The Myth of God’s Forgiving Love

homosexualdemons

God loves you, he really does. His love for you is so wide you can’t get round it. So high you can’t get over it, blah, blah, blah. We know this because Christian preachers are forever telling us. I saw Joel Osteen saying so the other evening on TBN, God’s very own TV station.

Don’t you think it’s strange that God needs TV stations and evangelists and preachers to tell you about his love, and everything else about him? An alien looking at religion without any foreknowledge would think it and its gods were entirely a human creation. He or she would ask why God doesn’t show himself, reveal his nature and demonstrate first-hand how much love he has for us. To which our Christian friends, if they’re not squabbling between themselves or blaming the world’s (i.e. America’s) problems on gay people, abortion or the absence of prayer in school (where, in fact, anyone is free to pray), would tell our alien that God did just that, once upon a time, when he sent Jesus. And they might then tell him how Jesus died so we might all be forgiven our sins and live with God, once we’re dead, happily ever after in Heaven. Grace they’ll call it, the free gift of God.

If you’ve read this blog for any length of time – I admire your stamina! – you’ll know that very little of this is what the Bible offers and that Jesus’ idea of getting right with God is very different from this perversion of Paul’s magical salvation plan.

In Matthew 18.21-35, Jesus tells a particularly unpleasant parable about God’s love and patience. It turns out it’s very different from Joel Osteen’s view of the same things (still, I expect Osteen’s right; he’s got a congregation far in excess of the rabble who followed Jesus.)

The story concerns a king who cancels (forgives) the substantial debt one of his servants owes him. This king, who represents God (or maybe even Jesus himself in one of his more egotistical moments) is indeed forgiving at this stage of the story. However, the servant – let’s call him Franklin – then comes across a fellow-servant (Jason) who asks Franklin to overlook the much smaller debt he owes him. Franklin responds by telling Jason that he must pay his debt immediately or else he’ll have him thrown in jail. Unfortunately for Franklin, the king hears of his lack of compassion and in light of the fact he himself has forgiven Franklin much, is enraged at his attitude towards Jason. He rescinds the forgiveness he extended towards him and has Franklin thrown in jail instead. Having told the story, Jesus hammers the moral home, as he does here in Matthew 6.14-15:

If you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.

We learn three things from the parable about how Jesus (or his scriptwriters) viewed forgiveness:

1) Far from being an unmerited free gift, God’s forgiveness is entirely conditional. It is conditional on how much we ourselves are forgiving. Matthew 5.23-26 and the Lord’s prayer both take the idea further: we can’t even expect God to forgive us unless we’ve forgiven others: ‘Father, forgive our sins,’ says the prayer, ‘to the extent we forgive those who sin against us.’

2) God’s forgiveness is not once-and-for-all; it can be withdrawn if and when we fail to forgive others.

3) There is no mention in this story, nor in the prayer, nor in Jesus’ other teaching about forgiveness, of unmerited grace or a salvation formula, even though the gospels were recorded long after Paul devised his magical incantation. God’s forgiveness, therefore is not the result of Jesus’ dying for us, nor is it unmerited, as ‘grace’ would suggest; it has to be earned. And how is it earned? By forgiving others.

4) God is no God of Love. He’s a bastard who can’t be trusted; one slip and you’re out on your ear.

So what does any of this matter when there’s no God and Jesus was something of a deluded charlatan, anyway? Well, you won’t hear this version of forgiveness preached in church or promoted by evangelists, or even practised by Christians. This perspective on forgiveness is so far removed from Paul’s ‘gospel of grace’ and modern day Christianity that it has to be ignored, disregarded, forgotten about. After all, Christian leaders don’t want their flocks to know that forgiveness needs to be earned. And they certainly don’t want the rest of us to know that they’re really not up to the task. Besides, squabbling about doctrine and blaming gays for everything is much more satisfying.

