Same Old Same Old

I’ve been watching a Storyville documentary on the BBC iPlayer on the phenomenon that is Hillsong Church. In case you’ve not encountered it, Hillsong is a megachurch that began in Australia in the 1980s under the auspices of a remarkably uncharismatic individual, Brian Houston. It is hip, trendy and oh so cool. Its superstar preachers minister to thousands of gullible souls in vast stadia all over the world.

The programme represented the church fairly (needless to say Hillsong disagreed), interviewing people who felt it had rescued and helped them, as well as those who believed it had taken advantage of their goodwill. In the latter category were volunteers who had given their all to an aspect of the church’s ministry – attendees are told not to be ‘stingy with God’s money’ – while its higher echelons used members donations to finance lavish lifestyles and thousand dollar sneakers. It covered the child sex abuse of Frank Houston, Brian’s father and minister of the Lord, and Brian’s failure to disclose it, as well as superstar preacher, Carl ‘marriage is for life’ Lentz’s extra-marital affair.

The overall impression was one of a church that doesn’t practise what it preaches, or at least what the supposed object of its worship preached; money and sex loom large. What the documentary didn’t show was Hillsong’s compromised doctrinal position, at least according to other arms of Jesus’s one true church; its failure to preach repentance, focusing instead on individual happiness and purpose.

How like some of the early churches Paul wrote to. Churches that strayed from his personal brand of Christianity, not yet called that of course, but which he felt weren’t adhering to the ‘gospel’ he’d preached to them, being attracted instead to the alternate versions proffered by his many rivals: Apollos (1 Corinthians 1:12), the ‘Pillars of the Church’ (Galatians 2:9), Judaisers (Galatians 2:14); ‘those who preached another Jesus’ (2 Corinthians 11:4) and the unnamed smooth-talkers of Romans 16:17-19, all of whom Paul hates with a vengeance. Who is to say their gospels were any more ‘wrong’ than the aberrant nonsense that emanated from Paul’s psychotic ‘visions’? He rails too at the excesses of those early cult communities; their stinginess (2 Corinthians 8:8-9), greediness (1 Corinthians 6:8-10), muddle-headedness (Galatians 1:6-9) and sexual immorality (1 Corinthians 5:9-13). I have long wondered at Paul’s stubborn insistence that these were groups of people inhabited and guided by the holy spirit, when they had, according to him, no idea how to live lives of holiness, committed to (his) sound doctrine. Any lesser man would have given up; lesser that is in obstinate arrogance. How jealous he would have been of the numbers Hillsong attracts.

All of which goes to show that, as it was in the beginning, so it would be forever more; two thousand years later, the Christian church, as typified by Hillsong, exhibits all the faults and shortcomings of its progenitors. It is exploitative, self-serving, hypocritical, while other factions object, jealously, to its doctrine and success, just like Paul with his rivals. The more things change, the more they stay the same; how very disappointingly human.

 

Jesus writes…

Image: Caleb Havertape (https://www.pinterest.co.uk/calebhavertapei/_saved/)

Ubi Dubium has posed the question, ‘why didn’t Jesus write his own gospel?’ It’s a good question. What better way to ensure his ideas were conveyed precisely without any margin for error or misinterpretation, than to do it himself? If he hadn’t the time or the ability to do so, why didn’t he dictate his message to one of his literate disciples (surely one of them could write) who could then, as an eye-witness, finish off the story accurately once Jesus himself had returned to Heaven. Why, instead, did he leave it to people he’d never met, most of whom wouldn’t be about for another few decades?

It seems to me there are three possible answers.

  1. Jesus believed the world as he knew it was soon to end. He was convinced God was about to intervene and sweep away the old order and inaugurate the Kingdom of God on Earth. If the gospels that have come down to us are to believed, this was the core of his teaching. Jesus mentions its imminence repeatedly across the synoptic gospels and the morality he proposes, wholly impractical in the long term, is designed for the ‘shortness of the hour’. In this scenario, Jesus and his followers had no interest in writing anything down for posterity. There was no posterity; the end was very truly nigh.

