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?

Believe what you want to believe

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I’ve been responding to some comments of Don Camp’s over on Cross Examined.  First off, Don objected to the claim someone made that the Bible is ‘full of errors’. He went on to make a number of assertions that I felt compelled to challenge. I’ve also added here a number of other points in italics, where, it seems to me, Don is trying to bluff with guff.

Don: “Full of errors” is an overstatement. There are errors, which is obvious when one looks at the critical apparatus of the USB Greek text. (What is this ‘apparatus’ of which Don speaks? Critical scholarship? Can’t see Don bothering much with that. Magic seer stones, then?) But if you know how to read the apparatus (ah, we must have insider knowledge to know how to read the manuscripts [which ‘manuscripts?] the way Don does) you will notice that the differences between manuscripts is minor and do not impact the message (we will? How?) The doctrine of “inerrancy” speaks to the original manuscripts (autographs). (We don’t have the original manuscripts so we can’t verify their accuracy or otherwise. Even if we did have access to them, how would we know they said what God wanted them to say? How would we know if what they said was true? We wouldn’t. They’re both hypothetical and irrelevant, and this is all meaningless theobabble.)

Don: I don’t subscribe to a strong inerrancy… (The examples you cite are) nitpicking and, I suspect, avoidance. (What is ‘strong inerrancy’? I’d have thought something was either inerrant or it wasn’t. The presence of one error in a document means it isn’t inerrant. If Don doesn’t subscribe to ‘strong inerrancy’ there’s nothing else – only the presence of error.) 

And then we’re off on a tangent – call it ‘sleight of hand’ – about how marvellous the Bible is:

The Bible is a remarkable book. There is none like it in all of literary history. It is the story of man and God and explains not only why things are the way they are but how God acted to reconcile man to himself. That message throughout the Bible is the same. In that sense, the Bible is unified.

And then another unfounded assertion, to which I sent the reply that follows:

Don: The Bible is also coherent. The message is logical and consistent. The third chapter of Genesis contains the message in brief as a narrative. It is sometimes called the proto-evangel. The rest of the Bible unfolds that message and explains how God accomplished his purpose and how we can respond to his mercy and grace […]

Me: Okay, let’s disregard the numerous ‘minor’ inconsistencies and contradictions. There’s insurmountable disunity between the old and new covenants: God in the Old Testament (OT) promises Abraham his contract with him and his seed is ‘always and forever’ (Genesis 12). He negates this completely in the New Testament (NT) when he declares, or so Paul would have us believe, that the only way to find favour with him is through faith in his saviour. Yes, the Bible’s unchanging God changes his mind and presents two irreconcilable ways to be reconciled with him.

Or how about the differences between Paul’s theology – salvation through faith alone – and Matthew’s Jesus who says salvation is through personal righteousness achieved by doing good works (Matthew 25)? For God’s sake, Don, there’s only about forty years distance between these two schemes and yet they don’t agree on what God’s plan is for mankind.

You want more? How about the differences between the OT and NT perspectives of the afterlife? Jesus’ (and Paul’s) conviction about the imminence of the End of the Age and that of later NT writers? The views of Heaven in earlier and later writing?

You’re deluding yourself, Don, if you think there’s a unity to these central doctrines in the Bible. There evidentially isn’t. Please don’t take us for fools with your attempts to delude us too.

To which I’d add that Christians’ dishonest attempts to prop up that book of  suspicion and make-believe, the Bible, as something it isn’t are tiresome in the extreme. Words like ‘apparatus’ and ‘original manuscripts/autographs’, are meaningless, while ‘inerrancy’, ‘coherence’ and ‘consistent’ are used in ways that strip them of any of their meaning. There is no ‘apparatus’ that magically removes the serious discrepancies in the Bible, no pristine, error-free original manuscripts to which we can refer. As in many of its minor details, the Bible’s central messages lack unity, coherence, consistency – and anything approaching sense. The American Bible Society reported recently that through lockdown, Christians haven’t – shock! horror! – been reading their Bibles with any regularity. Given they don’t read them much anyway, this can only be a good thing.

The Voice in my Head is my Only Friend

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I hear it clearly, the voice in my head. It speaks to me all the time; telling me I am marked out for greatness. I am the Chosen One. I shall make this country and these people great again too. It all falls to me.

The voice speaks sure and true; it does not mislead me. It is of the Lord. Others tell me they have a voice within, but they are misled; the hear merely their own thoughts. I know this, for once, long before, I listened to that same voice, the endless annoying sound of the self, undermining, planting only doubt, questioning my true destiny. It was Satan’s voice, whispering sweet and low. But his is not the voice I hear now. It is God who speaks clearly to me now, strengthening me, reassuring me, directing my path. His voice sounds for me and me alone. It is my constant companion and there is no need of any other. I listen only to him.

He directs me to gather around me those I need to realise my mission. There are others who do not share my vision; the vision he gives me. It matters not; they matter not. Those who do not do my bidding fall by the wayside. Others take their place, true believers in the work I am doing. God himself tells me so, God alone guides me.