 

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How it is

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It all depends on the premise from which you begin. I’m tired of the arguments of Christians of all stripes that

   The bible is the inspired word of God

      Jesus died for me

          He really did rise from the dead

                Jesus was, in some sense, the son of God

                     God, or Jesus, loves us and wants to have relationship with us

                          God, or Jesus, will forgive our sins if only we ask him

                            He has supernaturally changed the lives of millions

               We are all, whether we realise it or not, involved in a spiritual battle

       Jesus is coming back soon to judge the world

Most people will go to Hell, a select few to Heaven

We can argue with Christians about these claims – and others you can probably think of yourself – pointing out how the Bible really can’t self-authenticate itself, that just because it appears to say it’s the Word of God doesn’t mean it is; arguing about who wrote the gospels and whether they can be trusted; disputing the resurrection when the bible’s own accounts are so inconsistent; challenging the theology behind Paul’s redemption formula… and so on.

But really, why bother? Take a step back.

All of these ideas are dependent on one thing: that there is a God.

Yet there is no evidence there is. Christians will tell us that that the absence of evidence doesn’t necessarily equate with evidence of absence, but in this case it does. The absence of evidence that I keep a pink unicorn in my garage is fairly conclusive evidence that I don’t – and so it is with God. The evidence for him is circumstantial and so remarkably thin that the probability he exists is virtually zero (I’ve discussed this previously; here, for example). What humans have imagined him to be is not evidence of his external reality; a book written by superstitious sheep-herders and first century fanatics certainly isn’t. And beyond that? Nothing.

It follows that if God doesn’t exist then

       the Bible can’t be his inspired word;

                    Jesus cannot be his son;

                       God cannot have sent Jesus to redeem us;

                            he cannot have raised Jesus from the dead;

                                  he cannot be offended by ‘sin’;

                                        it cannot be God who changes lives;

                                  heaven and hell are not real;

the whole panoply of supernatural beings that populate the bible don’t exist either.

Take away God (and he was never there in the first place) and Christianity with its claims of the supernatural, salvation and eternal life, crumbles to nothing. It is nothing.

So it all depends on your premise. If you’re prepared to believe, against the evidence, that God exists you’ll find substance in the claims of religion. If you recognise that he doesn’t, however, you will also recognise that religion’s claims are illusory, fallacious, deceptive. No need to get involved in fruitless arguments with believers about it; that’s how it is.

What has God ever done for us?

Noah

Back in my Christian days, I used to sing a hymn with a line that went ‘give and give and give again what God has given thee’. It was a fine if largely ignored sentiment – like those of similar nature demanded by Jesus – but I was reminded of it recently on hearing for the umpteenth time of just how much God has given us.

Join me in taking a look around to see.

Everything around me here in the room is… well, not to put too fine a point on it, man-made, that is devised, created, crafted and manufactured by human beings. No supernatural intervention appears to be have been required in the creation of the technology you and I are currently using, nor in the creature comforts that surround me: the chair I’m sitting on, the cushions, the clothes that are keeping me warm this cold winter’s day, the glasses I’m wearing that enable me to see properly (and have done since I was a young child), the carpet that keeps my feet from bare boards, the boards themselves, the house that they’re part of. No god was involved in the making of these things and the many more conveniences that make life in the Western world as comfortable as it is. You name it, humans made it.

It’s true that many of these items utilise natural resources – wood, cotton and so on – but the cultivation of these is again the result of human effort. There’s a clue too in the name of such materials – ‘natural’. Nature produces them, which as Darwin made plain 150 years ago, does not require any god pulling any strings behind the scenes.

The same applies to our bodies; they are the product of natural processes. I was created by my parents who in turn were created by theirs and so back to a time before any of us were human; no god was steering the direction of evolution, nor, despite what Ken Ham thinks were we created as we are today in six days. And when our bodies let us down, as they inevitably do? Even the most ardent among us do not depend on god’s willingness to heal us – he is, as in so many other respects, notoriously unreliable – we go instead to the physician and the surgeon, to medicine and technologies; in short we turn to other human beings and the creations of human beings; we turn to science. The vast majority of Christians do this too, which says much about their faith in an Almighty who can work wonders (but doesn’t). When the chips are down they don’t, as Ham puts it, reject the ‘foolish ways of man’, but turn to the skills and provision of their fellow men and women. They help far more than – infinitely more than – any imaginary god.