  2. God didn’t want his Son to write his own story. He wanted the job left to people whom Jesus never met, who were little more than children during his lifetime and who lived hundreds of miles from where events occurred. God was sure this was the best way to create a record of his Son’s visit to Earth, without inaccuracies, inconsistencies and contradictions. 

  3. The creator of Mark’s gospel bought into Paul’s celestial Saviour, his illusory ‘Lord Jesus Christ’. Mark set about creating a ‘what if’ back story for him, set in Palestine in the recent past and constructed from Paul’s ’revelations’ and Old Testament ‘prophecy’. Mark highlighted Paul’s teaching that the Christ, whom he calls the Son of Man in his gospel, would soon be coming to the Earth (not a second coming or a return) to rescue his Chosen and reset reality.

Are there any other possibilities? I can’t think of any, nor have I read of any. So which of the three is the most plausible?

Scenario 1 leaves us with a Son of God not knowing what he was talking about. This Jesus was wrong about when the Son of Man would appear, wrong about the End of the Age, wrong about the traumatic nature of God’s intervention, wrong about the Final Judgement, wrong about the fate of the unrighteous and wrong about the Kingdom of God being established on the Earth. This scenario gives us a Jesus who is a failure as both a prophet and Messiah. It’s a wonder anything at all was written about such a loser, let alone narratives that preserved his hopeless predictions about the Kingdom’s arrival.

Scenario 2 is of course ridiculous, though it is the one most Christians buy into, more or less. As well as its inherent implausibility, it relies on the hypothetical document Q, for which no evidence exists let alone any extant copy (or even fragment). It, and a supposedly reliable oral tradition, are speculative, needed only to counter the improbability of this scenario.

Scenario 3, while contentious, makes most sense of why neither Jesus nor any of his contemporaries wrote down or otherwise recorded a single thing he said or did. Mark’s gospel, created shortly after 70CE, was the first anyone had heard of a Jesus on Earth. The three subsequent gospels were all based, to varying degrees, on Mark’s fable. In this scenario there was no real Jesus, and no dozy disciples, to have recorded his exploits and teaching.

What you think, Ubi?

A Change of Direction

I started this blog in 2013 because I really needed to work out for myself what it was that had taken (away) so many years of my life. Christianity.

I feel now, 7 years and 436 posts later, that I’ve done that. I’ve demonstrated to my own satisfaction that Jesus and all that goes with him, is a myth, a make-believe based on the visions of a few religious nutcases in the first century. (Yes, nutcases. I can’t use any other word.) The imaginings of these zealots and those who perpetuated the lie, duped me, deluded me, took years of my life and stopped me from being myself. It was my fault. I should’ve had more sense than to fall for it. But now I know.

So what to do with this blog? The new, ‘improved’ WordPress platform is far less user-friendly than older versions and over-complex (for me and many others) and I need to simplify what I’m doing with it. I have only a few followers, and even fewer who comment. (I’m grateful to everyone who drops by regularly and to those who leave comments.) I’m sure that from time to time, I will feel moved to write about Christians’ doings and idiocies, but for now at least, I’ll be taking the blog in a different direction.

I’ve recently finished reading Jordan B. Peterson’s 12 Rules For Life: An Antidote To Chaos. Perhaps you’ve read it. If you haven’t, save yourself several hours of your life that you’ll never get back. While some of the book is undoubtedly interesting – who knew about lobster hierarchies? – it is completely devoid of humour and takes itself far too seriously, reflecting, I’d venture to say, its author’s disposition. Peterson is undoubtedly erudite and uses much of the book demonstrating just how erudite he is. He indulges in interminable digression, replete with chunks of scripture, from whichever ‘rule’ he is ostensibly discussing. And what rules they are! ‘Pet a cat when you encounter one in the street’. ‘Stand up straight with your shoulders back’. ‘Do not bother children when they are skateboarding’. Try living your life according to these profundities and see where it gets you!