For I am the Chosen One; this he has made clear. I am his Son, his appointed Savior for this dissolute age. All else will pass away but what I do will never pass away. For I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.

 

Crawling from the Wreckage

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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?

Get your false Messiahs here…

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There was this guy who said he was the Son of God and the Messiah of his people. God appeared to him in a vision that enveloped him and changed him completely. Afterwards he discovered he had a knowledge of scripture that he previously hadn’t possessed and a invigorated sense of mission: God had appointed him to redeem his people. He changed his name and began to teach his people with power and a knowledge that all of them testified they had never experienced before. He brought them close to God and showed them how the world was coming to an end and how God would soon establish his Kingdom on Earth. He prophesied too, however, that he himself would die at the hands of the authorities, but that his followers should have no fear, because God would not forsake them: they would be part of the coming Kingdom.

And so it came to pass. At the age of 33, the Messiah died at the hands of the state.

And the name of this guy? Jesus, maybe? Well, it could be, but it wasn’t. Saul/Paul perhaps? Again, possibly… but no.

This guy’s name was David Koresh (real name Vernon Howell), leader of a Christian sect called the Branch Davidians. You may remember him from such massacres as the 1993 seige at Waco, where his church was based. He made all the claims above, just like Jesus and, to a lesser extent, Paul before him. None of his followers, it’s true, claimed to see him after his death, but some of those who survived the seige believe still that he will be resurrected and will return to lead them personally into the Kingdom of God.

I was watching a programme about him recently, a Storyville documentary originally broadcast in the States last year, which showed how easily we create our Messiahs and Saviours. The recipe, it turns out, is easy:

Take one charismatic individual who thinks he’s speaking for God;

Mix in an obsession with scripture;

Add some absurd self-promotion, and

Bake for a few years in the over-heated adulation of some desperate sycophants.

So – Jesus, Paul, Koresh. What’s the difference?

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*Actually, the quote in the picture up top is not Jesus at all; its Koresh, from an interview with the FBI (see first link above.) John 14.6 says ‘No-one comes to the Father except by me,’ which is much the same.

God sends New Savior!

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Well, Stateside Christians, you got your man. Donald Trump will be president come January and you’re largely responsible for that. 81% of you voted for him. By my reckoning that’s about 50% of his total vote; he couldn’t have done it without you. Now he’s going to be your nation’s savior. He’s going to make America great again. He’ll return the nation to Christian values and morals. He’ll honour God and bring him back into the public arena, just like you want him to.

Or will he? How do you get God-fearing Savior from a petulant, misogynistic individual who has repeatedly shown himself to be racist, sexist, xenophobic, divisive, adulterous, abusive, ignorant, vitriolic, dishonest and avaricious; a man who denies climate change, is full of his importance (and nothing else), who makes promises he can’t keep and probably had no intention of keeping even as he made them. A man who couldn’t name a single verse in his ‘favourite book’, the Bible; who admits he’s never asked God for forgiveness and who has shown no sign of any kind of Christian humility, compassion or morality; a man who is even now appointing the most reactionary, right-wing extremists to his transitional team (so much for draining the swamp!) How can this man be the one who is going to restore America to a glorious Christian past it never really had, and make it a truly God-fearing nation once again?

Someone with these ‘qualities’ cannot possibly turn America into the promised land, even though you’ve convinced yourselves he’s another King Cyrus, the heathen king in the Old Testament who helped God’s people in their time of need. Trump is no Cyrus, even if he is the 45th president and Cyrus’s story is told in Isaiah 45 (yes, some of you think this is significant). You have been duped, again, American believers. But it is not Trump who has deluded you; it is you yourselves. You have persuaded yourselves that despite all of the evidence, Trump is man who can be greatly used by God.

There was no divine guidance behind Trump’s campaign and God won’t be manipulating him into doing his bidding once he takes office. This is because, primarily, there is no God to do any these things, but even if there were, why would he? Why would he ensure a man whose values are the direct antithesis of all (you say) he stands for, became the leader of the free world? Why would he be interested in making a silk purse out of the sow’s ear that is Donald Trump? Wouldn’t your God of Reason start with someone who is already one of his own? Someone who is genuinely a Christian; someone, say, who has tacky pictures of himself and Jesus hanging in his house? Or an evangelical – let’s call him Mike Pence – who comes pre-packaged with genuine, and genuinely vicious, Christian faith and a necessary anti-abortion, anti-gay agenda?

It’s you and you alone, Christians, who have turned Trump into a Savior. It is you who have created the silk purse. You’ve ignored what has been in front of you throughout the presidential campaign and have projected on to an individual who has done nothing but tell you what you wanted to hear, a spiritual significance he does not have. You have made of Trump an artificial Man of God, just like your predecessors did two thousand years ago with that other imposter, Yeshua Bar Joseph. Like them, you’re going to find out that the man you’ve elevated to savior status is anything but, because the Donald Trump you’ve elected is a construct of your collective imaginations. You’re about to discover that the real Donald Trump is not the man you’ve deluded yourselves into thinking he is.