So it is with ideologies, philosophies and religions; they too are human inventions, everyone of them. In the West we enjoy the benefits of living in capitalist democracies with their attendant conveniences and freedoms. No god-on-high handed down such systems. Jesus was rabidly opposed to riches and wealth and there was nothing democratic about his intention to be king of the world.

Everything we have, from our ideologies and morality to science and technologies we  created ourselves; no was god involved. The messes we’ve made too; these are our responsibility, from the damage we’ve inflicted on the environment and the climate to the wars we seem endlessly to engage in and the often often appallling way we treat each other. We are culpable. No god is going to come down from heaven to right these wrongs. No god ever has; we have to sort things out ourselves. That has always been the case and always will be.

If it’s not, then those who of you who promote a god need to show him to the rest of us. Show us your god – not through the actions of human beings because those are just that, the actions of human beings. Show us something your god made that is not better explained as a product of nature or of human beings themselves. Provide evidence of your Christ, his angels and his heaven that is more than the delusion shard by you and your co-religionists; show us that they are beings with an existence independent of the human mind.

You can’t, you say, because that’s not the way of spirituality, not the way of a transcendent god.

How very convenient.

 

On being free

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Commenter Rebecca responded at length recently to my post ‘Why God Could Not Possibly Have Created The Universe (pts 4 & 5)’. There was so much in her response, that I thought it best to reply to her in a full length post rather than with a brief comment:

Hi Rebecca,

I won’t be able to respond to all of your points as there are so many, but will attempt a few.

I’m glad you find your faith beneficial. You’ve obviously thought about the whole incarnation/sacrifice/reconciliation issue, but I wonder whether you’ve ever asked yourself what it is you need saving from and reconciled with? What is it that means you personally need to avail yourself of the sacrifice Jesus supposedly made (however you interpret that)? I guess evangelicals, of which you seem to say you are not one, would claim it’s because of sin; the alienation from God that our very existence seems to cause.

Is that really the case though? Isn’t it rather that ancient superstitious peoples needed some explanation for why life was so difficult, short and brutish? They reasoned that surely it couldn’t be the fault of the creator God, so his tendency to treat them badly must be entirely their fault. Consequently, they had to do something to appease this god, to make him smile upon them again as they felt he must once have done. They thought the way to do this was, variously, through sacrifice and/or righteous living, by murdering those they felt offended him the most, and through praise and supplication.

There is no getting away from the fact, however, that the primary way they sought to reconcile themselves with their deity was through blood sacrifice. The New Testament’s interpretation of the death of Jesus is expressed in just such terms:

In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our sins, according to the riches of His grace (Ephesians 1.7).

This is not just an evangelical perspective; it is the major theme of much of the New Testament.

I’d like to ask you, Rebecca: are you really so steeped in sin that you need to avail yourself of a bloody human sacrifice in order to be reconciled with God? I have to say it seems extremely unlikely.

I didn’t leave faith behind because of how repugnant this idea is, however. I experienced an epiphany while walking one day, after many years of thinking about such things, and realised with conviction that there was no god: no god to appease, be reconciled with or commune with. He simply didn’t and doesn’t exist (see here for why I think this is the case). Of course, there being no god means there’s no son of god either.

I then started living my life on the basis of the fact there is no god, and I have to tell you it became a whole lot better. I didn’t have the constant feeling I had to come up to some impossible standard; I didn’t feel guilt for the most trivial of ‘sins’; I no longer worried that not getting my beliefs quite right would result in the loss of my eternal life; I stopped worrying about eternal life because it was obvious there was no such thing; I stopped thinking hell and heaven were real; I started living in the here and now; I stopped thinking I had to respond to others’ needs by telling them about Jesus (and started relating to them as people); I no longer had to subjugate whatever intellect I have to force myself to believe things that were clearly nonsense; the self-loathing I felt about my sexuality began to slip away. I could be me, and what a massive relief that was. I think I became a better person as a result. I certainly became a happier one.

You say the bible contains many deep truths – perhaps – but it also includes much that is cruel spiteful, damaging and just plain wrong. I lost interest in sifting the wheat from the chaff because there was just too much chaff (a free biblical analogy for you there.)

