has tried to defend the indefensible; he’s recently been arguing much the same thing on Debunking Christianity.

The fact the Old Testament appears to endorse the keeping of other human beings as slaves is a problem for Christians. It’s a problem compounded by the fact that Jesus in Luke 12.47-48 and the imposter-Paul, in Ephesians 6.5, both support the practice. How can it be that God approves, or at least raises no objection to it? Wouldn’t an omniscient, all-loving God have outlawed slavery, as he outlaws so much else, in one of his innumerable laws and commandments?

Instead, he provides instructions about how to keep and look after slaves; what to do, for example, when you flog one to within an inch of his life so that he later dies (Exodus 21.20-21) or when you deliberately blind your slave – she’s your property after all – or rape her (Exodus 21.26; Numbers 31.17-18).

Don’s answer is that, despite God involving himself in the minutiae of slave treatment, he knew it would be a waste of time telling his people slavery was wrong. Why? Because he took the trouble to tell them lying and stealing were wrong and yet they ignored him. So, hey, why should he bother telling them about slavery? They’d just ignore that too.

But the point is – disregarding the fact that not everyone steals and lies – ‘God’ did issue laws prohibiting stealing and lying (and eating shellfish, and wearing garments of mixed fabric). It seems it was important to him to tell his pet-tribe that these were wrong, even though he must have known many of their number, and many more subsequently, would ignore him.

What can we conclude from this? Only this: that God didn’t feel the same way about slavery as he did about lying and stealing, which is why he didn’t bother making even the same token effort to prohibit slavery.

Or, and much more likely: the tribes who wrote the laws didn’t think slavery was wrong. In fact, they thought it quite useful to have slaves. Given this utility, they were unlikely to have devised laws preventing their ownership. The enslaved themselves no doubt thought differently, but then they didn’t get to write the rules.

We don’t find a commandment prohibiting slavery in the bible because those who wrote it liked having slaves. For this reason too, we find all those inhumane instructions about keeping slaves and what should happen if you maim or kill them.

Of course God didn’t write these laws. People did. And they wrote them according to their understanding of what was moral, fair and legitimate within their own primitive milieu. Thus it was that slavery got a free pass.

The Eye-witness Fallacy

MaryM2

The falsehood that the gospels are in some way eye-witness reports just won’t go away. There is no evidence they are or even that they are based on reports by eye-witnesses. Scholars speak of ‘sources’ for all elements of the gospels (Mark, Q, M & L); these were almost certainly pre-existing written and oral traditions from before the gospels’ creation.

This really is problematic for those propagating the idea that the gospels are eye-witness accounts. If they were even so much as based on eye-witness reports, then why would they need to rely so heavily on other traditions? If, as is claimed here, the scattered gospel communities who wrote them were in some sort of immediate contact with the fanned-out eye-witnesses, then they would have no need to use sources and traditions from elsewhere. Yet they do; Matthew and Luke borrow extensively from a shared source (Q) and also from Mark, particularly for their resurrection stories.

This is akin to someone today interviewing witnesses to John F. Kennedy’s assassination, – a similar interval to that between Jesus and the gospels of Matthew, Luke and John – and then, before publication, replacing what the eye-witnesses say they saw with the more far-fetched elements of Oliver Stone’s movie JFK. If there were eye-witnesses to hand, there wouldn’t be any need to do this. It doesn’t make the slightest sense that the gospel writers would do so. Yet they do.

As far as the stories of the resurrection are concerned, it is much more likely they are based, not on any eye-witness accounts, but on the scant mentions of the mystical, risen Christ of the kind we find in Paul’s letters, filtered, primarily, through Mark. As such, they are a fleshing out (almost literally) of hearsay reports of a limited number of visions that, by the time the gospels came to be written, had embedded themselves in the traditions of the early church.

Idiotic Stuff Jesus Said

JC&ManJust what did Jesus say? The Jesus Seminar and other scholars* conclude that only about 18% of the words attributed to him in the gospels are authentically his. They reach this conclusion because so much of what Jesus ‘said’ – 82% of his utterances – is demonstrably derived from elsewhere.