Thinking I could do no worse, I’m going to attempt to outline my own 12 rules for life. Don’t worry, I’ll be brief, and I won’t presume to offer an antidote to chaos. Some of the ‘rules’ I’ve already written about in earlier posts so I’ll just précis what I’ve already said or at least attempt to come at them from a different angle.

I’ll follow each post with one of my short stories that (hopefully) illustrates the rule in question. That’s the plan at least. We’ll see how it goes. I would of course appreciate your comments on both of these new elements when they start to appear.

Meanwhile, may 2021 be a much better year for all of us. Surely it can’t be any worse…

 

Goodbye, Jesus

The Jesus narrative is a made-up story, originally created by a member of one of the many branches of a first century cult centred on a supernatural being experienced in visions. We call this cult member ‘Mark’. His ‘gospel’ was not written to convert anyone – I doubt any of them were – it was written as a ‘what if?’ story for fellow cult members: ‘what if our celestial saviour had lived on Earth?’ It is made up of St Paul’s teaching, Old Testament mythology, and ideas taken from pagan dying-god myths (probably in that order). It amalgamates the cult’s rules with what cultists believed about the end of the age: that their celestial saviour would very soon be coming down to Earth to save them and annihilate their enemies.

Ten or fifteen years later, another writer took Mark’s fiction and rewrote much of it for his branch of the cult. This was a group who saw themselves as still firmly within Judaism, so ‘Matthew’ toned down Paul’s teaching, eliminating a good deal of it. He heightened Jewish teaching for his co-religionists, and created a Jesus who was a manifestation of prophecy, as he saw it, from the Jewish scriptures. This construct had no time for any magic salvation-formula; like the cult who created him, he taught obedience to Jewish Law and believed that serving others was the way to eternal life.

A few years on and a third sect found Mark and Matthew’s stories weren’t entirely to their liking. They didn’t quite get Jesus right. So they took them and altered them again. Their scribe, known now as Luke, created a third Jesus. It’s possible this sect didn’t realise the original story was fiction. There’s some evidence Luke thought Jesus had really existed, 50 years or so before he remodelled him.

Later still, the creators (plural) of a fourth gospel created a Christ totally unlike the other three. This branch of the cult had ceased to believe, perhaps because it hadn’t happened when earlier believers said it would, that the saviour would be coming through the clouds at any minute to set up God’s kingdom on Earth. That part of the original idea was dropped; this Jesus is made to preach an internalised salvation, and everlasting life in heaven is beginning to be hinted at.

And that’s it. The adventures of Jesus on Earth began as a ‘what if?’ story created for existing cult members. Other branches of the cult took it and reshaped its central character so that he suited their needs and beliefs. A real Jesus was not necessary for any of this to happen. Just as it was for Paul, whether one existed or not is immaterial,. Even if he did, we can know nothing about him. The Jesuses created by each sect is a product of what they imagined their saviour to be, just like the various Christs that are worshipped today.

So, I’m saying a final goodbye to Jesus – or rather to all the Jesuses, Christs and made-up Messiahs spawned by the visions, fantasies and fan-fiction of the first century. I don’t need them, and neither do you.

This blog will be taking a new direction in the new year. Next time, though, I hope you’ll read one of my Christmas stories, as featured on the BBC.

Stay safe. 

What Second Coming?

Richard Carrier notes in On the Historicity of Jesus (p560) how Paul never speaks of a ‘second coming’, prompting me to look at all the predictions of Christ’s future arrival in the New Testament. Here’s a selection of verses, some of them supposedly the words of Jesus himself, where this coming is ‘prophesied’:

And then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory (Mark 13.26).

You will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven (Mark 14.62).

For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man (Matthew 24.27).

For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man… they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man (Matthew 24. 37, 39)

When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all his angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of glory. (Matthew 25.31).

You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect (Luke 12.40).

For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God (1 Thessalonians 4.16).

Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Thessalonians 5.23).

For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes (1 Corinthians 11.26).

Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord… Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand (James 5.7-8).

Waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ (Titus 2.13).

Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him (Revelation 1.7).

Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay everyone for what he has done (Revelation 22.12).

Isn’t this strange? None of them refer to Christ’s arrival as a ‘return’ or ‘second coming’. You’d be hard pushed to find any such ‘prophecy’ in the New Testament*. His appearance here on Earth is described as the coming of a celestial being. Even Jesus is made to talk about the manifestation of such a figure, taken by Christians to mean his own future self, as if he’s talking about someone else: the Son of Man, who hasn’t yet appeared but will do so in the near future. It’s as if the gospels’ fictional Jesus is being made to predict the arrival of the ‘real’, celestial Jesus.

More importantly, the Son of Man and Paul’s version of the same figure, the Christ, are spoken of as ‘coming’ or ‘descending’, not ‘returning’ or coming again. It’s as if Paul, the writers of the synoptic gospels, John of Patmos and other first-century Christians* didn’t believe that the Christ had already visited the Earth. They talk instead as if he’s about to arrive for the very first time. When he does, they believed, he would be coming as an avenging angel, rescuing those who believe in him – as a celestial being who carried out his salvific work in the heavenly realms (1 Corinthians 15, Galatians 1.11-12 etc) – and slaughtering those who don’t. This is the apocalypse – the revealing or uncovering of the heavenly Christ for the very first time.

That Jesus will ‘return’ or make a second coming is an assumption made by later believers on the basis of verses like those above. In fact, they say no such thing. The earliest Christians wrote as if they didn’t believe their envisaged hero had ever been on Earth. For them, his one and only arrival was still to come.

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* An exception appears to be Hebrews 9.28 which says, ‘so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him’. Hebrews, however, regards the Christ only as a supernatural high priest, operating in the heavenly realms. This second appearance then can only refer to this character, who is not conceived as having had any existence here on Earth.

Will the real Jesus please stand up?: Conclusion

There will no doubt be Christians reading this blog who are keen to tell me that no-one in their right mind would believe in a made-up Jesus.

No? Yet the self-righteous are still making up Jesuses in their own image. Jesuses who bear little relation to any of those in the Bible. Jesuses that suit their own agendas: White Republican Jesus, America First Jesus, Catholic Jesus (with his heart outside his body), anti-LGBT Jesus, Evangelical Jesus, Social Justice Jesus, Prosperity Jesus, Mormon Jesus, Jehovah’s Witness Jesus, Jesus who gives glimpses of heaven, Jesus who communicates with his ‘prophets’ here on Earth… and many more.

Every single one of them is a made to order, manufactured Jesus, every single one imaginary. The Jesus worshipped by individual Christians and churches is a figment of the imagination. He may be loosely based on one of the Jesuses of the Bible (I’ll generously give them the benefit of the doubt) but he is unique to every sect and to every single person within it. Each individual sets up an altar to the idol in their head and worships him there.

Christians: your personal Saviour isn’t real. You worship a construct of your own making.

From which, two questions follow:

If no-one in their right mind would believe in an imaginary Jesus, what does this tell us about you?

Given you believe in an imaginary Jesus, why is it so difficult for you to accept that the earliest Christians did too?

Stories

 

  • Many Christians believe that God himself impregnated Mary and that her son, Jesus, was God Incarnate. Yet they don’t accept that numerous others, including Perseus, Buddha and Vishnu, who were all fathered by gods, are in any way divine. Why not?
  • Evangelicals and other Christians believe that Jesus performed many miracles. However, they dismiss other miracle workers as frauds or mythical beings. As John Oakes puts it on the Evidence for Christianity website, ‘religious figures (such) as Osiris, Empedocles or Krishna almost certainly were not real people, making stories of supposed miracles they worked irrelevant’. Why?
  • Christians believe Jesus fed 5,000 people with 5 fish and 2 loaves. They don’t believe the Qur’an’s story that Muhammed did much the same thing. Why not?
  • Christians believe Jesus was visited by the long dead Moses and Elijah. They believe Paul saw Jesus after he died. Yet they dismiss the Mormon claim that Joseph Smith saw Jesus and God himself. Why?
  • Christians believe Jesus came back to life a day and a half after he was killed. However, they regard the resurrection stories of Dionysus, Osiris and Attis as counterfeit. Why?
  • Christians believe Jesus rose into the sky to take up his place in heaven. Yet they think it preposterous that Muhammed went there on a flying horse. Why?