The secrets of life, whatever they may be, Rebecca, are not in the bible, nor in any convoluted explanation of what Jesus stood for (he was just another failed apocalyptic preacher). They do not lie in Christianity or in any religion. Life is more than any of these ultimately dead things.

Thank you for writing. It can only be a good thing that you’re thinking about these issues. You will I’m sure find your way out into the light. I hope what I post here can help you with that.

How not to love your neighbour

preachersImagine: a group of health-fascists set themselves up on a soap box in the city centre from where they lambaste everyone going past, with language that is abusive and demeaning, about the poor state of their health, their out-of-condition bodies and that many of them are  significantly over-weight. But, the speakers insist, a bottle of a magic potion they just happen to be selling will solve all their health problems overnight! All anyone has to do is commit to swallowing some every day for the rest of their lives.

Unsurprisingly, people are upset about this; they’ve come to town for all sorts of reasons, but not to be lectured about their health and size, which, for most of them are both perfectly fine. Some of these folk challenge the snake-oil salesmen, shouting back at them (not having the benefit of a tannoy system) and demanding to know what gives them the right to harass passers-by. In response, one of the salesmen pulls out a copy of last Tuesday’s Daily Mail; ‘it’s all in here,’ he declares, ‘all in black and white, and we believe it. The Daily Mail wouldn’t lie to us. Its Word is Truth. So get your magic potion now before it’s too late, ya depraved, ignorant slobs!’

Acceptable or not?

While you think about – if you even need to – the picture above was intended to accompany the previous post. It shows street preachers Michael Overd, Michael Stockwell and Adrian Clark before their trial for ‘public order offences’, which started last week and concluded on Tuesday this week. I felt it couldn’t be used while the trial was ongoing (contempt of court and all that) and so had it replaced with one of rabid American nutcase Franklin Graham.

Two of the three preachers, Overd and Stockwell, were found guilty and fined. Naturally, there’s an outcry from Christians and assorted fruitcakes everywhere about how the two have been denied their freedom of speech (though there is no protection of free speech under UK law) and how – oh calamity! – it’s no longer possible to ‘preach the gospel’ in the Britain. Absolute nonsense, of course, and while some more liberal commentators feel the case should never have reached the courts (let the nutjobs condemn themselves by spouting in the streets, suggests one) an example has been made of people who think the way to show love for your neighbour is setting out, in the judge’s words, to ‘insult, humiliate, demean (and) belittle’ them in public using a loud speaker in a shopping centre.

As Andrew Calibre pointed out in the previous post, haranguing and provoking people like this has nothing to do with love, nor is it ‘the gospel’. Shouting, as Overd did, about how your neighbour is ‘depraved and ignorant’ and how those who have sex outside marriage and gay people (of course) are ‘filthy, depraved and perverted’ is not, by any stretch of the imagination, ‘the good news’.

Perhaps the confusion is understandable when the Bible and God’s people™ are so muddled themselves about what ‘the good news’ actually is; God’s Kingdom arriving on Earth, as Jesus seems to have thought? Paul’s magical salvation formula? Or maybe it’s that there’s a free pass to heaven? One thing’s for sure, verbally abusing your neighbours and other strangers it isn’t. Even if street preachers justify their arrogance and rudeness by claiming they’re only conveying what (they think) the Bible says – so what? Their tawdry little book has no more authority than any other collection of ancient (or modern) fantasy, prejudice and supposition.

So, no, it’s not acceptable that hypothetical, self-appointed health experts verbally abuse strangers in the street. And as the court ruled this week, nor is it when religious zealots do the same. Passers-by and by-standers have every right to feel irritated, annoyed and offended, just as Christians would be if a group of Muslims propounded their beliefs with the same aggression, informing all and sundry how wicked they are and how they are destined to spend eternity in whatever hell Islam envisages. Nor would ‘we’re only preaching what the Qu’ran teaches’ be any justification.