There were four major sources for his words, which I’ll discuss briefly here, providing an example of each. Bear in mind also that whatever the derivation of Jesus’ words, those we have today have been subject to, in their earliest days, an unreliable oral tradition, repeated copying and deliberate and accidental alteration. The earliest surviving ‘words of Jesus’ (a few fragments of the fourth gospel) date to a century after he lived.

1. The early church created a good deal of the Jesus narrative, making him say what was important to them. For example, ‘take, eat, this is my body,’ and ‘take, drink, this is my blood that is shed for you,’ is clearly a post-crucifixion perspective. While it appears in arguably the most Jewish of the gospels (Matthew’s) the idea of drinking blood, even symbolically, would have been, and remains, anathema to Jews, whose scriptures forbid it (Leviticus 17.10 -16). Jesus was an orthodox Jew; it was the Hellenised Paul who transplanted the pagan ritual into nascent Christianity. He relates in 1 Corinthians 11.23-26, written about 15 years before the first gospel, how his wholly imaginary ‘Christ’ told him of this bizarre activity. Once established in the early church, Jesus then had to be made to endorse it and it was written back into the gospels.

2. The gospel writers (or others) invented dialogue for him. His entire conversation with Pilate, for example, is invented not once but four times, the encounter being rendered differently in all four gospels. It is probable that the entire scenario is fiction, given the likelihood the excessively cruel Roman governor would even entertain the idea of questioning a seditious nobody himself. And then there’s the ‘I am’ statements of John’s Jesus that I considered here.

3. The gospel writers altered difficult sayings into something more palatable. For example, in Matthew 15.24 Jesus says he was ‘sent only to the lost sheep of Israel’ (my italics). By the end of the same gospel, as well as in Luke and John, this has become a commandment to ‘make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit’ (Matthew 28.19). So which was it? Was the message exclusively for Jews or was it for all? It suited early churches, filled with non-Jews, that the gospel was for everyone, just as Paul had argued. Jesus’ words to the contrary – even if they were sufficiently widely known to have had to be included in Matthew’s original account – needed to be amended. Who amended them and when we shall never know, but it was certainly after the idea of the Trinity had taken hold.

4. Statements Jesus actually made. The Jesus Seminar regards as authentic sayings such as:

If anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also (Matthew 5.39)

If anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well (Matthew 5.40)

Love your enemies (Luke 6.27)

Blessed are you who are poor for yours is the Kingdom of God (Luke 6.20) [changed in Matthew’s gospel to the less radical ‘poor in spirit’!]

If anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile (Matthew 5.41)

As inspiring as these might initially appear, they actually mean very little; they’re either prophecies that didn’t come to pass, impractical moral expectations or pseudo-spiritual homilies. And how much of this advice, these admonitions, do today’s Christians follow? You’d be hard pushed to find many that do. After all, following Jesus doesn’t entail doing what he says.

* I have used Robert W. Funk et al‘s The Five Gospels (HarperOne, 1997), Simon Loveday’s The Bible For Grown-Ups (Iconbooks, 2016) and Mark Allan Powell’s rather less impartial The Jesus Debate (Lion, 1998) for this post

Let’s Talk About Sex

Green&Daley

Oh, go on let’s…

The average person has sex about 2,500 times in their lives and produces an average of 2 children. In other words, a mere 0.08% of the sex they have leads to procreation. This means that the remaining 99.92% is entirely recreational. People have sex together because it feels good or helps them be close to someone they love or because they enjoy it, or all three, plus a multitude of other reasons. Even if we were to increase tenfold the number of occasions when sex is intended to produce babies but doesn’t, that still leaves 99.2% of the time when sex is just sex.