When it comes to their own stories Christians are adamant that they are reliable accounts of events that really happened. Jesus really was God’s son. He really did do magic; really did feed 5,000 people with a few scraps; really did rise from the dead and really did beam up to heaven. Paul really met him on the road to Damascus.

Even liberal Christians like Joel Anderson, while acknowledging there is much that is suspect in the Jesus story, argue with all the cognitive dissonance they can muster, that the gospels are nevertheless ‘historically reliable’. This really won’t do. Evidentially, the gospels are as ‘historically reliable’ as the tall tales involving Osiris, Buddha, Vishnu, Muhammed and Joseph Smith. Gods only make visits to the Earth in stories, individuals only rise from the dead in stories, magic and miracles only occur in stories. The Christian examples of these tropes are as imaginary as all the others. The heroes of such stories – be it Empedocles, Perseus, Mithras, Buddha, Krishna or Jesus – are fabrications too.

If it’s constructed like a story, has all the components of a story and reads like a story then that’s exactly what it is. 

What are the Odds?

To look at it another way…

The stories of the Old Testament are largely fictional. They’re myth, legend and otherwise fabricated. There was no Eden, no world-wide flood, no slavery in Egypt, no Exodus. There’s no evidence that the characters around which events supposedly took place actually existed: no Noah, Abraham, Moses, Job, Jonah or Daniel. Their stories were created long after the time they purportedly lived; centuries later. The stories written about kings – which, if they existed, were no more than half-remembered tribal chiefs – and the so-called great prophets are constructed from folktales. In short, nothing we read in the Old Testament actually happened.

When we get to the New Testament, we find convoluted exposition of Paul’s ‘revelations’ about Jesus; visions and imagined sightings of a celestial being he had in his own head. It’s the same for the fruitcake writer of Revelation who envisaged an unreal comic book Jesus; invention every bit of it. The Acts of the Apostles offers a fanciful and wholly inaccurate ‘history’ of the early church, including angels, teleportation and fatal miracles. Of the 21 letters in the New Testament, at least 11 are forgeries, known to have been written by anonymous authors who were not who they claimed to be. The other 10, including Paul’s genuine letters and the likes of Hebrews, make up all sorts of mystical stuff about an angelic Godman-cum-high priest.

 And yet, in the midst of these myths and legends, made-up characters and stories, forgeries and fantasies and mystical musings stands the indisputable truth of the gospels. Or so Christians and theologians would have us believe. These particular stories, surrounded as they are by fiction on all sides are historical, factual and true.

What are the odds?

Will the real Jesus please stand up? (part 4)

All of which begs the question: was Jesus a real person who became a mythical celestial being within 3 or 4 years of his death or was he a mythical celestial being to begin with who was historicised within about fifty or sixty years of his creation?

The time scales are important. Christians today argue that Jesus can’t possibly have been an imagined being because fifty to sixty years represents an insufficient period for him to have transitioned into a fully realised historical figure. Yet this is precisely what we see between Paul and others’ visions of Christ and the writing of Mark and Matthew’s gospels. (Richard Carrier makes the case that the writer of the former was cognizant of the fact he was not writing history but allegory. If so, Matthew’s gospel, circa 80CE, is the first to depict Jesus as an actual person.)

As related by Paul, his vision of the heavenly Christ followed those of Cephas, the twelve and 500 others. His experience is usually dated to between 34 and 37CE. These visions appear not to be rooted in reality. Paul writes at length about his Lord Jesus Christ yet shows no knowledge about the life, relationships, teaching or miracles of the character who later appears in the gospels. His Christ exists only in a celestial heaven where Paul believes his sacrifice also took place there.