But the issue isn’t only the irritation that people feel when religious extremists abuse them. It’s the one in a hundred, or whatever the percentage is, who takes them seriously, accepts the confederate’s tract, shows interest and is ultimately sucked into one of the many versions of the mind-numbing Jesus cult. Far worse than selling people magic potions, or insurance they don’t need, there is something obscene about cranks taking to the streets to recruit the gullible and unsuspecting to their (lost) cause. We wouldn’t tolerate it if it were anything other than religion, why should we accept it when it is? The prosecution of presumptuous con-artists does us all a service.

 

 

 

Have Faith

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So there we were in court. First time I’d been on a jury. Pretty serious case too. If it went against the defendant, he’d be facing the death penalty. So I suppose it was pretty serious for him too.

First up was the arresting officer. ‘Oh, yes,’ he said. ‘I have every faith this guy’s the culprit.’

‘How much faith?’ said the judge. ‘Is it real, deep-down, sincere faith?’

‘Oh, yes,’ said the cop. ‘Really unshakeable, supernatural faith. That’s him okay. We’re not looking for anyone else. Genuine conviction, you see.’

‘Yes, I do see,’ the judge said. ‘And very commendable it is too.’

‘But…’ spluttered the guy in the dock.

‘Wait your turn,’ the judge snapped. ‘We gotta hear the expert testimony before we get to you.’

The expert took the stand. ‘I believe it was this guy,’ he said, pointing to the man in the dock. ‘Yes sir, I’m sure it was. I have a really good feeling about it. This is him, definitely.’

‘You really, really truly believe?’ the judge asked and the expert nodded. ‘Well, that’s good enough for me,’ the judge said. ‘So… anybody got anything to add before I pass sentence?’

‘Er, yeah,’ said he guy in the dock. ‘What about the evidence?’

‘The evidence?’ said the judge. ‘Who needs evidence when we’ve got all this belief, faith and deeply held conviction?’

‘Well,’ the guy said, ‘far be it from me to say so, but isn’t the evidence important?’

‘Important?’ snorted the judge, resulting in guffaws all around the courtroom, including from my fellow jurors.

‘Yes,’ said the accused. ‘Important evidence like my watertight alibi. Like the DNA and finger prints that weren’t mine. Like the CCTV footage. Like… that other guy’s confession.’

‘Oh, come on,’ said his defence lawyer jumping up. ‘We’ve been over this. It means nothing. What’s really important is what people believe. Faith, like the officer here said.’

‘Well,’ said the guy in the dock, ‘I have my doubts about that.’

‘Oh, but doubt is of the devil,’ said his lawyer, ‘It’s faith that matters – faith and right belief.’

‘That hardly seems reasonable to me,’ said the man. ‘After all, it’s my life that’s on the line here.’

‘Now you’re just being absurd,’ said the judge. ‘What has reason got to do with anything?’

‘But I thought…’ began the accused, looking more perplexed than ever.

‘We’re none of us here to think,’ said the judge, ‘least of all you. How many more times must we tell you? Faith is all that matters.’

‘Well,’ said the defendant doubtfully, ‘if you say so…’

‘Great!’ said the judge, jumping in quickly. ‘I’m glad you’ve finally seen the light.’ Then he turned to us, the jury, and said: ‘I’m going to direct you to find the defendant guilty. The belief and faith of those here today is all we need to convict him.’

So we did, and the judge passed the death sentence. The condemned guy didn’t seem too pleased and as they led him away, started yammering all over again about evidence. I guess some people never learn. But I mean, faith, belief, conviction – call ’em what you will – they trump evidence any day.

Experts in make-believe

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As it is in the secular world, so in the Kingdom of Heaven. Entirely self-appointed experts abound in the religious sphere: priests, pastors, preachers, imams, rabbis. Some have degrees in theology; some have a degree of enlightenment (or so they claim) from personal encounters with the supernatural; some have learnt at the feet of the experts who have gone before them.

But what are religious experts expert in? Unlike our politicians who have at least a degree in a legitimate subject (even if not the one they now profess to know all about) the only thing religious experts are knowledgeable about is a collection of fantasy stories. That’s the Bible, of course, for Christian ‘experts’, with its supernatural beings, monsters, giants, magical incantations, transformations and resurrections.