So why is it, holy readers of this unholy blog, do you insist that sex is only for procreation (like you do here, here and here)? If that’s all it’s for, shouldn’t you produce more offspring every time you and your partner have sex? Yet you don’t. Even those extremists among you who have 8 or 12 children still have sex a hell of lot of times when it doesn’t result in another kid and isn’t meant to. Most of you use contraception to actively prevent procreation and have all the fun sex you want, whenever you want, without risking another pregnancy. Surely your God can’t possibly approve when he made sex exclusively for reproduction.

Catholics – you don’t get off the hook either; you have lot of sex that doesn’t lead to babies too (or you’d be clocking up kids by the dozen by now). How’d you manage that, I wonder? Same way everybody else does, I’d guess. And what about all the jerking off to porn that macho Christian men enjoy? That for procreative purposes too?

So, why is it you keep telling the rest of us that sex is only for procreation? Let me tell you – because it’s part of your anti-gay agenda. ‘Filthy gays,’ you’re saying, ‘having all that sex that can’t possibly lead to procreation, sex that’s just for fun, that might be with more partners than I’ll ever manage’ (though multiple partners and sex outside those ‘one man/one woman’ marriages you care so much about are pretty common among Christians – but you don’t want that mentioned either). While it may come as a surprise, most gay people are not infertile; they are quite capable of ‘procreating’; given the problems of overpopulation, shouldn’t you be grateful many don’t? Or maybe, like spiteful nutjob Stephen Green in his recent rant about Tom Daley, you like to make the bleedin’ obvious point that gay men need ‘a girl’ in order to reproduce… just like straight men do.

‘But,’ you say, ‘gay sex is between two men – maybe more – or two women (maybe more) and that’s so downright distasteful and disgusting. The Bible says so and I believe it.’ Of course, you’d believe it even if the Bible didn’t say so. So what if it does? Do you honestly think the rest of us care what a bunch of ancient tribesmen and other sex-obsessed fanatics thought?

For men and women who are gay, sex with each other is far from disgusting or distasteful. It’s every bit as exciting, loving and fulfilling as all the fun sex you have. Unless of course, yours isn’t.

Your ranting about recreational sex, gay or otherwise, is just so much hypocrisy. You like it yourself, or else you wouldn’t do it (and you do do it) yet you don’t want the rest of us doing it with the consenting adults we find attractive. Until you’re prepared to give up sex so Jesus will let you in his Magic Kingdom (like he says you should in Matthew 19.10-15 and Luke 20.34-35) then do us all a favour and shut the fuck up about all the great sex the rest of us are having.

 

 

Recent Encounters of the Religious Kind

2. Maria and the Evil One

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Maria comes to the door again. She’s very personable but wasting away her life as a Jehovah’s Witness. She wonders if I’ve read the leaflet she left last time. I have, and have filled in the answers to its questions, including, ‘does the Bible have the answers to life’s big questions?’ Maria doesn’t seem very happy about my answer.

She insists on showing me a video on her iPad. It is slick and includes some clever CGI. She tells me afterwards that the ‘Evil One’ is in control of this world which is why it is in such a mess. I tell her that any mess is our own doing, we humans. She asks if I know the Bible; I say I do. She tells me that Jehovah’s Witnesses are the only ones who interpret it correctly. It doesn’t, she says, tell us that believers will go to heaven when they die (she’s right about this; it doesn’t). It promises rather that Jesus will be coming back to set up God’s Kingdom on Earth (right again). Except, I remind her, it has him promise that he will return within the lifetime of those listening to him, the Kingdom scheduled to appear within his own generation (Matthew 16:27-28; Matthew 24:27, 30-31, 34; Luke 21:27-28, 33-34). Maria concedes the point and then tries to say a generation is longer than we think. Maybe so, I say, but not 2,000 years.

Maria says she learnt something about this problem in a class recently. She appeals to her confederate for help, but he can’t remember what the elders said either. She decides now retreat is the better part of proselytising but promises to return once she has the answer.

But there is no answer; at least not one that sees Jesus’ megalomanic fantasies realised two millennia in his future.

I feel certain that, unlike Jesus, Maria will be back soon.