Christians argue instead that Christ was a real person. He lived, preached and died in a specific geographical area (though the gospel writers don’t all agree where this was) at a particular time (they don’t agree on this either). After his resurrection he ascended to a heaven believed to be above the sky. He became a spiritual entity at this point, having lived a real life on Earth. Later Christians would argue he resumed the role of celestial being. After his ascension he began communicating with mortals attuned to him using visions and dreams; hence Paul’s and others’ revelatory experiences.

But wait. If fifty years is too short a period for a celestial Christ to be seen as a real person, then 4 years or less – the time between Jesus’ supposed ascension and Paul experiencing him in his head – is even shorter. If we’re judging how probable either transition is in terms of the time it took, the Christian preference of 3-4 years is by far the less likely.

A transition is involved either way: from a wholly spiritual entity to human, or from human to a celestial being. The first, taking about 50 years, is too short a time for Christians. They prefer the second, which involves only 4 years. It also entails supernatural intervention, with God required to engineer the transition from the human to the quasi-divine.

Taking Occam’s razor to the evidence – Paul’s genuine letters, the other early letters and the book of Hebrews – it is clear the transition happened the other way round. Christ was originally an imagined spiritual being, envisaged by Paul and others. The spiritual Christ was subsequently, 50 years later, given an earthly back story, like one of those shaky prequels created for an already successful TV series. This story in its different versions eventually came to dominate, stories being easier to remember and believe than complex theories about invisible beings.

Will the real Jesus please stand up? (part 3)

As we’ve seen, so much about Jesus appears to have been invented and made up; literally, ‘envisioned’. Almost everything he said and did, including his death and resurrection, derive from Paul’s teaching and the Old Testament. Mark created his gospel narrative out of these, embellishing the story with ideas from other, pagan myths. Mark’s gospel then served as the basis of the other three canonical gospels.

It could be argue that none of this suggests Jesus didn’t exist. He could still have been a real life human being who wandered around Palestine, teaching people about the End of the Age. In which case, why did Paul and the later gospel writers have to make so much up about him, as clearly they did. Why didn’t they report directly what he taught, instead of quoting the Old Testament as Paul does when he talks about his Christ (he tells us this is what he’s doing, in Romans 15.2-4)? Not once does he refer to anything the historical Jesus said. Neither do the gospel writers. They make stuff up, they alter what their predecessors say, they dip into the Old Testament to construct Jesus’ teaching.

Why? If the real Jesus was such a Great Teacher, who had so much wisdom to impart, why don’t we find it in the gospels instead of this amalgam of other sources? Was his teaching so unimpressive and unmemorable that a new script had to be written for him? If so, how did he attract the fame and following he purportedly did? Why are the gospels literary creations and not the kind of reporting we might expect if they were relating the sayings and doings of one man? Why do the gospels have their own distinct agendas when they are supposedly reporting the views of a real individual? Why are there so many interpretations of Jesus in the New Testament: Jewish Jesus, Gentile Jesus, Anti-semitic Jesus, Gnostic Jesus, Anti-gnostic Jesus, Radical Jesus, Pacifist Jesus, Saviour Jesus, High Priest Jesus, Cosmic-judge Jesus? Why, if it really happened, does the resurrection read like myth, with all the differences in detail between the accounts? Why does Paul talk about it as something that was only revealed in ‘visions’? Why does Mark hint that his Jesus story is a parable, the true meaning of which can only be discerned by the spiritually mature (Mark 4.10-12)?

If Jesus was real, none of this – the myth making, the invention, the reliance on the Old Testament – would be necessary.

That Paul and the gospel writers made up so much suggests there wasn’t a real person on whom their teaching and stories are based. Jesus Christ was the result of the ‘visions’, dreams and hallucinations that someone called Cephas and a few others, Paul included, experienced.

There was no historical Jesus, no miracles, no wondrous teaching, no crucifixion, no resurrection, no ascension. There will be no second coming, no final judgement, no Kingdom of Heaven presided over by someone who originally lived 2000 years ago. Why? Because every bit of it is make believe.