If these experts were to encounter the same sort of fantastic notions in any other book, they would readily acknowledge that what they were dealing with was myth and legend. Not so their own ‘holy’ text! Oh no. This, of all the books of magic that exist, is, they say, the real deal because in amongst the far-fetched stories is some moralising about being extra-nice to fellow Jews and loving your enemies.

All that Christian experts are expert in is myth. That is their specialist subject. They’re not really interested in the injunctions about serving others; the mythical stuff they refuse to acknowledge as myth is much more to their liking: the eternal God-man, living forever, fantasy heaven, fantasy hell. The expertise of priests, pastors and preachers is in this smorgasbord of twaddle – and even then they frequently get it wrong. Those who offer their ‘spiritual’ experiences as demonstration of its veracity (‘I know it’s true because I commune with the eternal God-man’) add nothing of substance to their claims; all they’ve done is internalise myth, nothing more. Myth it remains. And just how useful is expertise in made-up stories in this day and age?

Like politicians who are skilled in one area but assume expertise in another, Christian experts also think that their knowledge of myth makes them experts about all sorts of other things: psychology, morality, the state of the world, politics, science, history and pre-history – even the future. They know all about these, they like to tell us, because by extrapolating from their book of myths and legends, they have an understanding that surpasses that of the real experts in these areas (we can exclude the future here; no-one in the real world claims to know with any certainty what the future holds. Naturally, Christians like to pretend they do).

You think this isn’t the case?

Because of what they think the Bible says:

Mike Pence, ‘evangelical Catholic’ and vice-President, thinks God will heal America only if ‘his people, who are called by his name, humble themselves and pray’ (quoting 2 Chronicles 7.14). He wants to end state-funded abortion rights into the bargain and disputes climate change;

Franklin Graham, who said prayers at the recent inauguration, insists that God himself engineered Donald Trump’s election;

Pastor Robert Jeffress, who provided a private church service for Trump prior to the inauguration, thinks so too, so that America can have ‘one more chance’.

Jim Bakker, ex-felon, televangelist and guest at the inauguration, claims he was responsible for Trump’s election because he ‘bound’ hell-spawned demons who opposed Trump.

Pastor Rick Wiles, meanwhile, is too busy enjoying being sprayed with the golden showers of God’s Grace that even now are ‘oozing’ from Heaven because of Trump;

Steve Bannon, Trump’s Chief Strategist & Senior Counselor and one of the architects of the immigration ban, is pushing hard for a return to ‘Judeo-Christian traditionalism’ (which hasn’t stopped him from being married and divorced three times);

Betsy DeVos, Trump’s anti-gay Education Secretary, thinks schools should be used to build God’s Kingdom on Earth and wants Creationism taught alongside Evolution;

Ken Ham continues to influence people like Betsy, by teaching that the earth was created 6,000 years ago, Adam and Eve really existed and humans co-existed with dinosaurs;

Jerry Falwell jr, appointed by Trump to reform higher education, sees no contradiction between being a pro-life creationist and an arms advocate;

Religious Rights leaders are urging Trump to reverse the rights granted to LGBT people under President Obama, both in America and worldwide. At the time of writing it looks like he might;

Anne Graham Lotz, Billy Graham’s alabaster daughter, asks what the Bible has to say about the Women’s March in Washington last week and concludes that women who protest are ‘loud, undisciplined and without knowledge’;

Sandy Rios of the religious ‘American Family Association’, agrees, saying feminists are ‘people who live in filth’;

Steven Anderson thinks people in need are ‘lazy bums’, just like the Bible says (2 Thessalonians 3:10) and continues to call for LGBT people to be executed;

A million and one other preachers and pastors think they have your psychology all worked out – you’re nothing but a sinner in need of Jesus’ saving grace.

By any rational standard this is all lunatic stuff. These people know no more than you or I about any of the subjects they spout about. They think they do – and worse still others believe they do – because of what (they think) is in their collection of myths; ‘I know what I’m talking about because it’s in my magic book!’ And who are we to doubt such credentials?

It is all fallacy. Christian experts are experts only in the ephemeral, the unproven, the mythical. Yet they claim to know so much about everything else as a result. They claim they know how you should live your life and what, for you own good, you should be allowed to do and what you should not.

People such as these have now come to power in America.